Tuesday, June 3, 2014

CHRONICLE OF A DISAPPEARANCE (1996), Elia Suleiman's first film

It takes several viewings to understand what Elia Suleiman is working with in his film.  He says in an interview with Anne Bourlond:
Palestinians have always been ghettoized in a way, geographically and historically. To translate this metaphor requires a nonlinear cinematographic narrative structure-there is a parallelism between the decentralization of the narrative and of the film's structure. Opting for nonlinearity in the film's narrative mode fits in a perfect synchronization with my intention to challenge the linearity of the story of Palestine. Of course, I didn't create this non- linearity,it existed on its own. But my films give it expression-they speak of nonlinearity and in fact they are nonlinear, especially CHRONICLES OF A DISAPPEARANCE.
Many articles compare him to Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati, and in a sense this is correct from the standpoint of the episodic comedy.  But that simply ignores other influences.  The film opens with bubbling, snuffing noise on the soundtrack that is hard to discerns.  Light slowly penetrates the shot, and it is revealed to be a moving wrap-around shot of an old man smoking his water pipe lazily.  In a nation of  so-called terrorists, the camera quotes the stylized and signature sound and camera movements from the first reel of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, a violent epic about a bloody land war, so to reveal a poor old man sweating in the sun, a figure so unthreatening the mosquitos would pick on him, and yet he is forced into abject poverty because of the notion that he is a security risk.  In another scene, a grandfather shuffles about his chores while listing to an Arabic news broadcast about the cessation of hostilities and the peace accords in Bosnia, ironically emphasizing how dedicated America really was to Oslo.  Suleiman does touch on politics, briefly, with a short vignette where he overhears in a cafe two French 'intellectuals' rhapsodizing into infinity about 'how ancient' a debate dating back to the Year of Our Lord 1948 is more impenetrable than the Trojan War, and just as old.  In this sense, he is close to the point of Edward Said, disgusted by the snooty, high-brow liberal racism that disguises itself as 'impartial' humanitarianism.
The film, as it is, should be called plot-less.  There are a few set-ups that are revisited again and again, showing a local grocer who is constantly breaking drivers up from fights in the front of his shop, for example, but the drifting, dream-like nature here is reminiscent of 8 1/2, another film featuring the director as a protagonist. In some scenes, Suleiman even seems to reply to Fellini.  For instance, in once scene, the Director is brought on stage to lecture on the inter-relationships between Oslo and cinema.  But, before he can say a word, the entire affair collapses into a disaster of crying babies, hot microphones, buzzing cellular telephones, and everything else that could possibly prevent anything regarding film from developing in popular culture or discourse in Palestinians.  Fellini's film is about a director with writer's block.  Suleiman's Director character has cultural block, the complete opposite of Fellini's, who has a film studio, actors, extras, mistresses, and even a flying saucer at attention and prepared to do his bidding.  Suleiman's character is an exile, returning to Palestine after decades in the West, and so the episodic form becomes more meaningful.  One popular point in the film is a Holy Land souvenirs shop, where the clerks dolefully fill bottles with tap waterer and top them with crucifixes while a carousel of post cards for tourists squeaks in the wind.  The film is a collection of post card episodes, slides, abstracted moments from a longer narrative about returning to a home you are banned from living in.  

No comments:

Post a Comment