«It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else» – in a world where we crave certainty, transparency and truth, uncertainty elicits fear. But in the case of filmmaker and visual artist Sima Khatami’s and director Aldo Lee’s Être Jérôme, uncertainty and being nowhere turn into an act of embracement. The documentary aims to portray the provocateur Jérôme Bel, a well-recognized French dancer and choreographer, who is known for confronting the audience with unusual dance pieces, encompassing so-called non-dance, working with the old and the young, LGBTQ+ individuals, or disabled people – giving voice to those who rarely get the chance to express themselves on a public stage. Or he performs with the audience; it becoming at once the performer and spectator.
Bel’s work ascends into the absurd and abstract, finding beauty in an immersive experience, where time spans into the unknown and creates an underlying tension.
All of these impressions seem to create a portrait of Bel’s personality as well as his attitude towards art. However, in the blink of an eye, everything is thrown into crisis, as we realize Jérôme rebels to be portrayed and in fact turns the documentary into a piece of resistance. The cinéma verité that seems to be at the core of this artwork, gets outwitted, climaxing with Bel’s proposal of rehearsals for a show that will never exists. Yet the genius lies in that we experience something we can’t really place – just like Jérôme who does not want to be put in a box. Again and again, we see Sima and Aldo engage in an artistic cooperation with Bel, but things get turned around; authorship becomes threatened and anticipation is refused. «Slowly, we have the feeling that we are getting nowhere. That is a pleasure» – words read aloud by Jérôme that appear on a black screen, put in a non-linear, discontinuous manner meditate on his very nature where the essence of art lies in destruction. One might assume this to be only provocative, but it is exactly the latter which makes for this documentary: the destruction of a portrayal, seemingly leaving us with nothing, but instead making the documentary become the very expression of Jérôme – or is it though?