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Review: Cinéma Québécois: Projecting the Avant-Garde

By: Diana Sims

Anthony McCall, Jane Weinstock, Claire Pajaczkowska and Andrew Tyndall’s 1979 “Sigmund Freud’s Dora: A Case of Mistaken Identity” via http://www.lightindustry.org/dora.jpg

Scotiabank is where you go when you want to see  Batman vs. Superman. Cinéma du Parc is where you go when you want to see Moonlight. And Cinéma Québécois is where you go when you want to see art films. This was unbeknownst to me until this fall, when I went to see David Lynch: The Art Life and, a month later, The Dreamed Ones. The former was a restrained documentary of Lynch’s progression as a filmmaker and painter, while the latter featured recitations of the love letters exchanged between German poets Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan.

Each film was a keyhole into the minds and lives of artists, but neither had the disruptive avant-gardism or feminist punch of Kitch’s Last Meal (1976) and Sigmund Freud’s Dora: A Case of Mistaken Identity (1979), which comprised the double feature at Cinéma Québécois last week. If you’re still doubtful of Cinéma Québécois’ credibility as an art film resource, consider that the reels for these films were–astoundingly–shipped from MOMA, to be viewed as part of McGill’s Image/Sound/Text seminar.

Anthony McCall, Jane Weinstock, Claire Pajaczkowska and Andrew Tyndall’s 1979 “Sigmund Freud’s Dora: A Case of Mistaken Identity” via http://artmuseum.pl/public/upload/photo/0638_0406/Kinomuzeum_Sigmund_Freuds_Dora_700px.jpg

As someone interested in both film and art, I’m far from skeptical of even the most experimental pieces. Even still, I find avant-gardism to be challenging in the way that I imagine philosophy, quantum physics, and pure mathematics are challenging. Each of these fields demand their thinkers to be comfortable with extreme abstraction and, as such, are (arguably) more intellectually inaccessible. Each also tend to be dominated by men, another reason why the female creativity behind Kitch and Dora is so remarkable. These two pieces are not just fully feminist, but fully avant-garde; they’re stripped of the seductions that typically make cinema a leisurely experience, and demand that we work to derive meaning from the bare essentials of the medium.

Carolee Schneemann, 1976, “Kitch’s Last Meal” via http://mononoawarefilm.com/calendar/2016/11/3/mono-x-opening-anthology-film-archives

Artist Carolee Schneeman made Kitch’s Last Meal as a 55 minute examination of the last days of her 19-year old cat, though much of the film’s subjectivity seems to be the cat’s, and not Schneeman’s. The sensory experience incited is like an old animal’s; sensitivity is heightened so that all input becomes abrasive. This intensity results, not in a greater understanding of the environment, but increased delirium. With two projections running side-by-side for the piece’s duration, and brash noises of crunching glass and passing trains, the spectator quickly becomes sympathetic to Kitch’s old age sensitivity. The film has great insights into Schneeman’s thoughts, too, though; at one point, for example, she laments via voiceover that her upcoming show opening will coincide with her period.

Anthony McCall, Jane Weinstock, Claire Pajaczkowska and Andrew Tyndall’s 1979 “Sigmund Freud’s Dora: A Case of Mistaken Identity” viahttps://lux.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/sigmund_freuds_dora_mccall.jpg

Sigmund Freud’s Dora: A Case of Mistaken Identity is a much less personalized feminism. Reenacting Freud’s discussions with his most famous patient, the film examines how women’s issues and class issues relate. As such, it represents a kind of budding intersectionality politics, but within the temporal context of the second-wave movement. Dora’s struggle as an object of exchange between her father and a fellow Viennese gentleman is recreated between two modern actors, as they recite the discussions documented in Freud’s journals. These sequences are interspersed with clips of 70’s pornography and ads of women endorsing beauty and cleaning products with absurd enthusiasm. The piece also features a timeline of the rise of Marxism–as well as a timeline of Dora and Freud’s life events–and a final scene in which a woman reads Dora’s letters to her mother off of pornographic postcards.

While this screening was, unfortunately, a one night affair, Cinéma Québécois is an incredible resource for art film experiences year-round. Check out the current RVCQ screenings, on until March 31st.

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