Pierre Clémenti in Vienna and New York

Pierre Clémenti

Even if you’ve never heard of the dozen or so films Pierre Clémenti directed between 1968 and 1988, if you’ve seen Luis Buñuel’s Belle de jour (1967), you won’t have forgotten the figure he cut as Marcel, the brutal client Catherine Deneuve’s bourgeois prostitute can’t seem to resist. As Melissa Anderson wrote ten years ago, Marcel is “a rough with metal teeth, a walking stick that doubles as a shiv, and fetishwear (shiny boots of leather with matching overcoat) that could have been dreamed up in an atelier overseen by Kenneth Anger and Pierre Cardin.”

Clémenti, who had appeared in a small role in Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (1963), went on to play the devil in Buñuel’s The Milky Way (1969), a cannibal in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Porcile (1969), a predatory chauffeur in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970), an enigmatic hippie in Liliana Cavani’s The Cannibals (1970), a naked archer in Philippe Garrel’s The Inner Scar (1972), a sailor in Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974), and an estranged lover in Jacques Rivette’s Le Pont du Nord (1981). Writing for Film Comment in 2008, Michael Chaiken called Clémenti “one of the most incendiary and enigmatic figures to emerge from the post-New Wave cinema.”

In 1967, Clémenti spent some of the money he made from Belle de jour on a 16 mm camera and began shooting what Christoph Huber, a curator at the Austrian Film Museum, describes as “a series of poetic, psychedelic, and personal movies. He translated into visual fireworks the ethos of his circle of dandy artists, fueled by Rimbaud, surrealism, and the Pre-Raphaelites.” Starting Wednesday—the day that Clémenti, who died in 1999 from liver cancer, would have turned eighty—the Museum will present a three-day program, Pierre Clémenti: The Revolution Is Only the Beginning. Balthazar Clémenti, the son of the actor and filmmaker who has guided the restoration of his father’s work, will be on hand to introduce several screenings.

Visa de censure n°X (1967/1975) “quickly lobs the viewer into a tailspin of psychedelic imagery both thrilling and exhausting,” wrote Rob Humanick for Slant in 2010, when a program of Clémenti’s films screened at the New York Film Festival. “Images of war, religion, oppression, and frank nudity are interspersed with a stylistic freefall of strobe lighting, camera filters, layered shots, and scoping effects, among others. The effect is less powerful in any given instance than it is as a cumulative, primordial mood piece.” Aaron Cutler caught the NYFF program as well, and he noted that the films “looked like the most aesthetically conscious home movies ever assembled—Mekas and Brakhage aside.”

Many of these films will screen from October 13 through 31 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and on October 14, MoMA will host an evening of live music and readings from Clémenti’s 1973 memoir, A Few Personal Messages. The following night, MoMA will screen Marc’O’s Les idoles (1968), the story of the rise and fall of a trio of pop idols played by Clémenti, Bulle Ogier, and Jean-Pierre Kalfon. “Think of it as an all-singing, all-dancing missing link between the melancholy pop fantasy of Godard’s Masculin féminin and the aerial views and blank screens of Guy Debord’s Critique de la separation,” suggested Sam Di Iorio in Film Comment in 2008. Marc’O’s assistant director was André Téchiné, and his editor was Jean Eustache. At first, wrote Di Iorio, Les idoles “suggests that pop music is the sound that kills—then it makes us want to hear more.”

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