12/1/17. 5:00 P.M.
I don’t think a viewer could interpret Sans Soleil as anything other than a stream of consciousness. The dialogue is breathless and strings thoughts together so fully that I could not absorb all that was being said in one viewing, and honestly I don’t think this piece was made to be watched once. To me it seemed to deserve multiple watches and much mulling over: the content that I did grasp from it seemed layered and poignant. And often, even when I did not comprehend what was just said, the background music of the documentary created such a sense of dread and tension that the imagery and its accompanying message seemed like it had to be negative.
A good part of the content intends to juxtapose 2 poles of survival: Japan and Guinea-Bissau. The culture, history, and traditions of these cultures are analyzed and presented with Western bias, but it is not clear always whose bias (that of the woman reading the letters or the cameraman?) Regardless, I interpreted the documentary as intentionally presenting pieces of information about each culture that both reinforced and countered perceptions of how capable or advanced each culture is. For instance, traditional celebrations of both countries are shown and Japan’s appears to be more controlled and is held in a cleaner environment, suggesting Guinea Bissau is less advanced. But viewers must also consider that the cameraman is in awe of how the natives of Guinea Bissau freed themselves from oppression and describes the African women he observes as “very capable”. It seemed the goal in presenting complimentary and not as complementary information about each culture was to give a more holistic and unbiased view, but of course it is far from perfect.
And then there was the recurring discussion about the impossibility of capturing the true essence of life. The cameraman is fascinated with the film Vertigo for its ability to capture time’s essence in an admirable manner. But it is implicitly and explicitly lamented that history adds its own biases to events, and even when we recall our own memories we are rewriting them in some way, further distorting their true essence. I felt that this was criticism of his own work as a documentarian, but I found it ironic that he would express such thoughts continually during the piece. This, compounded with the criticism from classmates on how it poorly portrayed the subject cultures, and sometimes did so with gross bias, led me to conclude that the creator never intended to aim for a perfectly objective illustration of his subjects. It seemed to me that he knew it would always be futile for a creative to try to do this, but even so he continued to document his subjects, which then suggests that the pursuit of capturing the essence of something is still worth it. Even if an artist’s work cannot ever truly capture a subject without distortion, attempting to document its essence can create a piece or discussion of value.