Wednesday, November 11, 2015


With his 2010 masterpiece Konvent, Saidin Salkic created what is perhaps cinema’s most intense anatomy of sheer presence. Filming himself in the isolation of his own home, this protracted staring match with the audience becomes a challenge to keep looking, to keep looking deeper and deeper into one man’s solitude, the silent night of a soul in anguish. Do we have the fortitude to see it through with him?

His elegant new film, Manifesto of a Defeated Poet, made in collaboration with John Cumming, again focuses on Salkic’s persona but inverts Konvent in several ways. He now steps out into the world, a stranger, a foreigner, wherever he goes. In order to do so, he abandons the home movie intimacy of the earlier work. Both the way he presents himself and the way the camera regards him and the world have become more formal, more stylized. The ‘foreignness’ of his character is translated into a slightly anachronistic aura, his dramatic black hat and overcoat marking him as the ‘stranger in town’ from any number of 20th century movies. Along with the coat, he has donned the protective covering of a certain iconographic feeling for film history. The clean, poised framing of the shots not only evokes the history of art cinema but sometimes, even more suggestively, silent film: the perennial outsider status of Charlie the Tramp. In the beautiful long take near the start of the film, it’s almost impossible not to think of Chaplin while watching Salkic walking away from the camera up a dusty road, getting smaller and smaller in the frame. The symbolical lyricism of early cinema also inevitably comes to mind in the shots towards the end where Salkic poses dramatically next to cradle rocked by the wind on a wave-lashed beach.

Salkic’s quixotic character remains aloof from the urban edgelands he traverses, aloof from our era of scientific domination, aloof from the capitalist fascism he attacks in several voiceover ruminations. His aloofness from our time is nothing if not critical. Yet it is when he reaches out across this distance from his loneliness that the film becomes magnificent: three scenes which, like Konvent, involve the interaction of his presence with the camera in a sort of mysterious private ritual. Unlike in Konvent, this does not involve an agonized retreat into pure stillness but instead what I can only characterize as ‘dances’. The first and most enigmatic involves no more than the camera focusing on his face and then following a series of hand movements in a hypnotic series of micro-movements; the second presents a series of Paradjanov-style images of his face and body, against a dark background, being drenched in wine that soon comes to evoke blood; and the third involves his interaction with soil and plants, again conveyed through hand gestures: touch and near-touch. All three scenes are long, taking their time to gather us in to a state of near-hypnotic communion with his gestures. They make us conscious of being alive and, as against the despair of much of the film, affirm being alive in all its simplicity and pain. 


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