Thursday, December 31, 2015

Fantasy Double Feature of 2015 (for Notebook's 8th Writers Poll)

NEW: Ella Maillart: Double Journey (Antonio Bigini, Mariann Lewinsky, 2015)
SLIGHTLY OLD: Jag stannar tiden (Gunilla Bresky, 2014)
VERY OLD: Casting Ella Maillart (Jean Grémillon, 1926) [short]

Though the terms “double journey” appears only in the title of one of the main two films, they both are cinematic double journeys. They exist because someone has undertaken a difficult trip, filmed it, and now a contemporary filmmaker can put the fragments of the past together and reconstruct not only the journey but also a lost cinema.

One traveler is Swiss, the other, a Russian. The Swiss Ella Maillart (1903-1997) drove her Ford car (accompanied by Annemarie Schwarzenbach) all the way from Geneva to Iran and Afghanistan, documenting on film and photograph various stages of the trip. The Russian war cinematographer Vladislav Mikosha (1909-2004), filmed the atrocities during the war (most of which were deemed too distressful to be used in propaganda newsreels), and as a part of The American-Russian Cultural Association made a trip to Hollywood where he dance with Hedy Lamarr.

Both films are about using cinema as means of leaving the troubled world behind and escaping to a new safe zone. Yet, both stories are reminiscing of post-digital filmmaking, where film footage, text and travel (to film festivals?) come into the service of the adventurer/narrator.

Jag stannar tiden is more about the Second World War, though Double Journey is also dealing with it from afar where the war appears in the form of news pieces and speculations in Maillart’s diary book. Nevertheless, they both are conceived as visual diaries. In Ella Maillart’s case, the diary is used as the map/script of the journey/film by Lewinsky/Bigini. Mikosha’s diary is arguably more elaborate and detailed. He is not allowed to film while on a mission in London, so text is the only means of picturing an ordinary night in the life of Londoners when they keep watching an Ingrid Bergman film under the blitz. The cinema screen trembles throughout the screening, as if Ingrid Bergman, thousands of miles away shooting For Whom the Bell Tolls, is trembling in fear for Europe. Later on, Mikosha tells that story to Bergman herself and she cries.

Regarding things that cannot be filmed, Maillart remains more clandestine and when she’s not allowed to film something, it doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t do so. That’s how in the middle of the film I caught a glimpse of my hometown in color. Most probably the first color footage of Mashhad, Iran in film history, Maillart secretly films the Holly Shrine of Imam Reza and its golden dome.

Between the two films, one can be given the chance to observe Ella Maillart in person, as documented by Jean Grémillon’s camera. Casting Ella Maillart lasts for two minutes and is nothing short of a painted portrait. Hence, one can see the whole programme as an investigation into various landscapes of the soul, when the outer world is a projection of what the traveler feels or wants to feel inside.

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