(aka "Ramparts of Clay" )

 

directed by Jean-Louis Bertuccelli
France / Algeria 1970

 

In the same year as the 1962 Tunisian independence, poet Forough Farrokhzad made her ground-breaking documentary, THE HOUSE IS BLACK, about a leper colony in Tabriz, Iran. The film introduced a new form of documentary, where rhythm and lyricism pre-empted discourse and spoke from the vantage of an unproblematized ‘I.’ Some five years later, French filmmaker Robert Bresson took a Georges Bernanos novel as the source for his MOUCHETTE, where ambient noise came to the foreground in lieu of excess imagery, which itself was further economized by the most succinct framings, exploiting synecdoche and vigorous editing. It presented the story of a 14-year-old girl fallen prey to the unwholesome character of her town, and whose defiance, strength and resolve are put to the test.

Both of these films set the stage for discussing an unfortunately buried film, Jean-Louis Bertuccelli’s REMPARTS D’ARGILE (RAMPARTS OF CLAY), a 1970 French-Algerian production set in a Tunisian village on the heels of independence. It’s a fiction film that sets an example for documentary films in the observational mode. There is scarcely any dialogue, but it’s not missed. It is not the case that characters mysteriously avoid speaking and confine themselves to body language. In other words, it’s not a forced, conscious muteness. The film is in the great tradition of those silents that dispensed with inter-titles. Sound is incorporated chiefly as an extra visceral dimension and not the thinly veiled exposition that is commonplace. The discourse is the image plus the dominantly non-verbal sound. The language is the arrangement of these elements. Here, there is no need to inscribe words or inject speaking voices to carry what has been made immediately apparent to the spectator through mise-en-scene. It is truly a talking image that pervades.

The three most garrulous characters are inanimate—the pulley servicing the village well, the wind, and the legion of rocks. They are like The Three Fates re-assigned to a social reality post. The film isn’t anchored to its main character, Rima (Leila Shenna), though her presence pervades. An Algerian village gives body for its Tunisian counterpart, rendering a fine performance in a fiction film that excels as living documentary. We witness the protagonist as one of many, but decidedly not, one FOR many.

The film’s grammar is tuned for inference, as if conforming to the mystery genre—not for capturing knowledge of the elusive act the genre hinges upon, but, rather, reveling in the small mysteries behind an interplay of lives, culture and place—not with dry discourse or conventional exposition, but the efficient elegance of the talking image.

The occasional silences that take hold in contrast to the dominant panoply of sounds partition the film into resonant intervals. They can arise suddenly, keyed to a distinct sound, like a break step in dance terms. The sound need not be loud or aggressive in amplitude, but simply distinct, such that it gains relative prominence as the sound track falls into silence. These brief stretches of contemplative montage delineate the stanzas in this audio-visual poem.

The sounds populating the film are characteristically cyclical, typically work- and routine-oriented. With a dearth of leisure, the film is one big visual work song, the content of which bears similarities with Mexican corridos in that it tells a story rooted in historical incident and the personal awakening of consciousness.

The film moves in a montage that gives life to the crowd, cashing in on the currency of bodies in a lingering iteration of diversity—not few for many, but many as many brought together in a few installments of motif, such as drinking water, an age-old currency of life, here in the denomination of a traveling bucket going from mouth to mouth, proffered, pulled in, instigating anticipation, revelry, and lastly, something über communal binding young and old. And what better juxtaposition from this cacophonous montage than breaking on the sound of a footstep in the current scene to the silent expanse of dry cracked earth in the next scene—a more lingering montage to gather up just enough stillness as it unfolds in meditative counterpoint.
 

Fred Patton

Theatrical Release: Cannes 1970

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DVD Review: I.D.E. - Region 2 - PAL

Big thanks to Fred Patton for the Review!

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Distribution

I.D.E.

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 1:19:33
Video

1.64 : 1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 4.81 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio French Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles French (burned in)
Features Release Information:
Studio: I.D.E.

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.64 : 1

Edition Details:
• Interview with director (25:00)
• Interview with author Jean Duvignaud (11:16)
• Short film: Tricot 'La Branlette' (12:21)
• Gallery of Images
• Trailers - title film, Ballad of Narayama, Mauvais Garcon, Exterior Nuit, Imuhar

DVD Release Date: 2003
Thin Keep Case

Chapters 12

 

 

Comments First off, this film doesn't need subtitles. There are less than a dozen dialogue bits that are redundant given the picture. This film is out of print of NTSC VHS. The picture good. It's a dual-layer disc, and an all-around job well done. There may be some minor combing in the opening scenes. The director commentary is splendid, and works perfectly with the lack of dialogue in the film. The film sounds exquisite.

 - Fred Patton

 

 






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Distribution

I.D.E.

Region 2 - PAL


 




 

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