Shared anthropology: ‘Petit à petit’, by Jean Rouch (1st part)

The CCCB's cinema

Jean Rouch

Jean Rouch used to say that all his films were a follow-on of Jaguar, his first fiction film. 16 years on, the three lead actors of Jaguar have become rich. In Paris, Damouré has become a fictitious ethnologist, Rouch’s alter ego, who he parodies (his model is of any western ethnologist) and, at the same time, dubs (he’s his companion and accomplice, Petit à petit is a collective creation). His mission consists of rocking the foundations of ethnographical/sociological observation with an ambiguity and menace in his reactions that are both violent and clever, akin to the burlesque.  The other isn’t the African here, but the Parisian citizen.

«Petit à petit is neither a Black or white film», Rouch claimed, but rather a fable involving investigation, and whose truth is borne from fiction and fantasy. Damouré, and the way he combines the roles of his characters with people, plus his power for spontaneous action, reminds us of the masks at the Commedia dell’Arte. Like the rest of the characters, operators of fiction (Lam, Illo, Ariane, Safi, Philippe, Moustaphe...), his identity is disconcerting. The guarantee of duration of the bodies lies in his subject matter and memory.

Jacques Rivette used to recall how the momentum of Out 1 originated from the nine-hour projection of rushes of Petit à petit. The full-length version of the film, which we will see in this session, consists, like Out  1, in a moving structure of relationships, where a particular complex of characters and network of correlations proliferate between diferent worlds. This is like the famous programme of authentic geography based on false topography, of communication of distant places drawn closer through cinema, to which the characters are propelled, or rather between their reflexes.

Irrational thought patterns, unexpected contradictions in the programme, takes instead of shots, sequences where seemingly there are no cuts and in which time, live, direct, turns into duration, becomes a deployable, habitable space. Like that story about the disppearance of the dinosaurs conjured up by Serge Daney: «They were so big and incredibly long that, when they were attacked, by the time the nervous influx had reached their tiny brains, they had been devoured. Painless death.». 

Petit à petit, Jean Rouch, 1969, 16mm, 230 min (first part, Les Lettres Persanes, 80 min). Digital screening.

14 April 2019


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