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Snakes and Ladders (1980)

Zig-Zag - le jeu de l'oie (Une fiction didactique à propos de la cartographie) (original title)

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Pascal Bonitzer
Jean-Loup Rivière
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17 September 1980 (France)  »

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Snakes and Ladders  »

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Panopticon
31 May 2011 | by (Greece) – See all my reviews

This combines in its 30 minutes several things that appeal to me.

  • mystical geographies navigable my meaningful chance. Maps as alchemic


realities, codas of a larger maze of which in life we only recognize the corridors. This is probably what people refer to as Borgesian in this, though the tradition stretches further back. The legend of Thibault de Castries, megapolisomancy, Baudelaire and his absinthe notions about flaneurs, the detached observer who walks the city in order to experience it. Of course The King in Yellow. Fritz Leiber. Dada and their elaborate dandy games where Paris is wandered around according to maps of London or Vienna, in hope to unlock some secret communion.

  • games of chance with hazardous stakes. Where the card player who


folds is removed from existence.

  • raw cinematic tools at the hands of an intelligent film mind, where


film is not a multibillion gloss, but a precious alchemic concoction, that intimates how you could brew it yourself. Some of the effects are inadvertently cheap, others are captivating like that flickering hand of god tossing dice in the sky. Flickering as though to suggest the cinematic, which is the hand of the filmmaker shaping his world.

  • perception of the mechanisms that control reality, and what hides


behind the apparent. That there is more to what we see, exactly because we don't see it. Here the distinction is between map and the corresponding world that it maps, between representation and reality, idea and the experience it refers to. The vantage point from where it is made is from up in the sky, from where the cartographer gets his bird's eye view. His panopticon from where the maze becomes visible.

Ruiz weaves all of this together in a stratagem hinting at mystical insights, a 'didactic nightmare' as the title says. The whole of Paris becomes a board game, where movement of the players in the maze is preordained by the chance tossing of the dice. Then France, and Europe.

Having understood worlds within worlds and how one informs the other, Ruiz asks the one question that matters. Where do we choose to finally inhabit, the map or the actual thing? The decision once made, we are hurled outside as a means of sinking within. As in Solyaris, only with primitive means.

The voyage outwards as a representation of one inwards in which the protagonist finds himself inhabiting the mind (where maps are born, illusions of the real as in Solyaris), the idea than the actual thing. A clever touch that expounds on this, is that by submerging himself in that which is meant to orientate, by navigating what is in front of his eyes through an artifice, an intermediate, he eventually loses himself.

The palpable sadness comes from the realization that the unity with the cosmos is only possible down here, in the worldly. There is no cosmos in the mind, only ideas and references about it. Which is one of many conundrums of the spiritual endeavor; how to escape the worldly bonds yet remain open to the world. How to escape the self for example while retaining this one consciousness?


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