Un homme qui dort
Posted by martinteller on July 22, 2012
A young man (Jacques Spiesser) detaches from the world, wandering aimlessly through Paris and holing up in his tiny apartment. That’s all the plot summary I can provide. The ultimate existentialist statement, Bernard Queysanne’s adaptation of Georges Perec’s novel has no dialogue, no named characters, no dramatic conflict. Only images of Spiesser and his environs, with second-person narrative (“You wake up…”) by Ludmila Mikaël.
And it’s completely gripping. I can think of few films that provide a purer depiction of depression and alienation. Mikaël lists items in the world, but they are words that have lost all symbolic reference. The narration describes the feeling of having ceased to find meaning in anything. “You wait until there is nothing left to wait for.” Spiesser goes through empty, mechanical motions that merely resemble a normal existence. He gets dressed, he sees movies, he eats, but it is all just robotic action. Six black socks sit soaking in a bowl, waiting to be cleaned, but what is the point? It is an endless spiral of nothingness, of pointless games of solitaire (how many of those have I played? how much time have I spent playing “Bejeweled” with no goal, no purpose?) and repetitive meals. All information is equally unenlightening. Though once in a while the narration gets a bit too ponderous for its own good (shades of Resnais), for the most part it’s surprisingly effective.
The camerawork is exquisite, the carefully measured movements reflecting the mechanical, empty emotional state of the protagonist/you. The black and white washes the world in drab, lifeless grays. Often a scene or movement will be repeated, the bland repetition of daily existence. Sometimes the narration contradicts the activity onscreen, the detachment from the world. And once in a while, the film is overexposed, obliterating all detail until it becomes shapeless white nothingness… at one point, even the Eiffel Tower is swallowed up by it. The soundtrack hums with strange, unsettling ambient music and noise, a nagging and eerie hum.
But all is not hopeless, and towards the end the voiceover takes on tones of anger and anxiety, a personality waking up to the futility of his/her/your futility, the way depression comes in a wave and will often recede if left to stew in its own juices long enough. Whether or not he/you will sink again in existential crisis is uncertain, but some fight is still left. Rating: Great (92)
There is apparently a version of this with the narration done by Shelley Duvall that I’d very much like to hear/see.