Lumière et compagnie (1995) Poster

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New visions through an old eye
mike_sean25 August 2000
This DVD is a collection of the interesting, although scattered, results of an inspired project. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Lumiere Brothers' first motion picture, 40 directors from around the world are each allowed to shoot a short film using their original hand-cranked model. The participants have to follow three rules: 1. The film is 52 seconds. 2. No synchronous sound (most use musical scoring or dub in foley sound, and many are silent) and 3. They have to get it within three takes. Unfortunately for the viewer, several of the filmmakers opt to merely capture trite snapshots of everyday life. While this keeps in tradition with the Lumiere Brothers' original films, which wowed audiences unfamiliar with moving images a century ago, it makes for a pretty unremarkable experience today. Patrice Leconte pays tribute to their film of a train arriving in La Ciotat, France in 1895 by documenting the arrival of a modern day streamliner at the same location. Alain Corneau applies the technique of color tints to footage of a dancer twirling about. Some of them set up elaborate sequences (Gabriel Axel, Jerry Schatzberg, Peter Greenaway), some are intentionally minimal (Wim Wenders, Regis Wargnier, Andrei Konchalovsky) or simple and symbolic (Arthur Penn, Abbas Kiarostami, Francis Girod, Cedric Klapisch) and a large number turn the camera on itself (Liv Ullmann, John Boorman, Claude Lelouch, Gaston Kabore, Youseel Chahine, Helma Sanders). David Lynch is one of the few directors who rises to the challenge with an exceptionally creative effort, and his is easily the most impressive of the bunch. I'm sure it was an honor for them to be approached for the project, but the entries of Spike Lee, Nadine Trintignant, Lasse Hallstrom, and Merchant Ivory are quite unimaginative and forgettable. The menu screen lists the directors alphabetically, allowing you to jump directly to your favorite ones. Each short is designated by a chapter stop, accompanied by brief behind-the-scenes moments and interviews in which the directors awkwardly answer questions such as "Why do you film?" and "Is cinema mortal?" These unsuccessful attempts at insight are best summed up by Michael Haneke's reply: "Never ask a centipede why it walks or it'll stumble." As a tribute to film history, it's a novel and occasionally successful idea, but much of the work is too inconsistent to earn repeat viewings.
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An interesting idea ...which needed a stronger editor
ian234 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I generally agree that the results reached by these forty directors are of wildly uneven quality.

It also appears to be a consensus that the strongest entry is David Lynch's bizarre sci-fi collage, but I'd say closely followed by:

*) Zhang Yimou's nice reversal of the "old-fashioned" setting initially presented... and one of the few pieces with any sense of humor...

*) Helma Sanders' beautiful four-dimensional 'painting with light' which makes a virtue of the film stock's limited range of contrast...

*) Claude Lelouch's vertiginous kiss as camera technology evolves in the background.

I also found some of the simpler ones quite charming, including: *) Jaco van Dormael's portrait of a kiss by a pair of special lovers, *) Peter Greenaway's floating numbers of time *) Wim Wenders' quiet and simple re-visitation of his angels *) Jerry Schatzberg's snapshot of urban scavenging and *) Bigas Luna's portrait of a nude woman nursing in a field.

However, the vast majority of the pieces are dull, redundant (couldn't those guiding the project have communicated with each filmmaker about their intentions to avoid such frequent duplication?), pretentious, and worst of all humorless.

The worst offenders are the most self-conscious pieces-- which coincidentally tend to have the most annoying soundtracks-- including Spike Lee (leading candidate for most self-obsessed father of the year), Liv Ullman (hers is the least inspired of the dozen or so camera-filming-camera pieces), and Kiju Yoshida (who pompously announces he will demonstrate the impossibility of capturing an image on film).

In short, 'Lumiere' is well worth a look, with some brilliant moments, especially for students of film and film history... but keep a grain of salt and your fast-forward button handy.
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An engrossing, tumbling parade of cinematic images
allyjack14 October 1999
The film would be inherently fascinating even if it were no good, but there's actually a lot here of genuine interest. The repeated questions about why the directors make cinema and whether it's "mortal" receive predictably lame responses, but the glimpses of them at work, punctuated with their 50 second films, is mesmerizing. Many of them turn the project into a commentary on cinema in some form - Boorman films Neil Jordan at work, with the actors looking quizzically into the camera (a common device here, also used by Angelopoulos and Costa-Gavras); Lelouch has a sort of reverse version of the Vertigo kiss, designed with great panache. in which a historic parade of cameras observes the spiraling lovers; some, like Rivette, just take varied people and let them play (he's very engaging, seen protesting that the film is too short). Lynch's segment is magnificently skillful and striking, with a potted narrative of police, a 50's style family, and a bunch of space aliens holding a captive woman - it's almost as effective as the whole of Lost Highway and utterly distinctive. In all, it's a tumbling parade of cinematic images that evokes love, passion and breadth, whether the directors take a playful approach (a majority) or aim for greater seriousness (as in Handke's filming of a potted TV news bulletin).
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Actually quite an impressive project
RoxanneAndorfer19 December 2001
This video was given to me by a friend who knows that I look at film not merely as entertainment, but art as well. This project with its 40-odd 50 second vignettes done by a mix of directors of varying talents and celebrity, using an antiquated camera, gives an opportunity to see snapshots of their work as pure art. All of them are at least passable, with over half being very, very good. A few of them are truly outstanding, the most notable being Andre Konchalovsky's gem on life, death, temporality and nature. David Lynch's segment is a close second. I highly recommend this to any serious student of film as art.
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The old camera
jotix10017 May 2006
The idea to gather 40 recognized film directors to shoot a mini film of less than a minute, or what would have been the format the Lumiere brothers used in their revolutionary camera, seems a great idea in paper. Unfortunately, what comes out is an uneven film where some of the short films hold our interest and some others that don't go anywhere.

What must have been an interesting idea doesn't translate to brilliant film making in the finished product. This documentary is for fans of the medium, but will not be of any interest to a casual viewer. Some of the most enjoyable ones are the ones by David Lynch, Helma Sanders, Claude Lelouch, Jaco Van Dormael, and Bigas Luna, just to mention a few. The rest, hold some interest, but don't quite add anything new to the idea behind the project.
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Great celebration!
wdw-316 May 2002
I think this was a great idea. It works three fold: as a fun game, a slice of world cinema, and ultimately as a celebration of cinema. You get to see some more well known directors while some lesser known though not necessarily less important ones get exposure. I agree that David Lynch's film is probably the standout of the lot for its creativity within 50 seconds and the other rules of the game. But there are also many other interesting things going on throughout the whole exercise;weather the film is particularly entertaining or more personal, the whole project remains interesting. Other films I personally found memorable included the ones by Greenaway (also very creative, particularly his use of light), Zhang Yi Mou (sleight of hand with no special effects), Idrissa Ouedraogo and Gaston Kabore from Burkina Faso, Egypt's Youseff Chahine, to mention a few. Finally, after reading the other comments I wanted to say, instead of complaining that most of these directors showed no creativity why not think about and discuss what you yourself might film if given the chance.
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An interesting diversion with a pioneering camera
Afracious29 October 1999
This film was made to celebrate one-hundred years of the first camera used by the Lumiere Brothers. Forty directors from around the world were asked to make a short film with the original camera. The rules being it lasts no longer than fifty-two seconds, only three takes allowed, and no synchronous sound. The directors are predominately French, with a few notable exceptions like David Lynch, Peter Greenaway and John Boorman. Lynch's segment is far and away the most creative and satisfactory effort. Most of the others are mainly static and ordinary. But it's a fascinating documentary with insights and comments from the all the directors, and worth seeing for Lynch's film alone. That was the prime reason I watched it.
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A must for film students and film lovers alike...
dr.gonzo-417 February 2001
1995. The 100 year anniversary of the Lumiere Brothers first motion picture. What better way to celebrate this historical event than to gather 40 directors from around the world for a little game. The game? Each director is given access to the original Lumiere motion picture camera and about one minute of film time. Just the idea of these directors, who are used to making two hour films, throwing all their creativity into one minute is worth seeing. The rest is cinematic history. The directors are also asked to comment on why they film and if they think cinema is mortal or not. It would have helped though if they gave each director's film credits because half of them I never even heard of. This documentary gives us film in its purest art form. It's a must for film students and film lovers alike. Some of the best ones I would recommend to check out are John Boorman's, Peter Greenaway's, and of course, David Lynch's. I would have liked to see more American directors showcased like Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, or Francis Ford Coppola. But all in all, it is an engrossing, thoroughly amazing little slice of history. SEE IT!!!
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Surprising lack of talent and ideas among pretentious twits...
Parca30 June 1999
In making this documentary, what its makers wind up unveiling is how many of them have no ideas whatsoever. Almost all the attempts with the Lumiere camera involve just placing a lot of people in front of the camera and have them wave and/or stare, or they involve films about filmmakers. Other attempts are to recreate the banal films which were made in the era of first attempts in the history of cinema. And then you have clips that you can see that the director didn't take the project seriously at all, as in the cases of Spike Lee and John Boorman. Then you get laughably bad films made by pretentious idiots, such as the one by Peter Greenaway (who concludes that film is dying) and the one by the Japanese twit who says that film doesn't capture anything.

On the plus side, you get some interesting films along the way, particularly among the last few, like the one by David Lynch, among others.
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Septième Art
duelek30 October 2010
Lumière et Compagnie is a very interesting documentary, giving the audience different perspectives on the meaning of cinema within the concept of its birth a century ago. Heavily centered on directors from France and other countries with strong historical or linguistic bonds to France (Romania, Algeria, Burkina Faso etc.), the movie nevertheless tries to adopt a universal discourse on cinema through evaluating it as a global language of art. Among the movies of the 40 directors and a couple of Lumière examples shown in the film there are certain approaches and themes I find interesting and very much related to the questions asked to the participant directors about the meaning of cinema and its future. Peter Greenaway's segment with the passing calendar years starting from the symbolic date of 1895 with a constant sitting naked man was in that sense very much reminding me the novelty of cinema when compared to the life of humanity and civilization, just like the 52 seconds passing in the life of that man, who is young and promising. The parts combining the whole film together with interviews and shots showing the audience how these individual movies were made was also a theme itself in the movies of Sanders-Brahms, Chahine, Lelouch and Axel, all emphasizing on the making of the movie more than the movie itself as Lumière et Compagnie was about. The concept of realizing the presence of a camera and trying to be on the screen was elaborately used by Booman and Allouache, whereby the latter strikingly combined it with his country's patriarchal social structure. I really enjoy Costa-Gavras' segment, which delicately reminds me of my status of audience after 50 seconds of eye contact with the audience on the screen, for which cinema is produced at the end of the day. Haneke is again outstanding with filming an already prepared television shot, maybe challenging the three rules of the game in an original fashion but I prefer such rule violations when done more sincerely like in the case of Ouedraogo when he was caught by the camera saying "in Burkina Faso we can make four takes with the soldiers". Most of the directors are optimistic and even emotional when commenting on cinema and its future, but somehow many of them sound to me as clichés; maybe they are not so good in speech that's why they chose to make movies. However I think the strongest statement was uttered by Yoshida that cinema cannot capture every moment and the director shooting his movie at the real time of the nuclear bomb attack would be dead. Very reminiscent of Chacun Son Cinéma (2007) prepared for the Cannes Film Festival by 33 directors, it is always fun to watch samples from great directors and the use of the so-called first movie camera as the basic concept is a very challenging and as much as a successful idea.
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Revisiting the Past
Cineanalyst11 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This is a conceptually intriguing project: 40 film directors from around the world each make a 50-some-seconds film with a restored Lumière Cinématographe. Interspersed among the short films is footage of them making the films as well as interviews with the filmmakers. One thing I found surprising was how inarticulate many of them were in responding to such essential questions as why they film, or whether film is mortal. Overall, the added material outside of the 40 films is interesting and adds further layers to the project.

I've been especially interested in the early history of motion pictures and have spent much time with the Lumière brothers' films; thus, this project becomes more rewarding for me. I suggest watching this after seeing "The Lumière Brothers' First Films", with narration by Bertrand Taverneir. The medium has advanced severalfold in the 100 years between today and when the Lumière brothers contributed to the invention of cinema. One of the great advances of the Cinématographe was its light weight--providing mobility. First, the Lumière Company exploited this added mobility with the subjects of their films, with the actuality films and by taking their camera across the world. It's appropriate that this project consists of an international array of filmmakers, as the Lumière brothers were responsible for introducing motion pictures and cinema to much of the world via their (or rather their assistants) traveling the world. The next step the Lumière Company took in exploiting this mobility was with camera movement. One of the company's filmmakers, Alexandre Promio, was, apparently, responsible for much of this innovation. These films consisted of panoramas or fixing the camera to a moving object (i.e. a boat). In his Hiroshima short, Hugh Hudson holds the camera--a "shaky cam" effect--ending with overexposing the film by pointing the camera towards the sun, which is more movement than the Lumière brothers had envisioned.

When limited to the technology of the Cinématographe, however, many of the modern filmmakers' films demonstrate little to no advancement in film grammar or insight into the medium. One of them is an updated remake; others are like something the Lumière brothers might have filmed. You can take that as a poor mark upon those modern directors, or as further good marks for the Lumière's, or both. Yet, there are exceptions in this project, such as Hudson's short. Some of the directors do use the benefit of 100 years of hindsight to expand upon those first films. Several of the films are clever in their self-reference and are interesting tributes to the Lumière brothers and film. Gabriel Axel's tracking shot of the arts and Claude Lelouch's rotating kiss with a background progression of a history of camera technology filming it are two of the more outstanding in this way.

Helma Sanders's "Tribute to Louis Cochet" shows the orchestration of lighting of a stage waterfall fountain. It shows both the beauty and limitations of the relic camera--ending with the lights turned towards the camera. Peter Greenaway also plays with the lighting and exposure of the film in one of the few multi-shot films in the series. As he says, film is a great arena for him to play with image and text. The consensus favorite, the short film by David Lynch, is also one of the most original in the program. It also contains multiple shots (and even the continuity transitions are creative, including flames, as though the negative catches fire). Lynch also provided one of the more agreeable interviews, relating that film is "a magical medium that makes you dream". Additionally, I think the final film is appropriately placed. It's by Theo Angelopoulos, who's in Athens and films a scene from Homer's "Odyssey". With a title card, Ulysses ponders: "I am lost! In which foreign country have I landed?" It clarifies and elaborates upon a few of the other short films that had people staring into the camera (which harks back to 100 years ago when people weren't familiar with movie cameras). Ulysses has landed in the foreign land of cinema.
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Interesting idea, though certainly not the life-changing experience it could have been
ThreeSadTigers4 May 2008
The idea of 41 of the world's leading film-makers attempting to create a short film lasting no longer than 52 seconds and using the original Lumiere Brothers' hand-cranked cameras to celebrate cinema's centenary is a mouth-watering prospect. So why didn't the finished film overwhelm us with this potentially staggering ode to cinema? Well, perhaps because the majority of the directors asked to take part in the project are hardly indicative of the very best of contemporary world cinema. Of course, this is an entirely subjective criticism on my part - I mean, who has the authority to say that one filmmaker is greater than another? Certainly not me - but for the purposes of personal critique I can say quite comfortably that many of the filmmakers included here are lesser talents, comfortable making decent enough films with the occasional greater work thrown in, but certainly not representative of the magnitude and imagination that contemporary world cinema has to offer.

The films collected here are symptomatic of this lack of quality, featuring obvious odes to the Lumiere's with a combination of visual homage and sketches devoid of imagination, or abstract pieces that seem like unfinished ideas. The most obvious of these is Lasse Hellstrom's film depicting a woman waiting for a train and Patrice Leconte's project, which is essentially a shot-for-shot recreation of The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1896). Some directors attempt symbolism; Greenaway for example, who I admire, turns in a tedious film more befitting of the man who gave us 8 and a ½ Women (1999) as opposed to the ornate majesty of The Draughtsman's Contract (1982) or The Pillow Book (1996), whilst Bigas Luna gives us breast feeding and frontal nudity in an empty field. Arthur Penn's symbolic piece - seemingly juxtaposing the birth of cinema with the notions of child birth - is not too bad and has an interesting use of shot-structure and composition, although even here, it must be said that Penn isn't a filmmaker that I would normally consider worthy of such an endeavour, despite the greatness of films like Bonnie & Clyde (1968) and Night Moves (1975).

Other director's squander their chance with worthy experiments that don't pay off. Theo Angelopoulos for examples gives us Greek myth that doesn't really work on such a limited canvas; John Boorman turns his camera on the filming of Neil Jordan's historical biographical film Michael Collins (1997) but lacks the intellect and the depth to actually say anything of interest; whilst Spike Lee attempts to capture the first words of his daughter on film (which is certainly a noble cause, but one that doesn't necessarily lend itself to captivating cinema), etc, etc. Other interesting projects include Hugh Hudson's attempt to document the Hiroshima incident, Claude Miller's delightfully Chaplinesque sketch, Francis Girod's imaginative metaphor, the entertaining and wonderfully composed sketch of Jacques Rivette, and the films by Claude Lelouch and Nadine Trintignant (although they do nothing radical with the format, they are at least beautiful to look at).

It is interesting that many of the director's remain true to form, with their work, for better or worse, managing to tie in with the themes and ideas present in their feature-length work; with Spike Lee placing the emphasis on family; Jerry Schatzberg documenting real life, lower-class struggles; Luna and his adolescent obsessions with sex and women; Costa-Gavras and Michael Haneke offering up clinical, political polemic; Greenaway indulging in essay; and then David Lynch going wild with B-movie homage, shock and imagination. Without question, Lynch's segment is the best of the bunch; the only film that has seemingly had more than a day's worth of planning go into it, with costumes, movable sets, lighting and special effects presenting a mini-surrealist parable about police investigations, the atomic age and extraterrestrials in a single moving dolly shot lasting 52 seconds in total. It's a stunning work; one that reinforces his current-standing as the greatest living American filmmaker and one that captures the pure creative spirit and sense of free-form expression that cinema is supposed to be about.

The other filmmakers on board could learn a lot from this, and probably should have lowered their heads in shame when faced with Lynch's wild imagination and boundless passion for pure, cinematic expression. Many of the other segments are forgettable, even those from talented filmmakers like Zhang Yimou and Wim Wenders, not to mention many of the other filmmakers mentioned above. Some of the director's included here were new to me, and judging from the interviews and the standard of their work as it is presented, it would seem that they're probably not worthy of any further investigation (but I suppose only time will tell). Overall, it's not a bad film; the talking heads offer some interesting insights, the cause is worthy enough and the films, for better or worse, reveal something rather interesting about the people who made them.

However, when watching the film, it struck me that many of the greatest filmmakers currently at work (or at least, circa 1995) are curiously absent from the proceedings. Given that this is supposed to be a celebration of film at its very best, it seems strange that highly acclaimed, original and award winning filmmakers - like, for example, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman, Lars von Trier, Mike Leigh, Jean Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, Shinya Tsukamoto, Shohei Imamura, Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Terry Gilliam, Aki Kaurismäki, etc, etc - weren't given the opportunity to create their own short film is truly criminal (or perhaps they were but didn't want to). Either way, it's a great shame, and results in a film that is only of passing interest as opposed to be a completely enveloping, life-changing experience.
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What a pity,I just see half.
seamouse8 February 2002
I was drawn in some segments,but unfortunately,i just see half. Let a director do sth. good just in 50 seconds seems too unimaginalbe,but of course they are master,so they can make those 50 seconds produce nice cinema.
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see it for David Lynch's clip
Namba28 January 1999
In this film some twenty or thirty well-known directors from around the world take a shot a making a film with the first-ever movie camera. In between the films, the directors give awkward answers to questions along the lines of "what is film?" and "why do you film?". The films are for the most part cute but not especially creative, with the exception of David Lynch's, which comes second-to-last and is several levels more sophisticated than the rest, so much so that my first thought was that he had cheated. But he didn't. He does, however, seem to be the only one who took the challenge of making a work of art under these conditions seriously. If you're not inclined to the usual anti-Lynch objections ("it's weird", "what does it mean?"), which I'm certainly not, then his clip should make the whole film worthwhile.
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