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Film Modernism$

Sam Rohdie

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781784992637

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781784992637.001.0001

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Time

Time

Chapter:
(p.200) Time
Source:
Film Modernism
Author(s):

Sam Rohdie

Publisher:
Manchester University Press
DOI:10.7228/manchester/9781784992637.003.0050

Abstract and Keywords

There is no single narrative to films by Bernardo Bertolucci, none that follow (or trace) a progressive, chronological line. For the most part, his films begin in a present already past or a past yet to be, but in dissolution, a future or a present becoming past, and becoming the past instantly, as each time is made apparent, and apparent at the same time. Each and every time contains other times, the multiplicities of time. The line between different times is difficult to separate. Borders tend to blur. There are no simple flashbacks nor flash forwards, not an exact before nor a precise after that is not contaminated by a time alongside it or one that overtakes it until time itself is called into question. The interrogative is a function not a subject. All Bertolucci’s films are questions and the questions are its future.

Keywords:   chronological, multiple times, questions

Tout le passé est nécessaire pour aimer le présent.

(The entire past is necessary in order to love the present.)

Annie Ernaux20

There is no single narrative to films by Bernardo Bertolucci, none that follows (or traces) a progressive, chronological line. For the most part, his films begin in a present already past or a past yet to be, but in dissolution, a future or a present becoming past, and becoming the past instantly, as each time is made apparent, and apparent at the same time. Each and every time contains other times, the multiplicities of time.

The line between different times is difficult to separate. Borders tend to blur. There are no simple flashbacks or flash forwards, not an exact before or a precise after that is not contaminated by a time alongside it or one that overtakes it until time itself is called into question. The interrogative is a function not a subject. All Bertolucci’s films are questions.

No Bertolucci character – nor a Bertolucci film – is unified or seems to stand still. None in that sense is in the past. The films look forward irrespective of their stories. Every image, every occurrence, creates an uncertainty, not simply of this or that sequence but of an entire film, and, by extension, of all his films, the cinema itself marked by uncertainty.

Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? What is cinema?

(p.201) Though time and place alternate in the films, they and their alternations are not explications. A Bertolucci plot is never clear, not a plot at all perhaps, nor is plot or story an issue. The stories, at best, are a hinge. Sequences, sometimes as brief as a single shot, move back and forth as strata of times, an interrogative. What is given overlaps, intersects, modifies, dislocates, duplicates, doubles back, and, as they do so, time thickens. Bertolucci’s narratives are never ‘thin’, never simply linear, or homogeneous, instead they are dense. Bertolucci: ‘I work by addition’. Like his characters and his narratives, Bertolucci’s films are perpetually in movement, are restless. Consequences in his films are neither causative nor successive, but instead are rhymes, comparisons, repetitions, associations. They are tonal, linguistic functions, tenuous and flimsy, difficult to grasp, inhabiting a realm of the indefinite. There are sudden and fragile flashes of recognition of something that seems sure, but in fact very little of the continuous endures. Additions do not cumulate, or seem to add up. What has been made clear, a direction or a theme, just as suddenly becomes obscure, disappearing into permanent irresolution.

Some events, occurrences, shots, sequences, fragments of dialogue, light, patterns of colours, shapes, landscapes in the films are citations, some specific and tangible: the canvases of Francis Bacon, the settings and art of the Italian Renaissance, the films of Jean-Luc Godard, of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the paintings of Ligabue, the Fauves, the Primitives, Italian lyric opera, especially Verdi, Italian neo-impressionism, such as the canvas of peasants protesting that comes alive at the beginning of Novecento (1976). Though citations come from a past, it is always the present that cites, quotes, acts, that writes, but, once integrated into a fictional narrative, the past is displaced as it becomes the present of film.

Citations are always objective, belonging to time rescued, time brought back from time. Once invoked in film, a painting, a poem, a musical composition veers toward the insubstantial. However fanciful a cited painting may be by subject or intention, it remains, nevertheless, simply painting. By citing it, bringing it to the surface, cutting into it and refiguring it within a new space and time, providing it with a new identity, it nevertheless remains itself (its origins leave a trace) and other than itself, a combine. What it once was and still is coexists with what it is coming to be, but is not yet, neither one nor the other.

Notes:

(20) Annie Ernaux, Ecrire la vie (Paris: Gallimard, 2011).