29 NOVEMBER 1968, Page 24

Cinemarxmanship ARTS


It has been hard going this year for European film festivals. Cannes was stopped dead in its tracks by les evenements de mai; at Berlin they only lobbed a few eggs. Pesaro was by all accounts ugly and Venice comic opera: the carabinieri out in force, and plainclothes men in the audience. Even from San Sebastian, one heard reports of extremely, large troops of police herding extremely small groups of Basque demonstrators.

One sometimes wonders why. Why film fes- tivals, I mean, rather than all the other highly publicised international occasions. Probably it's further proof that the cinema really is the art of young Europe, credited with a kind of talis- manic power. Perhaps there's a trace of an older faith, however steadily contradicted by most present-day evidence, in the ancient glamour and publicity value of the movies. And many of the specific complaints against festivals —that they give prizes, encourage snobbery, artificially limit their audiences, and in general run as addled compounds of trade fair, tourist trap and cultural jamboree—are actually ex- tensions of deeply-rooted grievances against national cinema organisations. The cinema is an art haunted by the frustrated.

Meanwhile, the London Film Festival sails, vith a slightly shuddering serenity, into its twelfth year. Rather smugly, its programme booklet suggested that this was the festival they wouldn't try to stop : no prizes, no picking of the films by nationality and numbers, and an audience limited simply (though all too effec- tively) by the capacity of the National Film Theatre. But, in fact, outside there is a gallant little mini-protest, with its banners and its grey roneoed handouts, asking film-makers to boy- cott the worthy proceedings and screen their films instead in halls in Kennington and Bethnal Green. And, what's more, to screen them out- side 'in the streets, parks and squares of Lon- don.' Protest admits no climates, and what they asked for in a Mediterranean summer they'll still ask for in London in November. Still, it's a humble effort : no massed contestatori on Waterloo Bridge; no police brigades lurking behind the buttresses of the Elizabeth Hall, surely the most inviting revolutionary terrain in London. At the National Film Theatre, the revolution is mainly on the screen. .

It is there, in a thwarted, choked, uneasy way, in Jean-Luc Godard's One Plus One, his first British-made, English-speaking movie. He came over to shoot it last summer (after May), and it's hardly surprising that the dead-end feeling of the revolution that never was seems to have seeped foggily into this cryptic, alienating pic- ture. Godard's La Chinoise and Weekend are essential documents for understanding this year in France : the Maoist encounter, and the film whose insights and rages and intellectual brav- ado take you to the crumbling cliff-edge. But what now? Chalking slogans (Freudemocracy, Cinemarxism) on the windows of the London Hilton, on cars in the parks and Pinta Milka posters in Battersea.

The one of One Plus One is a Rolling Stones rehearsal session : a cool, mesmerising, circling camera, pale blubbery faces, and the nagging,

broken, repeated phrases of a pop song. Itclearly fascinated Godard; and perhaps it doesn't quite so much fascinate us. The plus (maybe) is a Black Power encounter on a Battersea scrap- heap—slogans, texts, guns passed from hand to hand and back again over the corpses of crushed cars and white girls in whiter nightdresses. Other fragments—a pornographic bookshop with Hitlerian quotations; a marvellous, tanta- lising interview in a sunlit glade with Anne Wiazemski as the speechless spirit of demo- cracy—fulfil their exact, elliptical Godardian function. But this time the slogans seem to re- main word games, the images cut-outs without shadows; Black Power is a black, bland game for a sunny day in Battersea, pop music a- trip through a labyrinth of recording booths. The impression the film leaves is of a bleak, tin- roofed hangar, echoing faintly to the sound of switched-off engines : the dilemma perhaps of a born film-maker confronted by lack of real impetus behind what he wants to film, of an in- tellectual (the dispassionate, long-take style is very cerebral) arguing the toss against intellect. Godard has got nearer than most people ever do to recording history with a camera. This chapter reads like the record of a hiatus, a dic- tatorial dialogue with futility.

Bernardo Bertolucci's Partner is drenched with the headier influence of a more exuberant Godard—more slogans, Vietnam posters, cinema jokes (though Godard wouldn't, one feels, have gone back to the Odessa Steps). The film is taken, in the vaguest way, from Dos- toievsky : the story about a man and his doppel- ganger, here encountered by a neurotically nervous young drama teacher in Rome. But the relationship between the exclamatory intruder and his timorous host (Pierre Clementi plays both parts with demonic dash) goes beyond an exercise in supernatural one-upmanship. Neither of the excitable pair can get the acting class out into the streets, realising the revolution in terms of theatre. And it is theatre, cinema, effect, the illusions within the illusions, that enchant Bertolucci. He cons his audience, jokes with them, plays dazzling discordant games with the set-ups and sounds of romantic or horrific cinema. For half the film's length, you expect it to explode any moment into a master- piece; and for the second half, you feel thatyou are locked into a brilliant illusionist's cabinet, papered with the more inescapable slogans. A maddening film; lashings of talent.

Both the Godard and the Bertolucci film wave words at' us like banners--Mein Kampf and pornography, Artaud and the NLE. Milos For- man's The Firemen's Ball reminds me of a re- cent article in which a Czech writer admitted disappointment with the word-choked, impre- cise western press : he missed the strict and devious pleasures of weighted words, to be read between the lines. The Firemen's Ball opened the London Festival and is now running at the Gala Royal. It is marvellously funny, exact and observant about the hilarious catastrophes of the occasion : the line-up of reluctant beauty queens, and the organising committee's hope- less realisation 'that something more is called for than this plain and surly parade; the sad affair of the disappearing lottery prizes and the collapse of their obsessed guardian; the gradual unseating of reason, as everything is lost, stolen, bungled, and argued over, while a real fire smoulders, the beauty queens run amok, and a wistful, dying old man waits for his presen- tation fireman's hatchet.

Although the film is enormously engaging, its humour is by no means all comfortable; nor is it meant to be. It comes out of Novotny's Czechoslovakia, and it's very stringent. The drab village hall, bulging with ageing incom- petence, bafflement and self-righteousness, is a sad and funny place on any terms. But one doesn't doubt that Forman had more on his mind than the humours of 'the• village fire brigade.

For a really extended—and at first sight slightly rabid—metaphor, one can look at Alex- ander Kluge's Artistes at the Top of the Big Top : Disorientated. An unwieldy • title for a disorientating film, about a forbidding young woman trying to reassemble her father's circus in a modern style. But the circus stands for German cinema (maybe Germany itself?); and by the end our heroine has run off to work in television. Like Kluge's Yesterday Girl, only much more so, the film is fragmented, funny, coohninded, bafflingly allusive, and buried up to its neck in the problem of being German and what's to be done about it. On a single viewing, it leaves one dangling from its own high wire.

It's probably -significant that none of these films (except conceivably Partner) tells any- thing that could recognisably be called a story. The retreat from narrative isn't only a cinema phenomenon. But there is also Orson Welles's The Immortal Story, adapted from Ink Dinesen, starring himself, Jeanne Moreau and Roger Coggio, and running a serene sixty minutes, as measured and inescapable as the time-passage of an hour-glass. The story is about power and dreams; the recurring theme, more or less, of all Wellesian cinema. And the rich old China-coast merchant of Isak Dinesen's novella, a desiccated husk on the page, expands on the screen to take up all the brooding space Welles gives him to fill. The Immortal Story should open shortly for a London run, as will others on the festival list due for screening dur- ing the coming week—Lindsay Anderson's If. . Bergman's Shame, Truffaut's Baisers Volts. It won't all, one trusts, be Cinernarx- manship.