By Guillaume Lafleur
We are seeing more and more experimental documentary cinema at festivals, at which the programming naturally includes a fair dose of representation of geopolitical issues. Although environmental issues are core to this new trend, this is only one facet of productions that also explore both older and current forms of the film essay – a concept of filmmaking that is presumed to take an analytic approach to the image, centred on comprehension of its powers.
At the source of this current is situated the essential work of Harun Farocki, whose emblematic film Still Life (Stilleben, 1997) analyzes the set-up for a beer ad and the design of the light reflecting in the foamy beverage as an extension of the work of seventeenth-century Flemish masters. Farocki had done something similar previously, in An Image (Ein Bild, 1983), which documented a four-day photo session for Playboy in a Munich studio. Emanuel Licha’s work is deeply rooted in this type of approach. His new work, presented last spring at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal,1 is related to the trend in documentary cinema that involves taking solid formal points of view – a trend that has been validated by following the traditional levers of funding. Licha, who divides his time between France and Quebec, received support from the French Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée and from the Montreal production house PRIM. Hotel Machine is thus a feature-length film in the current meaning of the term. It is Licha’s first production of this type, as he comes from the contemporary-art world and his work has usually been presented in galleries.
For the last ten years, Licha has been probing the signposted, formal, and political aspects of staging images. He may, for instance, challenge the powers of editing devices such as shot/reverse shot, which gives us an idea of the mechanics of associating two images in motion. Or he may dwell on the audio-visual apparatus of generalized surveillance – breaking with traditional narrative cinema – that associates the camera’s point of view with the voyeur’s. For some time, Licha has been interested in the theatre of operations – an expression linked, of course, to the rhetoric of war: a wartime site of control that is also a concrete space, such as a hotel, adapted to the context and related to subterfuge or to total staging…
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