Echo and Narcissus: Visita ou memórias e confissões by Manoel de Oliveira

If there was ever a film that was Echo and Narcissus in one and the same gesture it is Visita ou memórias e confissões by Manoel de Oliveira. A film so precious that it had to be a secret. Filmed in 1981 right after the director, then 73, had completed his tetralogy of frustrated loves with a heart that is no danger anymore because it has stopped, Oliveira  had allowed screenings of the film only on two occasions during his lifetime. The first was a screening for the crew and cast and the second was during a retrospective held in Lisbon. Now the film has been freed due to a death, Oliveira‘s death at the age of 106 (every year in prison for the film was a year of life for its director). Rather than a memory or a confession, it is a testimony of a man who we can feel as much in the sensibility of his sounds, images and cuts as in his story. After all, this is a work of fiction, a fiction of the eternal we all can touch. But can we be sure of that?

Why Echo and Narcissus? Well, as the film is largely concerned with its director (who even doubts if it is a good idea to make a film about himself while speaking the credits out loud in a way that could make Godard jealous) it acts like the eternal beauty of the mirror Narcissus is in love with. The film is like an album of selfies of Angélica where every image becomes a saved memory of things otherwise forgotten. Visita ou memórias e confissões is a mother who gives birth to herself (after she has died). While one might find this obsession with images and their immortality beautiful, one might encounter some difficulties with applying it to a self-portrait. But we can relax because firstly, this is not really a film about Oliveira. It is a fiction made of memories and confessions of the director, certainly personal, autobiographical but still made with the colours of numerous flowers and the smile of Mona Lisa, who is looking at us in almost every shot in which Oliveira himself appears as well as with a sense of time that brings this Narcissus closer to Echo. Anticipating his own self-importance, the director decided for the film to become something else, to not-be Narcissus but to be the Echo of his own Narcissus. He locked it away and opened a time in-between the mirror and the projection of the mirror. In this time he didn‘t give birth to his own life after his death, but to cinema, the fiction, the time itself. We can also speak of a time-image of timelessness or this first tear we all would have loved to save in a tiny box to remind us forever of whatever we think about. Yes, the film is the love story of Echo and Narcissus, past and present, images and voices and therefore it is a again a story of frustrated loves. It has to end in disappearance like the story of Echo and Narcissus. But there is something else here. Oliveira has tricked this disappearance when he locked the film away. We have heard about detailed notes some directors gave projectionists, but never before have the acts of distribution and projection been as much an artistic choice as in the case of Visita ou memórias e confissões. For those believing in miracles cinema is finally a magic lantern again. Oliveira will disappear for ever. As we know, the whole idea of Echo‘s love is also buried in repetition. Jacques Derrida has written a great deal about it. While repeating Echo manages to find her own voice. The same is true for the film. It gets its own life until it is not about what it is showing or whose time-image we are seeing but about the presence of cinema as such. It‘s a miracle.


Large parts of the film are not only concerned with Oliveira but also with the house he has been living in for 40 years, a house which he calls a labyrinth in another film, Porto da Minha Infância. It is visited by a shy camera movement and two voices (Teresa Madruga and Diogo Dória), images and voices. They enter the seemingly empty place and look at unspoken memories and confessions. It becomes quite clear that the house is as much the soul of Oliveira as it is the film. Not only does the lover of architecture project images of the past on the walls of the house later in the film and show us photographs that watch from silent cupboards, he also gives the film its structure by means of architecture. The question is always what is behind the next corner, what is above and under, what is the time of this room? The structure of the house is that of a film. Architecture is Narcissus, Cinema is Echo. A frame is an object, a shot is a memory of what has happened there and what is the madeleine (call it plot-point if you are one of those Hollywood dudes…) there. Rainer Werner Fassbinder once stated that he wanted to build a house with his films. Oliveira builded a film with his houses. Not only does he save the history of this special house that was designed by José Porto, he saves his own story in the house as if it was a museum.

There are three figures of time in Visita ou memórias e confissões. The first is the time of the house (its history). We can see it in the materiality while the two voices slowly pass through it and we can hear and see it when the director tells us about it and screens little scenes playing around the house. Moments of re-enactments switch with found footage, the shy camera moving through the house and Oliveira talking about his life. The second time is the fiction of the visit and the truth of the memories and confessions which we can call the story. The story circles around Oliveira‘s life and films. There are more places to visit than just the house where the voices catch glimpses of the past. For example, there is the house of his wife Maria Isabel, about whom the director talks with deep respect (not with passion) and there is Portugal‘s last film studio. All these places are full of vanishing life but the only thing that tells us about it is their emptiness (one may be reminded of Elia Kazan‘s The Last Tycoon). The third time is, as we already pointed out, the time the film was in the shadows of the heartbeat of the director. Then, it couldn‘t do any damage. Now that the heart stopped beating, the film begins again, it hurts, it enriches.


Maybe this is really one of the first realistic science-fiction films in which time travelling is made possible not as a matter of story but as a matter of fact. So, is Visita ou memórias e confissões really a work of fiction? As always this is not really a question. It is a film at the core of cinema and, like cinema, it was hidden in order to be born again in the presence of every look in the mirror, of every voice we fall in love with and of every frustration about not being able to love, to kill, to live and to die. But the film seems more simple than that.

Film ist eine Fremdsprache

Film ist eine Fremdsprache. Wir leben in einer Welt, in der Film eine Fremdsprache ist. Auf Filmschulen wird gerne behauptet, dass wir alle (d.h. das Volk, die Jugend, der Bürger, ein normales menschliches Wesen) mit Bildern zu tun hätten. Jeden Tag. Das ist natürlich richtig, zu richtig. Aber mit Film hat das nichts zu tun. Das ist den Filmschulen egal.

Film ist eine Fremdsprache. Oft behaupten Menschen, dass ein Film in einer Fremdsprache sei. Sie sprechen dann von Untertiteln oder Synchronisierungen. Sie sprechen dann davon, dass sie etwas nicht verstehen. Aber verstehen sie in den paar Filmen etwas, deren Sprache sie glauben zu verstehen?

Film ist eine Fremdsprache in Deutschland. Murnau und Lang sind unerreichbare Schatten, man erwacht in Angst, weil man befürchtet, dass es sie nie gegeben hat. Hat das, was wir heute tun, noch etwas mit Murnau zu tun? Warum nennen wir beides Film? Es gibt nicht mal mehr die Sehnsucht danach. Kann man einfach so sagen, dass Film sich weiterentwickelt hat?


via Craig Keller

Film ist weniger als eine Fremdsprache, weil Fremdsprachen einen Reiz auf die meisten Menschen ausüben. Film übt keinen Reiz auf Menschen aus. Lediglich seine Repräsentationsfunktion, sein Glamour und seine Wirkung. Niemals seine Sprache, denn Film ist eine vergessene Fremdsprache. Es gibt ein paar strauchelnde Lehrer und Übersetzer dieser Sprache in der Welt. Sie leben in einem Elfenbeinturm und lügen sich an, weil sie selbst verlernen diese Sprache zu sprechen. Um diese Sprache zu sprechen, muss man hören und sehen können. Aber die meisten glauben, dass sie diese Fremdsprache durch Reflexion erlernen. Sie projizieren sich selbst auf die Leinwand, nein, den Laptop und identifizieren sich und glauben so, dass sie die Sprache beherrschen. Sie sind in der Überzahl und sie haben keine Ahnung. Sie rechtfertigen ihren Erfolg mit der Dummheit derer, die ihnen folgen.

Aber Film bleibt hier eine Fremdsprache. Ein verwirrendes Spiel beginnt, weil diese Leute ihre Unterhaltungs- und Masturbationsformen auch Film nennen, ein Verwirrspiel beginnt, weil Film viele Namen trägt, man vielen Namen Film geben kann, Filmnamen, Namensfilm.

Film ist eine Fremdsprache, weil sie nie erlernt wurde. Immer besteht sie aus dem, was man nicht gesehen hat. Film ist die Sucht nach dem Sehen, die Sehnsucht, die sehende Sucht nach dem Unsichtbaren, dem Unerreichbaren, wie könnte man diese Sprache erlernen? Vor kurzem habe ich in einem dieser Youtube-Beiträge gesehen, dass Menschen fordern, dass man das Kino abschaffen sollte, weil es zu teuer sei und weil dort sowieso ein falsches System herrsche. Diese Leute haben nicht einmal verstanden, dass Film eine Sprache ist, geschweige denn eine Fremdsprache, die immer aus dem besteht, was man nicht gesehen hat, nein, sie haben nicht verstanden, was Kino ist, dass Kino das Ereignis der Gegenwärtigkeit dieser Fremdsprache ist und somit der einzige Ort, an dem man sie in ihrer Materialität, ihrer Zeitlichkeit und ihrer Bestimmung sehen und hören kann und dass man sie auch nur dort erlernen kann. Film, sagen diese Leute, müsse mit der Zeit gehen, als würde man wissen, wohin eine Sprache gehen sollte, wenn man sie nicht kennt.


Film ist eine Fremdsprache, weil diejenigen, die sie in der Hand halten in dunklen, immer kleiner werdenden Kammern sitzen und nach Essig riechen während diejenigen, die das Wort „Film“ in den Mund nehmen noch nicht einmal wissen, wie sich ein solcher „Film“ in ihrer Hand anfühlt. Sie sind wie Köche, die Fertigprodukte servieren, deren Inhalt sie nicht kennen. Sie kennen aber noch nicht einmal den Geschmack, geschweige denn die Geschichte des Geschmacks. Film soll sichtbar gemacht werden, aber verkümmert und wird weggeworfen.

Film ist eine Fremdsprache, weil diejenigen, die sie sprechen in einer bitteren Melancholie versinken oder sich zufrieden damit geben, dass sie die Sprache verstehen.

Ich versuche nun seit einigen Jahren diese Fremdsprache zu erlernen. Ich habe noch nicht viel verstanden. Ich weiß vielleicht wie man sich begrüßt und wie man sagt: „Ich liebe dich“ (laut Adrian Martin mit einer 360 Grad Fahrt, aber ich habe mehrere Varianten gesehen…). Ich habe ein paar Menschen beobachtet und andere sogar getroffen, von denen ich sagen würde, dass sie die Sprache beherrschen.

Sie haben mir alle gesagt, dass Film eine Fremdsprache ist. Sollte es nicht eine Muttersprache sein? Hat meine Mutter nicht Film gesprochen? Es ist eine verlorene Sprache. Wie ein verlassenes Kohlebergwerk liegt diese Sprache vor uns. In ihr befindet sich immer noch die ganze Geschichte der Menschheit, aber niemand kann sie mehr sehen. Man kann sagen, dass Film eine Sprache der Geister ist, weil Film schon immer eine Sprache der Geister war, aber Film ist jetzt eine Geistersprache, eine Sprache, die es nicht mehr gibt, Film ist ein Phantom. Und so sprechen wir über Film wie wir über Phantome sprechen. Die einen dekonstruieren Film mit weltlichen Erkenntnissen, Gedanken und Werten. Sie sagen ganz nüchtern: „Film ist eine Technik, es geht dabei um dieses und jenes und sowieso…“ und die anderen mystifizieren es, sie sagen: „Oh, der Film ist wie die Nacht, er schleicht und träumt und sowieso…“ und andere sagen gar nichts, weil sie nie mit Phantomen in Berührung gekommen sind oder weil sie unter dem Schock dieser Berührung stehen.


Film ist eine Fremdsprache, an die man glauben muss. Es ist nicht normal, dass man an eine Sprache glauben muss. Filmmenschen aller Welt vereinigen sich, um zu merken, dass Film eine zu komplexe Sprache ist, um sich zu verstehen. Selbst jene, die diese Fremdsprache beherrschen, verstehen sich kaum. Sie müssen verstehen, dass es ein Teil dieser Sprache ist, dass man nicht versteht.

Film ist eine Fremdsprache. Man erlernt sie mit Begeisterung. Vielleicht ist die Begeisterung das Phantom. Ertrunken im Zynismus, beerdigt in einem bequemen Mantel des Schweigens. In manchen Zirkeln ist diese Sprache verboten. Dazu zählen Förderungen und jene Geldgeier, die an den Brüsten der Industrie saugen bis sie nicht mehr denken können, weil sie nicht denken wollen. Dazu zählen aber auch Missverständnisse von begeisternden Frauen und Männern, die in Film (klug wie sie sind) mehr sehen. Film wird instrumentalisiert, politisiert, ideologisiert, monetarisiert, institutionalisiert, aber niemand spricht Film. Ja, man wird sagen: „Film war schon immer eine Hure!“ und man wird sagen „Film ist mehr als seine Sprache!“, aber dagegen halte ich, dass man dem Film alles wegnehmen könnte außer seiner Sprache und seiner Technik und er bliebe immer noch Film.

Aber wen interessiert das in einer Welt, in der Film eine Fremdsprache ist? Was mich erschreckt: Manchmal muss man Film wie eine Ideologie gebrauchen, um ihn sichtbar zu machen. Menschen bauen sich eine Identität rund um Film auf. Sie werfen Film unter dem pauschalen Oberbegriff einer Cinephilie in die Massen wie Pornographie. Sie posten in sozialen Netzwerken in Zeitabständen über Filme, die ganz klar aufzeigen, dass sie dazwischen unmöglich Zeit für einen Film gehabt haben können. Die Aufgabe dieser Cinephilie ist scheinbar nicht das Erlernen und Bewahren dieser Fremdsprache, sondern nur das euphorische Klagen darüber, dass diese Sprache verschwindet, verschwunden ist, doch noch existiert. Ihr Vokabular ist jenes eines Liebesbriefs, der unglaubwürdig ist und in den sich dennoch Tausende verlieben, weil er von der gleichen Hilflosigkeit erzählt, die man selbst empfindet. Vielleicht verstehe ich sie falsch, vielleicht versuchen sie auch nur, nicht zu vergessen, nicht zu vergessen, was diese Sprache ist.

Wir schweigen im Kino, weil wir uns wünschen, dass Film eine Fremdsprache ist, damit wir etwas Besonderes sind, wenn wir sie beherrschen. Und so kann uns niemand vorwerfen, dass wir im Unrecht sind und so kann uns jeder vorwerfen, dass wir im Unrecht sind. Film ist eine Fremdsprache.

Youth Under The Influence (of Pedro Costa) – Part 4: Conversa Acabada

Michael Guarneri and Patrick Holzapfel end their discussion about the films they have seen after meeting with Mr. Costa in Munich, in June 2015. But is there really an end in cinema or does it have to be written on the screen artificially, as Serge Daney once stated, in order for us to believe in it and be able to leave the cinema to find out that outside the sun also shines bright?

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Patrick: (…) 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?

Pedro Costa (Foto: Thomas Hauzenberger)

Pedro Costa (Foto von Thomas Hauzenberger)

Michael: 1) I think it is a matter that goes beyond fear or love. I guess that Mr. Costa films the things, the places, the people, the dynamics that interest him. He films stuff that he wants to know more about. He was a student of history in his youth, wasn’t he? Can we say he is a searcher, a researcher, a historian, a chronicler? I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I have always seen a certain (ideal) parallel between some of Mr. Costa’s films and things like Die Kinder von Golzow…Of course, in spite of all the years of hard work and efforts, Mr. Costa will never really know, much less understand, what it was like for people like Vanda or Ventura to grow up/old in Fontainhas: Vanda, Ventura and Mr. Costa  might all be living in the same city at a given time, but they were born in different worlds completely. Nevertheless, what is crucial to me is that Mr. Costa wants to know: he struggles to know more – not everything, mind you, just a little bit more… the color of a shirt, the shape of the creature in Ventura’s nightmare, little details like that… He wants to know more about the things that interest him, and he tries to leave a record, a trace of what he finds out. This is what I admire.

2) I am not sure about what I like to be confronted with. I am open to all possibilities, I guess. Even though, I have my prejudices, as discussed before…

In addition to hearing your opinion on 1) and 2), I’d like to know: can you imagine In Vanda’s Room, Colossal Youth and Horse Money in literary form? Like an essay, or a Riis-esque news report, a novel…

Patrick: No, I cannot imagine those works as written texts. Mr. Costa is very much about the material sensuality as well as the time of things, in my opinion.  There might be another relation to the Straubs: I cannot imagine someone blinking in another medium.

People talk about Hou Hsiao-hsien as a chronicler also, and I have problems with it. Yes, there is history in their works, there is a sense of time, politics and how they relate to each other. But I think to call them historians is wrong. They make cinema. Of course, we can talk about history through cinema, but there is an immediate presence of things that comes way before it… the wind, the movement, the eyes… all these things… and please do not tell me that this is mysticism again! It is not. There is a director and he makes a decision. It is like Godard said: History is with a big, capital “H” in cinema, because it constantly projects itself. It cannot be history without first being cinema, and by first being cinema it becomes presence (when done by those masters). It is a philosophical question, no doubt. Cinema can give me the experience of time… this is not what historians do. Historians – as much as I admire some of them – can also make me aware of time, but they can never make me experience it.

This is an emotional topic for me. I don’t know why. Concerning the questions about fear and love, there is a strange relationship going on between them in life, and also with Mr. Costa, I think. We were talking about that before: this fear of desire… When I was a child, cinema could make me be afraid of something, and this is why I have loved it. But now it is the other way around. Now, it can make me love certain things, and this is why I am afraid of it.

Have you seen any John Ford after we met with Mr. Costa? You have written a great article comparing Colossal Youth, Horse Money and Sergeant Rutledge (LINK).


Michael: “Histoire(s)” with a capital H and – Godard added – with two “S”, as in “S.S.”. Which naturally brings us to that good old fascist John Ford. Nah, just kidding. To answer your question: yes, I have seen some Ford after we met with Mr. Costa. Let’s go straight into eye of the cyclone: 7 Women. What do you think about it? I think it is quite a ridiculous film.

Patrick: I have seen 7 Women after having seen many Ford movies in a row and, for me, it was one of his weakest. It touches the ridiculous, especially in terms of casting. But then I couldn’t help seeing 7 Women in relation to its being the last of Ford’s films. His last film… It is full of bitterness and cynicism. There is a statement in the end. Moreover Ford got rid of many things there, it is a film that goes to the essence which in this case is survival for me. And he seemed much less a fascist in the end, didn’t he?

What makes you dislike it? Mr. Costa has talked about abstraction in the past and how he observed that filmmakers are heading towards abstraction in their later works. Would you say he is right, also in regard of Ford?

Michael: Firstly, I don’t agree with your placing such an emphasis on closure, or finality. Ford couldn’t and didn’t know that 7 Women was to be his last film. Maybe his next project (I am sure there was a next project, there always is…) was a romantic comedy, who knows? I think it is one of the fallacies that affect last films: their importance tends to be overestimated (in dramatic, bitter and cynical terms, more often than not) because they are THE END of an author. This annoys me, I have to be honest. It is as if at the end of his life a man couldn’t help be bitter and cynical, which Ford certainly was, but no more in the ending of 7 Women than, say, in the ending of Stagecoach that I have already described and praised at the beginning of our conversation. And just imagine Ford dying after Donovan’s Reef, a film made a couple of years before 7 Women, but completely devoid of gloomy atmosphere, rape, infanticide, madness, suicide. Donovan’s Reef is a charming, heart-warming romantic comedy that totally looks like an old man saying goodbye to life and closing his eyes in peace with the world, doesn’t it? In the utopic atoll everything turns out fine for the main characters, Wayne gets the city girl and they all live happily ever after. I mean, the worst thing that happens in Donovan’s Reef is that the city girl might be a bit uppity and racist at the beginning. Nothing that a good spanking can’t cure…

7 women

Anyway, back on the main subject, yeah, in 7 Women the casting is kinda meh. Plus, the characters are not only too many (specifically, there are too many women, some of whom are overlapping in their “distinctive characteristics”), but also one-dimensional, cartoonish and uninteresting. The lines are awful most of the time, and the acting… ouch! The Anne Bancroft character is tough and cool, but watching her playing a johnwayner version of John Wayne is just painful. Plus, Mike Mazurki wrestles Woody Strode and wins? No fucking way. However, I believe that at that point in his career Ford was experienced enough to make a film in which everything is intentional, so if he did things like that, he wanted the film to be like that, for some reason I cannot grasp. It was intentional, I am sure, to make the mother-to-be SO annoying… that is kinda interesting, as a matter of fact: the big hero(ine)’s self-sacrifice for this nagging, unsympathetic, ugly, old woman who was stupid enough to get pregnant in middle-of-nowhere China, fucking her nagging, unsympathetic, ugly, old husband. Wow! Which leads me to what I believe is the essence of Ford’s cinema: to me it is not survival, as you say, but duty. If the core was survival, there would be no need for the Bancroft character to kill herself: she could have killed the big bad wolf and try to survive the aftermath of her action… Running away or something. Worst case scenario, the henchmen catch her and kill her. But no. She kills the baddy and immediately commits suicide. Why? Because she must fulfill her duty: to be a hero (and a fallen woman). Just my two cents, sorry if it sounds dogmatic.

I don’t know if there’s a connection between directors getting old and their movies moving towards abstraction, as Mr. Costa says. Do you think so? On the matter of aging filmmakers, I agree with Quentin Tarantino, who said that as a filmmaker gets old, his films tend to be not so good as the first ones. There are many exceptions, of course, but in my opinion this is generally true.

Patrick: You are right, I was wrong (sounds like a Locarno winner) about survival not being the essence, but I don‘t think it is duty either (though there is an argument that the duty in this film is survival). I think duty in Ford is not a question of morals, getting an order or something like that; it is about a political statement and the fiction that is built around it. In this regard, the ending of 7 Women may not be as dull as you described it. For me, it is also a film that takes place in a lost paradise (there is some strange turn-around connection with Donovan’s Reef). It is not China as China. As far as my perception and memories of the film are concerned, you take things very literally. The question of being a hero(ine) is not so simple here, because the question in Ford is always more about the: “What does it take? Where is the lie/fiction? Do we accept it?”. Here, his solution is killing, which leads to suicide. Is this a dull statement, or do we find something in-between, maybe more on an abstract level? 7 Women speaks to many things Ford has done during his career. The dry way suicide is shown is far away from heroism in my view. Maybe Ford even had the same thoughts as you about the stupidity of duty? I tend to find always both sides in Ford, especially in his endings. The romanticism of the hero, which he most clearly shows in Young Mr. Lincoln, is not always pure. There is a doubt, an irony (The Irony Horse, very bad play on words…)… Let’s take The Lost Patrol, a film I mentioned earlier which is also set in a supposed paradise, the Mesopotamian desert.  This film is far more abstract than many others and it is not a late work of Ford… There is an invisible enemy and a feeling of sad impuissance in the face of war.  Feelings we can understand today. There are also suicides. In the end, there is a kind of savior. A Sergeant defends himself against all enemies until another patrol saves him. For me, in The Lost Patrol as well as in 7 Women (though the former is a much, much better film, I am only trying to state that the latter is not dull), Ford tells about the fictional nostalgia of heroes in the shadow of a reality that overpowers anyone in it. There is a constant inability to explain, to communicate in these enclosed worlds of men or women. The only things that are able to reach out are violence and friendship/love, and both of them do not really work. 7 Women asks about the thin line between being victim and perpetrator, and in the end – like in The Lost Patrol – Ford talks about the salvation of destruction and the destruction of salvation. Maybe those words are much too big, but I find your approach to Ford in terms of narration, and how casting justifies it, a little narrow. For me, he is not a director that can be watched without his formalistic choices. Who does he show, what doesn’t he show, where is the close-up and so on. It has been almost a year since I have seen it, so my arguments may feel a little basic. Sorry for that. But I feel like defending Ford here because, firstly, he has done worse than 7 Women, and secondly with Ford there is always another film that speaks with the one you were seeing and which enriches the experience. This may be the reason why Alexander Horwath has called Ford’s cinema “an ocean” (though he does that with almost any director…).


Concerning the topic of the “last film”:  probably you are right and we place too much value on some film being the last one of a filmmaker. But then, there is a fiction in film-watching, too… We print the legend, so to speak, and if a last sentence in Ford is “So long, ya bastard!”, or the last word in Kubrick is “Fuck”, then I WANT to believe though it is nothing more than an anecdote. What would cinema be without these mythologies? Moreover it surely stimulates thoughts about the worldview of this or that filmmaker. There are not many last films I really love. Gertrud by Dreyer is one of the few, L’Atalante by Vigo, of course, but in the case of Mr. Costa’s favorites, I tend to think that neither Ozu, nor Ford, nor Chaplin, nor Tourneur achieved something tremendously worth-wile in their last works. I don’t know about Tarantino’s notion of films getting worse with the age of their maker… I observe that some older filmmakers seem to get a bit lazy, they find their language and I miss the doubt in their late works. There is no doubt, no struggling visible any more. The problem for me is when I sense that somebody knows too well what he is doing. I often miss the burning fire, the impossibility of not-doing the film… like you said, there are filmmakers who manage to keep that fire or doubt… Godard is one of them and I wouldn’t know how to talk about De Oliveira.

In terms of abstraction I certainly feel that it is the case with Mr. Costa. Which leads me to an obvious question: do you think that Mr. Costa can be included in Tarantino’s (self-)observation? Is Cavalo Dinheiro in your view worse than O Sangue? Is there the still same fire?

Michael: Thank you for defending your opinion with such passion. I totally disagree with you, and our views are kind of “not-reconciliable”, but I see your point. Also, I took note of your insights on The Lost Patrol, which I haven’t seen: not a big fan of McLaglen in superdramatic roles here, I must admit… I didn’t like The Informer at all, for instance. And I will purposefully ignore your mentioning Young Mr. Lincoln, because it would take us too far into a dangerous territory (Young Mr. Lincoln is a film I find difficult to digest, together with another film in which Henry Fonda plays a sneaky, mephistophelic manipulator who bullies the crowd into being good, 12 Angry Men).

I, too, think that “some older filmmakers seem to get a bit lazy, they find their language and I miss the doubt in their late works. There is no doubt, no struggling visible any more. The problem for me is when I sense that somebody knows too well what he is doing”: Lars von Trier, anyone? But then, to connect to your last one-in-three (triune?) question and spitting it back to you, isn’t Mr. Costa actually trying to find a filmmaking daily routine, to find some solid – possibly boring, white- or even blue-collar – basis in such an erratic profession, so that doubt, pressions, paranoia, deadlines, artsy bullshit, me, you, the festivals can be cast aside? Hasn’t he spent the last 15 years looking for a tranquility of sorts, a home-studio where he can get old making movies with his friends? O Sangue, too, was an attempt to make a movie with a bunch of friends…

gertrud dreyer

Patrick: That’s an interesting one. Is Mr. Costa making friends and develops a desire to work with them, or does he have a desire for working with someone and in the process befriends the person? I think it is the former, but somewhere he had to start. For a filmmaker there must always be the potential of a film, in every movement, in every face, don’t you agree? I am not entirely sure that he really tries to find this quiet place you talk about. He seems to enjoy travelling the whole world, he seems very much to enjoy talking to cinema-people around the globe, to live in this world of cinema… he is searching for the last places where this idea of cinema exist, but as much as I believe in his films, I think now, for the first time in our conversation, you are the romantic believer and I am the skeptic… of course, I couldn‘t know. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Mr. Costa is searching for fame or anything like that… no… but he likes his films to be shown. Let’s take the event where we met. The Munich Filmmuseum was screening a Fontainhas retrospective. That is a perfectly suitable place for Mr. Costa to show his films. Not because it is a museum, but because it was programmed there with passion, with an idea of cinema, it was a cinema-experience. But one day later Cavalo Dinheiro was screened at the Munich Filmfest (it was screened in the same cinema, but it was a different event)… though it is great of them to show the film (they even awarded him the main prize thanks to Sam Fuller’s daughter who apparently knows something about cinema) it is a horrible industry-event, full of money, German tastelessness, no respect for cinema. Mr. Costa accepted their invitation without hesitation. Is that because of duty or survival? I completely understand Mr. Costa, of course, his films should be shown everywhere because they enrich the life of everyone who sees them, and it is the only way for him to keep on. It is also a way to fight for cinema. But I don’t think he is trying to have a quiet life with friends… I think the opposite is true… he is one of the very few filmmakers that are fighting for an ideal, that feel the need to make, talk and defend cinema in and against an unaware public. He was complaining in Munich that he is weaker than Straub in this regard, but I think he is just different. I think a part of the doubt I can still sense in his work is due to the bitterness of this contact with reality. It is a contact with friends, places but also with the industry of cinema… and he has to be part of it to fight it. It is just speculation and I feel a bit bad about it but these are just my thoughts. He is not David Perlov, Vincent Gallo or even Terrence Malick, avoiding festival life and so on. And we can be grateful for it. What do you think?

Michael: Yeah, there’s no easy answer, thanks for pointing out all the complexities… Even though I think that, given the chance, Mr. Costa would stay in his native Lisbon and shoot his stuff, haunting the rooms he loves like Pessoa did with his (imaginary) friends.

But you were talking about cinema and friendship. Let’s go back to that, I think it is important, last but not least because our friendship (I mean, you and I becoming friends) was mediated by cinema…


Patrick: You know that these are perfect words to finish our conversation, don’t you?

Michael: Better than those in the last title card of The Long Voyage Home? More perfect than “The rest is silence”? I don’t think so. But, please, let us not go astray: continue your discourse about cinema and friendship, or I’ll break our friendship, by devil!

Patrick: Many of the greatest worked, and are working, with their friends and relatives. I think it is very hard to create art in film without “friends”. Just a few random names to underscore my argument, and to stimulate our thoughts in a tender way in the midst of all this heat I still feel burning inside my fingertips concerning John Ford: Jean Renoir (another one of those who, for my taste, found their language too easily in his late works), Andrey Tarkovsky (may be fired after one or two drinks), Ingmar Bergman (too close), Tsai Ming-liang (Lee and melons at least), Fassbinder (a bit like Bergman, only without control) or Cassavettes (did not go to Fontainhas to find friends though)… But then there is something I also feel with Mr. Costa about this kind of friendship. It is another doubt, or let’s call it fear again… It is a question: Will it last? Are things mediated by cinema meant to last, or are they just ephemeral illusions, mechanical ghosts, memories? What do we have by talking about friendship via e-mail? What does Mr. Costa have making cinema with digital means? Oh, now I am very trendy philosophical. As I started this conversation you will have the final word, or shall we just close the door and leave everybody, including ourselves, guessing?

Michael: Refreshments!