I, Pierre Rivière, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister And My Brother
René Allois 1975
I was struck by a series of images when watching this last night, especially considering the way the filmmaker had split them up and repeated them, utilising the same actions and objects through different cinematic techniques. In fact, this is mentioned in passing in Gilles Deleuze’s book on Michel Foucault (Foucault having written at length on the Rivière case), as an example of productive disjunctions between image and text. Deleuze makes reference to the opening shots of a tree embedded in a boundary fence, which is combined with shuffling noises from an adjourning or commencing court session. Deleuze highlights the problems in dealing with the discrepancies between Rivière’s lucid and precise written (and spoken) account of the story and his actions as dramatised by the actors on screen – or, as both Deleuze and Foucault put it, between what is seen and what is articulated. Allois deals with this disjunction in interesting ways – not just in using voice-over, but repetitions of action – for example when Pierre is seen writing in his prison cell, his voice-over recounting that he was disturbed in his previous attempts to write out his experiences, he jumps up from his chair, sure that someone is behind him. The film immediately cuts to the ‘original’ version of that gesture, Pierre writing at a desk in the attic as his sister sneaks up behind him, his renewed (and recounted) startled jump and turn – an action efficiently doubled, even emanating from the same area of the frame. Allois also inserts still images, both from his own film and historical drawings, engravings and images from painting. Beyond these techniques, there is also an intereting correlation to reenactment, as the farmers are played by farmers, peasants are played by peasants, the only professional actors playing ‘outsider’ characters, in order to preserve the genuine discrepancies between two broad sensibilities and assumptions, which may or may not be upheld. In fact the whole film rests on this multi-faceted positioning, always showing a few slants on the same incidents, feeding in the context of an individual voice, a different physical or imagined perspective.
In any case, I was struck by the references in Pierre’s extraordinary written confession/explanation/description – a discourse that Foucault views as so extraordinary as to make the crime disappear – to a machine he had constructed for killing birds. I wondered whether it would be productive to think about this structure as an apparatus – if, the apparatus would be, as Giorgio Agamben describes it, “literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings,” Pierre’s invention of new implements signals a desire to manufacture situations and to capture them – a device for controlling something he cannot control. Yet, this makes one wonder about the gesture of burying the apparatus – to preserve it, to keep it safe, as if this might imply a kind of deferral or abandonment of control. An exhumed apparatus, perhaps aged, is one that is doubled reclaimed.
I also wondered about such an implement’s relation to writing – the isolation of objects through a process of naming; its killing capacity and its torturous look… it made me think of Kafka’s apparatus, the Calipen (oh… pen? calipers?) including components named ‘Bed’, ‘Designer’ and ‘Harrow’.