Screening: ‘Agnes Varda: Gleaning Truths’, a retrospective at the Irish Film Institute, Dublin, 8th – 19th September 2018

‘Although a key figure of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda’s importance has been eclipsed somewhat by the legacies of her male contemporaries, Godard and Truffaut et al., and it is only recently that her status as a pioneering figure is being reclaimed – last year she was awarded an Honorary Oscar for her contribution to cinema’ Irish Film Institute (2018).

I attended two of the six films screened at the Agnes Varda retrospective at the Irish Film Institute this month, ‘La Pointe Courte’ (1955) and ‘One Sings, The Other Doesn’t’ (1977). Neither of which I have seen before.

‘La Pointe Courte’ is set in a Mediterranean fishing village, and chronicles the complex relationship of a young married couple, played by Philippe Noiret and Sylvia Monfort. A native of the area, the man tries to understand his Paris-born wife’s feelings of dissatisfaction and isolation.

‘One Sings, The Other Doesn’t’ tells the story of two women, Pomme (Valérie Mairesse) and Suzanne (Thérèse Liotard), who form a close bond when Pomme helps Suzanne secure an illegal abortion. Varda explores their contrasting yet parallel lives over the years – Suzanne runs a family planning centre while Pomme sings with a campaigning, feminist folk group.

The full programme of films included:

‘La Pointe Court’ (1955)

‘Cleo from 5 to 7’ (1962)

‘Le Bonheur’ (1965)

‘One Sings, The Other Doesn’t’ (1977)

‘Vagabond’ (1985)

‘The Gleaners and I’ (2000)

Two of the films I have on DVD, ‘Cleo from 5 to 7’ and ‘The Gleaners and I’, so I was keen to see as many of the others as possible.


‘La Pointe Courte’ (1955)

Black & White, 86 minutes

‘La Pointe Courte’ seems to set a precedent for what we find in the New Wave films of Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Goddard and Alain Resnais a fews later. Particularly in her working outside the mainstream film industry, shooting on location, and mixing professional and non-professional actors.

The film’s dual structure is comprised of two disparate, alternating narrative strands, which appear to have no connection with each other, other than the two stories take place in the same location: the young married couple wandering the fields, canals and beaches, talking about their troubled relationship; and the fisherman attempting to evade the coastal patrols, while life goes on as normal in the village.  This disconnection is further emphasised by Varda’s filming style. With the detached theatrical acting style of Sylvia Montfort and Phillipe Noiret on the one hand and the ordinary, naturalistic acting style of the villagers on the other.

For me, what makes this film so exciting to see, is its stunning visual style. It reminds me of the photographs of Eugene Atget, Robert Doisneau and Henri Cartier-Bresson. She seems to catch the reality of the setting and its unique strangeness. From the opening shot as the camera roams through the village, probing shadowy corners and drifting through interior spaces, to the documentary-like shots of the village that appear to have little to do with the actual narrative, but everything to do with conveying a sense of the location. The result is a film that portrays a wonderfully vivid sense of place.


‘One Sings, The Other Doesn’t’ (1977)

Colour, 120 minutes

A very different film to ‘La Pointe Courte’ in theme and style, ‘One Sings, The Other Doesn’t’ follows the trajectories of two female friends in the context of women’s struggle for the legalisation of contraception and abortion. Uses two women with contrasting temperaments to evoke different approaches to the struggle. Pauline is a young activist with an upbeat personality. Suzanne is a melancholy single mother who finds herself pregnant again. When the film starts in 1962, Pauline is a teenager, wanders into an art gallery run by photographer Jerome, and discovers that his partner is her former neighbour Suzanne. Pauline agrees to help Suzanne get an abortion by tricking her parents into giving her money. Suzanne finds her way in the world running a family planning centre. Pauline renames herself ‘Pomme’ and travels France as part of a feminist consciousness raising folk group.

The action jumps to 1972, to an abortion rights demonstration in Paris. It’s clear that this is not simply a fiction film. Varda also uses a documentary style, bringing specific moments alive with an air of spontaneity – as in the faces of women waiting for abortions in Amsterdam or the apparently real crowds gathered around the touring folk band. Turning the film from what could easily become a women’s buddy movie into a film that actively engagements with the contemporary struggle for abortion rights. The film ends in 1976, with signs pointing to a hopeful future.


Lots of interesting things to think about after seeing these two films. Very relevant to the studying I have been doing on visual style and my interest in the sense of place within the moving image.

Certain filmmakers jump out for their innovation and creative vision. For me, these two films by Agnes Varda are a great find. Seeing them on screen, as they were intended to be viewed, was a wonderful experience and I am very drawn to the way she sees and thinks about the world.


List of references

Irish Film Institute (2018) Agnes Varda: Gleaning Truths At: (Accessed on 8 September 2018)

DVD: ‘Samsara’ (2012) Dir. Ron Fricke

Samsara is a Sanskrit word ‘used in a number of eastern religions to denote the endless cycle of life, death and rebirth’ (Bitel, 2012). Filmed in twenty five countries over five years, visiting sacred sites, disaster zones, industrial sites, cities and natural wonders, the film fuses together the ancient and the modern. There is no dialogue. There is no text. It is not a documentary in the traditional sense. Instead, the viewer is encouraged to draw their own interpretation from the flow of images and music.

The film adopts a circular structure, bookended between scenes of a group of monks forming and erasing a powder representation of the ‘wheel of life’, an emblem of the ‘transcience of the phenomenal world’ (Bitel, 2012). Between these scenes is a kaleidoscope of oppositions, such as nature and culture, spirituality and materiality, wealth and poverty, war and peace.

There is a noticeable absence of people in many of the film’s opening scenes. For example, in the fields of temples there is no one in sight; the empty expanses of desert; the sand filled rooms of an abandoned house in the desert; the derelict, storm damaged lounge, bedroom, supermarket, library and classroom in an abandoned town; the empty cathedral.

The film becomes more populated as it moves on. Such as the office employees, the African women, the tattooed man with a baby, the two spectacled employees, pole dancers, a geisha. Where people are present, the picture is not always a rosy one, such as the teenagers scavenging in a rubbish dump, men quarrying for yellow rock, the family at a funeral, men standing proudly with their guns. These images of materiality, poverty and war, of people in disparate parts of the world, are contained within the bookend images of the monks forming and erasing the ‘wheel of life’, reinforcing the idea of birth, death and rebirth, and giving a sense of hope in an otherwise bleak picture of the planet.

However, I think it is important to ‘read’ the film in much the same way you would read a poem. As a meditation on nature and humanity. The images flowing through a series of associations, like the imagery within a poem.

A.O. Scott (2012) describes the film’s structure as ‘like that of a poem or a sonata, a complex tissue of rhymes and motifs’. Like a poem, with its ‘complex tissue’ of rhyme and images, it’s only when you get to the end of the film that you have a sense of the full picture. Then, when it’s just within your grasp, you go back to the beginning and ‘re-read’ it again, maybe several times more, in order to get the most out of it.

Scott (2012) makes another very interesting point about the film. Referring to Susan Sontag’s plea for ‘an ecology of images’ (Sontag, 1979), he suggests that Samsara ‘presents a visual argument for slow looking, for careful meditative attention to what is seen.’ I like the idea of ‘slow looking’ and the need to pay ‘careful meditative attention’ to what is seen through the viewfinder.


Bitel, A., 2012 ‘Samsara’. Sight and Sound Number 22 Issue 9, page 110.

Samsara 2012 Directed by Ron Fricke [DVD]

Scott, A.O. 2012 ‘Around the World in 99 Minutes and Zero Words’ In: The New York Times At: [Accessed on 15 June 2018]

Sontag, S. 1979 On Photography London: Penguin Books, page 180

Screening: Experimental moving image works at IMMA

‘Unlikely Correspondence’ – IMMA Screening & Talk / Irish Artist Experimental Film – Saturday 16 September 2017 / IMMA

‘In conjunction with the exhibition Vivienne Dick, 93% STARDUST at IMMA, Alice Butler, film programmer and co-curator of AEMI, presents a talk and screening of artist and experimental moving image works by contemporary Irish artists who are foregrounding new ways to work independently, redefining the limits and potentials of cinema across a range of formats. Butler’s talk will refer to and explore the history and development of artist moving image practice in Ireland.’

I thought I would jot down my thoughts around an epiphany I had recently about my direction as a moving image maker. I have been voraciously reading books and watching films by and about many experimental filmmakers and video artists (most notably Jonas Mekas, Vivienne Dick & Doug Aitken). It has been wonderful to discover so much amazing work by so many moving image practitioners from around the world, none of whom I had heard about before starting this course. Over the summer, for instance, reading through Michael Rush’s Video Art (2003) I discovered a whole world of moving image practice that was so powerful and stimulating I still can’t stop looking back at the book for another fix of art.

Last month my wife and I went to a screening and talk about contemporary Irish experimental film artists. Fractured, confused and non-the-wiser; frustrated; disappointed; in free-fall…all of the above. I just couldn’t connect with the films. They weren’t easy, nor were they particularly enjoyable. And perhaps that’s the point. Art isn’t meant to be easy. Nor does it have to be likeable in order to get something out of it that’s of value in your own life and work. Anyway, I’ve had time to think and let the dust settle for a while, so here are some thoughts on where I think I may be heading in my own work as a moving image practitioner.

It was strange and unexpected, but the strongest feeling that came over me that evening as I came away from the event at the Irish Museum for Modern Art was knowing that my own calling as a moving image practitioner was very clearly heading towards that of making narrative films. What form these narrative films will take is unknown. But one thing is for sure, they will capture a story. I love people. And I love the way in which the stories we tell can bring people to life. Whatever the narrative form. Fact or fiction. I simply love experiencing a story unfold on screen. Not those simple, poorly thought out stories masquerading as narrative films. But the well wrought works of art that feed the imagination and mind with images and ideas that resonate in some way long after the film has finished. The type of films that engage me; that demand I contribute something of myself in return. If you know what I mean.

I like the ideas Alice Butler talked about – the correspondences between historical reality and fiction, and between art and nature, and the notion of ‘the talk’ and the ‘role of the expert’ in artistic expression. But, even now, a few weeks on from the screening, I still feel frustrated and disappointed in the works I saw that evening. Even at an abstract level, I couldn’t connect with them in the same way I could a painting by Rothko or Klee, for example. For In which the artist ‘speaks’; the viewer ‘replies’.

That disappointment has nothing to do with the works themselves. They were works of video art; well made. The frustration and disappointment was very much within myself, in my own personal response to those works; or, more accurately, my surprising lack of response to them. But that’s not the point here. What really fascinated (and surprised!) me during the event was the clarity, the absolute clarity, with which I saw myself as a moving image maker, wide awake and craving; moving towards narrative form.


Michael Rush (2007) Video Art London: Thames & Hudson

DVD: ‘Archipelago’ (2010) Directed by Joanna Hogg

In the context of my work on assignment two, which focused on the creation of a strong sense of atmosphere and feelings within a short film, my tutor suggested I look at Joanna Hogg’s film Archipelago (2010).

I was impressed by Archipelago, right from the beginning. Hogg’s shooting style is very economic, both in terms of image and sound. Most of the shots are static, wide and lingering. The sound, both ambient and dialogue, is natural, punctuating the silence in which it occurs. It reminded me of the tone and style of the films of Eric Rohmer.

In the opening sequence we are introduced to the location, four of the characters and the family relationship between three of these characters. Within only a few shots, we are taken from the landscape, to a family reunion and to the rented holiday home in which the family are staying. It’s a sequence in which every shot counts and contributes to moving the narrative forward.


Fig. 1.

What is particularly striking about the opening sequence is the way in which Hogg uses long, lingering shots. The film opens on the canvas at which an artist is working, then moving out to show both the artist and the landscape in which he is working, which helps set the geographical context for what follows.

There is then a close up of the artist working his brush in the paints. From there we cut to another view of the location, possibly the road below the artist’s elevated position. A solitary bicycle moves slowly along the empty road. We watch as the bicycle gets further away, while at the same time we hear the sound of an approaching helicopter, which eventually comes into frame in the distance.

In the following shot, the helicopter has landed on an airfield and the passengers are disembarking. One of the passengers is greeted at the gate by his sister and mother. Their dialogue is drowned out by the sound of the helicopter. Instead of hearing their conversation, we watch as the characters greet and embrace each other. Their body language telling the story.

The use of body language continues into the next three shots, as the characters make their way along the road, the young man in the back of a small lorry, smiling at his sister and mother who are cycling behind, smiling back. This joy of this moment is very endearing. The wide shots, although moving, adopt the same pattern and pace as the preceding long, lingering shots.

We then cut to an exterior shot of the two bicycles leaning against the walls of the rented holiday home. This is quite a long shot, in which nothing happens. A single static wide shot of the scene. At which point I got the sense that this was going to be the general style and pace of the whole film.

We then cut to an interior scene, in which the three characters are standing on the upstairs landing discussing sleeping arrangements. It’s an awkward conversation, in which the young man is reluctant committing himself to choosing a particular room. Again, the action unfolds within the frame of a single static wide shot.

Hogg adopts this approach throughout the film; allowing the action to happen within single static wide shots unhindered by the constant cutting from shot to shot that we are familiar with in most films.

After watching the film, I carried out some research in order to gain a greater understanding of Joanna Hogg’s approach to filmmaking. An online search of the UCA Library using the keyword ‘joanna hogg’ provided me with a list of eleven articles, mostly from Sight and Sound magazine, that discuss her three films Unrelated (2008), Archipelago (2010) and Exhibition (2013).

Hogg’s approach in Archipelago is one in which the artificiality of shooting master and coverage shots for a scene is removed, leaving the viewer to watch the action within the frame unhindered by the usual conventions. In an interview with Graham Fuller for Film Comment, she says: ‘I don’t like to repeat a scene from different angles. I’ll do a primary master shot, so to speak, but then I don’t want to then re-create artificially with a close-up what I’ve just managed to capture very naturally’ (Fuller, 2014).

Hogg goes on to say that ‘it’s also about my interest in body language. The movement of a body in space often tells you more about a person and what they’re feeling than a close-up. I think you feel more by seeing things from a certain distance’ (Fuller, 2014).

This is an interesting idea and one that places the viewing experience of the film in a similar sphere to that of watching a stage play. Watching the whole body moving in the space in this way on screen, in a single wide shot, uncut, was unexpected and a little strange to watch at first. However, it soon became apparent that watching this film was meant to provide the audience with a different viewing experience than they would be familiar with. The long wide-shots and lack of close-ups contribute to that experience.

Of Hogg’s cinematic style, Jonathan Romney says: ‘the still camera and long takes create a sense of analytical detachment, but this is countered by a lovely looseness in the dialogue. We feel we’re spying on real people with their defences down’ (Romney, 2010:27).

Another feature of Hogg’s film is its visual texture. The characters are framed in a ‘downbeat natural palette [and] the house’s aquarium-like grey-green semi-darkness matching the tones of the surrounding country’ (Romney, 2011:49).

I was interested to discover that art is an important influence within Hogg’s work. Archipelago is ‘distinctive in its interiors, echoing the paintings of Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi. His muted, claustrophobic rooms provide models for images such as a shot of Edward at Patricia’s bedside, head turned three-quarters from the camera, daylight touching his neck – a concise picture of intimate desolation’ (Romney, 2011:49).

Fig. 2.

Vilhelm Hammershoi used a limited colour palette of greys, desaturated yellows, greens and other dark hues in his paintings. His pictures record the simplicity of everyday life. The figures are often turned away from the viewer.

Fig. 3. ‘Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor’ (1901)

Fig. 4. ‘Interior with Woman at Piano, Strandgade 30’ (1901)

I’m also interested in Hogg’s very different approach to screenwriting. She says: ‘the writing I do is not conventional screenwriting. I have endless notebooks on the go and rather than translate these into a neat screenplay, which would kill my ideas stone dead, they get poured straight into the film as it is being made. This is via a document that reads more like a piece of prose or fiction, illustrated by my photographs’ (Hogg, 2011).

While I like the idea of preparing a ‘document’ based on endless notebooks and illustrated by photographs, I think I’ll still go that one step further and write a screenplay which then becomes the blueprint for a moving image.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable film and the research I have carried out in response has given me the confidence to look beyond the obvious and conventional. Joanna Hogg’s approach to filmmaking is definitely one I will consider when planning my own moving images – the notebooks and illustrated ‘document’; looking at artists for inspiration; and cinematic style.


Archipelago (2010) Directed by Joanna Hogg [DVD] UK

‘Interview: Joanna Hogg’ (2014) Fuller, G. In Film Comment At: (Accessed on 15 August 2017)

Hogg, J. (2011) ‘A very ordered image’ In: Sight and Sound 21 (3) p.49.

Romney, J. (2010) ‘The Scilly season’ In: Sight and Sound 20 (11) p.27.

Romeny, J. (2011) ‘Island records’ In: Sight and Sound 21 (3) pp.48-49.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Archipelago (2010) Directed by Joanna Hogg

Figure 2. Archipelago (2010) Directed by Joanna Hogg

Figure 3. ‘Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor’ (1901) Vilhelm Hammershoi

Figure 4. ‘Interior with Woman at Piano, Strandgade 30’ (1901) Vilhelm Hammershoi


Screening: ‘Out of Body’ – Irish Film Institute, Tuesday 25th July


Last night I attended a screening of nine experimental films from 1943 to the present day at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin. Curated by Irish artist and filmmaker Susan MacWilliam in response to the exhibition As Above, So Below: Portals, Visions, Spirits & Mystics currently showing at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Out of Body presented a selection of films that explore the psychic and physical spaces of body and landscape.

The theme of ‘physical spaces of body and landscape’ is of interest to my own practice as a filmmaker, particularly in light of my first two assignment films ‘Blue Jacket’ and ‘Ataraxis’, in which I was exploring ideas of person and place, though not as effectively.

The nine films screened, of which only Maya Deren and John Smith were names with which I was familiar, were:

Psychic Edit, Susan MacWilliam, 2008, Ireland, DCP, 14 second looped

Witch’s Cradle Outtakes, Maya Deren, 1943, USA, Digibeta, 10 minutes

State of Mind, remix #4, Mairéad McClean, 2005, Ireland, DVD, 10 minutes

Faint, Susan MacWilliam, 1999, Ireland, DCP, 4 minutes

The Black Sea, Jordan Baseman, 2010, USA/UK, Blu-ray, 3 minutes

Mountain Mist, Susan MacWilliam, 2002, Ireland, DCP, 8 minutes

Om, John Smith, 1988, UK, 16mm, 4 minutes

Ray Gun Virus, Paul Sharits, 1966, USA, 16mm, 14 minutes

The Last Person, Susan MacWilliam, 1998, Ireland, DCP, 11 minutes

Although the ‘psychic’ aspect of the theme of last night’s screening doesn’t resonate with me as a filmmaker, the nine films were excellent examples of experimental moving image practice between the 1940s and today. Using a variety of techniques, the films challenge our perception of the physical body and physical place/landscape.

One particularly interesting technique that figures in many of the films is the use of repetition and pattern. For example, the 14 second looped Psychic Edit (MacWilliams, 2008) establishes a pattern of images that repeats over time, building into a repeated extended sequence of family footage and a woman’s smile; a female figure repeatedly fainting beneath a tree in Faint (MacWilliams, 1999) establishes a pattern of movement and action that builds into a mesmeric, trance-like sequence; the single-shot of moving waves in The Black Sea (Baseman, 2010) generates its own graphic repetitions and patterns which, over time, appear to take on the appearance of a living, breathing form; and, by contrast, the highly charged sense of pattern and repetition that is established in Ray Gun Virus (Sharitts, 1966) exerts a strange hold over the viewer in a trance-like retinal experience that seems to engage with your own body in a way that none of the other films do.

In Mountain Mist (MacWilliams, 2002) the use of time and space plays a key role in the film’s structure and form. In a single-shot, in which the camera is locked down on a view of a mountain side covered in trees, space remains constant throughout, while time is manipulated through the use of time-lapse. We see birds flying, mists dispersing and rain storms passing in real-time, intercut with changes in the landscape such as clouds passing, fluctuations in light, and a sunset, in time-lapse.

Some of the films have no sound attached to them at all, such as Witch’s Cradle Outtakes (Deren, 1943) and The Last Person (MacWilliam, 1998). As a result, the absence of sound places all the emphasis on the visual experience of watching the movement and action within these two films. Even to the point that you become more acutely aware of the sound of your own body in the silence of the room.

To see these nine films in their original formats as they were intended to be viewed on the cinema screen was a real treat. Particularly, the 16mm prints of John Smith’s Om (1988) and Paul Sharits’ Ray Gun Virus (1966), which I now realise is a rare privilege.

This screening has left me with plenty of food for thought. Once again, as with my discovery of Vivienne Dick’s work a couple of weeks ago, a whole world of moving image practice has opened up for me.


As Above, So Below: Portals, Visions, Spirits & Mystics, Exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, 13 April – 27 August 2017

Faint (1999) MacWilliam, S. (Accessed on 26 July 2017)

Psychic Edit (2008) MacWilliam, S. (Accessed on 26 July 2017)

The Black Sea (2010) Baseman, J. (Accessed on 26 July 2017)

Ray Gun Virus (1966) Sharits, P. (Accessed on 26 July 2017)