Alternate futures, contradictory pasts: Forking paths and cubist narratives in contemporary film By David Scott Diffrient

Posted: March 4, 2013 in Film's and Television, Science

Alternate futures, contradictory pasts:
Forking paths and cubist narratives in contemporary film

David Scott Diffrient

Over the past twenty-five years, several filmmakers throughout the world have departed from classical narrative formulas to embrace the intertextual as well as intratextual complexities of “episode films” (feature-length motion pictures each made up of several discretely demarcated stories, sketches, anecdotes, or variations on a theme). In doing so, such disparate auteurs as Ventura Pons (Spain), Hong Sang-soo (South Korea), Rodrigo García (United States), Jim Jarmusch (United States), François Girard (Canada), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Mexico), and Petr Zelenka (Czech Republic) have created polyphonic works whose internal fragmentation provides a structural foundation for expressing psychological uncertainty, epistemological ambiguity, perspectival disjuncture, and thematic reverberation while suggesting an affinity for various literary and artistic avant-gardes of the twentieth-century. This essay attempts to account for two unique strains of cinematic episodicity gaining currency within the critical community, each rooted in avant-garde practices that predate contemporary film. In the process of unpacking these alternative approaches to storytelling, I explore particular texts that have already been the subject of hypotheses about the nature of cinematic narration, albeit often without being situated within either a broader art-historical context or a lineage that recognizes the significance of earlier anthology, omnibus, portmanteau, and sketch films.

After briefly discussing Jorge Luís Borges’s importance to cyclical and subjunctive cinematic forms in the first section of this essay, I focus on a select few episode films whose stories fork off from one another and provide alternate visions of a single character’s immediate future. Unlike many episodic narratives in the multi-director (omnibus) and multi-character (ensemble) molds, these works typically revolve around an individual protagonist or a couple rather than a broad swath of humanity, although the stories they tell – each one rendered in the conditional tense, each one different from the others in some significant way – are aligned in a similarly serial pattern. However, if we think of the interstitial moments between the episodes of a representative omnibus production like Quartet (1948) as being akin to the conjunction “and” (“The facts of life” and “The alien corn” and “The kite” and “The colonel’s lady”), then the slivers of time between stories in a forked-path film like Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blind chance (Przypadek, 1982) are akin to the word “or.”

For the full paper go to this link


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