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Une ville à Chandigarh

Alain Tanner, India, 1965

When, in 1947, a portion of Punjab province was assigned to the newly created Pakistani State, Albert Mayer began planning a new capital for the portion which remained in the possession of India. Le Corbusier had been responsible since the 1950s for general planning and, more particularly, for large-scale buildings typical of the governmental sector. A year after the death of Le Corbusier, Alain Tanner began shooting his film in a city still partially under construction, or even, in certain places, at the planning stage. The inhabitants of the metropolis, however, already numbered some 120,000.

Among the most modern of cities architecturally, Chandigarh was archaically constructed by hand. Impressions of this green horizontal city-brick not permitting vertical development-are captured in long static shots and numerous traveling shots. John Berger's commentary inscribes the visual beauty of that reality within a larger reflection: climate did strongly influence the decisions of the planners, whereas the new city did not succeed in breaking the old social rules with a single blow.
When, in 1947, a portion of Punjab province was assigned to the newly created Pakistani State, Albert Mayer began planning a new capital for the portion which remained in the possession of India. Le Corbusier had been responsible since the 1950s for general planning and, more particularly, for large-scale buildings typical of the governmental sector. A year after the death of Le Corbusier, Alain Tanner began shooting his film in a city still partially under construction, or even, in certain places, at the planning stage. The inhabitants of the metropolis, however, already numbered some 120,000.

Among the most modern of cities architecturally, Chandigarh was archaically constructed by hand. Impressions of this green horizontal city-brick not permitting vertical development-are captured in long static shots and numerous traveling shots. John Berger's commentary inscribes the visual beauty of that reality within a larger reflection: climate did strongly influence the decisions of the planners, whereas the new city did not succeed in breaking the old social rules with a single blow. These rules continue to determine the level of education and income, and it is not even possible for these workers who are in the process of constructing Chandigarh to live in it themselves.

However, the film partakes of Le Corbusier's optimism in its appreciation of architecture as an instrument aiding men to clarify their visions, to exercise their powers of discernment and to establish new relations, even if the results will only make themselves felt in the long term.
Duration
53 minutes
Language
OV English
Subtitles
Video Quality
720p
Available in
Worldwide
Messidor (1979)
Alain Tanner
Switzerland
123′
Project initially entrusted to Maurice Pialat, who had already begun to film it under the title of “Meurtrières” (see the special edition of Les Inrockuptibles devoted to Pialat), Messidor is based on a crime story which hit the headlines in France in the 1970s: two adolescent girls run away and go on a criminal spree which ends in their deaths. On the face of it, this subject is remote from the world we associate with Tanner, since a violent story of this kind and its social background would seem to impose the realistic, even naturalistic form always shunned by the Swiss director. Moreover, Tanner is instinctively averse to filming physical violence. “Killing a person”, he says, “is generally a gratuitous special effect.” Consequently, of all Tanner’s films Messidor is the only one in which someone dies of non-natural causes. It is also Tanner’s most sombre work, characterised by a despair unmitigated by his usual verbal and situational humour. This is because Tanner accepted the project only on condition that he could recast the original idea and use this violent story as a vehicle for more personal preoccupations: the limits of freedom (already treated in his previous film) are here related to the girls’ frantic flight in the Swiss countryside. What interests him is the possible sullying of this place of excessive peace and quiet, now transformed into a field of experience and criminal fun-and-games by the two characters.
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Le retour d'Afrique (1973)
Alain Tanner
Switzerland
107′
An ode to liberated speech and to the power of words, “those one speaks to others, those one speaks in silence”, Alain Tanner’s third film is inspired by a poet and a poetic text which deeply affected him as a young director: Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, written in 1939 by Aimé Césaire. A poem extolled by the Surrealists, this seminal flow of anti-colonial thinking by the West-Indian-born poet is the bubbling spring which inspires the gestures and words of the film’s main character, Vincent (François Marthouret), a 30-year-old from Geneva.Weighed down by the monotony and boredom of his life as a well-off westerner, he sells all his possessions and decides to leave for Algeria with his fiancée. The subject is clearly that of escape from one’s place of belonging, a Rimbaudesque theme dear to Tanner, which is here directly linked to the Third Worldist discourse of the 1960s and 1970s. But the strength of the film lies in the way it turns this thinking on its head: on the eve of their departure, chance circumstances prevent the couple from leaving. Instead, they decide to pursue their dream of escape by living hidden away in their empty apartment. Again, Tanner shows that it is the inner mileage travelled that matters, not the arrival at a destination; the posing of a question rather than the answer. As the director says at the beginning of the film: “Speaking words can be an act in itself, it can also be a substitute for action.” This is an important precept for the understanding of Tanner’s cinema: poetry is a form of action, and having it in mind, reciting it, can help to give a new shape to reality: in the film’s final scene, the couple decide to have a child.
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Valley of Saints
Musa Syeed
India
81′
In the valley of Kashmir, a lakeside city convulses with riots and curfews. A young man tries to escape, when he meets a beautiful environmentalist in an abandoned houseboat. Trapped together in his floating village, their blossoming romance threatens to derail his dreams.
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Le serviteur de Kali (2002)
Adoor Gopalakrishnan
India
88′
Kaliyappan is the executioner of the Maharajah of Travancore. He lives on the edge of a small village in the magnificent countryside of Kerala. For generations his family has lived on the benefits granted to the Maharajah after every execution. But these are becoming increasingly rare, and Kaliyappan's family lives in misery. Paradoxically, the old executioner, tired of fulfilling a mission that had become a curse, has also become a healer. Adoor Gopalakrishnan is one of the central figures in Indian cinema and one of the outstanding filmmakers from Kerala, whose film culture he and Shaji Karun have a major influence on. His film "Le serviteur de Kali" is a fable based on real facts. The first shot shows an old executioner looking at his hands. He feels guilty about the last execution and is afraid of the next one. When he again receives the order to execute the sentence, Kaliyappan feels miserable, staggers around and drinks to forget his remorse and misery. As if the alcohol could lift the responsibility and replace the executioner. The son will execute the sentence, the curse threatening the family cannot be averted. In the end, the shadows of the procession are the dark shadows of an endless succession of mourning, unless they are the shadows of the cave. A hidden pearl of cinema.
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My Name is Salt
Farida Pacha
India
92′
Year after year, for an endless eight months, thousands of families move to a desert in India to extract salt from the burning earth. Every monsoon their salt fields are washed away, as the desert turns into sea. And still they return, striving to make the whitest salt in the world. The desert extends endlessly - flat, grey, relentless. There is not a tree or blade of grass or rock. But there is one thing in abundance: salt. Salt is everywhere, lying just beneath the cracked, baked surface of the earth. This is the Little Rann of Kutch, 5000 sq kms of saline desert. And for eight months of the year, the salt people live here - laboriously extracting salt from this desolate landscape. They have been doing this for generations. Year after year, they migrate from their villages, 40,000 of them, to live on this bleak land without water, electricity or provisions. Arriving just after the monsoon, Sanabhai and his family will live here from September until April. Their nearest neighbour is a kilometre away. They communicate by flashing mirrors in the sunlight. Sanabhai’s wife Devuben walks across the bare, trackless desert to chop firewood. They buy the family’s water supply from a private tanker that comes once a week. Sanabhai has taken a large loan from the salt merchant in town as an advance on his salt harvest. He needs money to dig a well to reach the saline water 70 feet below ground, and to buy the diesel for the pump which draws the brine into the salt pans. Over the next few months, the only sound to break the silence of the desert is the mechanical drone of the pump’s engine. It takes eight months for the brine to crystallise into salt. Knee-deep in the brine pond, under the blinding glare of the sun, Sanabhai and his family trample the ground to prevent the salt from congealing. Once the brine has evaporated enough to allow the salt to be handled, they gather it with heavy wooden rakes until large crystals have formed. Their labor is rhythmic, a dance that mirrors the dance of the mirages on the burning horizon. The white crystals are as sharp as glass. Only two of them have rubber boots. Several times in a day Sanabhai inspects the quality of the salt crystals and keeps a close watch on the level of water in the salt pans. Two of Sanabhai’s children - a boy and a girl aged eleven and eight- go to a school recently opened by an NGO. Everyday at 11, after their morning’s work at the salt pans, they cycle off to school - just another hut in the vast emptiness of the desert, but with one difference: the children have planted paper flowers around it. In April, the salt merchant sends his man to inspect the salt. No good, he says: the crystals are small, not white enough. He cuts the price agreed with Sanabhai at the beginning of the season. Sanabhai is downcast, but he shrugs his shoulders: what can you do? The next salt season will certainly be better. Meanwhile, somewhere at the edge of the desert, mountains of salt lie next to the railway tracks waiting for transport to the city. The season is over and the monsoon is on its way: the heavy rains will soon wash the family’s salt fields away. The desert itself will not remain a desert anymore, but will turn into a sea. And the only way one can cross it is by boat.
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Qissa
Anup Singh
India
109′
Set in post-colonial India, QISSA tells the story of Umber Singh, a Sikh, who is forced to flee his village due to ethnic cleansing at the time of partition in 1947. Umber decides to fight fate and builds a new home for his family. When Umber marries his youngest child Kanwar to Neeli, a girl of lower caste, the family is faced with the truth of their identities; where individual ambition and destinies collide in a struggle with eternity.
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