Εssay by Evita Tsokanta about the work of Jacqueline Lentzou
“And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
There is an eerie sense of time dilation in certain stages of a day. At dawn, before human activity comes through the window or at “a beautiful dusk that enhances everything”. During those times, presence acquires a self-consciousness that renders meaning-making the only noteworthy pursuit. These moments allow a mimesis of a child-like experience of time; not as a chronological sequence of events but rather as an inconsequential collection of moments that offer endless opportunities for seeing, discovering, considering in order to finally make sense, directed by nothing other than empiricism. Jacqueline Lentzou’s directing is determined to feature exactly that fleeting quality. Her films seem less as the unfolding of a linear narrative and more as a presentation of conditions on which life occurs. The treatment of time in her filmography enforces a widening of the spectrum in order to make room for the magnitude of the instant. The seated viewer is given the space to take on a hyper-real presence of re-seeing, re-discovering, re-considering.
The events that are committed to the screen offer strategically selected cases to examine this dilation of time. The death of a loved one, the telling of one’s dream, the living out of the last day of the year function as occasions in which time slows down and one is dragged into a retrospective funnel. Within that funnel what takes place is an otherworldly fusion of past and present, of memory and occurence, of knowledge and emotion which is aroused by nature’s irreverence towards the human need for structure and reason.
Fox (2016) starts out with the sound of a child reading an Aesopic fable, the echo of which tellingly morphs into the intense lyrics of a Greek hip hop song. It is a coming-of-age story of a teenage boy that also reads as an ethnographic study of contemporary Greek society class divisions and their respective gender stereotypes. The protagonist’s adolescent machismo is flexed as he enacts the patriarch role to his younger siblings and girlfriend, simulating the traditional family structure. As they are playing house, the actual grown-up, the mother escapes the restraints of motherhood with a Thelma-and-Louise abandon. The home is activated playfully while the mom recklessly flees it. The events of the film take place in a non-descript time period that renders them timeless. The film is heavily populated by time signifiers in the form of songs, tv series and fashion trends that bridge intergenerational distances similar to the passing of the torch of transgenerational trauma. The continuous phone ringing that remains systematically unanswered delays action until the characters have grown complete in their inadequacy to face the next stage of life. Loyal to its genre, it’s a story of loss as much as it is a story of beginnings.
A sense of voyeurism is induced when listening to someone describe their dreams. It’s an intimacy, between teller and listener, that most are not comfortable with. The initially masked but ultimately unresisting disclosure of subconscious fear, angst and desire, oftentimes unadmitted even to oneself, is a study in the metaphysical capacity of otherness. HIWA (2017) is an autonomous dream sequence that is narrated by the dreamer as the viewer is immersed in its visuals. The subtitles of the Filipino language film take on an additional role to translation: they describe what is seen on screen as if words and images are in competition. Lentzou, who also writes the scripts to her films, allows language to accommodate the sense-making process independently, liberating her camera to take on a fragmented blend of imagery instead of a visual representation of the narrative. The effect, often as disorienting as a dream, feels like reading an illustrated poem that deals with the crippling weight of parental responsibility and the liberation from the home in search for the self. The genealogical coincidences that are revealed once again point towards a circular consumption of time, often delineated in the director’s love for circular composition frames. The displacement of the dream is the background and the excuse for the dissociation of the narrator.
In Hector Malot: The last day of the year (2018) a young woman, Sophia, goes about the mundane tasks of a day, walking her dog, hanging out with friends, discussing about horoscopes, getting dressed, telling a joke in what feels like an expanded time-zone. The dialogue scenes were improvised giving a natural feel of reaction timing in discussions. Long, uncut takes that cover a real-life minute suggest that time in the film is being lived, not represented. Nothing renders this day particularly special other than the fact that Sophia goes to a rather banal New Year’s Eve celebration. Throughout the film there is a feeling that she is not living up to the significance of the day, which calls for review and resolution in preparation for the new start. It seems that through her everyday tasks, Sophia is composing herself bit by bit not with the goal of renewal but of continuance. The viewer is dragged into the mantra-like state of these tasks and is offered the time to dissect them into their basic elements, to allow them to exist without additional purpose, consequently allowing the character to exist without a plot. Both character and viewer are free from their imposed duties and permitted to stoically examine without emphasis.
Jacqueline Lentzou films have texture. In her technique, the camera is guiding the audience to scan every surface of the surrounding space, including a luscious representation of natural elements.Textures of plant leaves, animals, human flesh, dewdrops, air particles, dispersed light and every substance, visible or non, are zoomed into and surveyed slowly inch by inch. It’s as if the camera is suspended in time and the world itself moves in front of the lens instead of the other way around. A sensual depiction that provokes a reach-out-and-touch impulse. The urge to extend your hand and touch the objects on the screen, feel them out and even become one with them leads to the attraction of the here and now in all its devastating glory. It’s as if Lentzou’s film-making process has morphed from a representation of life to a guideline for living with a single piece of advice: be here, now.
Filmmaker Jacqueline Lentzou is a 2018 SNF ARTWORKS Fellow. ARTWORKS is a nonprofit organization exclusively supported by its founding donor, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Our aim is to create a fertile and nurturing environment for Greek artists through funding and public engagement opportunities. You can always learn more about our Fellows at www.art-works.gr
Evita Tsokanta is an art historian based in Athens who works as a writer, educator and an independent exhibition-maker. She lectures on curatorial practices and contemporary Greek art for the Columbia University Athens Curatorial Summer Program and Arcadia University College of Global Studies. She has contributed to several exhibition catalogues and journals and completed a Goethe Institute writing residency in Leipzig, Halle 14.
 Albert Camus, The Fall, (Great Britain, Penguin Classics, 2006)