'There is now overwhelming evidence that more than ninety percent of the entire mass within the visible universe is made of material that is invisible to telescopes. The gravitational pull of this "dark matter", therefore determines the motion of stars in galaxies, of galaxies in clusters of galaxies, and indeed of the universe itself.'
In a scene anticipating the central issue of Funeral at Parc de France, which, for me at least, is the conflict of desires, Baruch, the protagonist, insists to his wife Vivian that her arrangement for them to attend a theatre performance was 'a misunderstanding [and that she] can't argue with reality'. This, of course is Baruch's reality. He wants to watch the live broadcast of a soccer match between Israel and France while his wife considers attending the theatre with friends a greater priority. The film can simply be read on this level of difference between husband and wife, the usual domestic 'farce/tragedy' that all of us experience at times with relationships of whatever nature. How often have we said ourselves 'it was just a misunderstanding'?
This scene, however, has a stronger intensity that folds about my own experience with the film and connects me with another level of engagement. It questions that engagement and asks what is it I am experiencing when I watch this film and further what does this film speak to me about this experience? The main focus for this story has become the processes of interpretation itself and this essay seeks to understand ways in which Funeral at Parc de France plays with me within the 'gravitational forces' of interpreting.
Baruch's interpretive 'horizon', utilising Gadamer's notion of an individual's ideas, beliefs and expectations situated in a particular socio-historic context, is astutely justified by his own rationalisations. He admits to his wife of his compulsion, even addiction, for soccer, as well as expressing his belief that Eli, the deceased father-in-law, would readily identify with the postponement of the funeral so that Baruch might be able to watch the soccer match on television. His is a necessarily embodied desire. He wants to participate in the game - if you don't watch it "you can't yell and affect the play." It is also important to remember that Baruch is betting on an Israeli victory.
However, the strength of this film is to blur the motivations of the characters and offer easier access to a more complex identification. For instance, Baruch is not as calculated as I have implied, as there is a genuine connection between him and his father-in-law. Eli is very much part of the soccer fraternity acting as umpire for matches. An opening image frames Baruch and Eli together in front of the goal-post, establishing this commonality of interest. Baruch has bought Eli an expensive vacuum cleaner to help facilitate Eli's obsession for cleanliness. Baruch admits that he had a conspiratorial escapade with Eli at his son's bar mitzvah. He also leaves Eli's whistle at the graveside as a memento and this contrasts with the bunch of flowers, signifying a different relationship, that have been left by Vivian, his wife.
An image of Vivian crying as she leaves the funeral reinforces this complexity. Baruch has embarrassed her because he is unable to contain his pleasures when the Israel's win is announced on the transistor he has bought to the funeral. Ignoring the solemnity of the occasion, he rejoices in the outcome but also disrupts the formalities. The contrast between pleasure and sadness is a further indicator of the multiple currents that operate, all at once, within the progress of the narrative and through its audiovisual intelligence. Vivian cries not only for her father but also for herself and her embarrassment. The context of the image suggests these two tributaries of despair.
The blurring of interpretations is shaped by the imbrication of interpretive horizons. The film establishes a sympathetic representation of the relationship between Baruch and Vivian and implies that their differences are wedded to their genuine affection and the pleasures they offer each other. A scene with Baruch immersed in the bath, well lathered, calling for his wife to scrub his back establishes this closeness with a potent economy. Baruch is relaxed lying in the bath singing and calling and Vivian responds jokingly by suggesting he call his mates to fulfil the deed. Baruch, so unaware of the frustrations of his wife, wonders what this moment has to do with them, a moment of intimacy he wants to share only with his wife. She obliges and they playfully indulge in their pleasures.
This bath scene is an obvious prompt for a more psychoanalytical reading, with a return to the womb, the mother and primal pleasures being easy frames to construct for the purposes of interpretation. The wife as mother, in terms of her treatment of Baruch and his need for her, is a motif that bubbles underneath the surface of the film. Other theoretical strategies could also be suitably applied to develop further interpretations. A cognitive approach would follow the chronological trajectory of the narrative and explore the manner in which the audiovisual modalities legislate particular perceptions for the viewer, while narrative theory might point out that the film is structured by vignettes connected by an economic ellipsis. Formalist strategies might focus on the lack of substantial camera movement, except during the soccer match, and discuss the framing in terms of its effect on creating a balance of viewing experience between intimacy and distance. An obvious convergence of gendered relationships of power could fuel a feminist schema.
These interpretive game plans align themselves with Baruch and his ability to impose his own desires. His interpretive horizon is no different from any of the theoretical frameworks we impose, consciously or unconsciously, as we view a film and attempt to engage with that experience. Critics also have a passion for their own games.
What does the film suggest about interpretation? Interpretation is motivated by particular and multiple agendas that frame and constrain the possibilities and these have a powerful subjective quotient. It is also implied by the participation of others with contrary forces able to operate and interpenetrate at the same moment. This latter point directly established in the title of the film.
Funeral at Parc de France follows an economical narrative track ordered by chronological development and naturalistic cinematic conventions with the resolution of the story framed by a "twist" at the end, a common tactic in many short films. However, the potency of this film resides less in its conventions and shape and more in particular auditory and visual moments that offer an escape from its constraints. This is another fold within my engagement with the film which takes me back to my own "game of soccer", my own obsession concerning interpretation and the experiencing of the audiovisual.
Some of these moments I have already discussed. Another is the opening sequence with sounds of pumping and then the bouncing of a soccer ball on concrete conjuring the idea of a heartbeat. Retrospectively, I can extend this to a connection with Eli's death through heart attack, but there are also resonances with my own father's death. Intentional or not, this elemental sound suggests for me that the satisfying experience of this film is not in imposing a theoretical framework and developing a final "meaning" but the pleasures it brings of a more embodied experience, an experience involving not just the "telescopes" of analysis but also the "dark matter" that lies between and beyond the audiovisual experiences of the film. The film suggests to me through Baruch's actions that one game plan might be too obsessive and I need to be open to new connections, new possibilities and somehow acknowledge the forces I can't see or hear with the available frameworks.
How do I acknowledge this dark matter when the theories that seem so useful as tools of the trade in the engagement with film might be ineffectual in any quest? What might I mean by the equivalent dark matter in a film? How does it impinge on my engagement with the film and my attempts at communicating this engagement?
One avenue that seems very useful as a guide toward answers is the work of Laura Marks, especially The Skin of the Film: Intercultural cinema, embodiment, and the senses. Marks re-evaluates the priorities given to the audiovisual alliance and encourages a new appraisal of the influence of the remainder of the human sensorium - the proximal senses such as smelling, touching, and feeling. In the circumstances of my own quest for the 'dark matter' in the film and the realisation that a different emphasis, a different 'telescope', is necessary this seems to offer another way of articulating the cinematic experience.
I acknowledge that Marks emphasizes 'intercultural cinema' which, for her, is a focus on films not defined by a single culture and her exploration of the proximal senses is designed to explore the manner in which intercultural films can embody new forms of knowledge and cultivate memory. Although I rely on the subtitles in Funeral at Parc de France as english is my only language, I do not believe that this film could be considered intercultural in the terms constructed by Marks. However, the need to rely on text to access the dialogue has already alerted me to a stronger connection with the remainder of the audio track. As the dialogue loses its signifying component the material qualities of the language are more apparent. The sound scape becomes a stronger focus and, in this film, establishes associations that resonate deeply into my own life experiences.
It is at this level of my own personal experience and the memories I recall of these that become an entry point to the 'dark matter' of this film. Certainly it is from a different cultural context from my own, but not so different that there aren't shared commonalities that I can recognise instantly. Playing amateur sport, relaxing in the bath, the tedious waiting for news at the hospital, the formality and informalities of a funeral, and watching an important match on television with mates, all of these experiences connect me to the film and the filmmaker. These experiences resonate with memories and these memories catalyse my whole sensorium. A visual image from the film does not necessarily equate solely to a visual memory within my own subjectivity. Smells, tastes, and touches also play a pivotal role in my recollections and interpretations of these experiences.
The pleasures of this film, for me, relate to matters that are not usually acknowledged when we attempt to interpret our engagement with the cinematic experience. The problem, I believe with the analytical 'telescopes' that we readily utilise to watch the cinematic event do not acknowledge the full range of the experiences mediated by all our senses.
Ironically, Funeral at Parc de France, which is inaccessible to me through its dialogue has offered me an entry point into considering how active I am with all of the senses that I utilise to mediate the cinematic experience. This lack of understanding has given me an opportunity to argue with my own habituated reality and to realise that there are many threads woven within the processes of interpretation.
I recognise my own obsession with the game I play, just as Baruch cannot withdraw from the fascination of the televised match despite his declaration to his wife that he will desist. However, Funeral at Parc de France is more than a story of conflicting desires, it exposes some of the fascinating twists of the interpretive experience and has offered me an insight into how often I do not acknowledge the full range of the sensorium that I use to mediate the cinematic event.
Krauss, M. Lawrence. Quintessence: The mystery of missing mass in the universe, London, Sydney, Auckland and Parktown: Vintage, 2001.
Marks, U. Laura. The Skin of the Film: Intercultural cinema, embodiment, and the senses, Durham and London: Duke University press, 2000.
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