From Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin/Madrid to Beirut

Subject: Architecture and film
Author: Nadine Khalil

The Beirut Art Center is hosting the “Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin/Madrid” and their directors, Natalie Hénon and Jean-Francois Rettig. This audiovisual screening program will be presented in three parts, all of which are related to the moving image, but also to the various cities in which they take place. The Rencontres Internationales presents an annual, international program in three cities: Paris at the Pompidou Centre, Berlin at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and Madrid at the Museo Reina Sofia and the Spanish Cinematheque.

The event, first established in 1997, explores practices between new cinema and contemporary art and gathers 150 works from 50 countries. It is a unique platform in Europe where artists can meet and exchange ideas, and now it has been brought to Beirut to further reflect specificities and convergences of emerging artistic forms. In this event, Lebanon is a point of inspiration for the curatorial initiative of the two directors.

On the last day of the screenings, Friday February 18, two films will be shown which reflect a special relationship to Lebanon. Knut Asdam’s film, Tripoli, takes the viewer to the remnants of one of the world’s most monumental building projects of the modernist era, designed by the renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer who is also responsible for Brasilia, otherwise known as the Rachid Karami international fair. This project, which began in 1966, was abandoned due to the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975. In a form moving between architectural documentary and an incoherent, theatrical narrative, the film both describes the place and an undercurrent of violent history that has set the site in a state of incompleteness and decay. The modernist ruins appear out of joint, and functions as a memorial to a now distant optimism in the Middle East.

This vision of decline with time is also reflected in the second film chosen for the evening: Le Procés d’Oscar Wilde, by Christian Merlhiot, where a man works on the Arabic translation of the trial of Oscar Wilde in the garden of a villa facing the Mediterranean. This screening session is entitled “Aftermath,” as opposed to the first screening on Wednesday, February 16 at 8pm, “Fragments.” And indeed, a fragmented visual narrative was portrayed in the short films that were chosen. As Hénon and Rettig mentioned, the first two filmmakers screened: Marco Brambilia, [Civilization (Megaplex)] and Laura Kraning [VineLand] have a background in mainstream Hollywood cinema. The first film was an intricate digital collage, which is quite a rare form to use, in a colossal fresco of heaven and hell. The screen rises from one layer to the other, as if ascending the different levels of a building.

In Vineland, cinema merges with desolate or seemingly barren urban landscapes as the moving, flickering image of fiction amalgamates with the real of passing cars, traffic lights, and rearview mirrors. Kraning visually investigates Los Angeles’ last Drive-In movie theatres in these spaces she focuses her camera lens upon. The reference to such abandoned terrain is also reflected in another film shown the next day on February the 17th, Memorial Drive, by Carine and Elisabeth Krecke, which depicts industrial facades mostly in Texas, as well as warehouses, deserted street corners, perspectives of vanishing points, and driveways that have disappeared. These wide, open spaces, like vacant lots, are captured like the void, or free zones that comprise the edges of sprawling megapolis today, and yet empty of people, much like Vineland. Modern urban environments are juxtaposed with segments of the desert and adjoining text listing the exact coordinates, often crossed out to designate places that no longer exist.

The fictive world of film sets and building constructions also intertwines with that of real life in Emmanuel Licha's Mirages, which documents a mock Iraqi village based in the Mojave desert in California. The buildings, shops and mosques were studied and built by Hollywood professionals, in an authentic manner as possible. Even the sights and sounds were fabricated to create a similar environment. This training facility is also an optical device. Not only does it train soldiers for combat, but their gaze is also directed and familiarized with a particular 'reality' of Iraq, as fictionalized by the army and Hollywood.

Sans Titre is another film that takes place in a building model, a villa in Algeria made out of cardboard and photographs. Instead of walls, the villa is encased in glass as the only separation between the inside and the outside. And these ceiling-high glass windows, are covered with photographs of a lush, green landscape 'outside.' The story invented is one of terrorists having occupied the building in order to clandestinely carry out their operations, as the neighbors give their testimonies about their actions and the traces they have left behind.

In Cloud Cuckoo Land, Erik Moskowitz and Amanda Trager are two visual artists based in New York who also work in the field of theatre and performance and in their beautifully choreographed parody, they express the hope of escaping the reality of their community life, with a form of utopia. Despite all the political references to media hegemony, it is soon evident that the protagonists are referring to a kind of domestic utopia, a form of “home,” when the lighting suddenly becomes dismal and dark as they realize, “we cannot go home.” All the shots are taken inside the house, whether the bedroom or kitchen. Almagula Menlibayeva’s Milk for Lambs, makes reference to a different kind of home for the steppe community of Kazakhstan, who practice a form of shamanism, known as Tengrianism, to honor their dead. This time, the home takes the form of a more temporary form of architecture, a transient, decorated tent known as the yurt for the nomadic peoples of central Asia. The film is not without provocative gender-inflection as the narrator likens the geography of the steppe to that of her body. Surrounded by the circular outlines and domes of the yurts, the narrator states that “squares and sharp corners look strange.” The last film screened on the 16th was by acclaimed Portuguese director Pedro Costa, whose social documentaries are slow-moving and subtle, but very raw in their human aspect. A socially disadvantaged community in Lisbon is featured in his Notre Homme, originally from Cape Verde. They live in tin shacks which look like they could be temporary, but they are not, because in fact they have nowhere else to go.

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