July 9, 2006

Jean-Claude Rousseau by Akasaka Daisuke (excerpt)

2005... From "Visual" to "Audio"

A fixed shot. In a hotel room there is a bed and sunlight enters from a right window. A middle aged man enters the room and takes off his coat and hat. When he opens the window, the atmosphere and noisy sounds of the outside invade the inside. The man triggers sounds from the off-screen. He switches on TV, the voice of an RAI announcer is heard, and the noisy siren of a patrol car fills in the room. At that moment we feel as if the space is exploding within, the shot and the sounds are cut... a black screen with silence, and connecting to a vivid long shot of the city which liberates the sounds of the outside atmosphere.

Jean-Claude Rousseau, who himself plays the man, is an amazing cineaste in that he can show what cinema is, as such, in only one shot. In Japan, his four video works were shown for the first time in the "Panorama of New French Documentaries", at the Institute Franco-Japonaise de Tokyo, in November 2004.

He was born in 1948, and was influenced by the American underground cinema during the time he spent in New York, as was Phillipe Garrel. After coming to Paris Rousseau made 8mm film works, taking years for each one. In 1999, La Vallée close (1995) won prizes at the Belfort International Film Festival. Jean-Marie Straub says Rousseau is one of the greatest filmmakers in Europe, along with Frans Van de Staak and Peter Nestler. Recently Rousseau has made video works at a greater pace. The first video I described above is a short film called Lettre a Roberto (2002)-- it's a masterpiece. I was fascinated with the movement of light and sound, lead by Rousseau's gestures in the space. The movement captured by this fixed shot is very fresh, fun and even entertaining; the director's look is gloomy to the contrary. But, why?

Some viewers must have the same question about Juste avant L'orage (2003), which was shot while Rousseau was in South-Korea for the Jeon-ju International Film Festival.Why is such a low-angle fixed shot of a street market stall so fascinating? Immediately after men at rest leave, a shop-woman is cleaning, and there are families in  the distance, in addition to a motorcycle and a car, appearing and leaving, roaring like choreographed extras in a Jacques Tati film. But it's not a comedy. Was it directed or not? I don't know, but this simple shot is incredibly funny. Then the space is filled with noises suddenly turns into a black screen with silence, and an inside shot of a taxi captures wipers moving on wet windshield, with a conversation between driver and guest.

Faibles Amusements (2004) fragmentally tells a love story that the director himself tempts out of a young man who wants to be a filmmaker. They stay at a hotel near Lake Como and the young man leaves the director, but viewers can see the deck of a ship on which passengers board (Ozu!), a young man posing in bed with the director's voice, the young man who reads outside through a window like a Bonnard painting, and a street with the conversation of the two men about Robert Bresson... The relation between image and sound is loose (for example a shot of the young man's face with conversations from an other scene), and the time goes back and forth. And in the 5 short minutes of  Contretemps (2004) we hear the voice message of a young man from telephone "I can't come see you " with black screen, and see the next wonderful shot whose composition consists of books and antiques of an oriental taste on a desk. A book turned over shut by itself. That's all. But in such a short film which consists of extreme simplicity, we feel Rousseau gives his absolute confidence to space and sounds -- as if each shot answers "yes" when asked " Is such an image valuable?"

In Rousseau's films he trusts the audio-visual sense of viewers who will recognize the movements which create this world. And through his cinema he lets us notice the existence of the space and sounds which we can't recognize in daily life. How the collision of sounds, their deletion and invasion into space can expand our audition and amuse us! Rousseau developed Bresson's ways of "off sound", and he implies that the manipulation of the author himself who organizes the movement of the sound that goes in and out of a fixed shot is an amazing subject, too. His films are documentaries of manipulation in that sense. Rousseau is an ultimate filmmaker because he reforms cinema buoyantly, as if keeping a diary.


But why do most viewers turn away from the trust of these cineastes and leave themselves out of the audio-visual operation? Every year it becomes more and more difficult to see the films that awaken our senses on-screen in Japan. Most distributors and bureaucrats believe that they can leave the sleeping beauty as she is, without knowing it drives us into dangerous places. Our life is enclosed within images now and in the future, and the person who doesn't think about this is nevertheless profoundly influenced by it, as if it's easier for the person who doesn't have immunity to get disease. We need the cineastes who give us an opportunity to think along with the enjoyment of listening.

-- Akasaka Daisuke
This is a revised translation of Daisuke's longer essay "2005...from 'Visual' to 'Audio': Jean-Claude Rousseau, Monteiro's Branca de neve, Nestler, Straub-Huillet" which can be found in a questionable translation, but still better than nothing, as information and incisive thought on these filmmakers is hard to find, HERE.

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