There’s a draft of a story in L’Après-midi d’un jeune homme qui s’ennuie (Jean-Claude Brisseau, 1968). The filmmaker plays a filmmaker hanging out in a room, poised – as it were – between the May 68 revolts (taking place in the streets) and his erotic reveries (just … taking place, I guess).
The first section of the film builds on this pun: a back and forth, between the protests and the fantasies, with an increasingly (and hilariously) anguished Brisseau in the middle.
But this is not a film about the struggle between reality and imagination. Politics, as eroticism, is driven by desire, invested in fantasy, propelled by its very own imaginary: a delirium that, because it is collective, public, shared, can (apparently) call itself true.
What’s true, however, is just a matter of what turns you on. So, no, this is not a film about the triumph of imagination over reality, but a film about the triumph of one kind of imagination over another.
The erotic image feeds the erotic imagination. The erotic generates, proliferates, disseminates, but it is always already an image.
Brisseau brazenly displays his stack of references. And I don’t mean the stack of porn magazines lying on the floor in his room – though I mean those, too: high and low are surprisingly close in this realm. But I’m referring, above all, to cinema and painting.
This film inaugurates Brisseau’s interest in body studies.
A cinema heavily built on the exploration of pose and gesture, framing and angle.
A cinema investigating background and figure, flesh and clothing, volume and light.
A cinema that has its roots in painting, not just in regards to staging and composition, but also to matter, texture, light, colour.
A cinema of contemplation, exploration, sublimation, ecstasy.
And – above all – a cinema built on the relation between artist(s) and model(s).
A silent film.
But not like those made in the silent era. Rather: silent like modern portraiture films – like those of Andy Warhol, Philippe Garrel, or Stephen Dwoskin.
Here, silence adds; it haunts the image like a phantom.
Silence cracks open the fiction; brings mystery, indiscernibility; blurs further the line between the staged and the captured, between the process of filming and the film itself.
Something flashes in the encounter between two gazes, in the slowness with which a gesture is stretched, in the voluptuousness of a shape, in the rush of hands searching and legs opening.
The rise of eroticism will happen at different moments for different spectators. It’s mouth, smile, glimmer, turn, caress, erection, nuance.
The clichéd image melts when finding itself embodied this or that way, by this or that person.
Eroticism is heightened by the presence of the camera; it delights in the play between intimacy and exposure.
A man puts a mirror in front of different women, and it is up to us to decide if what we see is scorn and punishment; or if it is celebration, exploration, joy.
It is up for us to decide, on the condition that we watch, feel, sense those images.
This is a rare film that investigates the same thing that it portrays.
And a film that proudly exhibits what is found and what is given – sometimes not knowing anymore which is which.
The film has three sections, of unequal length, whose relation is unclear. Are those stories alongside stories, stories within stories, variations on a master story? We can argue deeply about that, or we can just keep it on the surface: May 68 vanishes from the film and the unravellings of the erotic imagination take over.
Bodies imagining images of other bodies, responding to the images of other bodies, performing themselves as images, re-enacting other images, inserting themselves into the images …
Not stories, but sequences, fragments, visions, fantasies. Chains that unfold and interrupt, that are retaken, reformulated, disseminated. Eyes, lips, neck, nape, ear, hair, shoulders, ass, arms, breasts, thighs, hips, belly, legs, pussy.
Image and body; sight and touch. Successive slidings of pleasure.