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DERRIDA(director/writer: Kirby Dick/Amy Ziering Kofman; cinematographer: Kirsten Johnson; editors: Kirby Dick/Matt Clarke; music: Ryuichi Sakamoto; cast: Jacques Derrida; Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Amy Ziering Kofman; Zeitgeist Films; 2002-France/USA, in French and English with English subtitles)
If you have any doubts about the film, just ask yourself how many other films have you seen about a renown modern philosopher.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Co-director Kirby Dick (“Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist”) knows how to make cinéma vérité documentaries on subjects that rarely if ever are tried, who along with the film’s other director, producer and interviewer, Amy Ziering Kofman, has a go at trying to get the secretive Jacques Derrida to open up–something they never quite succeed at doing. Nevertheless you get the feisty spirit of the man, his passion for knowledge and flippant casual humor, and get to see how a living legendary philosopher thinks fast on his feet and acts at home when relaxing. Derrida constantly begs off telling anything about himself that is personal, even how he met his psychologist wife Marguerite, but states only obvious facts such as they met in 1953 at a skiing vacation and married in 1957 in the States. Derrida considers biography to be anecdotal, and gives as an example something Heidegger said when asked about Aristotle’s life: ” he lived, thought, and died.” The elderly, gentle, white-haired, pipe smoking professorial type is a well-respected French philosopher and author and lecturer born in Algeria, to Jewish non-intellectuals, but now is living in Paris and is a frequent visitor to the States–who speaks a fairly good English, but writes in French. Derrida became in the ’80s an iconic cult figure among European and American students and intellectuals because of his deconstructionist theories. A school of thought which he reluctantly and only briefly explains, as he would rather have you read about it and make up your own mind. Before he answers the question he mentions that all things are conditioned and not natural, and deconstructionism is contained in everyone’s work. “Therefore “truth” is not an absolute, and must be viewed within the context of each person expressing it and within the body of the idea itself.”

It’s a no-frills movie, more like an intimate home movie than a theater release. If you don’t have a curiosity about philosophy or are bored by films that are not flashy, too talkative, express ideas and have no action, don’t bother catching this one. The film does several things really well such as explore ideas about the following: love–which is called a narcissistic act because love arises from loving one’s self; the concept of the future–by stating unequivocally that the future itself has a future; forgiveness–in which he gives a university lecture in South Africa and presents an interesting slant on its usage, saying that only unconditional forgiveness of what is unforgivable is sincere; the myth of Narcissus and Echo–by responding to its moral meaning with an unanswerable but learned response; and, he also points out that the first question that philosophy asks, is: “What is being?” But the film flounders when it misses an opportunity to make the open-minded and self-critical prof more accessible to a wider audience. The interviewer asks too many general questions that were poorly constructed. Questions the elusive philosopher was unwilling to answer, but would have if they were phrased better. Though to make up for this slight, throughout the film passages of Derrida’s many books were read out loud in an English translated voice-over by Ziering Kofman. This should inspire those so inclined, to get those books.

It felt more like I was attending a college lecture then seeing a flick. But since I can’t recall too many films about Kant or Hegel, I’ll take a pass on critiquing the filming techniques and just be grateful such a film filled with ideas was made. There were some truly enjoyable spontaneous moments, as when the seemingly modest Derrida in his testy way mocks the movie experience by stating: “Everything is false. I’m not like this. Naturally.” Since the movie ultimately is not about Derrida’s deconstructionist ideas but about his personality the most curious question, one of the few he greatly appreciated, asked him what he’d like to see in documentaries on Hegel or Heidegger. Derrida after a moment’s pause, amusingly expresses curiosity as to their sex lives—although he himself refuses to get into that question or any other question about himself.

It makes for a one of a kind film, though not as good as reading Archive Fever (95) or Circumfession (92) — books of his I found very stimulating and hard to put down. But if you have any doubts about the film, just ask yourself how many other films have you seen about a renown modern philosopher–someone still alive who already has an archive in both Paris and at the University of California–who is allowed to speak his mind in such an open forum.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”