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La cicatrice intérieure (The Inner Scar)

Posted by martinteller on May 1, 2015

In 1967, The Velvet Underground released their debut album, which would turn out to be one of the most important and influential albums of all time, The Velvet Underground & Nico.  Nico was a German fashion model who was part of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene, and had made some appearances in movies (including La dolce vita).  She sang three songs on the album and then parted ways with VU (though she continued to work with individual members of the group, especially John Cale).  In 1970, The Velvet Underground recorded their most accessible album, Loaded.  While featuring magnificent tunes, it was little more daring than anything else on the radio.  At the same time, however, Nico got weirder.  She recorded Desertshore, an album marked by the weary drone of her harmonium and her icy, bleak vocals.  At a mere 29 minutes, the album is both beautiful and difficult.

At a mere 57 minutes, The Inner Scar is both beautiful and difficult.  Featuring songs from Desertshore, it stars Nico (who also co-wrote the film) as a nameless woman in the desert.  She encounters a man (Philippe Garrel, the director and co-writer, not to mention Nico’s romantic partner at the time) who silently leads her around the desert and then abandons her.  Or she discards him, proclaiming him “the devil”.  Other stuff happens.  There is a boy (Nico’s own child Christian Päffgen) and horses and sheep and a naked archer dude (Pierre Clémenti) who carries fire around.  And also abandons her.  The dialogue is in English, German and French, but Garrel refuses to allow the film to be subtitled.

I’m certain that the scenes and symbols have meaning to Garrel and/or Nico.  In the early scenes especially, Nico seems to speaking of her own “inner scars”, the despair and disillusionment that comes through in her music.  But it’s pretty impenetrable and eventually I just gave up on trying to make sense of it.  It comes off like meaningless fragments.  The movie can perhaps best be summed up by one moment: Nico asks Garrel “Do you have anything to say?”… and he has no response.  If the film has anything to say, it’s keeping mum about it, or at least asking me to work harder for it than I’m inclined to.

However, it is a stunning film.  Garrel uses the deserts of Sinia, Iceland and Death Valley to beautiful lengths.  Gus Van Sant admitted to being inspired by Bela Tarr when making his film Gerry, but this could well be an influence also, with its composed, solemn images of figures trudging through barren landscapes.  Combined with the hypnotic drone of Nico’s music, the film’s aesthetic qualities draw you in, even while its content stubbornly keeps you at arm’s length.  As a long-form music video, it works wonderfully.  As an artistic statement, it misses the mark, hampered by its willful obtuseness.  Rating: Fair (65)


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