Eric Baudelaire’s Also Known as Jihadi is the most recent of the artist’s responses to the work of Japanese filmmaker Masao Adachi, in this case a remake of latter’s unconventional 1969 documentary A.K.A. Serial Killer. Utilizing his fukeiron landscape theory and filming the seemingly quotidian locations that the titular criminal had occupied, Adachi hoped to reveal something about the influence of environment on one’s psyche, an impetus carried over into Baudelaire’s investigation of a French national who travelled to Syria to fight with Daesh.
Succinctly edited by Chantal Akerman collaborator Claire Atherton, Also Known as Jihadi traces the relatively innocuous locations once navigated by the protagonist, from the banlieues of Paris to the Middle East. Interspersed with documents from his subsequent trial, what emerges is a film of surfaces, from the physical landscapes to the portrait of an unseen individual gleaned from their statements and Internet searches.
Tuesday 16 October 2018
Doors 6:30 PM | Screening 7:00 PM
$7 General Admission | $5 Students
Jackman Hall (317 Dundas St. W.) - McCaul Street Entrance
Eric Baudelaire is a visual artist and filmmaker. His recent feature films Letters to Max (2014), The Ugly One (2013) and The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi, and 27 Years Without Images (2011) were selected at the FIDMarseille, Locarno, Toronto, New York and Rotterdam film festivals. His research-based practice also includes printmaking, photography and publications which have been shown in installations alongside his films in solo exhibitions at the Fridericianum in Kassel, Bétonsalon in Paris, the Bergen Kunsthall, the Beirut Art Center, Gasworks in London, La Synagogue de Delme in France and The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. He has participated in the Seoul Biennal and Yokohama Triennal in 2014, the Taipei Biennial, Berlin Documentary Forum 2, La Triennale in Paris, and the Baltic Triennial of International Art in 2012. His work is included in the collections of MACBA in Barcelona, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and The Whitney Museum of American Art.
Fanta Sylla is a film writer based in Paris. She has been published in Reverse Shot, TIFF, The Village Voice, Les Inrockuptibles and more.
Against the Tyranny of the Visible
By Fanta Sylla
Over the past ten years, French cinema - known and often criticized for its general inability to confront recent events, an extension of that society’s compulsive traditions of denial - has seized upon the ultra-contemporary question of jihadism in a variety of narrative, documentary, and made-for-television works, including Bruno Dumont’s Hadewijch (2009), Philippe Faucon’s The Disintegration (2011), Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar’s Heaven Will Wait (2016), and Nicolas Boukhrief’s Made in France (2015). As academic sociology has offered scientific explanations for the roots and motivations behind the phenomenon of radicalization, cinema and television - alongside the media’s circulation of studies and countless reports - have served to shape our contemporary understanding and perception of Islamic extremism. The omnipresence of the figure of the jihadi has unsurprisingly accelerated in recent years, with various assaults in France culminating in the January 2015 massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters and the subsequent Paris attacks in November that same year.
The jihadi has been examined, dissected, commented upon, and, in various forms, represented. Though all the necessary material is there, it has not - at least in West - been turned into a romanesque figure; it has not inspired dark television dramas or become reified as an anti-hero. Something in the jihadi simultaneously triggers incessant visual discourse while resisting a certain form of romanticization, a tension that has not in this case produced daring or stimulating pieces of art. daring or stimulating pieces of art. What seems to transpire is a sort of crisis of representation or an ethical dilemma which filmmakers rarely, if ever, attempt to wrestle with: why do we desire to represent that which, at the bottom, revolts or repulses us, and how to do so?
The jihadi has been seen and heard, and though the figure can and has emerged from various ethnic and class backgrounds its prototypical appearance as been fixed in the popular imaginary as young, masculine, bearded, and Arab. The jihadi has not only been represented but groups and individuals have managed representation via their own means: selfies, personal videos disseminated online, and above all, the morbid snuff and propaganda movies produced by extremist groups intent on the maintenance of their own mythology. Examined, dissected, commented upon, and represented. Overexposed. What else, then, is left to see? What else is left to say?
Eric Baudelaire’s 2017 documentary Also Known As Jihadi seems to rise against this strong current of images and discourses. The film draws direct conceptual and aesthetic inspiration from the 1969 avant-garde documentary A.K.A. Serial Killer, directed by radical Japanese filmmaker and intellectual Masao Adachi. Baudelaire had already shown his interest for Adachi in his 2011 feature The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi and 27 Years Without Images, particularly the theory of landscape (fukeiron) Adachi developed partly in response to his earlier militant filmmaking practices and deployed in A.K.A. Serial Killer. The landscape theory, as its name aptly describes, centers the environment as a potential locus, a space that offers answers about the influence of economic and social oppression, thus enabling a needed space for abstraction.
Also Known As Jihadi retraces the familiar itinerary of Abdel Aziz Mekki, a young man from the Parisian banlieues, who like many others, left France in order to join Daesh’s Syrian front. In a succession of unnerving handheld, near-static shots that make up the dominant grammar, the camera captures the places that inform this character which will never appear on-screen: the hospital where he was born, the city and housing project where he grew up, the university he attended to study engineering. The shots are cruelly depopulated, with the voice-over utilized in A.K.A. Serial Killer replaced by the quotidian urban soundscape. Also Known As Jihadi is stern and austere but also generous and curious in the way it forges a space for the spectator to think, reflect and imagine.
Also shown on-screen are reproductions of police and judiciary reports related to Mekki’s eventual arrest and trial, including a psychological examination, testimonials by friends and family members, transcriptions of surveilled phone conversations, and statements from the unseen protagonist himself,. It is through these excerpts that we learn about Mekki in a cold, factual sense, and the alternation between landscapes and documents creates a simultaneously intimate and vaporous, intangible portrait. A pervasive loneliness transpires in the landscapes shots, those deserted spaces that seem abandoned, as if someone is missing.
It is not simply a consequence of the main protagonist existing off-camera or invisible, but clearly the effect of these associations between text and landscapes, between facts and emptiness. And if one had to isolate one admirable element from a documentary in which dramatic retention could have lead to a certain emotional numbness, it would be the tangible idea that Mekki and the young people who have chosen the same path are missing, that this loss has affected the very environments we navigate in every day. It is something we are rarely asked to ponder and our unwillingness to do so is either a cruel admission of indifference or a denial, a repression of feelings (despair, grief) we are refusing to confront.