Living in Paris for a year and some, and knowing I’d be there around that long, I decided – as seems my habit – to make a film there. A friend, Jim Stark, suggested some actors and I met with them and said my thought was to make a film slowly, over a year, meeting and shooting whenever it suited each of us. We’d improvise, no script at all. They agreed to do so, no pay. For more on the making and circumstances around the film, see this.
Oui Non is simultaneously a fictional narrative, a simple boy-meets-girl story, which is also a critique of the fictional narrative form. It is the confrontation of the falsity of fiction – the story which reveals in a certain order, which conveys a sense of an order to life, colliding with the reality of life: that life is a disordered mess about which the only narrative certainty is that it will end in death.
Oui Non plays with this, makes homage to many things Parisian, from Eugene Atget, to Degas and Lautrec, to Monet and Manet, to French films, to the mythos of Parisian romance, and along the way is trapped in its own real reality in which the narrative story imposed collapsed in the face of the lives of its actors and maker. It is a romantic comedy which is really a tragedy.
2001 | miniDV | Color | Sound | 110 minutes
Concept, script, direction, camera, edit, graphics, sound, music manipulation : Jon Jost
Actors: Hélène Fillières and James Thiérrée
Shown at: Locarno, Rotterdam, Yamagata, Jeonju
A LOVE LETTER TO PARIS
Kevin Thomas, LA Times Oct 7 2004
After a long European sojourn, Jon Jost, master American independent filmmakers, will personally present the US Premiere of his OUI NON (1997-2002) at the Egyptian on Sunday. A major work that marks a new direction for this heretofore realist who worked deeply in the American grain, OUI NON is a rapturously beautiful visual poem, a homage to everyday Paris, a farewell to the cinema and a welcome to the digital form and all its possibilities, and a consideration of movies as the eternal illusion.
Amid the city’s vibrant street life, Hélène Fillières, a beautiful young actress, tells us that she will be playing Georgette, who works at the Magnum photo archives. James Thiérrée is a handsome young circus trapeze artist who as Gerome will be playing the same. The pair, who fall in love, provide the slender yet sturdy thread upon which Jost strings his visual sonnets to Paris and its people. Georgette hopes her life will be like a movie with a happy ending, but OUI NON is a constant reminder that movies and life are not the same. So deft is Jost, he never lapses into the merely self-conscious. OUI NON is instead seductive – and sublime.
At the cinematheque: Oui Non, by Acquarello
As much an elegy to film as it is a dissolution of romantic myth, Jon Jost’s Paris-set digital feature, Oui non hews closely to the spirit of Jean-Luc Godard’s late period, mixed media essay films – a reflection on the city and the cinema through conventional images of the present as preconceived, idealized evocations of the past. Prefaced by a montage of Eugène Atget’s diffused, long-exposure photographs at the turn of the century – desolate spaces, cobblestone streets, solitary figures, and shop window mannequins – the image of Paris as distant and ethereal continues through the delayed, somber, motion-blurred shots of the present day, overcast city (culminating with an abstract, dreamlike view of the cityscape from a train window): the haberdashery windows now replaced by runway fashion shows and sculpture gardens by museum installations. This alternation between intersecting (and colliding) dual realities is reinforced in the instances of split-screen and mirroring images that occur throughout the film, as idiosyncratically composed snapshots of everyday life interweave with episodes of performance and improvisations that tell a mundane tale of boy meets girl, further creating layers of ambiguity within the filmed reality (a blurring of bounds that is also suggested in an interstitial note that reveals the actors’ short-lived, off-screen relationship).
In one diptych, lead actress Hélène Fillières discusses her background and acting experience (having previously worked with her sister, Sophie Fillières) before describing her character, George, an office assistant at Magnum Photos who sorts through the agency’s vast archives in search of the perfect photograph to match client requests. For George, each photograph represents a ghost, a moment suspended between life and death. In a sense, her character also takes on the role of a pseudo-filmmaker, manipulating images by creating blow-ups or enhancing contrast to suit the request. Similarly, James Thiérrée’s character, Gerome, an actor and acrobat whose ambition is to elevate circus performance into the realm of theatrical art, also articulates a filmmaker’s (and more broadly, an artist’s) aesthetic and paradoxical dislocation from the real world in pursuit of the art of illusion: “Construct a universe. Construct a folding tent, a folding life.”
Using the prefiguring idea of Paris as a city of “four million souls”, Jost creates his own visual play on words to illustrate this association, as anonymous, real-life “characters” alternately become spectator and spectacle within the observer’s gaze (an interconnection between filmed reality and performance that is reflected in an early shot of the audience at a fashion show in which a man repeatedly exchanges brusque, disapproving glances towards Jost and his camera). Moreover, in describing the streets as being marked by the abrasions and scars of past stories, Jost also converges towards a recurring theme in José Luis Guerín’s cinema (as well as Pedro Costa’s Fonthainas films) in the idea of architecture as palimpsest of covalent, layered histories. Juxtaposed against the image of Georges Méliès’s grave, Jost revisits the intrinsic dichotomy of cinema as both a medium for creative imagination, and as a documentation of reality: a rupture that is reflected in the ironic embrace of familiar conventions that conclude the film – relegating the images of eternal love, happy ending, and tragedy to the art of the spectacle, and consequently, to the death of cinema.
By ROBERT KOEHLER, Variety
Predating some of America’s bashing of all things Gallic, Jon Jost’s “Oui Non” recalls a more durable bond between Yanks and the French in its framework of a fitful love story between a pair of young Parisians. Proof that ultra-cheap video can produce beautiful results, pic will surely frustrate viewers expecting a typical City of Lights romance, but also intrigue auds attuned to blending of narrative and non-fiction. Adventurous DVD distribs should take note.
Jost, long a stalwart of indie filmmaking, began lensing “Oui Non” in 1997 in his then-adopted Paris. (He has since moved back to his native U.S.) With Jost taking up digital vid for the first time, concept involved shooting a love story, but also capturing the off-screen reality circulating around filming. (Pic ended up involving an actual fling between leads Hélène Fillières and James Thiérrée that eventually went sour, according to onscreen text near the end.) Long delays ensued between lensing and final print, finally screened in Locarno and Rotterdam fests (among others), and only now in North America.
Pic is only partly concerned with the fictional love story, using it as just one aspect in an overall look at Paris and life within the city’s rich artistic community. Opening minutes cue this, starting with a lovely gallery of images by early photographer Eugene Atget, dissolving into contempo shots of the city that capture street life at an akimbo angle.
An unidentified female voiceover muses on “a city of 4 million souls … with a myriad of stories,” and eventually, two stories are selected: On split-screens, thesps Hélène Fillières and Thiérrée speak about themselves and their characters — Georgette, an archivist at the legendary Magnum photo agency, and Gerome, trained as a circus performer and now producing his own post-mod circus act. Their characters meet, similarly in split-screen, in a cafe, and though some chemistry is evident, visual separation suggests a doomed affair.
As is often the case with Jost, artistic references are constantly in the air. While works by French composers are intercut on the soundtrack with natural urban sounds (and sometimes barely audible dialogue), his camera sneaks peeks at Paris fashion spectacles, sculpture and paintings in the Louvre, and a bust of film pioneer Georges Melies. Even street graffiti becomes a thing of beauty. The dominant Gallic influence is Impressionism, both in the semi-narrative’s daydream mood and some densely textured, painterly images.
Since lensing was not in the usual 24 fps, a slight stop-motion effect is created (a la silent film) that lends pic the visual illusion of a remembrance of things past. The line between Fillières‘ and Thiérrée‘s characters and themselves grows deliberately invisible, with Thiérrée — one of Charlie Chaplin’s grandsons — displaying his grandfather’s gift for acrobatics.
“The film opens in Paris—a place; a state of being; a state of mind. It is the Paris of another world: a montage of black-and-white photographs from the early twentieth century: elegant, unadorned, humanistic glimpses of time: humanistic because of the people in some of them but also because of their orientation: there, don’t you see, is where people walked; here is the public sculpture that they looked at; here is where people congregated; there is where they banked. The photographs, all outdoor ones, are by Eugene Atget, and the pensive music that accompanies the montage—the cumulative effect haunts—reflects the loss of this older Paris to time, Atget’s being an orphan, perhaps (was his adopted Paris a kind of mother for him?), and the neglect into which his brilliant work fell after the First World War. (Jost may identify with Atget on this last point.) But human accomplishment and activity have their limit, as human lives do, redefining this sample list as follows: there is where people walked who have since passed away; here is the public sculpture that they looked at and can no longer look at; and so forth. We “create reality from fiction” in order to keep it from dissolving before our eyes.”
Dennis Grunes; for complete review (long) see this.