Jesper Just explores female travel3/19/2014
Filmmaker Jesper Just is a Københavner now living in New York’s East Village. The five films in his Des Moines Art Center exhibition “Jesper Just: This Is a Landscape of Desire,” were sho
t in Denmark, Paris, Detroit and California. Like all travelers with cameras, he shoots what intrigues him. His films are about distinctive places — Danish islands and strip clubs, the Detroit Theater, California’s elaborate freeway mix masters and Paris’ Parc des Buttes Chaumont. In each film, Just casts characters who experience the landscape introspectively.
“I am interested in female travels. They are very different from male travels. Male travel has always been circular, a hero leaves home, has adventures and returns with rewards and knowledge. Female travel is not circular. It’s more about self discovery,” Just explained.
Female travel has been under-appreciated traditionally. How many people know of the amazing writings of Alexandra David-Neel? She began running away from home as a teenager, became an opera diva in Vietnam and the first female ever to visit Lhasa back when it was forbidden to all Europeans. For cinematic equivalence, consider Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Sheltering Sky,” a movie that was both hailed as a work of genius and ignored by most viewers. Its female lead character notes that she is a traveler, not a tourist: “Do you know the difference? A tourist knows she’s going home.”
Female travel also happens to males. Consider Ingmar Bergman’s career. Like Just, Bergman switched from making male travel narratives like “The Seventh Seal” to female ones like “Persona,” a film Just acknowledged that he imitates in this exhibition.
Just’s films all connect characters to geography and architecture that changes them. The Michigan Theater was once one of America’s most majestic cinema houses. Now it has been shelled and stuffed with a multi-story parking garage. His “Sirens of Chrome” places four women in a car. Cameras are placed on the car hood so that the windshield looks like a cinemascope screen. The ladies navigate the theater-garage as an event alters their day.
In “This Nameless Spectacle,” a woman in a wheelchair navigates the underground waterfalls, woods and artificial lakes of Parc des Buttes Chaumont, which was built outside Paris in the reign of Napoleon, III. Now suburbs surround it. The woman employs the wheelchair in a mysterious manner much like the title character in Bergman’s “Passions of Anna” uses a cane.
Because these are films that have surprising, sometimes ambiguous, endings, no more about them shall be revealed here. They play through May 25. A related lecture will be delivered on April 17 by Kathleen Forde, artistic director at Borusan Contemporary, Istanbul, Turkey. It’s free, but reservations are required. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.