Tag Archives: courtisane

PH at Courtisane: Wang Bing’s ‘Father and Sons’

Gautam Valluri

'...the slightest rumble of a plastic bag calls out to your attention'

‘…the slightest rumble of a plastic bag calls out to your attention’

With a title similar to Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev’s 19th century novel, Wang Bing’s latest shares the novel’s central subject: the rigidity and kinetic sparseness of a life lived in conditions of misery. His frame is so tight and its gaze so unmoving that even the slightest rumble of a plastic bag calls out to your attention. One can feel their eyes scale the breadth of images being presented as one would a painting in a museum but then again how often does one look at a painting for over an hour?

The film does not reveal much about the people being recorded until the very end of it where a series of inter-titles provide a context. For the viewers at Courtisane, the introduction of the film by Pieter-Paul Mortier provided that context. The man and his two sons being recorded are Cai and his sons. Cai works as a stone-caster for a factory in Fuming, China. The three of them live in a hut provided to them by the factory along with a dog and her two puppies. Wang Bing was filming them for four days before Cai’s boss threatened them and they had to stop. The specific nature of the threat, whether it was a legal notice or a death-threat, is never revealed.

The TV is running and one can hear the sound from the broadcast but Cai’s two sons never seem to be watching it. They are instead engrossed in their mobile phones – intermittently shifting their gaze to the TV. The lumbering shots show them moving from one screen to the other and only barely engaging with ‘the real world’ around them. Perhaps it is not very pleasant. They live in a run-down hut with a challenging environment; the screens come to their rescue. At the very middle of the film, we see the day descend into night over the course of a single take and it is only when the room is almost completely dark that Cai’s son realizes it’s night and switches on the lightbulb.

Father and Sons is more of an exercise than a fully-finished piece. One can’t help but wonder what Wang Bing would’ve done with the project if he were to have not been threatened by Cai’s boss. The explanation at the end that the filming had to be stopped due to circumstances beyond their control seems very convenient and a quick excuse for it to exist in its current form. The question arises: if Wang Bing didn’t consider his vision fully realized then why was the film finished and presented? Perhaps because this project was a commission from the French government in China, it needed to exist for bureaucratic reasons or it was the reputation of the artist himself at stake.

Who wouldn’t want to have a look at Picasso’s doodles?

Coming up: A report from the screening of Oscar Micheaux’s silent classic Body and Classic, and a live drum accompaniment by William Hooker.

PH at Courtisane: Ghent, 51.0500° N, 3.7333° E

Gautam Valluri

Band, 1

Projectorhead will run a series of reports from the ongoing Courtisane Film Festival in Ghent, Belgium. In its 14th edition this year, the artists in focus are Thom Andersen, Pedro Costa and Basma Al-Sharif, alongwith an incredible selection of contemporary and canonical experimental films. The festival also features L.A. Rebellion, a series of films set in inner-city Los Angeles. PH writers Gautam Valluri and Graeme Arnfield will report.

Pieter-Paul Mortier, the festival director of Courtisane opened the fourteenth edition with a charming speech. He mentioned how the festival had started fourteen years ago and went on to thank all the people that made it happen. He stressed on the fact that the festival is still a growing organism and that the people involved, most of whom are established programmers are still on their learning curve.

Pieter-Paul Mortier (on the left)

Pieter-Paul Mortier (on the left)

Mortier’s introduction shed light on the cinephile scene of Ghent. This small city, sporting cobble-stone streets and Gothic structures of the Flanders tradition has its own little culture of watching films. Mortier mentions The Sphinx, one of the four venues of this years edition of Courtisane and he calls it ‘The Greatest Cinema in Ghent’ and then goes on to add that for those who grew up here, it is ‘The Greatest Cinema in the World’. The festival opened in the halls of the magnificent Minard Theatre. There is a retention of what cinemas used to be in this little city. People still dress up for an evening at the movies and between screenings they walk out the front to smoke cigarettes and discuss what they just watched.

The other venues hosting Courtisane this year are Paddenhoek and the Cinema at the KASK academy. All within walking distance of each other are a convenient to walk briskly between screenings and allow just enough time to discuss the films. The Number 4 Tram which promised easy commute between the venues is however has a section of its route shut down due to a sudden collapse of a building and rumored asbestos poisoning in the area. The talk of the town is that the Belgian army was called in a few days ago to help with the issue.

The buzz is here and can definitely be felt on the streets. The festival crew, though small are very much on their feet and are always available to help with a smile. Artists and Filmmakers have been seen hanging out at the cafes at the Minard and the Sphinx.

Report 1 will follow: A review of Wang Bing’s Fathers and Sons.