Cinéma du Réel – Centre Pompidou – 30.03.14


On the 30th of March, suffering from my only hangover on my trip to Paris I attended a screening of three of the winners of Le Palmares Awards 2014 at the Pompidou Centre. I had absolutely no idea what films would be playing and arrived by the skin of my teeth after a stomach churning tube journey.

The first film ‘Espace’ by Eléonor Gilbert was an interview with young school girl talking about the division of space in her school playground. This film suffered somewhat by being in another language as I couldn’t really get all the subtleties of the conversation, or perhaps in my wobbly state I had difficulty concentrating on both on the girls drawing of the playgrounds invisible boundaries and the subtitles.

The second film ‘Belva Nera’ by Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppishowever was a fantastically enjoyable film about a panther killing livestock in the french hills, beginning with the disbelieving it’s subsequent capture. However, it was only after reading the following synopsis on this movie that I realised it was a ‘mockumentary’. I am so glad I saw it without knowing this as I was so disappointed to discover that there are not panthers running wild in France stalked by ex movie stars.

Plus I’m sure I would never have had the guts to see the vultures in the final film of the afternoon, ‘La Rappel Les Oiseaux’ by Stéphane Batut. in which tibetan bodies are offered to the vutures for a sky funeral. This was extremely shocking footage and about 6 or 7 people left the cinema during the film. Seeing a real dead body being treated with such lack of care, even a butcher shows his carcasses more decorum. After my mild horror crossed with amusement at the chances of getting a film less suited to my delicate stomach, I transcended the sickness and with the aid of hand sunglasses was able to stick it out and gain from it a really spiritual experience. As one of the reasons for my coming to Paris was to feel close to my dad who died in 2010. I did however decide once and forall that I would like to be cremated.

Eléonor Gilbert
2014 / France / 14 min

“The boys won’t let us play football at school.” Paper and pencil to hand, a young girl details how the games are shared out in her schoolyard. She constantly reconfigures her sketch, demarcating the different zones of exclusion, big squares, small circles, sports enclaves to be circumvented: all of them are limits that the boys repeatedly overstep. On a daily basis, the problem is increasingly widespread as a dynamic working between genders, with the schoolyard its microcosm. A territorial war? More like an occupation, and one that seems to bother hardly anyone except the young girl bearing witness and who loves football. Soon, we notice that the girls are not only assigned to the smallest areas of the schoolyard, but also required to remain invisible. The sequence shot of the first part cedes to the editing, once it is clear that all possible solutions have, worryingly, been exhausted and the drawing is saturated. The cut to black mid-film functions as a breathing space. The impulse to continue comes first from behind the camera — “And you, do you really want to play football?” Yet, even when the filmmaker asks questions out-of-frame, she never poses as a guide or counselor. Doubtless, the answer can only come from inside the field, and will perhaps require several successive labyrinths. (Charlotte Garson)

Alessio Rigo de Righi, Matteo Zoppis
2013 / Argentina, Italy / 33 min

Between rumour, western and legend, the portrait of a hunter in the countryside near Rome, who is convinced that a black panther is hiding deep in the woods.

Hercules, a peerless hunter of the Roman countryside, firmly believes that a panther — a “black beast” — is hiding deep in the woods and regularly devouring chickens, rabbits, sheep… This rumour of a fierce creature haunting the forest near the Italian capital steeped the filmmakers’ childhoods and they now return with cheering antics for a film mixing a “mockumentary”, a Western ambiance and the moving portrait of a hunter-farmer able to casually strike up a tune from Tosca. In front of the camera, people spontaneously become characters, playing out their beliefs by giving them epic dimensions. Through the daily life of Hercules and his friends from Vejano and the intervention of Tony Scarf, an actor and panther specialist, the small community is depicted as a powerful machine for creating fantasy and fiction, which the film relays with exhilarating inventiveness. Beyond the picturesque aspect and the places and characters anchored in mythology, the hunters’ relationship with truth and legend touches a political nerve of ancient and contemporary Italy: the relationship to the collective, the law and the State. (Charlotte Garson)

Stéphane Batut
2014 / France / 40 min

“The 4 August 2009, I was on a family trip in Kham, a Chinese province inhabited by Tibetans. I was invited to attend a ‘heavenly funeral’, where the corpse of the deceased is offered up to vultures.” By beginning his film with images that he is reviewing on his editing table, Stéphane Batut immediately establishes a disposition that constantly puts into perspective what he has seen, heard and filmed. He asks an exiled Tibetan to sit with him and describe the steps of this unforgettable experience of seeing. Also, perhaps, to exorcise his fear. No question of denying that he filmed as a tourist: that would be to lay claim to a search for art, when in fact his more penetrating approach touches on death and the body. Like Gianfranco Rosi, in Boatman (1993) filming the funeral pyres on the Ganges, the commentaries and “co-editing” transform the exoticism of the rite into its exact opposite: a questioning of our own funeral customs. And our paradoxical haste to have corpses disappear, our refusal to see the body dead even when no belief supports a life-after-death.
Charlotte Garson

RECALL OF BIRDS Stéphane Batut French Competition / 40 ‘/ 2014 / France from

In The Background birds, Stéphane Batut shows a Tibetan funeral ritual in which the corpse is given food for vultures. In order to share these very crude images, he offers us a device that puts into perspective what he saw: he asks a Tibetan exile sit at the editing table with him and re-watch the funeral pictures. We are witnessing the funeral ritual discussed by these two characters.

How did you get the idea to make this film?
By chance, I was traveling for three weeks in Tibetan areas of China. The manager of our hotel offers us a tour to attend this ritual where the body of the dead is given food for vultures. Past reluctance to go there as a tourist lambda, I decided to take a camera to try to understand what could encourage tourists and myself to attend this kind of ritual. There, I’ve realized that the position of the tourist, camera or not, do not take. We are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event, there is no possible distance, it is necessarily concerned with what is happening. I am forced to shoot anyway. For several months I have not been able to look at the pictures, then one day I decided to go up and I showed my work at Lawrence Roth, who is interested. Together we devised a principle: a fictional character Tibetan in exile, that I will bring to create a discussion from these images. I first wrote only the partition of our two characters from the thoughts that inspired me the ritual. But I realized that it did not take, it was someone who has a real relation to the event. I then invited many Tibetans coming react to images and I collected their stories. I have summarized in a single figure. It is a principle somewhat fictional but is based on the documentary.

Can you talk about that choice to introduce this fictional device?
This device seemed the only way to share these images. Without reinterpreting the images are too violent! Stage two observers who look defuses the spectacular side. It is also a film about a cultural encounter and exchange. I wanted people to feel that it is possible to share these images, they also want the Tibetans. They cause real ones. From this ritual, universal questions arise on death, on its representation, fears associated with it and how we have to protect ourselves. In the film my interlocutor speaks of a dream where he thought he saw his mother … This kind of intimate exchange, there have been several in interviews. This strange ritual for us, allows everyone to project, to be hang things from his own life. Dosage and membership share of the beholder this fiction were really a tricky question. With this device I wanted to what is in this experience, as I was. But at the same time I did not fully believe that a documentary form. I wanted people to understand that Tibetan People do not really improvise before the images. There is the idea of reinterpretation.

In your device, your comments about the real influence in reading. For example, at the beginning of the film you show tourists arriving by bus on site and off you mention in a landscape of Corrèze and a convoy hearse later you raise hell about images of vultures. There are many examples that move the meaning of what we see in the picture …
I wanted that one feels that the look of each is imbued not only culture but his personal history. I propose courses of interpretation when trying to open as much as possible to other possible identifications. The image of vultures moving in the film. At first they are scary, I think we are very impressed as I was myself. Once the body is gone, there is acceptance and representation that we have of them is changed.
Onsite I filmed things that seemed to me hard to watch and I recognized more familiar images: the hell with all these birds, nightmares, movies … There is always passages between reality and its representation. And ritual, I also saw it as a representation with its staging, many things escaped me but I understood later with the Tibetans. Through this representation, the ritual takes us into an interpretation of death is actually quite reassuring. It allows us to watch.

There is a “voyeur” quoted in this tourist approach. It is an indirect theme of the film?
Necessarily when talking about the fear of seeing the issue of voyeurism arises. But voyeurism is to look without being seen. I felt it was possible to shoot these people even if the report was brutal. I had no fun watching these raw images. The images are there because they are needed to treat the subject. The film is about the fear one has to imagine some things I could not let any off-field. We had to show what I saw. Tibetans mocked tourists too sensitive, they do not have the same difficulty watching this ritual. This is not the same relationship to death. Moreover, one of the first things that are Tibetans in exile in France, is to give their bodies to science, it is very important to them that their body is useful.

Interview by Olivier Jehan

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