NANTES, France — Benjamin Franklin’s maxim that “you can do anything you set your mind to” could not ring truer for the French self-taught filmmaker and artist Guy Brunet. Having no money, no contacts, no actors, and no equipment never stopped this film enthusiast. Armed only with an immense wealth of filmic knowledge and his admiration for classical Hollywood cinema, he has created dozens of films from scratch in a studio of sorts that he built himself. His handcrafted filmmaking materials are now the subject of a solo exhibition at Lieu Unique.
Brunet makes his own actors and builds his film sets from found cardboard boxes that he cuts and paints. He paints film posters on old architectural plans and other large paper scraps that he tapes together. He also writes his own screenplays, lends his voice to all the characters in his movies, and even draws the DVD covers for his films. This self-taught artist was born in 1947 into a family of itinerant projectionists from the Aveyron region in the south of France. When he was a teenager, he wrote about 350 screenplays in his school notebooks, some of which are on display at Lieu Unique. During the financial crisis of the 1980s, Brunet lost his job and decided to finally pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker. He bought a house in Viviez, where he started his Paravision Studio, and, in 1990, painted his first film poster.
The installation of Guy Brunet Réalisateur: Le Studio Paravision favors visual coherence over chronological progression. Visitors travel through this immersive exhibition as they would a film set; standing in one particular spot, they are able to see all of Brunet’s 250 “actors” in the space by pivoting on themselves like a camera filming a circular panning shot. For Brunet, this is the opportunity to see some of his posters completely unfolded for the first time. One gigantic one — the first he ever made, and which greets visitors as they enter — he had kept stored away folded on itself 24 times.
Co-curators Charles Soubeyran and Mario Del Curto faced several challenges in the making of this exhibition. Del Curto explained in a guided tour how difficult it was to present Brunet’s work outside of the space in which he makes it. “When you are faced with these types of creations,” he said, “it may be hard to understand them without seeing the construction and the process they require.” Indeed, photos of Brunet’s home, taken by Del Curto, show the artist’s tiny working and living space filled with cutout figures and posters, a sharp contrast to the large, white exhibition space. Another curatorial difficulty lay in the fact that the cardboard actors, posters, and sets were never made to be exhibited; they were created for the sole purpose of making a film and were then carefully stocked for potential reuse. To their creator, they are strictly film equipment.
Brunet’s oeuvre has one clear purpose: honoring Hollywood’s golden age and the films, actors, and directors that have inspired him. “It is a stage curtain, a poster, a manifest, and a declaration of love to the Golden Age of American cinema,” Soubeyran said as he paused in front of “Sous le plus grand chapiteau du monde,” a three-dimensional poster made in tribute to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. DeMille, musicals, and Fred Astaire are among Brunet’s most prominent sources of inspiration. He has also created tributes to science fiction, film noir, and even television series — with an eight-hour-long film devoted to their history. Brunet makes all his films — six of which are screening in tandem with the exhibition — using in-camera editing, preceded by thorough research. His filmmaking process is an ingenious bricolage, that of an unconventional creator whose work has evolved outside of the cinematic and artistic spheres.
Brunet is beginning to receive the recognition he deserves. He has been commissioned to make a film about the Lumière Brothers and is currently working on a film about French writer and filmmaker Marcel Pagnol. Guy Brunet Réalisateur , which began its run at Switzerland’s Collection de l’Art Brut, is an opportunity for the public to explore the unique world of this wonderful storyteller. The vital and obsessive process that has allowed him to become such a singular filmmaker also makes his work completely unclassifiable. Is it art brut, art modeste, or art singulier? Maybe it’s simply “art brunet.”