The Man Who Sleeps, adapted from a novel by Georges Perec, is an abyss-gazing indictment of the dream. Charging faintly through fields of time, its delerious invention of intensley present cinema wrestles with a backbone of distant absentia that electrifies its lifespan with often chilling, rarely joyous purpose. Like The Promised Land its a movie I had missed for years, and yet again this odd patience has been rewarded with a work that will rest in my heart for many more to come.
There is little more fascinating than the silence of film, and The Man Who Sleeps subverts simple sonic emptiness to enshroud its images in a numbing curtain of quiet. In the main its photography is deathly pure and hopelessly absent: Embers of life beating against the savage rhythm of time while some disembodied voice relentlessly pierces the self-imposed alienation of a nameless protagonist locked away from living by the cacophonous horde of soul-shattering questions that wait in our head for when we are alone.
It visuals revel in the waking fascinations of a wandering mind: Lived and dreamed, burned black and free from the confines of celluloid film stock, or glimpsed through a makeshift kaleidoscope of broken glass. Even the intoxicating cinematography of The Man Who Sleeps, despite infinite streams of stunning visions, sincerely refuses to glossily parade them in arrogant sentiment- stealing mere glances at some of its most incredible shots where others might have laboured to ensure the audience correctly appreciate the effort they were endowed with. Director Bernard Queysanne overcomes all irritations by disappearing into an absolute assurance in his own craft, trusting the material with soulful clarity that speaks to how writer Georges Perec’s parent text must have had a beautifully profound effect upon him.
I can’t help but see so many movies now through the eyes of their artists, and The Man Who Sleeps feels like a film thousands of lonely young men dream of dreaming up: Where a cheap cast is overwhelmed by ideas that lock them, with such delicate and dangerous malice, in a prison it claims they created. In the same way I think it would be very easy for so many of these people to derive a currency of artistic legitimacy from adapting such an introspective novel, and bend it to their will. This possibility is what defines Queysanne’s honesty in its telling as not just spiritual, but so intensely enraptured in realizing a novel that might have saved him that he lays bare its history in his heart: An indictment of the dream. For every second of The Man Who Sleeps I believe that Bernard Queysanne was that man in that room- and the epiphanic healing that bleeds breathlessly from its incredible closing shot is, in so many gorgeous ways, his parting gift to those without hope. What a treasure.
Jean Eustache’s The Mother & The Whore was a brutally honest curtain call for the floundering French New Wave, a decade from its space-shattering sources now circling a black noon of rationed inspiration and self-proclaimed maturity while The Man Who Sleeps seeps like some afterbirthed exile from its mummified husk. Where Hiroshima, mon amour traced scars of a memory bruised by brutal tragedy behind the eyes of people who had just survived the most unconscionable conflict in human history Queysanne’s work, heavily indebted to Resnais’ vision, finds a generation fifteen years down the rabbit hole resting on the rebuilt rubble of their parents’ war- pincered between sleeping giants and haunted by the crushing cry of ‘mutually assured destruction’. Queysanne’s prison for this Parisian youth is peace itself, forever fracturing at a fever pitch where possible apocalypse dwarves anything he might live to achieve… and his search for death, in time, reveals that it is far more patient that we are.