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Monday, May 04, 2009

The Least Gesture (Deligny)

Le Moindre Geste (1971/Fernand Deligny)

Review of the first shots of the film by cinematographer Caroline Champetier, on France Culture (3-4-2009). Take a look at what could look like another way to talk about cinema without plotline. My tentative translation :


The story of Le Moindre Geste is a novel, a genuine mad story. Never a film had been more improbable. Made against all logic from end to end during 8 years. From 1962 to 1970, only 2 years of shooting. And in 1969, a young cinematographer, Jean-Pierre Daniel decided to edit the dailies. Meanwhile around Fernand Deligny, a group begins this shooting in 16mm Black&White, aspect ratio 1:1.33. As a method of observation of a young autist : Yves Guignard. For a camera : diamond in the rough. For a sound engineer : incandescent embers.

The film opens with a slate : "Yves is Yves in the film. Annie is Annie. Her father is her father. Her mother is the mother of Richard. Marie-Rose is Marie-Rose. The Cevennes mountains are the Cevennes." Which is to say everybody is from The Cevennes, hard-boiled, raised with chestnuts, not really sentimental. The first image is a drawing being traced. We hear an encouragement : "Go Yves!" and grumbling, probably from the one drawing this. "There", he grumbles again "there, it's nice, oh shit".

Then on the finished drawing, the voice clear and precise of an aged man :
"Deligny speaking. This sort of man, it's the hand of a 25 years old young fellow which traced it. 'Mentally retarded' say the experts. Such he is in Le Moindre Geste. Such he is in real life as we lived it for 10+ years together. Such he is for us, never-ending cause of laughters, no matter what happens. And in this film like in daily life, I certify his voice is not mine. Could we say this voice is his? But why should a voice belong to someone? Even if someone voices it out."
What Deligny says there, as an experienced educator, maybe inventor of another manner to accompany autist children, is at the same time, unbeknown to him, a very question of cinema.
-- "Why should a voice belong to someone? Even if someone voices it out."
Thus breaks down here this filmic tyranny of the "continuité dialoguée" [script with dialogues only]. Cinema, before all, is made of images and sounds, the adventure of their mating, the very adventure of the film.

Le Moindre Geste is divided in 3 chapters :
  1. Yves and Richard escape the mental asylum
  2. Richard while hiding falls in a hole
  3. The daughter of a quarry worker observes Yves left alone, and bring him back to the asylum
After an introduction on the life at the asylum, first image of Yves and Richard near the stream. Zoom on Yves's back. Strange body. Other shot : Richard, small, agile; Yves, heavier, follows him walking downstream. Other shot : Yves stops to drink water from the stream, using nature naturally. Water runs down, he drinks it. Richards comes back for him and takes him to the right side of the frame to continue their walk. Later, like in Kiarostami's Where is The Friend's Home? (1987) a wide shot, high angle, on a path in a S shape. Grass everywhere. Short on the left of the path, higher on the right. The 2 silhouettes of Richard ahead followed by Yves, leave the path. The loud sound of two police motorcycles which we saw in the previous shot. Now a shot at eye level. The two boys walk toward the camera. The heavy walk of Yves, as his body seems to be more adapted to the weather. He took out one of his shoes, his right foot is thus naked on the ground. The next shot, is almost a Bresson shot. The 4 legs of the 2 boys in close up. One with shoes on, Richard; the other with only one shoe, Yves, scratches his ankle with a single finger, while Richard speaks his head off. And then, voluntarily, with a slight movement downward, the camera avoids the boys' faces. This is how the system of the film install itself, finds its form. Dissociation of image and sound. Concomitance, as would say the man who invented the timecode. And throughout the film, emotions will come from there. The body of Yves, the autist, the so-called 'retarded', walking this Cevennole nature, as if being part of it, without crossing it. Almost a moving tree. A rolling stone. A cat. A lizard pointing his face to the sun. All this is contained in the image, dilated. On the soundtrack, grumbles. Sometimes Yves' shouting who talks a lot of DeGaulle, the Virgin Mary, who swears a lot. These sounds, these words are frightening. The signify clearly the mental disease. The image doesn't. By necessity, the image follows him, caresses him, embraces him.

Did Deligny, and his entourage, know that he used cinema as a scientific thinker? that he granted cinema its highest function because they needed it ? Turning all the shot-countershots of "continuité dialoguée" in miserable things. Cinema to see and to listen, and feeling between the two a mysterious exchange.

This film was made by people who had no experience of cinema. Except for the editor, who made sense of all the takes filmed all these years, when Yves was willing to participate to a shooting. Fernand Deligny was a psychiatrist. His collaborators took care of autistic children in an open space center, unlike any psychiatric institution at the time. The camera was held by an amateur, and this is among the most beautiful images I've seen in my life. Its aesthetic is almost involuntary or terribly inspired, with a sharp, risky stance of high contrasts, long takes and discontinuity. The kind of high-wire work that only a master could pull off. And yet, it was filmed without budget, like a home-movie, as a therapeutical exercice to communicate with an autist.
My review, written a few years ago now.

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