Retour au palais, film transforming memory into sublime dreams
by Muriel Del Don
- Swiss director Yamina Zoutat returns to Visions du Réel with a brutal and aesthetically majestic journey behind the walls of the Palace of Justice in Paris
Retour au palais [+see also:
film profile], the debut feature film by Swiss (but French by adoption) Yamina Zoutat was awarded the prestigious Sesterce d’Argent for Best Swiss Film (across all categories) at Visions du Réel. Following on from the success of her medium-length film Les Lessiveuses, with her latest documentary Zoutat takes us by the hand and leads us behind the walls of one of the most important and ancient of French institutions: the Palace of Justice in Paris, an austere and mysterious place that is transformed, through her gaze, into a stage of life.
After working for many years as a legal reporter, Yamina Zoutat knows the Palace of Justice in Paris like the back of her hand: its rules, its ceremonies and its mysteries, and moves between the enormous rooms and minute corridors with dexterity, like a cat hunting its prey. Yamina Zoutat films the memory of a past that belongs to her, trying to use the camera to capture an everyday routine that kept her going for years. With Retour au palais, the former TF1 journalist takes possession of the Palace of Justice, making it her own, subjectively re-transcribing the story and retranscribing it from a personal one (with her memories and the sensations she experienced as a legal reporter) to a collective one (with the countless stories, often tragic, violent and cruel, recounted by the defendants).
Impatient to capture the essence of a symbolic place, which will be moved to the suburbs of the city in 2017, ultra modern and reassuring in its sterile function, Yamina Zoutat chats and duets with the ghosts that haunt the enormous Parisian building and materialise on the faces of the statues, in the gestures and rituals of its countless “inhabitants”, and in the anguish of the defendants as they await their verdict. Reality is transformed through the director’s gaze into sublime fiction. The magic of the real, impulsive, subjectified and cleaned by the unnatural glaze that covers it is transformed, through Retour au palais, into poetry. Yamina Zoutat shows us, through film, the extraordinary of the ordinary, the sublimity of tragedy, the spectacularity of ritualization. With her latest film, the former journalist allows her ephemeral memories to become tangible and permanent.
The Palace of Justice is transformed into an immense theatre of life, a stage on which the existence of man, made up of a multitude of everyday gestures, is choreographed (the marching guards, the members of the jury meticulously following orders: what to do, where to go, and the telephone operators compulsively answering the phone) and turned into a symphony (the distant shouts of the defendants, the dry and regular noise of trolleys carrying mail, and the tick tick of the pendulum), as if wanting to remind us that when it comes down to it, reality is nothing but spectacle, dream and ritual. The Palace of Justice thus becomes a character amongst characters, the receptacle of human tragedy but also the symbol of a justice that tries to be universal. A being somewhere between the monstrous and the divine then, the symbol of a society in constant change. A powerful film to be experienced with all the senses.
(Translated from Italian)
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