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February 21 - February 27

Night Visionary, Philippe Grandrieux's Adventures in Perception

In his three feature films, Philippe Grandrieux (b. 1954) has revealed his startlingly corporeal vision of a world in which the body and its drives remake cinematic form and content alike. Often compared to the work of Stan Brakhage, Grandrieux’s films similarly reject representational cinema in favor of a mode of filmmaking that, in Brakhage’s famous phrase, realizes “adventures in perception.” In Grandrieux’s case, this approach entails a radical reworking of the frame, offscreen space, lighting and even focus, at times edging the image towards the barely perceptible. No less radical is Grandrieux’s approach to sound, which is often distorted and accentuated, with dialogue kept to a careful minimum and music alternately ambient and blaring. Grandrieux’s is a cinema of vibrations and tremors in which image and sound seem to pulsate with a kind of furious life.

The subjects of Grandrieux’s first two features, Sombre and New Life – a serial killer and sex trafficking, respectively – quickly gave him the reputation of being something of an enfant terrible. Yet, while Grandrieux’s vision is very dark - literally and figuratively - it is never gratuitous but rather an extension of the French fascination, from Sade to Bataille to Genet, with the body’s potential to undo subjectivity in the gaps between social order and animality, where the body/corporeality itself becomes radically refigured not as the vehicle for consciousness but as flesh with a life of its own. Even those who, like Jonathan Rosenbaum, have reservations about the sexualized violence of Grandrieux’s first two films will appreciate the originality and gravity of their formal audacity. And A Lake, from last year, demonstrates that his audacity can also translate into a cinema of quiet intensity.

Read the Boston Phoenix review of the series here.

This program is presented in conjunction with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, with support from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York and the Consulate of France in Boston. Special thanks: Gavin Smith, Film Society of Lincoln Center; Sandrine Butteau, Delphine Selles, Cultural Services of the French Embassy, New York; Anne Miller, Eric Jausseran, Consulate of France, Boston.

Sunday February 21 at 7pm

New Life (La vie nouvelle)

Directed by Philippe Grandrieux
With Zachary Knighton, Anna Mouglalis, Marc Barbé
France 2002, 35mm, color, 102 min. English and French with English subtitles

New Life grew out of Grandrieux’s experience watching an American soldier, based in Kosovo, meeting a young prostitute in Sofia, Bulgaria. From this raw material emerges a film about human trafficking in a war-ravaged Eastern Europe. The purposefully minimalist narrative takes place between Melania, a young woman from the countryside now the property of a brutal pimp, and the network of men who use her as currency for a series of transactions involving sex and violence. Does the “new life” of the title refer to Melania’s induction into the sex trade, or is it perhaps a new mode of existence sketched by the film, wherein the body, liberated or enslaved within a collapsing social order, returns to an animal state? Given the difficult subject matter and the extremely elliptical plot, this is perhaps Grandrieux’s most challenging film.

Return to Sarajevo (Retour à Sarajevo)

Directed by Philippe Grandrieux
France 1996, video, color, 70 min. Bosnian with French and German subtitles
Return to Sarajevo will be shown without English subtitles

Following years of making shorts and video work, Grandrieux made his feature debut with this gripping documentary drawn from his 1995 visit to Sarajevo, days after the Dayton Peace Accords. Centered around a Bosnian Muslim family who had fled the conflict in Bosnia and are returning for the first time, Grandrieux's exploration of the devastations of war offers an important backdrop for his subsequent films, particularly New Life.

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Friday February 26 at 7pm


Directed by Philippe Grandrieux
With Marc Barbé, Elina Löwensohn, Geraldine Voillat
France 1998, 35mm, color, 117 min. French with English subtitles

Grandrieux’s first feature film follows a solitary traveling puppeteer who is also a brutal serial killer. The title refers to the darkness out of which the film’s events emerge and to which they return in a series of images where often the main action seems to take place offscreen, or perhaps between the shots. The narrative really begins when the killer meets a pair of sisters who are almost allegorically matched - dark and blond, sexual and virginal - an encounter which balances on the knife’s edge between the suspense of the horror film and an almost fairy tale belief in magical transformation.  In either case, the characters of Sombre can’t be judged by standards of verisimilitude but are rather at the mercy of their drives, both attracted to and repulsed by the sexuality of violence and the violence of sexuality.

Putting Holes in Happiness

Directed by Philippe Grandrieux.
US/France 2007, video, color, 4 min.

A music video for Marilyn Manson's song.

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Saturday February 27 at 7pm

A Lake (Un lac)

Directed by Philippe Grandrieux
With Dmitry Kubasov, Natalie Rehorova, Alexei Solonchev
France 2009, 35mm, color, 85 min. French with English subtitles

If Sombre is a fairy tale inside a horror film and New Life a modern myth about a trip to the underworld, A Lake has the profound simplicity of a folk tale. A family of woodcutters lives in an isolated cabin in the mountains until one day a young stranger arrives who is the same age as the two oldest children in the family. The calm and quiet of A Lake is just as radical as the audiovisual assault of Grandrieux’s first two films, with a number of extreme close-ups used to capture the intense tenderness of lives lived with much unsaid, but not unexpressed. The precursors of such cinematic attention to affect are Murnau, Dreyer, Bresson and Tarkovsky, but the use of light and shadow, sound and silence is uniquely Grandrieux.

Following a discussion with Philippe Grandrieux, we will screen the film Sombre. See above for a film description.

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