Presence and Pastness: Three Films in Tribeca Film Festival 2009

By Friedman, Roberta | Millennium Film Journal, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Presence and Pastness: Three Films in Tribeca Film Festival 2009


Friedman, Roberta, Millennium Film Journal


Experimental filmmakers have a tradition of creatively and deliberately manipulating time. This is an aspect of the genre that I love to see... and feel. It's a visceral experience for me. I find it both thought-provoking and engaging to experience the elasticity of time - the speeding up, and the slowing down, the exploration and the exploitation, the repetition of events from different perspectives, the combination of past with present, and present with imaginary futures. Experimental filmmakers treat time in every possible filmic way: from Bruce Connor's repetitive Marilyn Times Five to David Rimmer's slowly passing ships in Surfacing on the Thames; to Gary Beydler's single-framed stills that animate in Pasadena Freeway Stills to Hollis Frampton's simultaneous blending of the past and the present with his film Nostalgia.

So it's not surprising that the feature films I chose to review from the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, while very different, exploit time in a different way. They are both narrative features, but they borrow heavily from other genres: art film, documentary, suspense, and musical. Both are experimental in the sense that they combine genres to work with time. Each is a cross-over movie that has an experimental look and feel, making use of filmic techniques that are frequently utilized in experimental films, and that enc0urage the viewer to connect with the material.

Dazzle, directed by Cyrus Frisch, Netherlands and

All About Actresses, directed by Maïwenn, France.

Dazzle (the title is an anomaly to me - probably lost in translation), is the exact opposite of dazzling. It is very minimal with the barest of narratives, beginning with a black screen as we hear a young woman's voice tentatively answer a ringing phone. A man responds. A fragile relationship develops. The entire film takes place in a series of phone conversations. We are forced to visualize the characters from the sound and texture of their voices, as there are no images on the screen. Finally snippets of the girl's face appear after a 20-minute eternity (what a relief). In a soft breathy voice, she describes what she sees (and the viewer sees) out of her window: a world of violence, masturbation and ugliness shot in documentary style, activities that seems to be happening right before us. The girl, hiding from an abusive boyfriend, afraid to leave the respite of this apartment she has borrowed, is stuck in the present. The man (who we never see) contemplates ending his life, weighted down by an agonizing past.

As in Agnes Varda's film Cleo From 5 to 7, where we anxiously sit in real time with the protagonist as she waits for the results of a cancer test, we painfully, for the running time of the film, do the same thing in Dazzle. Will the girl leave the apartment at the end of the call and enter the world she describes outside her window? Will the man give in to his memories, loneliness and past regrets and kill himself?

His past and her present dance with each other in this lengthy, sometimes tedious and strangely compelling set of conversations that take place in a perpetual present. We are with them in real time, in their present, and our present, waiting for something to happen.

There was no title confusion with director Maïwenn 's charming French feature All About Actresses.

Where Dazzle's structure is minimal, All About Actresses is flamboyant. It's spread out, complicated, layered with various camera angles, tons of characters, musical fantasies, and revealing raw interviews. …

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