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

As an epigraph for his latest book haunted by the cause of the disappearance, Play the game ?, released – fatal coincidence – 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 is what fascinates the world. »

The disappearance of the real, the commodified acting, the simulacrum, the digitization of our existences …: so many motifs that Comolli questioned throughout his life, dedicated to reflection on images and the acceleration of their forms of circulation. “It is in the chain that the digital produces the virtual, the mirage organ, 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 on the desert of people and things.he writes in Cinema, digital, survival. The art of the time (ENS Editions, 2019).

A life in the service of an ethic 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 flare-up, director of excellent documentaries (especially about the emergence of the National Front, about the Sofri case or about the political life in Marseille, in a long collection made with Michael Samson), Jean-Louis Comolli leaves an impressive work, without which reflection on contemporary images would be a little too dry and empty, also a little too innocent.

generations of film students, at the University of Paris 8 in particular has been nurtured by his interventions, his analyzes in the journals Traffic and Documentary images. The strength of his aesthetic and political commitments, which naturally intertwined with him, has accompanied young filmmakers (Rithy Panhfor example), but also the generation of the most daring documentary filmmakers of recent decades (Nicholas Philibert, Claire Simon, Denis Gheerbrant, Richard Copans, Johan van der Keuken…).

Admittedly, the prevailing spirit of the times put it a bit out of the game of the trends of the time. Logic: he was one of its most sour contemptors, inhabited by a certain vision of film and an ethic of the visible that was completely out of triumph with the triumphant contemporary codes. At the Cannes Film Festival, his disappearance probably did not affect many people; it comes from somewhere else in the cinema, however, housed in its world. The contemporary filmmakers who are important to him (Kiarostami, Monteiro, Oliveira, Gitai, Godard, Straub), as well as his original favorite filmmakers (Ford, Renoir, Vertov, Flaherty, Pasolini) populates an increasingly marginal cinefil.

Cinema against the album

Jean-Louis Comolli did not separate film from reality and fiction: Movies, clips, edit, it means, of course, to manipulate, direct, select, determine, in short, interpret a reality that never presents itself as “innocent” or “pure.” » It’s all just a matter of staging, as 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 do not know yet, that we can discover. Movies are made to resonate, perhaps even more strongly, to our emotions, our fears, our tremors. » Far from erasing reality from our lives, the cinematic image just helps us not to make it disappear from our lives, to make it more visible and sensitive.

A certain trend in documentaries (Verdier, 2021), Cinema, digital, survival. The art of the time (ENS Editions, 2019), Daesh, cinema and death (Verdier, 2016), Cinema against sight (Verdier, 2009), see and power (Verdier, 2004) … All his essays have tried to translate what the history of images gave to the present (to its political injunction, to the appearance of digital), less to express a form of nostalgia for an illusory golden age of images only to try to understand how the government of hypersensitivity profoundly affected the aesthetic and moral experience of cinema, and in addition, our civilization itself.

Towards the permanent show

defend “cinema versus show”, Comolli conferred on the 7thand art a function of resistance to ambient dehumanization that emanates from the hyper-presence of images in our lives: “In the endless and infamous dance of images around us, we must save the image […] because it, from our ancient memory, is our means of still believing in what we inhabit in this world. » Entertainment and the way it pollutes the world of images, including information, not to mention reality TV, made him warn us discreetly about the confusion of our eyes and our understanding of reality. That “clouds of images, the clouds of sound that form our atmosphere and through which we breathe, we see and hear the world”worried him by the fact that they made us blind to our own blindness.

When scattering images, screens, mirrors, the subject is lost; “He lost sight of himself.” This acceleration of the world has given rise to one news thatbedridden man, the electronic, connected, 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 scar representationstics ».

Find direct access to the world

Under the layer of his thoughtful observations, he basically asked a deeply philosophical question, adapted to the ways of our time: in a world covered with screens and pixels, the essential question is the desire for direct access to the world or, if not, a direct relationship to the play. The proliferation of canvases and film machines among our contemporaries means that the performance is now everywhere and permanent. We wander in the maze of the play confused with reality. It is a reversal of perspective: if no‘s realities include the play, the opposite is not certain and remains a playful hypothesis: the play can and may exclude anything resembling a reality. “he writes in Play the game ?

fiercely believe in movies, whose vitality he wished to have protected from the attacks to which he was subjected, Jean-Louis Comolli asked himself all his life, even in his last words, about what in him resisted the general specularity, this which in him pressed him to not accommodate and not to adapt, not to play the game to the end. Art is a gracethis, mora-implicationa condition”he writes in his latest book, as a way of summarizing the existence of aesthetic and political commitments, which we will refer to for a long time to find landmarks in the maze of images, if we are not already lost, if we are not yet decided to stop playing the game.

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