Le Moulin is one of the most challenging and interesting documentaries I’ve had the chance to watch during the past year, thought-provoking in its formal construction and revealing in its themes, the cultural and poetic movements that stirred Taiwan in the last part of the Japanese colonial period. The movie is directed, scripted and photographed by Huang Ya-Li, a young independent experimental Taiwanese filmmaker. His video poetry The Unnamed in 2010 was nominated by the 33th Golden Harvest Awards for Outstanding Short Films (Best Experimental Short Film) in Taiwan and was presented in many countries around the world.
Here the description of the movie:
Taiwan had already been under Japanese rule for forty years, and was in a stable period of cultural assimilation, when the country’s first modern art group – ‘Le Moulin’ – arose in the 1930s in a poetic protest against the colonial power’s cultural superiority. The name reflected the small group’s orientation towards the West and especially France, with the surrealists as their absolute role models. In an uncompromising and aesthetically sophisticated reconstruction of the group’s underground activities, the young filmmaker Huang Ya-Li has created a delicate and evocative feature film debut about a historical period that paved the way for a new freedom and self-awareness. A film where tableaux and beautifully calligraphed texts surround the ‘Moulin’ members, and where you sense an echo of their fellow Taiwanese writer Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s epic and elliptical period dramas.
Because of its “headless” structure it’s really difficult, if not impossible, to write a “normal” review, mirroring the construction of the film itself, I’ve tried to randomly accumulate a series of reflections instead.
Photos of the French surrealists themselves, lots and lots of their works, Dali, Breton, Cocteau, etc. everything is shown accompanied by spoken poetry written in Japanese by the Moulin group members themselves.
A sort of collage of photos, at least in the first part, a la mode of the Surrealist, but also the dadaists and their Japanese counterpart: fascination with machines, trains & speed, fragmentation of perception through objects.
Footage of Tokyo during the 30s, footage of the Maso festival
The fascination and admiration of the Taiwanese poets with Jean Cocteau and his works is one of the pivotal moment of the movie, he visited Japan for 3 days in May of 1936 where he had the chance to watch a kabuki play and was very impressed by it.
In the enacted sequences, never the faces of the people are shown, but most of the time we see hands, writing, turning pages, lighting cigarettes and holding books or photos. A choice in style that encapsulate the mood of the movie, anti-narrative, non-linear, accumulative and elliptical. Although it proceeds somehow chronologically, from the early 20th century to the total mobilization of the end of the 30′ and Pearl Harbor in 1941, a change in mood and attitude is reflected in the texture of the movie after the deteriorating relationship between Taiwanese and Japanese poets in the late part of the decade, the Allied bombing of Taiwan and, after the surrender, the arrival of “fatherland China” and its sour aftermath.
All in all, the movie functions like a huge and complex poem constructed with digital images, footage, written and spoken poetry, and minimalist music, a cubistic landscape of an era and of the poetic instances traversing the period and the place, occupied Taiwan.
The Moulin is in no way an easy watch, but nonetheless a very rewarding experience able to trail blaze uncharted cinematic territories.