By Oscar Van Den Boogaard
I don’t think I have ever properly understood the word flaneur. I thought flaneurs were people who didn’t look, but wanted to be looked at; I thought they were not in the least interested in the world, using the gaze of others to inflate their own existence. I believed this until the day I read Franz Hessel. He wrote in Spazieren in Berlin in 1929: ‘Flanerie is a kind of reading of the street, whereby people’s faces, displays, shop windows, café terraces, trains, cars, trees obtain the status of bold notations that together result in words, sentences and pages in a book that is forever new.’
I always thought that I was no flaneur, but, according to Hessel’s definition, I most certainly am. A flaneur is a reader; the city is his book. And you, Hamza, without a doubt, are also a flaneur. With your camera you read the city, its surface and through the surface, its history.
In my eyes you are not only a flaneur but also an auteur filmmaker in the classical sense. In an article in the Cahiers du cinéma of 1955, Truffaut posits his view of ‘author policy’ via an examination of Jacques Becker’s Ali Baba. Truffaut proposes that a filmmaker’s choices should be considered in the context of their whole oeuvre. This is a different approach to authorship from when the individual demands made by a particular genre or subject matter within a specific piece being examined. We can understand this as the author/filmmaker overriding any such restraints: he imprints the work with his own original motifs. In your work I can detect your unique authorship, your imprint, in the glance of an instant. Your short films are little essays about the gaze, the moment and the apparition. Truffaut, Fassbinder, Wenders: in my eyes you are the little brother of all three.
And not only that. You are an existentialist. You pose some of the most existential questions there are: Who am I? Who is the other? What is a genuine encounter? What is projection? What is the significance of the gaze? At which point does the other truly appear? Your language is simple and pertinent. Your voice doesn’t speak; it posits. Sentences are laid out one by one. Clear and light. As if it seen in full light of day.
Since I saw it in your studio, 28 seconds is one of my favourite films of all times. I have never seen such a clear exposé of what projection is. And what a reading experience. It is about the face that looks into another face; it becomes the other. It is the complete fusion between the other and myself. At the moment that he looks up at the camera, before he has let go of the other face that he had only just been looking into, his own mug is stuck on again by the viewer.
I would hereby like to offer you a quotation by my favourite writer Witold Gombrowicz. It is about seeing and being seen. It’s from Ferdydurke, his novel of 1937. It is about the difficulty that every artist must learn to live with. I found it both disquieting and a consolation. ‘Mankind is accursed because our existence on this earth does not tolerate any well-defined and stable hierarchy, everything continually flows, spills over, moves on, everyone must be aware of and be judged by everyone else, and the opinions that the ignorant, dull, and slow-witted hold about us are no less important than the opinions of the bright, the enlightened, the refined. This is because man is profoundly dependent on the reflection of himself in another man’s soul, be it even the soul of an idiot.’
Translated from flemish by Kate Mayne
Ferdydurke By WITOLD GOMBROWICZ. Translated by DANUTA BORCHARDT. Yale University Press, 2000