Alexandre Larose is a Montréal-based filmmaker. He imparts a variety of formal processes in his work, which often create unintentional meaning for the viewer. The end results are stunning, impressive and always leave you wondering how he achieves his visuals. Larose approaches art-making from an interdisciplinary perspective, having first completed in Bachelor of Engineering before going on to study Experimental Film at Concordia University. His work has screened globally at major festivals like Oberhausen, Images, Rotterdam and Jihlava. This year, Alexandre screen his newest film brouillard-passage #14 as one of TIFF’s Wavelengths shorts programmes. He was kind enough to take some time to tell Studio Beat all about it….
Congratulations on TIFF! Watching brouillard-passage #14, there is this very dream-like and almost underwater quality that is invoked. Could you talk a bit about the film and the process behind making it?
Larose: It’s actually difficult to talk about this, because what you’re describing is something that I discovered along the way, through the process… The sequence you saw comes from a number of other iterations that I’ve done over the years. “passage #14” is the first one shot at a very high speed, so everything is sort of slowed down.
For me, it’s really about the gestures involved in the making. It can be kind of overwhelming sometimes ; and the philosophical or theoretical implications sort of come afterwards, from looking at the work and not the other way around. In the “brouillard” series, I’m walking along a path as many times as there are layers. The physical operations involved in this while not knowing what’s going to appear on the filmstrip before processing adds an incredible tension to the experience on my end.
The camera is heavy and things can fail. Maybe you noticed a part where the film becomes reddish followed by a very short cut. In the thirty-ninth layer I was trying to do, the film broke down in the camera. That was the end of the shoot. Fortunately, I had enough superimpositions to have an image, but the point is that there aren’t any manipulations in “post-production”. The resulting underwater look and the dreaminess that you’re describing come from all those layers being so thin and light. They add up unpredictably with each other and even more so as the camera progresses deeper and deeper into the path.
Formal treatment of the film medium seems pretty integral to your work.
Larose: I’ll ultimately try to provoke or push a medium so that it reveals something that was not anticipated. That’s something I know characterizes my work in general. The subjects I am filming may invoke meanings tied to a visual iconography but there are other layers of meaning that I think become visible through the formal treatment. In “passage #14” for instance, I feel that there’s a kind of story that unfolds through the filmed subject -this passage along a path- but I also see another narrative being played out through the medium-specificity of film. And that other layer emerges from the particular conditions, techniques and tools with which I approach the subject.
Was there anything that led you to take this direction? What led you to film? I know you were an engineering student beforehand.
Larose: The first film I made in 2006, “930”, was shot in a train tunnel in Quebec city. I remember having a very precise image in my head of how I wanted this film to look before shooting it. But there were so many problems on location, such as not knowing if a train would appear, or with the dolly collapsing midway through shooting inside the tunnel that I ended up with all sorts of unpredictable images. I also had a limited timeframe to shoot this project. It made approach the film in a very different way…
I ended up wanting to treat the images with an optical printer to recreate what I initially had in mind. But then the optical printer started doing things that I didn’t expect, mechanically… I also learned to hand-process back then and made all sorts of mistake, chemically. The form and the structure of the film grew out of those accidents. I’m not sure if this involves my engineering background, but I think I really wanted an initial impression to come out a certain way and that impression was hit with all sorts of external factors that I tried to control, but couldn’t.
Can you expand on the process of optical printing a bit?
Larose: Optical printing works like an enlarger for photographic images except that it deals with images in motion. You can control the exposure, the framing and all those things but since it works in time you can also alter frame rates, slow things down and make all sorts of other graphic and rhythmic alterations.
While on the topic of still vs. moving images, how do you think the film scene differs from the visual art scene in Canada? I find the two seem kind of separate currently.
Larose: I didn’t know a lot about the visual arts scene before I did my MFA [at Concordia University]. I just finished there so I was kind of exposed to the whole gallery context in the last couple years. More and more I feel that some form of filmmaking is making its way in. A great deal of the experimental cinema corpus was designed to fit into the film theatre setting. I’m not saying that there hasn’t been experimental cinema displayed in a gallery before, but it’s mostly been about the image and less about its exhibition. The gallery re-emphasizes presentation and a lot of cinematic work I’ve experienced in galleries deal with this. And because the medium of film is gradually disappearing from the industrial workflow, a lot of conceptual artists are becoming interested in it and integrate it somehow within their practice.
I have a feeling that passage #14 will be moving a lot. Do you have any plans for the rest of 2014/2015?
Larose: The “brouillard” project as a whole is an on-going piece. I’m still producing more of those sequences and just finished one recently. I’m still waiting to see it come back from the lab. My objective is to accumulate these and show them in a gallery-type setting with a suspended translucent screen. I want to do it with something quite large and I’ve tested that before on a project with Solomon Nagler. But I know that passage #14 is a self-contained work that also exhibits well into the festival circuit.
You’re in town this week for TIFF. What are you hoping to see if you have some down-time?
Larose: I will eventually visit the lab that I’ve been working with for years now (Niagara Custom Lab), and see some friends hopefully. I’ll go to the Wavelengths programmes but wasn’t planning on seeing other things. It’s my first time at TIFF so I’m just very curious of what this festival is. So far, with all the communications I’ve received from them, it seems to be a huge event…
Brouillard-passage #14 will play in Wavelengths 1: Open Forms on Friday, September 5th at 6:30 pm at AGO Jackman Hall. The film will also soon be available through distribution at the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre.