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From a plastic bowl to petroleum, we trace back through the complete industrial process that leads to the manufacture of plastic objects. The force of the commentary composed in alexandrine verse by Raymond Queneau matches the wide screen of CinemaScope proportions.
This short film opens with a pastiche of a quote from Victor Hugo: "O, Time, suspend your bowl, and you, plastic material/Where do you come from? Who are you?" A succession of images of plastic objects unfolds, culminating with a bowl. The film's trajectory then follows this bowl back to the mold that produced it, then to the material it is made from (polystyrene), the coloring process, and so on, to end up focusing on coal and petroleum, the raw materials of plastic, and styrene, the precursor to polystyrene. This documentary was commissioned by the French industrial group Pechiney. It features a commentary written by Raymond Queneau in alexandrine verse narrated by Pierre Dux, with music composed by Pierre Barbaud, the inventor of algorithmic music.
One would not normally associate plastic with such a romantic attraction. It is this contrast that Raymond Queneau plays with as he parodies and makes fun of romantic poetry with his commentary composed in rhymes, with a purposefully humorous tone.
The camera work matches the world of plastic, drawing on bright, synthetic colors. The film plunges us into the cold environment of mechanics and anti-nature—we only see a worker on one occasion, a man whose responsibility is to supervise temperature control. The soundtrack composed by Pierre Barbaud, inventor of algorithmic music, accentuates the clinical mood.
It is difficult to know if this unconventional film met with the intentions of its sponsors, or if it was well-received by them. We do know that is has attracted considerable notice for its double meaning.
"Afterwards, I tried working again with Queneau, but he was not interested in making films. He said he had no talent for it. And besides, he did not exactly fit in with the task I subsequently set for myself, which was to work exclusively with people who talked about theater, people who were connected to the theater world, or who had written plays." Alain Resnais, quoted in the catalogue from the 2000 Belfort Film Festival.