Tuesday, November 19, 2019 at 7pm
Mati Diop's Atlantiques + Nagisa Oshima's Death by Hanging

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Introduced by Daniel Schmidt

Atlantiques, Mati Diop, 2009, digital projection, 15 mins
Death by Hanging, Nagisa Oshima, 1968, digital projection, 118 mins

This screening is part of a larger suite of programs organized by Schmidt. The series will take place across three venues—Light Industry, Metrograph, Spectacle—and the full lineup is below.

Alienating Resurrections

Kōshikei (Death by Hanging)
Nagisa Oshima

Mati Diop

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Le discours d’acceptation glorieux de Nicolas Chauvin (The Glorious Acceptance of Nicolas Chauvin)
Benjamin Crotty

Rak Ti Khon Kaen (Cemetery of Splendor)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Everything and More
Rachel Rose

Mahal (The Mansion)
Kamal Amrohi

Special Features
James N. Kienitz Wilkins

There are few dreams I am able to recall years later. Dreams that persist, despite their inherent evanescence, outliving the very memories of waking life which scientists hypothesize they’ve been conjured to reinforce. Dreamy dreams – whose ornamentations are surely boring to anyone besides me. But I wonder if others share a similar grouping of remnants. They are united by their common inhabitants – intimate relations from my life who have departed from theirs. Here they are alive. The circumstances of their resuscitation are never clear, nor is it clear they ever died – but there is something deathly about them. While in life our relationships were often strong – my memories of them loving – in dreams it is the vitality of these relationships which are now paradoxically faded. Aunts who were like mothers, a mother who was like a best friend, a best friend who was like a lover – reappear defamiliarized, of uncertain allegiance – often aloof, sometimes possessed. They gravitate towards some second death, wounded in some obscure, unknowable way. Physically intact, yet spiritually wraithlike, their motives and sense of self are opaque to me and perhaps to them. Often, they seem like imposters who have forgotten the reason for their disguise. They are both alienated and alienating. I awaken similarly disoriented. Always mesmerized by the opportunity to be in their presence, but estranged by who they’ve become.

I do not experience lucid dreaming. I remain without awareness, and without capacity to make decisions. I only just learned you can train yourself to develop this talent – would be cool to try. For now, it is only in waking life that I can stray into such liminal realms. Namely while making and watching movies. Through these collaborative actions I find I am able to at least consciously participate and orient myself to the phenomena of dreams – and engage the elusive revenants within.

Here I’ve gathered eight films that have allowed just that. Films that explicitly and implicitly concern alienating resurrections. Most have at their centers – the emotional narratives of people who experience a sort of demise and a sort of revival. While some elaborate on their initial deaths – the central concern is of the problems and possibilities wrought by their rebirths – both for themselves and the living whom they encounter.

In contrast to predictable desires held by the undead populations of so many commodified fictions – the ghost seeking vengeance, the vampire seeking blood, the zombie seeking brains – these films are instead populated with phantoms who often lack direct motivations and are mired in existential confusion – perhaps seeking identity or freedom from it. They are lost amidst relatively earthly environments, usually in one or two simple locations, unburdened of the archetypal phantasmagoria. For some – like in my dreams – it is their personalities which are illusory. In the pop-sci lingo of oneirology their personalities are the “interobjects” – dreamed condensations of two unlike objects that could not occur in real life. The films’ shapes resonate around these characters with a generative ambiguity. Most, if not all, derive from this a vital sense of humor – ranging from mordant to whimsical, satirical to absurd.

Of course, this eight-starred constellation is merely a survey of a much larger, inexhaustible galaxy of art concerning such specters. Here, some personal favorites - four longer films by inspiring strangers, paired with four shorter films by inspiring friends. I feel each on their own and when grouped together exemplify what critic and programmer Dan Sullivan described as “cinema’s freedom to be a liquid medium—always something slightly other than what we think it is.” A freedom and flexibility that might stimulate similar openness to life and death, loosened from strict interpretations and the desire to define, while both awake and asleep.

Kōshikei (Death by Hanging) | 1968 | Nagisa Oshima

A stunning and provocative Brechtian-cum-slapstick, excoriation-cum-meditation on bigotry, criminal injustice, and guilt – and the sagging web of evil hypocrisy and sanctimony which modern society spins to hold it all in place.

While specifically a critique of Japanese persecution of ethnic Koreans vis-à-vis the horrors of capital punishment and state violence, this film plummets into an ever-accelerating free fall through undefined strata of consciousness and mortality. It is darkly funny and perversely endearing. Equal parts humanized and dehumanized by first-and-only-time actor Do-yun Yu. He performs with unnerving serenity the role of R: a Japanese-born, ethnic Korean youth, who is executed by the state for murder and rape. However, R’s heart never stops. Unconscious, he is then reanimated by the authorities who are desperate to kill him again. Once conscious he is unable to remember who he is, to comprehend his responsibility for the crimes, or to see the justification in his own execution.

Iconoclast filmmaker Masao Adachi, hamming it up as the education officer, leads an ensemble of authoritarian stooges in an increasingly maddening pursuit to make R cognizant. First restaging, then reenacting his horrendous crimes – they grotesquely flail in their attempts to define the distinctions of their ethnicities, of sanctioned and unsanctioned violence, of self and state.

In one heart-aching passage, R is instructed to perform domestic scenes of his life as crudely caricatured by the xenophobic guards. Amidst their collective performances which veer perilously between racist pantomime and disorienting pathos – R transcends from one bizarre realm of alien semi-consciousness to another, by tenderly enacting the role of the beneficent older brother to his younger sisters (played by the authorities). Unable to afford money for an imaginary field trip – he leads them on a guided meditation, first to the zoo – and then to “somewhere that is nowhere” – an Edenic boulevard where everything is free, and on which their family shares a mansion with a veranda.

As the narrative begins to unravel in Death by Hanging’s final third – there are those who feel Oshima’s conceit has worn thin, or frayed entirely. But here I see a triumph of form. The movie begins as an almost polemical documentary, and shortly thereafter plunges into pitch-black satire – interstitially cast into relief by title cards framing it as some sort of official case study. But then, as R simultaneously seems to develop at once increased consciousness and deliriousness – so seemingly does the film – breaking free of cinematic boundaries and ideological confines and crossing the threshold into unexplored realms of the absurd – as if the questions it raises and the voices that phrase them are too unstable – which they absolutely are.

Self-imploding masterpiece.

Atlantiques | 2009 | Mati Diop

Young Senegalese men, gathered in the dark around a campfire, keep alive the stories of their treacherous travels to Spain via the Atlantic. They recount the horror of the massive waves that frequently lift the small boats and drown their passengers: “Probably the same feeling you get when trapped in a falling building. You wonder where you are until the impact.” This profoundly disturbing feeling of suspension seems to permeate the fifteen-minute elegy, and never comes to rest.

A central voice, Serigne, converses with the others about the source of his tremendous courage to embark on such a voyage – the desire to provide for his family. The fraternity amongst the men is palpable, and the low light, standard definition digital photography lends a grounded sense of time, place, and economy to this chapter from 2009. Yet amidst this reality – Serigne admits he is not mentally present, he’s not sure why he is there. Is he there? He cannot recall if he said goodbye to his friends before departing on a journey to near-certain death. He speaks of fellow passengers who could transform into fish. He confesses he is hiding something: he is haunted. By what? He seems to suggest the great risk and pain he took to reach Europe, only to be sent back. A fireside companion swears the worst possible fate – one possibly worse than death – is to arrive at their destination and then be deported. What is Serigne’s fate? Did he die? Was he deported? He says if he had the chance he would do it all again – is it in fact a cycle of desperation, rejection, and death that is his fate?

Both the film and the campfire flickering at its center oscillate between vigil and séance – culling fragmentary memories and premonitions of loved ones – and perhaps Serigne himself. His friends bury him – but is his body there? Or at the bottom of the ocean? The friends remark that the date on the tombstone is slightly wrong. Lines from a survivors’ account of a 19th-century shipwreck appear: “the fever is a nightly invader, that strikes the patient during deep sleep…he experiences the most burning desire to flow into the ocean.” Measures of a nocturne are heard. At the beginning of the film – the moment it could loop back again – Serigne recounts the memory of a dream he had on a perilous trip: “…making tea back home, asking for sugar. My mother handed some to me. As I reached her hand, I woke up. I’ve never told her the pain I’ve been through until recently. That interrupted dream really broke my heart.” The film itself is then interrupted – by an image of Serigne’s mother – she looks back at the camera. Towards the end of the film his sister continues the gaze.

With Mati’s new, feature-length movie, Atlantique (2019), the latent supernatural elements of the shorter film, made a decade prior, come to the fore, take flesh, and resist. The terrifying impact mentioned in Serigne’s accounts seems to occur silently off-screen and then reverberates deeply in the hearts of relations back onshore – specifically women, like Serigne’s family. In one sense the earlier film is a potent spell from which the latter film breaks free – led by lovers still alive, finding their identity in the face of forces that would have them saddened, stifled, possessed, or obliterated ad infinitum.

- DS

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 6:30pm.