Correspondence: Jonas Mekas - JL Guerín

Correspondence: Jonas Mekas - JL Guerín


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

Updating the great tradition of the elevated correspondence between two notable men (or women) of letters to the 21st century, where a file full of clips and audio recordings can be attached to an email and played back in a matter of seconds, is such a good idea that you wonder why no one’s tried it before.

Jonas Mekas and José Luis Guerín’s experiment, though containing several striking images and much food for thought, provides a partial answer. Without any constraints of time or budget, and no need to impose any narrative on their musings, the result is often vague, undefined and verging on the pretentious.

Copy picture

There’s a definite hint of the mutual appreciation society to the proceedings. The two men are both from the avant-garde end of the industry – Guerin’s 2007 film In The City Of Sylvia is almost entirely dialogue-free and Mekas is equally well-known as a critic and archivist who’s worked with Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsberg – and they lose no opportunity to remind each other how important and challenging their work is. One could question whether they are quite in the same league as such illustrious literary corresponders as Wordsworth and Coleridge or Eliot and Pound, but there’s certainly less critical rigour on display than in those exchanges.

Shots of book-lined apartments and filmed conversations on street corners about how to spend an already-full evening only add to the air of arthouse indulgence. But just when you’re on the point of giving up, a surprising image or touching vignette will remind you that cinema is about pushing boundaries and catching the unscripted and the suddenly striking.

Whether it’s the scene tracking a visit by Mekas – who was imprisoned as a young man trying to flee war-torn Europe – to a labour camp in Slovakia, an image of ants trying to drag a huge load up a vertical wall at the shrine to Japanese master-director Yasujiro Ozu or a conversation with a young Slovenian film student which carries a devastating, tragic coda, the film (perhaps ironically) shows that cinema’s greatest power can sometimes be to make the viewer feel rather than think.

Not everyone’s cup of tea, by a long chalk, and it remains to be seen whether this will become a trend. But it serves as a reminder of the work of two men, who are undoubtedly and obviously in love with cinema and committed to exploring all its possibilities. It’s hard to imagine video exchanges between Michael Bay and Guy Ritchie being quite so rewarding.

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2011
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Two filmmakers exchange ‘letters’ in the form of filmed reflections on their personal experiences and the nature of cinema.

Director: José Luis Guerín, Jonas Mekas

Year: 2011

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: Spain, USA


London 2011

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If you like this, try:

In The City Of Sylvia