April 7, 2009

The Mosaic Film: Nomadic Style and Politics in Transnational Media Culture (3)

Filed under: film,new media politics (k3),patricia pisters — ABRAXAS @ 8:22 am

Nomadic Politics: Outside and Intensity

Nomadic politics appears to be an essential constituent of the contemporary mosaic aesthetic. A political engagement with the contemporary world is an important aspect of all of the mosaic films that I’m discussing here, and is generally characteristic of this type of film. Therefore, it must be observed that “escaping the codes” does not mean envisioning the world in terms of some transcendental realm wherein politics is no longer necessary, a formulation that is central to the critique that Peter Hallward and others have deployed against Deleuzian nomadism (Hallward 2006). On the contrary. The ideas that Deleuze distinguishes as characteristic of Nietzschian philosophy, and which are the basis of his nomadic thinking, point towards an engagement with the world. Nomadic thought connects works of art (here, cinema) to the outside and to intensity. Both concepts, the outside and intensity, relate to what Deleuze describes as “being in the same boat,” where everyone is pulling an oar, is sharing something beyond any law, contract, or institution:

We are in the same boat: a sort of lifeboat, bombs falling on every side, the lifeboat drifts toward subterranean rivers of ice, or toward rivers of fire, the Orenoco, the Amazon, everyone is pulling an oar, and we’re not even supposed to like one another, we fight, we eat each other. Everyone pulling an oar is sharing, sharing something, beyond any law, any contract, any institution. Drifting, a drifting movement or “deterritorialization”: I say all this in a vague, confused way, since this is a hypothesis or a vague impression on the originality of Nietzsche’s texts. A new kind of book. (Deleuze, 2004: 255)

The relation with the outside is thus not the exclusion of reality but, on the contrary, the opening up of a philosophical text, a work of art, or a film to the forces of life. As Deleuze points out further:

What is this: a beautiful painting or a beautiful drawing? There is a frame. An aphorism has a frame, too. But whatever is in the frame, at what point does it become beautiful? At the moment one knows and feels that the movement, that the line which is framed comes from elsewhere, that it does not begin within the limits of the frame. It began above, or next to the frame (…) Far from being the limitation of the pictorial surface, the frame is almost the opposite, putting it into immediate relation with the outside. (255)

Let me first look at some of the ways in which Babel, WWW, and Kicks open up to the outside and engage with the world. This is done in several ways. A classic way of engaging with politics in art is by means of metaphors or other tropes. When film is not overtly political (such as the Soviet revolutionary films of the twenties, or other overtly propagandistic films), political references are often made by using a small incident to illustrate something bigger, or by using symbolic images that allow allegorical readings. At moments, Babel, WWW, and Kicks all express their concerns with the contemporary world in this classical way. In Babel, the accidental gun shot that sets all of the other events in motion is clearly intended to be read in an allegorical way. By means of this small incident, we understand how quick assumptions and misunderstandings turn every incident into an act of terrorism and add to the fear of the other. It’s not just the events of the story that are being told. Babel reveals all of the tragedies that are generated by the events that the media isolates to present as news items. And, in doing so, the film actually shows not what divides us, but what binds us: the air we breathe, the love we feel, the miscommunications we cannot circumvent.
WWW presents symbolic images that have evident political significance. When, after his first attempt to cross the ocean (which costs him and his father all their money), Hicham is thrown back on the Moroccan shore, he disassembles all of the computers in Club Internet l’Univers and sells the separate parts to get money for a second attempt. Then, in a striking and heartbreaking twist that is at the same time almost comic in its absurdity, we see the image of the little boat with Hicham and other immigrants encountering an enormous cruise ship, full of lights and music. Although the people on board the tiny boat begin to wave and scream to the cruise ship, their boat is heedlessly obliterated by the ship, which does not even notice them. We never see Hicham again after that moment.
Kicks begins with an announcement that everything in the film is based on true events. Here too, a gunshot accident is the basis for further reflections on the media’s propensity to swiftly categorize the other as a potential terrorist, and, on the other hand, immediately label the police officer (and indigenous Dutch society) as racist. Although the rap songs of Redouan and Karim are strongly worded expressions of frustration about their own situation that are related to or projected onto world politics, in fact, misunderstanding, fear, and frustration are the experiential roots of this tragic incident, which is emblematic of many other tragic incidents and misunderstandings in contemporary multicultural societies.

More explicitly, the film also self-reflexively comments on how sensationalism and opportunism drive the media to misrepresent multiculturalism. In this sense, the role of filmmaker, Wouter, is telling. Wouter trolls news sources in seeking out ideas for his films. When he finds a story that describes female illegal immigrants being harried by dogs in a shed, he set out to reproduce the story on film, looking for (as he says) “real illegal women” and “real dogs” to tell a “real story” of present-day Netherlands. Wouter’s eagerness to “do something” related to multicultural society without any real involvement can be considered another example of the abusive potential of the media, while, at the same time, Kicks itself clearly addresses all these multicultural issues in a much more clever way. So the use of symbolic and allegorical images is one way of relating to the outside.

In The Making of Babel, there are a few other instances that indicate how this film relates to the outside more implicitly, beyond what can be seen on the screen. One of the scenes that is shown in rehearsal is the scene in which Said, Yussef, and their father are surrounded by Moroccan police officers with guns, and Said gets shot. After several failed attempts at shooting the scene, Said finally gets it right, at which point the Palestinian-Arabic translator of the film begins to cry. She explains that the scene reminds her of a moment in her own past, when she and her father were surrounded by men with guns. In the Mexican part of the film, the actor who plays the border patrol agent who arrests Amelia remarks that his own parents are Mexicans who illegally crossed the border to settle in America. And that, for him, it now feels very paradoxical to perform the role of an American cop who could have arrested his own parents (which would have prevented his performing this role in the film now). This bonus-DVD information does not directly feature in the film. But the real emotions and direct engagement that are related by members of the cast and crew are felt beyond the frame of the images. In all cases, the outside that the films relate to is shared by the audience, either through personal experience, or by way of the more extended shared image culture (including the bonus DVD) that we share, and through which we know or are able to imagine more than what is seen strictly on the screen. In these ways, the mosaic film is “hooked up to its [external] forces, (…) like a current of energy” (Deleuze 2004, 256).

The second crucial dimension of nomadic thought with respect to the work of art is that of intensity:

The lived experience is not subjective, or not necessarily. It is not of the individual. It is flow and the interruption of flow, since each intensity is necessarily in relation to another intensity, in such a way that something gets through. This is what is underneath the codes, what escapes them, and what the codes want to translate, convert, cash in. But what Nietzsche is trying to tell us by this writing of intensities is: don’t exchange the intensity for representations. (…) There is a kind of nomadism, a perpetual migration of the intensities designated by proper names, and these interpenetrate one another as they are lived on a full body. The intensity can be lived only in relation to its mobile inscription on a body, and to the moving exteriority of a proper name, and this is what it means for a proper name to be always a mask, the mask of an operator. (Deleuze 2004, 257)

The intensity of the images in the mosaic film is also felt through the bodies of the actors.

In Kicks, the nomadic, nonrepresentative intensity is mainly felt in the body of the kick boxer, Said (Mimoun Oaïssa). He is the one who has learned to channel his frustrations and anger in a positive way, apparently taking the news of the death of his brother calmly, waiting for the results of the official investigation before judging what happened. This response is not appreciated by Karim and other friends of Redouan. Said remains in control, but one can feel the mounting tension expressed in his body, in the look in his eyes. It is only in his final boxing match that Said expresses his pain, which translates into a series of intensities related to the complexity of the contemporary situation, both personal and collective. Other characters express themselves bodily as well. Most striking is the silent scream that Lisette (Eva Duyvenstein) utters the day after her thirtieth birthday party; she is fed up with everything and longs for more substantial recognition, a successful career as a singer or as an actress perhaps. In this way, Lisette embodies the pervasive contemporary sentiment that in order to count one must actually become a media star. Everything else is dull and boring. It’s a sad sign of the times, but one that can give rise to intensive feelings of longing and boredom. Chiel (Jack Wouterse), a middle-aged drop out of Dutch origin, expresses his anger and frustration by bursting into racist slogans and constantly getting into fights.

WWW achieves intensity through abstraction and minimalism, especially in the body of Bensaidi in the role of Kamel. His face is always impassive, like a blank slate, his body performing his actions in ritualistic style: downloading the data of his next victim, performing the murder, having sex with Saoud, whom he literally throws out of bed at 4.00 o’clock sharp, etc. The only time we hear his voice is when he is on the phone with Kenza. Which is when we realize she must mean a lot to him. It is by means of this minimalistic and nonrealistic approach that WWW translates the intensity of love.

In Babel, it is striking to notice how the body takes over when communication fails. This is why Innaritu gives so much emphasis to close ups of faces and hands, so called affection-images that work directly on our senses (Deleuze 1992, 87–111). Susan and Richard are both devastated by the loss of their third child and cannot communicate. It is only after Susan is shot, and her emotions are expressed through the extremely physical gestures that are the vocabulary of a wounded body that things between them start to move again. In Mexico, it is through Amelia’s body, carrying the children through the extremely hot and dry desert, that we experience the intensity and tragic implications of the situation. And, since Cheiko is deaf and dumb, her mode of expression is physical from the beginning. Her movements are very expressive; she tries to embrace her dentist, and she takes off her panties out of frustration with not being accepted by boys as soon as they discover her deafness. The camera work and use of sound reveal how Cheiko perceives the world very well. A scene in a hip Japanese night club is especially amazing in the way that stroboscopic light effects and sudden silences translate Cheiko’s perspective. Cheiko’s loneliness and longing is also captured in the last scene of the film, where she is shown standing naked on the balcony of a very high Tokyo apartment building. When her father puts his arms around her, the camera zooms out until we see only the lights of Tokyo by night to the point where the image becomes a sea of particles. And, through this image, we feel and know what intensities are traversing the city, the world.

The outside and intensity open up the interiority of the text or the image, thus giving the new mosaic films nomadic political dimensions. By relating to the virtual (invisible) but very real forces in the world that we truly share, they express and address what we can call a universal consciousness of becoming-minoritarian, which notion I will further develop in the last part of this essay.

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