From the Chicago Reader (February 21, 1997). — J.R.
Can Dialectics Break Bricks?
Rating ** Worth seeing
Directed by Rene Vienet (and Doo Kwang Kee)
Written by Vienet (and Ngai Hong)
With Pai Paiu, Chan Hung Liu, Ingrid Wu, and the voices of Jacques Thebaut, Patrick Dewaere, Michelle Grellier, and Dominique Morin.
“This is a situationist film. This is not a situationist film,” begin Keith Sanborn’s notes to Rene Vienet’s Can Dialectics Break Bricks? — a French film in color being shown at Chicago Filmmakers this Saturday in a subtitled, black-and-white, letterboxed video version. I think Sanborn, an experimental filmmaker, is referring to the fact that Vienet’s film was made in 1973, the year after the Situationist International disbanded and two years after Vienet — who joined the situationists in 1963 — resigned from their ranks.
I don’t know much about the situationists, but according to critic Peter Wollen they formed out of a split within an earlier radical artistic and political group, the lettrists, who sort of took over the mantle of the French avant-garde from the surrealists after World War II under the leadership of Isidore Isou. The “dissident Revolutionary Lettrists,” as Wollen called them, were led by two young filmmakers, Guy Debord and Gil Wolman, who went on to become situationists.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 1, 1996). — J.R.
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s major work (1990) consists of ten separate films, each running 50-odd minutes and set mainly around two high-rises in Warsaw. The films are built around a contemporary reflection on the Ten Commandments—specifically, an inquiry into what breaking each of them in today’s world might entail. Made as a miniseries for Polish TV before Kieslowski embarked on The Double Life of Veronique and the “Three Colors” trilogy, these concise dramas can be seen in any order or combination; they don’t depend on one another, though if you see them in batches you’ll notice that major characters in one story turn up as extras in another. One reason Kieslowski remains controversial is that in some ways he embodies the intellectual European filmmaking tradition of the 60s while commenting directly on how we live today. The first film, illustrating “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” is about trust in computers; the often ironic and ambiguous connections between most subsequent commandments and their matching stories tend to be less obvious. (One of the 60s traditions Kieslowski embodies is that of the puzzle film, though he takes it on seriously rather than frivolously, as part of his ethical inquiry.) The fourth (“Honor thy father and mother”), for instance, one of my favorites, pivots around the revelation of feelings between a young acting student and the architect who may or may not be her real father, and the eighth (“Thou shalt not bear false witness”) focuses on the investigation of an American Jewish academic about why she was denied sanctuary from the Nazis when she was a little girl.… Read more »