Andy Guérif, Duccio di Buoninsegna and Georges Perec

Today a film, literature, and art post.

Andy Guérif, born in Angers France in 1977, has made a number of short live animation films, his latest film ‘Le Code de l’art’ looks fascinating, he has taken sixty road signs and associated them with famous works of art. However, it is his 2015 film ‘Maestà, the Passion of the Christ’ that I would like to highlight today.

In 1308 Duccio di Buoninsegna was commissioned by the city of Siena to paint an altarpiece, a monumental Madonna and Child with saints and angels, and a predella of the Childhood of Christ with prophets. On the reverse there is a combined cycle of the Life of the Virgin and the Life of Christ in a total of forty-three small scenes; several panels are now dispersed or lost. Andy Guérif’s film focuses on the twenty-six panels that make up part of the reverse, the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

A review I came across says “Guérif reinvents Duccio’s masterpiece with ‘Life a User’s Manual’ by Georges Perec in mind.” How could I not watch this film?

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As visitors to this site would know I’ve investigated Perec’s 100 rooms, ten squares high, ten squares wide, and the chess like movement throughout the rooms. I don’t intend to go into the details here, but if you’re interested you can read my previous post here.

Andy Guérif’s film is nowhere near as complex as this, it opens with the crucifixion, an eleven- or twelve-minute complex sequence being shown full screen, with firstly the supporting players being crucified and then finally Christ. The screen then switches to twenty-six blank panels, painted only with the backgrounds, it moves in a sequence from the bottom left of the screen.

Passion

Each panel is slowly populated with equipment and characters, as though they are in rehearsal for a passion play, arguing amongst themselves, chatting, they slowly form a replication of the image in the altarpiece which is then frozen. Here is the sequence of the narration:

Maesta

The freeze thaws and the characters, players continue along their journey. There are concurrent happenings, for example ladies set the table for the last supper whilst in the first panel Christ meets with his disciples at the Temple, a man builds the coffin in panel twenty-two.

The movie closes with all twenty-six sequences concurrently playing and forming the final replication of Duccio di Buoninsegna’s masterwork.

Maestà, the Passion of the Christ, is Guérif’s first long feature and was started in 2008 and finished in 2015, filming took place each Sunday with a group of volunteers. It is worth a viewing if you can stream it in your country. A small preview is available on YouTube to give you a taste.

Charles Baudelaire & Agnès Varda

Caryatids

Seems readers like the merging of poetry and film, last week’s post about Roy Andersson’s film featuring Peruvian poet César Vallejo’s poem ‘Stumble Between Two Stars’ has been my most popular post for 2020. Let’s continue the theme.

“The only female director of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda has been called both the movement’s mother and its grandmother” according to Criterion. Her short, 12 minute, film ‘Les dites cariatides’ (‘The So-Called Caryatides’) (1984) was made for French television, and features the music of Offenbach (his 1864 opera bouffe ‘La Belle Hélène’) and the poetry of Charles Baudelaire.

The film opens with a slow panning shot of a nude bronze sculpture light pole and then a nude man walking the streets of Paris. From the off the feminist themes abound, I won’t comment on these here, but if you’re after an explanation of the feminist themes in this short film I highly recommend the article “Wandering in the Presence of Women: Les dites cariatides” by Eloise Ross – click here for a link.

Caryatides, “the bearers of doors, lintels, capitals or balconies.” Agnès Varda tells us their origins and a brief history, whilst her camera pans from feet to head across a number of Parisian examples, from the late 19th century. In Paris there a twelve twin like men – “Pairs symmetrical but not identical” the males representing force and power, there are fifty twin like females, naked, bearing the weight on their heads, calm and composed.

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Poems from Charles Baudelaire’s ‘The Flowers of Evil’ are read by Agnès Varda, again whilst the camera pans the caryatides. The subtitles on the version of the film I watched were uncredited, so I can’t direct you to the translator, however I transposed a number of the lines and have managed to find three of the poems in ‘The Flowers of Evil’ (with very different translations).

Sonnet XLIII

What sayest thou, to-night, poor soul so drear,

What sayest—heart erewhile engulfed in gloom,

To the very lovely, very chaste, and very dear,

Whose god-like look hath made thee to re-bloom?

 

To her, with pride we chant an echoing Hymn,

For nought can touch the sweetness of her sway;

Her flesh ethereal as the seraphim,

Her eyes with robe of light our souls array.

 

And be it in the night, or solitude,

Among the streets or ‘mid the multitude,

Her shadow, torch-like, dances in the air,

 

And murmurs, “I, the Beautiful proclaim—

That for my sake, alone ye love the Fair;

I am the Guardian Angel, Muse and Dame!”

 

Illusionary Love

When I behold thee wander by, my languorous love,

To songs of viols which throughout the dome resound,

Harmonious and stately as thy footsteps move,

Bestowing forth the languor of thy glance profound.

 

When I regard thee, glowing in the gaslight rays,

Thy pallid brow embellished by a charm obscure,

Here where the evening torches light the twilight haze,

Thine eyes attracting me like those of a portraiture,

 

I say—How beautiful she is! how strangely rich!

A mighty memory, royal and commanding tower,

A garland: and her heart, bruised like a ruddy peach,

Is ripe—like her body for Love’s sapient power.

 

Art thou, that spicy Autumn-fruit with taste supreme?

Art thou a funeral vase inviting tears of grief?

Aroma—causing one of Eastern wastes to dream;

A downy cushion, bunch of flowers or golden sheaf?

 

I know that there are eyes, most melancholy ones,

Wherein no precious secret deeply hidden lies,

Resplendent shrines, devoid of relics, sacred stones,

More empty, more profound than ye yourselves, O skies?

 

Yea, does thy semblance, not alone for me suffice,

To kindle senses which the cruel truth abhor?

All one to me! thy folly or thy heart of ice,

Decoy or mask, all hail! thy beauty I adore!

 

Both of the above translated by Cyril Scott.

The third poem, the first Agnès Varda quotes is “Beauty”

Beauty

I am fair, O mortals! like a dream carved in stone,

And my breast where each one in turn has bruised himself

Is made to inspire in the poet a love

As eternal and silent as matter.

On a throne in the sky, a mysterious sphinx,

I join a heart of snow to the whiteness of swans;

I hate movement for it displaces lines,

And never do I weep and never do I laugh.

Poets, before my grandiose poses,

Which I seem to assume from the proudest statues,

Will consume their lives in austere study;

For I have, to enchant those submissive lovers,

Pure mirrors that make all things more beautiful:

My eyes, my large, wide eyes of eternal brightness!

Translated by William Aggeler, and if you’d like the original text with other translations click here.

More poetry on film and as I come across further examples I may post them here, Agnès Varda’s film may be short at only 12 minutes but it packs a lot into that time, worth hunting down.

César Vallejo & Roy Andersson

CesarVallejo

Something a little different from me. Literature and film culture blending.

An homage to Peruvian poet César Vallejo appears at the beginning of Roy Andersson’s 2000 film ‘Songs From The Second Floor’. “Älskade Vare De Som Säter Sig (“Blessed be those who sit down”) – César Vallejo 1892- 1938 In Memorium”

 

The film itself featuring lines from Vallejo’s poem ‘Stumble Between Two Stars’ and featuring numerous scenes that are direct references to the poem (for example, a door closed on a finger).

 

The film shared the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000, and reading a few online reviews, it appears as though several reviewers didn’t check the very obvious César Vallejo references.

SongsSecondFloor

I thought I’d present the poem here for people who have watched, or will watch the Swedish filmmaker’s first film in a trilogy, followed by ‘You, The Living’ (2007) and ‘A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence’ (2014). Worthwhile films indeed.

 

STUMBLE BETWEEN TWO STARS

There are people so wretched, they don’t even
have a body; quantitative the hair,
lowers, in inches, the affable grief;
the mode, above;
don’t look for me, the molar of oblivion,
they appear to come out of the air, to add up sighs mentally, to hear
sharp lashes on their palates!

They leave their skin, scratching at the sarcophagus in which they are born
and rise through their death hour after hour
and fall, along their frozen alphabet, to the ground.

Pity for so much! pity for so little! pity for those women!
The pity in my room, hearing them wear glasses!
The pity in my thorax, when they buy dresses!
Pity for my white grime, in their combined scum!

Beloved be the Sanchez ears,
beloved the people who sit down,
beloved the unknown man and his wife,
the neighbor with sleeves, neck and eyes!

Beloved be that one with bedbugs,
the one who wears a torn shoe in the rain,
the one waking the corpse of a loaf with two matches,
the one who clothes a door on a finger,
the one who has no birthdays,
the one who has lost his shadow in a fir,
the beast, the one who looks like a parrot,
the one who looks like a man, the rich poor man,
the complete skinflint, the poor poor man!

Beloved be
the one who is hungry or thirsty, but has no
hunger with which to satiate all his thirst,
nor thirst with which to satiate all his hungers!

Beloved be the one who works by the day, by the month, by the hour,
the one who sweats from pain or from shame,
that one who goes, by order of his hands, to the movies,
the one who pays with what he lacks,
the one who sleeps on his back,
the one who no longer remembers his childhood; beloved be
the bald man without a hat,
the just man without thorns,
the thief without roses,
the one who wears a watch and has seen God,
the one who has an honor and does not die!

Beloved be the child, who falls and still cries
and the man who has fallen and no longer cries!

Pity for so much! Pity for so little! Pity for them!

Taken from ‘The Complete Poetry César Vallejo – A Bilingual Edition’ (translated by Clayton Eshleman)

Personally I’m not convinced this is a great translation “the one who clothes a door on a finger” (“el que se coje un dedo en una puerta”) surely it means “the one who catches their finger in a door”? There are other translations of the poem available online, seek them out if you’re intrigued.