At Time Out Chicago today I have an overview of French director Philippe Grandrieux’s upcoming residency (Friday, May 13 – Saturday, May 14) at the University of Chicago’s Film Studies Center. Grandrieux’s relentlessly dark and disturbing movies are definitely “not for all tastes” but I tried to note some of their utterly unique qualities that should make these screenings essential viewing for Chicago cinephiles. You can read the article here though I’m not crazy about the way my editor trimmed references to Adrian Martin and Nicole Brenez (as well as a fitting use of the word “Orphic!”), so I’m also posting my original version below:
This week, the University of Chicago’s Film Studies Center will host what is sure to be one of the most exciting local film events of the year. Maverick French writer/director Philippe Grandrieux will be on hand to discuss three of his recent movies — Un Lac (2008), White Epilepsy (2012) and Malgre la nuit (2015) — on Friday and Saturday night. Grandrieux’s penchant for de-centered narratives and disturbing subject matter (i.e., prostitution and sexual violence) has polarized audiences around the world but his painterly, formally innovative approach to image-making has also won him a legion of admirers among adventurous viewers and prominent theorists and critics; Nicole Brenez has written that Grandrieux’s work constitutes “the most advanced point of cinematic research” being conducted today and Adrian Martin devotes five pages of his superb Mise en Scene and Film Style to analyzing a single scene from Grandrieux’s second feature La Vie Nouvelle (2001).
Malgre la nuit is Grandrieux’s most accessible film. Reminiscent of Clare Denis’ Bastards, the plot concerns an Englishman traveling to Paris in search of his missing girlfriend. His journey takes the form of an Orphic descent into a shady underworld of porn and prostitution rings, where he becomes involved with a masochistic nurse (Ariane Labed) and an exotic singer (Roxane Mesquida). On the opposite end of the spectrum is the non-narrative White Epilepsy, my favorite of Grandrieux’s features. In a wordless 68 minutes, a naked man and woman slowly grapple with one another in a dark forest. Superbly choreographed (Are they wrestling? Are they dancing?) and genuinely frightening, White Epilepsy resembles a Francis Bacon painting come to life. Un Lac falls in between these extremes as a dreamlike portrait of an isolated family living in a remote forest in an indeterminate, vaguely Eastern-European country. The arrival of a foreign woodcutter destabilizes their incestuous balance as the slender plot unfolds like a haunting myth lost in time.
The opening night screening of Un Lac will be followed by a discussion between Grandrieux and critic Raymond Bellour. For more information on Grandrieux’s residency at the University of Chicago, including ticket info and showtimes, visit the Film Studies Center’s website.
On Tuesday, May 10 at 6:30pm I will be introducing a screening of A Streetcar Named Desire and moderating a discussion afterwards at the Wilmette Public Library. This screening and discussion is part of the Writers Theater “Page to Stage” series, which this year is focusing on works related to their upcoming play, Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf: A Parody. More info here.