Directed by Gary Tarn
On a springtime evening, while living in New York, painter and filmmaker Hugues de Montalembert fell victim to a random attack. As he fought for his life, paint remover was thrown in his eyes - causing him to be permanently blinded. Black Sun is a poetic, cinematic, meditation on an extrodinary life without vision.
In Association with BBC & HBO
2007 BAFTA Award Nomination
British Independent Film Awards - Best Documentary nomination
Toronto International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, London Film Festival (Best Documentary Grierson Award nomination), Rotterdam Film Festival, Newport Film Festival (Grand Jury Prize), Sarasota Film Festival (Special Jury Prize), CPH:DOX - Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival (Grand Prize), Sydney Film Festival, SilverDocs, Full Frame Film Festival, Mar del Plata Film Festival, Buenos Aires Film Festival, Miami International Film Festival, Vilnius International Film Festival, Florida Film Festival, European Film Festival, Palic, Stranger Than Fiction Film Festival - Dublin, Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival, Thessaloniki Documentary Festival
"...one of the most remarkable British films to appear for a long time. Scratch that: it's one of the boldest, most beautiful and haunting films to have appeared from anywhere... An extraordinary evocation... more adventurous even than of the late Jarman... Exquisite, woozy colours ripple and refract, drift and fade... lush and subtly melancholic portraits of modern society that recall Chris Marker's landmark Sans Soleil... BLACK SUN is a film about blindness that makes us see the world hungrily, deeply, anew."
TIME OUT No 1 CRITIC'S CHOICE
"'So through the eyes love attains the heart, for the eyes are scouts of the heart and the eyes go reconnoitring for what it would please the heart to possess...' It might have been written 800 years ago but this sensual declaration by troubadour Guiraut de Bornelh catches precisely the primary intentions of this remarkable new British film, an extraordinary essay on the epiphanies of looking. In 1978, French artist Hugues de Montalembert, enjoying great success in New York, was mugged in an acid attack and lost his sight. Astonishingly, within a matter of months, he was travelling alone to Indonesia, reversing all expected responses to an assault that, in a single corrosive moment, destroyed his profession and vocation, while threatening the foundations of his identity and humanity.
In a feature-length voiceover, the artist reveals the inevitable despair that initially ensued, but then moves into an emotionally and philosophically charged celebration of being alive in the phenomenal world. A remarkable statement of personal resistance, it is accompanied by a river of images, of cities and landscapes - the locations visited by de Montalembert - that deploy a lyrical but grounded visual language similar to that of work by Jonas Mekas, Peter Mettler and, most relevantly, Chris Marker, with Sans Soleil. But this project is no pastiche of influences. Entirely Gary Tarn's film, BLACK SUN never seeks easy illustration of its subject's journey, physical or otherwise; rather, it catches the luminous materiality of the seen as a means to the most searching spiritual enquiry. A work for all places and times, for anyone who seeks fully to live, to engage, it is indeed essential viewing."
French artist and filmmaker Hugues de Montalembert was living in a borrowed New York apartment when he was mugged. Two attackers forced him inside at knifepoint and, when they found nothing to steal, beat him up and threw paint stripper in his eyes. His screams frightened them off, but the liquid wasn't soluble in water and couldn't be washed out; he managed to call a friend but, despite being rushed to hospital, his sight failed. De Montalembert recounts the horrific story in a monotone that stifles feelings which, 20 years later, (the attack was in 1978, the recording in 1999) must still have been too painful to recall with equanimity.
How, though, to make a film about going blind? New to filming, directing and editing - all of which he took on himself - Gary Tarn adopts a free-wheeling approach in which sometimes the visuals match the narrative and at others form a poetic parallel. The journey to hospital, for instance, is accompanied by shots of New York gradually fading into blurry abstractions. After 18 months in rehab, De Montalembert attempted a nocturnal walk; he recalls how sound bouncing off the skyscrapers enabled him to form a mental picture of his surroundings and, on screen, we see a diagram of the city portrayed as simple blocks.
The attack was a beginning not an end, though; this inspiring story is about resilience and the wisdom engendered by overcoming adversity. As he describes his life from this point on, De Montalembert's voice is full of enthusiasm; he recalls travelling to Bali - where he wrote a bestseller about his experiences - and later to India, Nepal and Singapore. He recounts how, on arriving in Delhi, his bags were stolen but then returned by the airport beggars.
Tarn's visuals vary from documentary shots of the places visited to computer-manipulated scenes that, in their heightened colour, resemble Fauvist paintings. This extraordinary tale is enriched by fascinating observations. Deprived of external stimulus, the erstwhile filmmaker's brain began creating it's own visuals, so that running inside his head is a film as vivid as normal sight. "Vision is a creation not a perception", concludes the man whom a friend described as 'having the eyes of an assassin'. "I was looking so intensely that it was disturbing," agrees De Montalembert; "I was not looking, I was peering." This intensity perhaps allowed him to absorb enough sights to last a lifetime. A compelling story, wise words and stunning visuals; a winning combination.
"Narrated with moving simplicity and without a hint of bathos, this account of his struggle has been exquisitely illustrated by director-composer Gary Tarn, whose use of light, colour and shape challenges the subjective nature of reality and turns New York into a place that's at once terrifying and wondrous. Rarely have the concepts of identity, memory, faith and hope been explored with such poetic courage."
"You cannot fail to be profoundly moved by de Montalembert's composure and modest narration but Tarn's courageous documentary (shot on 16mm) doesn't simply replay the events in de Montalembert's life for emotional effect; it simulates his subject's impressionistic visual experiences, gradually emerging from darkness to light. In the process we too become enlightened, as the narrator's painful, poignant story opens our eyes to a beautiful world we shamefully take for granted."
'a poetic, sensitive and beautifully shot meditation on a triumphant life without vision.'
'A quietly impressive cinematic meditation... A valuable filmic essay.'
'Gary Tarn's poetic documentary BLACK SUN marries glowing digital images... to de Montalembert's moving account."
What does it mean to see? Is vision purely optical? Does the "mind's eye" really exist?... Director Gary Tarn's experimental documentary BLACK SUN attempts to show the world as it would be perceived by de Montalembert -- to reflect the very visual internal world that he has had to develop, and its interaction with the physical world. Stunning imagery accompanies de Montalembert's calm, meditative voiceover as he reflects on perception and explains what the act of seeing means to the sightless. An inspiring cinematic reflection on loss, the senses and our place in the visual world, it demonstrates de Montalembert's observation that "vision is a creation not a perception".
Docu BLACK SUN, first feature by composer-turned-filmmaker Gary Tarn, provides a window on the world of blind artist Hugues de Montalembert. Accompanied by footage of street scenes and exotic locales, often deliberately shown out of focus to mimic impaired vision, de Montalembert, who had been a painter and filmmaker, frankly recounts how he lost his sight but conquered despair to lead a full and well-traveled life. Although the relation between sound and vision occasionally strikes too literal a note, de Montalembert's compelling story and Tarn's painterly imagery capably sustain the succinct running time. BLACK SUN should shine for upmarket cablers.
As sweeping helicopter shots establish location in New York City, de Montalembert's voiceover explains how thieves threw paint thinner in his eyes in his own apartment in 1978, leaving him capable of seeing only light and vague shapes. At first nearly suicidal, he gradually learned how navigate Manhattan by himself, and eventually traveled alone to Indonesia, where he wrote a book by hand describing his experience. Tarn's digitally filmed footage of passersby is elegantly composed, his rich, self-penned soundtrack even more so.
One evening in 1978, the painter and filmmaker Hugues de Montalembert returned to his Manhattan apartment to be assaulted by two intruders. By the time the attackers had fled, de Montalembert had been permanently blinded by a violent splash of paint-thinner in his eyes. Gary Tarn's exquisite and impressionistic film about de Montalembert's ordeal uses the filmmaker's music, the painter's matter-of-fact voiceover and digitally treated urban images to suggest a first-person state of sensory upheaval and rebirth. A sensual, innovative and ultimately inspirational work about the resilience of the artistic spirit, BLACK SUN pushes documentary convention to the point where it creates its own generic terrain.
NOW (Toronto Weekly)
After being mugged in New York, French painter and filmmaker Hugues de Montalembert lost his sight, and this dense, absorbing documentary charts how his inner and outer vision has changed. In slightly accented English, Montalembert narrates with cold precision, and while there's more telling than in most docs, director Tarn finds ways to illustrate or capture moments or thoughts in surprising ways. Traveling the world, Montalembert raises fascinating questions about neurology, compassion and even sexuality. The result is a hypnotic, Zen-like affirmation of life.
The Globe and Mail
In BLACK SUN, experimental soundscapes and music by director and composer Gary Tarn gives painter Hugues de Montalembert the confidence to share his story of coming to terms with blindness, the result of a violent assault in 1978...a riveting and highly accomplished "portrait of a struggling artist" film -- BLACK SUN portrays a struggle more profound than the typical story of the quest for success...a unique "collaboration" between subject and filmmaker.
Toronto Festival Daily
An artist in the Black
BLACK SUN is equal parts philosophical treatise and autobiography of Hugues de Montalembert, the French painter and filmmaker, who was blinded by attackers wielding paint remover in 1976.Ê The film's subtle soundtrack and striking, evocative images - often abstracted or processed - come courtesy of director Gary Tarn, yet the film is very much about one visual artist's experience of losing his sight, as conveyed entirely through de Montalembert's voiceover.
We see de Montalembert only briefly - decked out in a striking, custom-made eye shield - as the majority of the film's visuals are lovely diaristic impressions of his surroundings: New York, Paris, Bali and Singapore. Their poetic quality heightened, these images evoke de Montalembert's newfound inner vision. One of the most startling revelations is the notion that the brain of someone whose "life was based on seeing" continues to construct images, even after the sense of sight is lost. The film presents sight as an act of creation, not perception.
BLACK SUN is an overwhelming yet graceful emotional and sensory experience, and de Montalembert is the most humble, candid and articulate of subjects. His refusal of both pity and impoverished life truly command empathy, particularly when he admits to considering himself lucky compared with those who have suffered even greater, if less visible loss.