By Mónica Delgado
There’s probably no film as intimate in this whole edition of Cannes 2019 like this work about mourning and goodbye. Alain Cavalier, with over eighty years, delivers a film about the last days of writer and script writer Emmanuele Bernheim, a friend of the author with whom he planned to make a film about her memories. This film diary, in the visual style of the most recent Cavalier, starts with reflections about the transit to the next life, and the narrations on how he accompanied his best friend Anne, who he met at 16, in a process of assisted death. And those images that come up through this tale in first person of the filmmaker, will accompany the whole development of the film, made in an artisan way with a very low budget.
This recent work not only allows to make a reflection about the progression an aesthetic search in the cinema of this filmmaker of long trajectory, which made films film inspired by politics in the sixties, to then make this very personal documentaries, where he strips and delivers overwhelming thoughts about death. With a handheld camera, Cavalier is a peculiar cyborg, which registers travels and arrivals, bodies and scarcely, faces, stopping to configure still lifes of impossible objects and tracking the literary and biographic motivations of his friend Emmanuele Bernheim. Like in Irène (2009), the quotidian life becomes the only matter of the real, and through those objects of home life, Cavalier describes actions and traditions of the simple and common in out of field shots.
In Living and Knowing You’re Alive, Cavalier still lifes acquire the symbolic side of the film, like the reverse side of the simple scenes, where crosses and sculpted christs, mark these dilettante reflections about the passing of time, which rememorizes the thoughts of Bernheim (Cavalier reads several passages of her tales) and the poetic composition of his environment.
Engraved in my mind, is this scene where Cavalier places the camera near his bed while we see him play holding his breath laying down in his profile, while he says that returning to life is a necessary sensation. This simulation of death as the last laugh before an imminent event.
In 1986, Cavalier won the Jury Prize in Cannes Film Festival for Thérèse, and his last presentation was here with Pater, in 2011, and nearly eight years later he returns to the festival with this indirect feminine tale, from his memories and with a warm look on an inextinguishable friendship.
Director, screenwriter, cinematographer, editor: Alain Cavalier
Production companies: Camera One, Arte France
Cast: Alain Cavalier, Emmanuele Bernheim
Producer: Michel Seydoux
France, 2019, 82 mins