Artaud’s portrait of the real Jacques Prevel, juxtaposed with photo of the actor (Mark Barbe) playing Prevel in Mordillat’s film

Mordillat’s film is gloomy and tormenting, and its narrative melodies are often broken by, as if, blasted strings. After WWII, Paris is dirty, hopeless and full of people with no time for elegance and contemplation. People are rushing to work or to find a job – to survive, achieve, succeed – to hold to the surface of life as not to drown under its vain waves. Both main male characters (Antonin Artaud and Jacques Prevel) are on the verge of homelessness and solidly in poverty. The three main female characters (Prevel’s wife, his girlfriend Jany and the young actress Colette specializing on reciting Artaud’s poems) are desperate, overstressed and without much hope, they live from day to day. But in spite of all bleakness the film somehow suggests some positive expectation, some hopeful belief without concrete content. It’s not easy to understand, from where this current of fresh and warm air is coming.

Artaud is partially living in a psychiatric facility and we see him eating nothing except nuts. He is accusing himself in his inability to understand what makes a human beings to try to restore the prewar way of life which is responsible for the war in the first place (greed automatically leads to clash), what makes them so meaninglessly and absurdly indifferent and belligerent. Prevel (still a young man) is devastated that his poems are again and again refused for publication, while Artaud always mentions them to Prevel appreciatively. Artaud, to activate his own mental capacities needs drugs, he doesn’t take it to forget the reality or to feel himself in the center of the world or enjoy the relaxation or super-alertness (he is not an addict nor a recreational user). He gives himself to drugs to force himself to be more active and innovative thinker dedicated to the grasping about people and human society what he wasn’t yet able to grasp – how is it that people dream about one thing: consumption of goods, property and entertaining images, without understanding that this “innocent” addiction will ultimately destroy them and their world? How to awaken in people existentially spiritual rationality? – The question which torments Artaud every day and every hour.

Jacques Prevel, according to Artaud, should comprehend that art’s (here – poetry) value cannot be measured by the foam of the artist’s fame, but by its existential genuineness, refinement of verbal sensitivity and structural multiversity. Prevel is lucky to have two woman loving him, but he is not happy either, because he feels deprived. He becomes somewhat of a martyr by the call of his soul. Through experiencing the film while observing the difficult life of the characters, we step by step are penetrated by the light of their immanent, unconscious hope – their silent belief that life dedicated to serious (not entertaining) art and meaning, life resisting conformism/philistinism and the posture of calculating and manipulating of the reality is what makes it disinterestedly joyful. People like Artaud and Prevel are… happy though knowing nothing about it.

May be, real happiness is something we don’t know about. And it is joy which we don’t attribute to ourselves, while thinking about our poverty and problems and suffering. Artaud will die at the end of the film, while Prevel will soon after. But they shared with us not only their grief and their torments and despair, but their latent, “anonymous” but real happiness. American viewers will learn a lot from the heroes of Mordillat’s film. If we had more people like Antonin Artaud and Jacques Prevel, we would never open a new century as we did. Artaud and Prevel are seemingly “bizarre” and “extreme” characters, but a noble and remarkable role models.

Young Antonin Artaud

Artaud in his later years

Sami Frey as Artaud in Mordillat’s film

Posted on Jan/23/’17 –   Gerard Mordillat’s “My Life and Times with Antonin Artaud” (1993) – Martyrdom as a Deliberate Choice as a Secularly Spiritual Resistance to the Growing Brutalization of Human Life by Acting-Out Politics