Guest post by Evie Munier.
What is reality? Is there only one reality? Can there be several? These are some of the questions that the film series Cinéma Sans Frontières, offered by the French and Italian department in collaboration with IU Cinema, tries to ask. The rationale behind the series was born from the assumption that cinema is always testing our sense of reality, and presents us, the spectators, with a variety of realities that can coexist with and within one another.
In other words, Cinéma Sans Frontières questions the boundaries between genres, explores the mere definition of the real, and challenges our understanding of the cinematographic medium by attempting to comprehend literal and figurative borders. However, as our title suggest, it seems that cinema is, indeed, without frontiers, and goes beyond cinematic realities.
Quite ironically, but definitely purposefully, Réalité (Reality) opened the series on February 4th at IU Cinema. A French filmmaker living in California finding out that the film he is writing is already being screened. A little girl trying to watch a videotape she has found inside a hog’s stomach. A cooking show host constantly scratching at a full-body rash that no one else can see. From French director Quentin Dupieux, Reality is a mind-bending comedy where characters intersect in the realm of the impossible, thus collapsing the distance between dream and reality, and between cinema and reality. If Reality opens the series, it is because plots intersperse, the realities of the characters collide to the point that the spectator doesn’t know what is real and what is not anymore.
Félicité (Feb. 9th), Fatima (Feb. 11th) and Timbuktu (Feb. 18th) explore another cinematic reality: the one of production. Usually, writing a movie is a pretty straight-forward enterprise: pre-production and writing, production and filming, post-production and editing. Three stages, three distinct, controlled realities. Directors have a plan. They have an idea of what they are trying to achieve: sound, framing, dialogues, emotions. But what happens when the reality of production affects the whole process and changes the final product? How can we, spectators, know that what we are watching was never supposed to come to life? Would knowing change our viewing experience?
The directors of Félicité, Fatima and Timbuktu did not go through the regular process. Instead, they chose to push the envelope, to release their sense of control and let their movies have a reality of their own by adapting the production stage to its contingencies. With Fatima, for instance, the fact that the main actress was non-professional had an impact on how Philippe Faucon chose to put together his movie. There could have been a thousand versions of the movie because one slight change in the performance could have impacted the editing process entirely, but somehow, the version we see is the version we get.
Finally, Moi, Un Noir (I, A Negro, Feb. 22nd) and Examen d’état (National Diploma, Feb. 25th) question the documentary genre. Can documentaries authentically reproduce reality? Should they? With Moi, Un Noir, Jean Rouch, positioning himself as an omniscient narrator, attempts to counteract the dreadful presence of the colonizer by challenging the typical cinematic format, allowing his characters to narrate their stories in their own words. In other words: they are in charge of the talking, he is in charge of the editing. What does this mean for the spectators, to have different realities exposed to us at the very same time? How does it affect the viewing process?
What these movies have in common is that they defy the rules of traditional cinema. They push the limits of what cinema can and cannot do. They blend different forms and formats of realities together, to the point that they are not so clear-cut anymore, leaving the spectator hanging, doubting, thinking, questioning. But if the Cinéma Sans Frontières series asks a lot of questions, be aware that it will not offer any satisfying answers. However, it offers a viewing experience. It tries to challenge the way we, as passive consumers, receive content, and what we, as active thinkers, make of it.
Partnering with the Tournées Film Festival program of the FACE Foundation, the Cinéma Sans Frontières film series aims at promoting French cinema on American campuses. The series began at the IU Cinema earlier this week with Reality and will continue with Félicité on Feb. 9, Fatima on Feb. 11, and Examen d’état on Feb. 25.
Additional screenings that will be held at the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive are Timbuktu on Feb. 18 and Moi, Un Noir on Feb. 22. Reservations are required and can be made here.
This series is sponsored by the Department of French and Italian, the FACE Foundation, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, the Department of European Studies, the Black Film Center/Archive, the Cultural Studies Program, and IU Cinema. Tournées Film Festival is made possible with the support of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S., the Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée (CNC), the French American Cultural Fund, Florence Gould Foundation and Highbrow Entertainment. This partnership is supported through IU Cinema’s Creative Collaborations program.
Evie Munier is a PhD student in French and Francophone Studies in the Department of French and Italian at Indiana University. She holds a Masters “Mondes Anglophones” (English as a Second Language) from the Université de Lorraine (Nancy, France) and a Masters of Arts in French from Indiana University. She specializes in French contemporary cinema and gender studies. She is the chair of the organizing committee of the film series Cinéma Sans Frontières: Beyond Francophone “Realities.”