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Focus - Brussels Film Festival
The Brussels Film Festival marks its 10th anniversary with a retrospective of work by Peter Greenaway
Peter Greenaway has been proclaiming the death of cinema for more than a decade now, so he seems an odd choice to preside over a film festival jury. But his presence in this capacity at the Brussels Film Festival means we get a chance to hear his views at first hand, and also to revisit some of the films that made the British director one of the biggest names in European art cinema during the 1980s.
Greenaway’s masterclass, called Cinema is Dead, Long Live Cinema, takes place on June 15. When he has spoken under this banner in the past, he has argued that cinema has failed to live up to its artistic ambitions and, after little more than a century, has reached a dead end. “It has basically used up all the tropes and paradigms, and has created a whole series of genres with which we have become excessively familiar,” he told an American audience in 2010.
This is not a recent death. “I think the last really true cinema was made by the Germans in the mid-1970s,” he explains, name-checking directors such as Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and French exile Jean-Marie Straub. “For me these would be the last people who actually practise some notion of what celluloid cinema was all about.” In order to move forward and turn cinema into an autonomous, self-respecting art form, Greenaway argues that four tyrannies must be overthrown. The first is the tyranny of the frame, the fixed rectangular shape that has nothing to do with how we see the world. The second tyranny is writing. “Every film you’ve ever seen started life as text,” Greenaway says. “We have a text-based cinema, we don’t have an image-based cinema.”
The third tyranny is the performer, the actors and actresses who have become a dangerous obsession for the cinema and yet whose potential is rarely exploited to the full by film makers. Finally, there is the tyranny of the camera. “The camera is a very stupid instrument, however bright the camera operator,” Greenaway says, contrasting it with the more interpretive way of recording the world practised by painters such as Picasso.
In recent years Greenaway has been doing his best to overthrow these tyrannies with his own work. This has made his conventional filmography rather sparse, since work with alternative screens is better suited to galleries than the cinema, and sprawling, form-busting projects such as The Tulse Luper Suitcases make more sense online or on DVD.
However, he has had huge success exploring iconic works of art by projecting images on to them (or on to carefully constructed replicas). This began with Rembrandt’s The Night Watch in Amsterdam and has gone on to include Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana, with six other paintings waiting in the wings. Greenaway’s last mainstream feature, Nightwatching, was a spin-off of the Rembrandt project.
The festival’s retrospective sensibly sticks to the more conventional feature films that brought Greenaway to the public eye, beginning with The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) and continuing with A Zed and Two Noughts (1986), the excellent Drowning by Numbers (1988) and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989). It concludes with Prospero’s Books (1991), in which Greenaway explores the possibilities of using computers to compose and manipulate images.
June 8 to 16 at Flagey; some screenings at Bozar
Outdoor screenings at Place Sainte-Croix
Tickets: Pass €25 for five films; €7.50 for one film (from Flagey)
Party at Flagey on June 9. US band Chromatics will play, plus DJ sets from ex-Libertine Carl Barât and Saul Williams
All of the tyrannies Greenaway wants to overthrow are firmly in place for the 12 films his jury will see as part of the film festival competition, although several push the limits of conventional cinema.
Among the most provocative is Clip, from first-time director Maja Miloš. It concerns a teenage Serbian girl who pursues an unresponsive older boy from her school, filming her every move on her mobile phone, capturing raw images of the abusive relationship into which she is falling. Another female director exploring a sexually charged theme is Angelina Nikonova, whose Twilight Portrait follows a Russian woman’s journey into the underworld after she witnesses a rape and then becomes a victim of rape herself.
For a less traumatic time, choose Voice of My Father by Orhan Eskiköy and Zeynel Dogan. Poised somewhere between fiction and documentary, the film shows a young Kurdish man trying to recall his father at the moment he is about to become a father himself. It’s also worth seeking out Faouzi Bensaïdi’s Death for Sale, a rambling but intriguing tale of three friends on the fringes of Morocco’s criminal underworld. Part film noir, part romance, the film makes particularly good use of the landscape around the city of Tetouan.
There are two chances to see Woody Allen on screen, first as a character in his own film To Rome with Love, then as himself in French rom-com Paris Manhattan, in which a lovelorn Parisian pharmacist has imaginary conversations with the great New York wit.
There are only four open-air screenings this year. Two are film concerts: Parisian trio NLF3 and experimental guitarist Erik Minkkinen provide a soundtrack to Paul Wegener’s silent film Golem, while NeirdA and Z3ro accompany an episode of cult TV series The Prisoner. The others are Belgian movies Les Géants and Hasta la vista.
New this year is a programme of pop and rock documentaries, ranging from Shut Up and Play the Hits, about LCD Soundsystem’s farewell concert, to The Libertines: There are No Innocent Bystanders. The band’s guitarist, Carl Barât, is expected to attend. Meanwhile for a local connection, there’s a film about Marc A Huyghens’ trio Joy.
Winterbottom and Davies
Sneak previews at the festival include Trishna, Michael Winterbottom’s Indian take on Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea, based on a play by Terence Rattigan. Both are expected to attend.