(Alain Cavalier, France, 2000)


Alain Cavalier's Vies is a delicate and absorbing documentary. Cavalier's trajectory, relatively late in his life and career, has been fascinating: from commercial cinema in the '60s through to the Bressonian minimalism of Thérèse (1986), then to full-blown independence as artist and self-distributor (the astonishing Libera Me [1993]), and from there to explorations of the digital feature form, beginning with his intimate diary Le Rencontre (1996).

Vies is a portrait of various unusual working lives, brought together within a collage whose internal logic remains a little mysterious but nonetheless completely compelling. Given Cavalier's absolutely sure and gentle touch as a digital videographer, its title could be Fast, Cheap & In Control.

Cavalier is obsessed with the minute, nuts-and-bolts detail of work (medical surgery, the installation of a pop-sculptural artwork) and the traces that such activity leaves behind (as in the rather spooky episode devoted to the now unused house where Orson Welles once lived and worked, still littered with his research cuttings, cue cards, jottings on walls, and so on) – and this is absolutely in tune with the aesthetic of the insert that he has been steadily developing over the past decade and a half.

Ultimately (and this is the key to Cavalier's poetic gift) there is something almost phantasmagorical in his excavations of these interior spaces (of a body, a house, or an object), a paradoxically sublime form that sometimes borders on scatology (as in his insistence on filming Welles' several toilets – and will I ever forget the ode to a lover's flatulence in Le Rencontre?).

Only a too-brief interview with a butcher seemed insufficiently worked into the splendid mosaic of Vies.

MORE Cavalier: Ętre vivant et le savoir

© Adrian Martin May 2001

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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