I have never seen a single film in my life. And will probably never do so until I die.
Yes: I witnessed, I looked, I viewed and I’ve watched plenty (not to mention: ‘’glanced’’).
Since a couple of weeks, I variably started having films by five authors for breakfast, lunch and dinner (Chantal Akerman, Marguerite Duras, Sander Hölsgens, Farah Hasanbegović and most habitually: Laida Lertxundi). All were selected because I want to undergo the process similar to that of a musical diet. But instead via cinema. Meaning: I admit and acknowledge to myself that if I watch a film for, let’s say, thirty days, new insights will excavate themselves out of this repetition. The necessity to look and discern the objects in a film, instead of the hunt for its affect, constitutes your commitment to the film. It helps you to flatten these surface-leveled affects, strips them down. In light of my recent experience, it is only then that the true affect of a film can present itself.
Now, how does repetition relates itself to the work of Laida Lertxundi? Through her explorations of the mechanisms of intimacy, and its endless variations, we are constantly being put into the process of an initiation. A beginning. A reset. But a re-setting in which a deliberate repetition is detectable. So why are her films invoking unforeseen images every time you watch them? Are they not the same films?
The tiniest detail in Lertxundi’s work compressively inhibits and negotiates possible levels of differentiation. As Badiou put it in In Praise of Love: ‘’At the most minimal level, people in love put their trust in difference rather than being suspicious of it. Reactionaries are always suspicious of difference in the name of identity; that’s their general philosophical starting-point. If we, on the contrary, want to open ourselves up to difference and its implications, so the collective can become the whole world, then the defence of love becomes one point individuals have to practise. The identity cult of repetition must be challenged by love of what is different, is unique, is unrepeatable, unstable and foreign. In 1982 in the Theory of the Subject I wrote: “Love what you will never see twice.”
When I’m looking at a Lertxundi, I learn to love what is impossible to re-see. I learn to walk the streets, looking a bit more care-full. Knowing that everything I see can never be re-seen and therefore deserves my love. I would like to argue that her way of structuring films departs from a point of tight consistency. In which we are reminded, through these repetitive rhythms of singular moments, that differentiation is born precisely out of our willingness to look (back) and reflect. Her films allow one to get accustomed to what is different, unique, unrepeatable, unstable and foreign. Through her films you can learn to love what you see every day, in other words: ‘’what you will never see twice.’’
What does it mean to look and view as a filmer? Possibly, alternatively: to try and fixate a foreign moment. A patch of light, gently caressing and temporarily weaving itself through the hair of a person on the lookout of a boat, sailing. Until it fades again.
And since light is as much material as anything envisioned by the camera and perceived by the wo/man, the artificially constructed procedure through which Lertxundi lets me spend attention is, and makes possible, to access her films in such and such a way that allows me to realize how all the things we watch, attempt to hear, and try to feel are malleable materials that render futile the discussion whether it needs to be projected from its original format… Or not. Indeed: in the case of this filmer, the way light is captured needed to be captured on film. But even/also if we look at it digitally, her care-full attitude remains.
After I watched six of her films chronologically, with a friend whose opinion I highly value, we had a fruitful discussion since she had trouble figuring out why Lertxundi’s work provoked me so. Usually, the authors we watch vary from Duras and Denis to Costa and Godard. Apparently, there is something in these six films, or during these viewings, which in this context undermined and disrupted our shared interests and needs, as we usually besail the same stream effortlessly.
The heartbeats of her films are perhaps what make this such an important point of inquiry: you try to describe an image you see, but somehow there is struggle involved. A reluctance. Not against describing what is on-screen, nor off-screen, but against describing this heartbeat. How to measure the rhythm of a heartbeat? If we dare not even touch it with our fingers, how can we do so with our minds?
Why, then, is this so? One thing is sure for me: everything our gaze crosses paths with has a place in the world as much as the object by which we, as humans, are perceived. The coherence in every aspect of Lertxundi’s imagery is perhaps what makes this tangible. Making tangible that the largest and most unbelievable differences are made slightly visible by movements that are unrepeatable and that our existences are made up of a chain of moments that are strictly not delayable and demand to be acted upon with full care and an almost dire form of attention. And that is what Lertxundi at times manages to aestheticize: a gaze and form of attention-spending that we need to continuate all our lives, but what always proves to be like lethal labor. This is, perhaps, what makes her films at once unbearable and strangely soothing.
There was a moment while writing this piece, when I stopped working it through and passed it on to my editor, he commenting that it was not as thorough as it could have been. Not critiquing on the quality of what I wrote, but mostly on what I didn’t write, on what I left out. It is very much true that this piece was by no means ready. Since without Badiou, and including a couple of pivotal sentences that stem from In Praise of Love, I would never have been engraved by her films as much as I am. This text feels as a connection of loose relationships, taking that risk. But is it sometimes not better to assist in connecting the dots, rather than forcing oneself to think of something that isn’t even there in the first place?
Perchance, the age gap shaped the difference between my reception, and my friend’s. Perchance, it did not. What is that thing, that particularity, that milks from me a thrill so very rare? Not only will I never know, but most crucially and frightening: neither will I ever see.
Cry When It Happens, perhaps my favorite, entered me as her most coherent work. Although: could it be that all of her films touch someone else, making this issue of “wholeness“ or “concreteness“ no longer as a generality, but as something really personal? That she does not want to make films that form a wholeness that speaks to us all, a universally felt wholeness, so to speak, but a fiercely private one? Redetermined via each separate film? Guiding us to a modus operandi of putting our feelings at stake. Willingly. Reminding us that we can only ever be the sum of our wing spans.
To love is to struggle, beyond solitude, with everything
in the world that can animate existence.
This world where I see for myself the fount of
happiness my being with someone else brings.
“I love you” becomes: in this world there is the
fount you are for my life. In the water from this
fount, I see our bliss, yours first. As in Mallarmé’s
poem, I see:
In the wave you become
Your naked ecstasy.*
*A prematurely conclusive bundle of words, also by Badiou. (In Praise of Love, 2012, p.104)