By Louis Panda October 8th, 2013
No initiation short of obsession can grant us membership in Ahmed Khawaja and Andre Puca’s KWAK, but if we’re patient we’ll see that it is of life in familiar, messy ways. Maybe reach for antecedents: Yes, McElwee and David Holzman’s Diary. “Personal” filmmaking from Jerome Hill to Caveh Zahedi, Ed Pincus to Jonas Mekas. Fictive nonfictions. Hybrid forms. Diaries. Confessions. Michel Leiris and Grégoire Bouillier.
Even more obscure referents, in their very fuzziness, might help us proceed with greater confidence, fitter tolerance for something that ranges outside of our tedious notions of craft, so reach for them and sit tight.
Trust that this is not unlike anything we have seen or read or heard before. Grant these filmmakers the honor of genre. Documentary, nonfiction, certain strains of verité—a living cinema, regardless. Let’s admit this is a movie...
Watch KWAK on YouTube or embedded below.
Quixotic and romantic, from the end of some rainbow, maybe—I mean, to the extent that it’s about the pursuit of a very different film, but then here is what we get. Khawaja cites filmmakers who swell hearts, make us feel like we’re falling in love rather than falling apart. Chaplin, Hartley. Hearts shaped like ❤, over-simplified and grand. Something something about love and sometimes something more. About this woman named Kassandra (with a K) who is not quite a presence but is actually two women, two actresses in search of an idea. It’s the work of romance to leave us in shambles.
Shambles, yes. Shapeless, no. These two crawled in through an artery, sounded out the ventricles, charted the aorta, went deep. Shape is the great gift of KWAK, its obstinate form. Khawaja the Editor, in his obsession, has mapped all this yearning territory, across a range of formats, modes, registers, landscapes, some deserts.
Missteps are his vehicle. KWAK is like footnotes to a book that was never finally written. Ten Nights Bliss, an idea, a shape in his head. Here is the raw material of performance, rehearsal, staging, fragments of dialogue, hermetic little conflicts and resolutions, the spilled guts of a movie turned inside out, that failed to succeed in order to succeed.
And later and in later films we see how Khawaja and Puca swat at each other along the way, how performance and fiction begin to define their friendship. Neither can smoke a credible cigarette. Khawaja walks around in costume, high-water khakis or some silly hat, grasping after the little tramp or M. Hulot or Jughead or some signal of character that can form an ingratiating husk around his emptiness. Puca pleads, “Dial it back!” He nags, “Why are you walking that way?” He directs, “Meditate!” He wears silly hats, too.
Their relationship is not a relationship. It’s a movie. They discuss it as such and at length—a conscious obsession, an obsessive consciousness, a very representative narcissism. “So meta!” notes the frat boy.
Multiple edits. Eternal returns. Here’s that scene again, still echoing with their footsteps. Khawaja is happy now with what he’s found in KWAK. Puca can see it, finally. But look at this wholeness they made together and they’re picking at it like a scab. What they’ve found is a style the essence of which means that they can never be satisfied. They exhume, examine. Life has become an endless colon: Part ?.
It’s a total success.