"....politics as what a film speaks about – the story of a movement or a conflict, the unveiling of a situation of suffering or injustice, and politics as the strategy of an artistic approach: a way to speed up or slow down time, to diminish or widen space, to match or unmatch look and action, to link or unlink before and after, in and out. We could say: the relation between a matter of justice and a practice of justness. How to think about the way cinema can nowadays put into action the relation between the certainties of injustice, the uncertainties of justice and the calculation of justness?”
Rancière has never been interested in film analysis or theory in itself: there just is no concept that integrates all the different conceptions of cinema, just as there isn’t a theory that unifies all the problems they pose.
But at the same time Ranciere has always contradicted the well-spread assumption that this reconfiguration of the landscape can be used as a simple instrument to mobilize militant energies or inform political strategies – an utopian idea that can be traced back to, for example, Vertov, whose work was grounded in a believe that cinema could, in effect, close the gaps between art, life and politics. But once the doomed marriage between communism and cinema was over, writes Rancière,
“the politics of cinema found itself captured in the contradictions that were proper to the expectations of critical art. The view we have on the ambiguities of cinema is in itself marked by the duplicity of what we expect of it: that it gives rise to a certain consciousness due to the clarity of an unveiling, and to a certain energy due to the presentation of a strangeness, that it unveils at the same time all the ambiguity of the world and the way to deal with this ambiguity. We project on it the obscurity of the relation between the clarity of vision and the energy of action. But if cinema can clarify the action, it’s maybe by questioning the self-evidence of that relation.”
In one of the last chapters of Les écarts du cinéma, titled ‘Conversations autour d’un feu’ (first presented in a talk at Centre Pompidou in June 2010) Rancière takes the work of Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet, in particular their film Dalla nube alla resistenza (From the Cloud to the Resistance) (1979), as a starting point to reflect on how this “questioning” has, over the course of the last decades, taken different forms and attitudes. He writes
“This politics of the communist cantata does not offer us a model of cinematographic politics but a point of reference: the mark of a time when dialectics finds itself scattered from the movement of history that carried it and has to construct a new place for itself, a new distribution of words and gestures, times and spaces; but it is also a fixed point to evaluate the way in which filmmakers have, since that time, wanted to tackle the fractures of history, the shaking up of paths between territories, injustices and new conflicts.”
Dalla nube alla resistenza - based on two works by Cesare Pavese - is not used as an exemplary model, but rather as a significant moment in the thinking of cinema and politics. Rancière indicates three reasons for his choice: first of all, the film ties in with the so-called “Brechtian paradigm”, of which the work of Straub and Huillet is perhaps the most systematic cinematographic form; at the same time, this particular film also represents a sort of turning-point in the dialectical tradition, resulting in a form which Rancière proposes to call “post-Brechtian”; and this critical moment in the work of the two filmmakers also corresponds with a historical juncture: namely, the end of the “leftist” decade, marked by a worldwide diminution of social achievements and revolutionary ideals. Around this period a certain era of cinema-political relations came to an end – characterized by the militant work of Vertov or the Medvedkin Group on the one hand, and historical fresco’s such as Bertolucci’s Novecento on the other. The “post-Brechtian” formula, according to Rancière, thus stands for a certain approach to cinema and politics which is “less focused on the revelation of mechanisms of domination and repression, and more on the examination of the aporia’s of emancipation”.
Rancière’s venture takes him from a thorough analysis of Dalla nube alla resistenza to a juxtaposition with the more recent work of Godard, notably Eloge de l’amour and Notre musique. Although all these films seem to have certain traits in common - reference to the Resistance, confrontation of historical text and place etc. - their take on the Brechtian paradigm has taken different directions, which are manifest in the relations between what is said and what is shown, between the visibility of speaking bodies and the things they are speaking about, between gestures of justness and the intricacy of injustice. According to Rancière, the politics in the work of Straub and Huillet, exemplified by the sixth episode of Dalla nube alla resistenza, situates itself in “the art of arranging bodies that are at the same time capable of phrasing the dialectical force of division and summarize in one single gesture the resistance of justice to all arguments. This resistance itself proves to be visually equal to its contrary: the resistance of nature to all argumentation of just and unjust.” On the other hand, the dialectical play in Godard’s recent work, loaded with irony and nostalgia, is amplified in such a way that it gives way to “a radical impossibility of choosing between injustices”.
“The justness of cinema depends on the suspense held between two directions of the moving image: that which (in SANSHO DAYU) opens it to the injustices of the world and that which transforms all intrigue of injustice into vibrations on a surface. It’s in relation to this tension between outside and inside, shared by the classical narrative form (Mizoguchi) and the dialectical form (Straub), that we can think of the becoming of the link between cinema and politics.”
He dedicates a separate chapter to Pedro Costa’s Fontainhas trilogy, in particular No Quarto da Vanda (In Vanda’s Room) and Juventude em Marcha (Colossal Youth),...Rancière states: “the wealth of the common world and the capacity of any individual cannot be put in a dialectical formula anymore”. Rather, they deploy themselves under the form of a multiplicity of “condensations” of light and color, bodies and objects, words and silences… all of which function as substitutes, floating on the surface of the screen, “of a great lost art that would be the art of life itself, the art of sharing of sensible wealth and forms of experience.”
“Some still hold on strongly to the idea that the political effect of art works depends on the production of well-defined feelings of attraction or repulsion, fury or energy. They still hold on to models of causality that pretend to link modes of perception, forms of knowledge and mobilizing affects; but if they grant these powers to the works, it’s only to make them trip up, to be able to extract a diagnosis of impotence. I think that there is more common power preserved in the wisdom of the surface, in the way in which the issues of justice are weighed according to the imperatives of justness. But also the stories of spaces and trajectories, marchers and journeys can help us to inverse the perspective, to imagine no longer the forms of an art put in the service of political goals but the political forms reinvented on the basis of multiple ways in which the arts of the visible invent gazes, place bodies, making them transform the spaces they traverse.”