‘Color Box’ (‘Encré’): Film Review

Courtesy of Sabrazai Films
A visually evocative glimpse at one artist’s struggle to open a show

Director Rachid Djaidani (“Hold Back”) premiered his second feature at the Cinema du Reel

After breaking out at the Cannes Directors' Fortnight three years ago with his intense DIY debut, Hold Back, the one-man-band filmmaker Rachid Djaidani offers up an impressive sophomore effort with Color Box (Encré), an intimate documentary chronicle where art, commerce and real life come clashing together in ways both desperate and heartening.

Following the travails of Franco-Algerian artist Yassine “Yaze” Mekhnache as he prepares for his first ever exhibition in New York, the film provides an authentic glimpse of one man’s foray into the dog-eat-dog contemporary art world, which is revealed to be both less glamorous and less, well, artsy, than one could imagine. But it’s Djiadani’s direction that makes this more than your typical fly-on-the-wall doc, with the filmmaker offering up a potent mix of sights and sounds that are fascinating in their own right. A premiere at the Cinema du Reel in Paris could help Box find viewing spaces at festivals and in a few Euro art houses, further expanding the renown of its maker.

An opening sequence shows Yaze – a former graffiti tagger who creates large-scale abstract paintings reminiscent of Jackson Pollock and the late work of Willem de Kooning – moving canvases out of a Paris gallery he’s just parted ways with. “You’re the only artist we’re having issues with,” says a voice heard over images that look like they were shot with a surveillance camera, as if Yaze were heisting his own artwork.

Indeed, the more we follow the artist as he preps for a big show at the soon-to-be-opened Catherine Ahnell Gallery in downtown Manhattan, the more it becomes clear that surviving the art scene is perhaps 50% painting and 50% hustling, doing everything you can to get your work shown and sold. (A brief visit to the FIAC art fair shows Yaze conversing with salesman-turned-gallery owner Kamel Mennour, offering another example of how street smarts and high art are often a good match.)

Once the Franco-Algerian painter arrives in NYC, he finds the exhibition space to be far from ready, and winds up having to supervise the daily renovations while trying to complete his work. Between the construction noise and concentration needed to generate his art, Yaze nearly loses his mind. Then his show finally does open and all the accumulated stress and struggle seemed to be worth it. Or was it?

That we will never know, because Djaidani is less interested in classic storytelling than in capturing fleeting moments of the creative process, intermingling them with snapshots of the artist’s life – including a visit to his father, himself a Sunday painter. The filmmaker hops without warning between Paris, New York and Marrakech – where Yaze has seamstresses embroider his canvasses – the camera suddenly cutting to a new space or place in the way that Terence Malick does in all his movies since The Tree of Life, albeit with a more traditional chronology.

Shot and co-edited by the director, with musicians Francois and Sylvain Rabbath providing a swooning cello-and piano-score, Color Box is itself a color box of a film, blending different textures, shades and patterns to paint a portrait of what it’s like to be a working artist today. It’s as much about what goes on behind the scenes as it is about what lies on the surface – an art movie where art is both content and form.

Production company: Sabrazai Films
Director: Rachid Djaidani
Producer: Rachid Djaidani
Director of photography: Rachid Djaidani
Editors: Svetlana Vaynblat, Rachid Djaidani
Composers: Francois Rabbath, Sylvain Rabbath

No rating, 73 minutes