Credit: Courtesy of TIFF
by Dylan Adamson Featured Film

Bouquets 31-40 — Rose Lowder [TIFF ’23 Review]

September 20, 2023

When I worked the film scanner at a home media transfer house, among the foremost moldy delights I could regularly expect to find on my desk was accidentally double-exposed regular 8mm film. Often, in the widely used amateur format, practitioners would forget if they had already flipped and shot the opposite side of a 16mm-wide roll, as intended, and would send it back through the camera for a third (or even fourth) double-exposed pass. Underlit Christmas mornings, vaudevillian aquatic stunt shows, homemade pornography; all passed through my scanner on a regular basis, but whenever two such sequences were stacked atop one another, they seemed to attain something greater than the sum of their parts — a sense of simultaneity and unity that at once fulfilled the long-frustrated promise of home video while exploding the bounds of the 4:3 frame. 

Rose Lowder, now 83 years old, has been working toward the simultaneous image since she found an abandoned projector outside of a school near her Avignon house in 1975. Bolex in hand, she works not with double exposures, but with single frame alternations. Two images shot alongside one another coexist not in a happy accident, but in pulsating disharmony — smashing against each other and commingling 12 times per second. Bouquets 31-40 (2023) is the latest ten-part, ten-minute installment in the Peruvian-French filmmaker’s ongoing experiment by such means.

Lowder’s films make good on the promise of truly “experimental” cinema. They continue the optical science undertaken by children on long car trips, in the minutes before sleep overtook us, in which we could close one eye and watch the seat in front of us shift, or focus on the second of two power lines, only to glimpse a fuzzy third emerging between them. But Lowder’s approach is rigorous. Edited entirely in camera, her films require meticulous documentation, noting precisely which frames (1,4,7, for example) contain an image of a sailboat, and which (2,5,8) are to contain an image of a field of roses, for a subsequent pass through the camera. On the film strip, it appears tranquil — a procession of stills akin to a photo album. Projected, the furious back-and-forth strobing creates an uneasy voyage across the field. 

The Bouquets series, begun in 1995, has now grown to 40 short travelogues. Whereas locations were once limited to Lowder’s radius on her bicycle, later iterations have found the filmmaker traversing gardens, farms, and conservations across France, Italy, and Switzerland. As with any prudent experiment, its basis is repetition. Each Bouquet is one minute long, 1440 frames, with six seconds of black leader separating each one. A single frame of a different flower flashes once in the middle of each section of leader, and Lowder’s name, the Bouquet number, and the year of filming flashes at the end in single character per frame increments. The Bouquets juxtapose the brilliantly biodiverse primary colors of these Alpine-adjacent regions. Her formula can be boiled down to frame 1 + frame 2 = ?, with infinite variations and graphic possibilities to be found on either side of the equals sign. 

As she told Scott MacDonald in a 1997 interview: “There’s a lot of talk about the smallest unit in cinema being the frame, but in fact, that’s not the case at all.” My own horticultural streak is inadequate to cataloging each of Lowder’s captures, but take, for example, a sequence flashing between yellow and blue flowers. As the movement is repeated, the negative space in one image appears filled by the leaves of another. The monadic unit of the frame is discarded in favor of a million tiny conversations between the flowers happening at breakneck speed, creating a third image belonging to a time and space heretofore unknowable. 

Bouquet 31, in the new collection, cuts on a dime from such visually intense sequences to simple, observational shots of a cat rolling in the grass, or a lone woman tending to her front garden, following a pattern established in previous Bouquets. Whereas I once felt that these images appeared impoverished next to the consciousness-expanding sequences that bracket them, I now find the effect of simultaneity doesn’t cease with Lowder’s crosscutting, and rather proceeds across the entire strip of film as a kind of general principle. Her’s is a vision available only through the projector, but the act of witnessing it bears fruit that transcends cinema. Lowder herself is a vegan and an organic farmer, and these films that rely entirely upon an abundance of biodiversity disrupt our privileged isolation from the world — simultaneity means responsibility.

Published as part of TIFF 2023 — Dispatch 5.