Avant-garde French films come to Seoul

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Avant-garde French films come to Seoul

When a quarter of Korea’s population swarms to a single blockbuster film, it might seem strange to some. Over the past few years, however, Korea has opened itself to a broader cinematic spectrum, as art film festivals and retrospectives have blossomed nationwide.
The nonprofit Cinematheque Seoul ranks as one of the biggest behind-the-scenes contributors to this evolution. Its latest project, “French Avant-garde Cinema Retrospective,” starts screening tomorrow at the Seoul Art Cinema near Insa-dong.
With this retrospective, local cinephiles have a rare chance to appreciate 17 avant-garde films from the 1920s to 1940s. The lineup includes films by three acclaimed French cineastes, Jean Epstein, Jean Vigo and Jean Cocteau. According to O Sung-won, an organizer, their works have never been properly introduced to Korean audiences. Expatriates are also encouraged to visit; six of films have English subtitles in addition to the Korean.
An experimentalist and pioneer of early French avant-garde cinema, Jean Epstein (1897 to 1953) had a prolific filmmaking career. Born in Poland and educated in France, Epstein first pursued a medical career until he found himself enchanted by avant-garde cinema and literature. Epstein’s early silent films are presented at this screening, from his 1924 debut “Pasteur” to “La Chute de la Maison Usher” (The Fall of the House of the Usher), based on the novel by Edgar Allan Poe. Subtitled films are “La Glace a Trois Faces” (The Three-sided Mirror) and “Le Tempestaire” (The Tempest), his only talkie in this retrospective.
“The Three-sided Mirror” has complex yet lyrical narrative, with abrupt flashbacks and other camera techniques. “La Belle Nivernaise” (The Beauty From Nivernaise), based on the novel by the beloved French writer Alphonse Daudet, is a poetic boy-meets-girl love story set on a barge. Tuesday’s screening of “The Beauty From Nivernaise” is noteworthy in that a pianist will perform during this silent film. In silent cinema’s early days, live music often accompanied films.
Although Jean Vigo (1905 to 1934) died young, the four films he left behind were of such a caliber as to carve a deep impression on film history and influence Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. Pursuing poetic realism, Vigo encoded various images of nature like the sun, moon and snow as his own film language. In “A Propos de Nice” (About Nice), Vigo escapes the typical image of the tourist resort by picturing the lives of locals and contrasting them with scenes of tourists on the beach. His most notable work, “L’Atalante,” is a dreamy story of love, farewell and reunion. With Vigo’s orchestration of images, such as sun and water, the film remains a masterpiece in the world of avant-garde film. A subtitled film, “Taris, Roi de L’Eau” (Taris, the Swimming Champion), is an unusual sports documentary short that employs techniques like jump cuts and slow motion.
Jean Cocteau (1889 to 1963) only started making films in his 40s, but enjoyed a prolific career in literature and fine arts in addition to cinema. His “La Belle et la Bete” (The Beauty and the Beast), subtitled in English, presents refined set, costume and makeup design on top of innovative camera techniques.
The screening includes three or four afternoon shows through April 7.


by Chun Su-jin

Tickets are 6,000 won ($5) per show. Seoul Art Cinema is in the basement of the Art Sonje Center, best reached by subway line No. 3 line to Anguk Station exit 1. For details, call (02) 720-9782.

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