Youth Under The Influence (Of Pedro Costa) – Part 3: The Natural Sexual One

Michael Guarneri and Patrick Holzapfel continue their discussion about the films they have seen after meeting with Mr. Costa in Munich, in June 2015. Quite naturally, in this part, they end up talking about Mr. Costa’s films and find something between sexual desires and ethical distance in cinema.

Part 1

Part 2

Michael: (…) Maybe it’s an Italian thing, an Italian take on poverty, but when I asked my grandparents about Chaplin’s films, they said something I find very interesting: “Yeah, I remember the tramp guy, very funny movies, I laughed so hard… but being poor it’s another world entirely”.

Please mind that I have consciously chosen Chaplin as he is one of Mr. Costa’s favorite filmmakers. Is Chaplin a traitor, in your view?

Patrick: Again, you make me think of Renoir, who said: “Filmmakers are the sons of the bourgeoisie. They bring to their career the weaknesses of their decadent class.” Did Chaplin know what poverty was/is? If he knew, was he really interested in it? We know that, as opposed to Renoir, Chaplin did not come from a rich household or a secure life. We know that Chaplin enjoyed his money, the money he earned, he was proud, living the capitalist dream by showing its downside. Compared to Ventura almost every other actor seems to be a traitor.

But maybe there is more to being poor and human than the reality of social conditions (which Chaplin in my view was merely addressing, addressing in a very brave manner because he was talking about things in his films that others wouldn’t have dared to – his films are always meant to be a film, an illusion and his acting is the best way to detect that: it is very clear that he is not really poor, he does not lie about it). Maybe there is some truth in his films that goes beyond their credibility. I think cinema would be much poorer if only those were allowed to show certain issues that lived through them.

casa de Lava7

Nevertheless I can perfectly understand your points and there is certainly some truth to them. I never really was overwhelmed by Chaplin’s worlds, it is somehow very distant for me, I watch his films in an observing mode. I never understood how one can identify with the Tramp. But while observing I identify with the filmmaker. Which brings me to a rather curious and certainly stupid “what-if”… I just asked myself why Mr. Costa is not visible in his films. He talks so much about the trust, the friendship and his life in Fontainhas. He should obviously be a part of this world. I don’t mean in the Miguel Gomes kind of way, but just in order to be sincere, because we shouldn’t forget that there is someone in the room when Ventura shakes, maybe he doesn’t shake at all, maybe someone tells (I think Mr.Costa has already talked about that) him: “Shake a bit more, Ventura.” But then I know that Mr. Costa and his camera are visible if you look at his films… It is just a question of his body being there, the presence. Do you know what I mean?

Michael: I am not sure if I understand what you mean, especially because I am not well-acquainted with Miguel Gomes’s body of work. Anyway, there is this scene in (near the end of?) In Vanda’s Room: Zita is in the frame, with her little half-brother if I remember correctly, and in a corner you can see a camera tripod against a wall. Maybe it is shy Mr. Costa “revealing himself”? I think so. Otherwise, yeah, as a person, he’s pretty much in the dark, behind the camera, in the 180 degrees of space in which we have been trained to pretend that everything and nothing exists. But is he really “hiding” in the dark? I am not sure. Sometimes it seems to me that Mr. Costa is all over the place, and not just a presence looming at the margins of the frame, off-camera. There’s a lot of autobiography in O Sangue. In Casa de Lava, Mariana is lost in Capo Verde just like Mr. Costa lost himself during a Heart-of-Darkness-esque shooting adventure in the tropics…

About Ventura shaking more than he actually does in real life: yeah, I read that too. I think it has to do with the way the camera captures movement. Did it ever happen to you that something that was perfect in real-time/real-life speed was awful when filmed? Like, you shoot a certain scene, and when you watch it on the screen you realize that this or that real-life movement must be done more slowly to look good once filmed? I think it is the same with Ventura’s shaking. It had to be exaggerated to become “cinematic”, to become visible, comprehensible, dramatic, melodramatic. I guess this is why Chaplin rehearsed on film…


Patrick: I just looked up the scene with Zita and her half-brother but couldn’t make out the tripod. Can you maybe send me a screenshot? I think it is due to my bad copy of the film or the darkness of the screen I have here because I cannot really see what is in the corners of the frame.

You are completely right about Mr. Costa being all over the place in his films though. I think it is most obvious in Ossos and his portraits of artists at work, Ne change rien and Where does your hidden smile lie?. I think it is a question of approach, the distance to the filmed ones always tells us something about the one who films with Mr. Costa. It is not only his position in spatial terms, but also in ethical and emotional terms. I am very careful with autobiographical aspects though you have your points. After all the way of a shooting, personal desires and memories are part of many, many films. It is very hard not to have more or less obvious traces in a film.

As for the way camera captures not only movement but anything, I think… the notion of something being empty or crowded, speed, relations like big and small and so on, yes, I know that and yes, this is surely a reason to shake more… but still… it only shows me that cheating is part of making films. So for me what counts is what is on the screen.

Gomes often has his film crew acting out in front of the camera including himself. It is a very hip thing, full of irony and self-reflexion. In Our beloved month of August it worked for me because from the absurd body of the motionless director who is Gomes here, searching for money, without motion – without a picture – derives something important which is the fact that cinema can be found, will be found. In Arabian Nights he went for something similar (much bigger, of course) and he is always flirting with his own disappearance or death, the disappearance of the author, the idea of illusion as an escape from reality, maybe he desperately wants to escape because he is a traitor like all of them, like all of us – look at us! But Gomes and the question of the body of the director leads me to another recommendation of Mr. Costa I followed after our meeting: João César Monteiro. Are you familiar with his work?

 Ne change rien

Michael: I won’t send you a screenshot of the tripod-thing for the same reason Straub-Huillet didn’t put an image of the mountain when the mother looks out of the window in Sicilia!: I want to give you a space to imagine things. Nah, jokes aside, I cannot find the shot right now, skimming through the movie. But it’s there. Zita is there, I don’t know about the kid. She is in a sort of storage closet, the tripod is leaning against the wall in the background. Or maybe there is no tripod at all, I don’t know. Maybe it’s like the smile in Mr. Costa’s Straub-Huillet film, or the twitch in the neck of comatose Leão at the beginning of Casa de Lava: sometimes it is there, sometimes it isn’t.

About João César Monteiro, I have watched his film about the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution Que Farei com Esta Espada?, and A Flor do Mar. What did you see? Were you impressed?

Patrick: I have seen Silvestre, As Bodas de Deus, Vai e vem and O Ultimo Mergulho. Mr. Costa advised me to see Monteiro’s debut feature Veredas first, but I could not find subtitles.

Silvestre is really an amazing film. It is full of beauty and manages to have one serious and one ironic eye on folkloristic tales and the way they are told. Rarely have I seen such a depth in artificial imagery. O Ultimo Mergulho is also great. It is a sensual comedy of tragic circumstances, and also a documentary on a Lisbon night. For the other two, which happened later in his career, I can only say that I found them to be curious little charmers. No more, no less. But they are very interesting in regards to what we have been talking about: the body of the director in Portuguese cinema. With Monteiro we have this recurring character he plays, João de Deus. As I have seen only two of those films I cannot say too much about it. It seems to be something close to Buster Keaton, just a little madder and sexually deranged (if you google the name you will also find that this is the name of a medium and psychic surgeon from Brazil).

But Monteiro really gives his body to his films. Whereas Gomes tries to disappear, with Monteiro it is all about the presence of his body. He is much more serious as an actor, I think. There is another thing that strikes me about Portuguese cinema which is the use of language. How do you perceive that as someone whose mother tongue is much closer to Portuguese than mine? For me, no matter if Monteiro, Gomes (not as much), Lopes, Villaverde, Pinto, Rodrigues or Mr. Costa, almost all of them, the use of language is closer to poetry than anything else. It is very hard to do that in German though some directors managed to.

O Sangue4


Michael: I wish spoken Portuguese was closer to Italian! On the written page, the languages are very similar, but because of the way Portuguese is spoken – the pronunciation, I mean – it is just impossible for me to understand. I can understand little things and try to infer the general meaning of a given sentence, but most of the time it is impossible for me to follow. Bottom line is: I need subtitles, too, and I won’t risk any judgement to the poetic quality of Portuguese.

Anyway, about Vai e vem, do you know the scene in which Monteiro sits under the big tree in the park? That is the park – Principe Real – where he and Mr. Costa used to meet many many many many many years ago to read the papers together, drink coffee and talk… But it would be really hard to find strict similarities between their films, wouldn’t it?

Patrick: Do you really need to understand to hear poetry? For me, it has more to do with rhythm and sound. Of course, knowing the language is essential for poetry, but to get a feeling if something is poetic or not…well, I am not sure.

Thanks for the info about the park! I think there are some similarities concerning their use of montage especially related to Costa’s first three features. It is certainly hard to grasp. I would have to see more of Monteiro.

So now the youth under the influence of Mr.Costa talks about the influences on Mr. Costa. Do you see any connections to Portuguese cinema with him?


Michael: For what I have seen, and heard, and read, I think the biggest similarity between Monteiro and Mr. Costa is their being “natural heterosexual filmmakers” (I am more or less quoting Mr. Costa, as filtered through my memory). How did they use to say back in the days? Cinema is a girl and a gun… This is also very Chaplinesque, of course. Rest assured that I am not alluding to anything deranged (though I read that there is some kinky sex and weird stuff in Monteiro’s João de Deus). It is just this idea of approaching interesting girls by means of a camera… I won’t ask you your opinion on this because you told me that you have a girlfriend: we will discuss that in private maybe.

For a more general take on the Portuguese scene, the names Mr. Costa always names are António Reis and Paulo Rocha. The former was his teacher at Lisbon Film School, and together with Margarida Cordeiro made a few films that Mr. Costa really likes, especially Ana and Tras-os-Montes. The latter made Os Verdes Anos and Mudar de Vida, which Mr. Costa recently helped restoring (they are available in a DVD boxset with English subtitles now).

If I had to be didactic, I’d say that the influence of the two early masterpieces by Rocha is more pronounced in O Sangue (whose title could have easily been “Os Verdes Anos”, i.e. “The Green Years”), both in the imagery and in the coming-of-age/maudit/enfant terrible/doomed love mood. I think that Reis, being not only a filmmaker but also a poet and an anthropologist, influenced a lot Mr. Costa’s approach to the cinematic expeditions in Cape Verde and Fontainhas… Reis used to say: “Look at the stone, the story comes afterwards…”. These words must have been a great inspiration for Mr. Costa as he was researching and searching his way into cinema after O Sangue. But of course things are more complex than this… Do you follow me? Have you seen Rocha’s dyptic and Reis and Cordeiro’s films?

O sangue2

Patrick: I can follow you very well, though of the above I have only seen Tras-os-Montes. I think that this midway between a (natural sexual and political conscious) poet and an anthropologist by means of film and work with film is much of what Mr. Costa is all about right now. There is something António Reis once said when talking to Serge Daney that strongly reminds me of Mr.Costa’s work in Fontainhas: “I can tell you that we never shot with a peasant, a child or an old person, without having first become his pal or his friend. This seemed to us an essential point, in order to be able to work and so that there weren’t problems with the machines. When we began shooting with them, the camera was already a kind of little pet, like a toy or a cooking utensil, that didn’t scare them.”

This idea of friendship of complicity… tenderness… how to film someone, how to work with someone you film, so what is this natural sexual thing really? Though you politely offered to discuss it in private between two male cinema observers/workers/lovers, I have to insist to have part of this conversation in public… I think it is remarkable how much anger and fear is in the way Mr. Costa’s camera approaches women (and men), especially compared to Monteiro, who I can always feel being very much in love with what he films and sharing this feeling. There is a sense of doubt with Mr. Costa, a darkness, this constant feeling of being not able to really enter with his camera and lights. Well, I get this point about cinema as a way of approaching women. Filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman or Leos Carax talked about it and have practiced it very excessively. But you can see/feel/touch it in their films. With Mr. Costa it feels different for me. It is like I can only touch the desire and never touch the thing itself. “Very abstract, very abstract”, like Monsieur Verdoux would say, but I think this is exactly what touches me in Mr. Costa’s films. With him the desire for movement is as strong as the movement. I can only think of two other filmmakers that are able to do that in contemporary cinema: Sharunas Bartas and Tsai Ming-liang. But much of this approach I could sense with Tras-os-Montes, though I am mixing ethics and sexuality here which might be a mistake.


Michael: No, in general I think it is good to mix them. Maybe they are the same thing, as sometimes the Marquis suggested (e.g., in the incomparable Français, encore un effort pour être républicains)…

I don’t know about the anger, but there surely is fear in Mr. Costa’s approach to filming people, and women especially (Ines, Vanda and Zita above all, in my view). Take In Vanda’s Room, for instance. A heterosexual filmmaker is in the girl’s bedroom with a camera… it’s strange, it’s cool, it’s unsettling, it’s exciting for a guy being there, isn’t it? What will happen? What is the secret beyond the door? What is the mystery of the chambre vert? But it is also scary: it is not a man’s world, and the girl might ridicule him, make him uncomfortable, and so on… He is in her kingdom, after all. He is in her power completely. So there you have it: fear going hand in hand with desire. Somebody even made a debut feature film called Fear and Desire, and then locked it in a cellar because he was too scared to show it to people. You wrote “this constant feeling of being not able to really enter”: it seems to me that the desire to enter and the fear of not being able to enter are what sex is all about. But the discussion is definitely getting weird. Mother, if you are reading this: this is film criticism, I am not a prevert.

Patrick: Your writing “prevert” instead of “pervert” reminds me that recently I have seen Le Quai des brumes by Marcel Carné, a film written by another one of those film-poets: Jacques Prévert. There is a painter in the film who probably ends up killing himself and he is talking a bit like Mr. Costa last year in Locarno when he described and somehow regretted how he always ends up talking about the terrible, fearful things in his films. The painter says: “When I see someone swimming, I always imagine him drowning.” Judging from his films, I think Mr.Costa is a bit like that. And I love that Carné is presenting any other worldview as an illusion.

I want to ask you two questions: 1. Do you think Mr.Costa films more the things he loves or the things he fears? 2. Do you prefer in cinema to be confronted with the things you love or the things you fear?


Rage Against the Machine(s): The Blues Brothers von John Landis

Cab Calloway in The Blues Brothers

Macht es überhaupt Sinn sich näher mit einem Film zu befassen, der daraus entstanden ist, dass ein SNL-Sketch unvorhersehbare Eigendynamik entwickelt hat? Endet eine Interpretation der dahingeworfenen Späße und Anspielungen, die nie ganz ernst gemeint sind, nicht unweigerlich in totaler Absurdität? Eine Deutung Jakes und Elwoods als Boten Gottes, die als Findelkinder in einem christlichen Waisenhaus aufgewachsen sind, wo ihnen der Erzengel Curtis, den Blues näher brachte, wäre zwar amüsant, schießt aber weit übers Ziel hinaus.

Vielleicht kann man sich dem Film aber auch anders nähern, nämlich weniger in Form einer textuellen Analyse, die wahrscheinlich zwangsläufig in einer Überinterpretation endet, sondern in einer Betrachtung was der Film als Film macht. The Blues Brothers nicht als popkulturelle Ikone, sondern schlicht als Musicalfilm unter vielen. Denn gerade das Musicalgenre lädt dazu ein, bestimmte Konventionen und eine geschlossene Filmwelt zu akzeptieren, in der Menschen in Momenten großer Spannung mit Gesang und Tanz reagieren. In The Blues Brothers ist das nicht anders.

Aretha Franklin in The Blues Brothers

Nach einer kurzen Eröffnungssequenz, in der der Moloch Chicago vorgestellt wird, besuchen Jake und Elwood die Mutter Oberin des Waisenhauses, in dem sie aufgewachsen sind und das nun geschlossen werden soll. Dort öffnen und schließen sich Türen von Geisterhand und die Nonne selbst scheint gar zu levitieren. Später spielt der von Ray Charles verkörperte blinde Besitzer eines Musikladens, auf einem Keyboard, das gar nicht verkabelt ist. Zuvor werden die Brüder vom göttlichen Licht erfüllt und beschließen ihre alte Band zu reaktivieren, um Geld aufzutreiben und die Schließung ihres alten Zuhauses zu verhindern. Wie ernst es Jake und Elwood, beziehungsweise die Filmemacher selbst mit dieser Offenbarung meinen, wird nie restlos geklärt, das Publikum ist jedoch spätestens zu diesem Zeitpunkt aufgefordert, die übernatürlichen Vorgänge, die durch den Geist der Musik oder die Macht Gottes ausgelöst werden, als Teil dieser spezifischen Filmwelt zu akzeptieren.

Übernatürlich gut sind auch die Musiknummern. Die neu interpretierten R’n’B- und Blues-Klassiker sind fabelhaft und die Riege an Gaststars ist beeindruckend: Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker und der altehrwürdige Cab Calloway. Die Inszenierung der Musikstücke ist dabei ganz unterschiedlich. Zum Teil werden die Songs in Bühnensituationen gespielt, andere werden in bester Musicalmanier mit aufwendigen Tanzchoreographien aufgeführt. Liegt im ersten Fall das Hauptaugenmerk meist auf den Liedern selbst, deren Beziehung zur momentanen Situation im Film und der Performance von Jake und Elwood, so sind die elaborierteren Nummern allesamt mit den Gastauftritten der bekannten Musiker verbunden. Da erstrahlt die Bühne des Palace Hotel Ballroom auf einmal im Glanz der Dreißiger Jahre, jene Zeit, als Cab Calloway seine ersten Erfolge mit „Minnie the Moocher“ feierte; da wird die Predigt von James Browns Reverend durch Zirkusakrobatik ergänzt; doch das Prunkstück der Musicalnummern ist eindeutig „Think“ von Aretha Franklin als Jake und Elwood in ihrem Soul Food Cafe erscheinen, um ihren Ehemann, einen genialen Gitarristen, für ihre Band zu gewinnen. Draußen auf der Straße bildet sich spontan eine tanzende Masse, im Inneren wird Franklin von drei weiblichen Gästen unterstützt, während sie ihren Matt „Guitar“ Murphy davon abhalten will wieder in die Band dieser Versager einzutreten. Sie bleibt erfolglos, Matt wirft seine Kochschürze hin und kehrt zur Band zurück, doch die Gegenüberstellung von Innen (Café) und Außen (Straße), Mann und Frau, sowie Spaß und Ernst gelingt im Film nie besser. Die tragische Rolle der Mrs. Murphy, die ihren Mann nicht abermals an die nutzlosen Brüder verlieren will, wird unterminiert durch die Komik des Acts, wenn Jake und Elwood sich, vom Geist der Musik erfüllt der Choreographie der vier Damen anschließen.

The Blues Brothers von John Landis

Neben der Musik bleiben aber vor allem die wohlorchestrierten Zerstörungsorgien in Erinnerung. Dazu zählen nicht nur die berühmten Massenkarambolagen von Polizeiautos, sondern auch die „explosiven“ Anschläge durch Jakes Ex-Freundin (gespielt von Carrie Fisher). Sie sprengt die Brüder mehrere Male in die Luft und attackiert sie mit Maschinengewehr und Flammenwerfer, was die beiden ohne Kratzer überstehen. Bewahrt sie ihr göttlicher Auftrag vor körperlichem Schaden, oder ist es die Slapstick und Cartoontradition und –logik, nach der diese Szenen operieren?

Aufwendiger und wichtiger für die Handlung sind allerdings die Autoverfolgungsjagden, die in verschwenderischer Vernichtung enden. Angefangen mit einer kurzen Jagd durch eine Mall bis hin zu einem mehrere Dutzend Wagen umfassenden Verfolgungskonvoi auf dem Highway. Die Polizei stellt sich dabei nicht allzu klug an und das „Bluesmobile“ (ein aussortiertes Polizeiauto) zeigt überlegene Motorkraft und Manövrierfähigkeit. Wohlgemerkt wurde in diesen Szenen nicht mit CGI getrickst, alle Wagen wurden tatsächlich demoliert.

Im Kern ergänzen die großen Autoszenen einfach das Gag-Arsenal des Films. In dieser Hinsicht ist der Film ohnehin sehr vielseitig. Jake und Elwood fungieren als klassische Doppelconférence, wobei Elwood zumeist die Rolle des Tölpels übernimmt. Der Film beschränkt sich jedoch nicht darauf, sondern bietet auch Slapstick, akrobatische Einlagen und Satire. Die Idee an sich lässt sich als Parodie auf die Musikindustrie und unterschiedliche Bands deuten, ebenso das Auftreten der Beiden als Brüder und ihre Bekleidung, die schwarzen Anzügen und Sonnenbrille, die mitunter für Verwirrung sorgen (eine Dame hält die Beiden für FBI-Agenten, später geben sie sich selbst als Beamten einer Behörde aus). Vieles wird übertrieben dargestellt (z.B. Elwoods Fahrverstöße) oder kehrt die realen Verhältnisse um (der weiße Abwäscher im afro-amerikanischen Café), behält aber immer genug Bezug zur Realität, um glaubhaft zu bleiben – eine Kunst, die heutige Komödienfilme zu oft vermissen lassen).

All diese Szenen, also die Autokarambolagen, die Musicalnummern, wie auch die komödiantischen Stellen folgen dem Muster eines Comedy-Sketches. Sie funktionieren mehr oder weniger eigenständig und sind als Vignetten aneinandergereiht. Die Episoden fungieren als Stationen entlang eines wilden Ritts durch Upstate Illinois. In dieser Hinsicht ist der Film ein Roadmovie. Die Musik, Gags und Action funktionieren allesamt nach dem Muster, dass die Macher bei SNL eingeübt und perfektioniert haben, und das John Landis bereits bei seinem früheren Film The Kentucky Fried Movie eingesetzt hat. In The Blues Brothers sind die verschiedenen Episoden durch Jake und Elwood jedoch weitaus enger miteinander verbunden. Die beiden Brüder dienen als „Masters of Ceremony“, die durch den Film leiten und einen narrativen Faden für die Gags bieten. Nicht zuletzt funktioniert der Film auch deshalb, weil hier ein von sozialen Problemen gebeuteltes Amerika dargestellt und auf den Arm genommen wird und trotz aller Überzeichnung und Leichtigkeit der Musiknummern, immer wieder die alles andere als komische (Lebens-)Realität in diesem Amerika durch die glitzernde Fassade sichtbar wird: Armut, Rassenkonflikt.

Heute keine Projektion: Innocence/Jean Renoir

Some further thoughts on innocence:

Jean Renoir talking to James Blue in 1970:

“I am very bad at casting. I am very bad, and sometimes to be bad helps me. In the way that I am attracted by a certain innocence. I am afraid of clichés, tricks. I am afraid of repeating situations we already saw on screen. People with not too much skill sometimes help me to keep a kind of – I use a very ambitious word, excuse me – to keep a kind of innocence”



Renoir loved Andy Warhol

Be a standing cinema

Dress my friends up

just for show

See them as they really are

The question remains: How to film innocence? How translate a feeling into film without manipulating it? (stupid thoughts)

Le dejeneur sur lherbe

Le dejeneur sur lherbe2

la vie de jesus

but the camera poisons




Nacht und Nebel: L’homme de Londres von Henri Decoin

L'homme de Londres von Henri Decoin

Im Dunkel der Nacht gehen allerhand zwielichtige Gestalten ihren unlauteren Geschäften nach. Für sie ist die Nacht Zufluchtsort und Lebensraum. Doch auch dem einen oder anderen ehrlichen Gesellen ist die Nacht vertraut. Seit über zwanzig Jahren verrichtet Louis Maloin seinen Dienst als Weichensteller im Hafenbahnhof der nordfranzösischen Stadt Dieppe. Sein Leben, und auch das seiner Familie, ist um seine Nachtschichten strukturiert. Frau, Tochter und Sohn sieht er sonntags und zum gemeinsamen Abendmahl, den Großteil seiner wachen Stunden verbringt er nachts in einem exponierten Turm zwischen Kaimauer und Rangiergleisen. Dieser Aussichtsturm soll ihm Überblick bieten, um Schiffe und Waggons im Auge zu behalten, doch er ist Maloin gleichsam Zuflucht, zweite Heimat, Kerker. Seinen Zweck erfüllt der Turm nur bedingt; wenn sich der berüchtigte Nebel ausbreitet, verringert sich die Sichtweite beträchtlich. Dann dröhnen die Nebelhörner der ankommenden Schiffe durchs Hafenbecken, lange bevor ihre Silhouetten unter den dichten Nebelschwaden zu sehen sind.

So auch in jener schicksalsschweren Nacht, die das Leben von Louis Maloin nachhaltig verändern sollte. Ein Passagierschiff aus England läuft in den Hafen ein und Maloin, der lieber die Neuankömmlinge beobachtet, als die unnachgiebige Nebelwand, erkennt wie zwei der Reisenden, offensichtlich „Freunde der Nacht“, einen Koffer aus dem Schiff schmuggeln. Später sieht er die beiden an der Kaimauer, am Fuße des Turms streiten – einer der beiden landet mitsamt dem Koffer im Wasser und versinkt tot im Hafenbecken. Brown, Clown und Mörder, der „Mann aus London“ taucht unter. Maloin fischt den Koffer aus dem Wasser und findet sich im Besitz von rund drei Millionen gestohlenen Francs.

L'homme de Londres von Henri Decoin

Henri Decoin, ehemaliger Schwimmchampion, ist ebenfalls ein Freund der Dunkelheit. L’homme de Londres ist immer dann am wirkkräftigsten, wenn Decoin Nacht und Nebel zu einem Stimmungsbild verdichtet. Das gelingt ihm zeitweilig hervorragend: Die Eröffnungssequenz, eine Kamerafahrt entlang der Kaimauer, die Nacht ist noch jung und das Vergnügungsviertel noch relativ unbelebt. Nur wenige Matrosen sind unterwegs während nach und nach die Lichter der Hafenkneipen angehen. Die stadtbekannte „Animierdame“ Camélia besingt in einem Chanson die düstere Szenerie, im Liedtext kann man die kommende Katastrophe erahnen. Auch der Zweikampf zwischen Brown und Maloin in der fast vollständigen Finsternis von Maloins Fischerhütte ist eine Erwähnung wert. Erst nach Ende des Gerangels erkennt man, welcher der beiden Schemen die Oberhand behalten hat. Dann verlässt der Sieger den heruntergekommenen, vollgeräumten Schuppen und ergibt sich seinen Gewissensbissen und seinem Schicksal. Über sechzig Jahre nach Decoin hat Béla Tarr in seiner Adaption des Simenon-Romans diesen Kampf gar hinter verschlossenen Türen austragen lassen. Tarrs Vision des düster-nebligen Hafens von Dieppe schließt an die besseren Szenen in Decoins Film an, ist aber in jeder Hinsicht radikaler. A Londoni férfi ist dominiert von langsamen Schwenks durch den doppelten Schleier aus Nebel und Dunkelheit, unterbrochen von Handlungsfetzen von Schattengestalten in unwahrscheinlichen Lichtkegeln. Tarr gibt sich voll und ganz der literarischen Vorlage hin und evoziert damit eine Stimmung, die Decoin vermissen lässt. Ähnlich verfährt Jean Renoir in seiner Maigret-Verfilmung La Nuit du Carrefour. In Patricks Besprechung des Films sind ebenfalls Dunkelheit und Nebel prominent vertreten. Sie scheinen in der DNA dieser Simenon-Romane verankert zu sein. Renoir und Tarr taten gut daran sich ihrer Vorlage behutsam zu nähern und die Stimmungsbilder, die Setting und Plot anbieten, herauszuarbeiten. Decoin hingegen, unterwirft sie narrativer Eindeutigkeit. In L’homme de Londres wird alles ausgesprochen (selbst Maloins Gewissensbisse), alles wird bebildert, nichts wird der Imagination überlassen, so trägt Decoin das große Mysterium um den Mann aus London zu Grabe.

Origin of Symmetry: Afternoon von Tsai Ming-liang

In einer anmaßenden Unbeholfenheit schafft Tsai Ming-liang in diesem Filmdialog/Dialogfilm eine derart beruhigende und erwärmende Stimmung, dass man ihm, im Gespräch mit seiner – selbst sitzend in einer Halbtotale hypnotisierenden – Muse Lee Kang-sheng Stunden zuhören könnte. Auf zwei niedrigen Stühlen sitzen die beiden Filmemacher, Schauspieler, Vater/Sohn, Liebender und Geliebter, Pinsel und Farbe, weil Tsai das so möchte, weil er etwas loswerden möchte, ohne dass er die genauen Worte dafür hat. Mehr wird es nicht geben in diesem Film, der strukturell vielleicht mit Corneliu Porumboius Al doilea joc verwandt ist, ohne jedoch dessen Vielschichtigkeit zu besitzen. Stattdessen geht es hier – und das ist schon viel genug geschichtet – um das Verhältnis und die Geschichte zwischen Tsai und seinem Schauspieler, seinem immerwährenden Hauptdarsteller Lee, vielleicht ist Afternoon auch der verlorene Versuch einer Danksagung an den Darsteller, die gerade dadurch glückt, dass sie immer wieder scheitert, die Unsicherheit einer Zufriedenheit und ganz sicher der Stolz eine Zeit des Glücks einfrieren zu können bevor das Glück wieder verschwindet („I tell people that I feel very blissfull. I don’t know if they understand.”).

Es ist keineswegs so, dass der Film jegliche kinematographischen Qualitäten, die das Kino des in Taiwan arbeitenden Filmemachers ausmachen, über Bord werfen würde. Diese Einstellung, der wir über zwei Stunden in vier Takes folgen ist voller modernistischer Kraft und sinnlicher Stille. Mit einer weitwinkligen Aufsicht wurden die zwei Stühle in der Ecke eines Raumes platziert, der wunderbar in das Universum der Ruinen passt, die Tsai sonst so aufsucht (Tsai:„I love ruins“, Lee: „In your films I always play ruins.“), einzig, dass es sich in diesem Fall um sein tatsächlichs Haus in den Bergen handelt. Durch zwei glaslose Fenster ragen Pflanzen und man erahnt das Grün eines tiefen Waldes. Immer wieder kommt Wind auf und untermalt die Suche nach Worten und deren zerbrechlichen Klang. Lee, den Tsai als den vielleicht merkwürdigsten Schauspieler aller Zeiten bezeichnet, weil man nie wisse, ob er spiele oder nicht, macht nicht viel und lässt uns (uns Zuseher hingebungsvoll in der Filmwelt von Tsai/uns Menschen, die mit den Augen im Kino sind) erneut mit der staunenden Liebe einer Unbegreiflichkeit zurück. Seine knappen Antworten und spärlichen Gesten sind von einer verletzten Trockenheit. Immer wieder muss Tsai laut auflachen, durchgehend federt Lee die emotionalen Regungen seines Entdeckers ab. Aus ihm spricht gleichzeitig die Erfahrung aus dem Umgang mit seinem Regisseur sowie das daraus resultierende Vertrauen und die Angst.


Zwei Dinge sollten unbedingt klargemacht werden: Zum einen ist Afternoon keineswegs ein hochkomplexer Film. Es ist die schlichte Einfachheit und Gefahr eines Moments und das Vertrauen in die Komplexität dieser Simplizität. Jedes Wort, dass man als Schreibender darüber verliert, mag vielleicht so antizipiert sein, aber letztlich handelt es sich einfach nur um ein Gespräch dessen poetische, theoretische und philosohpische Tragweite nicht unbedingt (aber auch) aus der Kraft der Kamera geweckt wird, sondern aus dem Dialog selbst entsteht sowie den schweigenden Augenblicken, den kleinen Bewegungen, dem Lachen und Lächeln zweier Menschen, die uns berühren. Das wunderbare ist nur, dass uns Tsai in dieses Gespräch eingeladen hat. Zum anderen handelt es sich – wie vielleicht sonst nur bei Où gît votre sourire enfoui? von Pedro Costa – um einen versteckten Liebesfilm, der hinter dem Schatten einer gemeinsamen Arbeit entsteht. Nein, Afternoon ist kein großes Outing der beiden – auch wenn Tsai sagt, dass er im Film zum ersten Mal öffentlich über seine Homosexualität spricht – es ist vielmehr ein Film über das unerwiderte Begehren, der über die Liebe jenseits jeglicher sexueller Verbindungen zwischen den beiden erzählt. So handelt Afternoon auch von der Unmöglichkeit zwischen Künstler und Muse, der Unmöglichkeit des wirklichen Berührens, die hier eine Beständigkeit bewirkt, dessen Druck man in jedem Bild des Werks von Tsai sehen kann, eine Konzentration zwischen Schatten und Licht, die im Unbegreifbaren von Lee liegt, der Seite von Lee, die Tsai und auch uns verborgen bleibt. Und das ist zugleich der Inhalt als auch der Reiz dieses Gesprächs. Diese Frage des unerwiderten Begehrens ist auch der große Unterschied zu einem Film wie Jean-Luc Godards Soft&Hard, der die Reflektion auf das eigene Werk in die Beiläufigkeit eines Alltags einbettet während des Gespräch zwischen Tsai und Lee gar nicht erst in einen Alltag fallen kann (selbst wenn sie es wollten), weil es durchgehend voller Unsicherheiten ist und von einer Neugier handelt, die zumindest im Fall von Tsai noch immer auf der Suche ist, rastlos und emotional. Natürlich gilt das auch für Godard, aber im Fall dieser beiden Filme steht eine Art berechnende Selbstironie gegen eine Ehrlichkeit, die sich nicht scheut, den eigenen Stolz zu filmen. Ob das an kulturellen Unterschieden liegt, mögen andere beurteilen.

Natürlich ist Afternoon auch ein Film über die Einsamkeit (Krankheit, Liebe), die Alltäglichkeit (Essen, Krankheit, Spaziergänge) und das Zögern. Tsai baut also auch nach seinem offiziellen Karriereende als Filmemacher an seinem Filmhaus (nur, dass wir dieses Mal in seinem Haus sind und so platt diese Feststellung erscheinung mag, so aussagekräftig ist sie), in dem sich alles immerzu aufeinander beziehen lässt. Zunächst scheint es gar nicht so, dass es ihm darum ginge, seine Dankbarkeit an Lee loszuwerden, denn am Anfang des Gesprächs geht es Tsai um die dauernde Präsenz seiner eigenen Vergänglichkeit, seine Angst vor dem Tod. Immer wieder wird er darauf zurückkommen, dass es plötzlich vorbei sein könne. Für manchen Betrachter mag dieses zum Teil unvorbereitete (oder zumindest jederzeit so wirkende) Reden wie der Gipfel einer Willkürlichkeit wirken (wiederholt sagt Tsai, dass man vielleicht nie wieder so miteinander reden könne, woraufhin Lee einmal entgegnet: „We can talk any time“), aber darin drückt sich trotz oder gerade wegen des beständigen Selbstlobs keine Arroganz aus, sondern die Freude einer Zufriedenheit, die geteilt wird. Klar kann man darüber diskutieren, ob ein solcher Film auf Festivals laufen sollte, aber Tsai versteht die Mechanismen der Kunstszene derart gekonnt, dass er mit Afternoon sogar noch einen mutigen Schritt weiter ins Museum geht als gewohnt: Der Künstler zählt hier, nicht sein Film beziehungsweise sein Film existiert nur im Dialog mit dem Künstler. Ich vermag nur spekulieren, wie sinnlos dieses großartige Werk einigen Zuschauern erscheint, die keinen Film von Tsai Ming-liang gesehen haben…mit Afternoon wird Film dann zur „Insider-Art“, von der Jean Renoir geträumt hat. Wir haben vielleicht Lee nicht besser verstanden, aber wir haben das einfache Licht zwischen Künstler und Muse gesehen.

Youth Under The Influence (Of Pedro Costa) – Part 2: The Mysterious One

Michael Guarneri and Patrick Holzapfel continue their discussion about the films they have seen after meeting with Mr. Costa in Munich, in June 2015. (Here you can find Part 1)

Michael: […] Which might be a good starting point for discussing our cinematic guilty pleasures… Do you want to start?

Patrick: Sure! But first I want to state that, for me, something that is recommended and liked by people like Mr. Costa or Straub can never be guilty. Maybe I’m too weak in this regard. I really don’t know about your mysterious childhood experiences. I think you underestimate a little bit the power of some of those films, and the differences within the evil machine, too. The craft also has some poetry that sometimes is bigger than the whole package… but we have discussed that already, I do not want to insist. Let’s talk about my guilty pleasures.

It is very hard for me, as I am living in a city where the expression “vulgar auteurism” was defined, and the mantra “Everything is Cinema – Cinema is Everything” gets repeated over and over. Now, for the first time, I see a connection with the Marquis, and that makes it even more attractive. Furthermore I think that, in a sense, watching cinema must be guilty.


Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

But still, I just love many Ben Stiller/Will Ferrell films, I became a man (did I?) watching films like Old School, Zoolander, Anchorman or Semi-Pro. The same is true for Judd Apatow, which somehow feels even guiltier. Then there is Christopher Nolan. I hated Interstellar, but I would defend almost everything he did before Interstellar without arguments. I don’t remember a single outstanding shot, cut or moment in his films, but I remember the movement between shots (maybe there is an argument in the making…). I love agents, almost all of them. I like self-seriousness because I am very self-serious myself. But I cannot say that, during the last couple of years, there was anything I liked for its color like one could (but needn’t) like The River by Renoir, or for its dancing and singing. It has become harder to have guilty pleasures, because now they don’t sell you a box of candies, they just sell you the box.

But what’s even more interesting for me is what one doesn’t like despite one maybe should. We can call it “guilty failings” if you like. Do you have those failings?

the river

The River

casa de lava

Casa de Lava

Michael: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to skate over my guilty pleasures, and maintain a façade of very serious (self-serious?), austere intellectual. Yes, let’s talk about “guilty failings”! The River by Renoir – which you have just mentioned – is a film I cannot stand. It feels somehow too childish for my taste, as if somehow Renoir was trying to push people to watch everything with big watery eyes (the main characters are the kids/teenagers, it makes sense that Renoir does so: I just do not like it). This tear-jerking super-melodrama feeling is probably why I cannot take it seriously, especially in the big “the child is dead” monologue.

Another big guilty failing for me is The Third Man by Carol Reed. The movie has everything to be an excellent one: a genre I love, great casting (not only Welles but the always awesome, awesome Joseph Cotten), intriguing story and great dialogues, all the package. Yet, when I watch it, I just find it unbearable to sit through. To paraphrase David Foster Wallace, every shot is like “Look, mom, I am directing!”: the film is bizarrely baroque throughout, with lots of weird angles and convoluted tracking shots, a total show-off for basically no reason. For most of the film I was saying to myself: “Can’t the director just keep that camera straight?”… The Third Man is probably the one and only 1940s US noir I don’t like.

Was there a specific film or a director that you couldn’t stand, like, five years ago, and now you appreciate?

Patrick: I have to think about it. This issue basically leads me back to many thoughts I had in the beginning of this conversation. Ernst Lubitsch is a director I didn’t like a few years ago, but now I like him very much. Why is that? First, I hope and know, it is because I have watched more films by Lubitsch. I also re-watched the ones I didn’t like at first (To Be or Not to Be, for example), and found them much better. Maybe my eyes have sharpened, I am pretty sure they have, they should have. I suddenly recognize the movement, the way he builds his shots, the way he works with motives and eyes and the way everything feels always wrong in the right way. But there is also a suspicion. It’s the way people like Mr. Costa talk about Lubitsch, the way Lubitsch is dealt with in certain cinema circles, the way he is a legend with a certain flavor (don’t call it “touch”, it is not what I mean), a certain secret around all those screenshot of Lubitsch films posted on the Internet. I am afraid that those things seduced me, too… or did they teach me? Perhaps they just told me to look closer.

Design for Living

Design for Living

Maybe what I am searching for is an innocent way of looking at films. But one must be careful. Many confuse this innocence with being against the canon, which is always a way of living for some critics. But that’s bullshit. I don’t mean that I want to go into a cinema without expectation or pre-knowledge. It is just the way of perceiving: it should be isolated, pure. It’s impossible, yet it happens. Or doesn’t it? What do you think? Are there still miracles happening in contemporary cinema? I ask you because I want to know if we are talking about something gone here, like Mr. Costa says it is, or something present.

Michael: Thanks for mentioning Lubitsch. In a very good interview-book by Cyril Neyrat, Mr. Costa talks a lot about Lubitsch being a major influence for In Vanda’s Room. He also says that one of the first times he saw Vanda, she was doing some plumbing job in Fontainhas and she reminded him of Cluny Brown, from the homonymous Lubitsch film. Cluny Brown is indeed an amazing film. As all the US production by Lubitsch, it is very witty and some very spicy (at times downright dirty) sexual innuendos are thrown in in a very casual way, which is absolutely fantastic. It is somewhat sexually deranged, but in a very controlled and seemingly proper way, hence (for me) the feeling of vertigo that makes me catch my breath. Plus, of course, in Cluny Brown there are a lot of very intelligent remarks on working within a cultural industry: in this sense, the last 5 minutes of the film are worth 1000 books on the subject. In my view, Lubitsch is one of the very few who managed to use “the Code” (the production code, the Hays Code) against itself, to make every shot a bomb that explodes in the face of the guardians of morality. In this sense, another masterpiece – in my view even superior to some Lubitsch films – is Allan Dwan’s Up in Mabel’s Room. If you haven’t already, please check it out: it is WILD.

Cluny Brown

Cluny Brown




Now, to answer your question… Well, it is a hell of a difficult question, and it requires my making very strict and arrogant statements, for which I apologize in advance. Personally, I do not believe in miracles of any kind. In particular, I do not like to think of cinema as a miracle: I try to think of it as a machine that people use to do/get stuff, and I resist with all my strength to qualify this stuff that cinema produces as a miracle. I prefer to think of films as the result of hard work that might or might not reflect an idea, a feeling, a question, a search, or whatever you want to call it – something on which the audience has to work on, too. I guess I am the typical skeptic character, like Dana Andrews in Tourneur’s Night of the Demon. I guess I still have to meet my doctor Karswell to chastise and convert me to a more “mystical” perspective.

I don’t know if something in cinema is gone, or dead, but I tend not to be too apocalyptic. What do you think?

Patrick: Victor Kossakovsky once said that if he puts a camera at some place, something will happen there. Therefore he does not put it on a crossing.

Concerning miracles (now I am supposed to apologize in advance, but I won’t…), I think it is a question of how willing you are to let them in. Of course, films are fabricated, films are machines. But in my opinion this is a very simplistic way of seeing things, one that certainly is true and was very important at some time, but it has become to dominant. The Bazin-view seems to be out of fashion, I mean the theories about the camera as a recording device, something in touch with reality, with a life of its own. I don’t know if this is mysticism. It is very hard work to be able to let those things in. It goes back to the simple importance of perceiving some stuff around you and then getting the right angle, and so on, for these miracles to happen. It is obviously simplistic too, yes, but it is often ignored nowadays. We might translate miracles as life (those miracles are more often cruel than beautiful)…

About the whole cinema is dead business. I think it is an inspiration. For me cinema is always great when it reflects its own death, the art of dying so slow that you do not even recognize it, it is not only death at work, it becomes already-dead-but-still-seducing-at-work. You know what I mean? Cinema becomes like this girl you meet with too much make-up on it, she is drunk and exhausted, maybe she is coughing like Vanda or shaking like Ventura. But still there is movement, lights and shadows, there is cinema. For me cinema is always more alive when it is like that, not when it tries to shine bright, those times are over. Limelight by Chaplin is a perfect title for a perfect film for what I am trying to say.

Mr. Costa said in Munich that there are no cinematic qualities in a person, it has to do with something else, with getting to know someone, spending time with each other, understanding and trust. But then he somehow came back mentioning qualities in Ventura. What I am trying to say is that cinema for me is a way of perceiving the world. You can see it in a tree or in a person. Of course, it has to be fabricated and consumed and all that after it, and there is a high death rate in that, but as a way of life, as a way of seeing with one’s own eyes it will not die as long as someone is seeing it in things. So for me, Mr. Costa – though he might not agree – was seeing cinema, was seeing miracles (Gary Cooper in Ventura or Cluny Brown in Vanda…) though from a more distant point-of-view there was no cinema in his friends or Fontainhas at all. It was brought to life like a demon in the night, this is why I tend to speak of cinema as the art of the undead.

I completely agree about your remarks on Lubitsch. Do you recognise Cluny Brown in Vanda?

Michael: To be honest, no, I do not recognize Cluny Brown in Vanda, just like I do not recognize Cooper in Ventura. I understand why Mr. Costa makes the comparison, it makes sense and I respect that, it’s just that I – from a very personal point of view – do not really believe in Cluny Brown or Cooper. I accept them as characters in a film, and as a remarkable, at times even sublime abstraction of certain aspects of “humanbeingness”. But I do not really believe in them, I simply suspend my disbelief: because the dialogue is so cool, because I want to have fun, because I want to lose myself in the story, in the screen-world, whatever. Then the film is over, and that’s it for me. Cluny Brown, Cooper, they all die, I tend to forget them and move on with my life, and so did they when their job was finished, of course. What I mean to say is that they do not leave me much, I have the feeling that we live in two separate worlds.

With Vanda and Ventura (or the super-fascinating Zita, or Vitalina, or the incomparable, magnificent Lento) I feel a little different. It’s not a fiction versus documentary thing: I find the distinction between the two very boring, and of course one can tell at first glance that Mr. Costa’s post-1997 digital films are as carefully crafted and staged and enacted and performed as any other fiction film ever made. It’s just that, when I watch or listen to the Fontainhas people, I get in contact with something that it is here, that is not just a film, just a thing I am watching. It is something that watches me back as I am watching, and stays with me forever. It’s life, it’s their life, it’s Mr. Costa’s life and in the end it’s part of my life too. How was it? “This thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine.”

And now a one-million dollar question: if anyone can be in a movie, can anyone be a filmmaker?

Von Stroheim

Erich von Stroheim

Patrick: You have some great points here, so this is going to be a long answer. For me the whole documentary/fiction debate that has been popping up for almost a century now is best solved by Gilberto Perez in his bible The Material Ghost. There is the light and the projector and together they are cinema. So, why bother? It is so stupid of a film magazine like Sight&Sound to make a poll of the Best Documentaries in 2014… In the words of Jia Zhang-ke: WTF! I still can’t believe how many serious filmmakers and critics took part in this awful game. At least people like James Benning or Alexander Horwath used the opportunity to point at the stupidity of such a distinction. It is not boring, it is plainly wrong to do so.

Then, I find it very curious that you talk about “life”. I think your “life” is what I earlier called “miracle”. And here I find a strange clash of opposed views within Mr. Costa’s recommendations. On the one hand, there is someone like Straub. Straub clearly is against the idea of using real life circumstances, of doing something for real in cinema. He said so more than once. On the other hand, there are people like Von Stroheim and Godard: both of them tried things with hidden cameras, both of them were fascinated by the idea of their picture becoming “life”. The most famous incident is surely when Von Stroheim tried everything he could to have a real knife in the finale of Greed as he wanted to see real pain in the eyes of Jean Hersholt, who played Marcus. (We can imagine what happened in the lost Africa sequences of Queen Kelly now). So this is not the “life” you are talking about… This “life” or “miracle” has to do with seeing and not-seeing, light and darkness and so on. I am completely with you there. But what about this other definition of “life” I have just mentioned? For you, when you see the weakness of a man confronted with his inner demons like Ventura in Horse Money, is it something like the pain in the eyes of Hersholt or something different? I am not asking if it is real or not which would be very strange after what I said before, I merely want to know if Von Stroheim was wrong in trying to have a real knife… I want to know what makes the pain real in cinema.

I am also glad you brought up Vitalina, Lento and Zita. They show me exactly what you mean, as all these comparisons with actors are something personal: it is a memory, a desire, maybe also a trick our mind plays on us. Our common friend Klaus, for example, told me that while looking at the picture of Gary Cooper in the first part of our conversation he suddenly recognized a similarity with Mr. Costa. Material Ghosts.

Concerning your last question I will just quote Renoir from his interview with Rivette and Truffaut in 1954: “ (…) I’m convinced that film is a more secret art than the so/called private arts. We think that painting is private, but film is much more so. We think that a film is made for the six thousand moviegoers at the Gaumont-Palace, but that isn’t true. Instead, it’s made for only three people among those six thousand. I found a word for film lovers; it’s aficionados. I remember a bullfight that took place a long time ago. I didn’t know anything about bullfights, but I was there with people who were all very knowledgeable. They became delirious with excitement when the toreador made a slight movement like that toward the right and then he made another slight movement, also toward the right – which seemed the same to me – and everyone yelled at him. I was the one who was wrong. I was wrong to go to a bullfight without knowing the rules of the game. One must always know the rules of the game. The same thing happened to me again. I have some cousins in America who come from North Dakota. In North Dakota, everyone iceskates, because for six months of the year there’s so much snow that it falls horizontally instead of vertically. (…) Every time my cousins meet me, they take me to an ice show. They take me to see some women on ice skates who do lots of tricks. It’s always the same thing: From time to time you see a woman who does a very impressive twirl: I applaud, and then I stop, seeing that my cousins are looking at me severely, because it seems that she wasn’t good at all, but I had no way of knowing. And film is like that as well. And all professions are for the benefit of – well – not only for the aficionados but also for the sympathizers. In reality, there must be sympathizers, there must be a brotherhood. Besides, you’ve heard about Barnes. His theory was very simple: The qualities, the gifts, or the education that painters have are the same gifts, education and qualities that lovers of paintings have. In other words, in order to love a painting, one must be a would-be painter, or else you cannot really love it. And to love a film, one must be a would-be filmmaker. You have to be able to say to yourself, “ I would have done it this way, I would have done it that way”. You have to make films yourself, if only in your mind, but you have to make them. If not, you’re not worthy of going to the movies.”


Jean Renoir

Michael: Wow, awesome and inspiring words from Renoir, I have to seriously think about them now! You don’t get the one million dollar, though, since you answered with a quote by someone else.

Back on the life-miracle issue… A certain dose of mysticism is always healthy, it is good that you insist on this point to try and break my stubbornness. As you know, Mr. Costa made Où gît votre sourire enfoui? to destroy a critical stereotype about Straub-Huillet, namely that they are purely materialist filmmakers: as Mr. Costa’s shows, there is something in their daily work with machines that cannot be put into words, something mysterious… a smile that is hidden, or just imagined. And so is in Mr. Costa’s films, from O Sangue until now: there are always cemeteries, there is voodoo stuff going on all the time.

Night of the Demon

Night of the Demon

Where does your hidden smile lie?

Where does your hidden smile lie?

About the Hersholt-Ventura comparison: in my view, yes, the pain in the eyes of the former is different from the pain in the eyes of the latter. Very different. But allow me to make another example, and be more controversial. Are the sufferings of Chaplin’s tramp and the sufferings of Ventura the same? Are they both real? Well, they both are choreographed and made more intriguing by heavy doses of “melodramatization” (a cinematic treatment, or fictionalization, of reality that aspires to make human feelings visible and audible). But we must never forget that one of these two “screen personae” is a millionaire playing a tramp. In the end of his tramp films, Chaplin walks towards the horizon, and I always have this image of him in mind: the camera stops rolling, the tramp wipes off his makeup, hops into a sport car and drives away to bang some hot girls or something like that. Unfortunately, there is no such “release” for Ventura and the others. This is not to diminish Chaplin. He is one of the greatest – not only a total filmmaker but also a total artist: actor, director, musician, producer… It is just that I do not believe in him, in his films, in the world that he shows. I like the films, I enjoy them, I think that their humanism is heart-warming and powerful, and that many people should see them. I just do not believe in the world they show. I do not see life in it, I do not recognize this world as mine. It is a world that I cannot connect to. Maybe it’s an Italian thing, an Italian take on poverty, but when I asked my grandparents about Chaplin’s films, they said something I find very interesting: “Yeah, I remember the tramp guy, very funny movies, I laughed so hard… but being poor is another world entirely”.

Please mind that I have consciously chosen Chaplin as he is one of Costa’s favorite filmmakers. Is Chaplin a traitor, in your view?