“Diary of America”: the great story seen through film scraps

“Diary of America”: the great story seen through film scraps


The work of Arnaud des Pallières, born in 1961, has always advanced, in the good sense of the term, “aside from the plate” of the cinema industry. Rarely where we expect him, as if he was having fun deconstructing everything he had learned at Fémis, the prestigious Parisian film school – by sending characters and scenarios overboard! As a good disciple of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), des Pallières likes the idea that some of his films are “ragpicker works” , that is to say, made from scrap film, forming end to end a patchwork of images and stimulating his imagination as a storyteller.

After Diane Wellington (2010), and Poussières d’Amérique (2011), here is Journal d’Amérique , all three made from the American Prelinger archives: this one, founded in 1983 by Rick Prelinger, mixes scraps of advertising spots, institutional films, family archives, etc. A great picture book in which the author of Disneyland, my old native country (2001), who has never set foot on Mickey’s land, likes to abandon himself, creating new “stories” each time.

In the dark and fanciful Journal of America , director Michael Kohlhaas (2013) once again revisits the silent film in a montage film, the seams of which he reveals to us. The sequences are dated from January 18 to April 14, 2021, as if the work had evolved in a straight line, in the mode of automatic writing, without return – a choice assumed by the author, who claims the influence of Chris Marker (1921-2012).

Selected in 2022 in the Encounters section of the Berlinale, Journal d’Amérique already owes its captivating power to its rhythm, which consists of recounting its micro-stories in boxes, as one would throw cards on the table. Sometimes it is a matter of a few words, which only take on meaning when the next ones appear, the spectator finding himself waiting, as if caught in a spiral. Arnaud des Pallières has fun, sometimes takes us by the hand – with a text illustrating the image – or puts us into a waking dream. A pretty René Magritte-style sky, with its clouds floating perfectly in the blue, above an infinite road, sets the tone.

Reconnecting times

A few first chapters take us back to early childhood – as if produced in series – with its horde of twins scrutinizing the image, indecisive faces, as if hypnotized by the camera. Des Pallières seizes the pretext to dive into the black humor of Mark Twain (1835-1910), and remind us of this supposed story of a twin brother who died, while both, as babies, were taking a bath. Or maybe it was him, Mark, who drowned… Other cruel tales are embroidered from a question: and if sharks were men, would they be kinder to small fish ?

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