Jean-Louis Comolli, cinema against the digital “desert”

Like an epigraph to his latest book, haunted by the reason for the disappearance, Play the game ? released – fatal accident – ​​on the day of his death at the age of 80, on May 19, Jean-Louis Comolli quoted a sentence from Jean Baudrillard“Behind virtual reality in all its forms (telematics, IT, digital), reality has disappeared – and that’s what fascinates the world. †

The disappearance of the real, the commodified spectacle, the simulacrum, the digitization of our existence…: so many motifs that Comolli questioned throughout his life, devoted to reflection on images and the acceleration of their modes of circulation. “It is in the chain that the digital produces the virtual, the mirage, the monkey money. In this hologram world there is no longer any body or flesh, the hands no longer caress anything, the wounds themselves are artificial. This cloud of images robs us of reality and gradually imposes the desert of people and things.he writes in Cinema, digital, survival. The art of time (ENS editions, 2019).

A life in the service of an ethics of the visible

Born in 1941, became a jazz critic, film thinker, former editor of Cinema notebooks (1966-1971) in the theoretical-political phase of the newspaper in full Maoist buzz, director of excellent documentaries (particularly on the rise of the Front National, on the Sofri affair or on political life in Marseille, in a long collection made with Michael Samson), Jean-Louis Comolli leaves behind an impressive oeuvre, without which reflection on contemporary images would be a little too dry and empty, a little too innocent too.

generations of film students, at the University of Paris 8 in particular, have been nourished by his interventions, his analyzes in the journals Traffic and Documentary images. The strength of his aesthetic and political engagements, which were naturally intertwined with him, have guided young filmmakers (Rithy Panhofor example), but also the generation of the most daring documentary makers of recent decades (Nicholas PhilibertClaire SimonDenis GheerbrantRichard CopansJohan van der Keuken

Admittedly, the prevailing zeitgeist kept it a bit out of the game of current trends. Logic: he was one of its most sour despisers, peopled by a certain vision of cinema and an ethic of the visible that was totally at odds with today’s triumphant codes. At the Cannes festival, his disappearance probably didn’t move many people; it comes from elsewhere in the cinema, yet is housed in its own world. The contemporary filmmakers important to him (KiarostamiMonteiroOliveiraguitarGodardStraub), as well as his original favorite filmmakers (FordRenoirVertovflahertyPasolini) populate an increasingly marginal cinephilia.

Cinema against the all-image

Jean-Louis Comolli has not separated cinema from reality and fiction: Film, cut, editof course it means manipulating, directing, choosing, determining, in short, interpreting a reality that never presents itself as ‘innocent’ or ‘pure’. † It’s all a matter of staging, if we’re talking about putting into words. “All films are fiction films, including documentaries […] I think fiction is all around us. We are full of stories that we know, that we don’t know yet, that we can discover. Cinema is made to resonate our emotions, our fears, our vibrations, perhaps even more powerfully. † Far from erasing reality from our lives, the cinematographic image helps us not to let it disappear from our lives, to make it more visible and sensitive.

A certain trend of documentary cinema (Verdier, 2021), Cinema, digital, survival. The art of time (ENS editions, 2019), Daesh, film and death (Verdier, 2016), Cinema against spectacle (Verdier, 2009), see and power (Verdier, 2004)… All his essays have attempted to translate what the history of the images yielded for the present (for its political injunctions, for the emergence of digital), less to express a form of nostalgia with regard to an illusory golden age of just trying to understand how the reign of hypervisibility profoundly affected the aesthetic and moral experience of cinema, and beyond our civilization itself.

Against the regular show

defending the “cinema versus spectacle” Comolli granted on 7and art a function of resistance to the dehumanization of the environment, arising from the hyper-presence of images in our lives: “In the infinite and infamous dance of images around us, we must save the image […] because, from our ancient memory, it is our means of still believing in what we inhabit in this world. † But entertainment, and the way it infects the world of images, including that of information, not to mention reality TV, led him to discreetly warn us of the confusion of our eyes and our understanding of reality. The “clouds of images, the clouds of sound that make up our atmosphere and through which we breathe, we see and hear the world”worried him because they blinded us to our own blindness.

In the scattering of images, screens, mirrors the subject is lost; “He lost sight of himself. † This acceleration of the world has led to a news thatbedridden man, the electronic, plugged in, connected man, who is not a spectator but rather a modern warrior, and who, although locked in social representations, is no longer able to learn from ar representationstics »

Find instant access to the world

Beneath the layer of his thoughtful observations, he actually asked a deeply philosophical question, adapted to the customs of our time: in a world covered with screens and pixels, the essential problem is that of the desire for direct access to the world or, failing that, a direct relationship with the spectacle. The proliferation of screens and film machines among our contemporaries means that the spectacle is now everywhere and permanent. We wander in the labyrinth of spectacle confused with reality. It’s a reversal of perspective: if nots realities encompass the spectacle, the contrary is not certain and remains a playful hypothesis: the spectacle can, and perhaps will, exclude everything that resembles a reality.”he writes in Play the game ?

ardent believer in film, whose vitality he wished to protect from the attacks to which he was subjected, Jean-Louis Comolli wondered all his life, even in his last words, what in him resisted the general speculation, this which forced him not to to adapt and not to adapt, not to play the game to the end. Art is a gracethis, moral implicationthe one condition”he writes in his latest book, as a way of summarizing an existence of aesthetic and political obligations that we will refer to for a long time to find landmarks in the labyrinth of images, if we are not already lost, if we haven’t decided to stop playing the game yet.

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