Jesper Just

Born 1974, Copenhagen; lives and works in New York

 

No Man is an Island, 2002

video, color, sound, 4 minutes, courtesy of the artist and Gallerie Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen

 

Jesper Just’s short films are motivated by extrovert emotion, sexual tension that is not necessarily explicit and stereotype-shattering male portrayals. Being so typically cinematic, it is impossible to ignore the way Hollywood conventions have molded our perceptions of these: passion, lust, sexuality and gender typing.

The title of the film shown here is taken from a poem by English poet John Donne, who wrote in 1623: “No man is an island / Entire of itself; / Every man is a piece of the continent, /A part of the main.” The scene is a square in Copenhagen. The sentimental dance music in the background entices a dancing man, a young man who is watching him and sobbing (played by Danish actor Johannes Lilleøre, Just’s own recurring double), a sparse audience gathered to watch—and the film’s audience. What is the story, one wants to ask, as one does about all of Just’s films. There is a story, with melodramatic components at that, our hearts well up, but it is not quite clear what it means.

Just’s short films are all unexpectedly heartbreaking. They seem like scenes cut out from long movies. We seem to have entered the cinema in the middle of the screening, for a few minutes. We have no idea what happened before and what will happen after, what the connection between the heroes is, why the one is dancing and the other crying. It doesn’t matter. In many ways, Just’s films assume the viewer’s proficiency and knowledge of cinema—to fill in the missing part—and of video—to accept the missing part, to accept the delayed gratification and remain in a heavily symbolic, undeciphered plot.

 

Something to Love, 2005

video, color, sound, 9:48 minutes, courtesy of the artist and Gallerie Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen

 

The protagonists of Something to Love are a young man, an older man, a young woman and an underground parking lot, devoid of people and cars, reminiscent of the sets of many thrillers. The film is charged with a film noire atmosphere and the ghosts of all the mysteries shot in parking lots and staircases.

When the older man is watching the young couple kissing, a whole history of cinematic gazes and scopophilia in classical Hollywood cinema emerges; however, here the woman is duplicated into a couple and it is the young man who turns to be the object of longing and yearning. Even more so, it is the kiss itself, or passion itself, that are signified as the “something to love,” the object of desire. In the homoerotic context implied in Just’s films, Visconti’s Death in Venice (1971), based on Thomas Mann’s novella, immediately comes to mind. The unforgettable scenes in which Dirk Bogarde yearningly gazes at the beautiful Polish youth, when tears roll down his made-up face, as well as the camera clinging to the object of love, seem to hover above Something to Love.

Just relies on cinematic conventions but also deconstructs them: in form and in contents. His plots are neither linear nor coherent and the men in them sing, dance or cry with the full emotional passion of a melodrama, musical or opera. They totally surrender to the most sentimental emotional triggers, and at the same time shatter the gender typing that were constructed and emphasized, among others, by mainstream cinema.

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