Season 1 episode 2
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]