Interview: „Questi fiori malati. Il cinema di Pedro Costa“ by Michael Guarneri

Patrick and Michael have a chat about Michael Guarneri’s book Questi fiori malati. Il cinema di Pedro Costa, which has just been published by Bébert Edizioni, Bologna (Italy). The talk is followed by an English translation of the book’s Introduction.

coverfiori

PH: Michael, the first thing that leaps out while reading your book is the way you quote lyrics in order to connect the cinema of Mr. Costa to punk and post-punk music. Can you explain a bit what is this idea of “punk” in relation to Mr. Costa?

MG: Every chapter in my book starts with the lyrics to a song and most of the songs I quote are by punk and post-punk bands. As I was doing research for the book, I got to talk with Mr. Costa a lot and I understood that there are two energy sources feeding his filmmaking practice: the 1974 revolution in Portugal, which Mr. Costa experienced when he was 14, and the rawest bastard offsprings of rock and roll, which he discovered a bit later, in the late 1970s/early 1980s. If we imagine Mr. Costa’s mind as a volcano that explodes and “erupts” films, I’d say that in the magmatic chamber the fuel igniting the whole thing is this: the 1974 revolution (which never maintained its promise of wiping out the exploitation of man by man) and the punk spirit (which also failed in a way, although I doubt it ever tried to “succeed” in the first place).

“Punk” is an umbrella-term for many things, a constellation of meanings often contradicting each other. Personally, I use it as a way to penetrate the feelings of revolt, anger, disgust and sometimes solipsism that I can perceive in Mr. Costa’s oeuvre… You know, ever since his first feature, we get to hear lines like “Nobody is like us”: this is perhaps punk in its purest essence. But “punk” is also useful to convey another central idea behind Mr. Costa’s filmmaking practice – the idea of expressing yourself with what you have at hand, right here and know; the idea of working with a group of close friends for a group of close friends, and the rest of the world may well go to hell… At the same time, with a strange somersault, I also try to connect the punk spirit to the Marxist spirit of the revolution: getting together, “uniting”, destroying what is there, razing it to the ground to create something new and hopefully better for the kids that will come. Basically, I try to have in the same frame the “no future” of punk and the “hope for a new world” of Marxism. This is perhaps where post-punk bands like Gang of Four and Public Image Ltd come into the picture, within the (theoretical?) framework of my book. It’s a strange dialectic but I like the tension, and I think Mr. Costa likes it too. Anyway, I’d like to stress that Mr. Costa is not an intellectual filmmaker. He is very intuitive and savage in a way, it’s not like he makes films with a camera in one hand and Das Kapital in the other. “Punk” is also useful for me to convey this anti-intellectualist idea.

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Pedro fiori 1

PH: How would you describe your approach? How did your research go? Can readers expect some crazy anecdotes like in Tag Gallagher’s books or you try to stick to close readings and film analysis? I am also asking because monographs and critical biographies seem to be a dying genre…

MG: You are way too obsessed with death, Patrick. Isn’t life wonderful? But to go back to your questions… My book is indeed a monograph, in that it is consecrated to one single topic: the cinema of Pedro Costa. “Critical biography” is perhaps the term that best describes my approach, as I try to investigate how cinema shaped the life of Mr. Costa and how Mr. Costa’s life shaped his filmmaking practice. So in my monograph there will be plenty of anecdotes and biographical stuff – not as much as in Gallagher’s book about John Ford, but still quite a lot. However, I use these biographical data only when it is needed to prove a point, not to just show off my “insider knowledge” or to make the filmmaker look cool.

Structure-wise, each chapter is dedicated to a single film. Every chapter opens with a matter-of-fact description of how the movie in question was made (original idea, where did the money come from, shooting dates, post-production and distribution issues, etc). Then film analysis kicks in. This, in synergy with the constant reference to biographical data, turned the “monograph” into a sort of bildungsroman – a portrait of the filmmaker as he struggled over the course of many many years to find his his own mode of production, his own studio, his own crew, his own voice, his own… family? The publisher of the book, Matteo Pioppi, told me something really nice after reading my first draft: “If the reader doesn’t know that Pedro Costa is a real person, your book could well be an adventure novel!”. I was very happy to hear that. You see, the idea behind the book series (of which my book is entry number two) is the following: engaging the widest possible audience – from the hardcore, knowledgeable cinéphile to the general public – with the works of certain filmmakers that are usually classified (= mummified, put away, forgotten) in the “élite” of the arthouse. So my book is a work of “cultural popularisation”, to quote the Straubs and Mr. Costa himself. “Cinema must be useful”, as they like to say, and books too. My aim is to make something available, to make people “meet” a cinema and a person that I find amazing. Can we take Mr. Costa out of “the museum”, like he tried to do with the Straubs in his film Où gît votre sourire enfoui? ?

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PH: Isn’t the task of a museum to make something present, to bring something to the light? I don’t know if we need to take Mr. Costa out of the museum. Perhaps we should just bring him to the right one? After all a book can be a museum too, in my opinion. So, in your monograph there is punk rebellion, there is Marxism, there is an anti-intellectualist drive, there is cultural popularisation. I like the way you compare your approach to Mr. Costa’s. Did you identify with the filmmaker while writing about him?

MG: I like your “bring Mr. Costa to the right museum” statement, perhaps this is what I am doing. In the end, issues relating to cultural and subcultural capital, official aesthetic canons, official history and counter-history of cinema, etc, are inescapable, you are absolutely right.

I do not identify with Mr. Costa at all. I don’t think I could identify with him even if I wanted to: too many differences in age, socio-historical background, personality… Plus, I am always suspicious of this identification process in “biographical” writing, because it may lead the writer to write about himself/herself rather than about a his/her subject matter. I don’t want to talk about myself: the book is not dedicated to myself, it’s dedicated to the life and work of Mr. Costa, whom I greatly admire, as he is part of my “Holy Trinity” Lav Diaz / Pedro Costa / Wang Bing (in order of age). So I try to stay out of the picture as much as I can, in order for people to “see” Mr. Costa and his work… although in the end the book is authored and signed by me, so my ego is satisfied and I can impress girls at parties by saying that I am a writer.

PH: How does all this relate to the title of your book, “Questi fiori malati”, i.e. “these unhealthy/sick/ill flowers”?

MG: The title of my book dedicated to Mr. Costa comes from Charles Baudelaire’s dedication at the beginning of Les Fleurs du Mal: “Au poète impeccable / Au parfait magicien des lettres françaises / À mon très-cher et très-vénéré / Maître et ami / Théophile Gautier / Avec les sentiments / De la plus profonde humilité / Je dédie / Ces fleurs maladives”. But the “unhealthy/sick/ill flowers” are also a reference to the typical characters of Mr. Costa’s films ever since his debut feature O Sangue : very beautiful, very fragile creatures consuming themselves at the border between life and death. And isn’t this a perfect definition for people like the punks of the first wave, Sid Vicious and all the others who died, or went insane, or got lost in the woods during a strange Baudelairean night? I think so. Then, you see, everything is connected…

Sono proibiti i fiori artificiali

Introduction

November 16th 2014

From: Michael Guarneri
To: Pedro Costa

Dear Mr. Costa,
my name is Michael Guarneri, I am an Italian film critic. We had a brief talk at Copenhagen’s Cinemateket on November 14th, during CPH:DOX Festival 2014, and you kindly gave me your e-mail address.

I have recently curated the interview section of an Italian monograph dedicated to your friend and colleague Béla Tarr, published by Bébert Edizioni, a small publishing house in Bologna.

As I told you during our meeting in Copenhagen, Bébert Edizioni now gives me the opportunity to write a monograph consecrated to a filmmaker of my own choice. Since I would like to write a book about your work (for which I feel the deepest, most sincere admiration), I was wondering if we could meet anytime over the course of the following months. My idea is to spend some time with you and gather material for my book, perhaps in Lisbon, the city where you live and work.

I don’t want to write an ‘explanatory book’ saying things like ‘Pedro Costa’s cinema means this and that’: I read several interviews you gave during the 1990s and 2000s, and I understand how proud you are of the secrets buried in your films, so it’s not my intention to ruin it all and reveal them. It’s better to let these secrets sleep with the dead, buried in silence… Rather, I’d like to focus on the ‘worker’ Pedro Costa by adopting a historical-materialist perspective, and to provide a chronicle of your struggle to appropriate the means of production and create your own studio run by a close-knit group of friends-actors-crewmen. At the same time, I’d like to open a series of ‘interstices’ in this hardcore Marxist framework – little cracks through which black magic, voodoo, demons and all the strange creatures that make your films so unique and special can seep in. In my mind, my book about you will somehow resemble Où gît votre sourire enfoui?, your film about ‘film workers’ Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet: a strange, impossible, dialectical embrace between materialism and mysticism. I hope that you like the idea, and I hope that I will somehow manage to realise it. In any case, we can always discuss the best perspective to adopt for the book: I certainly don’t want to provide a distorted, or just plain wrong, image of you and your films. As Pierre Berger wrote in his preface to Robert Desnos’ Oeuvres choisies, “my only desire, as the author of this book, is to do an act of friendship”.

In conclusion: I would like to meet you and have a long talk, a long interview, if you want. 

Please, let me know if it’s possible to organise a meeting somewhere.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Best regards,

Michael

Film Lektüre: Film-Konzepte 41: Pedro Costa herausgegeben von Malte Hagener/Tina Kaiser

Eine Sache, die zumindest in der notwendigen Ausführlichkeit, in der dem portugiesischen Filmemacher Pedro Costa gewidmeten 41. Ausgabe der seit 2006 erscheinenden und von Thomas Koebner gegründeten Publikation Film-Konzepte fehlt, ist dessen Film Ossos. Es ist nicht so, dass er gar nicht vorkommen würde, aber es wird häufig ein erstaunlich direkter Weg von Casa de Lava zu No Quarto da Vanda gesucht. So wird eine Art Heldenreise über das Notizbuch, den Briefen, weg von einem industrielleren Filmemachen in die Einsamkeit des Digitalen installiert, deren Zwischenschritt über Ossos nur in Nebensätzen vorkommt. Vielleicht ist es auch eine Meta-Anspielung auf das Nicht-Sehen in diesem entscheidenden Film für Costa, der auch für die auf die Arbeitsweise zielende Argumentation des Buchs absolut essentiell gewesen wäre. Dann aber müsste man noch viel lauter fragen: Wo sind O Sangue, Où gît votre sourire enfoui? oder Ne change rien? Allgemein rühmt sich diese Ausgabe nicht gerade mit einem Anspruch auf eine umfassende Besprechung des Gesamtwerks.

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Das wäre auch nicht notwendig. Eine etwas hilflose Einleitung von Malte Hagener und Tina Kaiser hätte aufzeigen können, was der Schwerpunkt oder die Schwerpunkte der ausgewählten Essays sind und somit das Fehlen dieser Schlüsselwerke in dieser ersten deutschsprachigen Publikation über einen der entscheidenden zeitgenössischen Filmemacher erklären können. Stattdessen aber gibt sie eher unfreiwillig den Ton der meisten Texte vor. Costa, so hat man das Gefühl, wird wie ein Alien behandelt (Ulrich Köhler schreibt in seinem Text vielsagend: „No Quarto da Vanda ist ein Ufo.“). Vielleicht ist er das auch im Kontext dessen, was man normal so unter Filmemachen versteht, aber blickt man auf die Reihenfolge und Kombination der einzelnen Essays hat man außer im aus dem Buch herausstechenden Text Casa de Lava. Twenty Years Later von Volker Pantenburg den Eindruck, dass es hier nicht um Vermittlung geht, sondern um ein Suchspiel mit dem Namen: Wer entdeckt einen Einfluss? Wer erklärt besser wie es hergestellt wurde? Wilde Querverbindungen werden kaum argumentiert ineinander geworfen. Wenn dann in solchen Versuchen Lisandro Alonso als asiatischer Filmemacher geführt wird oder Tsai Ming-liang in einen Topf mit Jia Zhang-ke (angeblich arbeitet ersterer auch mit dokumentarischen Formen) geworfen wird, dann fragt man sich schon nach wenigen Sätzen, warum man ein solches Buch überhaupt liest.

Diese Worte sind zugegeben etwas harsch, schließlich kann man den meisten Texten nicht wirklich große Dinge vorwerfen und allein die Tatsache, dass es dieses Buch gibt und Costa so einem anderen, vermutlich breiteren Publikum vorgestellt wird, ist absolut löblich. Nur nach Ideen oder gar kritischen Ideen, die man nicht anderswo (vor allem bei Jacques Rancière und Costa selbst) bereits gelesen hat, sucht man vergeblich. Das betrifft sowohl die Argumentation einzelner Texte, bei denen der etwas verkopfte Costas Nachleben von Daniel Eschkötter noch am ehesten eine eigene Argumentation aufbaut (selbst wenn er dafür Costas Kino in einem Einkaufswagen durch die Theorie Foucaults fahren muss, um einen Weg hin zu einer diskontinuierlichen Geschichtsschreibung in Cavalo Dinheiro zu finden…) sowie (und das wiegt schlimmer) die Publikation als solche. Ein Zugang zur Argumentationslinie fällt schwer. Geht es hier um eine Ansammlung von Texten zu Costa? Geht es um eine Vorstellung des Filmemachers, um bestimmte Ideen von ihm oder den Autoren? Warum dieses Buch jetzt? Der Hauptfokus liegt auf der Arbeitsweise des Filmemachers, das wird zumindest deutlich. Neben Ulrich Köhlers zu kurzem Text mit dem verlockenden Titel Was macht Pedro Costa in Vandas Zimmer?, Zur Idee gemeinschaftlichen Filmemachens bei Pedro Costa von Ilka Brombach, Tina Kaisers Ermöglichungen, in dem sie einige schöne Überlegungen zur Frage des Filmemachers als Künstlers anstellt, betrifft das vor allem Costas zum ersten Mal ins deutsche übersetzen Vortrag A Closed Door that leaves us guessing. Diese vier Texte behandeln mehr oder weniger exakt die gleiche Fragestellung mit unterschiedlichen Worten. Gebraucht hätte es dafür nur jenen Text von Costa selbst. In den letzten beiden Texten spielt dann auch der vermisste Ossos eine gewisse Rolle und zwar immer dann, wenn Costa darüber spricht. „Jedes Bild ist ein Eingriff.“, formuliert Köhler und insbesondere Kaiser vermag aus dem Respekt vor der Anmaßung des Filmens diese Ethik von Costa nahe bringen. Leider wiederholen sich diese Gedanken in den unterschiedlichen Texten immer wieder.

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Im Essay von Brombach wird ein weiteres Problem deutlich. Die Publikation kann sich nicht entscheiden zwischen ihrem wissenschaftlichen Anspruch und der nur selten vorhandenen Freiheit (der Autoren/der Cinephilie). So kombiniert die Autorin willkürlich Aussagen von Costa aus Q&As und filtert daraus ihre Argumentation. Außerdem bezeichnet sie beispielsweise das Gemälde, das in Cavalo Dinheiro auf die Fotografien von Jacob Riis folgt, als „schöner“ als diese und behauptet, dass es in Juventude em Marcha immer/in jeder Szene um einen Verlust der Gemeinschaft ginge. Ventura will sie in drei Filmen vor Cavalo Dinheiro entdeckt haben. (mit Kurzfilmen sind es mehr, ohne Kurzfilme sind es weniger). Es geht zu oft darum aus einer äußerst oberflächlichen und zum Teil fragwürdigen Betrachtung der Filme und genauso oberflächlichen Wahrnehmungen der Aussagen über und des Filmemachers auf einen pseudo-wissenschaftlichen Schluss hinzuführen. An diesem Text lässt sich auch der merkwürdige Umgang mit Einflüssen nachvollziehen. So erläuert Brombach, das Costa den Ansatz von Straub/Huillet weiterentwickelt habe. Diese Weiterentwicklung wäre notwenidig geworden, da die gesellschaftlichen Veränderungen ausblieben. Nur sucht man vergeblich danach wie diese Weiterentwicklung denn nun aussieht. Vermutlich ist die Kollektivität des Filmemachens gemeint, die ein paar Zeilen vorher im Verhältnis zu Reis/Cordeiro erläutert. An solchen Stellen würde man sich einfach wünschen, dass es statt drei Texten, die sehr allgemein die Arbeitsweise von Costa schildern, einen spezifischeren Vergleich geben würde, wenn man denn schon immer diese anderen Namen nennen muss.

Pantenburg ist der einzige Autor, der in seinem Text zu Casa de Lava tiefer in die Materie eindringt. Nicht nur analysiert er beeindruckend manche Bilderkombinationen des Notizbuchs, das vor, während und nach dem Film entstand, sondern setzt diese auch in ein spannendes Verhältnis zum Film/den Filmen. Hier vermag ein Autor aus der Frage nach der Arbeitsweise Rückschlüsse auf die Ästhetik gewinnen. Ebenso sind seine Beobachtung zum wiederkehrenden Brief von Robert Desnos, der die Werke Costas durchweht, von großem Interesse. Einen ähnliche close reading Ansatz verfolgt auch Annika Weinthal in ihrem Essay Gezückte Messer. Gesten der Widerständigkeit in Juventude em Marcha. Dabei geht sie von der Eröffnungsszene des Films und der Figur Clotilde aus, um über Raum und Zeit im Film und bei Costa nachzudenken. Es ist ein vielversprechender Ansatz, der in der Knappheit des Textes erstickt wird. Die Kürze der Auseinandersetzungen ist ein großes Problem, da das Buch ja keineswegs aufeinander aufbaut. Wie man eine solche Publikation über einen nicht ganz so leicht zugänglichen und von mir aus „Alien-Filmemacher“ aufbauen könnte, lässt sich zum Beispiel an Publikationen wie For Ever Godard (Michael Temple, James S Williams und Michael Witt) oder dem grandiosem Buch über Hou Hsiao-hsien von Richard Suchenski sehen. Dort ist die Verbindung aus Wertschätzung, Kritik, Beschreibungen, Meinungen und Kontextualisierung auch deutlich präziser und mutiger. Am Ende ist diese Ausgabe von Film-Konzepte zu brav. Vielleicht verstehe ich den Sinn und das Anliegen solcher Publikationen aber einfach nicht. Allerdings scheint es mir bedenklich, wenn ich mit ein paar Klicks die gleiche Anzahl an Texten online finde nur mit höherer Qualität.

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Zu Beginn des Buchs findet sich eine biographische Verortung Costas im portugiesischen Kino und der Kunstszene Lissabons, die eben doch einen gewissen Anspruch auf ein Abdecken des Filmemachers vermuten lässt. Doch außer Betrachtungen zur Arbeitsweise und der beständigen Feststellung, dass Costa parallel zu manchen Strömungen der Malerei das „Tragische und Epische im Infamen“ freilegen kann (eine „Idee“, die das Lincoln Center allein mit dem Titel ihrer Retrospektive „Let us now praise infamous men“ besser auszudrücken wusste), bleiben nur hilflose Bemühungen, die sich verkleiden in eine wissenschaftliche Sicherheit und Redundanz. Vielleicht ist es aber auch beruhigend zu sehen, dass man einem solchen Filmemacher mit diesen sich selbst erstickenden, Muster-Strategien nicht wirklich nahe kommen kann.

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…

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…).

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

Viennale 2015: Singularities of a Festival: GRÜN

Notizen zur Viennale 2015 in einem Rausch, der keine Zeit lässt, aber nach Zeit schreit. Ioana Florescu und Patrick Holzapfel kneifen sich und träumen weiter im Sog der beleuchteten Vierecke. Dabei verschmelzen die Erfahrungen zwischen den Filmen mehr und mehr und wenn man die Augen am Abend vor dem Schlafen schließt, sieht man tausende Farben eines Kinos, das noch zu nahe unter den Lidern lebt, um schon verstanden zu werden.

Mehr zur Viennale bei uns

Taxi Driver De Niro

Patrick

  • Nachts fährt man durch eine fast leere Stadt (es sollte immer noch Wien sein, es sei denn ich habe mich verfahren) nach dem letzten Film des Tages. Sie streichen alle Fahrradwege grün. Mein Rad macht komische Geräusche auf diesem Farbgeruch. Ich blicke auf die feuchten Farbkörner des frischen Belags, die an meinem Vorderrad hochspritzen und dann auf das Licht meiner schwächlichen Vorderlampe, die den grünen Boden immerwährend beleuchtet, als würde ich das Kino mit auf meinem Weg nehmen.
  • Martin Scorsese steht mit einem Megafon im Gartenbaukino und schreit Touristen an, die ein Foto von ihm machen wollen. Eine Welle bricht ins Kino und mit ihr ein riesiges Schiff.
  • In Transit, der letzte Film von Albert Maysles, zeigt uns wie verklärt Amerika noch immer sein kann. (life is peaceful there) Der Film macht etwas anderes. Er baut eine Utopie der Menschlichkeit auf. So verklärt ist nicht mal Amerika.
  • Jem Cohen hat in seinem Publikumsgespräch gesagt, dass man verschiedenen Filmemacher einfach nicht nachahmen sollte…man sollte nicht versuchen, einen Bresson-Film oder Ford-Film zu machen. Perrone hat in Los actos cotidianos versucht, einen Pedro Costa-Film zu machen. Er hat sicherlich gute Dinge dabei gefunden, aber etwas anmaßendes liegt in dieser Haltung, die Cohen Recht gibt.
  • Trotzdem denkt man dann an Vanda. Ich weiß gar nicht weshalb. Ich denke an ihre Nahaufnahmen oder an sie.
  • Ein ehrlicher Film verliert meist von seiner Ehrlichkeit, wenn er im Festivalkontext gezeigt wird.

Scorsese2

Ioana

  • Der Perrone von heute sieht noch mehr wie Costa aus, als der Perrone von gestern. Nur ohne die Worte, die wie das Letzte klingen, was man vor dem Sterben sagt, ohne die schweren Blicke, ohne dass die Türen mehr als Türen sind. Eigentlich ohne alles. Daher verabschiede ich mich schon von seiner ersten Phase und warte trotzdem neugierig darauf, Filme aus seiner zweiten zu sehen.
  • Vielleicht ist In Transit eine gute Art sich zu verabschieden. Wer weiß?
  • Sobytie ist extrem interessant aus zahlreichen Gründen, aber die meisten Fragen muss ich mir über Loznitsas Umgang mit dem Archivmaterial stellen. Wie kann er mit Material arbeiten, das nicht von ihm gedreht wurde und darin das, was ich als seine Perspektive einschätze, durchsetzen? (Editing) Wieso sieht das fast wie continuity editing aus (natürlich eine Übertreibung) – war das Material teilweise montiert? Hat er Teile, die schon montiert waren, so übernommen? Wie viele Quellen gibt es? Wie kann der Film so abgeschliffen aussehen? Ich wusste, dass er mit Archivmaterial [aus der Zeit] gearbeitet hat und die ersten Minuten schienen mir trotzdem aus einem ‘Spielfilm’ (nein, den Unterschied gibt es so gar nicht) zu stammen. Ich stelle mir dreimal so viele Fragen über die Tonebene.
  • Ich finde manches aus der Beschreibung des Films, die auf der Seite der Viennale zu finden ist, komisch: “Loznitsa montiert seinerzeit entstandenes Material mit bewährter Zurückhaltung und konzentriert sich auf die Gesichter; man lernt: Im Moment ihres Geschehens ist Geschichte banal und du und ich sind auch durch bloßes Herumstehen daran beteiligt.”   
  • Kurz nach dem Film musste ich an Videogramme einer Revolution von Harun Farocki – die Vorbereitung auf die TV Sendung – denken und lachen. – Was sagen wir jetzt? Die hinten mit der Flagge – Wir haben gewonnen, wir haben gewonnen.  Dann musste ich natürlich an Porumboiu denken, ich frage mich, ob er noch in Wien ist.
  • Ich habe eine Thermosflasche in der Viennale-Tasche gehabt und die Tasche ist ein wenig geschmolzen, weil die Flasche heiß war und die Tasche aus Plastik oder etwas Ähnliches ist und ich habe mich geschämt, weil meine Tasche im Kino gestunken hat, aber du hast es nicht gemerkt.
  • A Poem is a Naked Person ist bunt und zerstreut und war ein guter Anfang für den Tag und ein Mann isst einen Becher.
  • Morgen kann man die Karte für Cemetery of Splendour reservieren, es darf nicht schiefgehen.

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…

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

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

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

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

 Ne change rien

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

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

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

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

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

O Sangue4

 

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

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

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

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

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

Silvestre5

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

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

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

O sangue2

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

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

Ossos6

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