Libera Me

(Alain Cavalier, France, 1993)


Alain Cavalier's Libera Me (1993) – to which Louis Malle (for whom Cavalier was once an assistant) paid the highest tribute shortly before his death – must surely be his best film.

A film with no dialogue (but an exquisitely rendered soundscape), the barest possible sets (but a remarkable feeling for space and objects), and a plot abstracted from all historical specificity, Libera Me is an intense distillation of personal experiences related to imprisonment and resistance.

It is, like Cavalier's subsequent, digitally-shot Le Rencontre (1996), a virtually unbroken succession of inserts. These images patiently and hypnotically detail practices of secrecy (how a group of oppressed captives hide and pass messages inside clothes, books, furniture) and, eventually, violation (when the oppressors move in and methodically destroy these same objects).

Cavalier's style openly recalls Bresson – especially the Bresson of A Man Escaped (1956) – but this amazing film is more Bressonian than Bresson, with its astonishing portrait-shots of each character, its microscopic attention to gesture, detail and texture, and its accumulation of fierce, pained emotional traces.

If ever there was a film that deserved a cult – a serious, reverential, avant-garde kind of cult – that film is Libera Me. Its non-status throughout global film culture is severely depressing.

MORE Cavalier: Vies, Être vivant et le savoir

© Adrian Martin March 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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