Film Review: Wall Engravings (Au pan coupé)

“Peut-on vivre d’un souvenir?” (“Can we live on a memory?”)

Last month I began a subscription to the streaming service MUBI. I wish I had done it sooner. MUBI, which was founded in 2007, offers an ever-changing collection of selected films from around the world, introducing one new film every day. MUBI also produces and theatrically distributes films by emerging and established filmmakers. This is the third review I have written since subscribing. Recently, I had the absolute joy to watch the 1968 French Film, Wall Engravings.

Wall Engravings (Au pan coupé is the French title) was written and directed by Guy Gilles and tells the story of Jeanne, a young woman reflecting on her relationship with Jean. Jeanne loves Jean deeply, but he only thinks of leaving as he can never truly embrace happiness (the film succinctly explores the couple’s respective psychologies). One day, he leaves and then dies. Jeanne will never know the truth because her father is keeping it a secret because he is worried about her state of mind. In Jean’s absence, she remembers him and confides in her friend Pierre, detailing their stay in Provence. She asks, “Can we live on a memory?” In this film, love is interrupted by departure (death) and explored from an obsessive untangling of the past. The past that is explored is brief and slowly becoming opaque for Jeanne.

The film’s direction and cinematography are nothing short of breathtaking. The scenes shot in black and white are in the present while those in color narrate moments from the past. It embraces still photography and reminds me of a time when we able to contemplate actors and scenery without constant cutting and excessive movement of the camera.

I also want to applaud Macha Méril’s brilliantly understated and restrained performance as Jeanne: she truly comes across as someone deeply hurt trying to keep it together. I found myself later wondering if Jeanne would ever find out about Jean’s death and how she may have reacted to it. I even wondered who Jeanne, an artist, would have become and who she might be in 2022. Did the loss of Jean foster her art? Death, in a way, is an act of living in art (and cinema).

If you have ever had a short, but passionate, love affair that you never got over, you will not want to miss this film.

edwinroman.com

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