THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Le Mystere Picasso **, Guernica *****

Le Mystere Picasso (The Mystery of Picasso) **
France, 1956, 78 minutes
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot

While it is somewhat fascinating to see a bare-chested Pablo Picasso painting numerous canvases for the camera, allowing us to see his creative process at work, this documentary left me cold. I'm sure I'd like it more if I was an art student watching this in class, but after the first couple of drawings come to life via time-lapse photography - a painting that took five hours is rendererd onscreen in a mere 10 minutes - the technique (which utilizes special transparent "canvases" constructed so that Pablo Picasso could paint on one side and Clouzot's cinematographer Claude Renoir could film the other) gets old. But what do I know? After all, it won the Special Jury Prize at the 1956 Cannes Film festival, where it was also nominated for the Golden Palm.

I think Clouzot liked this work best because of the cult of personality - he got to meet and film the great Picasso. But as a film and as a record of what Picasso's work means and its impact on the 20th century, I much prefer Alain Resnais and Robert Hessens' 13-minute short Guernica (1950) that's included as an extra feature on the DVD.

Guernica *****
France, 1950, 13 minutes
Directed by Alain Resnais and Robert Hessens

The short masterfully uses jump-cuts, cross-fades, stirring music and sound effects to present paintings, drawings, and sculptures that Pablo Picasso created between 1902 until 1949, including the famous "Guernica," all set against the dramatic ode "Guernica" written by French lyrical poet Paul Éluard as recited by Jacques Pruvost and María Casarès. For me, this is the greatest rendering of the power, import and significance of Pablo Picasso captured on film.

Or as the folks at Strictly Film School put it:
...Guernica is a thoughtful and passionate meditation on barbarism, warfare, and human resilience. Alain Resnais incorporates ingenious, rapid cut editing strategies and fragmented, subset images that not only visually integrate the principles of cubism in cinematic form, but moreover, reinforce the film's overarching, thematic structure of multifacetedness that subtly - but inescapably - reflect on Spain's (then) continued struggle under fascism at the end of World War II: the superimposition of character portraits against the static image of a post-bombing Guernica (note the use of cross-fade that Resnais subsequently incorporates in the superimposed images of Diego and Marianne in La Guerre est finie); the focused, directed lighting and partial occlusion of images that intimately underscore the resulting psychological toll of the inhumane destruction; the platen overlay of portraits that are subjected to a (simulated) riddling of bullets in order to evoke the image of rampant, arbitrary gun-shed, violence, and chaos. In the end, it is this dimensionally complex and multifaceted depiction of war's long-reaching and ineludible toll that is reflected in the film's bittersweet and melancholic human poem, not to serve as an elegiac commemoration of a senseless tragedy, but as a solemn prayer for the deliverance of a persecuted, suffering people.

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