– MAH celebrates the 100th anniversary of filmmaker Henry Brandt
The tribute stone from the Art and History Museum also includes photographs. They are equally divided between a local ethnography and that of the wider world.
That was in 1964. The National Exhibition, in the lower part of Lausanne, revolutionized the image the country retained of itself. The audience almost expected a Swiss village, as in Geneva in 1896. After being able to take the first Swiss highway built between Geneva and Lausanne, they found themselves in a resolutely modern universe. The demonstration may have been decided by Vaudois’ radicals, who then made the rain and the good weather, it ignored the clichés. There was a huge Jean Tinguely (“Eureka”) at the entrance. Pavilions were designed by architect Marc Joseph Saugey. An overhead monorail crossed the entire Vidy site. And the public saw the films of Henry Brandt (1921-1998) …
“The race for happiness” could thus create a sensation of a few minutes of projection. At the time, the 43-year-old filmmaker from Neuchâtel condemned the famous “consumer society” four years before May 68. Values, ideals, the art of living were lost in an endless pursuit of possessing more and more. It must be said that the times were right for that. Switzerland experienced its “Glorious Thirties” even more intensely than its neighbors. They will last at least four decades for us. We officially talked about “economic overheating”. The labor market was desperately looking for new weapons, which it imported, to say the least, with dubious political statuses. New buildings were built everywhere. So what? What else? The child’s last look (embodied by Christophe Brandt, the director’s son) focused on his parents and beyond the world did not bode well for the future.
Henry Brandt has for several months been the subject of a great tribute, the epicenter of which is an exhibition at the Museum of Art and History in Neuchâtel. Restored, his main film for the big and the small screen is released in the form of a set of four DVDs. Last autumn, a retrospective was arranged at the Cinémathèque suisse. The so-called “reference” publication was published under the direction of Pierre-Emmanuel Jaques and Olivier Lugon, who are also curators of the exhibition. It has no less than 350 pages, considering the number of contributions. The photographic foundation, which is now part of the collections of the Museum of Art and History, has been re-studied, classified and utilized, if nothing else, to provide material for the presentation of the Neuchâtel MAH. Suffice it to say that it would have been necessary to unite the forces of many institutions in French-speaking Switzerland, ranging from the Neuchâtel MEN (or Ethnography Museum) to the University of Lausanne via Memoriav, the “Association for the Protection of Swiss Audiovisual Media Memory”. Plus many other devices that I will forget to mention.
The Neuchâtel MAH exhibition not only serves as a showroom for selected excerpts. It was a question, in a deliberately innovative scenography (it’s from the Onlab studio), of bringing back to its time the man whose hundredth anniversary we are celebrating today. Brandt quickly turns out to be double. On one side there is the local filmmaker and photographer. He observes both old-fashioned schools or old people modestly waiting to become “seniors” as well as a banal harvest party in the early 1950s. And then there’s the globetrotter! The one who studies at the request of MEN, then led by Jean Gabus, an African population. Or “The Pharaoh’s Wheat”. There will be in 1970 the great synthesis thanks to “Voyage au pays des vivants”, which took the viewer from Japan to California and from India to Senegal. A groundbreaking way to condemn environmental or health threats. It was also a question, at a crucial time, of sometimes showing decolonization. However, Brandt is now accused of having covered it up by showing indigenous peoples firmly outside of time. “Nomads of the Sun”.
In addition to the eight screens located in the premises on the first floor of MAH, there are therefore photographs on the walls. Lots of still images. The curators selected about two hundred of the thousands of opportunities they were given. These are not “vintages”, but much newer large prints, made ad hoc. Hence an impression of freshness. These images show us as new events and situations that have become strangely distant. The canton of Neuchâtel (especially the “from above”) that Henry Brandt shows us has changed considerably since the 1950s or 1960s. ‘archeology. La Chaux-de-Fonds, which these days tends to be a bit depopulated, is no longer an anthill. High old age, observed in 1977 in “The Last Spring”, no longer constitutes a social exception. As for Africa, it has changed completely due to demographic explosion and urbanization.
All this can be seen on the picture rails and on the screens. It is exciting. The visitor suddenly forgets that he is in a somewhat sad institution, constantly on the hunt for a new life. The Museum of Art and History, which has just reopened its new permanent premises on the ground floor (I have not seen them yet), should in my opinion still have a completely new design. I’m not sure the dual direction that Antonia Nessi has given the art and history of Chantal Lafontant Vallotton is a good idea. It goes a bit to nuance and dia, not to mention from Charybdis to Scylla. Such a division is difficult to live with. In addition, the arranged exhibitions all have a slightly sad side. Dusty. Lack of dynamism? In any case, the “upper” museums, in other words those in Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds, show much more “pep”. I feel like I’m getting 20 years old every time I go into MAH.
“Henry Brandt, filmmaker and photographer”, Museum of Art and History, 1, Esplanade Léopold-Robert, Neuchâtel, until 29 May. Telephone. 032 717 79 20, website www.mahn.ch Open Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 to 18:00.
Born in 1948, Etienne Dumont conducted studies in Geneva, which were of little use to him. Latin, Greek, right. As a failed lawyer, he branched out into journalism. Most often in the cultural sections, he worked from March 1974 to May 2013 on the “Tribune de Genève”, beginning by talking about cinema. Then came the art and the books. Other than what you can see, there is nothing to report.
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