Art Cinema OFFoff welcomes the French filmmaker Philippe Grandrieux.
Around the turn of the century, Philippe Grandrieux, a graduate of the Brussels film school INSAS, made one of the most striking and uncompromising feature debuts with Sombre. La vie nouvelle arguably goes even further in its exploration of dislocation, darkness and human extremes. The setting is the new Eastern Europe, Sofia to be exact, where a young American falls for a mysterious sex worker/stripper/chanteuse, and pursues her through after hours clubs and down darkened hotel corridors into a hellish underworld of violence and obsession. La vie nouvelle is nightmarish not just in its subject matter but in its execution too; using extreme fragmentation, a disorienting shooting style, a claustrophobic soundtrack (by Eric and Marc Hurtado of Étant Donnés) and an absolute minimum of dialogue, Grandrieux pushes his narrative to the edge of abstraction and invites us to negotiate our own way through the film’s anxious labyrinth.
“There was an extremely simple, basic narrative premise: a young man meets a young woman and wants her for himself, in an Orphic way. Little by little the film was constructed in terms of intensity rather than psychology – relations of intensity between characters who could inhabit or haunt the film. There’s the impression that everything is moving all the time, like a kind of vibrant, disturbed materiology. That’s what we were looking for: a disquieting film, very disquieting, very fragile and vibrant. Not a film like a tree, with a trunk and branches, but like a field of sunflowers, a field of grass growing everywhere. That’s the impulse – the desire – which led to the film.”
— Philippe Grandrieux
Film historian Nicole Brenez calls La vie nouvelle a film with a “stupendous formal inventiveness… a film that forces us to reconsider what we believed about cinema.” For instance, Grandrieux shot an extraordinary sequence with a thermic camera, normally used by the military or by engineers in order to gauge the resistance of materials. Other than with infrared photography, here, it is no longer light which makes an impression. Thus bypassing the essence of cinema, it is purely the animal warmth of the bodies which imprints itself on the celluloid. The scene was shot at a reduced frame rate in the basement of Sofia’s Fine Arts Gallery in total darkness; no one could see anything except Grandrieux through the camera.
Film print: Cinémathèque de Toulouse
Followed by a Q&A with Philippe Grandrieux