In 2007, when young and talented director Ana Vaz was a student at RMIT University in Melbourne she debuted with the experimental short film Sacris Pulso. At that time, she was personally familiar with the experience of displacement (cultural, geographic and linguistic), which she adopted as the central theme and narrative motivation in her first film. Sacris Pulso is about the filmic possibilities of accommodating radical displacements and innovation in representations of subjectivity and the factors that produce it (such as the relationship with our origins). From the experimental filmmaker and cultural theorist of transnationalism, displacement, and the experience of mobility, Trinh T. Minh-ha, we learn that displacement is an experience that involves critical and often radical renewal and intervention:
displacement involves the invention of new forms of subjectivities, of pleasures, of intensities, of relationships, which also implies the continuous renewal of a critical work that looks carefully and intensively at the very system of values to which one refers in fabricating the tools of resistance. (1)
With Sacris Pulso, displacement is more than the representation of a new subjectivity resulting from spatial or temporal dislocation; it is an aesthetic practice that is committed to producing new venues of representation and thinking about subjectivity and time. In an essay reflecting on the conceptualisation of Sacris Pulso, Vaz explains her underlying philosophy: “[t]hrough the film I construct a symbolic and fictional sense of selfhood, which is then displaced within film, as it no longer refers to my condition, but to an other” (2). Through the practice of filmmaking Vaz models displacement as an empowering and liberating practice: “an auto-genesis, where the subject actively structures and shapes its origins under the light of the subjective imaginary”.
Sacris Pulso is multiply paradoxical; it challenges and reassures our horizons of expectation. Its collage of images induces both familiarity and alienation. The apparently idiosyncratic narrative is eventually voided of any subjectivity and meaning. The emphasis on linear time that the film seems to thematically privilege and adopt as narrative structure is gradually suspended in favour of a cyclical time or, as in Mircea Eliade’s formulation, a mythical time – a “primordial time” (3) of origins and creation. What appears to be a personal geography is subject to serial displacements with the result being a terrain that has an aura of universality. It is a personal geography from which the subject steps out while providing us with possibilities of identification.
The visual materials used in Sacris Pulso are a mix of fragments from the short film Brasiliários (1985) by Zuleica Porto and Sergio Bazi, featuring the uncanny encounter of writer and migrant Clarice Lispector with Brasilia, and 8mm found home movie footage. With these choices of images, the film invites us to think about the relative and fragile boundaries between the personal and the collective, the private and the public, and ultimately the self and the other. All of these visual materials undergo displacement and transformation, and Brasiliários itself shapes a collective imaginary around a surreal image of Brasilia. At the same time, Brasiliários is Vaz’s myth of origins – “her primal point of reference”, as her parents met during the making of this film. Fragmentation, reversed motion and narration, and slowed down scenes extending the duration of contemplation (when Lispector played by Claudia Pereira – Vaz’s mother – has the wind blow her hair) frame Vaz’s reimagination of this primary work. The shots from the family movies have the duration and spontaneity of flashbacks and present granulated consistencies and reduced visibility. This lack of focus and clarity abstracts the concrete, the anchorage in time and space, and the personal affiliations of the images. Once they are voided of personal attachments, they become scenes of everyday life. Images of childhood, family life, ceremonies (first communion) attest to our need to materialise and document the past through the practice of home image making. Vaz explains how 8mm footage has the capacity to blur the line between the personal and the collective:
[t]he found 8mm footage is used in the film to create a sense of memory, a collective memory, which displaces the focus on my own history and alludes to more collective family rituals. The 8mm footage “de-subjectivizes” the film as it speaks of other memories, other conditions, and other family histories.
Vaz’s experiment with displaced, fragmented and depersonalised home movies attests to the failing function of home movies to document and safeguard the past from oblivion and loss, and looks at niches where memory and imagination can intervene. Moreover, it reinforces the idea that our relationship with origins and personal history is one of displacement and the continuous innovations and appropriations provoked by otherness.
According to Ingmar Bergman, film is “mainly rhythm; it is inhalation and exhalation in continuous experience” (4). Similarly, the notion of Sacris Pulso is central to Vaz’s film experiment and refers to a sacred pulse or a mythical time when the self is born as its other through acts of displacement, imagination and memory. The film also suggests that Sacris Pulso is associated with ritual (the re-enactment of a primordial moment), which it invokes in the shots of the girl in the first communion bridal dress and in the form of what seems to be prayers or incantations spoken in a soft and hardly audible Portuguese voice. Sacris Pulso is the promise of renewal – an aesthetic rejuvenation that is possible through the practice of experimental filmmaking in particular. This exceptional temporal dimension is radical and irreducible; it is the cathartic experience, as Vaz explains: “The film is inevitably derived from a cathartic impulse, where by trying to reconstruct my relationships with my origins I am able to displace myself and re-create an other sense of self”. If throughout the film we follow the collage of images as a sequence, in the end linearity is suspended. Instead of linearity we contemplate the simultaneity of the images. They form a layered structure of fractured, blurred, almost transparent images that fade into each other and overlap according to a logic that is abstract and purely aesthetic. By the end, when these shots form vertical “architectures”, we have already had the chance to retain memories of them; we have seen them before in a more integral shape and with slightly more clarity. Consequently, we can acknowledge their transformation. The end of the film comes with one of the narrators confessing a state of intense enjoyment that translates into the feeling of being on a temporal and spatial continuum: “what I feel is without time and without space. Future time has now passed.” Sacris Pulso models with great poetic and philosophic insight how experimental cinema can challenge modes of thinking and expression inside and outside of cinema. In Vaz’s film, constructions of subjectivity reliant on birthplaces, native languages, chronologies, and personal affiliations are seen as sites of aesthetic intervention that envision alternative subjectivities predicated on acts of displacement and innovation.
- Trinh T. Minh-ha, When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender and Cultural Politics, Routledge, New York, Chapman and Hall, 1991, p. 7.
- Ana Vaz, “Sacris Pulso: Re-Imagining Genesis Through Memory and Imagination”: http://media.rmit.edu.au/projects/RCS//AnaVaz.pdf. All further quotes from Vaz are taken from this source.
- Eliade Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane, Harcourt, Orlando, 1987, p. 71.
- Ingmar Bergman, “Why I Make Movies”, Horizon vol. 3, no. 1, September 1960, p. 6.
Sacris Pulso (2007 Australia/Brazil 15 mins)
Prod, Dir, Scr, Ed: Ana Vaz Mus: Guilherme Vaz