Whether we like it or not, we are chock full up to our necks in narratives of ill-boding speculation and ghouls that rule popular traditions from around the world. Stories bestirring poltergeist, ectoplasm and haunted residences, be they private or public (featuring intruders of the demoniac kind), are the culturally-creepy and universal cor(ps)es behind the gore and horror from one continent to the next. No matter who we are or from where we come, we have all heard of these phenomena, including: mournful chain sounds, gushing blood, sepulchral wailing, putrid odors, slamming doors, disheveled sheets, broken pendulums, inverted crosses, and other instances of objects shifting about.
Urges from out of nowhere prod us almost shamefully to spark dialogue with the departed when the opportunity presents itself. As humans, we are fighting a losing battle the moment we come into the world for death awaits us around every corner; therefore, our desire to reconnect with those who have moved on to an otherworldly place is not as foreign as it seems; it pushes us to embrace what is invisible to the naked eye and crack the mystery on the end of all ends whose grasp will leave no one behind.
Rationale and reason are the bedrock of 21st century mindsets; therefore, ruling out kooky clairvoyants, their schtick ceremonies, and arcane practices is a no-brainer. Once that done, we can opt for a seemingly more down-to-earth strategy combining fiction and a chosen media. When you stop and think about it, isn’t it funny how the term "media" is but the plural, albeit poorly formulated, form of "medium?" Such means with which, or witch, to communicate this fiction are film, series, literature, illustrated narratives, and other forms of artistic expression. Only when the lights go down and darkness will have prevailed in the theater, our living room or our mind will we suddenly have what it takes to reach out to those in the afterlife. It is only a matter of time before the safe place offered up behind a screen of fiction starts to decompose, and we are left to surrender to the powers of an age-old imaginary and to symbol-riddled beliefs consigned, up to now at least, to oblivion.
"And when he had crossed the bridge, the phantoms came to meet him."
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (Friedrich W. MURNAU.1922)
We are pretty sure that the film industry is rather attached to our dearly departed. Well, this is what comes across (super)naturally on screen. Who or what better than filmmakers or film could make us imagine the unimaginable and ascertain the anomalistic ?
While bypassing the sophisticated thoughts brought to light by Jacques Derrida on the question of the spectral dimension in filming, we can count on the Institut de l’image (Cinema and Film Institute) in Aix-en-Provence to enlighten us on the matter during the few evenings it will be present at the festival. Using the philosopher’s reflections as a springboard, the Institute will kick off the discussion with this question: Is film, in essence, not the art that brings back the dead? Without a doubt.
Fantasy-inspired or not, cinema’s duty is not limited to perpetuating the narratives and characters in fiction’s heritage regardless of how much time has gone by. Its duty also involves restoring breath and life to those actors having passed on and their performances in front of the camera, as well as preserving the memory and unbridled talent of those who filmed them, those behind the camera.
Reconnecting with celebs now six feet under is not synonymous with treading off to some holy roller destination in no man’s land. To do so, all you need is a dark room or the "Play" button on your remote control. The phantoms will come to meet us.
We have known for a long time that the visits of those who have passed away bring with them nuisances proving detrimental to the sanity of their victims. Somewhat diehard enthusiasts when it comes to pulling pestilential, but not only, pranks, ghosts often get a bad rap. So, what are they after anyway ?
They pester as payback or to right a wrong (whose ‘right’ doesn’t always ‘wrong’ the ones targeted). They prey on those guilty of having caused them harm, pushing them to commit suicide or a crime. For kicks, they enjoy slipping into the skins of the living, showing the latter who’s boss for a tad bit longer. They have even masterminded some seriously-schizoid head trips with a one-way ticket bound for lunacy. Sometimes, almost like a divine warning, the apparition of these agonizing, vindictive souls is to be understood like a lethal sign bringing together two simultaneously-occurring events separated in time and space (…so much for that scrupulously-planned vacation).
The above-mentioned cases of teasing emerge from very run-of-the-mill worries, such as finding a final resting place, being deprived of a grave or Christian sacraments, having died violently in unexplained circumstances or wanting their favorite activities (one being mass murder) to last in the hereafter. Much rarer are the cases of lost souls that have nothing better to do but hound the living simply because they are just that… alive.
We honestly cannot hold it against them because these phantasms are not only freakishly familiar, but also warped reflections of our guilt-ridden conscience. The tombless, the early departed and even those having succumbed to a violent death such as the assassinated, tortured or a handful of the suicide-committing type teach us a lot. In scaring the heebie-jeebies out of us, these specters strive to open our eyes to the real and downright barbarity and ruthless savagery perpetrated by Mankind. Phantoms are also messengers of justice. Should the powers of Good not work their magic while we are here, there will be a bone or two to pick with the guardians of the afterlife.
And should phantoms really exist, roving the banks between life and death and rubbing out the boundaries keeping them apart, it is because a more spirited place wherein to give up the ghost does, too. All depends, of course, on what we choose to believe.
For this 16th edition, the Court Métrange Festival’s focus is on phantoms, and (it ghost-s without saying that) it’s gonna be a scream.
Dossier réalisé par Steven Pravong en collaboration avec Cyrielle Dozières