TQW Magazin
Eva Sangiorgi on Jerk by Gisèle Vienne

Ghosts in the MuseumsQuartier


Ghosts in the MuseumsQuartier

I still feel haunted by the other night. It is a rainy and windy evening when I arrive at the TQW Studio. I know the complex work of the choreographer and director Gisèle Vienne about a series of terrible murders in Texas in the 1970s. I appreciate her work, and I am excited and eager to attend the event. The room goes dark as the screen lights up. For about an hour, it draws all my emotional attention to itself. The actor/puppeteer Jonathan Capdevielle is David Brooks. With his hands and voice, and some other magic, he makes the other characters come to life: the murderers as well as the victims. Brooks and Wayne Henley, a fellow teenager, were accomplices of the serial killer Dean Corll. After a tame introduction, Capdevielle enters into the tale with fierce intensity, detailing its less straightforward aspects, i.e. those that somehow cling to a human vulnerability that turns into something monstrous in the process of repetition. The performance is extraordinary. The actor uses his body to represent the events; he hints at the dark forces and motivations that perhaps torment the three men. Capdevielle utterly exposes himself to the audience: his resources lie in his hands, his voice, his breath, his saliva, his sweat. So the camera observes him, frontally, like an audience; but then it comes closer, analyses him, examines him in detail – first from the front, then from the side, and then from behind. Assisting in creating the rhythm of the piece, the camera accompanies the action it triggers. Then it returns to observe the man, reflective and still, as I am. The screen still acts as a mediator – allowing me to come back to myself – but the impact is powerful.

I am impressed by the courage of this work, the way it tackles these themes – these    memories – beyond narrating the events. It conjures up the ghosts of the consciences involved, whose nightmares are diverted by inexplicable sadistic desires. The puppets serve as a barrier against the cruelty of these acts, creating a metaphor for battered bodies and suspended moralities. Abused, exanimate, finally docile, they allow us to detach ourselves from the horror. But the video camera works against this distance, jumps into the emotions, revives the anguish. The projector reawakens the stories of places abandoned by hope: where youths are lost in the monotony of a rural area that pays little attention to them and adults are incapable of believing in any future outside their own narrow limits. This is the harsh context which has also inspired Gisèle Vienne’s previous choreographic work. Now she has translated it into the language of film, a film that digs deep into the soul. If the mise-en-scène provides distance, the camera is confrontational. In the end, the audiovisual language allows other revelations. Ghosts linger in an atmosphere caressed by thoughts and sounds. There are ghosts in Capdevielle’s hands, in his puppets, exploring the assailants’ displacement, revealing it. And more ghosts are summoned by the power of the cinematographic apparatus, which transports them in time and space, manifests them in light without needing to display a body. The montage rewrites that anguish, and it travels through the past to us, taking on other forms, other bodies. It follows the actor offstage, as we do. Associations and feelings overlap. With this film, Gisèle Vienne does not add another piece to her remarkable work, which she has refined performance after performance, but transforms it, complements it. This, I find, enhances the emotional aspect, and connects with the spectator on an individual level, while still being experienced in a room shared with others. This film, with its choreography of movement and tempos, with the skilful attention to atmospheres, celebrates a stunning performance that will stay in my mind and that the projector may always play again.


Eva Sangiorgi is a writer and programme coordinator based in Vienna. She has collaborated with various festivals in Latin America and founded FICUNAM in Mexico City, a festival she managed until 2018. She has worked in film distribution, production and broadcast television. She is currently the artistic director of Viennale, the Vienna International Film Festival, and has served as coordinator the Film Curating Studies Department at Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola (EQZE) in San Sebastian, Spain since 2021.