Dancing with Light: The Cinematography of Agnès Godard

Event has passed (Thu Jun 13, 2013 - Fri Jun 28, 2013)
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)
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“If one feels limited by an image, it’s an image that isn’t successful,” states one of the greatest cinematographers of our time, Agnès Godard, whose work with directors such as Wim Wenders, Agnès Varda, Ursula Meier, and Claire Denis has earned rightful acclaim as some of the most riveting, naturalistic, and sensual imagery in world cinema today. Originally a journalism student, Godard eventually turned to film, working as a camera operator and assistant on such legendary projects as Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987) and Peter Greenaway’s The Belly of an Architect (1987). Documentaries on two legendary French filmmakers, Jacques Rivette (for a Cinema of our Times episode) and Jacques Demy (Jacquot de Nantes, screening in our Demy series on July 31), followed, as did a short film with the then-emerging director Claire Denis, Keep It for Yourself (1991), which inaugurated a partnership that has lasted over two decades. From I Can’t Sleep to Beau Travail, Friday Night to 35 Shots of Rum, Godard and Denis have collaborated to create “a spellbinding visual beauty that reminds you of the transporting power of pure cinema” (New York Times). “It’s by working with Claire,” Godard notes, “that I’ve been able to better understand what the camera means to me.” Whether in hand-held close-ups or vast longshots, kinetic movement or still contemplation, Godard’s work is notable for a raw, naturalistic approach, with few extraneous flourishes, and above all for an almost loving attention to the human face and body. “I like to look at people, to look at them in order to love them,” she notes. “It's like dancing with someone, except with a camera you don't touch them. I just want to tell them that I'd like to put my hand on them.”

We are delighted that Agnès Godard will travel from France to present a Behind the Scenes lecture on the cinematographer’s art on Thursday, June 13, and to introduce four evenings of her work. Our series tracks a technological evolution, moving from 35mm to Super 16 (The Dreamlife of Angels) to Godard’s first work in digital video, Meier’s Sister, while also tracing Godard’s passion for “finding the right image.”

Jason Sanders, Film Note Writer

Thursday, June 13, 2013
7:00 p.m. Behind the Scenes: Agnès Godard on Cinematography, followed by Home
Agnès Godard takes us behind-the-scenes of her art with an illustrated talk, followed by a screening of Home, Ursula Meier’s 2008 film starring Isabelle Huppert. A family live a peaceful existence in a remote house that borders a long-unused stretch of highway. When the route one day opens to commuters, the clan’s daily routine is thrown into disarray. (180 mins)

Friday, June 14, 2013
7:00 p.m. Sister
Ursula Meier (France/Switzerland, 2012). (L’enfant d’en haut). Agnès Godard in person. Godard’s fist work with digital video is set at a Swiss Alps ski resort, where a preteen thief tries to keep himself and his sister going. “Simultaneously personal and political, intimate and bigger than any one life” (NY Times). (97 mins)

Saturday, June 15, 2013
6:30 p.m. Beau travail
Claire Denis (France, 1999). Agnès Godard in person. In this story of French Legionnaires isolated in a blisteringly beautiful African setting, Claire Denis and Godard create “a fixed, timeless world of mysterious, balletic rites, rippled with simmering homoerotic tensions. . . . Prepare to be blown away” (Time Out). (90 mins)

Saturday, June 15, 2013
9:00 p.m. Trouble Every Day
Claire Denis (France, 2001). New 35mm print! Agnès Godard in person. Vincent Gallo and Béatrice Dalle are stricken with a gruesome sexual compulsion. Denis’s controversial take on erotic horror is “sui generis . . . harrowing, merciless, strangely tender” (Glenn Kenny). (101 mins)

Sunday, June 16, 2013
7:00 p.m. The Dreamlife of Angels
Erick Zonca (France, 1998). (La vie rêvée des anges). Agnès Godard in person. Two young women (Élodie Bouchez, Natacha Régnier) drift along the edges of French society in Erick Zonca’s debut work, shot by Agnès Godard on Super 16. “The film has a sensuous, radiant surface that does justice to its title. . . . Godard . . . is a perfect cinematographer for Zonca” (Village Voice). (113 mins)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013
7:00 p.m. Nenette and Boni
Claire Denis (France, 1996). “A sibling drama of unsentimental urban grit and swooning lyricism, Nenette and Boni meditates on the myriad permutations of love and sensuality . . . Denis’s elliptical narrative style has seldom been this graceful” (Slant). (103 mins)

Friday, June 28, 2013
7:00 p.m. 35 Shots of Rum
Claire Denis (France, 2008). (35 rhums). Denis magically limns the story of a father (Alex Descas) and his daughter as they face the inevitable: her independence. “Quiet and lovely . . . (shows) how the melancholy strains of ordinary existence are also its sweetest music” (NY Times). (100 mins)

Dancing with Light is curated by Film Curator Kathy Geritz. Behind the Scenes is a collaboration between BAM/PFA and the San Francisco Film Society. Major support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. With special thanks to Cultural Services, Consulate General of France, San Francisco; the French American Cultural Society, San Francisco; and the French Institute Alliance Française, New York.

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