By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

On the other side of Cinéma du Reél’s program, the underlying subject of capitalism/neoliberalism and its related issues is also present, although presented through the lenses of two experimental filmmakers, who are filming from the perspective of the underlying poetry of historical events in a meta linguistic fashion (Hors-Titre), or furiously portraying the geography/psychology of a land in turmoil (Devil’s Peak) and its inherent complexities.

Simon Liu’s filmmaking has always been one of an aesthetics of synesthesia. Hong Kong/American filmmaker’s methods are particularly evident on films like Fallen Arches (2018) or Signal 8 (2019), which claim elements of landscape to recreate a particular sensorial experience, rich in formulations and the possibilities of working in Super8. Signal 8, in particular, marked a  interest in revisiting Liu’s native Hong Kong to execute a frenzied cartography of psychological impulses, full with vibrant switches of color, frenetic camera movement, and the capture of certain symbolical elements of the urban to insist in this strange dichotomy of a land existing in a state of constant tension, both in its geopolitical existence, and in its condition of a neo-liberalist economy driven autonomy territory with an authoritarian external government.

This is quite apparent and boiling in a state of the imminent in Devil’s Peak. Perhaps recreating a passage that proclaims the urban landscape as an analogy of the inferno, this dantesque exploration of modern Hong-Kong in immersed in its inherent contingencies, presenting both the sides of recent protests against the local regime, or its aftermath (shots of scattered barriers in the streets) and also the buildings, streets and corners of this city that seems to remain in a certain state of normalcy, while also floating in a particular state of limbo, as if something big was about to happen. Liu’s construction of this imminency, rich and layered with his chosen method of cinematography and sound work, allows the spectator to claim those images for themselves, the rough black and white stark shots of the city and the gradient colors that seem to rest in a branch of flowers. The coexistence of revolution, daily life and tension is tangible, and this presentation of his homeland as an exercise of anxiety is probably one of the best works by Liu so far.

In it’s 4 minutes of duration, Wiame Haddad’s Hors-Titre‘s events can be summed up in the description of Cinéma du Réel’s text on the film: A man steps out of his room to join a pacific march for the independence of Argelia an October afternoon of 1961 in Paris. A photograph reconstruct the out-of field of the event through the fragments of a suspended quotidian.

The whole occurrence in Haddad’s remarkable short film is presented in two moments: the event and the capture of the event. Although what is not being told is what fills up the film with immense urgency, the particular choice by the filmmaker of presenting the portraying or documenting of an event, recreating the setting of this event is a remarkable exercise of working with the tacit, the unsaid or unseen, and translate the political and historical meaning of an event to the quotidian setting of a room. Hence, Hors-Titre feels outstandingly important in it’s elemental poetry, in this rapport that creates between the historical document, both in its formats of fixed image (photography) and moving image (cinema). The specters of the Argelian situation of 1961 inhabit the whole room, the struggle for self-determination and independence, the massacres and repression, but they aren’t inside the room. The expectation of the historical events to happen, the suspension of the moment previous to the events to unfold are captured in its meta-significants, unfolding into two parallel movements that open time-space in a possibility for contemplation, and the radical poetry of love.

A remarkable short film and my favorite entry in this competition.

International and french competition

Directed by Simon Liu
Producer: Rachael Lawe
Sound: Luiseeliu
Hong Kong, United States, 2022

Directed by Wiame Haddad
Cinematography: Jake Wiener
Editing: Randa Maroufi
Producer: Léa Morin
France, 2021