Nothing

I've met people who weren't depressed, yet wouldn't detect a strand of humour even if it was showed right up their asses. That's just to say, by way of introduction, that I am not, in fact, surprised that depression is associated so often with some sort of nihilism on account of the nothing to which the depressed clings. Because the depressed—above all—clings. She clings onto nothing and the nothings she feels, and sees, and utters, seem completely incomprehensible to anybody else...

‘Playing’

It's a little known fact that Adrian Martin enjoys playing the keyboard and that, sometimes, I enjoy filming him. Normally, what I'll do is listen from another room because our house has great acoustics and, when he plays, the music spreads across the space beautifully. But, occasionally, I get inspired and flutter around with my phone—or, as some people like to say (especially of women): I dabble...

‘The Burning House’

Last summer—when I was at my most depressed and in the midst of a long relocation process—I painted, over black cardboard, a blue, female figure standing at the threshold of a house already in flames. In my mind, there's no doubt that the house is in flames because I am in flames, and that I stand at the threshold of a future already ravaged, already lost...

Le moi et le je: ‘Jane B. par Agnès V.’ (Agnès Varda, 1987)

Singing a Gainsbourg song isn't easy. He likes his syllables unnaturally stressed or flattened, lengthened or sharpened; he enjoys writing with unequal, undulating metric; he's fond of enjambements that break—across different verses—single sentences and, sometimes, even single words. Many of his lyrics frolic in wordplay; they delight in polysemic and homophonic terms—disseminating multiple meanings and messing with similar sounds...

Brain Massage

Usually, I would have cringed in disbelief and horror at the mere suggestion of a vague link between "what I feel" and the state of the world at large. (It's a long story, but to make it short: if you've lived feeling acutely the separation between you and others, between you and a world without a place for you, this idea just does not make much sense; in fact, this idea is deeply offensive.) I've learnt that this belief in the separation between oneself and the world is a quite common delusion. But knowing I am delusional doesn't stop me feeling how I feel...

The Long Road: ‘Liberté et Patrie’ (Jean-Luc Godard & Anne-Marie Miéville, 2002)

The 'and' functions to always carry the links forward—but it also operates across each pair ("freedom and fatherland, fatherland and freedom": the visual and aural back-and-forth is a constant in the film). It's the movement effected by the 'and' that frees the terms from themselves, and frees the pairs from themselves—threading relations that multiply and amplify, that give substance, background and meaning, that constellate a veritable cosmos out of those two initial notions...

Successive Slidings of Pleasure: ‘L’Après-midi d’un jeunne homme qui s’ennuie’ (Jean-Claude Brisseau, 1968)

There's a draft of a story in 'L'Après-midi d'un jeune homme qui s'ennuie'. 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...

Notes on Film Criticism (IV): Singing With

In written film criticism, it is quite common to refer, too, to the critic’s voice. But what is understood to constitute that voice? Is it that the critic likes to embed sentences within sentences within sentences? That he tends to start paragraphs with a question and tends to end them with a blow? Is it his preference for using three adjectives in a row, for turning nouns into verbs, for certain rhetorical devices? Is a chosen vocabulary – an attachment to certain words – part of the critic’s voice?...

The Audition: ‘The Killing of a Chinese Bookie’ (John Cassavetes, 1976)

What is a scene? Some books and manuals say that a scene is a portion of a film where the action has a spatio-temporal unity. Well, maybe that's what some people call a definition but, personally, I'm amazed that anybody can do anything with that. I like to think of a scene in terms of its internal movement: how it shifts parameters from one shot to the next; how it builds sections animated by different energies; how it introduces, combines and recombines its elements; how it brings something new to the atmosphere or transforms the atmosphere altogether...

Love Yourself (?)

Lately, I've been seriously thinking about seeing a shrink. It's difficult to choose, because there are so many different approaches, methods, therapies that, when I begin to think about it, the pressure to choose wisely adds another level of anxiety to my everyday, general anxiety, and that makes me backtrack. Then, of course, there's this other problem: I have to like him (him, let's be straight). I'm told that this – to like him – is actually not mandatory. But it is mandatory for me...

Into The Dark: ‘Sombre’ (Philippe Grandrieux, 1998)

A car is driving along a mountain's curvy road. The camera intermittently approaches and detaches itself from the vehicle. We are carried away in this hypnotic movement, this rubber-band movement of the camera, this snaking movement of the ride – landscape and light changing at each turn. With each new shot, the sun’s setting is closer, and the contrast between earth and sky is sharper. We sink under the pitch-black silhouette of edgy trees cropped against the blue sky. We descend into total darkness. And from this darkness, terrible screams emerge...

F

In 2009, I became fascinated by a young man – I'll call him F – who lived in the streets and used to beg for money near my workplace. The year before, I had walked past him several times. There was a group of about ten people – mostly Eastern-European women – who used to line up at the front and back doors of a cathedral, asking for money from the visitors (sometimes, also stealing wallets via tricks that were so crude I could not believe tourists let themselves be fooled so easily). Amongst these people was F, whose looks and manners were different...

Defiled Garden: ‘The Invention of Morel’ (Adolfo Bioy Casares, 1940)

There's a passage of the novel I’ve always liked. Amongst the group of tourists, there's a woman – Faustine – who every evening contemplates the setting sun. The hero, who has fallen for this woman just by looking at her from the distance, decides to give her something. First he tries – I've tried it, too – the good old, conventional approach: conversation. But he's not seen, he's not heard. And, so, he makes an offering to her: a garden of flowers – which he refers to as his "last poetic recourse". Well, writing is this garden of flowers...

Playing with ‘Meshes of the Afternoon’

This January I taught – for the second year – a week of audiovisual criticism at EQZE. My program makes enormous sense to me (and hopefully to my students), but it does not follow pre-established paths – my group is studying curatorship, so I hope they'll appreciate the extravagant lines of my work of curation, here. We watch a number of audiovisual essays made by critics (me included), but also some fragments from film essays and found footage films, plus a couple of clips that are (plain and simple) amazing examples of montage...

Notes on Film Criticism (III): Prematurely Hostage to Our Coming Biographies

This is going to be about film criticism, I promise. But I have to begin where I have to begin. That is: with a homework assignment I got when I was 9 years old. As soon as the teacher tells the class that we have to write about the most important day of our lives, I'm elated. I know what the most important day of my life is, and I enjoy these writing exercises very much. I wish I could present you here what I wrote that day. But this particular piece of paper disappeared, with many others, somewhere around 2001 – after my parents got divorced...

On Doubles and Revelations: ‘The Double Life of Véronique’ (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1992)

My mother and brother were standing there, with their backs to me. I must have walked very stealthily, because they remained unaware of my presence. "Hey, what are you doing?", I asked. They both shuddered and turned towards me. What I remember most is their looks of astonishment. As happens in the movies after a character has seen a ghost, they were awestruck and could barely speak. "We … thought … you were there", mumbled my brother signalling the window. He invited me to come closer so that I could see it for myself...

The Sadness Will Last Forever: ‘À nos amours’ (Maurice Pialat, 1983)

Before becoming a director, Maurice Pialat had been a painter. In his youth, he adored Van Gogh. Later in life, he spent years imagining a project about the last months of the Dutch painter, culminating in his 1991 film, Van Gogh. Despite all this, in a 1992 interview, Pialat remarked: "Van Gogh was quite unlike me". Quite unlike him, but not so unlike him as to not cling onto his last words and hurl them against the people seated at this dinner table – his family in the fiction, but also his film family, his group of collaborators...

The Art of the Oxymoron: ‘Life of Riley’ (Alain Resnais, 2014)

Writing about 'Heaven Can Wait', Jean Douchet proposed that whenever Ernst Lubitsch’s characters are living in the ephemeral moment, they long for what is permanent; but when they face the permanent, they yearn for the experience of the instant. This contradiction is also at the heart of 'Life of Riley', and is tackled in a particularly poignant way. Whatever it is that the female characters expect from George, one thing is certain: it won’t last. Because George is about to die, he embodies a kind of safe detour from their ordinary lives...

89%: WordPress Stats, Social Media, and Other Catastrophes

There's a genre of story I've always enjoyed: those about famous writers receiving letters from their readers. The letters are often nice, but not especially profound or refined. And, yet, the very gesture of writing a letter, stamping it, posting it in the mail, is endowed with a ceremonial aspect that carries its own significance. This has been lost with the arrival of e-mail, social media, online blogs and magazines. You would think that, now that the specialness of the gesture is gone, the writing itself – even if only in an attempt to make up for this loss – would become richer...

Ravishment: ‘Carol’ (Todd Haynes’, 2015)

In an interview for the French magazine Positif, Todd Haynes declared that the descriptions in Patricia Highsmith’s 'The Price of Salt' – the novel on which 'Carol' is based – reminded him of Roland Barthes' 'A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments'. It seems to me, however, that the film – through a series of details and choices that have their origin either in Phyllis Nagy's script adaptation or in Haynes' aesthetics and mise en scène – has a far stronger affinity with Barthes’ text than Highsmith’s novel...

The Video Essay Podcast + An Annotated List

The latest episode of "The Video Essay Podcast", hosted by Will DiGravio, features a great conversation between him and Adrian Martin. Topics discussed include: audiovisual essays, film criticism, multimedia criticism, writing, love, collaboration, creativity, Raymond Bellour, radio, dreams, Jerzy Skolimowski, François Truffaut, artistic gesture, montage, Robert Mitchum, electric condensation, arte povera, Serge Daney, Jean-Pierre Léaud, heterogeneity, voice, John Flaus, performance, teaching, Marco Bellocchio, academia, audiences...

A Response to Jessica McGoff’s “Text vs. Context: Understanding the Video Essay Landscape”

This text was written in March 2017 as a response to Jessica McGoff's "Text vs. Context: Understanding the Video Essay Landscape". It was offered to 4:3 magazine, which replied that it was not keen to “play host to a back and forth on video essays”. In the interests of open debate, we published it ourselves and now we host it here.

Sea Passage: ‘Nostos: il Ritorno’ (Franco Piavoli, 1989)

Franco Piavoli's 'Nostos: Il Ritorno' dares a free adaptation of Homer's 'The Odyssey' that stresses the poetic qualities of a work more known (at least in the popular imagination) for its epic values. There are still, in this film, traces of the physical adventure, passages that involve what is often referred to as action (although the more action-driven a scene, the more it is subjected to a minimalistic, quasi-Bressonian approach). It turns out that, for Piavoli, the adventure is, above all, sensorial and psychic...

Running with Keith Jarrett

It's winter, 2014. I have resolved to start running. There's a very green park, next to where we live in Frankfurt. I observe a Japanese woman training. It occurs to me, now, that she could have been a world champion of some sort of running-related sport. But, that day of 2014, for some reason, I decide to take her as the average person on whom I will model my running. She runs so fast, so vigorously, that it's almost obscene. I do not know how to run, so I copy her. That is a manner of speaking – for, after a few minutes, I feel like I'm going to die. I'm exhausted, I can't breathe, my chest is burning. I cry...