In the film journal Trafic, Claire Bartoli, a blind woman, wrote on the densely braided soundtrack of Godard’s Nouvelle Vague. Fifteen years later, Gary Tarn, a filmmaker, make a track of visuals for the blind writer Hugues de Montalembert in his film Black Sun.
De Montalembert was a painter and filmmaker living in New York when he was attacked in his apartment. He recalls the assault in voiceover: when he fought back, the smaller of his two assailants threw paint thinner into his eyes. It’s a base– water can’t stop it.
This half of the film– the sound– tells de Montalembert’s story of adapting to blindness. He chose to begin traveling. He went to Bali, then India, alone. There he starts writing, and now his voice speaks mostly in casual aphorisms. “Vision is creating, it’s not perception,” he notes, and recalls that his mind created stunning visions to fill in the gaps after he was blinded, “making films in my head.”
Gary Tarn fills in that gap with New York streets (high above, actually, for the God’s-eye view). He throws the camera out of focus for closed-eye vision a la Brakhage, and then travels to Bali and India. He films blurs and light and people’s faces, meeting their gazes.
Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil is the obvious, unfair, comparison. Both build with disparate images, but Marker’s film lives in many spaces; Tarn’s is far more compressed. It seems to have neither beginning nor end, and rather literally interacts with the voiceover. That doesn’t mean it’s not ravishing; it’s just that the images are like ground and the voiceover’s the actual painting.
The few times it does counterpoint de Montalembert’s story, the images almost disappear. For instance, when it shows a processed image of a girl on a swing, the voice tells the contrasting story of a young girl de Montalembert saw in Vietnam while working as a journalist. She was embarassed to play with the other children. She didn’t have any arms.