Venom and Eternity | Chicago Reader

Venom and Eternity

It's a contradiction in terms to speak of a “classic” avant-garde film—especially one that aims at both extreme provocation and innovation—but this rarely screened masterpiece (1953) by Jean-Isidore Isou, poet and founder of the French Lettrist movement, qualifies if anything does. Beginning with a catalog of all the author's previous works, it proceeds with an account of an impassioned theoretical debate following a Paris cine-club screening, then a love story of sorts, but the narrative and dialogue are recounted almost entirely offscreen, in voice-overs; what we see is the hero walking in Paris's Left Bank in the early 50s, eventually followed by other shots that are sometimes viewed upside down and often scratched over in various ways, which makes this partially an animated film. As an indication of how influential this movie was and is in France, the last sequence of Olivier Assayas's Irma Vep would be unthinkable without its example. In French with subtitles. 123 min.

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