LUMIERE ET COMPAGNIE is a documentary with an engaging premise: give an original Lumiere camera to 40 different film directors from around the world and let them each fashion a 52-second film as a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the cinema. The results are, at best, uneven and
serve to amplify for the viewer just how far cinema has moved from its roots.
A French documentary crew travels to various sites around the world to provide the original Lumiere camera to 40 prominent contemporary film directors (from over a dozen different countries and four continents) and solicit from each of them a short film shot with the antique camera. The finished
film must satisfy three requirements: 52-second duration (the running time of a single Lumiere film reel); no synchronized sound (although dubbed dialogue and post-sync effects are accepted); and only three takes. The documentary crew also solicits from each director answers to three questions:
"Why did you agree to shoot with the Lumiere camera?"; "Why do you film?"; and "Is cinema mortal?"
The range of film subjects is as wide as the range of directors chosen for this project. Some directors shoot staged skits; others shoot individual performances. Some stage elaborate tableaux; some shoot simple documentary moments. Some pay tribute to the silent cinema; some use the 52 seconds to
tell stories. Some employ special effects, while others make social statements.
Among the most-intriguing entries: the image of a pair of lovers, both afflicted with Down's Syndrome, embracing and kissing, directed by Jaco Van Dormael; a single shot of a bombed-out building left standing in present-day Hiroshima to memorialize the dead from the atomic bomb, directed by Kiju
Yoshida; a closeup of a baby girl, directed by the girl's father, Spike Lee; a daunting procession of movie cameras from all periods of the cinema, all poised to film a pair of lovers embracing to a stirring bit of Bernard Herrmann music, directed by Claude Lelouch; and a cliffhanging
mini-narrative about a girl being kidnapped and held hostage by a nefarious villain, broken up into several shots filmed on adjacent sets by David Lynch.
LUMIERE ET COMPAGNIE gets a lot of mileage out of a good idea, but loses speed as the filmmakers' finished products are shown. One would hope that these films would convey an infectious passion for cinema, but they rarely do. The films are all at least somewhat interesting, if only as an insight
into the imaginations, obsessions, and preoccupations of such a varied group of celebrated filmmakers. But only a small handful, however, are truly moving or amusing in the manner of the early Lumiere experiments.
The interview segments all cover well-trodden ground, full of platitudes and cliches. Perhaps if the films had been shown back-to-back, rather than interspersed with the directors's comments and video shots of them at work, we would have had a chance to appreciate them more and allow a narrative
to unfold in viewers' minds.
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: LUMIERE ET COMPAGNIE is a documentary with an engaging premise: give an original Lumiere camera to 40 different film directors from around the world and let them each fashion a 52-second film as a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the cinema. The res… (more)