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

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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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

Pedro Costa (Foto: Thomas Hauzenberger)

Pedro Costa (Foto von Thomas Hauzenberger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

7 women

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

gertrud dreyer

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

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

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


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

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

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

Michael: Refreshments!


Youth Under The Influence (of Pedro Costa) – Part 1

How is it that we find cinema? This might be a rather big question, maybe too big for any satisfying evening among cinephile friends, maybe one of those existentialist questions that seduce us from time to time, to make it short: We can’t answer such a question and we won’t try to. Nevertheless there are moments when we clearly feel inspired. Such a moment sometimes occurs because of a memory, something we see in an image, a color or an actor, something we want know more about. It may also occur when we read about something we haven’t seen, we feel an urge to see, to know, to feel. Sometimes it is just the idea of something provoked by the name of a director, a title or a prize. And sometimes it is someone we talked to, someone whose opinion is valuable, someone we trust or someone in whose eyes we see the fascination, the struggle and joy we also want to have.

In June, during the Fontainhas-Retrospective at the Filmmuseum in Munich, Michael Guarneri and I had the chance to talk with Pedro Costa about cinema. Naturally we talked a lot about his cinema, but there were also occasions when Mr. Costa before or after a screening or while talking about his own work dropped names, mentioned films and filmmakers with a sudden blink of fever (almost invisible) in his eye and made us thirsty for more. It could happen that during a Q&A, while he talked about gangsters being the most sensitive characters in cinema, he just wandered in his thoughts, whispered “Nicholas Ray?”, looked calmly into the audience and went on after a few seconds. Later while we had a drink he would just face anyone and ask: “Have you seen Foolish Wives?”, in this case the answer was positive which made Mr. Costa smile in agreement. Additionally his whole confidence concerning his view on cinema must necessarily be seducing for young film-lovers, it sometimes feels like there is a secret in cinema, a secret people like Mr.Costa tell you with their blinks and nods, their smiles and adjournments.



Mr. Costa at the Filmmuseum in Munich

Knowing what you like or dislike seems to be a religion in cinema circles. The ability to bring on a strong opinion sometimes seems more important than actually being able to talk about a film. Of course, such empty words are not what Mr. Costa is all about. He is very well able to tell you about the details and ideas behind certain filmmakers and their work which makes his attitude even more seducing.

A few weeks after meeting Mr. Costa, Michael and myself found that we were still under the spell having watched many films that Mr. Costa recommended or just mentioned, following his taste and discovering new plants in the garden of cinema. We then decided that – in order to deal with our experience and make it more profound – we should have a conversation about the films and filmmakers we discovered due to Mr. Costa. This way we could also check if the secrets of cinema are really secrets, if smiles were entitled and if the desire to see and find is matched by the actual experience of watching the films. Of course, our conversation which will be published in parts went into many directions and is therefore also a testimony of the certainties and uncertainties of different kinds of cinephilia.It might entirely fail as what it was supposed to be, but still, it is something we tried with honesty and passion.

Patrick: I just give it a start. First of all, I want to say that I don’t recall Mr. Costa mentioning any filmmaker I haven’t heard about at all, which kind of reassures me. But he created a sort of appetite in me for people like Jacques Tourneur, Erich von Stroheim, Ernst Lubitsch, João César Monteiro, the Straubs (naturally), Godard (naturally) and anything with Gary Cooper in it. I think the first film I saw at home after the retrospective was Canyon Passage by Tourneur. I expected a Western and somehow got a film that didn’t really want to be a Western, it wanted to escape to some other place, somewhere where it can just rest. I pretty much liked it, though it did not blow me away as other Tourneur films like I walked with a Zombie or Cat People did. Can you remember what your first Costa-inspired screening was, after we met?


Canyon Passage

Canyon Passage

Days of Glory

Days of Glory


Michael: I think it was Days of Glory by Tourneur, or, as Mr. Costa dubbed it, “Gregory Peck in the cellar”. At that time, I was finishing up this piece about Tourneur’s The Flame and the Arrow , and reflecting a lot about Tourneur’s role in the US propaganda machine before and after the end of WWII, so it was either anti-nazi Days of Glory or anti-communist The Fearmakers.

From Days of Glory I kept on exploring the anti-nazi genre with Lewis Milestone’s The North Star; whereas The Fearmakers led me to William Wellman’s The Iron Curtain and Robert Parrish’s Assignment: Paris. Suddenly, with the last four films I mentioned, a common denominator began to emerge: actor Dana Andrews playing an average guy – exhausted, trapped in planes, taxis, hotel rooms, prison cells, bureaus, offices, embassies, at the mercy of higher, hidden powers. Through the course of these four films we can really see him turning from idealistic war hero to a brainwashed, breathless, paranoid, insomniac war vet; a chain-smoking compulsive drinker tormented by splitting headaches. Canyon Passage might just be one of the few all-round hero roles in his career…

Patrick: I am not so sure about Dana Andrews being a hero in Canyon Passage. Well, there is a whole bunch of arguments speaking for it, of course, but something in his face aims to be the average guy you described. The way he sits on his horse, there is exhaustion in it, too. He always leans to the left or right, there are always wrinkles in his shirt. Furthermore, he is not really active in pursuing the two ladies of the film, oh, I think he very much would like to be an average guy there, just like Tourneur didn’t really want to make a Western like a Western.

In terms of anti-nazi films (I am hesitating calling it a genre because I am very much against taking ideology to arrange movies), I had only one experience in the wake of Mr. Costa’s recommendations: Man Hunt by Fritz Lang. Thinking about this film and the ones you mentioned, as well as some others I watched like Distant Drums or The Strawberry Blonde by Raoul Walsh, I recognize a certain tiredness and exhaustion everywhere… just like with Dana Andrews. In Man Hunt there is this middle part where the film doesn’t want to be paranoid anymore,there is always a flirt with those tormented headaches.

Michael: If you liked Man Hunt, you should try Ministry of Fear and Cloak and Dagger. In the latter, Gary Cooper is the lead. Anyway, what’s the reason behind your fascination with him?


Dana Andrews

Dana Andrews

Gary Cooper2

Gary Cooper

Patrick: I have seen Ministry of Fear and I like it. Will check out Cloak and Dagger as soon as possible, thanks for pointing it out. It would be too easy for me to talk about Gary Cooper’s exhaustion now, wouldn’t it? But just look at his tired face…

Distant Drums5

Colossal Youth8

It is something Mr. Costa mentioned when he compared Ventura to Cooper, the way he acts as himself and as something completely different while being there for the camera, for the other actors in the scene and for himself at the same time. There is sensuality in his acting that clearly comes from presenting itself as acting; it is like a Kiarostami and maybe also a film by Mr.Costa just with acting. The illusion comes when you know it is an illusion. But I think my fascination derives from his movement, his gestures. They way he beckons in Morocco by Von Sternberg, the way he marches in Distant Drums, the way he navigates his carriage in Friendly Persuasion and so on. It is different with Ventura for me though. I can understand why one can compare them but Ventura is something emerging from the shadows whereas Cooper is in broad limelight. They meet each other in the power Ventura shows despite the shadows and the shadows Cooper shows despite the fame. Something like that… Haven’t you had your Gary Cooper phase sometime? It somehow feels obsolete describing my fascination with him because after all, it is Gary Cooper…

Michael: No, I must confess that I have always felt very little attachment or sympathy to the big Hollywood stars, and to Hollywood cinema in general (except maybe for Bogart in High Sierra, for reasons I don’t want to disclose). In watching the films, I enjoy some of them, I like some of them… Of course, I am not immune to their power, or spell… They are made to be liked, aren’t they? Still there is always something very sneaky about them that troubles me, keeps me on my toes and even frightens me. A voice inside my head saying: “Woah, this is dangerous, they are trying to sell you something; watch out, don’t buy all the things they show and say”. So I never fall 100% in love with them. It must be because I come from a certain tradition of studies that sees Hollywood cinema as a sort of brainwashing machine at the service of an evil empire. Throughout the years, and thanks to wise people like Mr. Costa, Chris Fujiwara, Tag Gallagher, and so on, I have softened this approach, but I do not want to let it go completely. It is good to always be suspicious of the products of the cultural industry, I think.

Let’s take Night of the Hunter, for instance – a big influence on Costa’s O Sangue, and a personal favorite of many, many people. I watched it a couple of times in the past, and I rewatched it recently… Well, the movie is gorgeous, Mitchum is great as a deranged psycho and all that, but, man, all that Lillian Gish talking about children as little lambs who must abide and endure… it just pissed me off. I was like: fuck you, old lady! I guess I am more a “If the kids are united” kind of guy…

Patrick: I know exactly what you mean and I’m glad you have brought it up. First things first: Night of the Hunter. It’s a fragile one for me because my girlfriend loves it so fucking much (her way of whispering “Lillian Gish” when talking about this films resonates like an eternal echo in my ears)… but I’m more with you. I have seen it only one time and despite its obvious merits it left me cold. But it is certainly not a film I would like to bash, there are much, much worse. But I really don’t get the point of all those people mentioning how beautiful it is and so on. Yes, it looks great, but why don’t they talk more about Jean Vigo for instance? Is it childhood memories? Or is it because there is a certain romanticism about beautiful things appearing in the middle of this evil empire you are talking about? I don’t know. I know that it is not very simple.

With Mr. Costa I always had the feeling that it has to do with the craft. Hollywood after all means daily business, means going to work on a regular basis, it means living a life with certain restrictions, but still trying to build something personal or maybe poetic. And then you can start looking at some shots, some cuts, some gestures, and you will find them there with guys like Walsh or Lang. But you can also find them in a film by Jean Epstein or early Renoir (who Mr. Costa also loves, I think) and I always will prefer them because of the whole package, because of the testimony of their work as artists.Of course, a Hollywood film can also be art and an independent or European production can very much be part of the evil machine. As I said, it’s not so easy.

Last year we had this John Ford retrospective in Vienna. Mr. Costa was also there, he was talking a lot about it, I tried to watch as many films as possible and there were moments I really believed in Ford, in Ford as the peak of cinema… When I think of films like The Long Voyage Home or The Lost Patrol, I’m still shaking. But sometimes I found myself thinking of filmmakers like Bresson or Tarkovsky (to name the cliché) and I was thinking that I respect them more, the way they worked, the way they did not compromise with the machine, the way they don’t want to sell… Because after all you can always look at entertainment from two different angles. You can watch how they try to sell you something all the time, or you can look how sometimes a soul appears while selling you something. It’s the same with Ford and there is something in those films I always forget, it just slips through my mind. I think I want to forget it.

And while forgetting I am able to love certain things like an actor or a shot. It’s very naïve but I think this is what cinema is all about in the end. And there was a time in Hollywood when they were selling beautiful things. Gary Cooper is one of them because there is a soul visible sometimes… Maybe just in one shot, but then it is true. It is as true as it is in Dreyer or Dovzhenko. What do you refer to when you say “a certain tradition of studies”? I am always afraid of categorizing, I somehow have the feeling that cinema is wiser and richer than I will ever know. I feel that there are things in cinema beyond selling and not-selling, and therefore I would not speak of evil empires though I have a similar tendency as you. If cinephilia means loving cinema then sometimes you have to be blinded by love and if we hesitate here than it is maybe a problem of cinema, maybe we come from a generation where cinema has already betrayed us too often?

The Long voyage home

The Long Voyage Home



Cavalo Dinheiro

Cavalo Dinheiro

Michael: I don’t know about this betrayal business, I really have to think about it. Let’s come back to it later.

When I said “a certain tradition of studies”, I meant Adorno, Horkheimer, and all those who – to paraphrase Laura Mulvey – analyze pleasure or beauty in order to destroy it, so that beauty won’t blind us anymore. But we are not in a class, so let’s skip that. Here are two provocations.

First, you mentioned a girlfriend: aren’t cinephiles supposed not to have girlfriends?

And, secondly, you have the feeling that cinema is wiser and richer than you will ever know. In your view, who makes cinema wise and rich? Filmmakers or spectators? Most of the times, I have the feeling that, in order to make a very interesting movie, filmmakers just have to be vague or mysterious or “lazy” or ambiguous or contradictory enough so that spectators have the opportunity to make their own, custom-cut, “good film” in their heads. Take the ending of Stagecoach: ok, typical saccarine happy end from Hollywood, the couple of outcasts falls in love and they flee towards their new life; but wait a minute, they flee from the US, this rotten society ironically named “Lordsburg”… this doesn’t sound like a happy end at all! Choose one option, choose both, make up a third one, stay in the shadow of doubt, do as you please, please yourself as you please. Ford was not only a great storyteller but also a clever businessman… It is not by chance that they call it “narrative economy”!

Patrick: Then there was beloved president Nixon who said: I prefer Hollywood films.

I don’t know about your first provocation. The point is: I wouldn’t love cinema if I didn’t love that woman who knows so much more about it than me. And she knows a lot about the mysteries and vague things in cinema, a lot of things I wouldn’t understand otherwise. Mr.Costa spoke a lot about the Straubs… just to name an example (I don’t smoke as much…). And having four eyes helps a lot. Maybe she is writing to you now… it’s very mysterious.

Which leads me to your second provocation… I have some problems with it. First: Sharunas Bartas is also a clever businessman, so is Mr. Costa. The problem, I think, is not the selling, it is what they sell. They can sell me cinema as dirty as they like. As long as they don’t sell in order to sell. In my opinion cinema as an art form is beyond its makers and its spectators. I am very much opposed against intelligent people giving meaning or finding deep things everywhere. I know that one can do that, I have seen and read it but I often find it to be intellectual masturbation, worthless for anybody except the one who is masturbating and those who just like to watch (thinking of Giraudie now). There is a difference in filmmakers trying to be ambiguous and filmmakers finding an ambiguous truth. There are certain things cinema embraces and rejects and it is the task of viewers (critics, scientists and also filmmakers) to detect those aspects, to serve cinema, to use cinema, to play with cinema, to respect cinema. That might sound rather emotional but my point is that cinema just IS rich. Nobody needs to make it wise and rich. And this is also why in the first place it needs to be filmmakers that use this richness.

Is a good film for you something that is in accordance with your political believes only? Is it, to use Amos Vogel’s famous title, a subversive art?

Mes petites amoureuses

Mes petites amoureuses

Michael: Let’s say that, as an act of “intellectual honesty”, I try to like movies that are not right up my alley, and to dislike movies that are right up my alley. And, of course, I always fail. I guess I don’t really try that hard: too much pride and prejudice, not enough sense and sensibility.

I like a lot the expression “film as a subversive art” – this idea that cinema can take the world upside down. It is a wonderful mantra, it really gives me courage and strength when I think about it and repeat it in my head. But I cannot really think of a film that actually managed to subvert the status quo, right now. Can you?

Patrick: I think a single film didn’t, but maybe the idea of cinema as the only modern mystery like Breton said, had a few moments. What is your explanation for filmmakers like Mr. Costa, Godard or the Straubs liking a certain kind of Hollywood so much? I ask you because they seem to be right up your alley without having your dislike for the evil machine.

Michael: I think that, for Mr. Costa and the Straubs, it is like you said – the love for the craft, the production side, making ends meet, how can I do this with this much money. At least, this is how they rationalize it these days. But I suspect it also has to do with more mysterious things, like having seen these film at a young age, the dark theater, the giants on the screen, details in their personal biographies, and all the stuff you see in Mes petites amoureuses by Jean Eustache.

For Godard, I really don’t know. I read some of the things he wrote as a critic in the Cahiers, and I understood very little. But I don’t want to give you the impression that I reproach people who like films I don’t like. On the matter of taste, I agree with the Marquis: “Je respecte les goûts, les fantaisies: quelque baroques qu’elles soient, je les trouve toutes respectables, et parce qu’on n’en est pas le maître, et parce que la plus singulière, la plus bizarre de toutes, bien analysée, remonte toujours à un principe de délicatesse“.

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


Der eingeschränkte Blick in Fontainhas

Die Idee, dass man etwas nicht filmen kann, wenn man es nicht ganz versteht oder besser die Frage, wie man etwas filmen kann, was man nicht ganz sieht oder noch besser, die Antwort auf die Frage, wie man das Limit der eigenen Wahrnehmung zu einem ästhetischen Prinzip erheben kann, steht im Zentrum von Pedro Costas Fontainhas-Trilogie, die ich in den vergangenen drei Tagen im Münchner Filmmuseum begleiten durfte. Es war meine erste Gelegenheit, diese Filme auf Film projiziert zu sehen. Ein Unterfangen, das sich natürlich absolut lohnt, sei es alleine deshalb, weil dieses absolute Sehen, das von Costa gefördert wird, dieses Sehen, das nicht auf das nächste Bild wartet, sondern das gegenwärtige Bild in seiner Gegenwärtigkeit begreift und somit erst zur Entfaltung in der Zeit gelangen lässt, von den Texturen filmischen Materials extrem profitiert. Dabei spielt es keine Rolle, ob das Ausgangsmaterial Film ist wie im Fall von Ossos oder digital, wie im Fall von No Quarto da Vanda und Juventude em Marcha.

Die eingangs geschilderte Idee ist ein ästhetisches und ethisches Problem und Costa scheint sich diesem in seinen Antworten sowohl filmisch als auch intellektuell jederzeit bewusst. So versteht er Ossos als eine Annäherung an Menschen und Orte, die er zu diesem Zeitpunkt noch nicht kannte, noch nicht verstand. Hier agiert der Filmemacher als Außenstehender und dementsprechend oft sind es Türen und Fenster, die vor unserer Nase zugehen, die uns die Sicht versperren, manchmal ganz (wie bei Mizoguchi oder Haneke), manchmal halb. Innen und Außen oder in den Worten von Costa: „Secrets and Revelations“.


In No Quarto da Vanda sind wir dann tatsächlich in Vanda’s Zimmer. Das bedeutet auch eine Einschränkung der Beweglichkeit, ein Ausgeliefertsein der Kamera an alles, was sich vor ihr bewegt. Keine Macht über die Figuren, sondern eine tatsächliche Nähe. Nun befinden wir uns oft in völliger Dunkelheit, weil die geschlossenen Türen und Fenster kein Licht mehr in die Barracken und vom Abriss bedrohten Wohnungen in Fontainhas lassen. In einer Art Montagesequenz wird Fenster um Fenster vor uns geschlossen. Wir bleiben innen. Es wird völlig dunkel im Kino. Still wird es dagegen nie, denn die Abrissgeräusche und das beständige Hämmern bedrohen die Türen und auch das Innen, das Intime, das Private, das Eigene. Und so beginnen schon in No Quarto da Vanda, die Türen ihre Funktion zu verlieren. In einer Szene wird eine Gartentür aus den Fugen gehoben und davongetragen. Es ist also nicht nur eine Frage der Positionierung von Filmemacher und Kamera, die hier an den Türen und ihren Schwellen hängt, sondern zur gleichen Zeit, wenn auch unter völlig anderen Vorzeichen eine Frage für die Protagonisten selbst. Auf den Gipfel wird diese Bedeutung der Funktion von Türen dann in Juventude em Marcha getrieben. Eine fast Modern Times-artige Automatik, scheint hier die Türen heimzusuchen. So hören wir nicht nur auf der Tonebene ständig das Knarzen von Türen, sondern diese bewegen sich auch im Bild wie von alleine. Vor allem in einer Szene, mit dem von Costa als brechtianischen Verräter bezeichneten Wohnungsvermieter, zeigt sich dieses zum Teil absurde Eigenleben der Türen. Man kann also sagen, dass aus dem Außen, ein Innen wurde und aus dem Innen eine Fehlfunktion. Das Verschwinden der Türen, das Verschwinden von Innen und Außen ist auch ein Kommentar auf die Situation der Bewohner des ehemaligen Fontainhas. Aber darin verstecken sich auch die Mechanismen des Kinos. Der limitierte Blick, der sich im zeitgenössischen Kunstkino oft seiner Eingeschränktheit bewusst ist.

Colossal Youth4

Es gibt Gegenbeispiele wie Gaspar Noé, die voller Innbrunst das Gegenteil erklären, die ihre Kamera entfesseln und bei aller Faszination daran muss man doch früher oder später feststellen, dass man nicht alles sehen kann. Was man allerdings sehen sollte, ist die Essenz. Nur wenige Filmemacher gelangen zu ihr und Costa gehört sicherlich dazu. Und wie Cristi Puiu in seinem Aurora oder Robert Bresson in seinem L’argent gelangt Costa zur Essenz, indem er uns auch ständig zeigt, was wir nicht sehen können. Dabei handelt es sich nicht zwangsläufig um den Off-Screen, denn wenn eine Tür im Bild ist, ist sie ja strenggenommen im Bild. Und wenn man sich die Türen in Juventude em Marcha ansieht, dann wird man feststellen, dass Costas eigene Feststellung, dass die Türen in Filmen von Charlie Chaplin die schönsten Türen sind, ein Ansporn für ihn ist, den großen Meister zu übertreffen. Die Rahmung selbst wird das Bild und man spürt dadurch auf der einen Seite den Filmemacher, aber eben nicht auf dieser intellektuellen Meta-Ebene, sondern eher wie bei Chaplin: Im Vertrauen darauf, dass man sich in einem Film befindet, kann man diesen völlig vergessen, die Fiktion von Costa ist dokumentiert, die Illusion liegt in der Desillusion, es ist als würde jemand seine Unsicherheiten und seine Fehlbarkeit zu seiner großen Stärke erklären. Gefilmter Zweifel.

Dabei nutzt Costa vor allem Licht, das durch löchrige Türen dringt. Wieder heben sich Innen und Außen auf und wer sich mit der Funktionsweise einer Kamera beschäftigt hat, sieht plötzlich eine ganz neue Relation zwischen dem Kino und den Türen, schließlich ist es eine Tür, die den Eingang zur Kamera/dem Zimmer versperrt und diese Tür muss sich öffnen, damit wir etwas sehen. Sie darf sich aber nicht zu weit öffnen. Jeder Millimeter verändert das Kino. Und daher ist es so fatal, wenn die Türen ein Eigenleben bekommen, ein Eigenleben, das von einer Industrie verlangt wird, die auf Gleichheit und Glättung aus ist. Wie soll man noch interessante Bilder machen, wenn man keine Macht mehr über die Türen hat, wenn es gar keine Türen mehr gibt?

In Vandas Room4

Es geht natürlich auch um die Türschwellen auf denen sich sowohl Costa als auch Ventura immer wieder bewegen. Was ist diese Schwelle? Ein Übergang zwischen dem Innen und Außen, ein Zweifel, in dem der Mensch oft am hoffnungslosten und hoffnungsvollsten zugleich ist. Hier drücken sich sein Verlangen und seine Angst aus. Bei Costa zählt selten, wohin jemand geht oder woher er gekommen ist. Vielmehr geht es um den Augenblick des Schwellenzustands selbst, der sich wie in Cavalo Dinheiro oder Juventude em Marcha zwischen verschiedenen Zeiten abspielen kann oder wie in Ossos zwischen dem Filmemacher und den Figuren. In der Schwelle stehen, heißt auch, Respekt zu haben. Hier wird niemand überfallen oder den Blicken preisgegeben. Es ist eine vorsichtige Annäherung, deren Zärtlichkeit sowohl in der Vergangenheit, der Gegenwart (der Schwelle), und der Zukunft (dem Raum) liegt, es entstehen also Bilder, die in sich derart stark leben, weil sie Schwellenbilder sind. Sie oszillieren zwischen ihrer absoluten Präsenz im Kinoraum und den Blicken, die auf etwas anderes zielen. Bei Vanda ist dieser Blick oft nach vorne gerichtet, auf etwas außerhalb des Bildes. Sie wirft sich dafür regelrecht in Pose, dreht ihren Kopf und starrt mit wachsamen Augen ins Off. Bemerkenswert allerdings, dass sie am Ende von Juventude am Marcha einmal umdreht, sich umblickt und an einer verschlossenen Tür lauscht, eine verschlossene Schwelle, in der sich die Sorge und Hoffnung, also die Liebe von Vanda verbirgt. Sie überprüft, ob Ventura sich um ihre Tochter kümmert. Dann verschwindet sie hinter einer benachbarten Tür und ist bis heute nicht mehr zurückgekehrt ins Universum von Costa. Ventura dagegen blickt in die Ewigkeit und nach Innen, also nach hinten. In seinen Augen scheint die Vergangenheit immer genauso präsent zu sein, wie die Gegenwart. Vielleicht fangen die Türen auch deshalb an, sich in Venturas Gegenwarten wie von selbst zu bewegen. Sie schließen und öffnen Räume der Erinnerung. Und in dieser Hinsicht ist auch Ventura eine Tür für Costa, oder besser: Ventura ist 10000 Türen in einem Lavahaus. Costa kann diese Türen nicht kontrollieren, er kann nur warten bis sich eine öffnet und sich dann vorsichtig auf die Schwelle stellen und sehen was passiert. Es ist seine große Kunst, dass er nicht mehr macht, denn darin entfaltet sich erst die Sinnlichkeit, Poesie, Direktheit und Dringlichkeit seines Kinos.