The debut fiction by French-born, American-raised multimedia artist Éric Baudelaire invokes and evokes, at regular intervals, the more experimental nouveau-roman-inspired French production of the Sixties (think Alain Resnais' Last Year in Marienbad or Alain Robbe-Grillet's work) and the radical Japanese filmmaking of that era as created by Nagisa Oshima or Koji Wakamatsu. But you don't really need an extensive or even passing knowledge of these films to enjoy The Ugly One, since the beauty of Mr. Baudelaire's film lies in a narrative playfulness that makes it equally accessible to viewers unaware of its references.

     However, it's a work that does gain added resonance if you have seen the director's previous film, the extraordinary 2012 documentary The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi and 27 Years without Images, from which The Ugly One is clearly derived. At first that derivation seems to be merely thematic, in its juxtaposition of the personal and the political, in its questioning of the costs exacted on one's personal life by the desire to take action to pursue a political aim. But, in fact, it turns out this brain-twisting fiction is "prescribed" by none other than Masao Adachi, the Japanese filmmaker turned political activist in the Japanese Red Army who was one of the subjects of that documentary. Mr. Adachi's voiceover, part narrator, part author, steers a story being shot in Beyrouth by Mr. Baudelaire about a group of former Palestinian activists haunted by their pasts, asking themselves what is left of their beliefs and convictions as time passed and the idealism that motivated them has given way to disillusion. But, in fact, is it Mr. Adachi's story that Mr. Baudelaire is filming? Or, instead, is he merely shooting the rehearsals and improvisations the cast is developing from that story in front of the camera?

      Constantly doubling back upon itself like a never-ending hall of mirrors, The Ugly One becomes a puzzle that, by design, can't really ever have one single proper solution but thrives on the questions being asked and the dilemmas being pondered by its characters. In many ways, Mr. Baudelaire is also shooting here a documentary, though of a different type - following the creation of a film in front of the viewer's very eyes, an investigation on idealism and activism that is being shaped in its own process of projection by both the technical choices of the director and the questions it creates in the viewers. As in The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu..., The Ugly One is built out of the moments of absence and doubt, of questioning and struggle, looking at the past with the hindsight of the present and taking stock of a period and of a commitment that failed to change the world as much as it desired. Or did it?

France, Lebanon 2013
100 minutes
Cast: Rabih Mroué, Juliette Navis, Manal Khader, Fadi Abi Samra, Rodney el Haddad, Hassan Mrad
Director Éric Baudelaire; screenwriters Mr. Baudelaire, Laure Vermeersch, Masao Adachi and Mr. Mroué; based on a story by Mr. Adachi; cinematographer Claire Mathon (colour, widescreen); art director Nanou Ghanem; costumes Béatrice Harb; editors Stéphane Elmadjian and Cécile Frey; producer Mr. Baudelaire, Poulet-Malassis in co-production with Orjouane Productions
Screened October 27th 2013 (DocLisboa 2013 advance screener, Lisbon)

The Ugly One (Trailer) from Eric Baudelaire on Vimeo.


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