From Ireland, on Tarkovsky — first installment

From Ireland, on Tarkovsky — first installment

I’m in Ireland. Nowhere near any city, in the countryside. In my parents house, yes. A “zone of low resolution on Google Earth” as I like to call it. One day before Christmas. Outside, the sky is an overcast grey, and a thin mist hangs on the ground. No sound can be heard; a car passes on the road in front of our house perhaps every hour or so. After Paris, after the enormous crowds at CDG and in Dublin this is somewhat of a surreal experience, but nevertheless one I know extremely well, having spent at least eighteen years of my life here. It is a kind of decompression. One awakes in the morning, takes one’s coffee and then thinks — well, what should I do now? But it is not the right question to ask, because the density of life and event here is completely different from Paris.

These thoughts lead me back the events of two weeks previously, when I was at the “Cinematheque Francaise”. In a few days it will be the twentieth anniversary of the death of Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky died in Paris. In commemoration, the Cinematheque showed all his films over mostly the course of one weekend. On the Sunday at midday there was a special reading of Tarkvosky’s diaries by the French actor Denis Lavant (which was broadcast live on France Culture). I was at Lavant’s reading, as well as two other films of Tarkovsky’s that I had not seen before: “The mirror” and “The Sacrifice”. There were other films of his that I would have loved to see again, but that would mean seeing two Tarkovsky films in one day, and that for me is a bit of an overwhelming experience.

Perhaps I should say a bit about the Cinematheque Francaise before I go any further. It really is a temple of cinema. They have been around for a while, but they have only been in their current location in Bercy for a year or so — it is a expressionist angular structure designed by Frank Gehry for the american cultural centre. That particular venture only lasted a few years before folding (hmm, am I surprised?), and then the cinematheque moved in. What amazes me about the cinematheque is that it is always completely packed. And by a relatively young audience; it isn’t just retired people. Cinema seats are cheap; a subscription for a year, offering unlimited access, is around 10 euros a month; the card that I have gets me in for four euros, around half of what you would pay at the Gaumont or UGC.

The main screen is in an enormous, steeply sloping room with maybe four hundred, five hundred (very comfortable!) seats. I’ve been there to see, for example, the first of Fritz Lang’s “Mabuse” films. Mr. Mabuse, that master of disguise, the first evil genius in cinema. Now this film is a silent film, in black and white. The Cinematheque, being rigorous and pure, of course, interpret this to mean really silent. (For every other place where I’ve seen a “silent” film there was at least some music on the soundtrack). Unless, like in the old days, there was actually someone on the stage in front of the screen with a piano. In all, it was a somewhat surreal experience. Imagine yourself in a packed cinema with a few hundred other souls watching a black and white film in total silence. And there really was total silence. No-one talked; a respectful silence was maintained throughout the projection. The only sound one did hear, from time to time, was that of the occasional snore; Dr. Mabuse’s machinations were just not thrilling enough for them, combined with the soporific effect of the intense heat of the cinema (it’s always super hot in there, there never seems to be enough ventliation). I suppose there are people sleeping in cinemas all the time but one doesn’t realise it, thanks to the obscuring effects of film soundtracks.

That’s enough for today; tomorrow I will write more about the two Tarkovsky films I saw, as well as the reading by Denis Lavant.

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