Buñuel, Bergman and Genet meet in Max Sacker’s Belle de Lyon

by Kenton Turk

“I should punish you.” The line comes later in the film, but could just as well accompany the initial shots. Opening with dank halls, a caged rat and Nikolai Kinski setting up a miniature guillotine, you could expect to be soaked in dreariness in Max Sacker’s ten-minute short, but it soon turns to the distance of a cinema setting and a turnabout of the standard roles, with beauty sitting firmly in the audience, and not flickering up front, larger than life. This turns again and again, so that it not always clear if we are watching the audience from the screen or vise versa. In this way, the tone is set for the ambiguities that the film explores in pictures and words Belle de Lyon is a determined collage of moments, the sort of images that accompany a night sweat. In large part a take on Buñuel ’s out put, spanning his black-and-white earlier works and culminating with his first colour feature, Belle du jour, Sacker’s film honours beauty and implied horrors.

The disturbing (Un Chien Andalou’s infamous eye-slicing scene) jockeys for attention next to the comforting (fields bathed in pastel sunsets), the connection being that every scene, every moment is a picture, literally, with an ever-present camera reminding of the viewer of his voyeurism, and that of film in general. Indeed, this is watching the watcher watch the watcher, layers of voyeurism draped over layers of film references. Midway through comes a sequence of Bergmanesque arrangement and stares, making the relative fluidity of the opening and closing sequences bookend swaths in a formal symmetry. Defining direction throughout is an aphoristic romp through words whispered, spoken and occasionally printed out to fill the frame, banners of proclamation that feel like poetic penetration. Jean Genet’s and Harry Crews’s askew logic on love and its attendant pain get headline treatment: ecstasy in betrayal, ecstasy in vengeful annihilation. Valeria Piskounova (Deneuve/Séverine), a Candy Darling clone, strolls through like a work in soft marble. Kinski’s face complements hers with a bevelled angularity that matches his nuanced and shifting earnestness. There isn’t a moment you couldn’t frame; few you wouldn’t bathe in. Even if pain necessarily attends or even intensifies ecstasy, you rarely see the two look better partnered to each other than here.

“Belle De Lyon” will be screened during the 10th Berlin International Directors Lounge [DLX], Feb 6 – 16, 2014  in DL Selection IV:Sat 8 | 9pm | space A

the complete program