Film of the week: “Lightning” by Carmen Jaquier

What idea does a 17-year-old girl at the dawn of the 20th century have about love? A fortiori when it concerns a young peasant woman from Haut-Valais, raised in the Catholic faith, for five years in the convent and about to pronounce her vows, in the summer of 1900? Carmen Jaquier, the young Swiss director of “Lightning” changes the destiny of her heroine, Elisabeth, and imagines a tragic event which irreversibly changes its course. And opens up to the latter a territory unthinkable at the time, a fabulous access to desire.

After the mysterious death of Innocente, her older sister, the novice must leave the convent to support her family and help with agricultural work. A gray and routine daily life, haunted by the silence surrounding the disappearance of the woman whose name must no longer be spoken. A stifling adult universe, made of prohibitions and fears associated with the ‘outside’. For Elisabeth, immense landscapes to explore, a dizzying dive into sororal intimacy and unexpected and moving human encounters. And the first vibrant experience of fulfilled sexuality.
Suffice to say the subversive (and modern) power of the feminist fable staged with incredible grace by Carmen Jaquier. The young filmmaker rightly claims the ambition to rewrite the intimate history of the women of this era, all these buried lives, the forbidden desires of those who secretly sought spaces of freedom. “And “Lightning”, through its heroine (Lilith Grasmug, striking performer), gives substance to this demand to include ignored female destinies in the great history of men.

An image containing Human face, clothes, book, grass Automatically generated descriptionElisabeth, investigator of the intimate, adventurer of desire

Faced with the unsaid words and the heavy silence of her parents, the young peasant girl, ill-equipped to apprehend the world by her long and early confinement in the convent, never ceases to understand. Notebooks sewn into a garment open doors to the inner life of her older sister and the sexual experience to which she ultimately surrendered. The words used – through exchanges with God to whom Innocente addresses through her writings – make us perceive in fragments the extent of the earthquake experienced by this young girl, the awakening of her body in contact with the boys of the mountain , the rapture of the senses, the dazzling love which can only be compared to that which she learned to feel for God. And we measure the silence on such an experience that is impossible to communicate. And the terrible end to this extraordinary experience too great for it alone.
At least, that’s how Elisabeth understands it. But our explorer is not going to follow the same deadly path. Gradually, we see it sink further and further into the depths of the landscape and the diversity of elements that make up the sumptuous and moving picture. From rivers to mountains to clearings in thick woods, she blends with nature, rubbing against grass and leaves, offering her face to the wind which whips it.
And three boys (Mermoz Melchior, Benjamin Python, Noah Watzlawick, astonishingly young actors), through sequences rendered by a montage (Xavier Sirven, editor) in fragments of peaceful, silent and tangled bodies and faces, burst into the quivering existence of the young girl. Soft and tender nudities, like spaces for the development of the senses preserved from the black enclosures of adults down in the valley.

Light staging and sensory correspondences

Far from any obscene representation, Carmen Jaquier offers her characters a setting in tune with the intimate revolution they share; and this magnificent correspondence between the girl, her companions and benevolent nature disturbs us emotionally and aesthetically. The director does not forget her initial training in graphics, in the history of art and then images and sound; She relies with her director of photography, Marine Atlan, on sources of inspiration combining intimate photography by the American artist Sally Mann, the painting of large spaces, such as the mountain dear to the 19th century Italian painter. Giovanni Segantini. Other important references come to mind, in addition to the cinema of Pier Paolo Pasolini inhabited by the sense of the sacred according to the director: ‘The Piano Lesson’ by Jane Campion by the silent sensuality of impossible loves and the lyrical amplitude of the staging in harmony with the luxuriant nature.

“Foudre”, however, moves away from tragedy for a solar celebration of an incredible awakening of desire in a form of emotional bond and physical sharing unimaginable at the time between the two sexes.

Modulated by the rich original composition of Nicolas Rabaeus, ranging from the inaugural piano to electronic music via the dominant choirs, the exploration of bodies in the fever of beginnings seduces with its sensual force. We are also touched by the tender communion with gentle boys, and the fusional weddings with a majestic nature made up of mountains, mountain pastures, lakes, crossed by the breath of the wind and the changing bursts of clear light throughout the day. and fluorescent clouds tinted with brown and gray. The polar opposite of the dark and confined interiors of the family and social straitjacket, torn apart by Elisabeth’s astonishing affirmation: ‘God is the place of my desire!’

A utopia assumed with mastery and audacity with incredibly modern resonances, like a sensual hymn to sexual and romantic harmony between girls and boys, without fear or violence.

Samra Bonvoisin

“Lightning”, film by Carmen Jquier – released May 22, 2024

Selections: Toronto Festival, San Sebastian Festival



NEXT Valady. Jean Couet-Guichot and Gaya Wisniewski, two artists in residence within the region