Redolent of their improvised, ostensibly meandering yet finely structured collaboration ‘Closure of Catharsis‘, actor-director pair James Devereaux and Rouzbeh Rashidi’ s new feature ‘HE’ starts of with a man dressed like an astronaut sauntering through a corridor perhaps looking for something. This exemplary oneiric sequence is characteristic of the dreamlike imagery that abounds intermittently across its running time. With regards to plot and narrative structure the auteur is far more generous this time; we encounter the protagonist who is contemplating suicide, an act seemingly stemming out of some unexplained absurdity of his existence. This is a theme that has frequently been explored by several auteurs in albeit traditional ways, from Louis Malle’s bleak investigation into the desperation of clinical depression in ‘The Fire Within’ to Haneke’s virulent attack on bourgeois complacency in ‘The Seventh Continent’. While every Bresson film yields itself to readings of death and redemption, he made atleast three explicit films on suicide namely Mouchette, The Devil Probably and A Gentle Woman, each significantly in contrast with the next. What Mr. Rashidi however offers us here, is a look at suicidal consciousness at the level of dreams rejecting every banal device.
This has been the defining characteristic of their earlier venture. While large parts of ‘Closure of Catharsis‘ consisted of a tenuous improvised monologue by an actor with a mise-en-scene almost anti-Wellesian in its foreground background dynamics, the most gripping moments came when vacillating images from a seemingly discordant video diary- of a Jonas Mekas kind suffused through it. Those images form counterpoint to the sere monologue which at times seems like an experiment in excess of the Cassavetesian or Rivettian nature. Like the introductory extended theatre improvisation that we encounter in Out1 ( which I positively assert is extremely crucial to the entire film), the monologue inexorably sets up the crucial theme of the film, that being the subconscious mental-image. This study of the mental image in the case of a suicidal protagonist treads into territories that ordinary film makers can never encounter or create. The interspersing of the monologue, the duologue and the dream like imagery help form a distrait mise-en-scene where in the character struggles between self revelation and disillusionment. I am reminded of Kracauer and his essay on photography, especially his emphasis on the relationship between the photographic image and the mental-image. Among the images which a human being recollects , the ones that pervade across millions of potential snapshots that present themselves to the memory system, what qualifies those selected images to be representatives of the collective truths of certain periods? Surely it has to do with the truth, the essence that has been liberated through suppressed layers of consciousness or been forcefully shunned out of it. The memory image might fail to stand up to the technical precision of the photographic image which is concerned with the moment of the snapshot and the spatial coordinates presented to it but it sure is omniscient across the vast temporal continuum that lies in memory. This peremptory choice of memory cannot be obviated. Several of the images here convey the same omniscience that magically encapsulate the ‘history’of our protagonist (to borrow again from Kracauer). In one remarkable action-reaction sequence during the duologue , the camera captures the protagonist’s friend and the protagonist in his dream state alternately. This has consolidated the character with his mental-image, the present with the history. The chains of temporal context have been broken. These images might certainly seem out of order, just as very often our mental-images have sought emancipation from the social context that inhibited them from innocent clear synthesis. Once this immurement ends, only clarity remains and verity shines through.
Providing momentum to the plot so that the viewer is not disinterested unfortunately has since always been high on the film maker’s agenda. To achieve it lesser directors introduce plot twists, peripheral characters and irritating deus ex machinas, while certain conniving self proclaimed intellectuals resort to metaphysical contrivances that lack a trace of veracity. Rashidi achieves the same almost effortlessly through intelligent manipulation of sound and imagery. The titular character’s introductory monologue merely shows a noirish b/w face while we get glimpses of his condition. Later once the surreal imagery is incorporated regularly into the run time, the subsequent part of the monologue shows him in color but out of focus, a putative acceptance of the inherent disparity in seeing less despite seeing more. The background score works wonders when we encounter sharp bursts amid the somber attentuated ambience. Emotions and awareness are both heightened for the viewer, as they ought to be for the character himself. Every single gesture becomes monumental. Nothing is insignificant. Incoherent stills of a couple and the absence of communication both physical and verbal between them, provide ground to what the monologue conveys.
Another key purpose the inchoate imagery serves to achieve is to develop an abstract framework of the character involved. Something that full blown specificity quite often falls short of accomplishing. The three aspects of the film ( the monologue , duologue and dream imagery ) give us fleeting insights into the life of the protagonist. This is very different from the bordering on legerdemain, post-modern brechtian V effect which godard and others strove to achieve. This abstraction is essential and it functions in a style completely in conflict with the post-modern approach. The unabashed distancing is replaced by an unabashed refusal to complete acquaintance. An Abstraction towards the mental image. This is the same abstraction that makes Ozu’s films universal and independent in essence from the stringent political situation of his country or Rohmer’s films escape the french sensibility that seem to engulf them. In the great Indian film maker G Aravindan’s masterpiece ‘Esthappan‘ we see the titular character lead a christ-like life balancing between fact and fiction. The fiction is created by the inhabitants of the fisherman town while the fiction in ‘HE‘ is predominantly created by the actor while he is absorbed in his monologue. Both tales might not seem satisfactory for the spoon-fed hard-boiled viewer but it is this breezy nature of the plot that helps the receptive viewer coil right to the essence of both characters. Esthappan is only seen as a free floating silhouette, yet is a fully developed mystical character and by eschewing particulars and embracing the mental-image HE manages to create a rich silhouette of an existential end, something hackneyed mainstream cinema can only achieve by obliterating itself.