An excerpt from the book “looking at ourselves, multiculturalism, conflict&belonging” published by Oxford University
“I find Deleuze’s analyses of cinema particularly useful in analysing Parisa Yousef Doust’s film Nahid=Venus, especially considering the way in which this refugee filmmaker alters patterns of thought. Parisa is an Iranian/Dutch filmmaker who fled from Iran at an early age. While I will not be able to replace the images by words, these images affect my reflections and my process of conceptualisation in philosophy. At the end of my paper I compare these reflections with Agamben’s concept of gesturality: how these images have become gestures and why these gestures are political.
The Invention of Gesture in the Lack of Words
- The Faceless Face
Nahid=Venus is about Parisa’s aunt Nahid. Because of her political activities Nahid, which means Venus, has been imprisoned by the Iranian government. After several years she is released from prison, but the old Nahid, or the Nahid that was known to her relatives, seems to be gone forever. Because of her mental absentness Nahid leaves the prison only to be locked in an asylum. Nahid is captured in an everlasting numbing shock, her words do not communicate and her face is absently present. In other words, she has become a pure gaze without words. The filmmaker seems to be in search of a coherent story, in search of an aunt that she remembers so well. So when the aunt seems to be unable to tell the tale, Parisa turns to the rest of the family, uncles and aunts, and also to her mother, who is the sister of Nahid. But even the family members are not capable or prepared to reveal her story in words. Instead they speak of life in general, philosophy and spirituality. This film is not a narration with a beginning and an end, but rather a movement-image lacking a story. Although the frames are put in an order, there is no logical linearity.
The images fool the viewer, they seem to give a clear picture, but the images are mirrored and uncertain. The half empty shelves in the room, which are only visible in the mirror, declare the unavoidability of transition. The mirror does not represent reality, which is shown in the metaphor of reflection. The mirror is not a representation, but an actuality; it is a reality of perception (simulacrum). It is the reality of a rupture in the whole, and at the same time presenting this whole as it is. There is no home; every place is decorated partially as if its inhabitant already expects her departure. We see an empty bed, but this does neither represent the beginning of life nor the end of it. This so called life has rather lost her way of living, or better said Nahid is lifeless, motionless within the movement of the camera. She has neither lust nor desire. And the sentence ‘my aunt Nahid lives in a psychiatric clinic’ only confirms the suspicion that the mind has lost its way as well.
In intermezzi the song of a woman shows the rupture, as it affects the senses but without the clarity of words and without significations. It seems to speak to us, but we do not understand it. The song is pure affect, a pure face of a moment of rest, a silence in noise. This cinematic experiment, in a Deleuzian sense, affects the senses by not visualising the invisible but rather by making the invisibility of the matter visible7. A woman, in the rupture of images of the aunt, plays with light, a kind of Christmas light. But this light does not enlighten her. Rather, she loses her face in the light, her image becomes vague.
Parisa, the filmmaker who has become one the characters in this movement-image, pictures her own uncertainty, her own search for meaning. By asking the aunt for answers to questions about her own intentions as a filmmaker, she forces the question mark in the face of the aunt. The eye of
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the camera converges with the face of the viewed. There is no distinction between the viewer and viewed. But if Parisa is shocked by the loss of her imagined identity, she forces herself to become an image, beautiful and attractive. This act however acknowledges the loss even more. The images are shifting and the pure speed confirms the purity of movement in matter, the purity of transformation.
The pictured speed ridicules the fixed meaning, there and here; something that Deleuze calls ‘territories’. Nahid has become a kind of pure deterritorialisation, because of the forced territories. Life has become a nonlife. Knowledge is lost, by not knowing which gap of not knowing to fill. Parisa does not know which gap to fill. Which aunt to recall, or to revive back to life? She has lost the clarity of a question. A body without organs, which Nahid once was, has become organised through isolation and disconnection. The body has become a pure territory, a reterritorialsation in the sense that it has become an isolated whole without any connection to others. However at the same time this territory deterritorialises Parisa. Because of the rupture of communication between the aunt and the niece, the niece loses her familiar way of relating herself to her aunt. She has lost her affection as a relation.
But Parisa refuses to give up. She remains certain of her connection with the aunt. She just questions the identity of this connection. One of her uncles speaks of Hafez, the famous fourteenth century Iranian poet. He speaks of the fifth element that binds the elements water, wind, fire and earth. Without the fifth element the four elements are unrelated, incomplete. Hafez calls the fifth element love. Agamben’s work informs us that love is a gesture, the affection that relates ‘whatever’ to the other. Here, ‘whatever’ does not imply an attitude of indifference, like whatever, but is rather whatever that as such matters8. Love is the power within the movement actualising the impossible connection between them and the new aunt.
The deterritorialisation is also shown by a little girl putting her veil on and taking it off at the same time, showing the illusion of a distinction of the east and the west. Putting on and taking off the veil within the same movement. This movement deforms the face of the movie star that the filmmaker wants to become. It puts her eyes literally upside down. Love is the great expectation; it is pure expectation of something sensed without signifier, without identity.
The oldest uncle also seems to ‘avoid’ speaking of the aunt. He speaks of the wholeness of the universe, immanence with action, relation and idea as its elements, abstraction and matter within one another. Human is the subject and object, mind and body, of one and the same immanence, one and the same whole. There is no outside. And unwillingly this immanence brings the uncertainty of the filmmaker even further.
90 The Invention of Gesture in the Lack of Words ______________________________________________________________
All images start to repeat themselves but within this repetition they are deformed, within this repetition they have become deterritorialised. The movements of the bodies become gestures without context, without a transcendent meaning. Bodies move without purpose, in the middle, they are movements. Parisa has no intentions, no message. Her face, her eyes are one and the same as the face of Nahid, Venus whose visibility defines the invisible, and the reflective clouds that cover her will to be. Nahid is a memory, a memory of life and its loss. A memory of politics, affection, a love without expecting to change the world around her. But the memory has no reference to an existing person. Nahid has become another body, another form, and another language. Nahid stares at the running water as if she wants to share the movement of life once more. The memories of this other body that has become unrecognisable. She is like running water that asks the doctor to restore her life, to restore her solidness. Why is unanswered. Nahid gazes in search of love and desires that which is lost, and Parisa wants to relate memory to matter, memory to a body that is related to her. For seconds Nahid seems to wake up, her gaze becomes a smile but just only for a few seconds. Parisa wants to love her, but wonders how. Her hope lies in the past. To be 18 again. ‘That would be nice’, Nahid whispers.
- Gesture of Communicability
In ‘Notes on Gesture’ Agamben speaks of the loss of gesture in Western bourgeoisie and argues that our society tries to recapture its gesturality in the art of cinema.
An Age that has lost its gestures is, for this reason, obsessed by them. For human beings who have lost every sense of naturalness, each single gesture becomes a destiny. […] a gesture in which power and act, naturalness and manner, contingency and necessity become indiscernible9.
The gesturality of cinema does not define itself by a fixated image or narrative, but rather through a dynamic polarisation and a virtual movement. This movement is experienced and at the same time it is impossible to fixate. Movement cannot be owned; it is not a being, but a becoming. Inspired by Deleuze and Bergson, Agamben speaks of a gesture as a movement-image. So although a gesture seems to be fixated, in its happening it always refers to something beyond itself that cannot be captured in a motionless image. In this relationality the gesture of the cinema becomes more than an aesthetic phenomenon. Relationality belongs to the domain of ethos, the domain of politics.
Gesture is in the middle, it is endured, experienced. What characterises movement and gesture, for Agamben, Deleuze and Bergson, is
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their non-reference to an end, to a goal that must be achieved. Gesture is means of relationality without purpose.
The gesture is the exhibition of a mediality: it is the process of making a means visible as such. It allows the emergence of the being-in-a-medium of human beings and thus it opens the ethical dimension for them10.
Gesture is communicability that is distinguished from clear communication or flow of information. Agamben speaks of being-in- language. This language however does not refer to words, but rather the lack of them. It ‘compensate(s) a loss of memory or an inability to speak’11.
Nahid=Venus is the communicability of the faceless, despite the close-ups that seem to picture a person. Within her gaze she is all reference to something beyond the face, namely its loss. Nahid=Venus is the gesture of the nameless, despite the double naming, Nahid and Venus. We name her Venus, but Venus is invisibility surrounded by an unknown cloud. Nahid=Venus is political in its communicability wherein the unnamed and the faceless is imagined, not as a fantasy or fiction, nor as a fixated image or representation of a reality, but as an actuality of a life experienced in its movement and loss. ‘Fiction does not mean: to make visible the invisible, but to show how invisible the invisibility of the visible is’12. The invisibility of transition. Nahid=Venus is a qualitative change wherein not only Parisa’s life and Nahid’s life as refugees and prisoners have becoming transitional, but all life.”