A note: I have intentionally not referenced any texts – only a few footnotes used for small definitions and digressions. For me, Grandrieux’s cinema is about the possibility of the innate, and to honour his vision, I do not wish to reference any past theories… just a few small things which I personally believe emanate in Grandrieux’s work. I do wish to – or at least, hope to – write about his cinema with the directness, immediacy and newness of his own vision.
1. It is significant to note that with Grandrieux’s Unrest series – beginning with White Epilepsy , and that continues here with Meurtrière  – the artist’s vision is no longer as singularly focused on obfuscating1 the visible, and making visible the invisible by aberrantly utilising the mechanics of the camera. Instead, the representation of the primordial nature of being – like an animal in the dark – that has always been so deeply entrenched in his praxis has now transcended into a deeper, especial albeit more organic vision of obfuscation; one that has seemed an almost inevitability from his first feature, Sombre : to obfuscate the body with the body itself.
The word, ‘Meurtrière’ translates to murderess in English. Throughout Grandrieux’s oeuvre, there are many images, gestures, and ideas to suggest that his diegeses are concerned with a Nature that is a She. This is particularly palpable in White Epilepsy, in which a female figure seemingly consumes a male in a ritualistic, anthropophagous dance. Throughout nature, it is evident that the female is the dominant sex, with some feasting on their male partners. Grandrieux shows us a human image that would perhaps exist if it never lied to itself. If it never became indoctrinated by the civilised detritus of modern existence; a harrowing existence, certainly, but perhaps a truer one.
2. It is also easy to draw parallels between Grandrieux and the artist, Francis Bacon – which is often done (usually on superficial terms) – but what is more significant is that both artists present to us the most humbling truths of being; we are simply animated meat – the movement of our shadow proves the existence of our spirit – but even more importantly, how vicinal the actualities of beauty and horror truly are.
“Even within the most beautiful landscape, in the trees, under the leaves the insects are eating each other…” – Francis Bacon
A notable example from Grandrieux’s oeuvre is in A New Life [La vie Nouvelle, 2002] where acts of sex and violence are virtually indistinguishable. Incidentally, Meurtrière shares a lot of gestural and compositional qualities with the aforementioned film, which notably was composed of Grandrieux’s most elaborate sensory palette, whereas Meurtrière is his most minimal.
“Among all things that can be contemplated under the concavity of the heavens, nothing is seen that arouses the human spirit more, that ravishes the senses more, that horrifies more, that provokes more terror and admiration than the monsters, prodigies and abominations through which we see the works of nature inverted, mutilated and truncated.” – Pierre Boaistuau
Grandrieux is showing us these vicinal actualities that oscillate between each other in various filmic and human forms; arousal – terror, admiration – horror etc. In many ways, Grandrieux is the Bataille of Cinema.
3. Sadly, the few that have written about the tableaux of Meurtrière – and the same for White Epilepsy as well – have palliated the significance of Grandrieux’s ingenious framing. His two most recent works have been described as having an up-right, narrow rectangular aspect ratio. I do not believe that this was what Grandrieux intended us to think. It is my belief, that when we see the frame, we are not actually seeing an up-right rectangular aspect ratio in the centre of a screen. It is in-fact a full-frame; a triptych depicting how vicinal the void and the self truly is; a triptych that brings us closer to the void than Bacon ever painted. At any moment, the slice of narrow, under-exposed light peering through from the darkness of the centre of the frame could be consumed, enveloped by the nothingness on either side; a nothingness that begins and ends with our self.
4. Grandrieux’s cinema exists beyond questioning. To enter his world is like the camera entering through the human ear in Blue Velvet … We enter a Further; a hinterland between existence and distance. There is no morality, no man-made detritus. The images tell us everything: there is only meat and innate desire. In this sense, Grandrieux is a realist filmmaker. After all, what is more real than our own unadulterated being? Our innateness? Throughout Cinema’s history, the definition of realist cinema has been encumbered by a damningly narrow criteria. Films that have made the grade are almost always about socio-political circumstance. Regardless of how important and well-made these films are, aren’t these explorations simply concerned with man-made constructs, of man-made excess; too often plagued by a deluge of spurious verisimilitude? If so, can it truly be considered authentic reality? The tabulae rasae is uncivilised. It hunts. It fucks. It screams. It trembles…What is more authentic, more real than our own innateness?
In our own world, in our own reality, we are not easily able to consider the body for what it truly is. Here, in slow-motion, Grandrieux presents to us the Body and its truths for the first time: it is a machine. We, the spectator are a witness to every mechanical process; an incredibly humbling experience… like witnessing Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes . With each slow movement, we hear the occasional clunk, like a lever in some cavernous, underground factory. We witness and hear the energy. We see and hear feeling – for the first time. The pulsations. The oscillations between the self and the fleshy vessel which carries it, and later, the oscillations between our self and other vessel’s selfs. The body’s pose begins very strong… imposing; a giant woman… We cannot tell if she is standing, or lying down. Perennially held there; overseeing, emitting, and drowning in all of the nothingness; a spider in her web.
Over time these forms collapse into less imposing but more decadent and complex new images. We are seeing images for the first time. We are seeing bodies for the first time. We are seeing ourselves for the first time. Is this in some way, how a child sees the world? How an innate being would see if it were not for Man’s constructs? Through Grandrieux’s camera and choreography, by obfuscating the body through the body, we see the innate centre of our existence. The void. The nothingness. And how that nothingness has a nerve; a vibration.
5. The entire body, the entirety of the image – and the void of images – becomes the Mouth that Bataille described; [bouche à feu] a mouth of fire; cannibalistic. Grandrieux is showing us the nature of man without detritus, or as Bataille put it:
“[…] on important occasions human life is still bestially concentrated in the mouth: fury makes men grind their teeth, terror and atrocious suffering transform the mouth into the organ of rending screams. On this subject it is easy to observe that the overwhelmed individual throws back his head while frenetically stretching his neck so that the mouth becomes, as far as possible, a prolongation of the spinal column, in other words, it assumes the position in normally occupies in the constitution of animals. As if explosive impulses were to spurt directly out of the body through the mouth, in the form of screams. This fact simultaneously highlights the importance of the mouth in animal physiology or even psychology, and the general importance of the superior or anterior extremity of the body, the orifice of profound physical impulses: equally one sees that a man is able to liberate these impulses in at least two different ways, in the brain or in the mouth, but that as soon as these impulses become violent, he is obliged to resort to the bestial method of liberation”.
In Meurtrière, the mouth becomes and is everything. An extension of the body itself; the beginning and end of meaning, the beginning and end of feeling. These images of an out-stretched neck, of a scream are very present throughout Grandrieux’s filmography. The mouth is also the nothingness on either side of the visible rectangular image in the centre. It is as if the spirit is raging due to its mercurial desire to leave the flesh it inhabits.
6. With the salient focus on the body’s movements in the absentia of space, Meurtrière is in many ways Grandrieux’s simplest piece, and therefore his most distilled, impermeable, dense, and strong. There is a fundamental sense of directed protocol to the bodily movements, but also a disturbing, beautiful and refreshing aleatory continuum to how the forms move, breathe and coexist. The forms of limbs, skin, genitals and teeth that cascade over and into one another make redolent for this writer, the Cut-up method2 – or at least, a formal progression of the technique – in the sense that through the assemblage of separate, various (bodily) forms, a third abstracted form is created; utterly unique, one that in its own unaltered recalcitrance is perfect; a true finality of the image, a dénouement of sensation; a harmony of dissonance. In these images, meat has become air.
7. If we connect Grandrieux’s desire for making the invisible visible specifically to the images from Meurtrière, it is very apparent where the concept of Unrest stems from. The bodies are not what is to be solely pondered here. Again, it is the invisible that is important. It is what resides within the bodies: the soul. The soul is discontent, it is turbulent, it is mercurial. The bodies are simply vessels that make visible the invisible unrest within. Through the superimposition of these bodily forms, through abstracting them, through unknowable gestures, Grandrieux has brought us closer to the subject of unrest: the soul; a genuine invisible.
8. At the end of Meurtrière, the form of the film changes. The whole film so far has been a broken mirror; a shiver of ourselves. Now, in the final minutes, the mirror is no longer broken. We see clearly; a woman’s face, her eyes filled with fear. She looks at us as we look at her. We feel her fear, for we have just understood what she has understood; a most humbling thing: we are merely meat, either animated, or de-animated; nothing more. The final image depicts the meat, no longer a person, animating wildly, the chest ravening for air, the mouth screaming. The spirit is escaping. It knows it is passing into the void.
1. I use this term ‘obfuscate’ here rather than simply, ‘obscure’, due to the former’s Latin origins: ‘fuscus’, meaning ‘dark’; an word of salient importance in Grandrieux’s oeuvre.
Scott Barley is a fine artist and filmmaker living in South Wales, UK. His recent filmography includes Shadows – which was written about extensively on Lo Specchio Scuro – as well as The Sadness of the Trees – a collaboration with Mikel Guillen, and his latest film, Hunter. The founder of The Remodernist Film movement, Jesse Richards, has described him as “the greatest filmmaker of the millennial generation.” Scott has contributed written pieces to the film and artist’s moving image journals, ELUMIÈRE, La Furia Umana, and Lo Specchio Scuro.
He is currently working towards his first feature-length film, Too Young to Die.