Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

New Voices in Irish Experimental Cinema: Rouzbeh Rashidi, Maximilian le Cain, Dean Kavanagh and Michael Higgins

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

New Voices in Irish Experimental Cinema: Rouzbeh Rashidi, Maximilian le Cain, Dean Kavanagh and Michael Higgins

Article excerpt

Irish cinema has never been renowned for harbouring a vibrant underground or experimental film scene. There have been significant exceptions (most importantly, aspects of the Irish "First Wave" of the 1970s), but it's only in recent years that a body of films has emerged that offer a powerful rebuttal to that perception. While to announce a fully-fledged "movement" would be premature, it is safe to say that the work of Rouzbeh Rashidi, Maximilian Le Cain, Dean Kavanagh and Michael Higgins represent an important new direction in Irish cinema. Working without scripts and shooting primarily on video, with minimal and usually non-existent budgets, zero crew and casts typically drawn from friends and family, all four filmmakers have been developing at a prolific rate over the past few years. Between them, they have produced an astonishing 32 features and countless shorts since 2008--though it should be noted that Rashidi, who in 2012 alone directed 9 features and 76 short films, has been the most incredibly fertile contributor. All the filmmakers are members of the Experimental Film Society, an international organization founded by Rashidi in 2000 in his birthplace, Iran, and aiming "to produce and promote films by its members" who are "distinguished by an uncompromising, no-budget devotion to personal, experimental cinema." (1)

For the most part, the films operate in an uncanny space between experimental and narrative film. On the one hand, they generally eschew plot and any conventional notion of "eventfulness" in favour of the immediate sensuousness of images and sounds and their juxtaposition--on the other hand, performers, locations, lighting and sound design are used to evoke affects and atmospheres more readily associated with genre cinema especially the horror film. Le Cain, also an accomplished critic, once wrote about David Lynch that he "frees the paranoia of noir from the straightjacket of narrative ... [drowning] the plot in a great tidal wave of emotion", and one can identify a similar impulse at work here. Le Cain adds that "the most unsettling aspect of [Lynch's work] is that the fear seems to come from a source that is deeper than the plot indicates." (2)

It's this deeper level that these filmmakers mostly concern themselves with. As the title of Rashidi's recent, Arts Council-funded feature, HSP: There is No Escape from the Terrors of the Mind (2013), makes explicit, the unease evoked is existential rather than circumstantial: it's much more about the nature of perception, memory and consciousness than anything that can be resolved, or even expressed, through action or dialogue. Usually forsaking plot entirely to tackle these depths head-on, the films mostly seem to reside in a strange, subterranean world free of the typical "narrative" trappings of our daily life. Jobs, money, the State, even social interaction, are rarely visible. Instead, there are bodies and there are spaces, there are sensations and there are memories, and there is the coming-into-being and intermingling of each of these through processes of perception (and cinema).

When language is foregrounded in these worlds --for example, in Higgins' Birds on a Wire (2011) or Rashidi's Bipedality (2010)--it is usually fragile and woefully insufficient, more resonant as another environmental sound than a medium of communication. Le Cain has described Bipedality, one of Rashidi's last films to feature extensive dialogues, as a study of "how inadequate language is to communicate feeling, or to grapple with the mysteries of existing in any given moment in relation to another person or simply to the world that surrounds one," a world that is, in contrast, "almost overwhelmingly vivid and sensuous." (3)

It's our primal and problematic relationship to the world in this sense that each of these filmmakers focus on in different ways: not the world before the Word (in the sense of Stan Brakhage's "untutored eye") so much as a world beneath the Word, a subterranean field of sensations that is always available to us but which we can rarely share or articulate in social or verbal terms. …

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