– Summer 2008

Mandarin Ducks: A Film in 10 Scenes

Pablo Lafuente

Jeroen de Rijke/ Willem de Rooij, Mandarin Ducks, 2005, 16mm film, colour, optical sound, 36min, production still. Courtesy of the artists.

Jeroen de Rijke/ Willem de Rooij, Mandarin Ducks, 2005, 16mm film, colour, optical sound, 36min, production still. Courtesy of the artists.

1. A Smooth Conversation - Grapes,
Pomegranates and Nail Varnish

Mandarin Ducks (Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij, 2005) begins with a slow drift: the camera moves along a slick black leather sofa towards the right, to show the back of a woman and then her hand touching a man's. There is a faint murmur of conversation. The camera moves up, showing the woman's mouth, but not her eyes. It then continues its drift, along the man's arm - revealing that the two are holding hands behind another man's back - and on to a second woman. The camera lingers on her hair, as if entertained by the thin green leaves and small white flower caught in it. Slowly, it moves around her, suggesting that soon the first face in the film will be visible. Instead, what appears is the face of the young man who was holding hands with the first woman. These playful movements continue, showing more backs, hands and arms, wine glasses and plates with grapes and pomegranates. Snatches of a fragmented but pleasant conversation can be heard, about nail varnish and personal relations, fruits and pleasantries. The characters seem intimate with each other, but there is a certain restlessness in their manner of speaking, perhaps a sign of discomfort. The camera's confident, playful moves suggest intimacy tainted with an inability to remain with something or someone for long. For the viewers the situation also might feel ambivalent, as if they had been invited to take part, but they are now gently set aside, so they end up witnessing, eavesdropping - not completely integrated, nor wholly excluded.

The scene gracefully balances

  1. The film was originally presented as the Dutch contribution to the 51st Venice Biennale (2005). It has later been shown at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2005-06); Secession, Vienna (2005-06); and K21, Düsseldorf (2007-08).

  2. Bertolt Brecht, 'Theatre for Pleasure and Theatre for Instruction', Brecht on Theatre. The Development of an Aesthetic (ed. and trans. John Willett), London: Methuen Drama, 2001, p.71.

  3. Bertolt Brecht, 'Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting', Brecht on Theatre, op. cit., p.95.

  4. 12 Louis Althusser, 'Sur Brecht et Marx', Ecrits philosophiques et politiques. Tome II, Paris: STOCK/IMEC, 1997, pp.572-73. Author's translation.

  5. Brecht considers that traditional Chinese theatre provides a model for acting for epic theatre. See B. Brecht, 'Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting', op. cit., pp.91-99.

  6. Pierre Macherey, 'Literary Analysis: The Tomb of Structures', A Theory of Literary Production (trans. Geoffrey Wall), London, Boston and Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978, p.155. Macherey's A Theory of Literary Production (1966) is the closest to a theory of art that Althusser's circle, to which Macherey belonged in the 1960s, produced.

  7. Ibid., p.156.

  8. Louis Althusser, 'Du Capital à la philosophie de Marx', in L. Althusser, Étienne Balibar, Roger Establet, Pierre Macherey and Jacques Rancière, Lire le Capital, Paris: Quadrige/Presses Universitaires de France, 1996, p.23.

  9. Bertolt Brecht, 'The Popular and the Realistic', Brecht on Theatre, op. cit., p.109.

  10. Louis Althusser, 'The "Piccolo Teatro": Bertolazzi and Brecht. Notes on a Materialist Theatre', For Marx (trans. Ben Brewster), London and New York: Verso, 2004, p.140.

  11. Ibid., p.151.

  12. Jean-Luc Comolli and Paul Narboni, 'Cinema/Ideology/Criticism', Screen, Spring 1971, p.30. Originally published as the editorial of the October/November 1969 issue of Cahiers du cinéma. The emphasis is in the original.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Ibid., p.31.

  15. Louis Althusser, 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Notes Towards an Investigation', Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (trans. Ben Brewster), New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001, p.116. These 'notes' were extracted from a longer manuscript published after Althusser's death as Sur la Reproduction, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1995.

  16. For an analysis of the relationship between these two notions within the concept of subject as used in contemporary French philosophy, see Étienne Balibar, Barbara Cassin and Alain de Libera, 'Sujet', in B. Cassin (ed.), Vocabulaire Européen des Philosophes. Dictionnaire des Intraduisibles, Paris: Éditions du Seuil/Dictionnaires Le Robert, 2004, pp.1233-54.

  17. L. Althusser, 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses', op. cit., p.119.

  18. De Rijke and de Rooij designed very specific viewing conditions for the film, including start-to-finish scheduled viewings; the modernist interior in which the film was shot replicates the building where the film was to be shown, the Dutch pavilion designed by Gerrit Rietveld in 1954. For a discussion of de Rijke and de Rooij's work in relation to modernist architecture's constructive character and its implied notion of visitor/dweller, see Tom Holert, 'Moving on in a Pavilion. Thinking with and around Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij', in Jeroen de Rijke/Willem de Rooij, Dutch Pavilion. Venice Biennale 2005 (exh. cat.), Frankfurt a.M.: Revolver, 2005, pp.31-44.

  19. L. Althusser, 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses', op. cit., p.109.

  20. As developed by Jacques Rancière in The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (trans. Kristin Ross), Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991.