In March 2000, having just completed the shooting for Éloge de l’amour  - whose second half had been done in digital video -, director Jean-Luc Godard gave an interview to the periodical Cahiers du Cinéma [1]. This was a special issue of the magazine, and the idea was to investigate how recent technological, economic and social transformations affect the way cinema is made today. The director, who is normally reluctant about interviews, accepted the request upon one condition: the interviewers should bring him a VHS copy of the film “The Shining”, by Stanley Kubrick.

The dialogue with Godard is difficult from the first round. An initial attempt to make him talk about – among other ‘big issues’ in contemporary cinema – the digital image, the existence of cinema outside the cinema, etc, is followed by a merciless blow: Do you really ask yourselves these questions, or is it simply to exist, to play along, like on television? The interviewers, for their part, still seemed very excited with the idea that one of the most experimental of modern filmmakers was finally exploring the possibilities opened up by new technologies. He, who has thoroughly explored the possibilities of cinema, of analogical video, who has invented a completely original way of making films, would have plunged at last into the brave new world of digital media. And so the question is posed:

Does digital video interest you?

Of course, but I don’t see no reason why we should talk about it.

Making use of a theory of cinema to talk about digital video is perhaps an act of corruption, of illegitimacy. After all, video art has its own history, a ‘non-linear lineage’ that can be traced back to the 1960s, and one could even say that there is practically a consensus – among  art critics - to classify it within the field of the visual arts. Which does not mean, of course, that the dialogues between video art and cinema are not recurrent and prolific, as in the renowned works of artists such as Douglas Gordon, Pierre Huygue, among others. In the field of cinema things become a bit more complicated. Part entertainment industry, part experimentation, sometimes the product ‘film’ is too slippery to fit into any kind of classification.

My intention here is to put aside, for the time being, the specificities of each medium and to look at the moving image per se and the ways in which it is apprehended. The suggestion is that what is made visible, not only in The Kiss, but also in Leandro Lima and Gisela Motta’s body of work, finds   a resonance in philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s writings in Cinema 2. Departing from Henri Bergson’s ontology of images, mainly as set out in Matter and Memory, Deleuze argues that in post war cinema (the first volume, Cinema 1, is dedicated to pre-war cinema) there is an inversion of the sensory-motor scheme of classical cinema where time was subordinated to movement. Classical cinema is characterised by the movement-image, an image that is always linked to an action and therefore necessarily linked to an indirect representation of time. Modern cinema, on its turn, realises its capacity to make visible temporal relationships that can only become visible through the creation of images. It is what Deleuze calls ‘pure optical and sound situations’.

According to the author, the Second World War is a determining factor in this break, for it ‘has greatly increased the situations which we no longer know how to react to, in spaces which we no longer know how to describe. These were ‘any spaces whatever’, deserted but inhabited, disused warehouses, waste ground, cities in the course of demolition or reconstruction. And in these any-spaces-whatever a new race of characters was stirring, a kind of mutant: they saw rather than acted, they were seers.’[2] What happens when the characters no longer know how to act and become seers themselves is the collapse of the action-image of classical cinema. But if action loses its central place, something else comes to replace it. This is the great inversion proposed by Deleuze: it is time - time in a pure state - that dominates modern cinema.

One of the strategies of modern cinema: ‘…sometimes…it is necessary to make holes, to introduce voids and white spaces, to rarefy the image, by suppressing many things that have been added to make us believe that we are seeing everything. It is necessary to make a division or make emptiness in order to find the whole again.’ [4]

There is no sound. There is silence. There are no cuts or different framings. There is the modulation of the image, the unstoppable modulation of the organic substance that traverses the bodies and allows them to meet on the limit imposed by architecture.

The bodies in The Kiss are not the first bodies in Leandro Lima and Gisela Motta’s work. Here they are almost static, immersed in a ceaseless flux and seemingly unconscious. In some other works the bodies move, albeit performing flimsy and repetitive movements neither making an attempt at completing a specific task nor offering us a narrative entry into the image in movement.

‘Give me a body then: this is the formula of philosophical reversal. The body is no longer the obstacle that separates thought from itself, that which it has to overcome to reach thinking. It is on the contrary that which plunges into or must plunge into, in order to reach the unthought, that is life’. [5] <#_ftn5> According to Deleuze, this is the situation of the body in modern cinema: (the body) not as a thinking entity, but as that which provokes us - through its postures and attitudes - to think about what does not belong to the domain of the intellect. Wait and tiredness, in Antonioni’s case; or the disconnected space that becomes reconnected through the attitudes of the bodies, in Cassavetes.

Hence what kind of postures do Lima and Motta’s bodies express?  It seems to me that a recurrent theme in many works is the inability to act which, in some respects, actualises the deleuzian scheme of modern cinema. Here the loop, used in many of their pieces, is not merely a technical resource – it is a key element in the construction of the bodies’ attitudes. For those bodies not only don’t know how to act – or when they do their action is minimal – but also seem to be trapped within an insurmountable time and space.

Just like in Deleuze ‘the image itself is the system of relations between its elements, that is, a set of temporal relations whose variable presents only fluxes’, insome cases the body itself is the system of relations between its elements whose variable presents only temporal fluxes. Those are movements inherent to the body and not the intellect: the pulse of breathing or of the circulation of fluids. It is as if the often imperceptible modulation, the microscopic and incessant movement of life was finally made visible – a developer of time.

I would like to suggest, however, that the body’s inability to act in the work of Lima and Motta is not restricted to the ability of making visible certain temporal relations, as in Deleuze’s thesis. There is another recurring element whose importance cannot be overlooked. In order to do so, it is necessary to return to the question of digital image, because what is made visible in this case is only possible through the digital manipulation of the image. Godard’s grumpiness is understandable: it is not the medium that determines an artist’s creative capacity. But here the image does not serve as a mere demonstration of technological innovation: it is central in the creation of the bodies’ attitudes.

In The Kiss, temporality is expressed by the molecular movement of nature, but that of an artificially constructed nature. Albeit captured by the camera the body is the only truly natural element. The nature that involves it, however, results from a manipulated image and although this work is more optimistic than the previous ones, the bodies never touch each other and consequently the kiss never happens. There is once more the idea of entrapment which might be the result of  the inability to equate the natural and the artificial in a constructed environment where the body no longer knows how to act.

This tension and anxiety emerge from these bodies’ insistence in being incorporated in a constructed environment, before which they do not know how to, or cannot act; or are searching for new postures in the contemporary information society.

If, according to Deleuze ‘cinema does not give us the presence of the body and cannot give us it, this is perhaps also because it sets itself a different objective; it spreads an ‘experimental night’ or a white space over us; it works with ‘dancing seeds’ and a ‘luminous dust’; it affects the visible with a fundamental disturbance, and the world with a suspension, which contradicts all natural perception. What it produces in this way is the genesis of an ‘unknown body’ which we have in the back of our heads, like the unthought in thought, the birth of the visible which is hidden from view.’[6] Likewise, Lima and Motta’s work shows us an ‘unknown body’ whose genesis is tied to digital image, making visible a process which today undergoes increasing acceleration. At this point we are no longer in modern cinema, but somewhere else where a new kind of image is being formed.



[1] Interview republished on Jean-Luc Godard, The Future(s) of Film, Three Interviews 2000/1. Bern: Verlag Gachnang & Springer AG, 2002.

[2] Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The time-image. London: The Athlone Press, 1989. Preface.

[3] Révélateur

[4] p.21, op cit.

[5] p.189, op cit. Deleuze contends that the reversal that took place in cinema repeats the experience of an inversion that happened over several centuries in philosophy, that is, the subordination of time to movement has been reverted.

[6] p.201, op cit.





* Kiki Mazzucchelli is an independent critic and curator who is currently pursuing a PhD at Goldsmiths College.