Friday, February 19, 2016

Notes on Avant Les Rues (Before the Streets) by Chloé Leriche, Canada: 2016-Berlin Filmfestival VIII.-Generation

This is a film from Quebec, entirely about a Native family, a native community and recorded almost entirely in the Atikamekw language. The first scene presents two young natives: Brother and sister are singing, accompanied by a drum in front of an old cabin near a river. They sing in their language. I did not understand a single word, but the beauty of this moment blew me away. They are in harmony with each other, with themselves and finally in this first seconds of the film with the world. These moments are rare in Avant Les Rues  because the world these characters are live in is usually permanent changing and often very confusing. But whenever the young Shawanouk sings together with his sister there are moments of pure cinema - or in other words - the film itself comes very close to one of the big meanings of cinema to define one´s own place in the universe.

The environment of this native community is desolate it looks rather like a provisional camp than what we call a home. There is a cross over between the problems of this native community and any other communities in the world, the lostness. Often the characters are straying around like homeless phantoms in underexposed images. Sometimes you can hardly recognize anything. The images changes from graphic to abstract and the other way around and the images changes also often between darkness and light.

Shawnouk is involved in a robbery and by accident, a man is killed. The feeling of guilt becomes a burden to heavy for this young man. Once we hear him saying “I am lost” This feeling has an adequate visual analogy. Literally the characters disappear often into the darkness like in bad preserved film material which is in the process of decay. Visually two forces are evident in this film, the separation of the characters from their environment  - and even more - from each other and the force to return to themselves, to the persons they love and to the world. The self (re) discovery of a young native his (re) definition of his place in the world can be retraced visually in moments of pure cinema.

There is a total justice between the physical and the mental life how it is presented in this film. The physical presence is something cinema can reveal directly, about mental conditions cinema can only give an idea. When the young man can´t deal anymore with his feeling of guilt he tries to attempt suicide. His family saves him in the last moment. From this situation, Leriche creates a moment of an memorable heartbreaking moment: Kwena, Shawnouks beloved sister embraces her brother and the mother embraces her daughter.  There is a fourth person in the room, the boyfriend of the mother, a policeman and the outsider of the family. He is placed in this image on the very right side and he touches the arm of his girlfriend. The cinema scope frame shows four human bodies who are connected with each other. This four bodies fill the whole frame of the cinema scope format. It is an effort to live against the abyss of death and it is also in its physical traceable intensity a moment of a Malick-like beauty. It is again an underexposed image and this moment is like an affront to the darkness which is threatening to swallow the remains of light. 

After a process of healing, Shawnouk sings a song. It is a very long shot. He sings, stops and sings again. The words I do not understand. What the film reveals is the sound of his voice and the expression on his face – but there is also an idea about about it means a voice comes from the depth of the soul. There is nothing didactic in this film and there is not even a trace of exotic but a convincing work with the materiality cinema can offers- or like the great French film critic André Bazin once said “the things must reveal themselves.”

There is also a very sophisticated use the cinema scope format Like I suggested in my notes on Delisle´s superb Chorus this format was once invented by the industry against the threatening danger of the rising Television but very soon used by the auteur-cinema, from Ophüls to Godard or Antonioni. Like Delisle, Leriche uses this format in its dynamic between opulence and to reveal our lostness in  this world.
At the end Shawnouk and his sister Kwena are singing again. The problems they have to define their place in the world might not have been solved completely but they make an effort to find their way. There are no words how much I love these moments when Kwena and Shawnour are singing together. They literally assert themselves a world which  is always in danger to go apart and cinema at all becomes a painful unbearable yearning for a world we might have already lost. Avant Les Rues, the first long feature film by Chloé Leriche is quite an exciting  discovery.  

Rüdiger Tomczak

Fri,  Feb 19 Cinemaxx 3   14.00
Sat, Feb 20 Zoo Palast 1  15.30

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