J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Tribeca ’14: Incident Urbain (short)

It was no accident Brutalism served as the unofficial architectural style of Communism. Its oppressive and imposing nature perfectly served the Party’s purposes. Assumed to be the most functional art form, architecture’s ideological aspects are often overlooked by the general public, but they hang spectral-like over the conspiratorial characters of the French-based Irish artist John Lalor’s enigmatic short film Incident Urbain (trailer here), which screened during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

Known simply as the Colonel and Costello, two old comrades meet outside the Bibliothèque nationale de France, discussing architecture and radical aesthetics, while skirting their rather complicated shared history. The esplanade surrounding the library is not exactly homey. It rather deliberately overwhelms casual pedestrians, but they seem to like that. They also enjoy the ironies of Dominique Perrault’s post-modernist twist on good old van der Rohe glass-and-steel, chuckling over reports the massive sunlight exposure literally cooks the books.

As they perambulate the plaza, they name-check several avant-garde icons including Samuel Beckett, Marin Karmitz (the founder of the MK2 shingle, which will soon have a retrospective at MoMA) and most fittingly Jean-Luc Godard, whose surreal caper Alphaville might be the best comparison to Incident. There is a strange sense of menace lurking throughout the film, but the long impressionistic opening sequence of an owl in flight will have many viewers checking out before it even gets to its elliptical narrative (such as it is).

Incident is definitely not meant for the rabble, but it has a vivid sense of place that contributes to the mounting uneasiness. Cesar award-winning cinematographer (and regular Alain Resnais collaborator) Eric Gautier gives it a strikingly Bauhaus-noir gloss. Unfortunately, Incident only screened before Karpotrotter, a mid-length experimental hybrid that was a really tough go, so most short fans who might have appreciated it, probably missed it. A provocative oddball of a film, Incident Urbain deserves to find its post-post-structuralist audience following its North American premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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