film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Méditerranée (1963)

So this….baffled me.

Méditerranée felt like it was an ancestor of one of those non-narrative pseudo-documentaries, like Koyaanisqatsi (which will be coming up later), where we see an assembly of footage from all over the world, and the juxtaposition itself tells a story. Here the footage is confined to scenes from around the Mediterranean; a Greek temple, Egyptian ruins, a Sicilian garden, a Spanish bullfight. An elderly man fishes. A young Greek girl combs her hair. Barbed wire fences off a cliff which drops down to the sea. A comatose woman is wheeled down a hall into an operating room.

…But we see these same clips again and again – we never learn what happens to the woman, we never see the girl do anything but comb her hair. The fisherman just rows his boat. The bullfighters just keep fighting bulls. I lost count of how many times we were treated to the same shot of the same orange on the same tree in that Sicilian garden.

And unlike the Qatsi films….there is a narration, of sorts. I actually went to some great lengths trying to find English subtitles for the French narration – but I needn’t bothered, because it was similarly repetitive, circular musings on time and history and perception. I actually may have been better served without it; the repetitive scenes, the contrast of the ruins with the more modern scenes, the ancient and the contemporary, make the filmmaker’s point just fine on their own. The Mediterranean Sea has seen scores of empires and countries rise and fall, and for centuries people have been born and grew up and got married and lived and died and were buried along its shores, and more would come after doing much the same, and the handful of clips repeated over and over make that point.

From what I’ve read – the director Jean-Daniel Pollet assembled this film after a road trip around the Mediterranean with Volker Schlöndorff, a German filmmaker. They stopped to shoot whatever looked interesting, and then locked themselves up in an editing room for several days – resorting even to sleeping on the floor – trying to figure out what to make of it all, and this is what they finally came up with.  It may have been an approach born of sleep deprivation, but it’s certainly an ambitious one; I just wish there were a bit more variety or resolution to some of the scenes.

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