Thinking aloud with Alain Badiou and Cinema

France - "Vous aurez le dernier mot" - TV Set

“There is something interesting in cinema because we cannot reduce it to a conceptual definition.”

The above quote from renowned contemporary philosopher Alain Badiou opens up a world of theoretical enquiry into cinema as an art form and where it might be heading. However, as always, targeting the specifics of this interesting ‘something’ is not an easy task. This article will break down Badiou’s thought on cinema and hopefully open a way for more exciting thought on the cinema and appreciation of such art works.

We begin by asking the interminable question “What is Cinema?” It is an everlasting question because there is no definite answer. If cinema is an art form, then why can’t it be conceptually defined like all other arts? If not defined, then what is the special ingredient? For example, poetry is an attempt to say what cannot be said, theatre is a battle to form an external relationship between human beings and an audience, and painting aims to create the visible from the invisible – these are the fundamental ideas that promote and invoke these arts. There will always be further ideas on such a quest, but it is clear that cinema holds no such distinction. I always like to argue that cinema is a collective of all these ideas and that’s what makes its individuality eternal, it is never shaped by a definition, and therefore there can be a positive infinity in cinema production.

However, as Badiou makes clear from my previous assumption, cinema itself is a very complex question and therefore cinema as an art must also be a very complex question. It is rather simple really: cinema is complex, so hence anything we wish to attribute to cinema (philosophy, art, psychology, archaeology etc.) will also become complex. A philosophy of the cinema is a complex idea; we can never really know what cinema is. Badiou even attempts to postulate cinema as the “history of complexification of itself.” These layers inherent to cinema form a unique relationship whereby the spectator falls under the spell, or inside the cinema according to Badiou, but without knowing its real signification. Cinema is essential in the collective existence of today’s world and yet it continues to be something that we have no firm notion off – certainly from a theoretical standpoint, but arguably by way of practice also. Is this not a very dangerous idea?

Badiou_Cinema

 

Whenever we are considering the thing of something, or the what is, we need to retrace our passage back to some custom of historical antiquity. Plato is a good denominator to begin with, especially for cinema. With philosophy we are on a search for truth in life, or a true life, something that is pure and in accordance with our entire make up. How does cinema impact this quest? Can cinema be true to life? These questions are inscribed into every film, and it often comes back down to the spectator’s ability to suspend their disbelief: to give themselves whole-heartedly over to the sequence of images and sounds on the screen. If they can do this then the images they witness are true, at least true to themselves. Even so, this it too general, we need to look beyond the spectator and take the films at face value. What makes a good film? How can we identify good film with art and philosophy?

If Plato were alive today, he would probably be feeling very ill. We cannot escape images today. The famous cave allegory was a false reality for Plato, but it is the founding movement of cinema: moving shadows cast themselves across the walls of the cave once backlit from a great beam of light. This was a conviction of truth: the composition is an illusion! Illusions cannot be so! Here is the answer: cinema does not claim to be such a false reality, cinema knows very well that it paints a grand composition of illusion, and its images are no substitute for contamination, they are didactic images that speak off new formations and new bonds of knowledge! In other words, cinema is an answer for finding the truth in irreality; cinema knows that it lies, but it is a lie of edification.

Cinema is alive and speaking to us. Cinema has possibility, it is an art of possibility perhaps, and this is why it must have a relationship to philosophy and vice versa. Because cinema is so alive, it is constantly in battle, a fight between art and non-art. It is here that Badiou can draw out his belief that “cinema thinks”. By way of this vision in which a contemporary world battles with art through film, we are able to distinguish the good films from the bad. If, permitting to Hegel also, art is something of the past and cinema takes on a contemporaneous position as the ‘impure art’, then through constructing a successful conflict of images one has created a good film. This conflict is within the images themselves as well as the audience because the images require contemplation and are often ‘vulgar’ or disruptive. Cinema is therefore not a peaceful art and furthermore, this aforementioned fight between art and non-art is allowed to erupt between its fences. We can then resolve, in line with Badiou’s claims, that the more impure the artwork/the film, the greater the present battle is within the image itself and the better the film!

MelancholiaWhile this is all very metaphysical and might seem dismissible to most audiences, Badiou has targeted the underlying causes for our connection with the image from a strong philosophical standpoint. The point of most significant is this totalisation of cinema: cinema as the non-essential but all-permitting feature of new possibilities and limitlessness. Cinema creates new evaluations and new participations in dialectics. For example, great music can be given a new education in films. Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia features music from the prelude of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. The music is played at different points throughout the film and at each instance is inscribing new meanings onto the image. There is battle with the image and the music is forced to engage in new directions. The range of possibility is astonishing. It is here that cinema takes a form of judgment on all the other arts.

Badiou is telling us to “go to the cave.” We must approach cinema as a means and become involved in the democratic dialectics of our modern education. If none of this speaks to your way of thinking, then you must focus on the idea of possibility: the search for possibility. Cinema makes the search possible.

 

Author: Charlie Bury

 

You can watch the full video that inspired this thought below.

Francois has a new Girlfriend

The_New_GirlfriendDirector: François Ozon
Original Title: Une nouvelle amie
Country of Production: France

There is no definition of sexuality than can be exposed as essentially true. There is always the taste of new beginnings alongside the creation of something novel in François Ozon’s take on life. The New Girlfriend can appear as courageously outlandish at first sight, but with any thoughtfulness, it is really a stadium of delicacies, complications and desires flung about in a representative fashion that gives one a resounding connection. Your thoughts bounce along a treacherous path spread out by Ozon’s ability to mix fully puffed amusement with gasps of the wonderfully curious. Temptation must be Ozon’s mantra.

An opening sequence assigning the breadth and charm of friendship spreads like butter across the screen as two girls grow from seven years of age to wedded ladies of the household. There time together does not wither until the moment death comes knocking on Laura’s door. This comes as no surprise, but might just break the record for your quickest teardrop in movie history. Laura’s best friend Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) will never forget this woman and serve the pledging duty of casting a watchful eye over the now late husband of Laura and her unforgettable baby boy. Touching scenes are squeezed in of father and son learning to walk amid the occasional close-up featuring the infant complex – the face of widespread joy and innocence, yet so quickly redirected by desperate cries. I’ve always wondered what the core cause for such fraught tears in babies is – it is surely driven by angst, a cry of why oh why have you bought me into such incomprehensible existence!

The film is not all bread and butter, as unmistakably surprising discoveries must be made. Late husband David (Romain Duris) has a secret of his own that once unclothed he is more than happy to share with dear Claire, and consequently lead a course between unchartered territories. Demoustier is utterly desirable in her ability to balance an act of lust and empathy. Her eyes tell conflict as she moves from a rather repressed individual to something far deeper. The act is unparalleled in the film, but Demoustier consumes enough space to focus most of one’s attention. One becomes wholly dependent on her phenomenal performance. Duris has a sure fire way of achieving what he needs and is ever so close to reaching an equal counterpoint, though he isn’t given the easiest of circumstances, to say the least.

Ozon is in full command here, I imagine him to be a toxic romantic with a passion for the psychologically displaced. He puts the audience in such unexpected situations during instances like stringing close-ups of make up being applied to a face only to reveal the same features attached to a body placed in a tidy coffin. He is not telling the simple stories that one may at first believe, but instead there are always openings where small wounds need attending. To my dismay, a final act burnout seems required to add some punch to the film, but it only seeks to hinder the elegance of that which has come before. Nevertheless, the entire experience should considerably outweigh any particular event or device, though not to be confused with the specific rendering of a powerful image. The mind will always hold onto something novel or unfamiliar. Novel is positively a blend of François Ozon.

4.5/5

Falling in Love with the British Hinterland

Hinterland film still

Director: Harry Macqueen
Original Title: Hinterland
Country of Production: United Kingdom

British ultra-low budget independent film is firmly back on the map with a stroke of the near impossible landing itself on big screens across the country. The stroke of this impossibility is achieving what Harry Macqueen has just shown by producing, writing, directing and starring in his own work: a mature and heart capturing piece of drama. Forgetting the thorny logistics of low-budget film production and inevitable few blemishes that struggle to hide themselves, the film stands alone as an incredibly well thought out and paced exploration of friendship and undiscovered love. It is lyrical and enchanting every step of the way. The few imperfections only serve to bolster the quality of this tender portrait that inherently blurs the cinematic boundaries and makes for a truly singular indie outing.

Harvey (Harry Macqueen) picks up his old friend Lola (Lori Campbell) from a pals burnt out apartment and sets forth on a road trip in the old reg. handed down from the parents. Cornwall is the destination and warm Dartmoor ponies, cliff-top panoramas, and melodies around the fire are just some of the delights that await the couple. However, a couple they are not to be even if such thoughts riddle under the surface. What plays out is a wonderful exposition of a beautiful friendship occurring between two members of the opposite sex.

Harvey and Lola enjoy each others company and are visibly in need of one another, but their agendas, and means of searching for something in life that seems to be missing, emerge as slightly quailed. The truth might be that even if they were so fortunate as to open their arms in love, the complications of being in your twenties and finding one’s grounding in a strange world would quickly offset things. It creates a complex of existential angst that can be felt in the running commentary of what feels like a critique of the new generation, the ennui and complexity that we have been left to face. However, such ideas are never forced in the film and given ample space for reflection.

Nostalgia beams from nearly every interaction in this film. In particular, Harvey looks to spend a great deal of time in a state of intense reflection. Scenes will fall off and be carried in a different direction by dialogue that arguably is too well intended for its own good. It’s as if we are overhearing a real conversation, yet cinema has a spell of rendering such realism superficial. Drama needs some drama, to speak in too simpler terms. I can’t articulate an answer for this explanation, as it would need to involve a dissertation on the art of the actor in some way or another! As evidence from this writing, one can take this film any which way. The beauty of such effortless moments is that there can be no definite answer to what a character believes or is thinking at any given time. We don’t all possess the skillset of a wizard like Darren Brown. In a film like Hinterland, you decide how to imagine.

 4/5