Film Comment Selects 2013 Review: WHITE EPILEPSY is a Noble Failure

Dustin Chang, Contributing Writer
White Epilepsy is the latest from the esteemed French visual artist Philippe Grandrieux (Sombre, La Vie Nouvelle, Un Lac).

It starts with a back side of an androgynous nude figure in the dark accompanied by the sound of nocturnal insects. The movement of this body mass is slowed down and as it lurches forward and back, it reveals all the nooks and crannies: every vertebrae, every flutter of muscles becomes subtly visible in an eerie muddy visualization that has become the trademark of the French auteur's haptic cinema.

While watching this 67 minute film, a sort of primal Adam and Eve story with no dialog, displayed in an inverted format (acting taking place only in a vertical rectangle in the center of the screen- like an iphone video) among the room full of adoring cinephiles (myself included), I realized that this is a product of the unavoidable conclusion reached by an uncompromising visual artist whose interest lies in human bodies and the nature of violence. This interest was previously presented in a borrowed genre: film noir, in which only a skeletal narrative was present to help the audience move through a string of dark, visual 'sensations'. His 2008 film Un Lac (a slim folklore about a brother and sister told in the Grimm tradition) made me a Grandrieux devotee. Even watching it on a small screen with my headphones on, it was a mesmerizing experience. I just wished I had seen it on the big screen.

So I have been very much looking forward to seeing White Epilepsy in a theater. But stripped of any narrative pulses and plasticity of normal filmmaking, the film stubbornly refuses to be nothing but a moving painting. There are surely some hauntingly beautiful images. But even though I'm not a novice to experimental or challenging cinema, I couldn't invest my full attention to what Grandrieux was trying to achieve here. In the past, he managed to maintain his films from becoming gallery art installations. It was a fine balancing act. White Epilepsy would undoubtedly make a fine gallery installation.


Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com
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