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BERLINALE 2010 Out of competition

Exit..., or a stroke of genius by the happening master


Exit..., or a stroke of genius by the happening master

UK street artist Banksy, whose face and identity still remain unknown, did not make an appearance at Berlin, but the audience, who watched his debut film out of competition yesterday evening, didn’t hold it against him, judging by the delighted smiles at the end of the screening. Besides, it couldn’t have been any other way: in light of the film, any answer to the journalists’ questions would inevitably have disappointed. However, in the message he left festival-goers, the artist announced that his film is to street art what Karate Kid is to martial arts: an encouragement to have a go.

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presents itself initially as a docu-fiction on the birth of a new ephemeral art, with the arrival of street artists like Space Invader, Shepard Fairey and Banksy himself. But the focus soon shifts to another oddball, Frenchman Thierry Guetta, Space Invader’s cousin, an obsessive video artist who never watches or shows the thousands of films he stacks up in boxes and contents himself with the act of filming (in a kind of degree zero of the "arts happening") the different street artists he accompanies everywhere, titillated by the danger and illegality of their nocturnal escapades.

Mischievous Banksy, who is known for having hung up one of his works in the Tate Modern (but admits here to having indulged in other, more secret activities, such as forging 1 million pounds in £10 notes that were very real-looking except that they featured the head of Lady Diana), explains that his film grew out of Thierry’s intention, or rather vague desire, to make a documentary about him (it’s "a film about a man who tried to make a film about me", he says), but as Thierry was so much more interesting, he ended up making a film about him instead.

After a series of hilarious incidents, Thierry becomes friends with Banksy, to the point where the latter asks him to stop making videos and organise his own exhibition, "Life Is Beautiful". Thanks to this major Hollywood event presented in 2008 Thierry, renamed MBW (Mr. Brainwash), becomes an artist overnight. But one whose talent is questionable, his instant creations mainly regurgitations of Andy Warhol’s works, which is all the more comical as they themselves evoked the endless multiplication of commercial objects – that’s why Banksy describes his film as "the world’s first street art disaster movie".

Far from being a disaster, the film is a magnificent success: what Banksy achieves here, besides what is mentioned above, is to offer us a new work of art, a new "happening" to the umpteenth degree in the form of MBW himself, an artist entirely created by him. And Banksy’s genius is such that at Berlin, his announced absence led many viewers to wonder whether he was hidden among the audience, so that without being there, he still manages to be omnipresent and his protean art and creation all around us. When an artist adds so much humour to his overflowing creativity, we’re bound to enjoy ourselves.

(Translated from French)

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