By José Sarmiento Hinojosa
Two 2020 films I saw which were decidedly different from one another but shared a common element that made them exceptionally good and drove me to write a piece about them (in this series of impossible dialogues between films I am planning to do) were the dance/coreography documentary Shelly Belly Inna Real Life by Argentinian filmmaker, dancer and choreographer Cecilia Bengolea and 80,000 ans, a dreamlike split screen film by Christelle Lheureux.
At first glance, one might be pressed to say there are more things which separate these films than unite them. Indeed, the two of them couldn’t be more different: Shelly Belly Inna Real Life is a portrait of different dance groups and dancers in Jamaica inhabiting different rural and urban spaces, and 80,000 ans is the portrayal of Céline, an archaeologist working on ancient ruins on a beach in Normandy. But if indeed, these two are different creatures, each one with its own narrative logic and poetic instances, I can situate myself in front of them and trace a parallel line in the way both Bengolea and Lheureux have cast their spells in the use of space throughout the duration of each film. Space, or the habitat of space, is fundamental in both Shelly Belly… and 80,000… because its fragmented use is paramount for the intention of both filmmakers. Either working on the endless possibilities of memory, rescue of memory, dreams or imagination, or working in the seemingly infinite possibilities of appropriating an urban space with the body, space fragmentation and reconstitution works as a pivotal element.
Shelly Belly Inna Real Life (2020) is another wonder from the choreographic mind of Cecilia Bengolea, which absolute masterpiece Lighting Dance (2018) already explored the possibilities of the body in an all-encompassing chant of sensuality, eros and liberation, among the relentless powers of nature (rarefied atmosphere, rain, thundering) and was already a manifesto on its own. Dance, as a ritual, rite, exorcism experience, manifestation of the sublime, ultimate conduit of sensualitas. In Shelly Belly Inna Real Life, Bengolea takes a step further with an excellent manipulation of the camera, using drone footage and hand-held machine to capture the bodies in movement. The drone allows Bengolea to trespass different spaces like walls and bridges with ease, allowing us a privileged vantage point into the different dance routines of the groups. Let’s take Erika Miyauchi, whose ballet and contemporary dance mixture is immediately explosive but also ten times augmented by the movement of the camera. Again, like in Lighting Dance, we are witness of a dance, not only of the body, but also of the machine, of the device that records and choreographs its own movement following following the performers. There’s also a long travelling shot which will follow Alii and Lee Twinstarzz’ path to their home, where they will again start to perform a sensual, urgent dance. The camera as an accomplice of movement.
But is in the space management of the performances, which is impeccably edited by Cecilia and Theo Carrere, where we can find a deeper significance in the dance bodies of the performers. In each dance, or at least in many of them, the shot cuts to a different space: Erika Miyauchi between two diferent parts of an urban neighborgood, the Twinstarzz between the front of her house and a garden near a road. These are edited in a way that is difficult to notice the transitions of the shots, so the spaces pop back over and over again, which gives the notion of these bodies inhabiting two places at the same time. And in this is what I feel lies the important of Bengolea’s strategy: in placing these bodies in different spaces at the same time, she allows them to appropriate space in a very particular way. Let’s think of a metaphor, where dance and the bodies sublime the movement in ways that it approaches the infinite, the last connection between human and cosmos. In this rural/urban reality in the streets of this Jamaican city, dance is what makes these dances be in different places in the same time, in a miraculous bilocation which is the effect of pure energy and vibration. Abandoned buildings, urban spaces, the highway (along with police intervention), rural spaces, public spaces, everything is open and an open possibility for the energy and communication of dance.
80,000 ans (2020) works in a very different way using similar strategies. It shouldn’t be a secret that Christelle Lheureux has made a firm bet for the power of imagination and dreams, the oneiric and surreal which takes over slightly over her wonderful mise en scene. This time we’re confronted by a space-time piece, where dislocated time, the time in real life, the time of the imagination, the time of dreams becomes intertwined in a certain narrative that is dream, reverie, memory and reality, all at once. But the conveniences or inconveniences of the development of space-time isn’t what is essential in the film. Lheureux opens many roads of articulating her film from different possibilities, each one belonging to a realm proper to the one the filmmaker is creating. Again, are we dreaming, imagining, remembering, living? Decoding this shouldn’t be an issue because 80’000 ans inhabits all of these possibilities with certain melancholy, where the analogy of the archaeology like a way of reconstituting certain moments of ancient time becomes filmmaking, and Christelle’s way of building a story from hints, from fragments, brushing carefully the remains of a story to give it a certain order, or possibility.
Céline, the archaeologist, and Christelle, the filmmaker are reaffirming themselves with similar strategies. For Lheureux, this takes place, again, by reconstituting and fragmenting the space, like in Bengolea’s film. Going back and forth the same spaces inhabited by Céline, the filmmaker creates (and recreates) different possibilities, like a film puzzle we need to put together. The resource of the split screen (though it isn’t present at all time) plays perfectly with this intention, sometimes allowing us to see a simultaneous shot/counter-shot, but, more interestingly, allowing us to create free associations between Célines imagination, dreams, reality: the fireworks and hike through the beach, her running through the school and her in bed, her different encounters with childhood friends. We end with Céline waking up in the beach, in a nostalgic shot where we ask ourselves if everything was, indeed a reverie.
Two major medium length films which reaffirm themselves with the use of space, in their own unique ways.
Shelly Belly Inna Real Life
Directed by: Cecilia Beingolea
With: Major Mission, Erika Miyauchi, Kissy McKoy, Craig, Nick, Jay, Shaky and Prince Blackeagle, Cecilia Beingolea, Shelly Belly, Overload Skankaz Oshane, Overload Skankaz Teroy, Giddy Elite Team, Alii and Lee Twinstarzz, Shanky, Winkyy and Larry Equanoxx
Camera: Justin Meekel, Edilson Boz, Ruy Wu, Fhd-Paris
Editing: Theo Carrere, Cecilia Beingolea
80 000 ans
Directed by: Christelle Lheureux
Cast: Laetitia Spigarelli, Aurélien Gabrielli, Andy Gillet, Inès Berdugo
Sound: Antonin Desse
Producers: Christelle Lheureux, François-Pierre Clavel, Les films des lucioles, Kidam
France, 2020, 28′