29 avril 2007
Passio (Paolo Cherchi Usai, 2007)
El Greco's The Burial of the Count of Orgaz
Immediately after the lights came up in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the people behind us asked, "You seemed to be clapping a lot, can you tell us what you saw in it?"
"Well," I said, "I think it was about the split between the spiritual and the physical world, and the inability to represent he physical. I think the black is really important as a lack of representation of the spiritual world; for me the film put me in the mindset of that divide, and really augmented the experience of the music."
"Oh," said that man. "We didn't get that all." He meant that they hadn't felt that. "Well, uh, thanks."
After they left, I mentioned El Greco and his representations of the physical and spiritual world as very separate elements. I emphasized the importance of the black screen as counterpoint to the (possibility of) representation of the physical world. I contrasted the sufferings of the flesh - the limitations of life as corporeality - with the possibility of spiritual transcendence, the cameras and film we see on screen demonstrating the essential representability of the physical world.
On the subway after the screening, we ran into Jason Kohn, whose documentary Manda Bala just won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature at Sundance. Jason led off with "Were you just at that piece of sh*t?" I told him that I liked it. He did some more ranting about Passio's (lack of) quality. He countered my arguments with the valid criticisms was that the footage seemed arbitrarily chosen and was artlessly integrated into the film. I had enjoyed the project of the film, but Jason's criticisms were of the film's execution. We were both right.
I'm intrigued that Paolo Cherchi Usai has cited among his influences for this work the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff. I'm no expert on Gurdjieff's philosophies of the physical and spiritual worlds, but it seems that he views existence as a problematic distraction from the work of understanding but also the necessary site of that work, calling to mind the incarnation and corporeal suffering of Jesus. Gurdjieff is also impenetrably sloppy and confused as a writer, possibly on purpose. The purpose? Confusion can obscure the illusion of knowledge, leading us toward our own reflections and a deeper understanding. Whether this strategy has the desired effect is up for debate.
Manda Bala will be at the Sundance at BAM series in May+June; Jason will be there for both screenings. All dialogue above is approximate. It's no surprise that Danny beat me to posting about the film, and that his reflections are far more eloquent than mine.