published with ARTA magazine, Bucharest, issue 6-7, 2012
That this simplicity of the image is poverty.
But who sees what? Who is seen? Martens’ Episode I is overwhelmed by these questions. A crueler version is “Why film this?”, which a woman with an amputated leg asks from below, in her hospital bed. Sophistication is cruelty. When Martens asks “the Other” to film him and tell him what he thinks of him now, he is only following the logic of the media up to its end. What does it matter if this Other is a disfigured man who can only answer that Martens is better looking than him? Why should he not ask a crowd of old women queuing up for provisions brought by the Western NGOs, whether they find him attractive? Why should he not pick a young woman in the crowd and play with her the comedy of love, bringing his intimate questions on the table, in this camp of sorrow? It is just the same when young healthy journalists come to these countries and ask bulgy questions to the locals, in order to get some drama for those back home. In fact, it is precisely what Romanian journalists do on a daily basis, extorting stories from those who are unaware of their image, without the slightest critical approach.
To be sophisticated is to have a voice.
Being sophisticated is to know you are impotent.
Sophistication is dangerous… When Martens’ neon sign that reads “Enjoy Poverty” shines in the Congolese swamp, when Chloe Sevigny mocks the confessions of a revolutionary, the whole discourse is turned upside down and faces the danger of being misinterpreted. None of the movies takes sides or has a clear emancipatory claim. Sevigny is a disruptive tool in Get Rid of Yourself, due to her persona as icon of underground cinema / fashion celebrity – a shady figure in a binary world construction. Martens constantly mines this same construction by refusing to bend his discourse in order to meet the poor’s needs, however without managing to receive any equivalent response from his interlocutors. What are we left with at the end of these films? With the feeling that there is still an outside? Being on the edge is the artistic position par excellence. It is clearly not the safest.