Berlinale 2022 Encounters See You Friday Robinson New Wavers who upset the language of cinema
by David Katz, Cineuropa 21/02/2022
"We are never sad enough for the world to become better, for the world to become better we are never sad enough."
Every Friday has its aphorism, its quote, its image, its edit. An email is sent from London, written by Ebrahim Golestan and a reply is sent back the following Friday from Rolle in Switzerland, written by Jean-Luc Godard.
BERLINALE 2022: Ebrahim Golestan and Jean-Luc Godard, New Wavers Iranian and French, embark on an email round-robin conversation in this amusing documentary from Godard collaborator Mitra Farahani.
The film won the Special Jury Award in the Berlinale’s Encounters competition, reserved for innovative, sometimes unclassifiable works.
“In the 1960s, Godard and Golestan similarly upset the language of cinema. They had never met, I wanted to force fate."The two men agree, so powerful is Mitra Farahani's power of persuasion. The idea of a digital correspondence is suggested by Godard, each having to take turns writing to the other on Friday before midnight. The case lasts eight months and includes around thirty exchanges.
As the saying goes, only mountains do not meet. Still one could add that certain men have nothing to envy to the mountains, comparable by the height of their views or their creation to solitary summits. This is what we see in See You Friday Robinson, the new documentary by Mitra Farahani, which tries, a little madly, to arrange the meeting between these two abrupt peaks that are the Franco-Swiss Jean-Luc Godard, and the Iranian Ebrahim Golestan, filmmaker, poet, essayist, and an immense figure of Persian culture.
Mitra Farahani, one of Godard’s primary producers on the latter film, has devised this minimalist, conversation-based documentary, whereby the artist sometimes known as JLG exchanges little electronic missives with another filmmaker of similar temperament, Ebrahim Golestan, late of the 60s Iranian New Wave. In the film, Golestan, a director-turned-novelist, is in his mid-90s and sharp as a tack, and even he is bamboozled by his counterpart’s offbeat zaniness. So there is hope for us all. The film won the Special Jury Award in the Berlinale’s Encounters competition, reserved for innovative, sometimes unclassifiable works.
Farahani, whose voice-over darts in and out of the mix across the film, largely to make cryptic remarks about Beethoven, saw that the two should interact and that this would be a fine basis for a film. She thought it a strange coincidence that they hadn’t met across their politically and artistically scabrous careers, with Golestanhaving left Iran for the UK in the late 60s, and Godardbeginning his more internationally inclined work with the Dziga Vertov Group around then.And so, in a curious artistic gesture all of her own, a dialogue is set up whereby each veteran filmmaker will send a message on Friday, and respective camera crews in Rolle, Switzerland for Godard, and Sussex, UK for Golestan, will capture their remarks and reactions.
The discourse is unsurprisingly dominated by Godard’s messages, which aren’t messages so much as his customary melanges of aphorisms, visual references and oblique commentary. Farahani’s camera slowly zooms in on Golestan’s email inbox, where you can feel his hesitancy in clicking ‘open,’ as though receiving a package from an unknown sender. A typical Godard message might include prints of Matisse, an e-book page of James Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake,’ flipped 90 degrees diagonally, and a shot of Golestan’s own handwriting. For Golestan, Godardis ‘pretentious’ but clearly brilliant, and a true successor to Joyce for the different languages and registers he incorporates into his work, which no one reader could successfully interpret on their own.
See You Friday, Robinson | Berlinale Meets... Mitra Farahani | Berlinale 2022
When other documentaries might cautiously give a wiki-like summary of these two luminaries to make sure the audience is never at sea, Farahani knows this absence of grounding can be liberating — not for nothing does she invoke ‘Robinson Crusoe’ in the title. The images are like art photography in Golestan’s scenes, with the camera marooned in darkness, only interrupted when the director shuffles from one part of his gothic Sussex mansion to the other. She’s not too precious about his image either, with one Godard-free segment showing him making sexist comments about an associate’s partner: ‘she’s beautiful, but she has an opinion?’
Godard, meanwhile, is framed in more matter-of-fact poses: sucking on enormous cigars, and sitting sombrely at a sparsely adorned kitchen table. Although shot in 2014, as on-screen titles indicate, there’s a strong pandemic resonance to See You Friday Robinson, a film which hardcore Godardians won’t want to miss, like his oddly similar recent Instagram live appearance (covered on Cineuropa).Farahanicaptures an artistic twilight of giants, their mere emails some of the last work they can plausibly create, freed from having to dilute their poetic flights of fancy for wider consumption.