Friday, August 19, 2016


Dionysis in '69/Vers Mathilde

Documentary filmmaking is nothing new for Claire Denis. Early on in her career she made documentaries on both Jacques Rivette (The Watchman) & African musicians (Man No Run). Abstract storytelling is nothing new for her either (both Friday Night & L’Intrus are examples of Claire Denis playing with story structure & surreality). I used to site L’Intrus as Claire Denis at her most experimental before returning to slightly more traditional story telling, but the more I think about it – Vers Mathilde, which came after L’Intrus (and is often forgotten about within the cinematic universe of Claire Denis) is just as playful & experimental as its predecessor. Vers Mathilde is abstract (the split screen format, the lack of traditional dialogue, the overall look, etc) but it also tells a story (the film documents the rehearsal process of dance choreographer Mathilde Monnier as she preps for her latest performance). Like Nenette & Boni being the bridge/link between Claire’s “gritty” period and her more “Dreamy” period, Vers Mathilde is a bridge between Claire’s dreamy/abstract period (Friday Night & L’Intrus) and her return to linear/straightforward plot structure (35 Shots Of Rum, White Material & Bastards). Naturally Claire Denis’ last few films still have that dreamy/surreal ambiance, but they’re nowhere near as experimental as her work in the early/mid 2000’s.

Vers Mathilde

Vers Mathilde is also another film that shows Claire’s fascination with the human body. If you frequent this site enough and are familiar with all my Claire Denis content then you know her fascination with the crevices of naked/half naked human body.

Vers Mathilde

My re-examination of Vers Mathilde  - which came after my appearance on the Claire Denis episode of The Wrong Reel - ties in with an old/underappreciated Brian Depalma film I discovered a few months ago.
I love when two unlikely artists share (some) abstract similarities.Claire Denis & Brian Depalma couldn't be any more different as far as I'm concerned so this (small) piece is a little unique.

Dionysis in '69

A few months back I had the pleasure of seeing Brian Depalma's rare/forgotten about experimental film Dionysus in 69 - A split screen documentation of an abstract performance piece (much like Vers Mathilde). It should be noted that Vers Mathilde isn't told entirely in a split screen format (but the best parts are).

I don't know if Claire ever saw Depalma's early film but the parallels between the two movies are uncanny at times. While one film (Dionysis) is way more chaotic than the other (Vers Mathilde) the formatting alone is worthy of this imagery comparison piece.

Besides the split screen formatting, bodies are shot in the same unflinching manner, and the idea of what performance art can be is challenged in both films...

Dionysis in '69

Dionysis in ’69 is a breath of fresh air for casual Brian Depalma fans like myself who always associate his work with the obvious Alfred Hitchcock (even though I’m a casual fan I still recognize his iconic status in the world of film).

If you showed me Dionysis blindly I would think it was a film directed by Jonas Mekas, Shirley Clarke or other experimental/anthology film archive-related filmmakers of that ilk. But certainly not Brian Depalma. At first glance this film fits nowhere in his filmography (not even his for-hire works like Home Movies). But after multiple viewings I’ve come to the realization that it not only fits in right alongside his more recognizable films, but it’s his only voyeuristic film that owes absolutely nothing to the style of Alfred Hitchcock (it goes without saying that the themes of spying & eves dropping in Depalma’s work comes directly from his infatuation with Alfred Hitchcock). I know documentaries are voyeuristic by default but the invasiveness of Depalmas camera in Dionysis is on another level. I mean…you can almost smell the B.O. coming off of the performers in the film (and can literally hear the pounding of their flesh banging up against each other).

Both of these films (which are under 85 minutes) would make an excellent double feature/study.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...