Monday, July 10, 2006

Freeze frame

Ah, the vagaries of being stuck in New York when three of my favorite filmmakers happen to be exhibited in Paris: Jean-Luc Godard at the Centre Pompidou (a.k.a. Beaubourg), Agnès Varda at the Fondation Cartier and Pedro Almodóvar at the Cinémathèque Française.

Of the three, the most talked-about show has been, predictably enough, Godard’s. After a disagreement with Beaubourg, which didn’t want to set up some of the rooms to God’s specifications, the director chose to leave them in a state of chaos: exposed electrical wires, unfinished walls, etc. Still, plenty of the usual non sequiturs and flashes of inspiration have survived—even if more often than not that inspiration leaves the viewer baffled. This is what happens when you don’t have to justify anything you do or say.

Almodóvar’s show, like Godard’s, coincided with a full retrospective. The Spanish director followed it up by setting up a series of theme rooms displaying his influences, various drawings, sketches, etc. There seems to be nuns doing the things nuns do in Almodóvar’s movies (is the one depicted above inhaling holy water?) as well as the expected high-contrast portraits.

Varda doesn’t have Godard’s innovative genius or Almodóvar’s current cachet, but she’s always displayed a keen documentarian’s eye, even in her feature films, and of the three she’s the one I’d trust the most with engaging visitors on a specific topic. (Am I betraying an ingrained conservatism here?) Her show, titled L’Île et Elle, is based on Varda’s time on Noirmoutier, an island off the coast of Vendée where she’s had a house for ages. Interviewed recently on France Inter radio, the tireless Varda talked delightedly about exploring mixed media for her installations—“Ping Pong, Tong et Camping” is a short film screened onto an inflatable mattress for instance.

When a filmmaker gets museum space in the US, it always seems to be linked to a pandering $$$ machine along the lines of “The Art of Star Wars,” where the director’s vision is undistinguishable from its merchandizing impact. (It would be fun to see some Godard-inspired trinkets though: the Weekend Happy Meal, the Masculin Féminin action figure/doll combo.) Which American director could handle museum walls? Martin Scorsese is an obvious choice, but he’s also too obvious; I’d be more curious to see what Michael Mann or Terrence Malick would come up with.

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