Les États généraux du film documentaire 2010 At the Limits

At the Limits

In Z32, Avi Mograbi transgresses a documentary taboo, that of masking a face. The evolution of the mask all along the film, simultaneously with the empty words (those of the murderer, of his companion, of the film-maker) become the true material of the film, its matrix. From the blur to the mask, from the mask to the invented face, we see before our eyes an experiment being tried which is conscious of its fictive and ambiguous nature, that of giving to the other, the murderer, whose words become freer and question themselves, a possible albeit invented image which raises by itself the questions provoked by such a gesture. The Israeli director thus invents, in a logic at once singular yet inscribed in the heritage of his previous films, a new approach to directing which allows him to explore new paths in the very particular territory “in-between” fiction and documentary which his cinema maintains, a cinema of relativity. This relativity is also revealed by the traces of special effects that he uses (allowing the spectator to see the young man or his companion each time they move their hands in front of their faces in 3D) and by the setting up of a counterpoint employing his own character, a recurrent figure of his work, worrying, this time in song in a register parodying The Fourpenny Opera, about the judiciousness of his gesture. Mograbi continues in this way his work of mourning, live, in sync with Israeli history and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Working on the living memory of his people, he confronts the “untenable” position of an artist in a country in time of war and subject to a drift towards authoritarian politics, constantly challenged to reposition himself, searching for his place and his relationship with the other, be it a murderer.

Filming the inaccessible
At the other end of the documentary spectrum, that of a direct cinema pushed to its limits, Wang Bing continues his work by filming a moving testimonial, words saved from oblivion in Fengming, a Chinese Memoir and accompanies at close hand a recluse, through the mute confrontation proposed in Man with No Name. Via these two portraits and two testimonials, he offers two astounding metaphors which throw light, one by words, the other by their absence, on the state of the tragic reality which surrounds him. The Chinese film-maker pursues the enquiry begun with the impressive West of the Tracks by employing the same principals, the same approach (a small DV camera and solitary, long term immersion), untiringly pursuing the same goal: filming that which is disappearing, which the world ignores, the missing and crucial pieces of a contemporary history of humanity which is in large part inaccessible to us. Filming in haste, in accompaniment, in length, this is his method, delivering to the viewer a semi-polished work where the author's mastery is deliberately left in the background in favour of a more urgent, essential truth, that of a memory in the process of being erased incarnated by the bodies of those he films with infinite patience. Via the “off-frame” which his films reveal little by little, Wang Bing manages to describe the very process of collective and individual erasure of memory by the Chinese state and society, as an expression of modern barbarity at work, subject to a stunning and destructive acceleration. He allows us to share his own experience of filming in its harshness, its cruelty, its raw violence without reducing or accelerating it, as a gesture of resistance to the bulldozer of history crushing the inhabitants of his country.
It is not without interest that documentary film, in the essential space it occupies between memory and history, between the past and the present, should be constantly pushed to reinvent new approaches to try to avoid the traps set by a world of communication and representation dominated by the techniques of avoidance, speed and fakery. The works of Wang Bing and Avi Mograbi, through their capacities to regenerate at the limits an approach to the Real through radical and subversive experiments, are the living proof.

Frédéric Sabouraud, Dork Zabunyan

The Details – Simulation

In November 2009, Avi Mograbi presented The Details, his first personal exhibition at the Galerie Art & Essai of the Université de Rennes 2. A few months later, he expressed the wish to display the video installation elements at the États généraux du film documentaire of Lussas. A different form will be presented, based on an original suggestion by Mograbi: not a new display of the Rennes exhibition but its “simulation”, as monitors at Lussas will replace the projection screens that mingled with the panels of the original display. Another format for the show situating it in another space: a change of format which will lead us to question Mograbi's film forms, whose variations in length are fully worthy of study.

The Details participates in a recent and important series of “exhibited cinemas”, an expression Jean-Luc Godard favoured to describe the passage of film image from the cinema theatre to the museum hall. Godard himself occupied the halls of the Centre Pompidou in 2006 with his Voyage(s) en Utopie. The success of the migration of images from one disposition to another depends in part on the attention paid to the new conditions of image display and to the effects more generally resulting from the operation of cinema (editing, framing or indeed mixing). If The Details constitutes a formal necessity within Mograbi's film work, it is because the author of Z32 here frontally faces the problems of changing the space of his cinematic work, i.e. he has been capable of displacing the questions he habitually asks from behind the camera to the exhibition space.

So precisely why abandon the moving two dimensional image projected on a single screen for a cinema whose visual and audio components are disseminated and amplified throughout a visiting area? No doubt the spatial cinema which results is connected to Mograbi's concern with filming the scratched, crushed zones shown in The Details, a way of unfolding within the exhibition hall the overlapping territories whose limits are uncertain (but nonetheless ever constraining): a border crossing, a buffer-zone, an enclave improvised in the middle of nowhere, etc. We can observe that the representation in space of the documentary sequences shot by Mograbi are placed in two ways: on one hand the screen alternates between two film excerpts (with at least one Details each time); on the other, a system of connections is woven between the various represented spaces, from one screen to another.

If this way of installing the Details offers overall a mapping of the balance of power characteristic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the crossovers between the different videos explode the separation lines, the fractures which locally define the necessarily tortured space of the conflict. A controlled explosion, then, obtained by the intermingling of the Details and whose sound equivalent is produced by the overlaying of noises, words and all kinds of music produced by each video. Listening at the limit of what is audible, and nonetheless clear, as if the violence of the exchanged words, in spite of the clouds of noise enveloping the spectator, came to us with a disquieting sharpness. Whether the disorder of the Details be visual or audio, it is strictly imagined by Avi Mograbi in and for the exhibition space: the cinema on display in this sense conquers an indubitably critical and aesthetic necessity.

Dork Zabunyan

The simulation of The Details installation will be visible from Thursday, August 26. You are invited to explore it before the opening of the seminar. For those who will not have the opportunity, a catch-up session is programmed Saturday, August 28.

Coordination : Frédéric Sabouraud, Dork Zabunyan

Guests : Avi Mograbi, Wang Bing.