15th EU Film Festival: JEONJU DIGITAL PROJECT 2011

Jean-Marie Straub, Claire Denis and Jose Luis Guerín’s JEONJU DIGITAL PROJECT 2011


Sunday, March 11, 5:00 pm
Wednesday, March 14, 6:00 pm

(France/Spain, 112 min.)

Championing the cause of digital filmmaking, the Jeonju International Film Festival has made a name for itself with its annual centerpiece, the Jeonju Digital Project, where it commissions three filmmakers to produce digital shorts to premiere at the festival. This year’s triumvirate – Claire Denis, Jean-Marie Straub, and Jose Luis Guerin – may have been the most prestigious to date. The three directors also have the greatest median age of any JDP class: 62, well above the thirty- to forty-something profile typical of past participants.

Straub’s 22 minute short An Heir is a brief adaptation of a novel by the early 20th century writer Maurice Barres, about a young French doctor in German-occupied Alsace after the Franco-Prussian War. Interestingly, the 78-year old Straub films himself walking alongside the doctor as he talks at length about his professional and political struggles, as if Straub were his confidante. Like all of Straub’s previous films (most co-directed by his longtime collaborator, the late Danielle Huillet), it’s a work of intractable dignity, unyielding at first glance but surprisingly supple in how it shifts between modes of fiction and documentary, cinema and literary recitation.

Claire Denis’ To the Devil follows Denis and an actor to the border of French Guyana and Surinam, where Africans descended from escaped slaves have formed their own tribal community in the jungle, but are now being slowly pushed off their land since gold has been discovered. There’s not much of the sensual visuals or dreamy, associative editing that have made Denis a top-tier director; the film plays as raw anthropological research. But the premise is certainly promising for a feature replete with some of Denis’ favorite themes: life on the fringes of culture and community, the borders of human comprehension and endurance.

Easily the best of the three, Jose-Luis Guerín’s Memories of a Morning is shot entirely on the street outside his apartment window, where a musician neighbor fell to his death from the opposite building. Guerin weaves neighbor’s testimonials – heartbroken, perplexed, and somewhat fatalistic – with shots of the spot where the violinist’s body landed, returning again and again to the stark mark of absence in his community. He ultimately ends up in the man’s apartment, where traces of his depressed life remain – a volume of Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther, sketches, a lonely, half-finished wine glass. These phantom artifacts are cast in an afternoon glow of otherworldly beauty, as if light itself were the last word in the sum effects of our lives.

- Kevin B. Lee



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