UNE HISTOIRE DE VENT (Joris Ivens/ Marceline Loridan; Netherlands/UK/ France/ Germany; 1988)
“Filming the impossible is what is best in life.”
Ivens utters this epithet near the end of this exquisite film, and it may well be seen as a summation of the heart of this particular work as well as the summation of his lifetime of cinematic achievements. For his final film, at age 90, Ivens stepped out from behind the camera and essentially performed as himself, a elderly director determined to film the wind. After a lifetime pursuing lyrical and/or militantly political cinematic paths, this film can be seen as a culmination of all that Ivens set out to do in his entire career – capture and map the relationship between humans and their natural environment. Here, breathing and the movement of the wind are intertwined with cinema, each cyclically giving life to the other. Film animates and give life to the wind, and the wind enriches and shapes the movement of this film.
Ivens chose to shoot the film in China, and specifically to capture the wind in a desert. Why China? A past relationship with China, having filmed there in the 1930's and the 1970's, certainly must contribute to his return to this country. But I can't help but imagine there's a deeper reason, and I haven't fully nutted it out yet, although I'm wondering if the inclusion of martial arts (control of self through breath) and dragons (symbolic mythical embodiments of weather) provide clues – perhaps Ivens is seeking a different cultural relationship to this aspect of nature, a deeper relationship to wind and breathing? Or it may simply be that locating himself in China allows Ivens to tie together all the strands of his film-making career, not only the lyrical and political aspects but the 'travelogue' component as well.
The moments spent in the real or imagined everyday China are interesting enough, whether those moments be Ivens watching martial arts instructors guiding their students, or Ivens negotiating with museum staff regards filming the Qin terracotta warrior army statues, or a mock village being set up in a studio with Peking Opera, gymnastics, a political rally, and a Children's Communist Choir all vying for attention. However, the richest and most memorable segments of this film are when we return to Ivens, seated alone in the desert, back to us, waiting for the wind to arrive. When the wind finally arrives, and Ivens stands and smiles, hair whipping back, arms outstretched to embrace the breeze, its as if the purpose of his desire and the purpose of the film become clear – Ivens wanted to create his own epitaph, to put his final signature to his life making film by focusing on the thing that gives life – air, breath, wind. The last shot of Ivens, walking away from us, arms aloft, enraptured and joyous, has to be the most affecting final image I've seen in a very long time.