Daily Archives: July 5, 2002

Letters Not About Love

A key Russian formalist text, Viktor Shklovsky’s remarkable novel Zoo, or Letters Not About Love (1923) was based on a correspondence between the author and fellow expatriate Elsa Triolet, which ensued after Triolet asked him not to write her love letters and he responded with many different kinds of lyrical sublimation. For this beautifully composed and poetically edited experimental film (1998, 58 min.), Jacki Ochs asked American poet Lyn Hejinian and Russian poet Arkadii Dragomoshchenko to start a correspondence based on ordinary words like home, poverty, book, violence, and window, a project that lasted five years while each poet learned the other’s language. In the film actors Lili Taylor and Victor Nord read excerpts from these letters (all of them in English), while Ochs accompanies them contrapuntally with documentary images. Her highly suggestive combinations of word and montage, at times evoking Alain Resnais and Chris Marker, are rich in surreal juxtaposition as well as functional illustration; music and sound effects play an important role, and Ochs fashions striking combinations of found footage and original camerawork. The result, as critic Ray Privett has noted, is a post-cold-war historical inquiry in which the imaginations of the correspondents, the filmmakers, and the spectators all interact.… Read more »

Les destinees

Jacques Charonne’s novel Les destinees sentimentales follows a Protestant minister turned factory owner over the first three decades of the 20th century, and one suspects that director Olivier Assayas (Cold Water, Irma Vep, and Late August, Early September) was attracted to the material partly as a way of exploring his own Protestant roots. The hero (Charles Berling), doubting the fidelity of his wife (Isabelle Huppert), asks her to leave their home in the Charente region of France, and she takes their daughter with her. Years later he decides he was wrong, gives his wife the fortune from his family’s porcelain factory, leaves the ministry, and marries a friend’s niece (Emmanuelle Beart); his life takes another unexpected turn after his uncle dies and he’s asked to take over the factory. Assayas is masterful in using offscreen sounds to conjure up a novelistic sense of milieu and in handling various ceremonies (from a cotillion to a young woman’s ordination as a deaconess), and the film’s lush texture explains why he called it his anti-Dogma film (one lap dissolve that links lovemaking to an Alpine lake seems to come straight out of F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise). Even at 173 minutes, this 2000 release is surprisingly brisk for a period picture: Assayas practically skips across the story, making his somewhat mysterious characters even more elusive.… Read more »