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Ange Leccia

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Motionless Journeys

by Fabien Danesi

Nowadays, at a time when the Earth is shifting scale and turning into a global village, traveling seems to have become close to unthinkable. By making the world over-accessible, current means of communication have transformed discovery into a virtual notion. They spread all over the planet to offer users a space marked out by circulation networks and subject to an unavoidable fluidness. In these conditions scenic tours – which have supplanted adventurous expeditions - state the supremacy of visibility. It might be the most obvious symptom of the ongoing extermination of any kind of otherness: the video-camera’s impersonal eye captures the most remote sites to lock them up within the uniformity of the overwhelming broadcasting of images devoid of vanishing points. In fact, the traveler setting out on those fake odysseys is the only remaining perspective. He/she is the only one to view and be viewed in the midst of situations doomed to the transparency so dear to our information-based societies. This pervasive narcissism expresses the belief that the places we go through have an immediate reach. The search for authenticity is but an attempt to overcome any ambiguousness by labeling each country with a stereotype, a cliché.

Within this post-modern era overflowed with ceaseless journeys, the trips undertaken in Ile de Beauté (Beauty Island) (1996), Gold (2000) and Azé (1997-2002) work out a new itinerary for our global environment. If the maps of today cover the whole territory in an extremely accurate way, it still remains possible to draft paths on the planisphere even though one can no longer discover unexplored areas. Every place in the world has been located for a long time but our planet is still doted with possibilities to bewitch the gaze and bring it back to a type of opacity. This is what Ange Leccia’s three movies show by not quite reaching their destination since they favor feelings over performance. Japan, the United States and the Middle East are not mere geographical spots defining the end of a trip. On the contrary, they appear as starting points for winding itineraries leading to the crossroads between reality and fantasy. Together they describe a continent on which exploration means projection: here fiction is an invitation to open the gate to affects.

Giving flesh to the world, walking through landscapes in constant search for the thrill, sailing blindly across the seas of emotion: the three wanderings in Ile de Beauté (Beauty Island), Gold and Azé pause – each in its own way – the straight-lined trajectory of contemporary traveling, often aiming at an operational purpose. In those movies, the stopovers are but a pretext to indulge in self-abandonment and conscience-disintegration. They empty out the viewer of his/her inner dimension to include him/her into an escape motion. They slide towards the outside world, where the ebb and flow echo the pulses of reveries, in a ceaseless trade between objectivity and subjectivity. These journeys define a loss of personal identity understood as a whole wrapped up within itself. Electric light and sunshine mesmerize fantasies so as not to show the viewer in a univocal fashion on the collected pictures. If narratives constitute a trip through the subconscious, they do not aim at returning to the depth of the ego but rather at expelling the unknown towards the sensitive surface of a world favorable to evasion.

Ile de Beauté is the first step of this journey. It was born from the encounter between Ange Leccia and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. Its title refers to both to the place where the journey begins, Corsica, and to a ship linking the island to the Continent. The film broadens this story line by following a traveling peeping-tom drifting all the way to Japan and refusing any type of communication. Space and time coordinates grow less and less stable, more and more fragmented, thus taking us into the heart of their never-ending oscillations. Means of transportation (train, plane and car) become the non-locations of a life unable to inscribe itself in a specific place. Along with him, the truant drags along an irreducible loneliness, that he strives to obliterate through his multiple comings and goings. But his Brown-like motion always takes him back to the lack he is made of, as the soundtrack reminds. The sorrowful love stories they deal with draw in filigree the intimate bubble within which the character has locked himself up. He feeds on the past - just like Sylvie Vartan whose face is de-territorialized by the ideograms reasserting the need to move. Then the hero’s wounded heart makes fast in the Island of the Rising Sun. He keeps wandering across this Eastern world, in search for a womanly ideal embodied by local star Rie Miyazawa.

Just like songs, T.V. images delineate the blurry outlines of his inner world facing all the illusions. They transcribe his affliction and take us to the margins where reality fuses with the visions it gives life to. The shots drawn from feature films hint at the traveler’s weakness for romances. His desire is hypnotized by screens broadcasting the immaterial sensuality of nearby bodies. Brought down to a posture of under-motricity similar to that of the cinema-goer because of the means of transportation, the traveler breathes life into the images through his own rattling about. Landscapes pass by, kilometer after kilometer, like a film roll stuck to the windshield or the porthole which frames his gaze. His physical passivity spurs his psychological wanderings across the canvas of the world. His perception becomes totally fanciful under cover of the dissolution of the dividing line between the concrete world and fiction.
In a hotel room where the anonymous hero’s favorite interlocutor is a T.V. screen, two lovers kissing in fiery passion can appear as a decoy. Their fond embrace highlights the viewer’s distress and his identity pops up in a reflection: it is but a camera only able to record this impassioned rush. The lack of reverse shots all throughout the movie reveals his secret: the technical device has replaced individuality. However, the identification of the human being to the machine does not entirely echo the notion of reification. It blends with surviving pulses indicating the steadiness of feelings. The camera is set into motion by the amorous energy while landscapes collect its sensitivity. In other words, the character never gets rid of his vulnerability which pours out in the places where he enters.

Isolating and distancing oneself from relationships – a process spurred by new technologies – do not necessarily prove that alienation is increasing. Furthermore, contemplation is not antagonistic to life. In fact, the traveler’s being set back, a mere observer, refers to the essential part played by appropriation in his experience. Nowadays, images should not be opposed to the material or objective world. Life cannot be considered independently of the flow of reproductions flooding reality, besides the latter does not exist beyond our interpretations. The character in Ile de Beauté (Beauty Island) is above all a smuggler imprinting his feelings on the very skin of things in order to bear witness to the impossibility to dissociate external stimuli and inner quivering. A knot made of intensity and thought, vibrations and abstractions, asserting that the world is always already a representation. The attention for everyday life banality sketches the outlines of a path made out of small good things. As actions are being suspended, thus leading the viewer to a kind of introspection, a melancholy ennui cuddles up in the suspension. Looking back upon oneself is not exactly a reflexive process, it brings to the fore a fragmented experience that has left traces on the trajectories of our ceaselessly erased itineraries. There only remain those moist gazes sparkling in the night when the traveler faints. The coast of an island is outlined by daybreak or twilight luminescence. This is the last uncertainty of the movie that awakens us to the disappearance of a being, even though we are lost in the turmoil of the speeded-up screening of our lives, inexorably leading to oblivion. We are already somewhere else...

With Gold, the second step confirms that the film-maker goes beyond the intimate anchorage of the subjective camera thanks to the use of panoramic images. The 16/9 format offers a wide-angle vision de-personalizing the observation. Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Ange Leccia have adopted an extraterrestrial eye to bring to the fore the layer of weirdness lying in everything the American West harbors. From the many digital hours recorded during their stay in California, they conceived a science-fiction road-movie and detached themselves from well known mythical representations of the desert, seen for instance in Hollywood westerns. Their dual under the sun allowed them to conquer the frontier again by pushing back the limitations of the imagination. They added a cosmic dimension to their adventurous trip by transposing the sites they visited to a futuristic setting reminiscent of Las Vegas which has turned into a huge spaceport where slot machines twinkle like sailing boards.

Propelled outside of the terrestrial atmosphere, the viewer can give free vent to a sensory nomadic behavior in order to intensify his aesthetical relationship with the world. His sailing journal works out an itinerary on which each stopover defines a planet into which one can sneak. His setting out for unknown galaxies is an answer to the binary opposition between the first two places he came across: the city where all tourists land is a nearly prison-like space the high-pitched pandemonium of which is due to an overwhelming surveillance system. The beach watch turns into watchtowers while fences and desolated landscapes underline the impression of being in a totalitarian state. After feeling the urban world leads to the quietness of giant sequoia forest. Lord of the trees offers a breathing time starkly contrasting with the oppressive atmosphere of the city. But the antagonism between nature and culture will be taken apart on the different orbital stations.

On one of the celestial bodies, a widespread blue light turns the desert into a mineral sea. Geological shapes draw a shadow similar to what is emitted by cathode-ray tubes. As if seen from a satellite, this panorama is pervaded with a puzzling gust of wind. The rocks look like a vast aquatic area thinking itself as a ghostlike deer lets us guess. The animal pops up from the darkness, waking non human living creatures before fading away: nature and technology are impersonal yet not insensitive. Here, they break free from the inertia within which reason too often banished them. Dried out lands and frozen lakes blend through the space trip during which one observes planets from the inside. The spaceship creates a detailed topography of each visited place, which comes down to asserting that the viewer is no longer separated from the viewed by his subjectivity. In a hothouse filled with many vegetal forms of life, stems begin to whisper: in the background, one hears the description of a cross section of this biological microcosm.

When the visitors spot a closed down railroad frozen in the middle of the valley, noises of metal banging bring back to life the abandoned wagon. The sounds contribute to placing pioneers at the heart of the phenomena focused upon. This contact allows to reproduce the anonymity of the mechanical and the organic. If the identity of the travelers in Gold is undetermined, it is because the true protagonists of this straying are the explored stars. When prospecting one is forced to disengage from a single point view to fully take part in those peregrinations from planet to planet. Landscapes are true metabolisms, cells feeding on the mutation of perception and sensation. When flesh finally reappears through the echoes of stones individuality is found again in an ultimate trekking. The sputtering/crackling expresses the exhaustion of the walker, while one of the stones shows the features of a human face. The valley bores a breach within the viewer whose inner energy flows out without ever being funneled. The golden mountain, from which the title of the movie is drawn, lightens up at the moment when the battery finally goes dead: it absorbs our beliefs into the sheen of silence, so valuable against our societies’ fury.

Though it is the third step of it, Azé does not draw any conclusion from this adventurous trip. Ange Leccia tells the story of a terrorist who went to find shelter in the Middle-East. But like Ile de Beauté (Beauty Island) and Gold, the scenario decays to provide intuition with a series of images in which things often take a pictorial turn. This plasticity expresses the curiosity for the surrounding space and the transfer of possible signs under the impulse of emotions. Thus the sun is the guide of this fiction that gives an abstract version of romantic adventure movies. Its heat even burns out landscapes and retina, which comes down to distorting reality and making it as incandescent as a mirage. Light is a furnace where what is seen and experienced blend in an erotic shaking.

Couples on the beach, images on television and oriental songs: patterns used in Ile de Beauté (Beauty Island) are transposed to a country where exoticism is the second word expressing sensuous charm and smooth living. However, the past sometimes tantalizes the character whose holiday home is not freed of all tension. The military presence contrasts with the suavity, constantly threatening to jeopardize even the most serene moments. Linking one atmosphere to the next in a rhythmical kaleidoscope, the plot states that beauty is always smuggled: it is rooted in the ephemeral and the fleeting. Capturing delicate moments, one gives birth to a poetry of traces telling of the fleetingness of aesthetical fragments. In this regard, video recording is deceitful because such magical instants have no perennial dimension whatsoever. Even though one can watch the same movie again, the feelings are never the same inasmuch as we are here dealing with palimpsests. In the dense network of their differences, they keep writing over and over a narrative through which the fragility of time is let out.

Ange Leccia’s camera gently strokes spaces and bodies without trying to impose a linear reading that would come to an end at one point. From this angle, Azé merely begins to touch: in a place where the far-away is brought back to the surroundings, distance still remains necessary to embrace the world. As in Gold and Ile de Beauté (Beauty Island), the film is on the verge of the area where distance becomes again the essential reason of the trip. Whether temporal or spatial, the interval dotes images with an aura. Therefore one must elbow one’s way between oneself and reality. In the midst of this groove, the viewer’s stillness releases as much power as a globe-trotter’s motions. It is up to us not to refuse those unsettling veering curves.