Paths of the Soul (2015)
Museum of Modern Art
Against the backdrop of the high Himalayan landscape, the actions of a small group of devout Chinese Buddhists might seem of little significance. The Tibetans walk along nearly deserted roads, repeatedly clapping wooden blocks together, prostrating themselves, and bowing to Buddha every eight or nine steps. As Paths of the Soul documents the pilgrims’ 2,000-kilometer spiritual trek from a native small village in Yunnan province to the capital of Lhasa, individual actions and motives seem beside the point.
Director Zhang Yang, with wide frames and long takes, paces the pilgrims’ collective experience by capturing natural events within the group, including adaptation to weather and terrain, a death, a birth, a budding romance, and expression of joy through song and dance. The individuals of the group, with their mutually steadfast faith and devotion, move as one community united by something greater than themselves. Yang, with neither a script nor professional actors, imbues this account of true events with cultural history, existential drama, and the resilience of human spirit.
Paths of the Soul premieres at MoMA Friday evening with a subsequent discussion with Annabella Pitkin, Assistant Professor of Buddhism/East Asian Religions at Lehigh University.
Les Ordres (1974)
Anthology Film Archives
May 13, 6:45pm and May 15, 8:30pm
As a pioneer of the hand-held camera aesthetic within documentary filmmaking, Michel Brault treated cinema as a medium of intimacy and immediacy while wrestling with contemporary ideologies, technologies, and injustices. Inspired by interviews with citizens falsely imprisoned under Canada’s War Measures Act, Les Ordres depicts the fragility of civil rights and the fallout of misused power through the perspectives of five of those incarcerated civilians.
Brault mixes footage of the actual victims with actor portrayals to illustrate one of the most traumatic events in Quebec history. The film’s re-enactments of strip-searching, solitary confinement, food and water deprivation, and physical torture might seem like methods of shock value were they not grounded by Brault’s observations and investigations of the political oppression that took place during this historical event.
Anthology Film Archives will screen Les Ordres as part of their Quebec Direct Cinema series, which commemorates Direct Cinema, a movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s when a treatment of real events coupled with a manipulation of mise-en-scene permeated documentary filmmaking.
Beatriz Santiago Muñoz: Song, Strategy, Sign
Through June 12
For her latest exhibition during her residency at the New Museum, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz explores how an individual remembers, interprets, and deviates from his or her own history. Within the exhibition, a three-channel video displays footage of real women in Caribbean settings, conveying the cultural and societal realities documented in each woman’s environment.
In making reference to Monique Wittig’s 1969 novel Les Guérillères, the video imagines a post-patriarchal future that questions social and gender norms once thought to be natural, invariable, and clearly definable. In addition to the three-channel installation, the exhibition also includes a 16mm film portraying anthropologists, artists, and activists working in Haiti and Puerto Rico.
While blending ethnography, art, and history, Santiago Muñoz blurs the boundaries between what is real and imagined. Her work, seemingly achieved through long periods of observation and documentation of behavior and expression, challenges economic, political, and social conditions past and present.
The themes of Santiago Muñoz’s work fit within the larger context of the New Museum’s Spring 2016 R&D Season: LEGACY exhibitions, which explore “our connections to the past” through different presentational and educational formats.
May 16, 2:30pm, 7:30pm
In her body of work, writer and director Claire Denis makes clear that a film need not depict a linear narrative, but rather create a sensory experience that allows viewers to take all the moments and make of them what they will. L’intrus, a film about an aging man with failing health told mostly through nonlinear dreams and flashbacks, explores the physical and mental intrusions created by mortality, culture, and one’s own history.
Based on a Jean-Luc Nancy essay of the same name, L’intrus meanders like a stream of consciousness flowing through ideas of identity, connection, and alienation. Just as Nancy explored themes of selfhood, community, and multiculturalism, Denis, a child of decolonization in French Africa, deals with themes of assimilation and rejection of cultural norms that came as colonialism morphed into globalization throughout the 20th century. By overlapping the personal with the historical, Denis creates stories of characters defined by their own sense of memory and psyche.
Metrograph will screen a 35mm print of the film on Monday in their continuing Welcome to Metrograph: A to Z yearlong, alphabetically ordered series.
By Aaron Linskens