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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Julian Rosefeldt - Lonely Planet, 2006

Julian Rosefeldt in a scene of his movie, Lonely Planet

I watched last Sunday Lonely Planet, at Hirshhorn. It is a pure gem. I watched it three or four times in a row, so stunning it was. A circular movie of 16 minutes. Each scene is fabulous and the way one scene evolves from the other is natural to perfection.

Firstly, a bit of info of what Lonely Planet means: it's a publishing company specialized in tourist guides for travel on the cheap; targets hippies of all kind who dream at distant exotic countries and long journeys on a shoestring, taking local buses, eating at street stalls, sleeping at villagers.

Our hero is such a guy, traversing India with a Che-adorned backpack, a T-Shirt with the image of some Hindu goddess, bandana, bored face behind dark glasses, flip-flops.

We see him advancing in a desert that suddenly becomes the wide shore of a large river. A small boat is there, he pushes the boat into the water and jumps. The boat starts toward the other side of the river: the panorama of a big city. Our hero is not alone on the boat, now you see a couple of guys who operate the thing. And everything, river, boat, city panorama, are watched by a huge crowd, gathered in an enormous movie theater: all action is taking place on a huge screen. So, a movie within a movie.

Our hero approaches now the city and starts to climb wide steps, advancing into a crowd of guys who seem enthusiastic in a bizarre way - either mocking him or actually realizing that they are filmed.

The guy makes somehow his way and walks for a little while on a large street with busy traffic, not realizing that he is on the wrong side, against the sense of cars.

He enters a railroad station with trains in all directions to find himself quickly in a very modern computing center, with hundreds of programmers and operators, with supervisors gliding from one desk to the other.

But the movie is within the other movie, so the attendance in the huge theater is watching the ballet of the supervisor among computers and programmers, when suddenly our hero leaves the screen and enters the movie theater, advancing up the steps, as the attendance is manifesting the same bizarre enthusiasm, either mocking him or realizing that they are part of a movie themselves.

Again our guy makes his way against the crowd, gets out on the street, advances through a poor neighborhood towards one of the run-down houses, enters inside and finds himself in a Bollywood studio.
Here everything is surrounded and penetrated by wooden scaffolding, and our hero is stopped by two girls to prepare him with the make-up. As they finish, the guy is caught in the middle of a frenetic Oriental-Pop dance performed by everybody there.

So he passes them and gets to an empty street with empty houses: a ghost town.
A huge installation with a movie camera is following him. Do they film him or the mosque that is in the front? Or is it a set, like all that we have seen? Difficult to answer, as the guy is passing by the mosque and continuing his way in a desert that suddenly becomes the wide shore of a large river.

One would consider this movie as a search for the meaning of real versus imaginary: the question that has troubled all modern artists - the relationship between objects and their images, between object and symbol, between life and its image.

Also here is a another search, for understanding the opposition between two cultures, European versus Indian, the way Europeans perceive Indian image, and vice versa, the way Indians see European image. Indian reality versus Indian image in our eyes, European reality versus European image in their eyes. In an endless loop, as the movie is circular: the way we perceive the way they perceive us, and so on, further and further.

Well, I think the movie is much more. There are subtle references to great authors: the panorama of the city at the border of Ganges is a powerful reference to Aparajito of Satyajit Ray. The whole movie references Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera, and it is an interesting reference because it's kind of mocking Vertov.

I think some other references are somehow converted by Rosefeldt in their Indian version: how would look Cinema Paradiso transplanted in an enormous Indian movie hall? Or the Odessa steps from Potemkin? Or An American in Paris danced in Bollywod? Or how would look Bergman played in a deserted cowboy town recreated as a Hindi ghost town?

And all these references make sense, because it is the Movie of all Movies, challenged by Reality; and it is the Indian Reality as it is perceived by an European, because it is the Reality of all Realities, challenged as an Illusion.

It is amazing.


I will add to this post a presentation of stills from the movies of Julian Rosefeldt. Just enjoy.

(German and Nordic Cinema)

(Hirshhorn Museum)


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