Experimental Reviews

RÉPÉTITIONS (2021) – 4 stars

Director: Yann les Jours

Cast: Neda Hadji-Mirzaei, Xavier Perez, Marie Perruchet, Yann les Jours

Running time: 4mins

One of the key pillars behind Indy Film Library was always accessibility. As a rule, we try to celebrate films which will reach out to as wide an audience as possible; not just preaching to the converted. We have also condemned a fair few – not least in the experimental category – for refusing to move beyond the self-serving pageantry and lukewarm vol-au-vents of the art-gallery circuit. Importantly though, there are exceptions to every rule.

RÉPÉTITIONS is a film for habitual connoisseurs of arthouse cinema. That is not to say there is nothing here for run-of-the-mill consumers – but there is something of a double-reveal here. This is not just the archetypal bourgeois documentary revealing “how the sausage is made,” so that a middle-class audience can scoff at how little the proletariat know or care about what goes into their food – this pulls back the curtain a tad further, to expose another trough which that same audience is fecklessly gorging itself from.

On that first level, director Yann les Jours spends three-and-a-half minutes showing us the mechanistic hell that is the process of shooting a love-scene. Actors Neda Hadji-Mirzaei and Xavier Perez come together in a single shot, photographed repeatedly, mercilessly, as the pair are recurrently forced to brush past one another. A chance encounter, a once-in-a-lifetime meeting as we would have been presented in a ‘final product’ or director’s cut, is broken down into its constituent parts – the gristle, the skin and the fat all there to see – showing us the smoke and mirrors at the heart of supposedly electric chemistry, amid a sea of discarded off-cuts.

Meanwhile, the more ‘intimate’ scenes this chance encounter likely leads to are even more transparent in the pretence. We seem to witness the filming of a sex scene – with the interaction entirely removed. The actors are in different shots, framed only above the waist to disguise their actual locations.

Xavier Perez is required to roll his head back repeatedly; a movement which in a sequence might have been considered ecstatic, but extracted from that constructed context reeks of boredom. Neda Hadji-Mirzaei meanwhile has to take a moment to compose herself, as she breaks out in laughter while seemingly simulating the cowgirl position. She too is expected to loll her head back as she grinds away – again, something that might have formed part of a ‘sensual’ sequence viewers might be conned into finding titillating, but outside of that context a bland and arbitrary motion.

If my description of all this seems insufficiently titillating, I expect that is rather the point. As viewers, we are primed to think on the sleights of hand that go into the industrial consumables for them to seem ‘natural’, ‘realistic’ and, perhaps, palatable. Meanwhile, we are also primed to consider how else the creators of culture might construct other meanings we take as ‘reality’ from a fabric of lies. For people accustomed to experimental cinema – and particularly those who see themselves as a ‘cut above’ other consumers for that reason – however, don’t start to feel safe and smug just yet.

Les Jours and his team inject a twist here; one which implies the knowing, chin-stroking cinephiles who love such ‘deconstructed’ content are often just another breed of unsuspecting consumer. Amid the repetition of the film’s title, we hear two voices. Choreographer Marie Perruchet and director Les Jours himself issue orders to the actors, but not in the way you might expect. While Les Jours plays the role of director more conventionally, limiting feedback to orders such as “Again”, Perruchet suggests that the very idea they are looking to film fragments for a traditional cinematic jigsaw is itself a ruse.

Speaking directly to Les Jours, Perruchet notes, “My idea, Yann, was that you could shoot in very tight close ups. I don’t really care about the whole sequence.”

She goes on to note the importance is to create standalone moments of “sensuality” or “femininity” from the two actors – but as noted, she is not considering some holistic bigger picture. The idea that there is a bigger picture at all may itself be part of a construct. In that case, we are not only being shown layer-upon-layer of fiction. Yes, filmmakers use tricks to tell us conventional stories which in hindsight some of us like to sneer at – how could the masses possibly fall for that – but artists who are supposedly ‘exposing’ that process can also go to lengths to construct their own fabricated ‘truths’; truths which we supposedly discerning consumers buy into hook, line and sinker.

Of course, whether any of this is actually part of the film’s motivation is impossible to say. That’s the rub with experimental cinema – it is so rarely overt what the director hoped to say, and usually it is that way on purpose. If my assessment is remotely accurate, of course, a film doing that can in itself be trapped within the cultural churn it is satirising. It is still a collection of disparate images which, when drawn together, create a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

If we simply read that as “everyone else is a rube, and I am above them for seeing through the films which see through other films,” then we are part of just another level of deception. If, however, this film prompts us to reflect on our own manner of cultural consumption, and think about the times our desire to be a cut above other consumers saw us too quickly declare something as genius – the times we were the rubes – then RÉPÉTITIONS has achieved something quite powerful.

While this film is unapologetically niche, it broadly justifies that particular tag. RÉPÉTITIONS is a film for filmmakers and avant-garde aficionados – but it is delivered in a way that should prompt its viewers to reflect on their own lives and behaviours. Afterwards, it demands introspection on how we construct and consume meaning in our own lives – and the way even those who feel they know better can themselves be manipulated.

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