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Belgium : Ana Torfs

 

Du mentir-faux

 

"What always strikes me about a trial is the flood of words stemming from a silence. 'Did this woman kill her husband?' For days the truth is sought, yet the woman knows, and allows herself to be cornered, attacked, defended. Every work of art is also born of a silence - a knowing silence - but maintains secrecy, thus enabling the lie that apprehends it, that warps it and is supported by it to strip it of all its bindings."

Georges Perros, Papiers collés, Paris, Gallimard, 1960.

 

While Du mentir-faux presents images of the sublime and of suffering, its original impetus was research into the Procès de condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc (1431) and the Procès en nullité de la condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc (1456). The title Du mentir-faux refers freely to such Latin terms as "fictum mendacium," "conficcionem mendosam" and "ficta mendacia, seductoria et perniciosa," used in the trial to condemn Joan's idolatry. Idolatry: deriving from the Greek words "eidolon" (image) and "latreia" (adoration). Joan was condemned for worshipping false gods, her counsel, and for making herself into an idol of masculinity, a false lie, by wearing male dress. Jeanne's charges are described as follows:

"Jeanne confesses that she has most grievously sinned in falsely pretending to have had revelations and apparitions from God.
Idolatry, or at least misleading fiction.
The said woman . . . must be suspected of idolatry and . . . is . . . a caller up of evil spirits.
Falsely simulating revelations.
She has without shame uttered falsehoods and contemptuous words.
Temeritous, presumptuous, and boasting speech.
The said Jeanne has so misled the Catholic people by her inventions that many adored her as a saint . . . and they preach in public that she is sent from God, an angel rather than a woman.
Instructions . . . prohibited under penalty of anathema . . . such as the wearing of . . . male habits.
Execration of herself and her garments.
She . . . has rejected woman's dress and imitated the costume of men.
Wearing man's dress [is] contrary to the commandments of God."
(From The Trial of Jeanne d'Arc, ed. and trans. W.P. Barrett (New York: Gotham House, 1932).)

 

For all that, Ana Torfs is not primarily concerned with the historical figure of Joan of Arc or her fate. In most of her work, she uses the illuminated silence of faces, landscapes and objects to bring the past into the present with an immediacy which is both alive and remote, away from all frames of reference. The work is not about history, then, but about perception, with history as source material.

What the Belgian critic Dirk Lauwaert wrote about Ana Torfs' feature-length film Zyklus von Kleinigkeiten (Cycle of Trifles), made in 1998, is easily adaptable to Du mentir-faux:

"Ana Torfs loves texts. No. I do not mean literature, but texts. She loves documents, residual texts, pieces of evidence, text as a trace; texts in which a lot can be read without the possibility of unlocking it. She loves texts that weren't bestowed with style and meaning by literature or by some author. She loves the uncomposed official text and extremely unofficial notes. Texts that were written with a voix blanche: Beethoven's conversation booklets [for example] through which the famous Romantic composer, grown deaf, received the questions and answers that were slid across to him dozens of times a day for various reasons. A bareness of words and language, unprovided with a personal signature. Functional documents - language as a tool, to obtain a judgment, to catch out the truth, to discuss the weather, bread and wine, a new housekeeper or an attempted suicide. This is the language with which people and society make their toilette - behind closed doors. Ana Torfs wants to position herself behind these doors - just like Bresson. How to grasp its secret, and preserve it at the same time. [. . .] How to show that the trivial is the biggest secret of all. Texts that nobody 'likes' to read; which are unreadable. Texts demanding investigation, unscrambling, or - as is the case in Ana Torfs' first cinematic film - operating as language machines [. . .] ." (Dirk Lauwaert, Musiek en Woord, 1998)

 

Peggy Gale

 

 

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