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like trains in the night

Les films sont plus harmonieux que la vie. Il n'y a pas d'embouteillages dans les films, pas de temps mort. Les films avancent comme des trains, tu comprends, comme des trains dans la nuit. Des gens comme toi, comme moi, tu le sais bien, on est fait pour être heureux dans le travail, dans notre travail de cinéma.

Or in English, roughly:

Films have more harmony than life. There are no traffic jams in films, there is no idle time. Films move along like trains, like trains in the night. People like you and me, we are only happy in our work, in cinema.

From cinephile François Truffaut's most cinephilic film, 'La Nuit Américaine' ('Day for Night', 1973), whose title is even a cinematographic reference (to shooting 'day for night', which in French is called 'nuit Américaine').

In this film about filmmaking, which delights in showing us all the tricks and drama of a film production, Truffaut himself plays the director, who here admonishes one of his lead actors to keep believing in the illusion.

Much lighter in tone than his later 'Le Dernier Métro', about the world of theater, Truffaut's ode to cinema is first and foremost about the hectic joy of working on a creative project with a large group of people. After all, if cinema is like a train in the night, a film production is more like a stagecoach ride:

Making a film is like a stagecoach ride in the old west. When you start, you are hoping for a pleasant trip. Halfway through, you just hope to survive.

weathered art

As touched on before, Edvard Munch was a relentless experimenter with materials, techniques and styles. Interestingly, he also experimented with letting his paintings "mature" by leaving them outside, exposed to wind, rain and sun. The essay 'The Weathered Paintings of Edvard Munch' (PDF) recounts how Munch called this the "kill or cure" treatment or the horse cure ('hestekur' in Norwegian).

Of course to some extent all art undergoes deterioration - especially outdoor art like sculpture and murals - but usually this is seen as an unavoidable evil, to be fought against by conserving, restoring and protecting the artwork. Munch was one of the first to use the decay caused by the elements as an aesthetic strategy, both to give his works a weathered, gritty look and to introduce the idea of time and chance into the creative process. (Ironically this now poses strange dilemmas for conservationists of his work.)

Time Exposed - Hiroshi Sugimoto

More recently, another artist who explicitly used weathering is photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. As part of his 'Seascapes' project, he permanently exhibited a number of photographs outside, at the Benesse House Museum on Naoshima, Japan. This created the interesting contrast between virtually timeless images of water, light and air, and prints deteriorating from the influence of those same natural elements.

While Sugimoto's motivations may be more philosophical than aesthetic, what he has in common with Munch is that they both use natural decay - or maturation, however you want to look at it - as a way to visualize time. In the 20th century chance and randomness have been employed in art in all sorts of ways, but the simple idea of using the weather is surprisingly rare.

the sick child

The reputation of Edvard Munch has long been dominated by one painting, 'The Scream', an icon of modern art and claimed symbol for every conceivable kind of modern horror. Which is why it's interesting that the Munch exhibition at the Kunsthal doesn't include 'The Scream', creating breathing space for a lot of his other work.

Edvard Munch - The Sick Child (lithograph)

Particularly striking and expressionist is his graphic work - sketches, woodcuts and lithographs - done in the last years of the 19th century, including 'Attraction', 'Vampire' and a lithograph done in reds of 'The Sick Child' (1896). A decade earlier he had already painted this scene, in which he now zoomed in on the child's face.

Edvard Munch - The Sick Child (painting)

More versions exist of this haunting image of human suffering - quieter and more resigned than 'The Scream', and perhaps more dignified - which Munch himself considered "transformatory" for his later work. As he described it:

My first impression when I saw the sick child -- the pale head with bright red hair against the white pillow -- disappeared as I worked... I had stressed the chair with the glass too much, it distracted from the head. When I examined the picture I saw only the surroundings of the room. Should I eliminate them? ... In a way the head had become the image. Undulating lines appeared in the picture - peripheries - with the head as center... Exhausted, I finally stopped. I had captured my first impression, the trembling lips, the transparent skin, the tired eyes... In The Sick Child I broke new roads, it was a transformation in my art. Most of what I later did was given birth in this picture.

iffr: illégal

Lots of heavy drama on the closing day of IFFR, with 'Tyrannosaur', 'Incendies' and 'Illégal' in a row. The last one, a furious indictment of the Belgian asylum system, proved the most urgent as it lays bare a highly sensitive and seemingly insoluble issue in the whole EU - which, as 'Illégal' shows, is at heart not a judicial or political but a moral problem.

'Illégal', directed by Olivier Masset-Depasse, follows Belarusian Tania (Anne Coesens) and her son who have been living in Brussels illegally for eight years. Both speak French, she works, he goes to school - in short, they've built up a life there. But when Tania is arrested during an ID check, while her son manages to get away, she gets caught up in the dehumanizing bureaucracy of detention centers, voluntary repatriations and other legal euphemisms.

Illégal - 1

Though the film starts with Tania choosing illegality for her and her son after being denied political asylum, it is not concerned with her backstory, nor do we learn much about the stories of the other people in the detention center. It is simply not the issue, and this is voiced sharply by Tania when one of the guards in the detention center asks her why she goes to such lengths to stay in Belgium. Tania counters: "Are you asking me whether I've suffered enough to be allowed to live in your country?"

Illégal - 2

Focusing on Tania's desperate struggle to avoid repatriation, 'Illégal' shows the cruel and often brutal treatment illegal people receive - and to what lengths Western goverments are willing to go. In the same way that asylum seekers will try to find loopholes in the procedures in order to stay, governments are pushing the limits of what the constitution and international treaties will allow to get rid of them. This asymmetrical battle leads to painfully embarrassing scenes, such as when Tania is forcefully put on a plane by three guards while a fourth films the operation, "to avoid any legal mistakes".

As a starting point for debate, the film raises difficult questions about European immigration policies, and about the concept of illegality. One thing is clear though: the humiliating treatment of these people makes Fortress Europe rapidly lose the moral justification for its policies. In a telling scene, one guard can't justify her work anymore and walks out, as if to say: not like this.

Update: In a subtle way the film's title adds to its message. As Masset-Depasse notes in a Cinema.nl interview (in Dutch), the title of his film is the male 'Illégal', as opposed to the female 'Illégale', making it a reference not to the status of his female protagonist, but to the inhuman system she is trapped in.