It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
“I feel like crossing myself,” one of the directors says, looking at the simple wooden box within which the first film was shot. Called the “cinematograph,” it is about a foot square, with a crank on one side. It was restored by Philippe Poulet of the Museum of Cinema in Lyon, and he also provided the film, with only two sprocket holes per frame, just as the Lumieres used.
“Lumiere & Company,” the film that resulted from this project, is both more and less than you would expect. The 40 brief films are often wonderful, and always revealing in the way they show professional directors working on what amounts to a haiku. The surrounding footage is uneven. It is amusing sometimes to see the directors setting up their shots, but when they're asked to answer such questions as “Why do you film?” and “Is the cinema mortal?” the answers tend toward hyperbole or, worse, shrugs.
Some of the directors tell little stories. Zhang Yimou shows a couple dressed in Peking Opera garb, dancing atop the great wall of China, and then tearing off their costumes to reveal punk rock clothes. Jacques Rivette shows a little girl in a square, surrounded by roller bladers and strolling newspaper readers (“It's too short!” complains the author of those four-hour French extravaganzas). Wim Wenders shows his angels from “Wings of Desire,” revisiting Berlin. Jaco Van Dormael of Brussels shows an enthusiastic kiss between two lovers who have Down syndrome.
Nadine Trintignant puts the camera on a wheelchair to make a dolly shot showing the courtyard of the Louvre, the classic architecture in the background replaced by the glass pyramid in the foreground. Merchant and Ivory show a 19th century street scene, and then dolly to reveal a McDonald's. Regis Wargnier asks the late President Francois Mitterrand which images above all he remembers from the cinema, and as he walks past the camera, we hear him say, “A Hungarian film . . . people were dancing . . .” Two directors shoot at the site of the bomb blast at Hiroshima. One shows a little girl trying to weigh herself. One shows an attempt to film the great pyramid. Liv Ullmann's film is of the great cinematographer Sven Nykvist filming the camera as it films him. John Boorman visits the set of Neil Jordan's “Michael Collins” and has three actors (Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn and Stephen Rea) gaze wonderingly into the camera.