Heute keine Projektion: Der stille Ton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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

Pedro Costa (Foto: Thomas Hauzenberger)

Pedro Costa (Foto von Thomas Hauzenberger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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…

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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…

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

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

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

Michael: Refreshments!

THE END

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

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

Part 1

Part 2

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

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

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

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

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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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TO BE CONTINUED

Heute keine Projektion: Penetration/João César Monteiro

some further thoughts on penetration: penetration as loosing innocence

a question I asked Albert Serra two years ago:

Let’s continue with another feeling: In your film I felt a strong desire for the women, their innocence and the way you show them. But at the same time I also had the desire to die.

I am cold and I am passionate. Maybe it is the mix of those to attributes you feel there.  I am dangerous. I have a lot of determination but without a goal. The same is true for the characters in the film. They desire but they don’t have a true object of desire. There is no proper goal in my film. It is just a dead desire. There are no concrete feelings for me. Though it may be sensual and sometimes erotic the characters cannot feel true desire without objects. And as you mentioned the women in the film,  I like them, too. Especially one of them, she has a very provocative face. And that is exactly why I don’t use her face in my film. I think of filmmakers as spectators. Let me explain that. I see the girl and I like her. But I don’t want to interfere, I don’t want to touch her or give her any meaning. I feel very close to Andy Warhol in this aspect. He talked a lot about manipulating without touching. Of course, I manipulate. I shoot, I edit, I change things until long after the shooting. But I won’t touch materiality. It is almost a catholic thought. The idea of sacred materiality, it is a kind of spiritual metamorphosis for me. At the same time I feel it to be more respectful. What ultimately arrives is a strange mixture of naturalism and artificiality.

how to achieve innocence? how to film innocence? the moment you capture it on film, it is not innocent anymore…

„Wretches! ye loved her for her wealth and hated her for her pride,

And when she fell in feeble health, ye blessed her- that she died!

How shall the ritual, then, be read?- the requiem how be sung

By you- by yours, the evil eye,- by yours, the slanderous tongue

That did to death the innocence that died, and died so young?“

(Lenore-Edgar Allan Poe)

penetration as death of innocence

but then there is João César Monteiro (filming an innocent death of innocence; trembling in beauty)

Give me arms and horses, wars will be mine

Silvestre

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You have long tresses sister, you will be known.

– With sharp scissors they will be cut short.

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You have a shy look sister, you will be known.

– When I am with men, I will not look down.

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You have a pale face sister, you will be known.

– With three days on the road, the sun will darken it.

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You have erect shoulders sister, you will be known.

– May my weapons be heavy for my shoulders to fall.

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You have a high bosom sister, you will be known.

– I will shrink my bosom into my heart within.

Silvestre7You have gentle hands sister, you will be known.

– There will be wind and rain that will toughen them.

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You have broad hips sister, you will be known.

– They will be under my doublet, men will never see them.

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You have dainty feet sister, you will be known.

– I will put them in boots and they will never be shown.

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You will be afraid in battle sister, you will be known.

– I will know how to be a man with my lance in my hand.

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You will fall in love sister, you will be known.

– Those who speak to me of love will pay dearly for it.

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