On July 30, within the scope of DOUBLE FEATURE the SCHIRN is screening the film “Faire le mur” by the French artist Bertille Bak. Following a discussion, we will show her favorite film, “La Cabale des Oursins,” by Luc Moullet.
In a sense, the history of humanity always reads like a history of expulsion: from that of Adam and Eve from paradise and the large-scale Migration Period in Late Antiquity, to the displacement and resettlement within the scope of wars and industrialization in the modern era. The individual who has to leave his or her domicile of choice or country of alleged origin is a symbol for forlornness and uprootedness as such, and has time and again readily been the subject of recent debates on gentrification. The more than seventeen-minute short film "Faire le mur" (2008) by the Paris-based artist Bertille Bak presents one possibility for responding to such a threatening change to one's personal life situation.
On Wikipedia, Bak's hometown of Barlin is described as "a modern and dynamic place that offers its residents numerous amenities: schools, colleges, a swimming pool, a library, and sports halls." Yet there is not yet anything in her film that comes close to this description. Instead, one sees old buildings that have seen better days, and abandoned streets in a state of disrepair that some might call idyllic, while others would refer to them as being behind the times. The town flourished with the opening of a nearby coalmine in the mid-nineteenth century, and, like countless other towns in northern France, its postindustrial decline began in the 1960s, when the mine closed. In order to halt this development, extensive modernization measures were enacted. However, these also resulted in higher rents, forcing quite a number of residents to move to other towns.
The lives of Barlin's residents is presented as if in a fairytale: they live in communal harmony, share the daily paper, and their homes are interconnected with a kind of homemade tin-can-and-string telephone. In the following, they also react in a childish, defiant way to the first advancing excavators: they block the road with a makeshift wall and throw bricks. However, because they know that ultimately they cannot set anything against remodernization, they come up with a final coup that is meant to cause future new residents to think of them forever after.
Losers and Seemingly Anachronistic Remains
In her largely film-based works, Bertille Bak, born in 1983 in Arras near Barlin, frequently addresses the reality of the lives of marginalized groups, and the theme of expulsion repeatedly plays vital role. In "Transport à dos d'homme (2012), in a combination of film and sound installations the artist examines the everyday lives of Romany people in France, who were time and again subjected to the threat of deportation, by both Sarkozy as well as the Socialists, to their alleged country of origin. In 2010, Bak created the work "Safeguard Emergency Light System" in collaboration with the residents of a housing development in Thailand under threat of demolition, and in "Urban Chronicles (2011) the artist deals with East European immigrants in New York. The exaggerated narrative style of both films, which also immediately strikes the eye in "Faire le mur," abstracts from the concrete individual case as much as it turns it into something unique at same time.
Bertille Bak's favorite film for the evening is "La Cabale des Oursins" (1991) and stems from the French filmmaker and critic Luc Moullet. Moullet was only eighteen when he began writing for the legendary film magazine "Cahiers du cinéma," from whose sphere emerged numerous exponents of the French nouvelle vague, such as directors Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, and Claude Chabrol. From 1960 onward, Moullet made primarily short films and documentaries; however, he continued to work as a critic, as his works were not granted the success of those by his fellow filmmakers. "La Cabale des Oursins" (literally: The Intrigue of the Sea Urchins) is a good fifteen-minute documentary film about the coal tips in France and Belgium in which the director circles around the impressive, manmade black colossus with his camera and humorously considers possible new uses. The coal tips on the landscape maps repeatedly shown in the film, which exhibit similarities with sea urchins, can then also be interpreted in analogy to village residents presented by Bertille Bak: as losers and seemingly anachronistic remains in the postindustrial age.