Objectif Cinema

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Season 1 episode 2

 Phoenix Atala

by Nicolas VILLODRE
Year after year, Sophie Herbin, the very charming and pleasant woman in charge of the dance section of the Conservatoire Olivier Messiaen de Champigny, programs in this isle of tranquility, located 4 rue Proudhon, right in the heart of the “leafy projects” of a Communist suburb – which is at the pinnacle all things contemporary and incredibly audacious in the urban dance or in avant-garde, modern, or multi-genre performances, caring little for pleasing everybody, obtaining high audience numbers, and disappointing people – and yet, we’re all here. April 1st – a date full of meaning for an operation like the one we will discuss, more or less relevant, whether we want to or not, either a joke or a trap – Phoenix Atala, partner, disciple, spiritual daughter of the mythical duo of French actionists Grand Magasin (Pascale Murtin and François Hiffler), presented his first personal work here, an “enlarged” film with a title that sounds like an American TV series: SEASON 1 EPISODE 2.

After an unexpected “Rumba du pinceau”, a song written and sung by Bourvil in 1947, danced by four visual arts students and choreographed by Marie-Laure Tétaud, a sort of apéritif to the evening, with its connotations of “amateur night”, the projection could finally begin in its meta-filmic version, i.e., in an old-fashioned-style presentation, with many people participating in the spirit of Le Film est déjà commencé?, debates, and all.
As is generally the case with Grand Magasin, whose excellent work has always enchanted us, insofar as it is both poetic and spiritual – in our hierarchy of values, these two criteria define what is most difficult to achieve in art – with (faux) naïveté, malice and finesse, Phoenix Atala’s film questions language. It is no longer a question here of the French language, as is habitually the case, but what could best be called “cinematic writing”, perfected by Griffith and accepted as a given by spectators. “Where is the cameraman? When will the shot change? Was this shot filmed in chronological order? How many takes were necessary before getting the desired shot? These are the questions that the characters of the film ask out loud…” This is the pitch of the show where, at any moment, from anywhere, the characters can walk out of the screen like Sherlock Jr. to appear in 3D, flesh and bones to participate in the performance. They are: Pascale Murtin, Christophe Salengro, Aurélia Petit, Virginie Petit, Danièle Colomine, Joseph Dahan, Christophe Arrot, Marc Bruckert, Etienne Charry, François Hiffler.

The film is also a documentary on the suburbs, on the banks of the Seine and Marne Rivers, which have kept none of the idyllic aura they once had in the populist cinema of Marcel Carné (Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche, 1929) or Jean Dréville (cf. À la Varenne, 1933, a sort of music video juxtaposing a java sung by the “Bayonnais” André Perchicot to images of “guinguettes”) or that of Julien Duvivier (La Belle équipe, 1936). […]
Phoenix allows himself a few visual flourishes: a split screen that could have been straight out of The Thomas Crown Affair (a photo of the film poster with a housewife in a red tartan shirt ironing a red-checkered tablecloth with the same tint, or doing the dishes in a tiled kitchen with the same pattern; the appearance of a message that would terrify all the wannabe editors in the room: “Media offline”; location of the subtitles, announced by the actors themselves; a few unapologetic blurry shots; an anamorphic image; several martial arts scenes no doubt inspired by the proximity of the Chinese center, Chinagora…

But the value and flavor of the project is dependent on the constant to-and-fro between the interventions of the “live performers” and the actions of the conference that were decided upon last August, in the outskirts of Alfortville, once and for all and, we would be tempted to say, for all eternity or posterity, on the skin of the tiny HDV tape strip. And, naturally, on the effects of concordance (cf. the two examples of live post-synchronization of one sequence that was allegedly defective) and of discordance (jump cuts, a character embodied by different actors, like in post-Brechtian theatre, incongruous inserts in the spirit of Hellzapoppin’, traditional Serbian dancers, etc.). Although the film and “play” are not really narrative, the young filmmaker seems fascinated by storytelling and by the panoply of means that the dominant – aka “classical” – cinema needs. As a result, we will not unveil the end of the show, which is in no way a resolution of the problem that has been posed, but which is given to us as a bonus to the film.[/one_half_last]

Mouvement

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Performance put to the test by images

The Irregulars at the Ménagerie de Verre

Cinematographies

During the commentary-driven projection of Bettina Atala’s film Saison 1, épisode 2, the room became a movie house. Standing in front of the screen barring the stage, the filmmaker dissected filmic procedures (montage, rehearsal, continuity) systematically, to the point of exhaustion. Cinema and performance were intertwined but remained impermeable to each other. That is, until… a miracle! The Real, in the form of traditional dancers seen earlier in the film, burst into the room, “exploding through the screen”: like in Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo, fiction met reality, with no possible return back, in a sort of epiphany, a miraculous incarnation. We were dumbfounded by this appearance, to the point where it obliterated the memory of the film that had just been presented along with its conceptual and funny deconstruction of cinema.[/one_half_last]

Telerama

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Saison 1 épisode 2

By Bettina Atala – Grand Magasin Collective

At this stage in the game/By now, we’re starting to think that Grand Magasin will always be Grand Magasin. After twenty years as a collective, you can recognize its members right from their first line. They’re always half-pop, half-kitsch, in skirts, t-shirts, or pants that are too short and fluorescent-coloured. And they can still astonish with new gestures, umpteen raspberries to be taken literally, new tiny phrases that are as absurd as they are obvious. An inseparable band of serious oddballs.
Initially, there was Pascale Murtin and François Hiffler, defectors from the world of dance in 1982. The thirty-year-old Bettina Atala who joined up in 2000 is a perfect match. Season 1 Episode 2 is her brainchild, a film made without any prior technical knowledge, and that is what makes it so good. As a director-in-training, Bettina asks questions from her spot on the stage about this marvelous world where someone can instantly go from the 1st to the 31st floor in an elevator. With her, a missing shot can be filled in with sequences of Serbian folk dancing… Unless it’s not your style of humor, you’ll very quickly be smiling out of delightful disbelief. Because, when you think about it, there are a thousand and one ways of seeing things, a thousand and one scales of measurement, a thousand and one wonderful incongruities that ostensibly puncture reality… even though we had tried so hard not to see them.[/one_half_last]

Cahier du Cinema

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Season 1, Episode 2

Grand Magasin: Bettina Atala, François Hiffler, Pascale Murtin, between 40 and 60 min.

No, you haven’t missed the previous episode. For over twenty-five years, Grand Magasin have stripped themselves of all technical savoir-faire (theatrical and choreographic, two of the members were originally dancers) to spread panic: to tell the truth, the 5e Forum du cinéma d’entreprise (5th Forum on Corporate Films) and 0 tâche(s) sur 1 ont été effectuée(s) correctement (0 out of 1 task(s) have been carried out successfully) are the names of their shows. As for this video, with a title that sounds more like the DVD of an American TV series, it is a mockery of the conventions of cinematic mimesis in which the actors are also the editors. The three troublemakers not only empty their characters of any psychology, but also of any identity. The absenteeism fuelled by government-funded vacations oblige: be it a man or woman, whoever wears the same t-shirt plays the same character. It doesn’t matter because there’s no story…

A series of sketches take inventory of the perfect little filmmaker’s textbook: “When both doors shut, the shot changes.” Or, “At the third pylon, the shot changes.” Cinematic conventions like shot-reverse shot, slick continuity, shooting out of chronological order (“I take the helmet off Saturday” / “And I put my foot down on Friday”), each step of the direction is both the object of a joke and derision – and, more covertly, of learning. Grand Magasin nestle into the splice, name the cut before we see it, points at the cameraman perched on a bridge, waiting for the next backwards tracking shot. Season 1 Episode 2 gives a new meaning to the expression “in-camera editing”. And, they invent a feminist use of the split screen, one of digital cinema’s hidden virtues: did you know, ladies, that by splitting the screen in four places, you will now be able to do the dishes, the windows, vacuum, and iron, all at the same time?

Ch. G.[/one_half_last]