Text by Yannick Haenel
16 mm film. 19 min. 2017 Le Fresnoy Studio National.
On the second floor, when you come out of the lift on the side of the D656 expressway, you see, on your left, an enfilade of offices. I went into the one where Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet used to edit their films. I turned on a screen and I saw Le Romanz de Fanuel, a film by Vir Andres HERA. We spoke together at length about that medieval saint who was the Virgin Mary’s grandfather. I was amazed to see that a young artist was fascinated by the life of the saints, that he knew Fanuel and wanted to make a film about him.
As I recall, Fanuel was engendered by the perfume of a flower that came from the tree of science. He gave the sick miraculous apples. One day, after sharing one of them, he wiped his knife on his thigh and the juice from the apple fecundated him: he was pregnant, in the thigh, with a young girl who would become Saint Ann, the Virgin’s mother. And then I remember – or is it Vir Andres HERA imagining it this way? Or am I projecting? — that at one point in his life, Fanuel became someone other: he changed sex. Became a woman. I watch the film. It’s stunning.
We observe a mystical itinerary by Fanuel: first, the contemplation of holy figures in a church, then solitude in a deserted mountain village, passing through door- ways, writing, more doors, and walking towards the volcano and the body that is there at its narrow gate, the gate of spiritual metamorphosis. We hear a voice: “The gods are not dead, but your perception is dead. We have not gone, but we ceased to show ourselves. Or you have closed your eyes.”It is a rough, feminine voice, like Rimbaud’s Barbarian, the voice of an Aztec god who, in naming the elements, makes limpidity explosive.
The promise of an apple fecundates time just as man becoming a woman multiplies his future. “The belly of an emperor and a beggar”: we hear these words in the raw light of the film by Vir Andrès HERA. Is it not a matter of giving birth to the truth? The embrace of the saints is the desert’s signature. And then, to be a person is to know the ultimate solitude: that is why we still tell stories.
This dazzling point towards which the saint walks, so compelled that he braves the obstacle of the mountains, is the transparency of metamorphosis: is not to change sex to enter mystery? The impossible can be attained only through a cer- emony; and liturgical splendour leads to ascesis, just as ascesis leas to God. Le Romanz de Fanuel, with the beauty of the tranquil miracle, gives a glimpse of the impossible.
Where, I am always asking myself, does the word persist? A promise was made: the word will return. It exists only through its coming return (it is literature).The art of Vir Andres HERA satisfies because it has to do with literature. It makes the word vibrate. As Dante said of Giotto, he has the cry – il grido.
Yannick Haenel, Medicis Laureate