By: Iman Rezaei
What one can see in Albert Serra’s latest film Liberté, beyond all themes and interpretations is how the film works as a feast of bodies and figures. Moving bodies made out of flesh and blood who are displayed as unknown phenomena. In his latest film, Serra takes the madness that he has created little by little in recent years and turns it into a full-blown experience. From Birdsong and the journey of the three magi who are looking for the Messiah with the comic grotesque of the film, to Roi Soleil in which King Louis who is battling death (from his previous film) is now left in a red room with a sinister atmosphere, and he is once again disoriented and lost. It seems that all the characteristic features in the cinema of Serra refer to this displacement in the world of hallucination which is the closest one can get to philosophical prepositions in the world of modern sociology. A gathering of people who are constantly battling pain every day, and their gradual experiences of encountering a kind of abstract madness. Although Serra’s characters appear in different eras of history (mostly characters from the 16th and 17th centuries), they take a philosophical step in being an allegorical reconstruction of societies today. As it was mentioned in the early feedbacks on the film, Liberté is Serra’s most radical experiment and it has become a turning point in the Spanish filmmaker’s career. The film is the same achievement for Serra, as Salò was for Pasolini, The Big Feast was for Frerri and The Holy Mountain was for Jodorowsky, and what makes the shared element in all of these films is the access to that level of philosophical madness. The same fanatic exaggeration in representation and reconstruction of themes and concepts. It’s about how to insert the director’s critical view in different moments in a film that works as a dynamite, and leads to the explosion of ambiguous emotions and hermeneutic understanding. One important difference between Liberté and Salò is in the fact that Salò is mostly about controlling/being controlled, almost the opposite of the title of Liberté in which everything revolves around the personal desires of the figures, and the similarity between the two films lies in the fate of the figures in their sadomasochistic experiences, and their inability to reach orgasm and enjoyment. If Salò reaches that by creating a dystopia, Liberté achieves it by creating a utopia in nature. Both films are visibly influenced by Marquis De Sade. In Serra’s film, we see the most hidden sexual desires being realized. It is to see how an individual decides to resort to self-destruction and also to deform and destroy the other for the purpose of reaching unimaginable pleasure. In Salò, however, the whole idea is to see how a political system or an ideology can reach suppression and pleasure at the same time simply by owning and controlling the mind, the body, and the soul of the people in society. In Liberté, one can easily see the theatrical features, performance art and also references and allusions to a number of important paintings in history. It is also rich experience in cinematography: the forest which is like a canvas, the darkness of the night, and the closed atmosphere of the forest and the figures who come out from behind the trees and bushes. Everything has a theatre-like feel to it, and using only three cameras and resorting to long takes and lengthy plan-sequences are proofs of this theatricality. Most critics have focused on the influence of Rembrandt on Serra and his use of lights in the forest, during nighttime, but the filmmaker has rejected this idea in interviews and has claimed that he has been directly influenced by Rococo painters such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher. We can see the influence of naturalist, yet artificial-looking, images in Fragonard and Boucher’s paintings in the film, with the madness of figures and the tendency towards eroticism that can also be seen in the works of these two painters.
Overall, Liberté is not about the concept of liberty, but the ways of using it. It is about the effect of methods and approaches in inserting liberty into one’s life. Serra even turns liberty into a tool to suppress people, as he paints a picture of glorious repulsion. He also uses a unique narration that is similar to a classical piece, and by creating a prelude (the calmness before sunset), the succeeding movements and climax (the things that happen in the darkness of the night) and a conclusion (the end of the storm and sunrise), he doubles the effects of his narrative. Two decades into the 21st century, Serra has turned into one of the most important figures in radical and anti-establishment cinema. A filmmaker who shows his mastery at using abnormal and fanatic elements and deserves more attention than his more popular counterparts such as Gaspar Noé. Liberté is now available at the Film at Lincoln Center’s website via Cinema Guild