A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to have access to the short film “…Would Have Been My Last Complaint” created by Camille Lacadée (see her guest writer essay as an inventory for this project) and François Roche for their [eIf/bʌt/c] (Institute for Contingent Scenarios) with the collaboration of Ezio Blasetti, Stephan Heinrich and a small team of people from all over the world (see the credits at the end)
The film is now visible online (see also at the end of this article) which will allow many viewers to consider a work in which neither architecture nor cinema is “enslaved” to the other, but rather they collaborate at their best. The architecture itself has been thought and built by the film’s team, but could not really unfold its essence without the narrative and expressive means developed by the film.
District B13 Ultimatum, directed by Patrick Alessandrin (2009)
After a photographic and an historical interpretation of what I called for this series’ purposes, Fortress Paris, this third part introduces its cinematographic (literal) adaptation of this topic. The film Banlieue 13 (District B-13) and its sequel Banlieue 13 Ultimatum materializes to the extreme, the policies of exclusion of the Parisian proletarian suburbs. In these movies, the suburbs are surrounded by a high wall which leave the inside population to its own fate in a similar way than the film Escape from New York created by John Carpenter in 1981 in which Manhattan was walled, thus imprisoning its criminal inhabitants.
In this interpretation the suburbs incarnate a perfect example of Michel Foucault’s notion of heterotopia (see previous article and the cinematographic series). It is the other space, delimited with access filters and which applies its specific rules different from the milieu that surrounds it. Similarly to many institutional heterotopias, the suburban one does not leave any choice to its inhabitants to leave it through the militarization of its border. Just like the psychiatric hospital or the prison (one might add the school and the factory to a certain extent), it thus constitutes an authoritarian heterotopia and acts as a mechanism of control for society.
In a less ‘spectacular’ aesthetics but with a more solid and touching scenario/directing/acting, I cannot not recommend Mathieu Kassovitz’s first film La Haine (1995) in which the walls are not as visible but evidently exist.
I got the chance last week, to curate a small cine-club session organized by Danielle Willems (see her essay for the Funambulist) who was kind enough to ask me so. I chose two movies that I was not necessarily associating but whose connection will have to be made in an upcoming article about what Deleuze calls the Power of the False (La puissance du Faux). Those two films were Punishment Park (1971) by Peter Watkins (see the previous articles about it) and A Walk Through H. (1978) by Peter Greenaway about which I already wrote but I would like to reiterate in order to open a new category in the archives that I will elaborate about in the coming weeks. This category concerns Maps, their subjectivity and their power. I already archived in it previous articles that are related to this topic and more will come.
I still need to research more information in order to write something about the subjectivity of maps as a mean of representation of space, but of course that is the main topic of A Walk Through H. whose narrator is so obsessed with maps that he ends up seeing them on every piece of paper that gets in his way and the film is registered in a slow process of abstractization of those maps that create new spaces rather than representing them.
The following text is what Peter Greenaway says about this film, immediately followed by thirteen of the ninety two maps painted by P.Greenaway himself that constitutes the movie. I don’t know if there has ever been an exhibition about them but I would be amazed to see one being organized :
Like most people, I suspect, I am interested in maps, cartography, plans and diagrams. The map is an extraordinary palimpsest to tell you where you have been, where you are at this present moment, and where you could be, and even in subjective tenses, where you might have been, where you could have been. It’s a total consideration in the sense of temporality as well as spatiality. I have this fascination that I often utilize for making many paintings which had maps and cartography as their basis.
The Element of Crime
is a 1984 movie by Lars Von Trier
that dramatizes a post-apocalyptic (sepia) world where people lives in the ruins of the ancient one. The scenario focuses on a tense detective trying to find back the tracks of a serial killer. The result is an ambiguous mix of film noir and science fiction with a slight dose of influence by William Burroughs.
The King is Alive
is one more movie in the desert (see previous post
) and was directed by Kristian Levrin
g. It takes place in the ghost town of Kolmanskop
in Namibia which was originally built by a German (diamond) Mine Company in 1908 and was abandoned in 1956. Since then, the desert re-colonized the land and despite the pretty good state of the houses, they are invaded by the sand.
The secret life of words
by Isabel Coixet
is a beautiful film that take place on a offshore oil rig situated in the West of Ireland. The rig’s characteristic is to combine the ship’s language with an obvious link to the ground and therefore the island’s static aspect. Foucault’s favorite example of heterotopia is the one of the ship probably in a historicist concern, nevertheless the rig has the advantage not to imply any arrival that would not depend on the human when the oil rig implies an entrance and an exist that are absolutely dependent to the considered character.
The small basketball field and the swings on the deck definitely participates to the sedentary aspect of the territory itself.Thanks Ethel !
(2000) is a documentary by Marc Singer
traveling in the New York’s underground in order to meet the “mole people”, a group of homeless living underneath and along Penn Station’s railway.
This zone is de facto not controlled by any instance of power, and life there is a mix of solidarity and conflict between people who chose this way of life.
Touche pas a la femme blanche
(Don’t touch the white woman
) is an incredible satirist western by Marco Ferreri
filmed in 1974 in…the center of Paris. In fact, the entire movie is taking scene in the sector of Les Halles which were currently transformed from the central food market to a huge mall that we still know nowadays. Since this period Les Halles are known as “Le trou” (The hole) due to this impressive crater which needed to be dug.
Marco Ferreri therefore used this enormous construction site as the settings of his parody in order to eventually reproduce the battle of Little Big Horn
(1876) as a battle against modernity. Whoever lived in Paris for more or less time would be probably amazed by those following very contrasted images of a recognizable Paris hosting troops of Indians and XIXth century US Army.
One could possibly regrets that the final battle seems to happen in a quarry (see last picture) rather than in “the hole” but the transition Ferreri succeeds to achieve thanks to a play of zoom and montages depicts a very interesting imaginary setting.
It is also interesting to know that before being Les Halles, this site used to be a cemetery (Cimetiere des Innocents) composed of numerous common graves and hosting more than two millions dead bodies…This movie seems therefore to be a kind of fictitious memory of the site which reappears when the earth is being excavated.
Following the previous article about the desert, let’s stay in the realm of sand with the masterpiece 砂の女
(The woman in the dunes
) by Hiroshi Teshigahara
directly interpreted from Kobo Abe
The plot dramatize the captivity of a man in a house which lays at the bottom of a sand “dwell” in which lives a woman who needs each day to extract a certain amount of sand for the nearby village and in order to maintain her house out from being swallowed by the sand. It represents a daily fight for the existence of her life environment in order to survive against the intractable process of the sand.
Whether one talks about the book or the film, the sand descriptions are absolutely splendid and even comports a kind of metaphysical aspect to some degrees.
Desert is something between an heterotopia and what I would call an atopia (a non-space). It defines itself as a territory whose limits seem to reach the infinite, which is not to say that it seems to have no limits. In fact, in the cinematographic desert, one always tries to reach the horizon as a tenacious impossible quest.
I think an appropriate author to quote here is Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio
(see previous post
) in his beautiful humanist novel Desert:
The film Fahrenheit 451
is a 1966 cinematographic adaptation from Francois Truffaut
of Ray Bradbury
‘s 1953 novel. More than a visualization of the book, Truffaut’s movie is a real personal interpretation and brings something in addition of the original plot.
Fahrenheit 451 is the story of a system where firemen are burning every books they find since those records of knowledge are being prohibited.The heterotopia here is this zone in the woods where rebels to the system are living and happen to have traded their name to a book they have read and remembered. Literature and knowledge are thus being transmit from generation to generation as both a hyper-personification of their content (since somebody actually embodies it) and a personification of this same content (since the author is not anymore the important thing here).
This heterotopia is then dramatizing a territory where culture is not contained by objects but by people and triggers thus a global solidarity and equality between them.
The haunted house is a paradigm of the heterotopia. A close environment, few clear accesses of entrance/exit and inside, a whole bunch of new behaviors and rules.
The short film Beyond
by Koji Morimoto
within the Animatrix
set, seems to be particularly appropriate for what we are interested here. The plot introduces a bunch of kids who discover a house in the city which does not exactly respond to the same usual rules or norms. It is raining inside the house (even if the weather is nice), gravity is not as operative as it is usually, one room directly leads to the nil…if you replace that in the Matrix Universe, one can say that this house is a bug, a failing code which provokes the existence of a magic enjoyable world.
However, just like Georges Canguilhem illustrates in his The Normal and the Pathological
, the norm is always trying to re-conquer the anomaly and here there is a special squad trained for the solving of this kind of bug.
It brought us back to our article
on the so called madness of people and how, since the XVIIth century (according to Foucault, madness in the Middle Age was not symptomised), we live in a system which either exclude the anomaly or tries to re-educate it.
Children of Men
(2006) by Alfonso Cuarón
is a fable of a near future terrifyingly recognizable. An event (whatever it is), triggered a global situation of extremism in UK developing a tremendous policy of suppression, oppression and expulsion of every immigrant of the kingdom. Thanks to a state of emergency. the government owns the three powers (legislative, executive and judiciary) and applies a totalitarian policy for the sake of an elite.
One element of this policy is the creation of transit-towns where immigrants and offenders are brought to be expulsed by boat (as far as the film shows, probably a very long time after having being brought there). The processes of entrance of this heterotopia are obviously very clear (see the two following pictures) and life within those towns are shared between chaotic self-management and violent military interventions.
The story is supposed to take scene in 2027 but the universe shown by Children of Men is based on twenty years of democratic and economic regression, introducing a world very similar from the one we know. This feeling is achieved by using in its phisicality only recognizable elements which allows the comparison with nowadays society.
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
is a movie directed by Milos Forman in 1975 interpreting Ken Kesey’s novel from the same name. The heterotopia here is a mental hospital which tackles the question about one’s madness and about devices of discipline within this kind of institution. The set of new rules here is frankly tyrannic and is justify by the supposed status of the patients.
There is a lot from Foucault to read about history of madness and how a society is extracting from itself people who are not obeying to the same system of rationality in order either to put them apart, or even worst to re-educate them.
When I observe that geniuses like Antonin Artaud or Camille Claudel have spent some time in those institutions (and institutional they are !), I have the intuition that the people we are calling crazy might just be people who had a glance at real freedom.
- How far away is that Room ?
- If you go straight, about two hundreds meters, but there is no going straight here
It has nothing to do with chance that the picture used for this theme’s introduction of HETEROTOPIAS IN CINEMA was extracted from Stalker (1979) of Tarkovksy since the Zone is, as far as I am concerned, one of the best achieved heterotopia in the world of cinema.
I wrote a small essay last week about the resistance to an institutionalization of power based on a study of heterotopia. Here is the little chapter I wrote about Stalker:
Stalker is an interpretation of the Strugatsky brothers’ novel called Roadside picnic. This example of heterotopia illustrates perfectly the adoption of behaviors set in a different system of rationality than the ones belonging to the normative world. It quite matches with the type of heterotopia that Michel Foucault calls: “crisis”.
I do know that this movie won’t be released before March 2010 but Tim Burton’s revisit of Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland for Walt Disney won’t miss to be another interesting heterotopia, a landscape of mathematical fantasy implying a very different set of rules of behaviors.
To be notified, the role of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter…very promising. Continue reading
is the first color movie by Akira Kurosawa
. It is set in a Japanese slum and explores several more or less dramatic episodes of its inhabitants’ life. The film’s name comes from the onomatopoeia produced by a quite peculiar character who cross the slum thinking he is actually driving a tram, nostalgia of a modernity which produced the even existence of this shanty town which lives in a quasi-total ignorance of the external world since then.
Miyazaki’s movies are always introducing heterotopias hosting imaginaries (I use the word imaginary here in an Edouard Glissant meaning) only accessible to people who did not give up their interpretation of the world as children. His movies fits absolutely with Foucault’s own definition of a certain kind of heterotopias, the parents’ bed which becomes a ship for example, but even more the most remote point of the garden, the one which remains unknown and therefore entertain all kind of fantasies and materialization of fear. Each of those movies are a journey following Lewis Caroll’s rabbit and dramatizes worlds where evil comes from a lack of imaginaries.
David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991) is an interpretation of William Burroughs’ novel (1959) and Burroughs’ life in general. It thus dramatizes the interzone, the famous heterotopia of the novel, Burroughs’ vision of Tangier (Morocco) with a layer of hallucination due to drugs. The interzone is an incredible metropolitan place (I am pretty sure Georges Lucas had it in mind when he created Tatooine) where all kind of “creatures” interact with each others…
Underground is a 1995 movie by Emir Kusturica dramatizing not only an heterotopia but also an heterochronia. In fact, the topia here is a underground resistant shelter in Yougoslavia started during the Second World War. The heterochronia is constituted by the fact that, many years after the end of the war, this little node of resistance continues to organized itself in order to resist to nazis. Their only contact with the surface world being a manipulator/opportunist general, people living in this underground world have no idea of what is going on outside their universe which insists here on the filtration of exchanges between an heterotopia and the normative world.