November 2017, arsenal cinema

Retrospective: Pascale Ferran

BIRD PEOPLE, 2014

French filmmaker and scriptwriter Pascale Ferran has made four features and written numerous screenplays, yet seeing a new film of hers in the cinema is a rare treat, as a lot of time usually passes between each individual title appearing. After she completed her studies, it took a full ten years before PETITS ARRANGEMENTS AVEC LES MORTS finally premiered in 1994, which won the prize for best debut film in Cannes. While L'ÂGE DES POSSIBLES (1995), which received an award in Venice, followed just a short time later, ten years were again to pass before the release of her multi-award winning literary adaptation LADY CHATTERLEY. Another eight years later, she made a brilliant return with 2014's BIRD PEOPLE. As her must-see oeuvre as a director and screenwriter is almost completely unknown in Germany with the exception of LADY CHATTERLEY, Arsenal is dedicating a retrospective to Pascale Ferran. It offers audiences the opportunity to follow both strands of her work and also shines a light on the very category of authorship in cinema – by way of her own four films as well as the debut films of her former student colleagues Arnaud Desplechin and Mathieu Amalric together with an animated film, for all of which she worked on the script. We are very happy that Pascale Ferran will be our guest at Arsenal on November 3. & 4.

The cinema of Pascale Ferran forges close links to contemporary realities, without being sociological in nature. In fact, the inverse is true, as she repeatedly makes daring formal choices and also works with elements of the fantastic. Her films are frequently about metamorphoses and the courage to seek freedom and change. She has a keen sense of the psychological and of nature. Her work makes use of chapters, intertitles, text inserts, with sometimes even a narrator appearing in voiceover. The tone is usually light, but similar to Jacques Demy, it’s a lightness still well acquainted with despair.

BIRD PEOPLE (Pascale Ferran, France 2014, 3.11., screening attended by Pascale Ferran & 11.11.) A society in transit: crowds thronging through major traffic intersections, commuters on suburban trains, people waiting in the departure hall. Gary, a successful businessman in Silicon Valley, is making a stop in Paris on his way to Dubai. He checks into the airport hotel, attends a meeting, has a panic attack – and then decides on a whim to end both his marriage and his career. He will stay in Europe. Audrey, a student who makes ends meet as a chambermaid at the same hotel, is also sick of her everyday life – out of the blue, she takes to the sky and looks down at the world we live in from above. These new perspectives now allow each to finally catch their breath. BIRD PEOPLE is a hugely contemporary, formally bold film that creates a precise portrait of our time in a manner at once realistic and fantastic. Three outstanding scenes – a break-up conversation via Skype, a nocturnal flight to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and a true meeting at the end – say the same thing in various ways: a different life is possible.

LADY CHATTERLEY (Pascale Ferran, Belgium/France 2006, 4.11., screening attended by Pascale Ferran & 12.11.) Constance is the wife of Sir Clifford Chatterley, an English aristocrat who owns a mine and grand estate and has been confined to a wheelchair since the First World War. When she meets the taciturn gamekeeper Parkin in the forest, she reacts with shyness and curiosity in equal measure. Her desire aroused, she joyfully discovers her own desire and the body of the other. Gradually, a non-conventional passion and love develops, which represents liberation for the two of them. With great tenderness, a true sensitivity for the corporeal, extraordinary sex scenes, and many images of nature changing over seasons, Pascale Ferran adapts D.H. Lawrence’s 1927 novel into a timeless relationship study of exceptional intensity, regardless of the historical costumes

LA SENTINELLE (The Sentinel, Arnaud Desplechin, France 1992, 5. & 9.11.) The son of an ambassador stationed in Germany returns to Paris two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall to study forensic medicine. On the train, he is treated harshly by the border police and is interrogated by an investigator who seems to know everything about him. Once at the hotel, he finds a human head in his luggage. He dissects the preserved skull and attempts to identify it, uncovering secret Franco-Russian connections and getting tied up in political intrigues along the way. He tries at the same time to ingratiate himself in the clique of his singing sister, a group of young people from the diplomatic and cultural milieu with good connections to the secret service. Desplechin’s ambiguous and intricately constructed debut feature is at once a spy thriller, a family novel, an "éducation sentimentale", and a reflection on Europe during the Cold War.

PETITS ARRANGEMENTS AVEC LES MORTS (Coming to Terms with the Dead, Pascale Ferran, France 1994, 6. & 8.11.), A man builds a sandcastle on a beach in Brittany with unflagging dedication. His two adult siblings watch him do so, his younger brother François, an insect researcher, his older sister Zaza, an exhausted nurse, and the ten-year-old Jumbo. All three of them are lost in their thoughts, which in each case revolve around the traumatic loss of someone close to them. Grieving on a summer afternoon – via a series of flashbacks, each of the three chapters of Pascale Ferran’s debut feature skillfully taps into not just the inner lives of the three characters, but also into the traces that loss has left behind in their lives.

L’ÂGE DES POSSIBLES (Crossroads, Pascale Ferran, France 1995, 7. & 10.11.) Strasbourg, 1995. Ten young people around 25 years of age, whose names run the gamut from A for Agnès to J for Jacques, are seeking their place in the world, privately and professionally. Agnès is writing her philosophy thesis, Béatrice is working at a fast food chain and has fallen in love with Gérard, Catherine wants to get pregnant, but Ivan is against it, Denise conducts opinion polls, but would like to be an actress, Frédéric is a Don Juan, while Henri studies Chinese, and Jacques painting. Between hope, fears, and despair, separation and new love, they all know that they will soon have to decide what they want to be in life. At the heart of this moving ensemble piece, which was created as a commission with acting students at the Théâtre National de Strasbourg, is a party at which everyone sings a chanson from Demys’s "Peau d’âne". At the end, a plea is made for utopia and naivety.

MANGE TA SOUPE (Eat Your Soup, Mathieu Amalric, France 1997, 6. & 8.11.) After spending time abroad, an adult man moves in with his mother in Paris for a limited period. The apartment of the eccentric literary critic is dominated by books, which are stacked in large quantities on the shelves, with those lying on the ground in big piles often getting in the way; each day, more appear. The relationship between mother and son is tense and when the divorced journalist father and the sister join them with her baby, the story of the family comes to light. Mathieu Amalric’s directorial debut, which was made before his great success as an actor, is a psychological drama staged as a burlesque, a tragicomic family film with autobiographical elements.    

LA TORTUE ROUGE (The Red Turtle, Michaël Dudok de Wit, France/Japan/Belgium 2016, 7.11.) A man survives a shipwreck and is now stranded on an island, soon realizing that he is the only person there. He builds a raft to escape danger and solitude, but all his attempts to set out for sea are frustrated by a giant red turtle. When the animal takes to the land one day, a wonderful transformation occurs and a new life begins. Without dialogue, with a sense of meditative calm and largely hand-drawn images, including enchanting landscape tableaus, this animated film co-produced by the Japanese Studio Ghibli is a story about the circle of life and the relationship between people and nature. (bik)

An event with the friendly support of the Institut français.