Diamonds of the Night (1964)

26 11 2008

Lately, it seems like I’ve been watching a lot of rather unique films, but this has to be the single most unique cinematic experience I’ve had in a long time. A 63 minute movie that is essentially just two guys running and walking through a forest, but of course, it is so much more than that. Jan Nemec probably had about 45 minutes worth of a footage but the groundbreaking editing extends it to a cloudy, dreamy, and completely heartbreaking hour long masterpiece. There’s literally only about one page of a dialogue in the whole film, which of course, fits in perfectly with my cinematic ideal.

I really can’t emphasize how much Nemec accomplishes with so little. Half of the film is just two guys walking through a forest. I can’t but wonder how crazy his actors thought he was when he told them what they would have to do. Honestly, I would have been a bit scared and under the impression that this guy had no idea what he was doing. Nemec probably didn’t know what he was doing, but that definitely works in his favor. When I first saw Herzog’s Aguirre two or three years ago, it was a landmark in my own movie watching career because it presented the opportunity for film to exist without any sense of a “narrative structure.” This does the exact same thing.

Plenty of the films I talk about here can be classified as “plotless” but even slow minimalistic Asian films have something of a story to them, or at least a dramatic thrust, or some context to the characters. Nemec’s film on the other hand, starts with none of these elements and only slowly reveals the past of his protagonists through carefuly composed flashes to the past. Calling these sequences “flashbacks” create a completely false impression. Some of the things Nemec cuts to have little to no signifigance, but that’s what makes them so powerful. It seems like the two protagonists are trying to retrace their steps to explain how they got into their current situation, but it all remains a mystery.

Some of the elliptical flashes are repeated throughout the entire film with either small amendments or no changes at all. One could argue that Nemec is just padding his film’s length, but this repetition seems to reinforce the importance of memories. All of these flashes are hauntingly poetic with a poignancy obtained by the current situation the two lead characters are in. I say “current” but I feel that completely disagrees with what makes the film so special and that is how flawlessly it demolishes a sense of time which corresponds to the runaway lifestyle of the two men.

If there is one problem with the movie, it is the slightly odd conclusion. After fifty minutes of pure kinetic energy, sub-Buñuel social humor begins to creep in. What is being said here is of little interest to me, but it does seem like Nemec is satirizing something. The fact that the main characters seem to be escaping from a train headed to a concentration camp implies that some statement is going to be made, but the best thing about the film is how it completely sheds that context.



3 responses

27 11 2008

Beautiful. To me, the most wonderful thing about Diamonds, and the thing that really makes it unique, is its form. You’re right in saying it completely lacks narrative structure, but that’s not to say it lacks structure completely – its structure is poetic or musical rather than narrative. It is truly built on images and the associations thereof – the only fiction film (actually the only film outside of those by Chris Marker) that I’ve seen that so completely pursues this idea of film, as old as the medium itself but never so fully embraced. I love what you say about words like “flashback” and “current” becoming meaningless, with the implication that time itself is also meaningless in the film’s universe; to me, Diamonds is impressionistic cinema, it is a moment, or rather a mindset… or several… at any rate, existing outside of “time” as such.

I find it difficult to talk about Diamonds in concrete terms. It’s like Sans Soleil, it subtly suggests thoughts and emotions but it’s hard to point out why… which is precisely the beauty of those films, they’re set up that way.

17 03 2010
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4 07 2011

Very late to this discussion but…

I would also suggest that Nemec was quite enamored with the “Left Bank” filmmakers who all employed this editing technique. Agnes Varda (Cleo de 5 a 7 in particular), Alain Resnais and Chris Marker. Resnais edited Varda’s first works. Marker was obsessed with Soviet montage.

With Diamonds, Nemec, in my opinion, became one of the more successful imitators, but also blends quite a bit of Buñuel influence to make something of a unique vision.

Godard, also just my opinion, spent a lot of time trying to accomplish this but never quite got it right (likely because he felt constrained by actually knowing the Left Bankers).

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