The Prisoners of Corona Island

by Lucía Salas, Patrick Holzapfel

La vida útil meets Jugend ohne Film

Cinema doesn’t die easily. It has been declared dead for ages and by now it must be one of the undead; a ghost haunting our dreams, nightmares, hopes and lives. In a time in which we are not allowed to go to cinemas around the globe we decided to start a little dialogue about the films we see at home. We always believe that cinema is necessary and useful but even more so in these times of insecurity and when a lot of our friends face a struggle to survive within the world of cinema. Since cinema is always alive when we talk and write about it, dream and think about it, this is our contribution to resurrect what will never be lost.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Patrick: It seems quite obvious that films always react to the world around them. Recently watching films took a very abstract turn in my perception but being forced to sit at home all day, I rediscovered the life inside the frame, the touches, the sensuality. Though I don’t necessarily think that watching this or that film is an act of solidarity, I feel drawn to images of or from Italy these days. I watched Un petit monastère en Toscane by Otar Iosseliani. It’s a beautiful film portraying the life around a monastery. The workers, the monks, the nature. Like often with Iosseliani everything holds together because of music. There is a co-existence of sacral music and folk songs. The peasant’s life is touched by God and the believer’s life is touched by the world we live in. Though it is a very hopeful film it also made me sad. It’s also a film about ways of life being lost.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Lucía: It is true that films always react to the world around them, even the way the world turned out to be after they appeared in it. So I have been mostly interested in seeing what I cannot see, which is people in places, now that space-travel has become almost as impossible as time travel because of the corona-sharks outside. Your monks and peasants took me to right across the border from where I am, to the French side of the Basque Country, as I watched Un petit monastère en Toscane and then, right after, Iosseliani’s Euskadi été 1982.  France now seems a lot farther than 25 km away. In this one the crew goes around some small villages of the region recording Basque parties and practices, as well as the infinite countryside. For example, in an amazing montage, an image of one woman shearing a sheep cuts to another woman, knitting. But I have a piece of life inside and out the frame for you: almost at the end of the film many people are on a stage for a town party and in the middle of a battle scene a little trap door opens in the stage and they throw the defeated enemies there (out of the frame). That image cuts to a shot from below the stage, where two actors receive their fellows surrounded by pillows (back to the frame). It impresses me very much when, after having watched something for almost an hour, I realize there is a second camera at work, which makes this cinematic magic trick possible: to be both in the stage and in the backstage while an action that will only take place once happens. Or perhaps (I can only hope) it is fake, and they were all plotting against us, and not only the filmmakers (as usual) but the characters too. As both films were made for the small screen (although perhaps not as small as a small computer), there’s still hope of being as close to the film as you can. I am glad your monks took me to France, as I hadn’t heard anyone speaking Euskera since the quarantine started (the film is half in French, half in Euskera). What I wonder is why on earth do your monks pray in French in the middle of all that Tuscan wine?

“quarantine in the basque country”

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Patrick: Isn’t it curious how cinema can occupy places and geographies? We are writing about Tuscany or Basque Country as if we could really visit them, walk through their mountains and hills, lie in their gras and survive their cruel histories. I recall Alain Badiou’s notion about how cinema is able to possess a piece of music, to even change it. I think, he describes how he can’t listen to Mahler’s 5th without thinking of Venice (because of Visconti’s Morte a Venezia) anymore. Yet, I think this is also true for the place itself. Venice is not the same after having seen that film. In these attractive mental movements of an imagined lifelong quarantine, I wonder what would happen to all those places we know but can’t reach anymore. Would they become memory? Would they be forgotten? Or would they become cinema? Concerning your question about the language spoken in Un petit monastère en Toscane, I read a bit about it. The monastery is the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo, it has a long history and has changed since Iosseliani filmed there (maybe that’s why we didn’t get the film he promises at the end of this one) but at some point the French “chanoines réguliers de saint Augustin” moved there. They belong to the Premonstratensians and their task is to pray, sing songs and help the neighboring peasants. In itself this can maybe be seen as a metaphor for how cinema at its best might transform a landscape. It brings an aesthetic or spiritual truth into what’s already there and tries to help those who have to live. This brings me to two films I have seen inspired by your Basque ventures. Both are short films by Basque filmmaker Victor Erice, both were made as part of anthology films. Alumbramiento and Vidros Partidos. For now I only want to state that I won’t accept that there is no cinema of eventuality. As Erice shows we can imagine or fear without manipulating, there is an illusion which is also a reality. Maybe that is a comforting thought, maybe it is a nightmare. However, the landscapes, buildings, animals and people Erice films are transformed, they become a memory and still, I feel, they have a capacity of healing (not only for the viewer but for those involved). So is a filmmaker a Premonstratensian?

a dog dreaming (captured by Victor Erice)

Saturday, March 28, 2000

Lucía: Sorry for the delay in my response, my friend, I didn’t get coronavirus but I sure got the corona blues. There’s a common joke between the students from the film school here in which you are either an obedient follower of Oteiza or of Chillida, but never both Basque sculptors (I know, we need better jokes around these parts). This also happens often between cinephiles, and I always wonder if that’s the case with Victor Erice and Ivan Zulueta, as they both lived in San Sebastián and Madrid for so many years. I think they are both their own kind of Premonstratensians, only they might have different definitions for what praying, songs and helping the neighbors is. My recuperation from the corona-blues came strangely from Zulueta, a filmmaker that I would have never called a healer before, although I would have called him an exorcist. But I came across some of his short films, some of them as an animator and found footage filmmaker. In his film Aquarium he starts by animating the sky. Most precisely, the clouds that float in it. It appears to be a Super 8mm single-frame animation, a time-lapse of the clouds which allows you to perceive their movements, shapes and relationship to the sunlight by making everything go faster. Curious how it usually works the other way around: to really perceive a movement it helps to slow it down and de-compose it, like in Muybridge. But here, the possibility of watching everything going faster is what makes you see how all those particles behave, and how time flies. They also look like an army of smoke slowly taking over Madrid (if only there was an anti-corona cloud). What a task, to stay still for so many hours, regularly capturing the clouds as they pass by in order to create the illusion of a new movement for them in the film strip. It seems like a perfect task for the quarantine. To answer your thought around the reality of illusion, if it’s comforting or a nightmare, for now, I will go for comforting. All the animators of the world must be saner today than all the rest of us.

Speaking of which, way down east, in Asturias, there is another monastery, Monasterio de Santa María de Valdediós. There are places that you want to visit for the first time only after watching a film, and this is one. Elena Duque made a film last year called Valdediós, about this particular place. It’s a three minute film that takes the spirituality of the place and animates all over it, bringing the world and the stars literally to its doorstep. Valdediós touches on the explosive feeling that landscape can create within you and makes shapes and forms out of that, which, superimposed to the images of the place, create a whole new explosion. I watched this for the first time in a documentary film festival, after which a friend told me it could also be thought of as a documentary about an animator, which made me like it even more. This has its own reality.

Look at this still from the film: Imagine being able to take a photographic image of a horse and have the texture of the brush at the same time? It’s like having your cake and eating it too.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Patrick: Your descriptions and thoughts brought forth in me a desire to see clouds. Outside I can see a lot of them. I imagine them looking at us. They seem friendly and indifferent. They won’t bring rain but they still block the light of the sun like Diogenes did with Alexander the Great. They are wiser than us. Allegedly we have more time these days. Some people I know treat this situation as if it was a meditation. I am not one of them. The clouds haven’t changed. Neither has the way I look at them. I think about James Benning’s Ten Skies and FAROCKI in which clouds are the protagonists. I feel too close to real clouds, real skies to really understand the merit of these films that remind us what it can mean to look. We exchanged some thoughts about the necessity to travel the world with cinema and though I am certain that cinema is also a school of seeing, I remain doubtful as to whether this applies for seeing films at home. I think, If I understand Ten Skies, it is in a cinema in which I am more or less entrapped in the dark and which might allow, after a busy day, to finally breathe, see, get closer to reality. Or, as you put it, to see how time flies. At home there is no need for it. I see the real clouds moving through the window behind my screen. Especially digital clouds (and I am not sure if I can trust Benning here?) have their way of reminding me what a lie cinema can be. Maybe it is the time for lies and illusions? (I have to remember that my dreams of riding on a cloud always end with rain.)

I also thought of Drifting Clouds by Aki Kaurismäki and Floating Clouds by Mikio Naruse. In the former (which I consider the most heartwarming film by this lover of people) there is a sense of reaching for the clouds when you’ve sunk so deep that you almost can’t see them anymore and in the latter there is a sense of of reaching for the clouds we once have known. Both films are melancholic to the bone and beautiful. Yet, both films also portray defeated societies and people. Which emotions can survive a war, a financial collapse, a loss of life? Is there a space for the touch, a kiss, a gesture of love? Of course there is, you just have to decide whether it’s an illusion or reality. Do you feel that in seeing films at home, time moves differently?

Monday, March 30, 2020

Lucía: We allegedly have more time, but time flies more than ever. Where did all my days go? Films also, they end quite sooner than before now from home, but they seem to be taking much more space. I think this is what they call distraction. But to answer your question, it may depend on the conditions for watching you have at home. I don’t have a TV or a projector where I am, so I watch films on my computer, and as time and space are indivisible, so is the  perception of time and the perception of space (I’m guessing here). So, in my small screen, smaller than myself, there is always less immersion, in both the space and the time of the film. Sometimes I try hard to tweak my perception to get lost (physically) in the sounds and images a little, and it works. Everything is smaller of course, but what would be the word for what happens to time? Is it more dispersed? What I would give for a screen bigger than myself (and for problems that are the exact opposite).

I was looking at some skies too, from inside two cars. In The United States of America Bette Gordon and James Benning drive from New York to Los Angeles with a camera attached to the back of their car (in the inside) in a way in which we can see them and the road ahead. In Lettre à mon ami Pol Cebé, Michel Desrois, José They and Antoine Bonfanti travel from Paris to Lille and back as members of the group Medvedkine to present the film Classe de lutte. Gordon and Benning appear to be silent, but they talk through the fragments they choose, both in image and in sound. The radio is always playing, songs and news, and we learn that the Vietnam war was about to end as they crossed the untouched territory of the losing side. Radio is almost gone, but TV is still here, still in the news and games business. Desrois, They and Bonfanti do talk, between them, to the friend who this letter is for, Pol Cèbe, and to everyone here at the house. They ask at the beginning why is taking film to the lab so expensive? And their answer is because film is a class instrument, as cinema is such a powerful tool. And joyfully (for them, for Pol Cèbe and for us) they take a good amount of film (color film stock!) and they write and capture comraderie all over the road. If time is money, then money should buy time, and it often seems that way. I wonder how we can continue to try and break that cycle now that we allegedly have more time, no space, no money, and we can’t get in the car with comrades and think or have such a conversation. I wonder this also because in The United States of America there’s a song that plays many times, as it is or was usual on the radio. It’s Minnie Riperton’s Loving You, a song I hadn’t heard in probably ten years, and I can’t help but think that this is how the new decade started. In the song she says And every day of my life is filled with lovin‘ you and, corny as it sounds and is, I am glad that we love cinema, as every day can be filled with something and some tools we have.

Speaking of time and skies, I leave you a few from João César Monteiro’s Branca de Neve.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Patrick: The beautiful clouds you sent make me think of three things at the same time: pubic hair, Robert Walser and John Wayne’s hips.

João César Monteiro has to be a companion these days. He always is. I remember reading the interview he conducted with himself and how he talks about his film Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen being a proof for the impossibility of filming poetry. In a poem of Sophia she talks about how volatile images are. She says that we are standing naked in front of living things and she asks whether any presence can satisfy the eternal urge within us. Those sentences have always reverberated in my heart. Looking at Monteiro’s clouds, it came to my mind we are not only looking at the clouds, we are also watching in the cloud. All these films that are now growing from the digital darkness like weeds, all those offers, all these films that can be downloaded, streamed. I have to run through my online garden with a hoe and scream: “Stop! Stop! I can’t see anything. I only see a big cloud!” I doubt these are the volatile images Sophia wrote about. This is an inflation, a senseless firework in which supply exceeds demand by a couple of lifespans. Who the hell is going to watch all those films? Is this the urge of cinema (culture) in times of its non-existence? Is it the purpose of cinema to be there for us or is it, as they make believe everywhere, that we are there for cinema if we continue seeing films (which films?) on this or that platform? I am not referring to the films we search for, I am referring to the ones we cannot hide from. Sometimes I wonder, whether we shouldn’t all just dream about the films we can’t see now. For example, I think I’d love it if you wrote to me about a film I have no chance of seeing at all in the near future. The cinema (cultural) world is under threat (has been as long as I remember) and I can understand certain reactions and ideas. It’s a struggle for survival, in this is certainly no time for ontological debates. Yet, the sheer speed in which after a couple of days solutions have been presented and we could read about how the crisis demanded certain reactions is a farce as far as I am concerned. The answer as to why this or that institution, festival or cinema shows films seems only to be: because if we don’t show films, we don’t exist. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? The reason for showing films online is in most cases not one of solidarity but one of a digital marketplace that was very ready to be what it is now before there was a pandemic. I understand that this may come across rather cynical as there are people involved and their well being depends on these things and I am not one to talk because I also need a festival to happen in order to have enough money. It’s absurd and this is what I state. Camus wrote in his diary that people cry about and desire exactly what they are humiliated by. He calls it the great misery of humanity.

I think about Monteiro’s famous assessment that you are poorer if you don’t go to the cinema. I think this would be a start, to admit that we are poorer now instead of indulging into all kinds of cinephile euphorias, utopias, dystopias and self-important messages. Films can be a plaster for our wounds these days, they can help us, they can make us richer while we are poorer. The rest is cinema as a slave and I find it disquietingly funny that those who put everything online at the same time declare that now is a time to rethink some ideas we have about life. I hope nobody is believing into online utopias anymore while discussing things on corporate chat rooms under government surveillance. A good example for the real kind of help and plaster art and culture can offer is Krsto Papić’s Let Our Voices Be Heard, Too. It’s a little treasure from Former Yugoslavia about pirate radios in the countryside. It shows the love and resistance that goes into sharing knowledge and pleasure. Toward the end of the film we see how the equipment is confiscated by the authorities. The camera pans over cables and machines and somehow the radio suddenly seems to be a bomb. There is a difference between weeds and a bomb. I think I know which metaphor for cinema Monteiro would have preferred. But I am only guessing, of course.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Lucia: The image of you, screaming in your online garden with a hoe, opened this tab in my mind’s browser:

Young Wittgenstein, overwhelmed in Derek Jarman’s film. The fact that most things that exist around cinema (the film world) are there only to perpetuate themselves and have little to do with cinema is no news to any of us. Perhaps the news is that this is not unavoidable as we used to believe, as its permanence in the future may not be automatic and may even not be at all. I disagree with one thing you say: I do think there is no better time to be ontological, at least for us, the non-essential. What I gave up on are solitary conclusions.

I am also overwhelmed, hoe in hand, in the cloud. But, speaking of pirates, I am a film pirate (and I suspect you are too). I recently read a fellow pirate making a joke about how everyone is downloading or streaming now the things we downloaded illegally ages ago. The cloud has been there for a while, but now it’s a little more out there and in the weird shape of a mandate. Before it was a secret cloud, a whispered cloud, a word-to-mouth cloud. So, in this increasingly polluted virtual world, I keep to my fellow pirates, now a little more under the sun, and try to see what they are up to. What I mean is that, in order not to follow my current ever present urge to jump out the window (which would achieve nothing really, I live on the first floor), I ignore anything that is not organized around some form of thought or community. I agree we are poorer now (in absolutely any possible meaning) but there is still some movement out there. Film societies and clubs are emerging in different platforms, ways of collective watching and discussing. It is absolutely not the same as coexisting in a real space, which is fundamental, irreplaceable and what I desire the most. But from this, I gather that, contrary to what I believed shortly before the pandemic in my most apocalyptic cynical moments, the need to be close to films and to the people who we want to discuss them with, friends and strangers, is still essential.

This is my way of thanking you for your radio pirates, Krsto Papić’s Let Our Voices Be Heard, Too which I had never heard of before and made my quarantine worthwhile. The note on which it ends, that the things you love cannot be destroyed, is perfect for today. This made me go back to two films around radios, Gianfranco Annichini’s Radio Belén and Sebastian Lingiardi’s Sip’ohi, el lugar del manduré. Radio Belén is shot in a radio station from the neighborhood of Belén, Iquitos which they call the Venice of the Amazonas, as it is built over the water. Sip’ohi was shot in El Sauzalito, a small city in the Argentinian northeast, Chaco, and around a wichí radio station. These two films are built around the importance that the stations have for the community, concentrating in the amount of detail with which they cover the needs of everyday life (announcing and inviting to celebrations, bringing news, narrating stories, entertaining) while they reflect on how these communications have a very short range, which keeps them inside the community only. In Radio Belén, this short rage of the radio waves is contrasted with the images taken from the place, which show the precarity of life around Belén and will travel with the film. But in both of them there is also a thought or two around how, even if this short-range might seem like a menace to the permanence of the cultures they belong to, this opacity could also work as protection. Against what? In Sip’ohi, two characters have a conversation close to the river about the oral nature of wichí culture and the complexity of sharing that outside the community, especially with the white population, by recording, translating or transcribing. They ask themselves what is recognition, for a culture to be recognized, and who are the subjects on both sides of this recognition. Their problem so far has been that people had come, taken the information and never returned, leaving them with nothing. The film was released in 2011, a moment in which, at least in the Spanish-speaking world, hybridity was starting to settle as the key world in thinking about documentary film practice. The film’s answer to its time, and the character’s predicament, was that the true political agency of this hybridity was not only in looking inside the conventions of cinema and the self to difuminate or re-write them but also in thinking with others instead of about others. And that this collective thinking (with people, places and times) would create a form of its own.

I don’t have films that would be only available to me and not you right now, but I have a memory, which is similar. I grew up in a small city which is located in a sparsely populated territory in which a lot of people live far from a town or any other place where you can find people. So every evening the local radio stations would have something called “Mensaje al poblador rural” (message to the rural people) which would broadcast messages. They were usually about travels, crops and shearing seasons. I can’t count how many times I heard as a child that someone would arrive at the station on Tuesday at 9 am and wondered if, when Tuesday came, there would be someone to pick them up from the station.

I saw a few more films by Papić after your pirates. I send you these images from Halo München, shot in Zagora. It says at the beginning of the film that the area was always known as the land of the rocks and the poor and that many people leave from there. In this scene, everyone gathers around the mailman to get their correspondence, letters from all over the world. From one friend in a lockdown very far from home, to another:

 

Monday, April 6, 2020

Patrick: “Along with murder, piracy is one of mankind’s oldest practices.“. This is one of the first sentences said by Bud Spencer in Ermanno Olmi’s wild Cantando dietro i paraventi. I couldn’t resist putting it here, though in no way I think of murder when I think of piracy. Yet, both can be acts of love.

I am not sure if it is customary for pirates to send letters. Yet, I sympathise with the pirate who shares such beautiful memories as well as with all those pirates who share their booty. Somehow, my life as a pirate has always been on dry land. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island is maybe the most important book of my life, it was given to me on the Canary Islands and I read it seven times in a row. What sticks most with me is not its sense of adventure, it is the longing for it. I remember loving the beginning so much, I lived with Jim Hawkins at the inn, I observed all those creatures of the sea coming and going like ebb and flow. I stayed in my room, heard their voices and laughter turning into desire and expectation. Imagining being a pirate, dreaming about buried gold and reading maps has always been closer to me than actually setting sail. Sometimes I wonder whether this makes me a fool or coward but then I think it takes a lot of courage to dream. We shouldn’t forget that in the Arabic language Riḥla refers to a journey as well as the written account of it. It’s maybe a more solitary occupation but dreams can be shared, too. The endless episodes at another inn of literature, in Don Quixote, are another milestone in my coming to realise that sometimes the story is the life and vice versa. I wonder if those prisoners on Corona Island, those who are fortunate enough to be healthy and to be able to move on the island, all meet at the local inn. They drink and share their stories and fears, hopes and enthusiasms. But then, I know that it is not allowed to go into an inn. Let’s take it as metaphor and think about Maurice Tourneur’s Treasure Island, a lost film, one of those we can only dream about.

So, I was browsing through all the pirates I know in cinema, from Anne of the Indies to Jacques Rivette, Paul Henreid in Frank Borzage’s The Spanish Main to Anita Morgan in Henry King’s Hell Harbor. It’s a lost genre, buried deep underground by Walt Disney. Maybe someday a group of fearless adventurers will find a map, arrive at a distant island and dig it out.

Then I came across somebody who could be called a pirate (who would defeat a whole armada of pirates though) and who surely backs my notions of Riḥla: Der Baron von Münchhausen. I watched Karel Zeman’s stunning film Baron Prášil, a otherworldly ode to fantasy, a romantic tale about the closeness of adventures and love, Georges Méliès and the Lumière Brothers, the moon and the earth. As we wrote about clouds I couldn’t help feeling that this is another film about looking up. Be it the moon, the clouds, some God, a radio signal, all that seems important and since you insisted on the ontological questions, I have to refer to Jean-Luc Godard’s idea of cinema as something which you look up to whereas television (and laptops) are things you look down at. Where do you look at when you are listening to the radio?

Here I send you two images from Karel Zeman’s work with animation and dreams:

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Lucía: Good question. My grandmother listened to the radio all day as she worked in her sewing, my grandfather listened to it in the car while driving all around town, and I listen to it while I do any mechanical task (less and less in my line of work, if I ever work again), knit or cook. So I guess when you listen to the radio you look at your hands and whatever is keeping them busy. Or out the window. It would be nice to have a corona island radio station where we all could hear the same things at the same time. The other day someone interviewed Godard and streamed it on Instagram, and I couldn’t pay attention to anything but the comments from the people that were tuning in (around 4000 people). Some of them were friends and we even said hi. There were three types of social media posts after it: posts on how handsome Godard looked, posts of people showing that they themselves were in the streaming when their names showed up on the screen, and people who found friends and captured their fleeting comments.

A few weeks ago, when you could go places, there was a screening of Michael Pilz’s last film in Rotterdam. The film is called With Love – Volume One 1987-1996 and it is composed of footage from his personal archive, being the personal his friends and loved ones talking and going places. He said after the screening that he found that he could not always pay attention to what people were saying when facing footage like that, as he kept mostly looking at the faces and the way they move. I felt relieved, as this happens to me often with the final result of feeling stupid, and it happened during the Godard streaming, when if I could take my eyes out of the comments and constant stream of little hearts (unblessed) I could only concentrate on his movements, especially that giant cigar. The interviewer didn’t have a cigar, he had one of those masks that are the new gold.

I miss looking up to see a film terribly. Some days ago Tsai Ming-Liang’s Rizi was available online, one of the last films I looked up to watch, as I saw it in a huge theater with probably more than a thousand people. I was very close to the screen looking up and having a terrific time while a lady breathed, deeply asleep, and people coughed every once in a while without feeling like murderers. You could look at a giant projection of the bodies of two men touching, can you imagine? As the internet shows, you don’t need space to be alone, but you do need space to be together. The longest part of the film is a sex work scene including a massage. In such a screen you could feel the pressing of the muscles as if there were your own, feel the time as it was your own, your life fugaciously transformed by the relationship between the lives of these two characters. That’s what days could be like. Going back to an old question, I do think now that time moves differently when you watch a film on a computer. It is also not the same to fall asleep in a theater than at home, watching films in bed, where you are supposed to sleep already.

But these I watched in the past and not in captivity, so one from the island: speaking of dreams, I have been reading Jerry Lewis’ biography and films. His friendship with Dean Martin consolidated also in a hotel room, a late night of four friends goofing around until daybreak. A friendship based ob crafting amusement together. In their film debut, years later, they plair their (later) usual part of a couple made out of two friends who have built their survival together, living in the same room, working the same jobs and trying to make it together as the handsome man and the monkey. Their first musical number in My friend Irma happens in a fancy restaurant where they are eating with their manager, his girlfriend Irma and her friend and roommate. Soon they realize that the deal is that they have to sing for their food, so Martin sings a song and then Lewis comes along, pretending to interrupt and asking for another song. Lewis says everything wrong, even the declination of the phrases, to the point to which Martin inquires if he’s asking him or telling him something, to which Lewis answers: I am wondering. Neither asking nor telling, nothing fixed, all in movement. Finally, Martin asks Lewis to be his human instrument as he sings the Donkey Serenade. While Martin goes handsomely into the song, Lewis is freaked out from the effort of making those sounds with his mouth, pretty much like when you have to beat egg whites until stiff but you don’t have an electric mixer. It ends on an amazingly sustained note. Monkeys and donkeys, the perfect cure for the corona-blues:

Btw, the song they sing is a version of this one.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Patrick: As far back as I remember, Jerry Lewis has always been a cure. There is something deeply satisfying and consoling about his screen presence. It’s even beyond the purity of laughter itself. I think it has to do with his portrayals of “weakness” and “strength”. He always manages to show that neither of those attributes really exists. Weaknesses can turn into strengths and strengths are ridiculous and may lead into catastrophes. The moment he shows that strength does not really exist, he gives us a political cure and once he turns to weakness he gives us a spiritual cure. The best thing, as you rightfully pointed out, is that he cures while he is dancing, singing, jumping, screaming, rolling on the floor. It’s music and music has a healing effect in itself.

I decided for an overdose of this specific cure and spend a night watching That’s My Boy, Visit to a Small Planet, The Bellboy, Three on a Couch and his appearance in Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Since I am still drugged, I can only share two observations.

a: In Visit to a Small Planet his character (Kreton) gives a completely new meaning to the moon and all this business of looking up (to it). He says that the moon was the last stop for gas before mars.

b: After a couple of hours with those films there are only two solutions. Either you go completely crazy (if you identify with what is going on, one may call this a superficial viewing experience) or you go completely sane (if you look for the details, appreciate the work, observe the virtuose anatomy of each gag). I have yet to decide where I am heading but my feeling is that I might just get insanely sane or at least, disorderly orderly.

I wonder, does cinema in these days also inspire you to live? To me, cinema means most when it teaches me about how to be, how to act as a person in the world outside of cinema.

I wanted to share this image of one of the greatest letter writers I know of: D.H. Lawrence. In one of his letters he writes: “It isn’t the scenery one lives by, but the freedom of moving about alone.” Aldous Huxley wrote a great essay on Lawrence in which he deals with the conflict between a solitary life as an artist and the need for social and bodily contact. It made me think about a lot of things. For example, about the pleasure and need of writing letters and sharing our solitary experiences. After all, as Lawrence also wrote in one of his letters, the art of writing was also a cure, a cure for the writer and (maybe) the reader.   

Monday, April 13, 2020

Lucía: you reminded me of an anecdote from Jerry Lewis’ autobiography. Things with Dean Martin are not going well, he can’t get out of unwanted contracts and he just had his first of many cardiac arrests, so he decides to call a psychiatrist friend. He goes into the office, very fancy and manly, and tells the guy what’s wrong, to which the guy says that he sees there might be a conflict in Jerry starting analysis. There is a danger that the pain may leave and therefore there wouldn’t be any reason for Jerry to be funny anymore. Just enough to never ever laugh again while watching Cracking-up. Or else, to laugh a little more hysterically. By the way, how was Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee? I always wanted to watch his episode, but the normalized display of wealth that all its advertising had made me run the other way. It’s silly, we all know these people are filthy rich, but there’s something about the unfunny way in which they seem to handle that transparency that repulses me.

I go to cinema to learn how to live much more than I would dare to admit. I sometimes fear that one day I will see a film and realize I have been walking funny my whole life. My favorite make-up advice (and the only one I have) I got from Nancy Allen in Brian de Palma’s Blow Out. When I watched Hiroatsu Suzuki’s film Terra, I thought that if we all knew how natural coal was made we wouldn’t use so much of it. Today I watched Ogawa’s A Japanese Village, and as I was watching these people figure out why the crops were going so bad, I had the same feeling with rice, and as I saw a speedy image of how rise blooms -it takes it 45 minutes to open- I thought I should sprout some legumes in order to see something grow next to me, as in Spain all recreation outside is still forbidden. So I asked a few friends whether they would like to grow sprouts in their homes and then share pictures of their growth with each other. One of them said yes and immediately roasted me with a vimeo link. The film is called Lea e il gomitolo (Lea and the ball), starring the Italian comedian Lea Giunchi. It’s from 1913. Lea’s parents are telling her that she shouldn’t read but knit, and they sit her down to work. But as soon as they are gone she loses her yarn and trashes the whole house looking for it. The ball, of course, was hanging from the back of her skirt the whole time. My friend sent it as a response to the tyranny of the domestic we are living right now (us, who were not too tied to it before, as other women were before corona) and also as a viable possibility. We are trying to stay sane by creating temporary ways of life which can produce some sense of joy within the conditions of the confinement, taking time to bake obsessively, knit, reorganize the home or make things grow on lentils. But there’s also Lea’s way, just trash everything and sit down to read among your ruins.

An ambitious crossover between Ogawa and Lea: there’s a scene in Dennis the Menace in which people are gathered to watch the blossoming of a forty-year old orchid that will only do so once, that night. Meanwhile, Daniel realizes there’s a burglar in the house and runs outside to tell everyone. He starts screaming in the exact moment in which the orchid opens up, and when people finally turn their heads towards the flower, it has already withered. Like the opening poem of Joan Didion’s The year of magical thinking:

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The question of self-pity.

Films also help with grief, and we are grieving our future lives as much as our past ones. What about the question of self-pity?

Friday, April 17, 2020

Patrick: now you left me with the difficult task of having to dwell on two topics that provoke an ocean of thoughts: firstly, you asked about a display of wealth and secondly, you were concerned with the question of self-pity. The crux of the matter is that both topics seem to cross, to be related. I watched a couple of episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. To be honest, despite having heard about it here and there, I didn’t really know what’s it all about. I also don’t know what Seinfeld is all about and to be honest, none of that did change after watching those episodes. Nevertheless, I got the certain feeling that it’s not for me to “get it”. It’s about something else and this something else is a provocation. It’s very close to certain hip-hop artists but instead of promoting an escapist or sexist approach to political sexuality, here there is this metaphor of cars, a certain elitism and a very fake way of imitating friendship and even the feeling of comedians being one big family. It’s still funny in the way that it can be funny to hear a good joke by your tax collector. It’s a test for your individual amount of empathy necessary to laugh. Accidentally this is also a documentary about the lack of personality and reflection necessary “to make it”. It mirrors Malcolm McDowell’s capitalistic ventures in Lindsay Anderson’s allegorical odyssey O Lucky Man!. Just be lucky and smile. You look at all those smooth surfaces, this sassy slickness and with exception of the very old guests of the show (they don’t care anymore), you can feel the tremendous pressure of someone having to be funny, while being escorted in a car that costs more than almost all salaries of those combined who are supposed to laugh about it.

But then, from Chaplin on there has always been a conflict between laughter and wealth. While Chaplin as one of the richest men promoted an idea of poverty, those people in their unaffordable cars and Hollywood mansions, give the impression of being like you and me. They talk as if they had the same problems and I don’t mean those that money can’t solve. It’s intriguing. Could this be you and me? Film people at home writing emails? As to Jerry Lewis, he was rich and funny. As you said, he was not always funny. Maybe it’s also a luxury to be funny in a way that seems to transcend the class you live in? Today it becomes clearer than ever that “home” means not the same for everybody. If I look at the homes of football players sending videos from their so-called quarantine (not even funny), I get the feeling that they are not even living on the same planet. But what about the question of self-pity?

I can only say that for me the problem of that specific question is that it is already conceived as an answer. Sometimes though self-pity is a reason to laugh. Isn’t Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor a great film about self-pity? Isn’t a lot of great comedy about states of self-referentiality that we as an audience can see from the outside and therefore either laugh or cry about it?

For a lecture in self-compassion I also recommend reading the diaries of Thomas Mann. As a writer he never fails to show how close isolation, sickness and self-referentiality are. Borges once wrote that great writing is often about getting closer and closer to a character. Every step in a story is only there for us to get closer. I wonder whether getting closer automatically means getting closer to self-referentiality. Maybe, if I write or talk or make a film about myself, I am bound to pity myself. Otherwise you wouldn’t see my vulnerabilities, my insolence, my weaknesses. The poor wretch that I am! Those poor fellows in their cars getting coffee? Although I love so many books written in the first person and/or dealing with an “I”, I have to say that in cinema it’s quite the opposite. I think in cinema there is a chance of truly looking at the other. It’s just difficult. A beautiful example for a cinema of self-pity that is also decidedly a cinema about the other is Peter Nestler’s Am Siel. “To look at the little trickle that I am.”, speaks the voice of the sluice. Robert Wolfgang Schnell speaks with the voice of the sluice, it’s the voice of the other, the voice of what society ignores. In a couple of minutes Nestler proposes a different way to look at the world, not through your own eyes but through those of the other. It’s beautiful and sad.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Lucía: You wonder whether getting closer automatically means getting closer to self-referentiality. I have a photo album for this lockdown situation made of images that mirror how this whole corona thing feels like. This is the latest, from The Family Jewels:

In the introduction of a collection of her essays under the title Senses of the Subject, Judith Butler writes: …”I do not always encumber the first person with scare quotes*, but I am letting you know that when I say “I“, I mean you, too, and all those who come to use the pronoun or to speak in a language that inflects the first person in a different way.” A quote that I read for the first time for a class called The Aesthetics of Politics. What the quote describes is definitely a esthetics of politics by use of the pronoun I. Some people say I in a way that is close to we, but not as assuming, and some people just mean “me”. There’s a story by Lucía Berlin called “Point of View” in which she asks the reader to imagine a story by Chekhov in the first person. We would feel embarrassed, she says, because we are all pretty insecure. And then she tells us about this woman she’s writing about, and tries to write a presentation of the character in the first person, which sounds pretty bleak. It actually sounds like something we say in Spanish to which there is no direct translation, vergüenza ajena. It’s like being embarrassed on behalf of someone else, only that saying “on behalf” sounds much more polite than the cruelty behind the term vergüenza ajena. Berlin continues to say that in the story nothing happens, but she wants to write everything with such detail that you won’t help but to feel for the woman, with some passages in which she narrates Henrietta, now always in the third person. This invented woman has habits, a job, a house, things she doesn’t own and wants, some of which are things that Berlin has, does or has seen. At the end of the story Henrietta hears a car approaching the phone booth outside her house and leans against the windows to listen to the music coming from this car. The story ends with these lines: “In the steam of the glass I write a word. What? My Name? A man’s name? Henrietta? Love? Whatever it is I erase it quickly before anyone can see.”

Between Butler and Berlin there has been a change of paradigm regarding the use of “I” in writing and filmmaking for sure, which changed fiction a lot. Still, sometimes an “I“ here or there can give you goosebumps. Or, there are many ways of being naked, and it is all a question of craft. In the aesthetics of politics sense of this matter, it’s like Judge Priest-Will Rogers says: The first thing I learned in politics is when to say ain’t.

Speaking of Will Rogers and going back to the display of wealth (and health, which commands this domiciliary confinement), one scene from John Ford’s Doctor Bull: the doctor goes to see an ill teenager servant, Mamie. It is the morning, and he’s been up all night delivering a baby. While the doctor is in the room, Mamie’s rich employers walk in with food for the people at the house. The doctor leaves Mamie’s room, as she has died, and after a while the rich ask him why wasn’t he there the night before, as he might have been able to save her. But he doesn’t think so, as 30% of the people die of this illness and you need to have the strength, as probably the rich employers would but their employees did not. As they leave, offended by his comments, they ask for his bill to be sent to them to take care of it, after all, she worked for them. The doctor answers: yes, she worked for you, there can’t be any doubt of that. I wonder if the food presents are like the lockdowns, they will help, but for something not to be deadly you need to be properly fed from the day you were born, among other things, and we are all grown up. A police car just stopped in our corner. The police went outside, played a children’s song, danced to it, screamed a few things with their speakers (I didn’t understand, it was in Euskera) and drove away. Rage and vergüenza ajena.

*What a funny name for them, scare quotes. Ah, English.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Patrick:

According to one of your poems, your most perfect love was your love for the mirror. Who do you see in it?

The other that I am. (The truth is that I’ve got a certain fear of mirrors.) Occasionally we come together. Almost always when I write.

This is from an interview with Alejandra Pizarnik.

no idea what she was saying! . . till she began trying to . . . delude herself . . . it was not hers at all . . . not her voice at all . . . and no doubt would have . . . vital she should . . . was on the point . . . after long efforts . . . when suddenly she felt . . . gradually she felt . . . her lips moving . . . imagine! . . her lips moving!

This is from Samuel Beckett’s “Not I“.

It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both; and from an early date, even before the course of my scientific discoveries had begun to suggest the most naked possibility of such a miracle, I had learned to dwell with pleasure, as a beloved day-dream, on the thought of the separation of these elements.

This is from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde“

I think I have to defend the first person as a person you know better than me. Since I am not writing in my mother tongue (a language in which the use of first person, for example in film criticism, is a sort of taboo), my first person here (and elsewhere; everywhere to be precise) is like a distorted mirror, a collection of ideas which I loose between my mirror and my bad use of language. So my first person is nobody I know, it’s just an impossibility (as if there weren’t already enough impossibilities). Still, I decided that it has to be a me that defends the first person today. I am neither a scholar nor a historian of language, we (which is also another way to say I) can say that I am a user, for user seems to be a common word that can be applied to almost anything, a word that means nothing without asking the question: what do you use? Thank you for asking, I use the I. Why do you use the I? I think it is because I want to make sure it’s nobody else and also because I want to be able to make mistakes, be uncertain, be weak. I can’t ask you or us or them to be wrong, to be me, to be lost between a mirror and a bad use of language. But I is not me either. It’s not even my point-of-view. I is somebody (I prefer I to be a somebody instead of a something) sitting in-between, in the middle, building a bridge. Let’s call I a translator. A translator for what I couldn’t say or write myself. Like every translator I has to work very hard to get it right. I might make mistakes, I might consult a dictionary and then move on freely, find words that are an approximation (for approximations are, if I am not mistaken, what Alejandra Pizarnik defined her poetry as.) I is never really there I just wants to be, I tries to exist, I is an approximation to life, to be alive, to be myself. In the best case I am possible for a sentence or two and then it is you or them or nobody who gets goosebumps.

If I am not myself, I am happy.

The opening sequence of Ruben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a perfect translation of this impossibility into the medium of film. The camera takes the point-of-view of Dr. Jekyll (who as we/I know is not the most stable human being when it comes to be a first person only) as he walks through his house, meets his butler and heads to university. In a decisive moment he looks into a mirror (not yet distorted) in which we see the face of Frederic March, strangely displaced, as if it wasn’t really him, a distant face, a face that belongs to the I of the camera as well as the eye to the camera/the other. It’s in these first moments of the film that the whole story, the fascinating horror and beauty of being a first person is revealed in all its complexity.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Lucia: If I am not myself I am happy. So am I, my friend. What a drag it is to be trapped inside oneself at times! Plenty of that in this lockdown. All day, from the moment the sun rises -whenever that means for each one of us- we are doomed. On the bad days, I dread daybreak. On one of those days, a song by Rafael Berrio comes floating from my partner’s computer. The name of the song is Amanece, which is not sunrise but something like the sun rises, and it starts: The sun rises, ¿what for? My mind answers: for nothing, absolutely nothing.

But whenever I hear the word Amanece my mind automátically completes: y ya está con los ojos abiertos. In English, something like: the sun rises / and his eyes are already open. The beginning of each section of Juan José Saer’s The Regal Lemon Tree. Those words, the image of them as they are arranged on the page, so many times, and the pause between them, is the image of restlessness and grief:

Amanece

Y ya está con los ojos abiertos

The waiting, nothing to wait for. Waiting for the dawn. ¿What for? But the song moves forward, after asking the question many times: a beautiful first question of the day. It had never occurred to me to call that question beautiful. And the song continues here and there: I don’t know why the sun rises / the sun rises. I guess what is beautiful in the question is that you don’t know, it just happens. And if you don’t ask, it also happens.

In reminded me of a scene in Ted Fendt’s Classical Period, where a friend with insomnia goes for a walk before she is able to go to sleep and runs into a friend who woke up early, as the day breaks. The sun is not out yet, so the light is very dim and the street lights are still on.  The day is no more than a possibility at that hour. Also, the opening of Jean-Claude Biette’s Le Champignon de Carpathes, dawn on the first day after Chernobyl, of which Jean-Claude Guiguet wrote: when the sky and the earth get confused with one another, where the first color cloud stretches. Yet another possibility.

This week’s program at Kino Slang is built from a film called Le monde comme in ne vais pas by Jean-Luc Godard and Cela s’appelle l’aurore, by Luis Buñuel. It’s Called The Dawn:

„The film is a remarkable adaptation by Buñuel of a fine novel by Emmauel Roblès, who took the title from the last line of Jean Giraudoux’s play Electre:

NARSÈS:  What is it called when the sun rises, like today, and everything has been ransacked, everything is devastated, but you can still breathe the air, and everything is lost, the city is burning, and innocent people are killing each other, but the guilty are in their death throes in some corner of the daybreak?

ELECTRE:  Ask the beggar, he knows.

BEGGAR:  It has a very beautiful name, Narsès. It’s called the dawn. “

Like today or every day during this thing, we see a new day start. The destruction and the terror are there. The markets are crashing, the day is still a possibility. Like in the last shot of the film, where is still dark but you can sense the light could be about to enter. Solidarity.

Rafael Berrio passed away a few weeks ago, he lived in the town where we live but I didn’t know him. I have the windows open and play the album where that song came from, called Diarios. Perhaps one of the neighbors knew him, even was a friend of his. Tomorrow the sun will rise once again, I hope.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Image from Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans by F.W. Murnau.

It came to my mind as you were writing about sunrises. I always see the night when thinking about that film. I see darkness, shadows moonlight. So my idea is that the sunrise comes after the film, it’s something to wait for, to fight for, to believe in. I made a little list of how films could be titled following this strategy of giving a name for what comes after the film:

Life (Vampyr; Carl Theodor Dreyer)

Peace (Van Gogh; Maurice Pialat)

More Sand (Greed; Erich von Stroheim)

Silence (Mouchette; Robert Bresson)

Silence is what we maybe should be able to hear after every great work of art.

Our friend Andy, who presented this great program with Godard and Buñuel, recently remarked via social media that Franz Kafka didn’t write a single entry in his diary during the year 1918 when the Spanish Flu haunted Europe and Kafka who picked it up in October. Another form of silence? Nevertheless Kafka wrote letters, for example to his sister Ottla. While being too exhausted to leave his room in his parent’s home he witnessed the creation of the independent republic of Czechoslovakia (du to the collapse of the Habsburg Empire). Reiner Stach, a biographer of Kafka notes how strange it must have felt to get sick as a citizen of the Habsburg empire and to wake up as a citizen of democratic Czechoslovakia. Suddenly he was called František Kafka. He also composed his The Zürau Aphorisms in the beginning of 1918 while he was living with his sister in Zürau (he spent there 8 months after being diagnosed with tuberculosis). It’s a book I like a lot:

There is a destination but no way there; what we refer to as way is hesitation.

The crows like to insist a single crow is enough to destroy heaven. This is incontestably true, but it says nothing about heaven, because heaven is just another way of saying: the impossibility of crows.

A man was astounded by the ease of the path of eternity; it was because he took it down- hill, at a run.

You can withdraw from the sufferings of the world-that possibility is open to you and accords with your nature-but perhaps that withdrawal is the only suffering you might be able to avoid.

What comes after? It’s a question  strongly relating to the current situation, of course, but it is also a question relating to fiction and cinema. What comes after this shot? What comes after this page? It’s a question we have to be curious about. A film I saw recently was made by another František, František Vláčil. I saw one of his first works, the stunning Holubice. It tells a sort-of fairy tale about a white carrier pigeon going astray on its way from Belgium to an island in the Baltic Sea. This white dove is a metaphor as well as a carrier of messages as well as a living being something everybody waits for. It comes next. What does it stand for, what does it bring, how does it feel? It comes ashore in Prague at a housing complex in which an artist and a young boy who, after an accident prefers to sit in a wheelchair although is he able to walk, live. They boy shoots the pigeon with an airgun. It is badly hurt but not dead. The film shows the difficult part towards recovery and the endlessness of waiting for a return. Neither the animal nor its multiple meanings belong to anyone because belonging is just another way of saying: the impossibility of doves. Or, to give this film another title: freedom.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Lucía: Belonging and freedom, ¿remember that? I am now almost fully convinced that none of the new virtual activities that are here to replace life are succeeding. I refuse to engage with all of them. There is no freedom online. I am not sure if freedom is the opposite of belonging, as part of this new loss of freedom comes from the impossibility of belonging. But that’s belonging in a different sense: belonging as a sense of community, not ownership. A few days ago I stumbled across a book by Vivian Gornick which I didn’t know, The Romance of American Communism. The books starts like this: Before I knew that I was Jewish or a girl I knew I was a member of the working class. It was May the 1st, and this is a quote that belongs to the International Workers’ Day.

I wonder often about belonging when I face the fact of national cinemas. I used to belong to a country, Argentina, and I still belong to it as I am a citizen. So my cinema is Argentinian cinema, even if most cinephiles believe that we belong to humanity through a supplementary country called cinema. But legally and idiosyncratically I belong to Argentina and its films, and even with physical distance this is inescapable. Lately I rewatched the Episode 3 of Mariano Llinas’ La Flor, which is among other things the materialization of Borges’ idea that we should not fear and we should think our patrimony is the universe. In the second part of La Flor the protagonists are a group of spies who are in Argentina as a foreign country. It is set in the 80s (more late than early) and they all speak in french with one another (dubbed, they are all Argentinian actresses, the group of four actresses that changes roles almost completely throughout the film). They end up there, a remote South American country, for a final mission. They carry with them a hostage, a Swedish scientist who has no idea where he is, and he tries to guess based on landscape, ethnicity and infrastructure. He guesses wrong many times until the night comes and the sky reveals the location: he is in the south, the far south. The stars were the same, but backwards. Backwards, as his stars are the ones he can see from home. Until he finds a constellation that only we have, the southern cross. He sees it there for the first time. The stars look suspiciously bright, just as they look in Hugo Santiago’s El cielo del centauro. My partner had the idea that what happens to the scientist in front of the stars is the exact opposite of what happens to James Dean’s character in Rebel without a cause. I wonder if this has something to do with living looking at the outside or at the inside. The chapter opens with a quote from Nerval: The Universe is in the night. And it is, as most of the episode happens in one night of memories. There is infinite time for memories in the night, memories or stories. That time is invisible from the outside, and the film materializes it by calling it the universe. The operation from which this becomes the universe is by narrating: the thought and memories become a voice over spoken by the Llinas’, Mariano and Veronica.

After watching this episode it was the time to go outside, as in Spain we can leave the house four hours in the early day and three between sunset and night. I went to the beach next to my house with every other living soul here between the ages of 14 and 69, and I walked by the sea as it was getting dark. As the nightfall came, I found the colors unfamiliar. I wondered if this was an effect of confinement, as I haven’t been in the presence of dusk by the sea for two months. Was it an abnormal sunset? Was this the way it always was when the sky was clear? The shades of color went from orange to blue, and it changed by the minute. Some of them existed in the sky and others were reflected, the reflections had infinitely more colors than the sky, as that depended on movement. The waves moved, and so did the reflection in the wet sand as I was moving through it. I turned my head and I saw that all the windows were doing the same, all facing different directions and creating different lights and colors, a sunset facing the sunset. Even the ever-present mist was reflecting the light, making everything a little more green. I could also imagine the river, behind the rocks nearby, reflecting, and its rocks, shiny and covered with moss, revitalized moss from the lack of life around it. The dogs now carry lights in their collars (I don’t know if they did before), which are also reflected by everything. All of this was new. But I had seen the sun setting in the ocean the day before.

I don’t remember if La Flor has this quote by Rimbaud, I have the feeling it does: La vraie vie est ailleurs. True life is elsewhere. I think this quote is fake, and the real one is La vrai vie est absente. Truel life is absent. I left the beach as the police came down to make themselves visible, the daily reminder that freedom is not there.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Patrick: I thought about what it might mean to leave a house. First of all, as we can for example see in many Japanese films, not everybody is allowed or expected to leave a house. There are those that wait at home, that work at home. In Japanese films (and not only in them) it’s mostly women.

Sometimes it’s also children. I think in American English one says “to be grounded“. In German we use the same word as for a prisoner who has to stay at home, house arrest.

At other times people have to leave their house. Recently, I rewatched Robert Aldrich’s Ulzana’s Raid and the film has a couple of scenes in which people have to decide whether they leave their house or not. First, it is a question of precaution. Should we stay and face the storm or should we escape? It’s the men who stay in this case and it is the men who die. In one scene a man is trapped in his own house. The attackers come closer and closer, climb on his roof, burn everything. Suddenly they disappear. Everything is quiet. Are they gone? The man inside looks outside. He knows it could be a trap. If he leaves the house they could wait for him outside. He still goes…

In one of the many beautiful sequences in Maurice Pialat’s La maison des bois we can see how people had to move out of their homes during World War I. They pack everything on wooden carts, drag their animals along behind them and try to ignore the sound of bombs in the distance. After a while they are allowed to return, to go home. The series is concerned a lot with the act of leaving a house. It’s also about moving out, moving on. It shows that whoever stays inside is left alone. It’s mostly the parents, those who built the house, that do not leave.

How can you leave a house? I always thought Chaplin has some genuine ways of leaving houses. He might fall or just jump out of a window, for example. Maybe you remember the opening minutes of The Gold Rush as strongly as I do. There is a sequence which is heavily concerned with the need of not leaving the house. Outside are dangers and there is a blizzard. What Chaplin shows here among other things is that it can be very funny if you try to stay inside. There has been some literature, some theatre and some films (Buñuel again) concerned with the idea of not being able to leave a house. Yet, when it comes to trying to stay inside, Chaplin is at the same time the most surreal and real.

We learn a lot about leaving a house when we look at people who don’t leave a house, I think. In many films of Chantal Akerman people (or herself) are not leaving houses. When I see her work I sometimes wonder what is outside. In her No Home Movie she films a sort of nightmare when she wakes up and runs to the balcony to look outside. She doesn’t leave, she just looks. What would it mean to leave? I also think some people never leave a house. It’s like a snail shell which in German we call a snail house. What does it mean to never leave a house?

These ideas of portable homes, houses on wheels, they are horrible, aren’t they? They are like tourism. They remind me of people travelling around the world always searching for food they know. Either you want a life on the road or you stay at home.

Leaving a house opens the possibility of a return. A return to where we belong? I am inclined to deny but then I remember a poem by Paul Celan:

Mit wechselndem Schlüssel

schließt du das Haus auf, darin

der Schnee des Verschwiegenen treibt.

Je nach dem Blut, das dir quillt

aus Aug oder Mund oder Ohr,

wechselt dein Schlüssel.

 

Wechselt dein Schlüssel, wechselt das Wort,

das treiben darf mit den Flocken.

Je nach dem Wind, der dich fortstößt,

ballt um das Wort sich der Schnee.

(With a changing key,

you unlock the house where

the snow of what’s silenced drifts.

Just like the blood that bursts from

Your eye or mouth or ear,

so your key changes.

 

Changing your key changes the word

That may drift with flakes.

Just like the wind that rebuffs you,

Clenched round your word is the snow.)

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Lucía: As a woman I was raised to leave the house as much as possible both by my mother and my grandmother. So as we are now allowed to leave the house at a certain time, I have left it every day. But as if this was unwise to do, it started raining only during the hours we were allowed outside. It stopped raining at 10 am, the morning curfew, and started raining again at 8 pm, the start of the evening exercise hours. Are the adults grounded by the clouds? The children can go outside, as it never rains during the hours they are allowed to be, the hours in-between. So naturally I hate children right now, out of pure envy, but the images of those two boys you sent (they are the boys from Good Morning, right?) has softened me a little. Who else can you share a good fart joke with? Ozu and his children.

There’s that other Ozu child, stripped from a home until taken by a half-good-hearted lady who takes him home and then can’t stand him (he is quite annoying) in Record of a Tenement Gentleman. There’s a scene in which the poor boy, scared and clueless, has to take his mattress outside because he wet the bed. As he stands outside next to the stained piece of cloth, humiliated, he sees the furious lady and starts fanning the thing as hard as he can. One collateral damage produced by the lockdown that I hadn’t thought about yet, all the small humiliations children have to go through in order to grow up, which they usually try to hide from their parents as much as possible. Now, with the whole family secluded together, this must be impossible. I cannot imagine how horrifying it must be to have your first period with your whole family in the house, all day, every day, no place for secrets to keep to yourself.

It is terrifying, not being able to leave the house, but I get it when people don’t want to leave. This is quite different. I have been haunted by Ozu’s Late Spring these past few weeks. A woman who refuses to leave her father in order to be married. This is 1949, so she has a few points. Why leave the house to go to something unknown, if the unknown could be horrific? Why grow up at all, once all the childhood humiliations are done with? Why acquire the ones from adulthood? Noriko (Setsuko Hara) is quite happy when she leaves the house, because she will always come back soon. There can be beautiful bike rides with handsome friends, and endless sleepovers with chatty cousins, but the house and the father will stay where they are. In the film, once marriage comes as an inevitable possibility, even the outside becomes a nightmare.

While this whole virus happened I learned that one of the most beautiful theaters in Los Ángeles, the Bing Theater at LACMA, was finally demolished, as part of a project to redesign the whole museum. The last screening held there took place on June 27th of last year. The film was Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon. Unlike Noriko, Michiko’s fear is that she will not be able to leave the house, as the men around her have been sloppy towards the marriage business, perhaps too much on their own benefit. It was a sad event, as the theater one of the most beautiful I have seen, especially when full (which still happened often if they were showing a 35mm print) with its 600 seats, magnificent red curtain, wooden walls and seigniorial restrooms, with a room for nose-powdering and other majestic activities. Also, one of the few places you could see a movie without having to pay a fortune. People stood there a long time taking pictures of the theater in which they had found a partner for their cinephilia. After the screening a friend and I went to a familiar bar nearby, to have a few drinks as if, after the wedding, the daughters would also go to a bar to say goodbye to that relationship which will never be the same, as they don’t share the same home anymore.

One last Ozu memory for the day: once I went to a Benshi show. One of the films they were showing was Ozu’s Dragnet Girl. I don’t know if the annoying quality of the show was historically accurate, but under the constant screaming I could see that Dragnet Girl was a gangster film very different from the usual pre-code/pre-noir, the American ones. At the end of the film, while chased by the police, the girl (Kinuyo Tanaka) shoots her lover in order to make him slower for her and the police to catch them. A few years in jail would be better than a life running away, she says. As of tomorrow, the Spanish basque country is going into stage 1 of the post-lockdown plan. We’ll see if she was right. But in the meantime, it’s still pouring rain.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Patrick: It’s true that the images of children I sent you are from Ozu’s Good Morning. I’ve always had a difficult relation to the art of the fart joke. The sounds provoked by whoopee cushions or naughty mouths have disturbed me as a child. These fake fart sounds made me nervous. Maybe this has to do with my observation that the art of blaming, whose fart was causing smells inside class rooms, would never stop…and I was right since still everyone is blaming everybody for farts that he or she did or didn’t commit. It’s just such a tricky thing, a fart. One can hear or smell it but never see it (except for some dangerous experiments). On the other hand, the art of farting is a rich and healthy one and we should not have false morals and a red cheeked catholic upbringing (the one with a lot of shame involved) stand in our way.

As the lockdown has ended where I am (where am I?) nothing changes. A few years in chail are still better than a life running away. It’s just that a life in jail might not be better than a few years of running away. So, inspired by your beautiful screenshot of Late Spring’s bicycles, I took my bike and tried to cycle up a mountain (since the country I happen to be in has no sea). It’s a mountain which is not made for bikes. But since it was my goal to ride my bike on a cloud (just like the ones we were writing about)  I had to take it up. My intention was clear: cumulus instead of corona. At first it went pretty well. l cycled on steep roads through a forest. There was still a lot of wild garlic which caused a rather curious sensation in my nose and movements in my body that brought me in close proximities with the art of the fart. Afterwards I cycled across a beautiful green meadow on which some cows (rather hungry I must say) digested the first grass of spring. I must say that these cows didn’t give a flying fuck concerning social distancing. They were constantly bashing their faces with their nervous tails, full of flies, some were cuddling. I love cows. Then came another steep forest and a passage through some pine trees. It was horrible to go there with a bike, the thorny trees were (sorry for that) a pine in the ass. Sometimes I had to carry my bike over some rock or abyss but since I descend from the family of a bike seller, I know how to carry bikes (more so than riding them actually). In Ozu’s films there are all these bicycles. People move so casually with them. They are beautiful. If you see people on bicycles outside of cities nowadays, many seem to think that they have to wear special and rather ridiculous clothes. Some look like the bike could suddenly catch fire or the wind might bring deadly nails with it. Well, maybe they are not more stupid than me who thought he can ride on the clouds. I had a beautiful time riding on the mountain crest. There still was some snow but also a lot of rare flowers and even a bird which sings like an alarm system called goatsucker spit on my head. It’s called like that because Pliny the Elder, in a strange phase of his life possibly (who can blame him?), thought that this bird actually drinks the milk of goats. I love goats.

Arriving at the top I had to accept that the clouds were still too distant. I sat there and only took one picture documenting my longing.

to be continued…

SOPHIA DE MELLO BREYNER ANDRESEN von João César Monteiro

von Patrick Holzapfel

Die Bilder fließen über, flüchtig,
und wir stehn nackt vor allem, was lebendig ist.
Kann irgendeine Gegenwart
das Drängen in uns stillen, das unendliche,
Alles zu sein, zu blühn in jeder Blume?

Schlicht Sophia nennen sie in Portugal eine ihrer großen Mutterstimmen, die Dichterin Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen. Ihr Werk erstreckt sich in erstaunlicher Konkretheit wie Fühler zwischen Lebendigkeit und Vergänglichkeit. Bei João César Monteiro würde niemand auf die Idee kommen, nur seinen Vornamen zu nennen. Zu ausgewählt und unberechenbar sein Auftreten, zu gefährlich und provokativ sein Kino. Beide treffen sich jedoch in ihrem Bewusstsein für Moral und Metaphysik von Sprache sowie in ihrer Prägung durch aristokratische Erziehung, die Sophia zu einer Flucht ans Meer bewegte und Monteiro in die Gosse brachte. Vielmehr noch finden sich die beiden in einer Poesie der Wahrnehmung.

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen war der erste Kurzfilm von Monteiro, mehr oder weniger eine Auftragsarbeit. Er wurde nicht müde zu betonen, dass er keinen blassen Schimmer davon hatte, wie man einen Film machen würde. Später würde er behaupten, dass der Film ihm gezeigt hätte, dass man Gedichte nicht verfilmen könne. Sein Film beweist freilich das Gegenteil. Es ist eine Arbeit der Annäherung von Film und Sprache, Worten und Bildern. Der Versuch des Kinos Gedicht zu werden und das Austarieren einer Bildwerdung poetischer Sprache.

Portraits von Autoren erfreuten sich bereits im frühen Kino großer Beliebtheit. Zum Beispiel gibt es im skandinavischen Kino frühe Aufnahmen von Selma Lagerlöf oder Gerhart Hauptmann. Dabei stellt sich seit jeher die Frage wie man die Arbeit oder das Sein Schreibender in Bildern festhalten kann. Ein häufiges Motiv dieser Filme ist der Schreibtisch und an einem solchen beginnt auch Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen. Jedoch – und hier begeht dieser Filmemacher unzähliger Skandale einen ersten, beinahe unauffälligen Affront – sitzt Sophia nicht nur dort, sie schreibt, sie arbeitet. Es ist ein heiliger Akt, den Monteiro da filmt. Man kann sich durchaus fragen, ob man diesen Akt des Schreibens, des Denkens so wirklich filmen kann und soll. Später wird er gar das beschriebene Blatt Papier in einer Nahaufnahme zeigen. Wozu diese Nähe, wozu diese Intimität? Womöglich ist sie bereits ein erster Spiegel auf das Schreiben der Sophia, ein Ergebnis ihrer eigenen Direktheit.

Im Vordergrund also die Poetin an einem Tisch. Wie es sich beim Schreiben gehört, gibt es auf dem Tisch nur Früchte und Papier. In einer späteren Einstellung noch eine Zigarette. Viel wichtiger aber für das Bild und die Poetin ist das Fenster im Hintergrund. Es lässt einen Blick aufs Meer zu, ein Segelboot erscheint wie erträumt am Horizont. Dieses Fenster erscheint beinahe abstrakt, wie die Inspiration selbst. Ist sie filmbar?

In der Folge unterschiedliche, und in ihrer Nähe zur Dichterin, doch homogene Ansätze einer filmischen Annäherung an die Poesie: zum einen Gedichte als Text im Bild. Gleich zu Beginn konfrontiert uns Monteiro, in dessen Werk Sprache und Literatur immer eine überragende Rolle spielte – man denke nur an seine Robert-Walser-Verfilmung Branca de Neve – mit einem Gedicht von Jorge de Sena. Zum anderen Bilder, die man beinahe als Visualisierung der Gedichte von Sophia verstehen könnte, obwohl es sich gleichzeitig um dokumentarische Aufnahmen von ihrer Familie beim Baden handelt. Ein Bootsausflug untermalt mit klassischer Musik, immer wieder das Meer, die Felsen, Reflektionen des Wassers auf den Felsen, ein Tauchgang. Später hören wir dann gar ein Gedicht von Sophia aus dem Off zu diesen Bildern. In ihrem Gedicht Biographie schreibt Sophia: „Ich habe mich gesucht im Licht, im Meer, im Wind.“ Wer sich im Licht sucht, möchte man meinen, ist im Kino. Immer wieder kehrt Monteiro zu den Motiven der Poetin zurück: Das Meer, der Strand, am Himmel kreisende Vögel. Er zeigt nicht nur diese Bilder, er wiederholt sie auch, lässt sie wiederkehren, arbeitet letztendlich in der Montage mit sprachlichen Mitteln.

Die Kinowerdung der Sophia bei Monteiro setzt sich fort im Akt des Lesens. Sophia, die auch für ihre Kindererzählungen berühmt ist, liest einem ihrer Söhne vor. Sie liest vom Meer, einer Beziehung zum Meer. Monteiros Kamera ruckelt immer wieder leicht. Man bemerkt das Amateurhafte, das er in einem Text zum Film (etymologisch korrekt) mit Liebe übersetzte.

Der Sohn ermahnt Sophia nach dem Vorlesen. Sie solle nicht so aufgesetzt lesen, lieber natürlicher. Die Natürlichkeit hängt für Sophia an etwas anderem. Sie sagt, dass es ihr in der Poesie um eine Beziehung zur Realität gehe. Sie entdecke diese Präsenz des Realen in einer Frucht. Ganz ohne Fantasie, ganz ohne Imagination. Monteiro nimmt diese Definition der Poesie mit seinem Kino auf. Plötzlich sehen wir beobachtende Bilder von der Straße. Er filmt nicht einfach die Worte von Sophia, er versucht sie in das Kino zu übersetzen. Seine ganz eigene Hinwendung zur Realität. Immer mehr löst sich der Film in seiner Montage vor uns auf. Monteiro wirft uns in ein Meer aus gleichzeitigen Worten und Eindrücken. Dort, wo Sophia in ihren Gedichten eine Verbindung mit den Dingen beschwört, sucht sie Monteiro zwischen Bildern und Worten. Das liegt letztlich auch daran, dass er in seinem ersten Film beweisen will, dass er weiß, was das Kino ist.

Er gibt Sophia Raum für die Philosophie ihrer Poesie. Sie spricht darüber, dass die Poesie eine Moral wäre, es gehe um die Suche nach Gerechtigkeit. Die Würde des Seins, das Überleben als Tier und die Suche nach Freiheit seien Themen der Poesie. Sie suche nach einer Nacktheit und absoluter Gegenwärtigkeit vor dem Leben. Dazu gehört auch, alles so anzusehen, als würde man es das erste Mal sehen. In den Worten des großen japanischen Filmemachers Kenji Mizoguchi, als würde man sich vor jeder neuen Einstellung die Augen waschen. Die Gedanken zur Poesie werden im Film zu Gedanken über die Wahrnehmung und dadurch auch zu Gedanken über das Kino.

Dieser Ruf nach Direktheit und Realität wird im Kino von Monteiro zu einer Art Verunreinigung der Kraft der Sprache. Denn Sophia sagt ihre Sätze nicht im luftleeren Raum oder auf einem Blatt Papier. Ihre Kinder versammeln sich um sie, korrigieren sie, machen Scherze. Schließich lässt der Filmemacher den Nachwuchs auch etwas über die Mutter erzählen. Dadurch wird Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen auch ein Film über die Liebe einer Mutter, und zeigt darüber hinaus, was eine Hinwendung zur Realität für Film bedeuten kann. So schwimmt Monteiro mit seinem Portrait im Herzen des Lebens und jenseits des Lebens bis Sophia am Ende ihren Namen schreibt. Ein Name, der zum Titel, zum Film, zur Sprache des Films wird. Eine Sprache, die beständig daran scheitert Poesie zu werden, weil die Nacktheit vor dem Leben im Schreiben eine andere ist als im Filmen.

Schattenfresser: Jaime von António Reis

Jaime von António Reis

Zum ersten Mal auf 35mm gesehen im Rahmen des Underdox Filmfestivals in München; einer der wenigen Filme, die nicht besser werden können durch das Darüber-Schreiben, man kann eigentlich nur schweigen, verarbeiten und wieder sehen. Ein Film, der einen verfolgt und in Beunruhigung nicht schlafen lässt.

Jaime ist einer von sechs Filmen, die der Poet und Filmlehrer António Reis realisiert hat. In den meisten Fällen und in Jaime zum ersten Mal entstanden die Arbeiten in enger Zusammenarbeit mit seiner Lebensgefährtin Margarida Cordeiro. Sie arbeitete auch als Psychiaterin und in diesem Beruf kam sie mit dem Leben und Werk des Landarbeiters Jaime Fernandes und in der Folge auch mit António Reis in Verbindung. Fernandes war über 38 Jahre Insasse einer psychiatrischen Klinik in Lissabon. Dort fertigte er in den letzten drei Jahren seines Lebens zig außergewöhnliche, berührende, verstörende und wunderschöne Zeichnungen an. Der Film arbeitet wie ein Porträt des verstorbenen Künstlers, darf aber nicht mit einem solchen verwechselt werden. Statt einer Bloßstellung oder Romantisierung erleben wir die Kunst einer Annäherung, die verstehen will. Statt einer naheliegenden Erzählung von der Engführung einer psychischen Krankheit und schöpferischer Kraft, wählt Jaime die Poesie einer Einsamkeit in der Entstehung von Kunst. Statt dem Zeigen von kranken Menschen löst er die Dichotomie zwischen krank und gesund auf.

Jaime von António Reis

Wie macht man ein solches Leben spürbar? Fernandes litt an Paranoider Schizophrenie und begann nach seinem 60. Geburtstag Bilder zu malen mit einfachen Stiften oder Streichhölzern, die er in Quecksilber eintunkte. Diese wurden später in bedeutenden Orten in Portugal ausgestellt. Reis zeigt mit Ausnahme einer von der Zeit angefressenen Fotografie aus den Internatstagen des Protagonisten zu Beginn und am Ende des Films kein Bild von Fernandes, er versucht nichts zu repräsentieren oder nachzuerzählen. Es gibt keine Gespräche mit Menschen, die sich an Fernandes erinnern. Stattdessen hört er auf die Schatten zwischen den Bildern, die sich von selbst erinnern, lässt Ton und Bild in dissonanten Harmonien auseinander gleiten, traumwandelt durch Fragmente der Bilder und Aufzeichnungen von Fernandes. Er filmt das, was noch da ist, was überlebt und bleibt. Ein materialistischer Ansatz, der ganz offenbar auf etwas aus ist, was nicht materialistisch ist: Wahnsinn und Schönheit; etwas das immer da war, aber so „als würde die Zeit nicht existieren“, wie Manoel de Oliveira, an dessen Acto da Primavera Reis als Assistent arbeitete, es einmal formulierte.

Gleich zu Beginn erscheint die Psychiatrie wie ein Gefängnis. Ein stiller Horror eingesperrter Sehnsüchte, man könnte an Jean Genet denken, nur dass die Provokation von Jaime nicht sexuell sondern humanistisch ist. Schatten lungern an den vertrockneten Wänden im Hof, die Insassen befinden sich in einer Kreisform, die Michel Foucault in Ekstase versetzt hätte. João César Monteiro griff diese Bilder zu Beginn von Jaime in seinem Recordações da Casa Amarela wieder auf. Die Endlosigkeit manifestiert sich hier bereits in einer Ausweglosigkeit. Die Schnitte zwischen den Bildern erscheinen ungemein sanft und vorsichtig. Gleich zu Beginn blicken wir durch einen Cache wie durch ein Schlüsselloch in den Hof der Psychiatrie. Aus den Notizen von Fernandes wurde vorher mit gleicher Strategie ein Zitat entnommen. Ein Cache stellt ein Zitat heraus. Dieser Vorgang wiederholt sich durch den ganzen Film. Man liest hervorgehobene Sätze aus dem Notizbuch: „Jaime ist hier bereits achtmal gestorben.“. Dieser Cache steht zum einen für die Neugier der Filmemacher. Sie nähern sich an, blicken auf das, was von Fernandes bleibt (Bilder, Notizen, Orte, Gedanken; wie die verlorenen Steine, die ein Junge gesammelt hat bevor er verschwand) wie durch eine Lupe, treffen eine Auswahl. Zum andere aber steht er für all das, was sie nicht filmen oder sehen können. Er steht für die Moral einer solchen Annäherung; die Distanz, die man weiterhin wahren muss. Aus dem Off dringen manchmal Stimmen. Sie gehören der klagenden, nach ihrem Mann rufenden Witwe von Fernandes und einem befreundeten Insassen. Niemals würde sich Jaime erlauben etwas über seinen abwesenden Protagonisten zu sagen. In keiner Sekunde des Films vergisst man, dass es eine Distanz zwischen den Blickenden und dem Verstorbenen gibt. In ihrem Film Ana trieben Cordeiro und Reis diese Ethik der poetisch-anthropologischen Annäherung auf eine beeindruckende Spitze. Es geht hier nicht darum, eine Freakshow zu zelebrieren. Vielmehr vermag das Kino zu ehren wie man Menschen ansehen könnte. In einem wunderbaren Interview mit João César Monteiro spricht Reis über seine ersten Erfahrungen mit dem Kino. Er erzählt von der Suche nach einem strategischem Punkt für die Camcorder beim Filmen einer öffentlichen Veranstaltung im Rahmen einer Gruppenarbeit in einem jungen Filmclub in Porto. Dabei betont er die geographische Vermessung und die Wichtigkeit des Nicht-Störens der Öffentlichkeit.

Diese Ethik, die durchaus vergleichbar ist mit jener von Danièle Huillet und Jean-Marie Straub, hat etwas Strenges an sich, etwas Einschüchterndes. Ihr Problem ist nur, dass ihre härtesten Vertreter nichts anders neben sich akzeptieren. So und nicht anders, sagen sie. Die Idee eines einzigen Punktes, von dem aus man ein gerechtes Bild eines Menschen machen könnte, ist verführend. Ist sie aber auch richtig? Es lässt sich wohl mit Sicherheit sagen, dass ein solcher Punkt nicht willkürlich gewählt werden darf. Allerdings scheint mir dieser Punkt im gleichen Maße an den Filmenden zu hängen wie an den Gefilmten. Will heißen, dass es dabei um eine Relation geht, die keinen einen fairen Punkt zulässt, sondern eine unendliche Anzahl an möglichen Gerechtigkeiten. Allerdings nur eine für die Relation zwischen diesem individuellen Filmenden und seinen Protagonisten in ihrer jeweiligen Zeit und vor den jeweiligen Umständen. Das große, an dieser Stelle immer genannte Beispiel ist die Kamerafahrt in Kapò von Gillo Pontecorvo. Jacques Rivette, der das Kino von Cordeiro und Reis sehr schätzte, hatte sich in einem Text für die Cahiers du Cinéma Nr. 120, der seither von Anhängern und Skeptikern gleichermaßen missbraucht wurde, gegen eine Zufahrt auf das Gesicht von Emmanuelle Riva ausgesprochen. Ohne auf die Details eingehen zu wollen, ging es ihm vereinfacht um die Ungerechtigkeit dieser Einstellung. Etwas zwischen Filmenden und seinem Subjekt war für Rivette über eine moralische Grenze getreten. Entscheidend dabei scheint mir aber nicht nur, dass Pontecorvo mit einer Kamera auf eine Schauspielerin zufuhr, die einen Selbstmord in einem Elektrozaun vorspielte, sondern dass Pontecorvo derjenige war, der dies tat. Ihn loszulösen von seiner subjektiven Position und zu behaupten, dass es eine grundsätzlich ungerechte Position gibt, auch wenn ich Rivette Recht gebe (was etwas aus der Mode geraten ist), dass diese Einstellung hochproblematisch ist, ist absurd. Diese Absurdität jedoch ist ambivalent, weil in ihrem Drang nach objektiven Wahrheiten auch ein Funken Wahrheit steckt. Luc Moullet etwa schlug einige Jahre früher bereits vor, dass Moral eine Sache der Kamerafahrten wäre. Tatsächlich spiegeln sich in Kamerabewegungen Modi der Annäherung und Distanz. Entscheidet man sich etwas näher anzusehen oder nicht? Auch existiert ein großer Unterschied, ob man in eine Nahaufnahme schneidet oder in sie fährt.

Jaime von António Reis

Die Distanz aus der Reis die Insassen zu Beginn des Films beobachtet, mit leichten Schwenks, nie näher kommend, nur registrierend, erzählt tatsächlich von einer enormen Vorsicht. Die Schatten im Hof schützen die Menschen vor der Neugier der Kamera. Vergleicht man diese Bilder zum Beispiel mit jenen von Raymond Depardons San Clemente spürt man einen enormen Unterschied. Depardon wirft sich mitten hinein in die Welt eines Irrenhauses. Jedoch ist sein Ansatz ethisch auf keinen Fall verfehlt. Es kann ja nicht darum gehen, dass man keine Bilder machen darf von etwas. In den vielen Streitereien zwischen Jean-Luc Godard und Claude Lanzmann ging es oft genau darum. Was darf man filmen und was darf man nicht filmen bezüglich des Holocausts? Godard hielt daran fest, dass man niemanden verbieten sollte, etwas zu filmen. Ruth Beckermann sagt in ihrem Voice-Over in Die papierene Brücke, dass man manche Dinge besser nicht filme, weil sie dann Erinnerung blieben. Ein Film wie Saul fia von László Nemes kennt gar keine Skrupel und glaubt, dass er filmisch die Erfahrung eines Konzentrationslagers wiedergeben kann. Allerdings ist eine der wenigen wichtigen Rollen, die das Kino in dieser bilderüberfluteten Zeit noch einnehmen kann, jene, die den Umgang mit Bildern bewusst macht, lehrt und ihm Gewicht verleiht. Eine Ethik im Umgang mit Bildern ist angebracht und notwendig. Ein Kino, das den blinden Durst nach Bildern frönt, hat keine Bedeutung. Ganz anders ist es bei Cordeiro und Reis, die auch deshalb so relevant heute sind. Für Reis war es in der Poesie und auch im Kino immer wichtig, nur das zu sagen und zu zeigen, was wirklich notwendig ist. Die Dialoge, die er für Paulo Rochas Mudar de Vida schrieb, erzählen von dieser Sparsamkeit, die zur Essenz dringen möchte und sich offen hält, zuzuhören.

Jaime baut Kontrapunkte zwischen Bild und Musik (Stockhausen,Telemann und Louis Armstrongs St. James Infirmary Blues). Es kommt zu überraschenden Verschmelzungen der Lebensumstände des Verstorbenen mit dem Kino, der Zeichnungen mit einer surrealistischen Vision der Welt, des Lebens mit dem Versuch es in Bildern zu beschreiben, von Wahnsinn und Schönheit. In gleicher Weise arbeitet auch die Tonebene, die wie ein Ruf aus dem ländlichen Ursprung von Fernandes von Wind und Wasser erzählt. Man spürt wie sich eine Narbe öffnet, die man nicht mehr schließen kann. Was wir sehen, sind die Wunden, die geblieben sind. Wir sehen sie im Fließen des Wassers des Flusses Zêzere in der Heimat von Fernandes, sicherlich ein Bild des Lebens, aber so fern durch die ausgetrockneten Kakteen vor der Psychiatrie. Fernandes wuchs am Fluss auf, fischte viel. Diese Aspekte werden nicht erwähnt vom Film, aber man kann sie später in seinen Bildern sehen: Das Fließen, den Strudel. Wir sehen Menschen, die gleich Skulpturen auf ihre Erlösung warten (Reis arbeitete auch als Skulpteur). Immer wieder Gegensätze wie jenes von Gittern und einer Katze, die einfach durch sie hindurchgeht. Ebenso plötzliche surreale, metaphysische Bilder wie das eines Regenschirms unter dem Getreidekörner liegen oder von drei Äpfeln, die golden glänzend von der Decke baumeln. Die Montage folgt nicht einem kausalem und schon gar nicht einem temporalen Prinzip. Man könnte von einer Aufzählung der Dinge sprechen, dem beinahe tragischen Versuch etwas zu verstehen durch das Sehen. Es ist auch der Versuch die Bilder von ihrer Banalität gegenüber komplexen Vorgängen zu befreien. Bilder treten wie Worte in Gedichten in einen größeren mythologischen Zusammenhang. Die allgegenwärtige Angst vor der kinematographischen Metapher ist Reis unbekannt. Er dynamisiert seine filmischen Räume mit Bedeutungen. Erstaunlicherweise entsteht dadurch der Eindruck eines biographischen, in Ansätzen gar psychologischen Mosaiks. Reis selbst wehrte sich gegen solche Begriffe. Für ihn waren es Erinnerungen, nicht Dokumentationen. Auf diese Weise dokumentiert er Erinnerungen.

Jaime von António Reis

Woraus entstehen diese Bilder? Jene von Fernandes und jene des Films? Die Bilder beginnen die Welt zu bevölkern. Dämonen und Mischwesen sind darauf zu sehen, ihre starrenden Gesichter existieren mit einem Mal nicht in einem Vakuum, sondern im direkten Dialog mit der Welt, in der Fernandes lebte, in der Reis es später tat und in der wir es heute tun können. So filmt er zum Beispiel eine Ziege. Fernandes arbeitete als Ziegenhirte. Diese Ziege ist eingesperrt in einem dunklen Raum, wirkt etwas verloren. Sie beginnt ihren eigenen Schatten zu fressen. Monteiro bezeichnet sie in besagtem Interview, in gewohnt provokanter Manier, als die schönste Schauspielerin des portugiesischen Kinos. Reis selbst äußerte, dass die Menschen, die wir im Film sehen, jene, die geblieben sind, auch jene sind, die Fernandes malte. Das System von Reis knabbert an den Grenzen der Wahrnehmung. Die getrennten Bereiche zwischen scheinbar entgegensetzten Phänomenen wie eben Schönheit und Wahnsinn, aber auch Abstraktion und Natur werden durch die Gleichzeitigkeit von einer materialistischen Bildabfolge und einem beständigen Gegeneinander von Bild und Ton verknüpft. In dieser Hinsicht wird Jaime zu einem der größten Filme über Kunst und wie sie entsteht. Reis sammelt akribisch alles, was in ein Kunstwerk einfließen kann. Es ging ihm auch darum, die Kunstwerke selbst zu sammeln, da viele der Bilder von Fernandes zerstört wurden. Jeder Faden wird demütig aufgehoben und in feinsten Bewegungen präsentiert. So existieren die Bilder in der Natur, die Natur im Menschen und all das im Raum einer spürbaren Ungerechtigkeit und Einsamkeit.

Nach der Arbeit an diesem Film machten sich Cordeiro und Reis auf ihre für das portugiesische Kino von heute so entscheidende Hymne an die Vertriebenen, Trás-os-Montes zu realisieren. Ein Film, der wie ein schnell verloren gegangenes Gewissen der Nelkenrevolution den Blick abwendet von der intellektuellen Elite und stattdessen die Kehrseite ästhetischen Wohlstands beleuchtet in einer der ärmsten Regionen Europas. Jaime lässt sich in dieser Hinsicht als erster Klageruf verstehen. Aus den Tiefen einer als wahnsinnig erklärten Seele hört man Stimmen rufen und sie sind nicht einverstanden. Sie sind nicht einverstanden und machen einen anständigen Film.

Viennale 2017: Unsere hohen Lichter

Patrick Holzapfel

Vai e Vem

Das vom Moos überwucherte Haus von Percy Smith, in dem der britische Dokumentarist und Filmpionier sich mit Pflanzen und Tieren umgab, um Erziehungsfilme zu realisieren, um zu forschen, allein mit seiner Leidenschaft zu arbeiten, ist nicht nur die Grundlage für die musikalischen Abstraktionen des schönen Minute Bodies: The Intimate World Of F. Percy Smith von Stuart A. Staples, sondern auch ein Bild für das Haus von Hans Hurch, die Viennale, die möglicherweise abrissbereit, möglicherweise renovierungsbedürftig, als Denkmal, als pure Gegenwärtigkeit oder als Erinnerung in Wien zur Begehung einer trauernden, ignoranten oder in die Zukunft blickenden Gemeinde aufgesucht wurde. Es war wie erwartet schwer, die Härte und gefährlich weit ins politisch Manipulative sowie unterdrückend Dominante reichende Präsenz des verstorbenen Festivaldirektors mit der Zärtlichkeit, Liebe fürs Kino und Traurigkeit zu verbinden, die sein Fehlen im Kino auslösen muss. Denn diese verschiedene Stränge eines Widerstands im Festivalbetrieb vereinte Herr Hurch wie kein Zweiter.

Die Viennale 2017, ein Haus aus Moos. Manche brachte Geschenke, die sanft von Trennungen erzählten (Vai-e-Vem, The Big Sky), andere zeigten, wo Herr Hurch ihnen die Augen öffnete und andere fragten sich, ob Festivals wirklich einen Geist besitzen, ob in ihnen das Leben eines Kurators fortbesteht oder ob das eine romantische Idee ist, die von den Realitäten der Kinomaschine und der fortschreitenden Zeit hinweggespült wird. Man muss nur auf die Cahiers du Cinéma heute blicken, um nicht an diese Geister zu glauben. Die diesjährige Viennale war wie eine langgezogene Kurve um einen Friedhof herum. Man hat viel Zeit, in andere Richtungen zu blicken, aber man spürt jederzeit eine Gravitation, die auch ein Versprechen sein könnte, aber vor allem eine Frage: Was jetzt? Eine der wichtigsten Prinzipien der filmkuratorischen Arbeit in Wien ist immer schon die persönliche Handschrift des Kurators. Das diesjährige Festival war wie ein Manifest dafür, weil sie sich unrealisiert realisieren musste, weil niemand mehr den Stift halten konnte, mit dem geschrieben wurde. Im Kino jedoch verschwindet alles hinter der Gegenwärtigkeit der Filme. Und diese gilt es zu würdigen, wenn sie es verdient haben. Dann gibt es Geister.

Texte:
Barbara von Mathieu Amalric
La nuit où j'ai nagé von Kohei Igarashi & Damien Manivel
Western von Valeska Grisebach
On the Beach at Night Alone von Hong Sang-soo
Farpões, Baldios von Marta Mateus
Țara moartă von Radu Jude
A fábrica de nada von Pedro Pinho
Abschied von den Eltern von Astrid Johanna Ofner
Nothingwood von Sonia Kronlund
Becoming Cary Grant von Mark Kidel
Ex Libris: New York Public Library von Frederick Wiseman

Rainer Kienböck

Antigone

Jeweils in alphabetischer Reihenfolge.

Favoriten

von Johann Lurf (Rainers Text)

12 Jours von Raymond Depardon

Antigone von Jean-Marie Straub und Danièle Huillet

Barbara von Mathieu Amalric

Cosmic Ray von Bruce Conner

Dillinger è morto von Marco Ferreri

Ex Libris von Frederick Wiseman

Urgences von Raymond Depardon

Vai-e-vem von João César Monteiro

Filmliebe

A Movie von Bruce Conner

Beregis‘ avtomobilja von Ėl’dar Rjazanov

Farpões Baldios von Marta Mateus

Jeannette, l’enfance de Jeanne d’Arc von Bruno Dumont (Rainers Text)

Karnaval’naja noč‘ von Ėl’dar Rjazanov

L’Amant d’un jour von Philippe Garrel

La nuit où j’ai nagé von Damien Manivel und Kohei Igarashi

Licht von Barbara Albert (Rainers Text)

Mongoloid von Bruce Conner

Phantom Ride Phantom von Siegfried A. Fruhauf

Šestaja čast‘ mira von Dziga Vertov

Ta peau si lisse von Denis Côté (Rainers Text)

Țara moartă von Radu Jude

The Big Sky von Howard Hawks

Geu-hu von Hong Sang-soo

Vremja, vpered von Michail Švejcer und Sof’ja Mil’kina

Weitere Texte
L'Atelier von Laurent Cantet
Golden Exits von Alex Ross Perry

Andrey Arnold

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Einige Texte

Zur Retrospektive im Österreichischen Filmmuseum
Interview mit Barbara Albert
Good Time von Ben und Josh Safdie
Zum Besuch von Christoph Waltz

Ivana Miloš

der

San ClementeUrgences12 Jours (Raymond Depardon)
Watching people light up in hidden places, remembering them though we’ve never met, moving through corridors step by lagging step, seeing the sky in the courtyard, only in the courtyard.

The Big Sky (Howard Hawks)
What a great big sky it in this dancer on the landscape, as the band of not-quite-brigands turned frontiersmen picks their way across branches and logs, over riverbends and fires, strung and tied together like a whiff of true companionship.

The Day After (Hong Sang-soo)
And then they fell apart, companions and lack thereof, with embarrassment worn on their sleeves, all the embarrassment of attempting, not knowing, lacking, sorely lacking the path to an embrace.

L’Amant d’un jour (Philippe Garrel)
Yes, there might have been a touch, but it was pushed against the wall and faded away, unfurled and faint, barely visible in the night walks on Parisian streets. But the lingering aftertaste of violets and freckles chases the screen away.

Ex Libris (Frederick Wiseman)
If we could look behind the scenes, we would surely land on the planet of dream libraries, its stages deployed like paintings of a utopian project, its petals open in the flattering light of the human ambition to know, together.

Quei loro incontri (Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet)
Unrooting, uncovering, unveiling, letting speak, finding a voice, finding the voice buried under moss, lychen and the green streams littered on the shores, sitting on a rock with all of sunlight on your face, opening shadows.

La nuit où j’ai nagé (Damien Manivel, Kohei Igarashi)
A wanderer with a face full of the clarity of white, all white, a lost mitten and shoulders deep in snow, a quest to deliver dream messages to those we meet among sea creatures of the deep, a mountain to cross in silence.

Barbara (Mathieu Amalric)
Sea of music carrying away, bringing into existence, awash with life and the currents of grief, all stirred into fireworks, a myriad of colors and a blister of a smile. Oh, how beautiful it is to dive in!

 

Valerie Dirk

Grace Jones

2 Fragen:

Kann man Bruno Dumonts Jeannette auch politisch lesen?

Herausgefordert wurde diese Lesart durch die penetranten Wiederholungen in den Gesängen der französischen Nationalheldin: Frankreich, Glaube, Christentum, Judentum, Kampf. Die Bewegungen dazu bestanden (unter anderen) aus exzessivem Headbangen. Das Peitschen von Frauenhaaren auf Sand. Welch Metapher, gerade jetzt.
Auf meine Frage, ob der Film, abseits der innovativen ästhetischen und formalen Spielereien, auch ein politischer Kommentar sei, reagierte Dumont ausweichend. Alles sei ambivalent: Péguy, la France, Jeanne, la foi.
Und doch, trotz ihrer ungelenken Direktheit, trotz der Gefahr, alles andere unterzuordnen, scheint mir die Frage relevant, auch wenn ich sie immer mit einer gewissen Beschämung stelle.

Is Grace Jones human, and if so, why?

Bloodlight and Bami von Sophie Fiennes arbeitet dualistisch. Zum einen sieht man perfekt inszenierte Bühnenauftritte der Musikerin, während welchen sie aliengleich und dominant das Scheinwerferlicht beherrscht; zum anderen sucht eine verwaschene Digitalkamera-Ästhetik danach, Graces Menschlichkeit zu dokumentieren: auf Jamaika im Kreise der Familie, kehlig lachend, fluchend, sich sorgend, essend (Meeresfrüchte), trinkend (Wein), badend. An einem neuem Album arbeitend. Sich schminkend, sich selbst analysierend: I’m human.

Viktor Sommerfeld

La Telenovela Errante

La Telenovela Errante von Raul Ruiz – Die Soap als Bildgefängnis

Ein Film bleibt noch lange nach meiner kurzen Viennale. Neben vielem erwartbar Guten war La Telenovela Errante von Raúl Ruiz der unerwartete Fund meiner vier vollen Tage. Zurück in Berlin, als ich Freunden Bericht erstatte, erwische ich mich immer wieder bei dem Versuch diese fremdartigen Fragmente eines unfertig gebliebenen Filmes zu beschreiben. Erst hier lese ich Wikipedia über Ruiz und werde direkt belohnt mit Ruiz über Ruiz: „Der Barock … ist eine Art zu sparen und keine Ausgabe. Man darf Barock und Rokoko nicht vermengen, sondern muss Ersteren mit einem Restaurant zur Mittagszeit vergleichen: es gibt sehr wenig Platz, man versucht so viele Leute wie möglich unterzubringen, um die größtmögliche Anzahl an Kunden zu haben.“ Diese eigenwillige und gewiss enigmatische Definition seines Barocks erhellt sich in La Telenovela Errante, welcher den Kitsch der südamerikanischen Soapbilder in mehr oder weniger zusammenhängenden Episoden schonungslos auswalzt und zeigt, wie die Bilder des zwischenmenschlichen Pathos, der schmalzigen Romanze und der raunenden Dramatik selbst aktiv werden, um die Menschen noch in den alltäglichsten Situationen zu überwältigen. Die Telenovela, das ist das Bildgefängnis, aus dem es für die sozialen Formen kein Entrinnen gibt. Bei der Suche nach einer Straße namens ‚La Concepción‘ in der gleichnamigen Episode treffen drei Männer an einer Kreuzung aufeinander. Während eines endlos kreisenden Dialog verlieren sie sich immer tiefer in den symbolischen Abgründen des Wortes ‚Concepción‘. Ausgehend von der Freundin des einen Mannes, die zufälligerweise wie die Straße heißt, tun sich immer neue Bedeutungen auf. Es gibt keinen Ausweg aus dem Netz der Verweise, in schleichender Hysterie steigert man sich immer weiter hinein in dieses wichtigste aller Gespräche, schon bald scheint Alles in diesem einen Wort bedeutet. Ruiz‘ muss keinen Widerspruch von außen einführen um die Absurdität dieser Szene zu zeigen. Er lädt einfach immer weiter generös Bedeutungen ein, gibt allen Möglichkeiten einen Tisch, bis der Laden implodiert und als leere Hülle vor uns steht. Der Barock wird hier zu klarsten Form, die sehr präzise auf die Strukturen zeigt, in denen Bilder unsere Lebenswelt gestalten. Und dafür muss man nie eine chilenische Telenovela gesehen haben.

Weiterer Text
I am not Madame Bovary von Feng Xiaogang

Heute keine Projektion: Der stille Ton

In einem Text über Jean Vigos L’Atalante hat Henri Langlois einmal festgestellt, dass es jene Filme gäbe, bei denen der Ton das Bild abflachen würde und jene, in denen der Ton dem Bild Volumen geben würde. João Bernard da Costa hat später einmal bei der Betrachtung eines anderen Wasserfilms, nämlich O Último Mergulho von João César Monteiro ergänzt, dass es eine dritte Ebene gäbe, jene der Erinnerung. In Monteiros Film wiederholt sich ein Tanz: Einmal mit Musik und einmal ohne Musik und man kann sich nicht helfen, beim zweiten Mal die Musik des ersten Mals zu hören. Großes Drama und große Poesie des Kinos: die Zeit. Und das, obwohl die Geschichte des Kinos andersherum verläuft. Von der sogenannten „Stummheit“ zum Ton. Natürlich ist es wahr, was Bresson schrieb: Der Tonfilm vermag uns Stille zu zeigen. Und nein, still waren Stummfilme nicht. Wieso aber kann man derart vieles aus dem Kino gewinnen, wenn man ihm den Ton nimmt? Wieso entfaltet sich der Ton in seiner Abstinenz, haftend an den Bildern, imaginiert, erinnert? Es ist als wären die Spuren des Tons unerhört.

In Peter Kubelkas Was-ist-Film-Zyklus gibt es im Programm 25 zwei Filme von Gregory J. Markopoulos zu sehen. Zunächst Du sang de la volupté et de la mort (Psyche, Lysis, Charmides) und dann Gammelion. Die Stille des zweiten Films spielt mit der Musik des ersten. Kubelka zeigt uns in dieser Programmierung wie Musik und Rhythmus auch und vordergründig in den Bildern und ihrer Montage hausen. Der stille Ton, immer da, weil die Abfolge von Bildern in der Zeit auch eine Musik ist. Bei den Golden Globes vor einigen Jahren bemerkte der Gewinner für Beste Musik strahlend, dass er dem Regisseur. J. C. Chandor dafür danke, dass dieser die Bilder vollgestopft habe mit Musik. Das passiert, wenn Filmemacher die stillen Töne nicht hören oder eher noch: wenn sie glauben, dass der Zuseher sie nicht hören würde. Oder noch viel eher: wenn ihre Bilder diese stillen Töne gar nicht in sich tragen. Der stille Ton hat nichts mit einer Nicht-Verwendung von Musik unter einem Begriff von Realismus zu tun wie ihn beispielsweise Michael Haneke pflegt. Der stille Ton existiert nur in der Erinnerung an eine Musik, eine Erinnerung, die durch die Musik selbst, Worte, Bewegungen oder Gesten evoziert werden könnte. Man kann das ganz leicht an sich selbst ausprobieren, wenn man bei einer TV-Übertragung eines Tennisspiels, des vielleicht rhythmischsten Sports (im TV), nach einiger Zeit den Ton abdreht. Die Musik wird weitergehen. Wieso man das nicht macht, ist eine andere Frage.

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(Bilder aus Aurélia Steiner (Melbourne) von Marguerite Duras)

Vielleicht ist es bezeichnend, dass Langlois und da Costa auf diese Gedanken kamen, als sie im Kino das Wasser betrachteten. Vergisst man nicht häufig den Ton des Wassers? Es gibt ihn eigentlich nicht, immerzu klingt es ein wenig anders. Man kann vielleicht Wellen hören, tosende Ströme (man denke an den stummen Way Down East von D.W. Griffith, in dem man das Wasser sehr laut hört) und das Platschen eines fallenden Wassers. Aber hört man es, wenn man weit nach draußen aufs Meer blickt oder wenn man an den Kanal in L’Atalante denkt? Tragen diese Bilder, diese Erlebnisse nicht eine Erinnerung in sich, die ihren Ton verliert und ist es nicht so, dass man in dem Moment, in dem man tatsächlich vor Ort ist, wenn man wieder in den weißen Sand tritt, um aufs Meer zu blicken, an all die Geräusche (und Gerüche) erinnert wird? Das Kino findet an der Leerstelle dieser Erinnerung statt, es taucht ein, buchstäblich wie bei Vigo und Monteiro und hält Distanz, es findet dort statt, wo man vergisst oder sich erinnert. Meist ist dieser Vorgang ein Blick, oft auch eine Bewegung.

Fischerboote am Ufer sind meist Standbilder. Jean Epstein hat das gewusst, Sophia de Mello Breyer Andresen auch. Sie stehen dort zwischen den Bildern, zwischen den (Ge-)Zeiten und warten darauf, ob sie eine Erinnerung werden oder ein Vergessen. Man kann sich ein Bild eines verlassenen Fischerbootes am Strand kaum in Bewegung vorstellen. Diese Boote erzählen von tausend Wellen, die da waren und tausenden, die kommen könnten. In ihrer von Algen und Salz geküssten Hülle kann man das Meer hören. Der Ton schreibt sich ein. Im Analogen besonders deutlich, weil er sich tatsächlich als eine Spur neben dem Bild befindet, im Digitalen als flüchtiges, ja flüchtendes Gedächtnis einer Vollkommenheit, die nur in ihrer Unvollkommenheit besteht. In den Lücken zwischen dem was man sieht und dem was man hört, der zeitlichen Verzögerung (dem Echo etwa in Godards Histoire(s) du cinéma oder bei Gerhard Friedl), der enttäuschten Erwartung. In diesen Spiralen arbeiten auch Motive bei besseren Filmkomponisten. Sie evozieren nicht den Ton, aber die Erinnerung selbst. Oftmals funktioniert das nach den Filmen besser als in den Filmen. Das könnte daran liegen, dass komponierte Musik oft so sehr auf die Erinnerung aus ist, dass tatsächlich, im Sinne Langlois, die Bilder abflachen. Manchester by the Sea von Kenneth Lonergan ist ein gutes, aktuelles Beispiel hierfür. Ein Film, der auch so penetrant an die Zeitlosigkeit dieser Fischerboote glaubt, dass er sie zu oft zeigt in einer ziemlich willkürlichen Aneinanderreihung von Zwischenbildern.

Oft hört man rund um das Kino den Begriff des Nicht-Zeigens. Er hat sich leider als narrative Kategorie etabliert, nicht als Grundzustand des zeitlichen Mediums. Das Nicht-Klingen, nennen wir es Schweigen existiert dagegen kaum. Dabei würde es vielen Bildern dabei helfen, laut zu werden.

The placid glow retain: E Agora? Lembra-me von Joaquim Pinto

Die diffuse Vision in Joaquim Pintos hochpersönlichen Essayfilm E Agora? Lembra-me ist die der Wahrnehmung eines Kranken. Folgt man seinem Titel, ist er nicht da, um uns zu erinnern, vielmehr erinnern wir ihn. An was? Daran, dass das Kino heilen kann oder die Kinogeschichte eine Geschichte der erkrankten Blicke ist?

In Form eines Tagebuchs erzählt der portugiesische Filmemacher und ehemalige Wegbegleiter/Tonmann von João César Monteiro, Manoel de Oliveira oder Raúl Ruiz von seinem oder einem Leben, das ihn passiert während er sich einer neuen, unsicheren Behandlung seiner gleichzeitigen Erkrankung an AIDS und Hepatitis C unterzieht. Dieses Leben besteht zum Teil aus der Krankheit, aber es besteht auch aus seinem Lebensgefährten Nuno Leonel, Beobachtungen, Lektüren, alltäglichen Erlebnissen, der Gestaltung eines Lebens und Analogien beziehungsweise Gleichgültigkeiten aus der Tierwelt. Der Film handelt auch davon wie politische Entwicklungen persönliche Hoffnungen begraben können und wie machtlos man im Angesicht dieser Entwicklungen, Bränden, Krankheiten manchmal ist. Die Bekanntschaften von Pinto lesen sich ein wenig wie eine an AIDS verlorene Kinogeschichte.  Zu den prominentesten Freunden des Portugiesen zählen Serge Daney, Derek Jarman, Manfred Salzgeber oder Kurt Raab.

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Der konstante Kampf, am Leben zu bleiben. Er präsentiert sich als Alltäglichkeit. Es besteht aus einer bereits verletzten Offenheit, die sich hier und unbedingt im Kino entfalten muss. Aber warum ist das der Fall? Man kann nicht wirklich von Forschungszwecken sprechen. Francisco Ferreira hat in seiner Besprechung die Frage gestellt, ob (dieser) Film heilt. Womöglich rückt die Krankheit, wenn sie zu einem Film wird, in ein abstrakteres Reich, in dem die Bildwerdung eine Linderung verspricht. Diese Krankheit ist klein genug. Sie passt in einen Film. Vielleicht gibt auch der Prozess des Drehens, die Arbeit mit der Kamera entlang der Krankheit dieser einen Sinn. Eine besondere Abwesenheit, ein unerträglicher Schmerz kann so zu einer großen Kinoszene werden. Es besteht ein riesiger Unterschied, ob jemand diese Kamera auf sich selbst richtet oder auf eine andere Person. Das bedeutet nicht, dass nicht auch die eigene Krankheit hätte ausgeschlachtet werden können von Pinto. Es erklärt nur die Relevanz von Zuneigung und Offenheit, damit dieses Kino im Angesicht der Schmerzen atmen kann. Es ist eine Entblößung, aber keine, die uns über die Figuren stellt. Vielmehr kann man diese Entblößung nur sehen, wenn man sich selbst vor dem Film entblößt. Wenn man mit dem Film die Krankheit akzeptiert, mit ihm krank wird und sich heilen lässt. Darin liegt beinahe ein spiritueller Auftrag, wenn er nicht mit einer notwendigen Form des Understatements präsentiert werden würde. Fast schüchtern scheint Pinto immer wieder zu betonen, dass er nur für sich selbst zeigen und sprechen könne.    

Es ist schon erstaunlich, dass ein skandinavischer Stummfilmstar Angst davor hatte, gefilmt zu werden, weil er dachte, dass die Kamera Strahlen absondern würde, die Krankheiten auslösen würden. Er trug unter seinen Kostümen eine Rüstung. Man könnte sich dieser Angst mit E Agora? Lembra-me auch anders nähern. Womöglich kann nur das Kino die Krankheit sehen. Ein Röntgengerät. Dann hieße Kino sehen auch Krankheiten sehen. Oder andersherum mit Pinto: Krankheiten sehen, heißt Kino sehen. Es ist nicht umsonst von unter anderem Jean Cocteau betont worden, dass Film hieße, dem Tod bei der Arbeit zuzusehen. Der Tod im Kino bring Dunkelheit in der Geschwindigkeit des Lichts. Was aber, wenn das Kino den Tod nicht mehr sehen kann? Einmal im Film heißt es, dass die Viren zu klein sind, um Farben zu haben. Was man hier also sieht, ist weniger den Tod bei der Arbeit als die Arbeit des Todes, die Spuren die er hinterlässt und jene, die er nicht hinterlassen kann.

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Die Perspektive eines Kranken, liegend, verformt, panisch oder fiebrig. Verformt wohlgemerkt nicht durch die Krankheit, sondern durch die Heilung. Die Methoden der Heilung. Pier Paolo Pasolini schrieb einmal über Michelangelo Antonioni und seinen Il deserto rosso, dass der Blick der Kamera hier die Neurosen der Protagonistin wiedergeben würden. Es sei ein kranker Blick. Die sprunghafte Unfähigkeit, die Augen offen zu halten, die eingeschränkten, schrägen Blicke auf die nächsten Umgebungen, die fiebrige Intensivierung von Bildern und Tönen, ihr Ineinanderfließen. Die Traumartigkeit des Kinozustandes war auch immer eine Form der Entrücktheit. Die krankhafte Idee, die Leinwand zu berühren, kommt aus der Unwirklichkeit dieser körperlichen Präsenz. Es sind nur Bilder, es sind nur Bilder sagt man kleinen Kindern, als würde das „nur“ die Bilder stoppen. Pinto lässt seine Krankheit/Heilung zu und mischt sie in die Bilder. Er verstärkt den Effekt mit seinem eigenen Voice-Over, der immer wieder abdriftet, fast verschwindet, mit Musik und einem Ton, der manchmal wirkt, als käme er aus einer anderen Welt. Er nutzt das digitale Pendant für Doppelbelichtungen, Wiederholungen, Dekadrierungen und immer wieder den Blick auf sich selbst aus nächster Nähe, irgendwie ganz bei uns, aber nicht bei sich, entrückt eben mit Augen, die die Kamera sehen, aber nicht fixieren können. In den Worten von Pinto: „Die Notizen vergessen, die man sich aufgeschrieben hat, um nicht zu vergessen.“

Es ist ein verlockender Gedanke: Die kranken Bilder des Kinos. Wie die geschwächt geschriebenen Worte von John Keats. Unvollendete Symphonien. Hier zeigt sich recht deutlich, wie wenig die Kamera mit einer Maschine zu tun hat. Sie kann an Fieber erkranken. Es wurden zu wenig Filme gemacht, bei denen die Person, die die Kamera gehalten hat, zu schwach dafür war. E Agora? Lembra-me zeigt das sehr deutlich. Stattdessen wird die Kamera oft als Instrument der Evidenz und Überlegenheit verwendet, der Kontrolle, Überwachung und Kriegsführung. Wie schön der Gedanke, dass eine Kamera nicht schießt, sondern blutet. 

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So oder so ist E Agora? Lembra-me ein Liebesfilm. Nicht unbedingt inhaltlich, obwohl er Augenblicke immenser Zärtlichkeit enthält, sondern hauptsächlich, weil er gemacht wurde; weil er gemacht wurde, um zu lieben. Nuno Leonel rückt in diesen Filmen wie das erlösende Licht eines angehenden Kampfes. Der Film dokumentiert dieses Licht und gibt dem Licht schließlich selbst die Kamera in die Hand. In dieser Emanzipation eines gemeinsamen Lebens mit der Krankheit versteckt sich ein zärtlicher Widerstand. Auch in ihrem Rabo de Peixe geben Pinto und Leonel die Kamera an einige Kinder weiter. In ihrem Filmschaffen stellt sich ganz offensiv die Frage, ob überhaupt jemand die Kamera halten sollte. Die Titelfrage, danach wie es weiter geht, ist keine Frage einer Entscheidung. Vielmehr ist es eine Erinnerung, ein Passieren, ein Nicht-Geschehen, ein Über-sich-ergehen-lassen. Die Melancholie, die man darin finden kann, steckt voller Lebens- und Kinolust.   

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).

JMonteiro

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…

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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…).

the-city-under-the-sea

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…

counttess

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!

THE END

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…

Ossos7

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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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?

TO BE CONTINUED