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Retrospective - Bertrand Mandico

F. J. Ossang, poet of the apocalypse

Michèle Collery

 

F. J. Ossang occupies a singular and unique place in French cinematography. Writer, musician, singer, etc., he works on several fronts simultaneously without giving in to the spirit of the moment and showing how his time is filled up. Meanwhile, in London, the Sex Pistols sing “Anarchy in the U.K.” [1] and in Germany, the members of the R. A. F. (Rote Armee Fraktion) commit suicide in their cells, the young heir poet of Burroughs and Guy Debord chooses his side: the guerrillas. Poetry and rock and roll replace the armed struggle, with no distinction between art and politics. In a world where television reigns supreme, the Messagero Killer Boy profiles the century against the grain. The punk movement is not limited to a musical genre; is a generational uprising born of chaos, an “animate cry” [2] of which Ossang’s work restores the quintessence.

 

Ossang is still one of the few French artists who has managed to both at the same time adopt the “documented point of view” approach, highly regarded by Jean Vigo, and transfer the vitality of a generation that, referring to the program Live Fast Die Young [3], he knew would not survive much longer.

 

Ossang began working in cinema in 1982, when music was already not enough for him. In the days of the digital compactor, image recognition and 3D, his passion for the analogue, black and white [4], cardboard and dialogue impregnated with poetry, far from the profiled realism of television film, clashed with the laws of marketing. Following along the lines of Jean Epstein, Jean Cocteau, Jean Vigo or Pier Paolo Pasolini, his insurrectionary poetry, with its stunning beauty, deserves consideration as confidential as it is prestigious. Against all odds, he has directed ten films to date, five feature films and five short films [5]. Ossang continues to write books, always driven by the same impulse of life that sparked the incandescence of the dying West. Mercure Insolent, manifesto of the analogue, was published in 2010.

 

Evolving from essay to fiction, the first matrix trilogy [6] operates as an inaugural metric. Symphony of forms, dialectics of visual, sound and written scores, silent film aesthetics: the art of close-up light, the use of the iris, the fabulous scenery and the characters from his personal mythology. The questions posed in La dernière enigme, a film based on a text by the situationist Gianfranco Sanguinetti, were reflected in Zona Inquinata and L’affaire des Divisions Morituri, “futuristic peplum of the Fourth World”.

 

The non-frontal representation of the enemy creates a distance that allows us to imagine everything. Diffuse, spectral, heterogeneous, hybrid, atomised, globalised, the immateriality of the threat opens other metaphorical roads to serve as not only poetry but also as fantasy and suspense. Invisible adversity is insinuated everywhere while it corrupts the brain and nourishes the darkest, most ancient, universal anxieties, paranoias, the internal demons of each individual. The suspicions rest on the whole world, at any moment, in the elements (winds, polluted waters, mists in a narrow mountain path where it is not good that the car breaks down), in food, wine, rituals and fetishes (circles and numbers, ghost ships), the behaviour of individuals (murmurs, looks)…

 

Conscious, like Burroughs, of belonging to a petrified time, Ossang brings a twilight look to our civilization. However, the melancholy does not cause sadness or acrimony, just the opposite: “Cinema should not be something serious” [7]. It reinvents a mythology of modern times, full of references, deviations and extravagant intentions extracted from the library of the filmmaker.

 

The entrails of the old and consumed world still burn. The characters in The Treasure of the Bitch Islands suffer the eternal fire in the eruptive island of the Azores, which the filmmaker loves because of the plate tectonics that are located at the crossroads of three continents: Europe, Africa and America. Ossang, son of the volcanic lands of Auvergne,

 

likes the “extraterrestrial” landscapes with archaic signs: the Atacama Desert, the megalithic fields, the lands of the Russian Far East, the archipelago of the Azores...

 

Noise & Roll

The frenzy of the conquest is achieved amid the euphoria. The music is detached from all narrative functionality. Thus, we are induced to feel emotions, intoxicated with freedom when the hoarse voice of the singer of La Muerte [8] eroticizes the mortal escape of lovers in Doctor Chance. In a horizon full of snowy summits, the red car's route anticipates the fatal path that marks the prologue of Dharma Guns, fuelled by the song by Jello Biafra.

 

Punk, industrial and tribal, the soundtrack resonates the uproar of lost or won battles. Drunkenness and impulses inject images in excruciating, disturbing doses that cause nameless pain, convulsions and screams that arise from the depths of primitive memory or atomic nights that perturb the serenity of the landscapes in Silencio. Connecting the subtitles and the distortions in Throbbing Gristle inoculate the doubt. Worlds open, in carryover with silences inhabited by an organic life. At the end of Silencio, the diamond tip continues the route by itself ... With its last breath, the slight crackling makes the case for the vinyl record, also condemned to eradication.

 

Abducted from all continuity, the films could follow as a rock & roll album, letting us be carried away by the combinations of emotions and energy they provide. Underground networks invite other circulation systems. Each fragment unfolds without the mediation of others in breadth and depth when the film, perforated with light, reveals lethal splendours captured in the essence of reality.


 

[1] Song first released as a single on 26 November 1976 by the EMI record label and the following year on the album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (Virgin).

[2] Expression used by Artaud when referring to surrealism in the introduction of three conferences he gave in Mexico in 1936 on surrealism and the revolution.

[3] The Californian punk group Circle Jerks chose the slogan as the title for one of its themes in 1981.

[4] Only one of his nine films is in colour: Docteur Chance (1997).

[5] La Dernière énigme, 1982, short film

Zona Inquinata or La vie n’est qu’une sale histoire de cow-boys, 1983, short film

L’Affaire des décisions Morituri, 1984

Le Trésor des îles Chiennes, 1991

Docteur Chance, 1998

Silencio, 2006, short film (2007 Jean Vigo Award)

Vladivostok, 2008, short film

Ciel éteint!, 2008, short film

Dharma Guns, 2010

Neuf doigts, 2017

[6] Two short films: La dernière énigme (1982) and Zona Inquinata (1983) and one feature film: L’affaire des Divisions Morituri (1984)  

[7] F.J. Ossang, Mercure Insolent, op.cit., p. 39.

[8] Belgian Heavy Metal group influenced by Nick Cave.

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