French writer Roger Martin du Gard believed that there was more truth to be found in a memory itself than in a written down version in a diary. Despite this belief, he dedicated his life to writing and recording the fragments of his past, mostly out of his profound fear and obsession with what he called the “fight against oblivion, against dust, against time.”1 This distinction that Du Gard made between a memory itself and a perceivable version of it, visible and tangible on paper, was ultimately based on his understanding of ‘truth’, what was real and what was fictionalised. Most of the films that comprised the various sections of this year’s edition of FID Marseille seemed to be a visual manifestation of that same fear and obsession Du Gard mentioned, and explored the relation between the remembered and its representation on film in relation to time. The programme was characterised by themes of doubt, remembrance, the divide between fiction and reality and the tension between this traditional divide.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable films of the First Feature section was Rob Rice’s Way Out Ahead of Us. When driving diagonally through the United States the last stop Rice made was in a small community on the outskirts of Los Angeles, a place that in the film becomes symbolic of the largely forgotten and forsaken inner part of the US. While entirely scripted and written by Rice, the film represents the fusion between fiction and reality as its main narrative is rooted in the real lives of Mark Staggs and Tracy St Onge Staggs. Which ultimately means that fiction and reality inevitably and intentionally bleed into each other as Rice decided to introduce a fictional daughter, played by professional actress Nikki DeParis, who is about to leave for Los Angeles as Mark receives bad news about his life-threatening illness – a condition he struggles with in real life and for which his wife is genuinely afraid she might lose him to. 

Way Out Ahead of Us

The film intentionally adopts a documentary style and by choosing this specific formal structure the spectator is asked to engage in a way that is much more direct or poignant than had Rice decided to make an actual documentary as opposed to fiction rooted in the real.

It is this approach that allows the film to become a way of acting out various scenarios – of Mark’s death, of Mark and Tracy having a daughter of their own, of Tracy having to make a life on her own once Mark is gone, as they are the only two characters that play altered versions of themselves.

Still the film never becomes a form of re-enactment, even though it remains interesting in relation to Rice’s narrative as the very concept of re-enactment is closely related to the notion of transformation, to creating various outcomes and exploring slight alterations. Instead, we are left with a film throughout which this adopted documentary approach slowly starts to show cracks, revealing that the film’s initial relationship to the real becomes one of possibility rather than fact or truth. This is predominantly done via various moments of transgression, that are interwoven as distorted sequences throughout the film against the backdrop of the desolate landscape in which everything seems to be about to dissolve, creating an almost overwhelming sense of nothingness and solitude. Questions of the complexity of ethical representation of the characters remain of importance and similarly to traditional observational documentaries as well as participatory ethnographic cinema, this fiction film raises issues of truth and power, and it is at this intersection that the film derives its greatest worth.

The same can be said of the First Film Prize winner in the same section, Kristina. Similarly to Mark and Tracy in Rice’s film, Kristina plays an alternate version of herself in Nikola Spasic’s film about a transgender sex worker’s struggle with religion, family and work.  

“The following is a story that is somewhat true. I present it as it happened, with adornment.”
– Audrey Benac

A Woman Escapes

Screening as a part of the International Competition, a co-direction between Sofia Bohdanowicz, Burak Çevik, and Blake Williams opens with the above mentioned statement. Before the start of the film the spectator has already been made aware of a forthcoming tension and disconnection between reality, and a retold, fabricated version of it – creating a sense of ambivalence and uncertainty.  

The film came into being as Bohdanowicz was simultaneously involved in two separate collaborations with Çevik and Williams when Juliane, one of her elderly friends, suddenly passed away and she felt unable to respond to either working relationship, struck by grief. In the end the three artists combined their efforts around this theme of loss, creating a film that is above all a collaborative effort about how we survive grief and try to find perseverance in confusion and sadness. A combination of interwoven contributions alternatively shot on 16mm film, created in 3D imagery, video art, and 4K video imagery, it is often impossible to tell which artists created what. It makes the film interesting in relation to the idea of cinema as a form of exchange, of a correspondence sent back and forth between artists to which parts are continuously added. As a collaborative project and an attempt at making visible the act of recollection in the face of loss, its particular structure ultimately results in the creation of a sense of permanent ambiguity that continuously shapes our understanding of the unfolding events. Bohdanowicz, Çevik and Williams managed to rework their own experiences into a narrative in which Bohdanowicz’s cinematic alter-ego Audrey Benac (played by Deragh Campbell) goes through a similar loss and finds herself holed up in her deceased friend’s apartment in Paris involved in a similar artistic correspondence. 

The Dutch writer W.F. Hermans asked how often it happens that we love a photograph of ourselves more than our own reflections? The character in his novel believes never, “for the camera never lies, meaning that whatever self-doubt there already was, it has now developed into desperation.”2 This notion of the camera as the ultimate conveyer of unadulterated true reflection becomes interesting in relation to the concept of a cinematic alter-ego of the filmmaker and once again the notion of re-enactment in cinema, because it indicates an irrevocable disconnection and discrepancy between the idealised image we have of ourselves and the objective image the camera shows us instead. This divergence between our self-image and an image-of-self on the camera is made concrete by Bohdanowicz through the use of her cinematic alter-ego, ultimately a warped form of self-observation while simultaneously the ultimate loss of self. A fragmentation of the individual that could either have created a more clouded view of reality and its representation, but that in A Woman Escapes seems to be the perfect way to portray and explore the incomprehensibility of loss, of grief, of what happens to us in that process, and the emotions that arise from it. Highlighting how cinema can be used as a tool to restage past (traumatic) events, find alternative representations of our memories, and perhaps, through that process, another form of self-awareness. The title of the film corroborates this, as it is a reference to Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped (1956), a film about the perseverance of belief in life in the face of complete hopelessness.   

Vibrante en las espadas y en la pasión/Vibrant in swords and in passion,
y dormida en la hiedra/asleep in ivy,
sólo la vida existe/only life is real.
El espacio y el tiempo son formas suyas/Space and time are its shapes
La Recoleta, Jorge Luis Borges3

Sobre las Nubes

María Aparicio’s Sobre las Nubes (About the Clouds) was one of the films that lingered in my mind for days after the screening. The film follows the lives of four characters in Córdoba and explores their relationship to work as well as to the public and private spaces of the city they occupy, situated against the backdrop of the social and economic percussions of Argentina’s financial crisis. Sobre las Nubes’ social significance lies in its visual portrayal as a map, making use of the city and the way in which the characters move around the city (by bus, car or bicycle) as an indicator of identity and hierarchy, visualising the relationship between the characters’ urban surroundings and the lives they live. The opening sequence, for example, introduces the spectator to the characters via the national census that is carried out every ten years – a way to map the country, its inhabitants and their wellbeing and ultimately a tool to plan the distribution of funding within society for the coming years. 

Its title, being both a reference to Jorge Luis Borges’ poems Nubes (I) and (II) as well as to Juan Jose Saer’s novel Las Nubes (1997), alludes to the film’s very premise both in its formal as well as substantive aspects. In a way Sobre las Nubes becomes a visual adaptation and combination of Sear’s style of writing, of an “interconnected whole”4 portraying multiple characters at the same time and Borges idea of time as an infinite succession, embodied in this film by the clouds. Shot entirely in black and white static shots, this specific formal approach highlighted Aparicio’s decision to subtly distance the audience from the imagery, as well as to create a cinematic spatial multiplicity between the characters and their location within the city. The static shots follow each other up seamlessly – like clouds floating by we simply observe as we are made aware of what Aparicio calls the “manifestation” of time.

In the shorts section, Ben Russell’s Against Time (16 mm) opened with reversed footage of fireworks, a sequence that almost felt reminiscent of the superb 1902-1904 Grand Display of Brock’s Fireworks at the Crystal Palace. The whole structure of the film seemed to be about the formal qualities of cinema in relation to sound; superimposing images and deconstructing and alternating photographs and moving imagery to the rhythm of music. These alternations of the photographs took place at such high speed that they simultaneously appeared consistent within the moment we see them appear, before Russell would slowly integrate a third image, while phasing out another. The dynamic contrasts that are created via this particular structure, through tension and relaxation, making the spectator aware of the slight gaps in between each alternating photograph, creating a feeling of discontinued continuity. Through the sheer speed by which Russell did so, the alterations became so visually violent that you felt as if your head was starting to split in two – but in a rather pleasant way. This way, much in the same vein as Oskar Fischinger, Russell managed to make the relation between image and sound perceptible by visualising music. We see what we hear reflected in the rhythm of the alternating images. The imagery co-vibrates with the music, highlighting a clear connection between the optical sight of the spectator and sound. 

Site of Passage

Jean-Claude Rousseau’s newest short Welcome draws our attention to the passing of time in a much more passive way. Rousseau, having placed the camera in a static position in front of his window, peers out over a housing complex in New York. The only indications of the passing of time are found in the changing light, the movements of the neighbours, Rousseau’s own reflection and a continuously moving piece of paper that is stuck outside the window and moves in the wind. 

Lucy Kerr’s Site of Passage (16 mm) was equally mesmerising. A group of teenage girls perform several games and rituals. It is a short film in which sensory experiences, such as tonality of voices and the surrounding sound of the filming crew, invisible for the camera but present in the creaking floorboards as they are moving around the room, are intrinsically important to the imagery. There is no conversation between the girls, rather the complete focus is on their movements, the way in which the body is framed and utilised within the bordered frames of the image. The soft hues of the light in the room and the girls’ bright coloured clothing in combination with the delicate 16mm camera work created an atmospheric and delicate short film. 

The act of writing about cinema, in a way, means writing about memories as it partly becomes an act of recollection, of making concrete in language the living and breathing images that we have accumulated. Jean Louis Schefer wrote it down better than I ever could: “If the cinema is defined by its special power to produce lasting effects of memory, then we must know that through this memory a part of our lives passes into our recollections of films.”5 It seems to me that cinema and the main theme of fear of forgetting and of being forgotten reveals an often-self-tormenting relation with the passing of time. To perceive and experience meaning continuously and by writing it down or making it into cinema, experiences become concrete and exchangeable. The films discussed in this text are all studies into how cinema can function as such. In the case of Rice and Bohdanowicz, Blake and Williams, questions such as what the cinematic consequences are of re-enactment when fiction and reality bleed into each other and become indistinguishable and what happens to the notion of ‘self’ when cinema is used to displace personal grief and to project it on alternate version of self, stand central. On the other hand, Aparicio and Russell connected the experience of film to the notion and embodiment of time.

Festival International de Cinéma Marseille
5-11 July 2022


  1. Roger Martin Du Gard, “Letter aan Pierre Margaritis,” in Kijken door een Sleutelgat: Dagboeken en herinneringen, eds. and trans. Anneke Alderlieste (Privé-domein en Uitgeverij de Arbeiderspers Amstersam), 121.
  2. W.F. Hermans, Nooit meer Slapen (De Bezige Bij, 1966), 40.
  3. Jorge Luis Borges, La Recoleta in Selected Poems 1923 – 1967 (Penguin Books: 1969), 3
  4. Nicholas Michael Kramer, “Outlaws of the Pampa: Representations of the Gaucho and the Indigenous in ‘Las Nubes’ (1997) and ‘La Ocasión’ (1988) by Juan José Saer,” in Latin American Literary Review, Vol.40, no. 79 (2012): http://www.jstor.org/stable/24396226.
  5. Jean Louis Schefer, The Ordinary Man of Cinema, trans. Max Cavitch, Paul Grant and Noura Wedell (SEMIOTEXT(E), 2016), 11.

About The Author

Sofie Cato Maas is a film critic, academic and editor based in New York where she is completing a PhD in Cinema at NYU after studying film at King's College London and the University of Oxford. She is a co-founder of Outskirts Film Magazine and has worked for several film festivals and served on several juries, including IFFR, CPH:DOX’s Next:Wave jury and Opus Bonum Jury at the Ji.hlava lDFF. She is a Dear Doc fellowship at Doc’s Kingdom (2023), Le Giornate del Cinema Muto’s Collegium (2022), and the Locarno Critics Academy (2019) alumnus and has written for MUBI Notebook, The New Left Review, La Vida Util, and Balthazar Filmkritik.

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