April 26th 2020
by Giuseppe di Salvatore, Jean Perret, Laura Davis
on Film Explorer
[…] The unsteady relation between viewer and subject in favour of the trust between viewer and narrator speaks to the short-sightedness of state surveillance measures, our reliance on which is increasing day by day mid-pandemic.
Kamal Aljafari’s An Unusual Summer is many things: a mystery, a found film, a letter to a time gone past, a poetic tribute to his father and an observation of the Israeli neighbourhood the Palestinian filmmaker grew up in. Its source material is Aljafari’s father’s VHS surveillance camera tapes, discovered shortly after his death. They portray the neighbourhood comings and goings on a nondescript corner in the “ghetto” of Ramla across July 2006. The same characters re-emerge, with much of the film being structured around the workday. A narrator identifies the figures through intertitles. We can assume the voice is Aljafari watching through the month of footage.
It continues the story of Recollection (2015), another found film, in which the director explores the backdrops of Israelis films from the 60s and 80s to suggest cinema is the only way Palestinians can return to their homeland. While the film is entirely “found” the heavily manipulated narrative borders on fiction. There is a simultaneous counter-narrative that, as it transpires, is Aljafari’s eight year old niece providing a commentary on an early version of the film. Post-synced sound provides comic SFX for pedestrians walking across gravel.
The intertitle narrator is not entirely reliable. Given the low resolution of the image, we must trust their language. Arriving first, the word begets the image. The film not only conjures a way of looking, but a way of selectively seeing. In other words: a way of ignoring. There are floating signifiers mid-frame. At one point a vehicle in the background is set on fire. It is the size and shape of a tank but the “narrator” does not feel this worthy of comment. Instead they remark that the local taxi driver is not wearing his standard blue shirt.
The camera was installed to record the scenes unfolding in front of the father’s house after his car was vandalised a number of times, but was it “filmed” by his father? The technology uncannily turns the lens as figures walk across the frame. The unsteady relation between viewer and subject in favour of the trust between viewer and narrator speaks to the short-sightedness of state surveillance measures, our reliance on which is increasing day by day mid-pandemic.
The film is gripping in its uneventful eventfulness. It speaks to this moment in time in which the short-term emergency measures rushed mid-pandemic into law may irrevocably sign away our personal freedoms. I refer to what Yuval Noah Harari describes as “under the skin” surveillance in his incendiary article for the Financial Times [ft.com: Yuvel Noah Harari: the world after coronavirus]. An essential discovery.
J’ai le sentiment d’une tentative ambitieuse de cerner la complexité d’une situation, qui échoue. Le minimalisme prend en otage, l’ennui que prodiguent ces images qui ont la grossièreté de la surveillance sait semble-t-il stimuler l’intelligence. Au risque de s’ennuyer donc, force est de faire assaut de perspicacité et de décider de l’épaisse valeur métaphorique de cette place de parking — un non-espace transformé en territoire de toutes les projections spectatorielles (avec référence politique liée à la question palestinienne). Le cinéaste a conscience de ce degré zéro des images, qu’il décide d’habiller d’intertitres et de sons, de quelques musiques et chants (sans sous-titres, malheureusement). L’artificialité de la bande-son ne travaille-t-elle pas contre les images brutalement définies en pixels explosés ? Des images vides à remplir de sons ? Quant aux recadrages à l’intérieur des prises de vue, ils conduisent à ce qu’est ce film, une impasse au bout de laquelle se niche l’aveuglement vengeur et un peu médiocre du propriétaire d’une voiture. Il est témoin de rien d’autre que de lui-même installé dans « la perpétuité du quotidien à jamais » dont parle Henri Michaux. Hommage trouble d’un fils à son père.
GIUSEPPE DI SALVATORE
Kamal Aljafari’s An Unusual Summer is a prismatic cinema item, as it has a simple dispositive with many layers. In this respect, I would like to add the immediate criminal thread, which is actually declined on many levels, for it oscillates between the private desire to discover the vandaliser, the interpersonal social fear, the institutional ghettoization of territory, and the public imminence of violence in a war-damaged society. In the same way, Aljafari’s reappropriation of the images of the surveillance camera also conveys an accordion-like societal reflection, where the intimate father-son relationship, the neighbourhood acquaintances and the bond with Palestine are perfectly intertwined.