Un Lac

04/06/2011

A Grammar of Affect

In all three of Philippe Grandrieux’s features (SombreLa vie nouvelle, Un Lac) he has been as interested in the ambiguity of the image as the ambiguity of personal behaviour within the frame. His are not especially psychologically complex characters in the sense one often finds in sixties cinema, in works like The Red DesertThe EclipseHiroshima mon amourMuriel, or La Dolce Vita, where the lack of vitality indicates neurosis or loss to the detriment of primal feeling. Grandrieux instead wants to find a certain impenetrability in the image as much as in the character. Thus where numerous terms and concepts were created to explain and explore the nature of the great directors of the sixties’ work, to find a method for making sense of the form in which the characters were contained, and the manner in which characters seemed to push beyond the limits of the form, do the terms fit so easily with a filmmaker like Grandrieux, someone who works so often with visual parsimoniousness and audio hyperbole?

Amongst the important concepts were Deleuze’s lectosigns and chronosigns, Bonitzer’s deframings, and Bergala’s differentiation of composition and attack. The first two are loosely psychological and perceptual terms; the latter more obviously formal. A lectosign is in Deleuze’s formulation that which must be read as much as seen – something that we cannot take as given when we see it, but that we need to make sense of, to break open and comprehend. There is a potential contradiction in Deleuze’s thought here as this is a central idea in the second Cinema Book, but where in an interview concerning it he insists that a film needs to be taken in all at once: “I’m especially hostile”, he says in an interview in Two Regimes of Madness, “to the notion of different levels: a first, a second, and a third level of meaning, understanding or appreciation.”  Yet how if a lectosign must be read rather than seen, can it be read at the same level as an image that merely needs to be witnessed? Precisely because these lectosigns are not symbols, they are not abstract meanings that can be understood through tracing their mythological significance, their biblical echoes, or their reference to other art works. For example, the closing scene in Zabriskie Point where the house gets blown to pieces might well be a symbol of capitalism’s capacity to implode, but that isn’t why it is interesting. It interests us as an image of immediate inexplicability – an image that must be read rather than seen, but whose power resides in our incapacity to say what it means. If someone were to insist a criticism of capitalism was intended, they might be reading it on the secondary level of symbolizing its meaning, but have they attended to the immediate power of its inexplicability? One doesn’t watch it bemused and then go off and make sense of the image at one remove of the experience. The image’s demand lies in making sense of the feeling we have while watching it, which is why simply to say that it is about capitalism imploding on itself would be facile. It attends to a secondary reading but not to a primary affect. Antonioni’s films are full of such images, from the mushroom-like building near the beginning of The Eclipse, the tennis game in Blow Up, the shots of the road passing behind the characters in The Passenger, the opening shots of the car park in La notte. These are not so much symbolic as ‘affectful’; demanding feelings from the viewer greater than the ready capacity to comprehend them. They are wonderful ‘lectosigns’.

The chronosign is an image of time, the manner in which time sits inside events, inside people and how we are forced to read so many “symptoms in the image”, and where “time is torn between an already determined past and a dead end future.” Character is less perpetual action than perceptual activity, as characters perceive the present as though with the weight of their past existence. They are acute to events but barely active within them. Antonioni’s work is full of such characters.

The deframed image is of course also central to Antonioni’s work as he frequently creates cropped frames, characters small within the image, a sense that the character is no longer the centre of the universe but peripheral to it. This is in Bonitzer’s words in his book Deframings, “a radical off-centredness of a point of view that mutilates the Body and expels it beyond the frame to focus instead on dead, empty zones devoid of décor…”

Bergala, meanwhile, talks of the difference between a composition and an attack, and says that one of the freedoms available to the filmmaker is their ability not only to compose an image, but choose which angle they wish to film it. Much of Godard’s originality for Bergala lies in this freedom that he seizes upon. Most filmmakers Bergala notes take their cue from the composition, and the attack serves it. In other filmmakers’ work, however, the attack is as important, perhaps more so than the composition. Bergala talks at one stage in his article, ‘The Other Side of the Bouquet’, of Godard’s ‘attack’ in Prenom Carmen, where Godard “as is his habit, lets himself get carried away by words,” and then Bergala explains how this play on the word becomes visually apparent in Godard’s composition where Godard films Myriem Roussel’s character in such a way that she may be playing the violin, but the angle suggests she is pulling back the string on a bow and arrow. The play on language becomes also a visual pun, a pun that could only be achieved by the angle of attack: by filming at an angle that makes the violin playing resemble an arrow being fired.

The terms we have discussed here are all extremely useful ways to understand the work of key filmmakers of the sixties and their work thereafter. But do they quite cover some of the possibilities utilised in the films of Philippe Grandrieux, a filmmaker fascinated (admittedly like Godard, if in very different ways in a film like Eloge de L’amour) in the indeterminate capacity of light? Now obviously throughout cinema history film has been fascinated with a certain ambiguity that can come out of lighting, including German Expressionism and film noir; frequently the painterly chiaroscuro is used to pin down what the filmmaker seeks to achieve. Also filmmakers including Godard, Bergman and Philippe Garrel, have created immense feeling out of playing with the contrast between interior darkness and outside light to capture the feelings connotatively evident on a face.

Yet Grandrieux’s project seems slightly different, and maybe more than any other filmmaker he captures indeterminacy of meaning by the presence and absence of light. There is the great term from art that E. H. Gombrich uses when discussing the Mona Lisa: ‘sfumato’. This is where the “blurred outline and mellowed colours…allow one form to merge with another and always leave something to our imagination”. Utilising such an approach a filmmaker needn’t work with psychological ambiguity especially, but an ambiguity of the image that leaves character and situation something of a mystery. In this sense it is as if chiaroscuro, a term so commonly used in film analysis, gives way to the sfumato. Grandrieux is not alone in this project, and there are scenes in Lynch’s Lost Highway, in Thierry Jousse’s L’Invisible and Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day, where Blake’s oxymoron, ‘darkness visible’, becomes the central thrust of the film’s indeterminacy.

In Lost Highway, for example, note the scene where Fred and Renee are in their apartment early in the film. He is going off to the club to play sax and she says she is going to stay in, though she’s dressed up as if ripe for an affair. Filmed differently this would be ironic neo-noir, a moment where we take for granted that Renee is lying, and Fred the fall guy in his own marriage. But this is where Lynch doesn’t offer complexity of form to illustrate character, but complexity of form to impose itself on characters who are not themselves especially, consciously, complex.  Lynch plays on light and shadow as if to deny the ironic reading – to say that there is much more to the scene than a man’s jealousy and the wife’s infidelity, even if there is not much more to the characters than that. The feelings the characters are expressing, or hiding, are not overly nuanced, in the manner of a figure out of Resnais or Antonioni, but the means with which Lynch films the characters give them ambiguity. Michel Chion notes in his book on Lynch, David Lynch, that when Renee tells Bill that she is going to stay in and read, Fred asks “Read what?” Renee doesn’t reply, and Chion believes it is impossible to know what Fred is implying, and reckons “instead of the implication we might expect, he adds precisely nothing at all; rather than a double meaning, it has what might be called one meaning less.” Less is more, in the sense that the filmmakers need to offer certain approaches to create the sense not of psychological complexity but of a broader world that the characters are contained within.

This is where Lynch proves a master of the parsimoniously visual and the audio hyperbole that Grandrieux has picked up on and pushed further still. At certain moments Lynch basically works with ‘sfumato’ effects as both characters become unknowable through light, shade and colour tones. When Renee is first seen she comes round the corner of the hall into the sitting room and the dress, the colour of her skin, and the walls are all shades of pinky purple. When Bill comes towards her he comes out of darkness and into relative light. He may be doing no more than crossing the room, but because Lynch has kept dark the space he is coming from, he seems to be coming from nowhere.

This sense of menace is exacerbated by Lynch’s sound design. When Fred says, after Renee reckons she wants to stay home and read, “read…read what?” and Renee giggles, there is no ambient sound within which Fred’s comment and Renee’s giggles are contained. The audio hyperbole lies in the amplified sound of the voices and the characters’ breathing, so that Fred’s words and Renee’s giggles remain enclosed within an acoustic exclusivity. This is shrunken extension as Chion might define it in Audio-Vision, as he talks about the vast extension that can explain off-screen space with ambient sounds into the distance, or null-extension so that even much of the onscreen space seems to lack audio presence. As Bill walks up to Renee we don’t hear his shoes on the floor, as though Lynch wanted to offer Bill up as a figure of intimate menace. The scene may call to mind another great example of shrunken extension, the scene in Raging Bull where La Motta asks his wife about a handsome boxer he will soon be fighting. As Jake menacingly enquires in a hushed voice, the film offers a closed-off screen space so that it isn’t only off-screen sound that is killed, but also any on screen noise that doesn’t imply Jake’s jealousy. In each instance the film doesn’t go into the character’s subjectivity, but it captures well each character’s suspicions.

Un Lac is also a film about the problem of jealousy; this time in a rural environment where a sister, a brother, a baby and a father and blind mother live. The father is away, and a young man comes into the community, who is clearly interested in the daughter, and the daughter interested in him. Yet the brother seems to have feelings for her as well, and Grandrieux wants to play out a minimalist story for the maximum of formal, even perceptual, as opposed to psychological, ambiguity. What often interests Grandrieux is a version of what C. S. Peirce (who was of course a central consciousness in Deleuze’s Cinema books) has called firstness, an undifferentiated affection that cannot immediately be turned into sense, and where he differentiates it from secondness which is that “mode of being which lies in opposition to another”, and thirdness which is based on formal laws where general principles can be noticed and acknowledged. In relation to firstness, often the gap between what we perceive and the sense of that perception is so negligible it feels instantaneous, but sometimes what we see takes a moment to crystallize into concrete perception: it remains an impression, but an undifferentiated one. We cannot say what it is an impression of.

It is as though cinema understood this well and quickly, and wanted where possible to escape from impressions and rely chiefly on divisions and established laws: secondness and thirdness. Most scenes in classic cinema start with the establishing shot rather than with close-ups, even if the close-up was the most important element of the scene. Thus the shot was ‘established’, giving the viewer the maximum amount of confidence in assessing the image. But occasionally filmmakers have reversed the process and tried to create suspense out of a close up that is without establishment. Thus we might see a close up of a hand and wonder whose hand, a close up of a foot and wonder whose foot.

This however is still frequently closer to thirdness than firstness. For example a filmmaker might choose to show a close up of a shoe with a drop of blood on it. We might infer that the murderer is the person wearing those shoes, and recall that earlier in the film we have been given a shot of a character’s shoes as the camera tilted up his body from the shoes to the face. Now even if we don’t especially remember the pair of shoes, we will remember the shot, and recall that the shoes seemed to be of some importance, and this is why we were shown them in detail: so that we can make the connection later in the film. We don’t know for sure that these are those of the character we saw earlier, but it is a fair inference and, even if we are proved wrong later, we will be proved wrong by making the ‘correct’ inference: the film maker will want us to make such an assumption, and then play with that assumption later on. This is where the close up serves not an affective function (firstness), but the relational function (thirdness): we make logical guesses based on the information provided. The shoe is clearly a shoe; the question is to whom does it happen to belong.

The close up in Grandrieux’s work is of a different order; though not completely uninterested in questions of relations, he just expects them to function very differently from those in standard narrative epistemology. Un Lac opens with a close up of a body, where what we initially see is the midriff and an axe. We can work out that the person  is almost certainly axing a tree, but because  of the position of the shot and the audio hyperbole of the soundtrack, Grandrieux leaves us wondering whether the sum total of the action is the simple labour of tree-chopping, or an action suggesting greater frustration in other areas of the character’s life. The second shot is also a close up, but this time of the face, and again there seems to be some surplus in the image. As the character looks up it is presumably to see whether the tree is ready to fall, but it also hints at some greater aspect: as if the character is looking to the heavens. Also, both shots are accompanied by a juddery camera. This is not the shaky-cam so often used to indicate restless external energy, and brilliantly deployed in anything from Von Trier’s The Idiots to the Dardennes’ Rosetta, it is instead indicative it would seem of internal energy: the body capable of exploding with inner chaos. Here in these first two shots, Grandrieux doesn’t so much set the scene as the atmosphere he wants the film to work out from, a filmic world always on the point of various and not always recognisable threats, to a strange potentiality.

Let us here return momentarily to the two scenes of jealousy we invoked in Lost Highwayand Raging Bull. In each instance these specific scenes are essentially ironic (though hardly limited to it), evident in the moments that follow them as Lynch and Scorsese cut from the threateningly hushed to the aggressively loud: Fred takes his frustrations out playing the sax at the nightclub; La Motta demolishes his opponent’s face in the ring. The irony lies in knowing how they feel initially, and watching it expressed moments later. They offer determinate expressions and one’s aware of the ironic undercurrent in the former scenes through their expression in the latter. Fred and Jake are jealous, but find a means with which to deal with jealousy without taking it out on their wives: that will come later, as they become unable to transfer their anger from the subject of their impotence to some other thing, be it subject or object, a sax or a boxer. Both films become much more emotionally complex later on, but at this stage, in each character, motivation remains readily locatable, and Lynch and Scorsese brilliantly locate it in scenes of slow and quiet shots followed by rapid cuts and exaggerated sound design.

These are still however very psychological worlds; but, Grandrieux might have asked, looking at such moments, how does one work the visual parsimoniousness and auditory hyperbole that is relevant to both so that physiology is more present than psychology, that we attend not to the body’s day but to its night?  As Grandrieux says in a Rouge interview, “what do we try to reach so feverishly, with such obstinacy and suffering, through representation, through images, if not to open the body’s night…”? Yet this is not the same as saying the complexity of a self; it is more the immediacy of its needs and desires that interests Grandrieux. In this sense Peirce’s firstness, which is basically perceptual, meets a first principle which is fundamentally biological. Where Antonioni wanted to explore a complexity of being that would go beyond the ready coordinates of immediate comprehension (à la the shoe) and would require a sort of radical understanding based on an aesthetic aloofness, and Lynch and Scorsese in the scenes quoted want to capture contained psychology within a formal force, Grandrieux wants to combine immediate phenomenology with the force of physiological instinct. Grandrieux’s close up aesthetic is one of feeling and seeing as though the two were not the separate senses of touch and sight, but close to that of a partial blind man for whom the senses need to combine: where colours are yellowish, reddish, blueish, but not determinate as objects until touch defines them.

Obviously people have talked a lot about the tactile eye, the skin of a film and a cinema of the senses, and Nicole Brenez has offered some wonderful pieces on this type of cinema, including a great interview with Philippe Grandrieux invoked above called ‘The Body’s Night’. And while Deleuze does of course talk of Peirce in Cinema 1 – The Movement Image (indeed grounds the book through Peirce and Bergson) it is probably in his work on Francis Bacon that the tactile aspect of an image is most pronounced. Maybe no filmmaker more than Grandrieux with SombreLa Vie Nouvelle and now Un Lac has done more to give form to some of these ideas. But rather than simply saying that Grandrieux isn’t interested at all in psychology – what is more pertinent is to ask what sort of psychology is Grandrieux fascinated by. A number of statements in Brenez’s interview, chiefly about La Vie Nouvelle, hint at the director trying to get close to the sort of perception not too far removed from that of the person we invoked, the person losing their eyesight and requiring touch to confirm their sense of an object in front of their eyes. “There’s the impression that everything is moving all the time…it was conceived and developed through questions of intensity rather than psychological relations”, Grandrieux says, while Brenez talks of the director’s film as a “complete reorganization of categories, in particular our perceptual categories.”

Our interest in Grandrieux’s work and especially Un Lac lies in the manner in which it deals with a sensational rather than a semiotic problematic, in its interest not in questioning the sign and the gap between the signifier and the signified, between what something is represented as and what we take it to mean, which we’ll call a sceptical problem, but instead a sensational problem in the manner of our senses. If we invoke the image of the partially blind man it is to say that the object in front of our eyes isn’t a problem because of our psychologically sceptical relationship with it – evident in Godard’s famous comment that it isn’t blood, it is red – but more to ask: if it is red might it be blood? Filmmakers like Godard and Antonioni were masters of a certain cinematic scepticism, as if saying the camera might apparently never lie, but that is all the more reason to be suspicious of it. But it is as though Grandrieux doesn’t want suspicion in the face of the image, but radical immersion in the form. When he says of La vie nouvelle that “during the shoot I saw absolutely nothing, not a single image. I never watched any rushes”, and adds “often I shot at such a speed that the crew couldn’t keep up with me,” this is the filmmaker as tactile observer, as a filmmaker filming blind if not in the literal sense then at least figuratively.

Un Lac would seem in some ways to be a more studied work. La Vie Nouvelle appeared finally to have its raison d’etre in the moments late in the film set in a nightclub where Grandrieux used a thermal camera – a device that works off the person’s body heat. It is an army camera that can make out bodies in pitch darkness and shows the skeleton and sinews of a human. It served as both metaphor and revelation, with Grandrieux exploring a problematic not too far removed from Francis Bacon and sensation, sensation as nervous exhaustion, the body’s night as a restless turmoil of desire.

Un Lac often seems closer to a fable, and requires a different aesthetic; one closer not to the nervous clarity of a Bacon, but a subdued classicism combined with a juddering disposition: non-diegetically evident in the camera, but diegetically pertinent also, as the young man we see at the beginning of the film is epileptic. The film is a mixed work, with much of its feeling coming from the blend of nervous states with tranquil forms; from audio and visual close-ups that capture every mole and every breath, and long shots containing the characters in a universe so much greater than themselves. In La Vie Nouvelle the long shot was much more malign, hinting at a no-exit universe of nervous exhaustion, hurtling towards future possibilities, however abject. In Un Lac the titular lake and the surrounding mountains indicate mobility secondary to the immobile, the human contained by the natural. The form the film takes is thus based on distance and proximity, the vague landscape that invokes anyone from Caspar David Friedrich to Turner, and the close ups alluding to Munch and Bacon. In one shot we see the brother, Alexi (Dmitri Kubasov) opening his mouth wide, as if letting out a scream, just as moments before we’ve seen the sky open and the rain come down. All the while the camera judders, as though caught between a human restlessness and a cosmic possibility.

Now perhaps one of the differences between a clichéd character and a developed one needn’t always lie in the absence of psychology in one and its presence in another. The question is more how does one create texture in a character, and this doesn’t necessarily need to be done through psychology, and through the script and performance, but through the audio hyperbole and visual parsimoniousness we’ve mentioned. In the psychological, the character is complex within and chiefly unto himself; in the latter he is simple and contained by a world much greater than his or her own ready motivations. One notices in the moment where Alexi introduces his sister to the handsome stranger that in itself this is a scene indebted to numerous other films, and most especially The Postman Always Rings Twice and its many offshoots, including Visconti’s Ossessione from Italy and Gyorgy Fehèr’s Passion from Hungary. Grandrieux doesn’t especially add emotional complexity to this perverse triangle, but more a visual and auditory sense that says this isn’t a psychological story but closer to what Levi-Strauss would call a mytheme, a story universal and culturally ‘deep’, and that he needs to find a method in which to express that mythemic dimension in a fresh way: through a certain approach to sound and image. While La Vie Nouvelle wanted to live up to its title and indicate new modes, Un Lacdeliberately falls back on conventional feelings of jealousy, loyalty, survival and family.

So how does Grandrieux revitalize the mytheme? As Alexi  introduces his sister Hege (Natalie Reherova) to the stranger, Jurgen (Alexei Solonchev), screen space gives way to light and shadow: mise-en-scene is lost in the play of light and we have no sense of the house in which the characters move, but only of the faces and bodies and how they respond to desire. As Grandrieux cuts from Hege half-turning to Jurgen looking strangely besotted, to a cut to Hege looking no less fascinated, Grandrieux dissolves screen space in at least a twofold way. First there is the lighting that gives light to the bodies but not the spaces they occupy; secondly he offers cuts that don’t match. In the third shot, it seems as though the sister is coming towards the stranger from the other direction. Just afterwards the brother mentions that Hege is his sister while remaining off-screen.

One of the questions that Deleuze asked when talking of op signs and son signs in film, or optical and sound images, was how does one energise bodies. In Antonioni’s characters ennui is more present than passion, but in Grandrieux’s work the problem is inverted: passion is the problem concerning the serial killer in Sombre, the lustful Zeke in La Vie Nouvelle, and the sister and lover, as well as the brother, here. If Deleuze looks at how Antonioni might try and suggest the energy within a body, Grandrieux’s question is much more how does one register these pockets of energy that are clearly present, abundant. Thus Antonioni deframed, as if draining agency and purpose from his characters by indicating the lack of freedom they have within the frame. Grandrieux is more interested in fragmented close-up, but not in the Bergman sense of psychological density, but in a physiological density, in registering a body’s force.

In this sense the close-up can be of anything, while in mainstream cinema the force is usually located in the face, occasionally in the hand in relation to an object that can register that force: like a gun, a sword, a knife. In Grandrieux’s work, and maybe especially in Un Lac, the force is constantly being located in unusual parts of the body, as if every cell is capable of registering and symptomizing activity. One can think of the scene where Alexi has collapsed in the snow after disappearing and Jurgen, finding him, tries to warm him up.  Grandrieux stays in close as the stranger frantically and frenetically gets the brother’s body temperature back to normal, and manages to give the scene the force of a fight sequence. As the camera moves so close in observing the body’s survival, Grandrieux captures well the strife in surviving. This is again an example not of the neurotic camera of Antonioni, nor even the psychological complexity of the close-up Bergman mastered, but the close-up as physiological existence.

While Bergman often used audio hyperbole to accompany the facial close up and give a sense of intimate cruelty to his characters’ exchanges, Grandrieux seems interested not in singularity of character, that is in danger of dissolving psychologically in the literal face of another, exemplified of course in Persona, but more the force that cannot be individuated. There are numerous great filmmakers of Sartre’s notion of hell being other people, and Bergman and Fassbinder the masters respectively of psychological and sociological hell generated by the other. Bergman utilises the close up, and Fassbinder the reaction shot, but in each director’s work the self is still a given that can collapse. In Grandrieux’s work it seems absurd to talk of a self that collapses because the self is not given initially. When Grandrieux says of La Vie Nouvelle, “that’s what we’re looking for: a disquieting film, very disquieting, very fragile and vibrant. Not a film like a tree with a trunk and branches, but like a field of sunflowers”, he is talking about the importance of the verb over the noun. In Bergman and Fassbinder’s work the characters are under threat from another noun, if you like, and dissolution takes place in the collision.

Yet at the same time, we have talked of Levi-Strauss and the mytheme, and that Un Lachas a primal element that is almost tribal, as if all those film noirs of a stranger coming into town and usurping the husband’s role weren’t tales of money and greed, but of mythological necessity. How does Un Lac square the problem of forces of energy and forces of power: the primal and the tribal? It is really the quite simple question of form versus content. The form is primal and the tale tribal, but out of this form versus content comes a form stronger than the content, so that the mythological story meets the formidableness of form and becomes irrelevant against it. At one moment the brother says that “nobody has dominance over the wind”; Grandrieux needs to find a way to make such a statement not a gnomic comment on the power of nature, but incorporate that question within the form that can destroy the content, can make the content seem irrelevant next to the nature that the form captures.

In this sense La Vie Nouvelle is a film that moves forward in time, towards the primal meeting the possible, brilliantly evident in the scene in the club with dance music sourcing new pockets of energy; Un Lac one that moves backwards, encapsulating any attempt at a self in the world indifferent to agency, evident in the brother’s comment about the wind. One film moves towards the possibilities of new energy sources in the body; the other film in the direction of where these sources originally seemed to have come from. If Grandrieux is one of the most important filmmakers of the last decade or so, it is that he does not assume to know where we are going or quite from where we have come, but seems especially interested in exploring states without the sort of judgements that too completely put being into the present and deny it its nature, its source. When Grandrieux interestingly invokes Spinoza and says he is fascinated by Spinoza-ist categories: “rage, joy, pride…”, one senses the attempt to reverse the anthropocentric focus on the self that has feelings, to feelings that attach themselves to individuals.

Where that comes from and where that takes us seems to be the director’s project: his films hint, to varying degrees, of origins and hypotheses. We may well wonder what forms such an enquiry needs to take, but clearly the vocabulary of conventional cinema has to give way to ever more adventurous forays into parsimonious visual exploration and audio exaggeration: to find in the body not its psychological and social obligations and expectations, but perhaps the day and night of the body, its sources and its future. The cinema of conventional cinematic vocabulary cannot help us here, and terms from Peirce, Deleuze, Levi-Strauss and others are merely a way-station towards greater comprehension. Grandrieux is one of the key filmmakers of the verb over the noun, without losing the tension between narrative filmmaking and experimental cinema. The subject is still very much present, but constantly effaced by forces within it that are potentially stronger than the noun can bear. Grandrieux appears at the forefront of the need for a new ontological grammar, a new method of describing the self as a product of affective complexity over psychological nuance, as if a vague and distant cousin to the anti-psychiatrist David Cooper, who says in A Grammar of Living, “No concept of beauty is viable now. Beauty is dead and aesthetics must return to its original sense of feeling with (and beyond) all our senses”. Terms like op signs and son signs, deframings, and composition and attack, are still hugely pertinent, but it is as though one needs a new grammar of affect, and a new grammar of comprehension, to understand a cinema where such terms no longer quite apply. It is a new grammar perhaps resembling what a critic at the forefront of this search, the aforementioned Nicole Brenez seeks, when utilising Theodor Adorno. Brenez says in the essay “On the Subject of Regrettable Searching”: “the renaissance of morality after Auschwitz could only come from the ‘corporeal feeling’, from what he called the “area between the carcass and the meat cleaver”, a frightful zone where the most miserable physical existence articulates with the highest interests of humanity and which he opposed to the “national parks” of traditional metaphysical thinking.” Would this be the night and not the day of cinema, and thus a new grammar of feeling?

© Tony McKibbin

Tony McKibbin Tony McKibbin

Un Lac

A Grammar of Affect

In all three of Philippe Grandrieux's features (Sombre, La vie nouvelle, Un Lac) he has been as interested in the ambiguity of the image as the ambiguity of personal behaviour within the frame. His are not especially psychologically complex characters in the sense one often finds in sixties cinema, in works like The Red Desert, The Eclipse, Hiroshima mon amour, Muriel, or La Dolce Vita, where the lack of vitality indicates neurosis or loss to the detriment of primal feeling. Grandrieux instead wants to find a certain impenetrability in the image as much as in the character. Thus where numerous terms and concepts were created to explain and explore the nature of the great directors of the sixties' work, to find a method for making sense of the form in which the characters were contained, and the manner in which characters seemed to push beyond the limits of the form, do the terms fit so easily with a filmmaker like Grandrieux, someone who works so often with visual parsimoniousness and audio hyperbole?

Amongst the important concepts were Deleuze's lectosigns and chronosigns, Bonitzer's deframings, and Bergala's differentiation of composition and attack. The first two are loosely psychological and perceptual terms; the latter more obviously formal. A lectosign is in Deleuze's formulation that which must be read as much as seen - something that we cannot take as given when we see it, but that we need to make sense of, to break open and comprehend. There is a potential contradiction in Deleuze's thought here as this is a central idea in the second Cinema Book, but where in an interview concerning it he insists that a film needs to be taken in all at once: "I'm especially hostile", he says in an interview in Two Regimes of Madness, "to the notion of different levels: a first, a second, and a third level of meaning, understanding or appreciation." Yet how if a lectosign must be read rather than seen, can it be read at the same level as an image that merely needs to be witnessed? Precisely because these lectosigns are not symbols, they are not abstract meanings that can be understood through tracing their mythological significance, their biblical echoes, or their reference to other art works. For example, the closing scene in Zabriskie Point where the house gets blown to pieces might well be a symbol of capitalism's capacity to implode, but that isn't why it is interesting. It interests us as an image of immediate inexplicability - an image that must be read rather than seen, but whose power resides in our incapacity to say what it means. If someone were to insist a criticism of capitalism was intended, they might be reading it on the secondary level of symbolizing its meaning, but have they attended to the immediate power of its inexplicability? One doesn't watch it bemused and then go off and make sense of the image at one remove of the experience. The image's demand lies in making sense of the feeling we have while watching it, which is why simply to say that it is about capitalism imploding on itself would be facile. It attends to a secondary reading but not to a primary affect. Antonioni's films are full of such images, from the mushroom-like building near the beginning of The Eclipse, the tennis game in Blow Up, the shots of the road passing behind the characters in The Passenger, the opening shots of the car park in La notte. These are not so much symbolic as 'affectful'; demanding feelings from the viewer greater than the ready capacity to comprehend them. They are wonderful 'lectosigns'.

The chronosign is an image of time, the manner in which time sits inside events, inside people and how we are forced to read so many "symptoms in the image", and where "time is torn between an already determined past and a dead end future." Character is less perpetual action than perceptual activity, as characters perceive the present as though with the weight of their past existence. They are acute to events but barely active within them. Antonioni's work is full of such characters.

The deframed image is of course also central to Antonioni's work as he frequently creates cropped frames, characters small within the image, a sense that the character is no longer the centre of the universe but peripheral to it. This is in Bonitzer's words in his book Deframings, "a radical off-centredness of a point of view that mutilates the Body and expels it beyond the frame to focus instead on dead, empty zones devoid of dcor..."

Bergala, meanwhile, talks of the difference between a composition and an attack, and says that one of the freedoms available to the filmmaker is their ability not only to compose an image, but choose which angle they wish to film it. Much of Godard's originality for Bergala lies in this freedom that he seizes upon. Most filmmakers Bergala notes take their cue from the composition, and the attack serves it. In other filmmakers' work, however, the attack is as important, perhaps more so than the composition. Bergala talks at one stage in his article, 'The Other Side of the Bouquet', of Godard's 'attack' in Prenom Carmen, where Godard "as is his habit, lets himself get carried away by words," and then Bergala explains how this play on the word becomes visually apparent in Godard's composition where Godard films Myriem Roussel's character in such a way that she may be playing the violin, but the angle suggests she is pulling back the string on a bow and arrow. The play on language becomes also a visual pun, a pun that could only be achieved by the angle of attack: by filming at an angle that makes the violin playing resemble an arrow being fired.

The terms we have discussed here are all extremely useful ways to understand the work of key filmmakers of the sixties and their work thereafter. But do they quite cover some of the possibilities utilised in the films of Philippe Grandrieux, a filmmaker fascinated (admittedly like Godard, if in very different ways in a film like Eloge de L'amour) in the indeterminate capacity of light? Now obviously throughout cinema history film has been fascinated with a certain ambiguity that can come out of lighting, including German Expressionism and film noir; frequently the painterly chiaroscuro is used to pin down what the filmmaker seeks to achieve. Also filmmakers including Godard, Bergman and Philippe Garrel, have created immense feeling out of playing with the contrast between interior darkness and outside light to capture the feelings connotatively evident on a face.

Yet Grandrieux's project seems slightly different, and maybe more than any other filmmaker he captures indeterminacy of meaning by the presence and absence of light. There is the great term from art that E. H. Gombrich uses when discussing the Mona Lisa: 'sfumato'. This is where the "blurred outline and mellowed colours...allow one form to merge with another and always leave something to our imagination". Utilising such an approach a filmmaker needn't work with psychological ambiguity especially, but an ambiguity of the image that leaves character and situation something of a mystery. In this sense it is as if chiaroscuro, a term so commonly used in film analysis, gives way to the sfumato. Grandrieux is not alone in this project, and there are scenes in Lynch's Lost Highway, in Thierry Jousse's L'Invisible and Claire Denis's Trouble Every Day, where Blake's oxymoron, 'darkness visible', becomes the central thrust of the film's indeterminacy.

In Lost Highway, for example, note the scene where Fred and Renee are in their apartment early in the film. He is going off to the club to play sax and she says she is going to stay in, though she's dressed up as if ripe for an affair. Filmed differently this would be ironic neo-noir, a moment where we take for granted that Renee is lying, and Fred the fall guy in his own marriage. But this is where Lynch doesn't offer complexity of form to illustrate character, but complexity of form to impose itself on characters who are not themselves especially, consciously, complex. Lynch plays on light and shadow as if to deny the ironic reading - to say that there is much more to the scene than a man's jealousy and the wife's infidelity, even if there is not much more to the characters than that. The feelings the characters are expressing, or hiding, are not overly nuanced, in the manner of a figure out of Resnais or Antonioni, but the means with which Lynch films the characters give them ambiguity. Michel Chion notes in his book on Lynch, David Lynch, that when Renee tells Bill that she is going to stay in and read, Fred asks "Read what?" Renee doesn't reply, and Chion believes it is impossible to know what Fred is implying, and reckons "instead of the implication we might expect, he adds precisely nothing at all; rather than a double meaning, it has what might be called one meaning less." Less is more, in the sense that the filmmakers need to offer certain approaches to create the sense not of psychological complexity but of a broader world that the characters are contained within.

This is where Lynch proves a master of the parsimoniously visual and the audio hyperbole that Grandrieux has picked up on and pushed further still. At certain moments Lynch basically works with 'sfumato' effects as both characters become unknowable through light, shade and colour tones. When Renee is first seen she comes round the corner of the hall into the sitting room and the dress, the colour of her skin, and the walls are all shades of pinky purple. When Bill comes towards her he comes out of darkness and into relative light. He may be doing no more than crossing the room, but because Lynch has kept dark the space he is coming from, he seems to be coming from nowhere.

This sense of menace is exacerbated by Lynch's sound design. When Fred says, after Renee reckons she wants to stay home and read, "read...read what?" and Renee giggles, there is no ambient sound within which Fred's comment and Renee's giggles are contained. The audio hyperbole lies in the amplified sound of the voices and the characters' breathing, so that Fred's words and Renee's giggles remain enclosed within an acoustic exclusivity. This is shrunken extension as Chion might define it in Audio-Vision, as he talks about the vast extension that can explain off-screen space with ambient sounds into the distance, or null-extension so that even much of the onscreen space seems to lack audio presence. As Bill walks up to Renee we don't hear his shoes on the floor, as though Lynch wanted to offer Bill up as a figure of intimate menace. The scene may call to mind another great example of shrunken extension, the scene in Raging Bull where La Motta asks his wife about a handsome boxer he will soon be fighting. As Jake menacingly enquires in a hushed voice, the film offers a closed-off screen space so that it isn't only off-screen sound that is killed, but also any on screen noise that doesn't imply Jake's jealousy. In each instance the film doesn't go into the character's subjectivity, but it captures well each character's suspicions.

Un Lac is also a film about the problem of jealousy; this time in a rural environment where a sister, a brother, a baby and a father and blind mother live. The father is away, and a young man comes into the community, who is clearly interested in the daughter, and the daughter interested in him. Yet the brother seems to have feelings for her as well, and Grandrieux wants to play out a minimalist story for the maximum of formal, even perceptual, as opposed to psychological, ambiguity. What often interests Grandrieux is a version of what C. S. Peirce (who was of course a central consciousness in Deleuze's Cinema books) has called firstness, an undifferentiated affection that cannot immediately be turned into sense, and where he differentiates it from secondness which is that "mode of being which lies in opposition to another", and thirdness which is based on formal laws where general principles can be noticed and acknowledged. In relation to firstness, often the gap between what we perceive and the sense of that perception is so negligible it feels instantaneous, but sometimes what we see takes a moment to crystallize into concrete perception: it remains an impression, but an undifferentiated one. We cannot say what it is an impression of.

It is as though cinema understood this well and quickly, and wanted where possible to escape from impressions and rely chiefly on divisions and established laws: secondness and thirdness. Most scenes in classic cinema start with the establishing shot rather than with close-ups, even if the close-up was the most important element of the scene. Thus the shot was 'established', giving the viewer the maximum amount of confidence in assessing the image. But occasionally filmmakers have reversed the process and tried to create suspense out of a close up that is without establishment. Thus we might see a close up of a hand and wonder whose hand, a close up of a foot and wonder whose foot.

This however is still frequently closer to thirdness than firstness. For example a filmmaker might choose to show a close up of a shoe with a drop of blood on it. We might infer that the murderer is the person wearing those shoes, and recall that earlier in the film we have been given a shot of a character's shoes as the camera tilted up his body from the shoes to the face. Now even if we don't especially remember the pair of shoes, we will remember the shot, and recall that the shoes seemed to be of some importance, and this is why we were shown them in detail: so that we can make the connection later in the film. We don't know for sure that these are those of the character we saw earlier, but it is a fair inference and, even if we are proved wrong later, we will be proved wrong by making the 'correct' inference: the film maker will want us to make such an assumption, and then play with that assumption later on. This is where the close up serves not an affective function (firstness), but the relational function (thirdness): we make logical guesses based on the information provided. The shoe is clearly a shoe; the question is to whom does it happen to belong.

The close up in Grandrieux's work is of a different order; though not completely uninterested in questions of relations, he just expects them to function very differently from those in standard narrative epistemology. Un Lac opens with a close up of a body, where what we initially see is the midriff and an axe. We can work out that the person is almost certainly axing a tree, but because of the position of the shot and the audio hyperbole of the soundtrack, Grandrieux leaves us wondering whether the sum total of the action is the simple labour of tree-chopping, or an action suggesting greater frustration in other areas of the character's life. The second shot is also a close up, but this time of the face, and again there seems to be some surplus in the image. As the character looks up it is presumably to see whether the tree is ready to fall, but it also hints at some greater aspect: as if the character is looking to the heavens. Also, both shots are accompanied by a juddery camera. This is not the shaky-cam so often used to indicate restless external energy, and brilliantly deployed in anything from Von Trier's The Idiots to the Dardennes' Rosetta, it is instead indicative it would seem of internal energy: the body capable of exploding with inner chaos. Here in these first two shots, Grandrieux doesn't so much set the scene as the atmosphere he wants the film to work out from, a filmic world always on the point of various and not always recognisable threats, to a strange potentiality.

Let us here return momentarily to the two scenes of jealousy we invoked in Lost Highwayand Raging Bull. In each instance these specific scenes are essentially ironic (though hardly limited to it), evident in the moments that follow them as Lynch and Scorsese cut from the threateningly hushed to the aggressively loud: Fred takes his frustrations out playing the sax at the nightclub; La Motta demolishes his opponent's face in the ring. The irony lies in knowing how they feel initially, and watching it expressed moments later. They offer determinate expressions and one's aware of the ironic undercurrent in the former scenes through their expression in the latter. Fred and Jake are jealous, but find a means with which to deal with jealousy without taking it out on their wives: that will come later, as they become unable to transfer their anger from the subject of their impotence to some other thing, be it subject or object, a sax or a boxer. Both films become much more emotionally complex later on, but at this stage, in each character, motivation remains readily locatable, and Lynch and Scorsese brilliantly locate it in scenes of slow and quiet shots followed by rapid cuts and exaggerated sound design.

These are still however very psychological worlds; but, Grandrieux might have asked, looking at such moments, how does one work the visual parsimoniousness and auditory hyperbole that is relevant to both so that physiology is more present than psychology, that we attend not to the body's day but to its night? As Grandrieux says in a Rouge interview, "what do we try to reach so feverishly, with such obstinacy and suffering, through representation, through images, if not to open the body's night..."? Yet this is not the same as saying the complexity of a self; it is more the immediacy of its needs and desires that interests Grandrieux. In this sense Peirce's firstness, which is basically perceptual, meets a first principle which is fundamentally biological. Where Antonioni wanted to explore a complexity of being that would go beyond the ready coordinates of immediate comprehension ( la the shoe) and would require a sort of radical understanding based on an aesthetic aloofness, and Lynch and Scorsese in the scenes quoted want to capture contained psychology within a formal force, Grandrieux wants to combine immediate phenomenology with the force of physiological instinct. Grandrieux's close up aesthetic is one of feeling and seeing as though the two were not the separate senses of touch and sight, but close to that of a partial blind man for whom the senses need to combine: where colours are yellowish, reddish, blueish, but not determinate as objects until touch defines them.

Obviously people have talked a lot about the tactile eye, the skin of a film and a cinema of the senses, and Nicole Brenez has offered some wonderful pieces on this type of cinema, including a great interview with Philippe Grandrieux invoked above called 'The Body's Night'. And while Deleuze does of course talk of Peirce in Cinema 1 - The Movement Image (indeed grounds the book through Peirce and Bergson) it is probably in his work on Francis Bacon that the tactile aspect of an image is most pronounced. Maybe no filmmaker more than Grandrieux with Sombre, La Vie Nouvelle and now Un Lac has done more to give form to some of these ideas. But rather than simply saying that Grandrieux isn't interested at all in psychology - what is more pertinent is to ask what sort of psychology is Grandrieux fascinated by. A number of statements in Brenez's interview, chiefly about La Vie Nouvelle, hint at the director trying to get close to the sort of perception not too far removed from that of the person we invoked, the person losing their eyesight and requiring touch to confirm their sense of an object in front of their eyes. "There's the impression that everything is moving all the time...it was conceived and developed through questions of intensity rather than psychological relations", Grandrieux says, while Brenez talks of the director's film as a "complete reorganization of categories, in particular our perceptual categories."

Our interest in Grandrieux's work and especially Un Lac lies in the manner in which it deals with a sensational rather than a semiotic problematic, in its interest not in questioning the sign and the gap between the signifier and the signified, between what something is represented as and what we take it to mean, which we'll call a sceptical problem, but instead a sensational problem in the manner of our senses. If we invoke the image of the partially blind man it is to say that the object in front of our eyes isn't a problem because of our psychologically sceptical relationship with it - evident in Godard's famous comment that it isn't blood, it is red - but more to ask: if it is red might it be blood? Filmmakers like Godard and Antonioni were masters of a certain cinematic scepticism, as if saying the camera might apparently never lie, but that is all the more reason to be suspicious of it. But it is as though Grandrieux doesn't want suspicion in the face of the image, but radical immersion in the form. When he says of La vie nouvelle that "during the shoot I saw absolutely nothing, not a single image. I never watched any rushes", and adds "often I shot at such a speed that the crew couldn't keep up with me," this is the filmmaker as tactile observer, as a filmmaker filming blind if not in the literal sense then at least figuratively.

Un Lac would seem in some ways to be a more studied work. La Vie Nouvelle appeared finally to have its raison d'etre in the moments late in the film set in a nightclub where Grandrieux used a thermal camera - a device that works off the person's body heat. It is an army camera that can make out bodies in pitch darkness and shows the skeleton and sinews of a human. It served as both metaphor and revelation, with Grandrieux exploring a problematic not too far removed from Francis Bacon and sensation, sensation as nervous exhaustion, the body's night as a restless turmoil of desire.

Un Lac often seems closer to a fable, and requires a different aesthetic; one closer not to the nervous clarity of a Bacon, but a subdued classicism combined with a juddering disposition: non-diegetically evident in the camera, but diegetically pertinent also, as the young man we see at the beginning of the film is epileptic. The film is a mixed work, with much of its feeling coming from the blend of nervous states with tranquil forms; from audio and visual close-ups that capture every mole and every breath, and long shots containing the characters in a universe so much greater than themselves. In La Vie Nouvelle the long shot was much more malign, hinting at a no-exit universe of nervous exhaustion, hurtling towards future possibilities, however abject. In Un Lac the titular lake and the surrounding mountains indicate mobility secondary to the immobile, the human contained by the natural. The form the film takes is thus based on distance and proximity, the vague landscape that invokes anyone from Caspar David Friedrich to Turner, and the close ups alluding to Munch and Bacon. In one shot we see the brother, Alexi (Dmitri Kubasov) opening his mouth wide, as if letting out a scream, just as moments before we've seen the sky open and the rain come down. All the while the camera judders, as though caught between a human restlessness and a cosmic possibility.

Now perhaps one of the differences between a clichd character and a developed one needn't always lie in the absence of psychology in one and its presence in another. The question is more how does one create texture in a character, and this doesn't necessarily need to be done through psychology, and through the script and performance, but through the audio hyperbole and visual parsimoniousness we've mentioned. In the psychological, the character is complex within and chiefly unto himself; in the latter he is simple and contained by a world much greater than his or her own ready motivations. One notices in the moment where Alexi introduces his sister to the handsome stranger that in itself this is a scene indebted to numerous other films, and most especially The Postman Always Rings Twice and its many offshoots, including Visconti's Ossessione from Italy and Gyorgy Fehr's Passion from Hungary. Grandrieux doesn't especially add emotional complexity to this perverse triangle, but more a visual and auditory sense that says this isn't a psychological story but closer to what Levi-Strauss would call a mytheme, a story universal and culturally 'deep', and that he needs to find a method in which to express that mythemic dimension in a fresh way: through a certain approach to sound and image. While La Vie Nouvelle wanted to live up to its title and indicate new modes, Un Lacdeliberately falls back on conventional feelings of jealousy, loyalty, survival and family.

So how does Grandrieux revitalize the mytheme? As Alexi introduces his sister Hege (Natalie Reherova) to the stranger, Jurgen (Alexei Solonchev), screen space gives way to light and shadow: mise-en-scene is lost in the play of light and we have no sense of the house in which the characters move, but only of the faces and bodies and how they respond to desire. As Grandrieux cuts from Hege half-turning to Jurgen looking strangely besotted, to a cut to Hege looking no less fascinated, Grandrieux dissolves screen space in at least a twofold way. First there is the lighting that gives light to the bodies but not the spaces they occupy; secondly he offers cuts that don't match. In the third shot, it seems as though the sister is coming towards the stranger from the other direction. Just afterwards the brother mentions that Hege is his sister while remaining off-screen.

One of the questions that Deleuze asked when talking of op signs and son signs in film, or optical and sound images, was how does one energise bodies. In Antonioni's characters ennui is more present than passion, but in Grandrieux's work the problem is inverted: passion is the problem concerning the serial killer in Sombre, the lustful Zeke in La Vie Nouvelle, and the sister and lover, as well as the brother, here. If Deleuze looks at how Antonioni might try and suggest the energy within a body, Grandrieux's question is much more how does one register these pockets of energy that are clearly present, abundant. Thus Antonioni deframed, as if draining agency and purpose from his characters by indicating the lack of freedom they have within the frame. Grandrieux is more interested in fragmented close-up, but not in the Bergman sense of psychological density, but in a physiological density, in registering a body's force.

In this sense the close-up can be of anything, while in mainstream cinema the force is usually located in the face, occasionally in the hand in relation to an object that can register that force: like a gun, a sword, a knife. In Grandrieux's work, and maybe especially in Un Lac, the force is constantly being located in unusual parts of the body, as if every cell is capable of registering and symptomizing activity. One can think of the scene where Alexi has collapsed in the snow after disappearing and Jurgen, finding him, tries to warm him up. Grandrieux stays in close as the stranger frantically and frenetically gets the brother's body temperature back to normal, and manages to give the scene the force of a fight sequence. As the camera moves so close in observing the body's survival, Grandrieux captures well the strife in surviving. This is again an example not of the neurotic camera of Antonioni, nor even the psychological complexity of the close-up Bergman mastered, but the close-up as physiological existence.

While Bergman often used audio hyperbole to accompany the facial close up and give a sense of intimate cruelty to his characters' exchanges, Grandrieux seems interested not in singularity of character, that is in danger of dissolving psychologically in the literal face of another, exemplified of course in Persona, but more the force that cannot be individuated. There are numerous great filmmakers of Sartre's notion of hell being other people, and Bergman and Fassbinder the masters respectively of psychological and sociological hell generated by the other. Bergman utilises the close up, and Fassbinder the reaction shot, but in each director's work the self is still a given that can collapse. In Grandrieux's work it seems absurd to talk of a self that collapses because the self is not given initially. When Grandrieux says of La Vie Nouvelle, "that's what we're looking for: a disquieting film, very disquieting, very fragile and vibrant. Not a film like a tree with a trunk and branches, but like a field of sunflowers", he is talking about the importance of the verb over the noun. In Bergman and Fassbinder's work the characters are under threat from another noun, if you like, and dissolution takes place in the collision.

Yet at the same time, we have talked of Levi-Strauss and the mytheme, and that Un Lachas a primal element that is almost tribal, as if all those film noirs of a stranger coming into town and usurping the husband's role weren't tales of money and greed, but of mythological necessity. How does Un Lac square the problem of forces of energy and forces of power: the primal and the tribal? It is really the quite simple question of form versus content. The form is primal and the tale tribal, but out of this form versus content comes a form stronger than the content, so that the mythological story meets the formidableness of form and becomes irrelevant against it. At one moment the brother says that "nobody has dominance over the wind"; Grandrieux needs to find a way to make such a statement not a gnomic comment on the power of nature, but incorporate that question within the form that can destroy the content, can make the content seem irrelevant next to the nature that the form captures.

In this sense La Vie Nouvelle is a film that moves forward in time, towards the primal meeting the possible, brilliantly evident in the scene in the club with dance music sourcing new pockets of energy; Un Lac one that moves backwards, encapsulating any attempt at a self in the world indifferent to agency, evident in the brother's comment about the wind. One film moves towards the possibilities of new energy sources in the body; the other film in the direction of where these sources originally seemed to have come from. If Grandrieux is one of the most important filmmakers of the last decade or so, it is that he does not assume to know where we are going or quite from where we have come, but seems especially interested in exploring states without the sort of judgements that too completely put being into the present and deny it its nature, its source. When Grandrieux interestingly invokes Spinoza and says he is fascinated by Spinoza-ist categories: "rage, joy, pride...", one senses the attempt to reverse the anthropocentric focus on the self that has feelings, to feelings that attach themselves to individuals.

Where that comes from and where that takes us seems to be the director's project: his films hint, to varying degrees, of origins and hypotheses. We may well wonder what forms such an enquiry needs to take, but clearly the vocabulary of conventional cinema has to give way to ever more adventurous forays into parsimonious visual exploration and audio exaggeration: to find in the body not its psychological and social obligations and expectations, but perhaps the day and night of the body, its sources and its future. The cinema of conventional cinematic vocabulary cannot help us here, and terms from Peirce, Deleuze, Levi-Strauss and others are merely a way-station towards greater comprehension. Grandrieux is one of the key filmmakers of the verb over the noun, without losing the tension between narrative filmmaking and experimental cinema. The subject is still very much present, but constantly effaced by forces within it that are potentially stronger than the noun can bear. Grandrieux appears at the forefront of the need for a new ontological grammar, a new method of describing the self as a product of affective complexity over psychological nuance, as if a vague and distant cousin to the anti-psychiatrist David Cooper, who says in A Grammar of Living, "No concept of beauty is viable now. Beauty is dead and aesthetics must return to its original sense of feeling with (and beyond) all our senses". Terms like op signs and son signs, deframings, and composition and attack, are still hugely pertinent, but it is as though one needs a new grammar of affect, and a new grammar of comprehension, to understand a cinema where such terms no longer quite apply. It is a new grammar perhaps resembling what a critic at the forefront of this search, the aforementioned Nicole Brenez seeks, when utilising Theodor Adorno. Brenez says in the essay "On the Subject of Regrettable Searching": "the renaissance of morality after Auschwitz could only come from the 'corporeal feeling', from what he called the "area between the carcass and the meat cleaver", a frightful zone where the most miserable physical existence articulates with the highest interests of humanity and which he opposed to the "national parks" of traditional metaphysical thinking." Would this be the night and not the day of cinema, and thus a new grammar of feeling?


© Tony McKibbin