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Prefaces • The 12 Films

  1 • Brendan Behan directed by Stephen Dowskin

Brendan Behan has never received the literary acclaim a great writer deserves. Yet he created an enormous body of work which is outstanding in its ability to capture the richness and exuberance of spoken language in written form. The film enables the viewer to experience this "speaking/writing" via three characters as they travel around, visiting Behan’s old haunts in Dublin, spending time in pubs and the prison where he was held political prisoner: in those places where everyday language becomes poetry and music.


  2 • Karl Krauss directed by Lutz Becker

Karl Kraus, the satirical writer and prophet of the apocalypse, could only be the product of a city like Vienna. For 36 years, from 1899 to 1936 he was the lone author, editor and publisher of the magazine Die Fackel. Kraus relentlessly fought against the muddled language and hypocrisy of his times. Comprised of period film footage and documents, interviews and images of Vienna, the film is infused throughout with the violence of Karl Kraus’ writings, which saw our 20th century world as «a civilization of horror.»


  3 • Joe Bousquet directed by Jean-André Fieschi

The film Preface is a poem-object, at least that is its intention. To embody the fleeting lightness of the butterflies' embrace. The pungent taste of peppermint. The heady perfume of the mimosa. The unsettling rustling of a preying mantis’ wings, or the trickling of a stream intermingling with the whispering of the wind. This film does not follow a narrative or a storyboard; in essence it is like Bosquet’s writing. It attempts to capture a feeling of vertigo, the splintered brilliance of a black diamond... something that resembles happiness.


  4 • Primo Lévi directed by Henry Colomer

The film is structured around an interview with Levi’s friend Jean Samuel and excerpts from Levi’s work that were written under vastly different circumstances, but which all have the same extraordinary underlying feeling of urgency and coherence. The images juxtaposed with these texts are black and white, perhaps because it supposedly forces one to hone in on the essential. At least this thought is some consolation for having to leave out so many important aspects of Levi’s work. Perhaps also because the author’s death touches us so deeply that it beckons us to pull away from the light, and when times are hard, to look for solace in the shadows.


  5 • Isaac Babel directed by Hartmut Bitomsky

A great distance separates Babel from contemporary readers, yet his work still seems to offer us a raw, bloody, true slice of life. It is a reality that feels more familiar than our own present-day reality. This resolutely experimental film is neither a documentary nor fiction, but something in between. Its subject is the making of a film around Babel's work. It not only explores what has taken place before, but what happens in the interstice between Babel's stories and the film itself.


  6 • Anna Akhmatova directed by Semen Aranovitch

Dedicated to Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), the most famous Russian woman poet, this film has been put together from period photographs and films, documents from official archives and private collections. We see and hear Anna Akhmatova reciting her poems in Russian, and meet her son, Lev Goumilev, who speaks about his mother's tragic life and how it is intertwined with the various upheavals of the first half of the 20th century. There is no narration, only reading from the letters, notebooks, and memories of Anna Akhmatova.


  7 • Jean Reverzy directed by André S. Labarthe

The camera pans across the page of a book, and a voice begins reading, «Chapter One… The Crossing…». The camera lingers on the word «Polynesia». In an abandoned waiting room, a man of indeterminate age coughs incessantly. He is waiting. The voice again tries to start reading, but is interrupted by the voice of the writer Charles Juliet, who tells of his encounters with Jean Reverzy. The coughing man ventures into the apartment, where images of Polynesia suddenly appear on a television screen.


  8 • Bruno Schulz directed by André S. Labarthe

Two voices reading Bruno Schulz vie with each other to make themselves heard. One is reading in Polish, to give the musical tone of the language. The other is reading in French, to free the images: in a workshop two bare feet are working the foot pedal of a sewing machine, a man is listening to time passing, a little girl is crying, and a cockroach disappears into the darkness. Interspersed with these images, we see Schulz's drawings --he was an art teacher as well-- and the obsessive presence of books, of The Book.


  9 • Stig Dagerman directed by Pierre Beuchot

An encounter with Stig Dagerman in winter, in his native Sweden, with the young novelist Klas Ostergren as our guide. The film takes us to Stockholm, to the newspaper »Arbetaren» for which Dagerman wrote a daily column, and to Alvkarleby, the farm where Dagerman, who had been abandoned as a child, was raised by his grandparents. We meet Anne-Marie Dagerman, an anarcho-syndicalist activist like her husband, who shared his life during the brief period in which he wrote the bulk of his work. We also meet the actress Anita Björk, with whom Dagerman lived until his suicide in 1954 at the age of 31.


  10 • Salvador Espriu directed by Henry Colomer

It is 1933, Salvador Espriu is twenty, and his dream is to become an Egyptologist, but the Spanish civil war turns him into the guardian of a forbidden language, Catalan. The film, shot in Arenys-de-Mar and in Barcelona, introduces us to Rosa-Maria Delor, who studies and analyses Espriu’s library and to the poet and historian Felix Cucurull. An underground film document shot during Franco’s dictatorship shows how Espriu was able to become his country’s most popular poet.


  11 • Pierre-Jean Jouve directed by Pierre Beuchot

In 1960, Pierre Jean Jouve published Proses. In this short collection, the solitary, aging poet looks back upon his past, meditating on his work, on the people he met and loved. The film takes us along on an imaginary encounter with the poet and his late work. The old man «feels regret in the deepest roots of his being». A young woman appears before him : her voice is heard in the silence of a blue room. Then, blue and silent, Jouve's beloved landscapes also appear before him: Engadine, Sils-Maria Lake, and Swiss Tessin, among others.


  12 • Tommaso Landolfi directed by Jean-André Fieschi

We catch glimpses of the places still haunted by the presence of the writer, like the casino of San Remo, Pico. We meet Idolina Landolfi in a Florentine garden leafing through texts by her father, and a San Remo doctor and a Pico bricklayer telling strange stories. The texts, read on screen by Olimpia Carlisi, are excerpts taken from many different sources: Landolfi’s diary, his poetry, short stories and novels; they reveal the spell-binding force of his writing.