Être vivant et le savoir

(Alain Cavalier, France, 2019)


For over 30 years, Alain Cavalier (approaching 90) has pursued the independent phase of his filmmaking career through the personal video-diary form, recording the most intimate impressions of his own life and the people around him.


He has perfected an inimitable manner for achieving closeness with the spectator: softly speaking while filming, capturing the before and after of actions, concentrating on objects, animals, close-up fragments of bodies.


In Être vivant et le savoir, the thought of mortality looms large. Cavalier proposes to novelist and friend Emmanuèle Bernheim (her previous work has been brought to the screen in Friday Night [2002], Swimming Pool  [2003] and 5 x 2 [2004]) that they adapt to film her book about her father’s death – with Cavalier playing the father. But these preparations stop when Bernheim must herself undergo treatment for cancer. She died in May 2017.


Forming less a story than a fleeting record of traces, Cavalier’s images evoke the painting genre of the vanitas, with arrangements of rotting fruit, tree branches, old photos, book covers …


Through the process of this exquisite agony, the filmmaker makes his reckoning with a spirituality that has nothing to do with churches, but is soulfully alive in material things – including the carefully wrought images and sounds of cinema itself as an expressive and communicative medium.

MORE Cavalier: Libera Me, Vies, Le Rencontre

© Adrian Martin August 2019

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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