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Emmanuel Van der Auwera
Emad Aleebrahim Dehkordi

In Emmanuel Van der Auwera’s latest film, A Certain Amount of Clarity, 2014, some teenagers, filmed by their Webcam, are looking at the same video on the Internet, a “viral video” about a real murder.  The violence of the subject prompted us to question Emmanuel Van der Auwera in order to know more about it and after that conversation, we suggested that he should choose the film to go with his.  He chose Phill (1390), 2011, directed by Emad Aleebrahim Dehkordi

Emmanuel Van der Auwera

A certain amount of clarity, 2014, 30 mn

A Certain Amount of Clarity is a film about the act of seeing and looking.  The film describes the way a viral video showing a real murder is spread on the Internet in the teenage community.  Somewhere between morbid passion, terror, challenge and curiosity, everyone captures their own emotional reaction and then shows it on the Internet.  A more and more oppressive off-screen atmosphere is created around what the viewer only perceives indirectly, in a sequence evoking the motif of endless duplication (mise en abyme).

In this video, in an extreme way, the “reaction video” phenomenon reflects the contemporary condition of the spectator, made uncomfortable by the asymmetry between the elusive character of a world transformed into flux, and the powerlessness of the onlooker to be included in it as a witness. EVdA

Mo Gourmelon:  How do you manage to work your way into these teenage networks?  These teenagers film themselves and you find their films on the Internet…  is that how it happens?


Emmanuel Van der Auwera:  That’s it:  the teenagers film themselves and I retrieve their films on the Internet, they are indeed all looking at the same crime video (which I haven’t seen myself).  All the images in the film are associated with this same video, including the reconstructions.  I managed to find out that this was the case because this video has a specific name on the Internet, invented by Web surfers, which is in a way the “secret code” for identifying it.  The videos which I have used all have this same “code” in their title, in order to indicate to other Web surfers what is being looked at.


MG:  How do you choose particular sequences?


EVdA: I chose the film’s images on the basis of several factors.  Firstly to do with their representativeness with regard to the range of reactions which I viewed.  In the 400 videos which formed the raw material of the montage, I was able to identify recurrent features and situations.  For example, the fact of making reaction videos did not seem to me to be connected with sex or the social environment in particular.  I’ve also tried to factor in both identical words and recurrent explanations (the emphasis on punishment and the death penalty is one example of this), the reconstructions which respond to each other in the actions and the similarities in the gestures and expressions…  Even if it is hard to talk about aesthetics, as far as the film is concerned, the 60 or so videos which are used in the editing are “representative” images of the aesthetics of the phenomenon.  Their pace, their colors and what is expressed in them simply make them images which are more eloquent than others. 

The editing more or less follows a dramatic line which tallies with the screening time for the video.  The editing is “in the footsteps” of the “snuff” video.  At the beginning of the film the teenagers are relatively quiet as they discover the video.  The more they get into the film, the more they start to talk, while the end of the film is focused on their “immediate” reactions, directly after screening, announcing that the film is close to its end.  Each step introduces new parameters.  Which gives the issues raised by the film a new depth.  For example:  the man who claims that he knows the killers and who tries to explain what they’ve done subtly upturns the principle at work in the video, by getting rid of the anonymity.  And after being global, the situation becomes local.  (It even fleetingly shows us the building where the killers allegedly lived.)  It also upsets the rhetorical mode, established from the outset, by taking up the defense of an indefensible act.  On the basis that greater injustices are at work in the isolated case of this sadistic murder.  In so doing, it opens up a gap leading to a broader context.  Another passage, which for me, has a similar effect, is where we see the two brothers towards the end of the film.  There is a tenderness about this sequence, something to do with innocence (innocence which, in the film, seems to have already been sacrificed on precarious altars at the bottom of the garden by way of the martyrdom of a Teddy bear), an innocence which seems to rise up from the depths hewn out by the film.  The impression that at the end of this tunnel a form of sentimentality may still leap out at you is, at this stage, for me, more heart-rending than the reaction videos themselves. 


MG:  How do you place yourself in such a mass of disturbing images? 


EVdA:  Last of all, one important thing about the editing:  there has been no addition of images or sounds which are not directly linked to the phenomenon described.  The periods of silence in the film, for example, correspond to moments when the video being screened could be heard.  All direct reference to the “snuff” video (image, sound and title) has been got rid of in A Certain Amount of Clarity.  In order to heighten the feeling of something beyond expression, I edited the film without ever looking at the “snuff” video.  So I’ve never screened it.  I regard this decision as decisive in this film project.  So as far as possible I’ve managed to retain a freedom which helped me to interpret the subject of the video, and be in a situation of ignorance comparable to that of the viewer of my film.  The morbid details and the gore horror of this video are not the subject of my film; that, for me, was an ethical obligation. 


Emad Aleebrahim Dehkordi

Phill (1390), 2011, 12 mn

Phill means Elephant in Persian and 1390 is the year 2011 in the Iranian calendar. Phill (1390) is the metaphorical transposition of the Iranian contemporary issue, the character experiments the feeling that violence arises organically, and leads to the alarming conclusion that there is no way out but destruction and self-destruction. Re-exploring sequences of the Gus Van Sant films Elephant and Gerry, and of the Gaspar Noé film Irreversible in computer generated images; this video shows a character that can’t escape violence but still trying to get free from this physic and psychic imprisonment. Phill (1390) is not the work of a quiet reflection but the abrupt mirror of a violence that can’t find a vanishing point. EAD

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