Notiz zur Sprache (João César Monteiros)

Wer spricht wie aus Büchern, gehoben und archaisch, dem sagt man, mit der um sich greifenden Genugtuung jener, die sich kollektiv im Recht sehen, gern nach, weltfremd oder dekadent zu sein. Das Beispiel João César Monteiros, der sich um einen Ausdruck bemühte, der mehr an Luís de Camões erinnerte, als an die verstaubten Straßen, auf denen er drehte, beweist, dass dabei nichts gewonnen wird. Schließlich verändert Monteiro das Licht der Dinge, wenn er spricht.

Die sogenannte „schöne Sprache“ wurde längst vom Diktat des Massengeschmacks aus Literatur und Kino entfernt, dort wo sie noch aufblitzt, hängt sie wie ein verblassendes Gemälde in der Nische, für all jene, die daran noch Gefallen finden (alle anderen haben sicher besseres zu tun).

In Filmen, das sagte schon Maya Deren, dürfe ohnedies nicht schön gesprochen, geschweige denn gedichtet werden und man fragt sich, was diejenigen, die der Poesie der Sprache jene des Bildes gegenüberstellen, gewinnen und was andersherum verloren gehen würde, wenn man beides nebeneinander stellte, wie das etwa bei Manoel de Oliveira, Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub, Marguerite Duras oder Chris Marker der Fall ist.

Der vielerorts verpönte Voice-Over, der mehr sein will als Information, der im Zwischenspiel von Sprache und Bild seine Bestimmung findet, ist so viel stiller als der aufgesetzte Lärm, mit dem das Kino uns seit Jahrzehnten Handlungen zeigt. Aber woher soll die Sprache auch kommen, wenn sich diejenigen, die ein Gefühl für sie haben, davor fürchten, dass sie nicht verstanden werden? Jenseits der wirklich guten Lektoren wird in impressionistischer Sekundenschnelle an ästhetischen Verfeinerungen gearbeitet, die gleich einer Asphaltwalze alles ebenerdig und teerduftend in der angenehmen Bedeutungslosigkeit versenken. Lieber lebensnah als wahr, lieber klar als kompliziert.

Sie alle haben Recht, denn anders werden sie nicht verstanden, egal ob sie ein wirkliches Bild machen oder einen wirklichen Satz sprechen, all das in den Augen und Ohren derer, die entscheiden: angestrengt, verkopft, prätentiös und abgehoben. Lieber also nur möglichst leicht verständlich das nachsagen, was erwartet wird und zufrieden sein, weil man dafür gestern wie heute das meiste Lob bekommt.

Oder schweigen.

Shared Experience

Cruel sometimes, but only out of tenderness.”[1]

André Bazin

“Just as in the theatre the lightning, the set, faithfulness to nature and other incidentals must play a subordinate role to the word, so in films the words, the technology and the technique and the logic of the visible must be secondary to the image, subordinate to the vision containing untold wonders within it, which, in cinema, can be the bearer of artistic truth.”[2]

Max Ophüls

Ist das vermessen, mein Gott, vergieb.

Aber ich will dir damit nur sagen:

Meine beste Kraft soll sein wie ein Trieb,

so ohne Zürnen und ohne Zagen;

so haben dich ja die Kinder lieb.

Rainer Maria Rilke (Alles noch nie Gesagte, excerpt)

 

In Jean Renoir’s The River the life of an English family peacefully rolls on along the Ganges, until war veteran Captain John arrives in their home. The life of Harriet, the young lady of the house, is turned upside down, and the presence of this charming young man has an impact on her friends Valerie and Melanie, too. The girls’ coming of age story is set in Indian gardens of tender romances and low-key quarrels, but the death of Bogey, Harriet’s brother, a young explorer casts a dark shadow on their worriless days.

Being a student of Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola in the Basque Country, I was glad to be in the extremely privileged position of watching The River in a cinema-screening despite all the restrictions last year. Surrounded by film students, remembering their impressions of other films we have recently watched, having in mind all the movie experiences I had during the Fassbinder and Rohmer programmes of the Basque Film Archive in Donostia, my head was full and I felt rather agitated, but still, the film immediately swept me away.

Many of my film-going-experiences from last year took place as part of university projections. Learning more and more about their taste and what other film students deem important, the presumption of their potential reception of the film started to impact my own anticipation before the screenings. The significance of watching cinema as a shared experience and getting to know the others’ perspective revealed – perhaps with even greater contrast than many other aspects I was already aware of – the immense difference between one film studies program and another. It made me think about the aching, nonsensical situation of many schools – my former, Hungarian university among them – which can’t or don’t even make the effort to organize screenings and subsequent events, to provide a possibility for students to acquire an understanding of one another.

On a big screen, the meandering choreography prevailed along the nuanced settings, the film came alive in its original duality – the plot was streaming to several different directions, nestling the audience in the beauty of everyday life while the details obliged us to keep an eye on every gesture and movement. This quality, the symbolic Technicolor and the unexpectedly changing tone of the film reminded me of another film I first saw for a university class as well. As I recall, the experience was quite confusing. The Trouble with Harry was presented as an atypical Hitchcock film, as a film of minor importance in his oeuvre, which can be best appreciated by searching for the narrative units which structure it. The impossibility to categorize and label a film within a genre or frequently used terms blocks everybody, including teachers, which inevitably results in treating films like a riddle, ignoring their richer aspects. Fortunately, the incapacity of a Hungarian university class didn’t deprive The Trouble with Harry of its complex set of virtues.

While at first glance the two films might seem very different (and maybe they are) the dominance of imagination and the simple principle that death enlists the creation of life tangle them on a deeper level. Imagination is the basic motor of the two films. In The River, India instead of representing itself serves as the visually rich scene of childhood imagination, and in The Trouble with Harry the story is building upon the fantasies and speculations of all the characters. All the nuances, like the carefully painted leaves[3] in The Trouble with Harry or the arranging of the characters in The River, and the decision of making a movie in Technicolor point to a differing intention from the documentary-like exploration of reality. That being said, the on-location photography and the non-professional cast of The River carry the film with palpable urgency, preserving an atmosphere of India – India, whose truth remain undiscovered for the English people, except, as Bazin writes, Bogey.

There is at least one character who incarnates the mystical temptation of the Orient, and this is Bogey. Remember his games with his little native friend, as a mysterious and taciturn as a bronze statue? He is the only witness to Bogey’s death, and he is the only one at the burial who does not grieve, because he alone understands the vanity of the tears and the ignorance which the Westerners’ love conceals: ignorance of the profound secret to which ‘The Unknown’ has initiated Bogey for eternity.”[4]

There is truth in The Trouble with Harry too, the tension that makes the black comedy charming and restlessly intense at once, is the constantly present idea of rebirth which comes from the tragic certainty of death. „From the opening credits, virtually every detail figures forth the renewal of the natural and human world.[5]

The universal thought of renewal and constant change in The River becomes unmistakably clear in the depiction of the Bengal, done with the directness of a documentary. It reminded me of a Hungarian poem, A Dunánál (József Attila), one I have first read in a dusty high school class but nonetheless I memorized with great enthusiasm and joy, as the romantic idea of seeing, understanding and uniting with past generations through the image of the river had a great impression on me, and as I remember, all the other youngsters of my class.

József Attila: By the Danube[6]

I.

I sat there on the quayside by the landing,

a melon rind was drifting on the flow.

I delved into my fate, just understanding:

the surface chatters, while it’s calm below.

As if my heart had been its very source,

troubled, wise was the Danube, mighty force.

 

Like muscles when you work and lift the axe,

or harvest, hammer, excavate a grave,

so did the water tighten, surge, relax

with every current, every breezy wave.

Like Mother dandled, told a tale, caressed,

laundered the dirt of all of Budapest.

 

A drizzle started, moistening the morning

but didn’t care much, so it stopped again.

And yet, like someone who under an awning

watches the rain-I gazed into the plain:

As twilight, that may infinitely last,

so grey was all that used to shine, the past.

 

The Danube flowed, and like a tiny child

plays on his fertile, dreamy mother’s knee,

so cradled and embraced and gently smiled

each playful wave, waving hullo to me.

They shuddered on the flood of past events

like tombstones, tumbling graveyard monuments.

 

II.

For hundred thousand years I have been gazing

and suddenly I see what’s there to see.

A flash, and time is fully-grown, embracing

what generations scan, and show to me.

 

I see what they’ve not seen, for they defended,

embraced, dug, murdered, their living to ply,

and they see now, in cold matter descended,

what I can’t see when I’m to testify.

 

We all relate, like blessed to the damn’d,

Mine is the past and theirs is the today

We write poems-my pencil in their hand,  

I sense them and remember what to say.

 

III.

Mother was Kun, Father was Szekely, partly,

and half, or maybe, pure Romanian.

From Mother’s lips the food was sweet and hearty,

from Father’s lips the truth was radiant.

They embrace again when I am stirring.

This fills my heart with deep melancholy-

we are all mortal. It’s me, re-occurring.

„Just wait, we’ll soon be gone! …“ – they talk to me.

 

They call, I know we are now one: this one-ness

has made me strong, for I remember well

that I am every parent in the boundless

succession to the primal lonely cell.

I am the First, who splits, proliferating

till I become my father and mother,

then father splits and mother, procreating

the multiplying me and none other!

 

I am the world – the ancient, endless story:

clan fighting clan for creed or crazy greed.

I march among the conquerors in glory,

I suffer with the conquered in defeat. Árpád and Zalán, Werbőczi and Dózsa –

Slavs, Mongols, Turks and other variants

in me, we shall redeem the long foreclosure

with gentle future-new Hungarians!

 

…I want to work. It’s hard for human nature

to make a true confession of the past.

The Danube, which is past, present and future

entwines its waves in tender friendly clasps.

Out of the blood our fathers shed in battles

flows peace, through our remembrance and regard,

creating order in our common matters,

this is our task, we know it will be hard.

 

There is only one particular detail in the contemplation of the present moment, the descending melon-rind, then the Danube is evoked by associations and emotions structured in different rhythmical unities displaying the waving and streaming rhythm of the river.

In Renoir’s film Harriet (Patricia Walters) is the poet writing about the river. Her role and the director’s relation to it is quite similar to the young female characters in the universe of Éric Rohmer, which I got close to again during the retrospective dedicated to him in the Basque Archive last year. As for instance in Rohmer’s Le genou de Claire or Pauline à la plage Laura (Béatrice Romand) and Pauline (Amanda Langlet) are presented as morally integrated personalities, in The River Harriet and Melanie (Radha Burnier) are undoubtedly the most mature ones. While the young girls’ uncontaminated morals and innocence prevail in the frustration of the adult world, they possess a lot of qualities that come from their position and age, which seems close to the directors’ own emotional positioning in their stories. Besides, in these films the conversations are depicted in a classical, theatrical way – the actors are positioned comfortably for the spectator, in the middle of the composition and in front of the camera. This technique results in wild openness as it allows us to see through the people’s pretentions.

Another crucial similarity was the current reception of the films that I experienced in the company of a film student audience. Unfortunately, the exclusive will to detect white-male misbehaviour would leave a mark on the post-screening discussions, which in case of Rohmer emerged in the form of unforgiving rigidity. In The River, Captain John’s character was excused because of the actor, Thomas E. Breen’s actual disability. While our personal background naturally defines our elemental stance in the process of reception, to enable a true appreciation of a film’s inner rules and world, we must let go of prejudices and look for experiences beyond what we know, experiences that don’t only mirror a version of ourselves on the screen. All the central characters have to say goodbye to their innocence, including Captain John, who is stripped of his childhood by the war. For Valerie (Adrienne Corri), the kiss with the Captain means the fracture in her world while, for Melanie, it means understanding her position between different cultures means the change. Harriet’s drama gets to be emphasized, as losing Bogey is a trauma for all of the family. As viewers we follow Harriet’s personal path from the idyll of the gardens and her facing the cruelty of everyday life.

The other criticized facet of The River was the depiction of India, even if the film is clear about its own take on the country. What geography adds is more a „religious spirituality”,[7] not a sociological aspect. While Renoir’s amusement and attraction to India is obvious, he remains more interested in morals and in the world of youth. It becomes especially clear when Harriet tells the story of Krishna, her story, which feeds upon the mysterious traditions and land of India, but is entirely liberated from any coercion of telling the truth.

The figure of the young poetess, the overwhelming emotions of youth, the actual colliding into the universal makes me think of the Aurélia Steiner (Melbourne), a figure of a woman narrating the images in Marguerite Duras’ voice. Aurélia Steiner is an 18-year-old Jewish girl, writing letters to someone, who, in the Melbourne letter, seems to be her lover, but later, in the Vancouver letter the addressee reveals the recipient to have been her father, murdered in Auschwitz. In Aurélia Steiner (Melbourne), the reading of the letter is accompanied by the pictures of a river. While at first glance we might think that the drifting tracking shot of the river result in discrepancy, the conflict between the agitated state of mind of the writer in sound and the fluent image, the river gives a shape to the rhythm of the poem and the sweeping sound of Marguerite Duras’ recitation. The river is not an evident symbol of Aurélia’s solitude and her feeling of undefined absence, it rather makes us sense the desire to get to know the invisible. The letter invokes the tragedies of history on a macrocosmic scale – at the same time an intimate dimension is given voice, a devotion to an addressee unknown to the writer and the audience alike. The real conflict lies between the temporal and the permanent, the concrete words and the constantly changing river, the body and the soul. We feel the need of a young girl to identify herself, somehow lost in the middle of the contradictions of all, becoming one with the river, with the world, searching for someone to answer her loneliness.

This film I watched alone, on the screen of my laptop. Aurélia Steiner stayed with me for a while, Marguerite Duras’ voice gave the rhythm of my next few days. I remembered it as a personal experience, I haven’t talked about it with anyone, maybe with the intention of keeping the experience to myself, or because I just didn’t have any articulable thoughts about it. Months passed by, when on a chilly day I had bumped into a friend on the street, and in a short conversation somehow the title came up. We barely touched upon the film, just mentioned that it is a beautiful piece which we both really liked.

I was so glad this encounter recalled this facet of films, poems and art in general, I tend to forget. Artworks give a ground for our discussions, these experiences self-evidently link us with people around us, and even from the past and from the future. Although Aurélia’s questions come from her uncertainty, by watching the film, we reassuringly answer them.

Aurélia Steiner (Melbourne)[8]

I’m writing maybe a thousand letters
you, to give to you
letters of my present life.
And you, you’ll do with them
what I’d like…
you to do with them
which is, whatever you want.
That’s what I desire.
That this be delivered to you.
Where are you?
How to reach you?
How can we come close
in this love,
cancel this apparent fragmentation
of time
which separates us,
one from the other?
Listen.
I’ll never separate you from your body.
Never.
It’s three in the afternoon
The sun is out behind the trees
the air is cool.
(…)
My name is Aurelia Steiner.
I live in Melbourne
where my parents are teachers.
I’m 18 years old.
I write.

 

 

[1] Bazin, André: A Pure Masterpiece: The River. In: François Truffaut (ed.): Jean Renoir. (trans. W. W. Halsey II, William H. Simon) London & New York: Howard & Wyndham Ltd. 1974, p. 108.

[2] Ophüls, Max: The Pleasure of Seeing: Thoughts on the Subject Matter of Film. In: Willemen, Paul (ed.): Ophuls. London: British Film Institute, 1978. pp. 33-34.

[3]Hitchcock had leaves painted different colours and pinned to artificial trees in the studio to create his own version of autumn in Vermont.” Haeffner, Nicholas: Alfred Hitchcock. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2005. p. 37.

[4] Bazin, André: A Pure Masterpiece: The River. In: François Truffaut (ed.): Jean Renoir. (trans. W. W. Halsey II, William H. Simon) London & New York: Howard & Wyndham Ltd. 1974, p. 114.

[5] Brill, Lesley: The Hitchcock Romance. Love and Irony in Hitchcock’s Films. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988. p. 283.

[6] József Attila: By the Danube (trans. Peter Zollman), Reprinted by permission of Corvina Kiadó, 1997

[7] Bazin, André: Jean Renoir. (ed. François Truffaut, trans. W. W. Halsey II, William H. Simon) London & New York: Howard & Wyndham Ltd. 1974, p. 113.

[8] Marguerite Duras, 1979. (unknown translator)

Letters as Films/Films as Letters

Dear Garbiñe Ortega and Francisco Algarín Navarro,

(I am sorry for my English, it feels very hard to write a letter in a language that is not my own. Since I know English is also not your mother tongue I will nevertheless go for it, so we can meet on this huge island where we all think that we can understand each other.)

one of you I do not know personally, yet, after reading your publication Correspondencias. Cartas Como Películas my voice might seem strangely familiar to you. I can not write this letter as a stranger. Only letters having to do with money can be written as a stranger. Then we must keep a distance as if to make sure how important money is. The letters of filmmakers and people of the film world you collected and arranged beautifully in your book sometimes have to do with money. For example, Jacques Rivette writing to Henri Langlois or Joris Ivens to Jean Painlevé. However, they are not business letters in the strict sense of the word. They are incidents of reaching out and your book makes the point that this reaching out ultimately helps us readers to get closer.

You have to know that letters are very important to me. I didn’t want to read your book because I am interested in those little and great cinephile anecdotes that hide within those intimate offerings by filmmakers. Of course, I was fascinated by such exchanges and disappointments as between Marguerite Duras and Alain Resnais concerning first the shooting of Hiroshima, mon amour (Resnais: “I have been in Hiroshima“) and later his rejection of La Destruction capitale. Still this kind of information is just a byproduct for me, something to brag about next time I get into one of those cinephile get-togethers in which it is all about who can tell what story. For me letters have a different meaning and this is why I was so intrigued when I first heard about your book and also the retrospective you organised during the Punto de Vista Festival. It is this idea of films as letters and letters as films that I have been thinking about a lot recently. There are three aspects concerning letters I am particularly interested in.

The first one is the impossibility of a letter. It is related to a silence. The silence of the person addressed, a silence that is also a waiting for an answer. In a couple of letters published in your book I can find this silence. It occurs when a letter does not ask for an answer. Such is the case with the letter Gregory J. Markopolous writes to Stan Brakhage. It is a curious letter because Markopoulos seems to need a silent reader in order to collect his thoughts about his own film. Does it really matter it is Brakhage he writes to? I think so because he feels an understanding. Another obvious example would be Manoel De Oliveira’s letter to the deceased Serge Daney. Here the letter is a rather beautiful pretence to lay out a personal film theory. There will be no answer and he knows it while writing. The impossibility of a letter for me has to do with the paradox of a dialogue which does neither necessarily get nor always need an answer. It is an imagined conversation, a reaching out that contrary to modern day communication never knows if the addressed has read the message or not. It is more like an invitation to correspond, an opening or offering as you label it. I didn’t quite understand why you decided to divide the letters into different chapters (Offerings, In the Battlefield, Collaborations, Processes, Cinema and Life). I would think that almost all the letters are about all of this things. They try to begin this impossible dialogue. Sometimes it is about admiration (this can go very far, in the letter Raymonde Carasco writes to Duras I had the feeling she was even imitating her style, something we probably all do after reading one of her novels; here admiration becomes inspiration and imitation, it is a sharing that can also go wrong as with Carolee Schneemann’s letter to Yvonne Rainer. I find it very cruel but honest how Rainer does not respond to Schneemann’s feelings concerning her work. Another kind of imitation, more playful, can be found in the letter of Vanda Duarte and Pedro Costa to Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. Here the imitation related to Robert Desnos’ letter that Costa adapted for his work), sometimes there is a real questions like when Peter Hutton writes to Warren Sonbert and wants to know about somebody he saw in Noblesse Oblige, sometimes it is a searching for soulmates, a way to overcome insecurities (I think about Orson Welles wanting to know if Robert Flaherty likes Citizen Kane), sometimes it is asking for help. Maybe Chris Marker’s statement in his letter to Alain Cuny helps us a bit to understand more. He writes: “Poets exists to offer a strength that is not inside us.“

Isn’t the silence after writing a letter like this poet? It only fits then that many of the letters are works of art in their own right. I am not sure if I can follow your perception that they are films but surely they are art. Maybe we can say that they are like the beginning of a film, like a shot without reverse shot, like a fade into a world we are allowed to discover. It is also no coincidence that many letters in your book announce a film to come. They are about the anxieties and fears that go into a film. I wonder how many letters can be found that announce films that will never come. How many films remain in this silence that is a letter.

The way you illustrated the book and also your choice of letters helps a lot to get an idea of the materialistic approaches to the art of the letter. You stress the work of assemblage, of montage that is of course a cinematic idea. As I had to read the English translations in the back of the book I most of the time lacked the possibility to read and see at the same time. Yet, sometimes I was able to discover more about certain letters in your book from the way they look (the handwriting, the color of paper which is also stressed in a letter from Sergei Eisenstein to Esfir Shub, the postcards used and so on) than from the writing. A core letter for your argument is maybe when Hollis Frampton writes to Brakhage about how to speak about a film with words. In this letter we may find the tension between letters and cinema, an impossibility that like good criticism lives in a gap that it always needs to overcome. I think your book looks beautiful. It may seem a bit peculiar but for me with letters it is as important to find them, have them rest on my table a while, to be a promise as it is to open and read them. Your book keeps that promise. Like with certain letters this beauty has nothing to do with perfectionism. Some of the pages give the impression of a rather hasty and sloppy work. Some names misspelled, letters missing in the overview and so on. This does not make it a worse book. It is just a reminder of what it means to sit down and write a letter. The time, the tiredness, the formality and the freedom.

The second aspect I think about concerning letters has to do with a practice of correspondence. Especially from today’s perspective writing a letter is an act of resistance. It would be so much easier to use any other mode of communication to bridge distances, to reach out. A letter demands more time, more thought. It also demands going to the post office, it demands deciding for a kind of paper, a postcard maybe, deciding for a pen or a typewriter. All these decisions say something or allow us to say something. Like analogue cinema today, it teaches something about what we lose. What I write to you now is not a letter. It is a bastard brother of a letter written on a computer. It is an imitation at best. After reading your book I felt like writing a real letter. I didn’t do it. Maybe it is laziness, maybe it is that I can not get out of my habits, maybe it is a hesitation, maybe this must be my last wrong letter. Yet, we must be careful as much as we must be careful with analogue cinema today. It would be dangerous to assume that the medium is already the message. Letters also carry with them the double-edged air of nostalgia. I am very glad that the letters you published are, like cinema, always in the present. I never have the feeling that they try to be conceived as romantic reminders of the thoughts that once we had. It also helps that you included very banal letters. Like a banal shot in a film they help to be reminded what is necessary and what could be too much. No matter in what medium writing takes place, I like to think that people sit at a table to do it. The silence I was writing about earlier can only be heard when one invests a bit of time. This is why the film critics in Cannes and comparable festivals often touch the ridiculous with their texts written sitting on the floor waiting for the next screening. But then maybe a review is not a letter. I think it should be, though.

The last aspect has to do with a personal crisis I faced about a year ago. It is related to the questions: Who do we write a text for? Who do we make a film for? I still have some problems imagining a reader or a viewer in the plural. As you might know I also make films. Sometimes in the middle of working on a film or text I wake up and wonder why I am doing it. Is it only for myself? It became apparent to me that I want to make a film or write a text in order to show or tell someone something. It is important for me that this someone is a specific person because depending on this person I choose what I show or tell. Lets suppose I make a film about the chocolate factory I live next to. It would be a completely different film/letter if I send it to my mother or you or the boss of the factory. In contrast to Jean-Luc Godard who writes so wonderfully to Philippe Garrel that he wants to see a film with his own eyes, I’d love to see films/the world through the eyes of others or even more in a kind of merging of gazes. I find it to be very strange that it is taken for granted that a film is for more than one person if a letter is not. I know about the social aspects of cinema, the importance of sharing and the self-satisfied insouciance related to it, yet, for me it proofed to be poisonous to care about more than one person while working on a film or certain texts. Your retrospective and your book gave me the courage to film a first letter. It is not addressed to you but maybe you can see it one day. Or another one will be addressed to you.

Jean Cocteau to Jean Marais: “Your last letter is wonderful. It gives me courage.“

The energy you spread for cinema is like the best letters an act of love that keeps us going. Thank you for that.

Yours,
Patrick

Liebesbrief an Jeanne Moreau

Liebe Jeanne Moreau,

ich habe dich gesehen, aber ich bin mir nicht sicher, ob du auch mich gesehen hast. Es muss in einer regnerischen Nacht gewesen sein, irgendwo, wo wir nicht zuhause sind. Ich muss dir einfach schreiben. Vielleicht sitzen wir eines Tages auf einem Golfplatz und du liest mir diesen Brief vor. Ich verspreche dir, dass ich mich daran erinnern werde, dass ich ihn dir geschrieben habe.

Eva Losey
Ich bin mir nicht sicher, ob du jemals kleiner bist, als die Leinwand, die dich zu mir bringt. In vielen Filmen bist du allein mit dem Licht und dem Schatten, selbst wenn du von Männern umgarnt wirst. Du wartest an Ufern, du scheinst nie auf etwas zu warten, sondern immer im Warten selbst zu existieren. Oft sind es reiche Männer, schöne Männer, die um dich tanzen. Du bist zwischen den Armen von Jean Gabin und Lino Ventura gehangen. Vielleicht muss das so sein in Frankreich. Aber ihrer maskulinen Art bist du mit einem Trotz der verführerischen Verachtung begegnet. Mit deinem herunterhängenden Mundwinkeln (ich fand es immer passend, dass du einen Film über Lilian Gish gemacht hast, die in der berühmtesten Mundwinkel-Szene der Filmgeschichte gespielt hat, ja du bist eine zerbrochene Blüte, aber auch ein blühendes Zerbrechen), der hohen Stirn und dem Gang, dem man Stunden zusehen kann. Für mich hast du deinen Kopf immer leicht im Nacken, deine Nase etwas in der Luft. In der Sonne, im Regen, in der Stadt. Du bist der Widerstand im Regen. Der Widerstand gegen die eigene Schwäche, gegen die Blicke, die dich verfolgen. Manchmal schäme ich mich fast, dich anzusehen. Du blickst zurück, ohne mich anzusehen. Du bleibst unerreichbar.

Du trägst eine natürliche Schwere in dir, die mal gelangweilt wirkt, mal arrogant, mal zerbrechlich, mal leidenschaftlich, mal aufrichtig und mal geliebt. Aber du hast auch eine leichte, verspielte Seite, ich habe sie gesehen zwischen zwei Männern, mit Musik, mit Mützen. Hast du mir da zugeblinzelt?

Eleveator Gallows
Du hast zu oft traurig gesagt: Je t’aime. Kann ich dir noch glauben? Ich bin mir da nicht sicher und jetzt muss ich dir ein Geständnis machen. Ich habe dein Tagebuch gelesen. Ich weiß, dass der Mann, der den Schuhfetisch hat dich mag. Der dicke Anwalt, der sich kaum aus seinem Bett erheben kann, mag dich auch. Du verwirrst mich. Ich versuche nicht eifersüchtig zu sein, aber ich würde dir gerne meinen Garten zeigen. Außerdem würde ich dir gerne meine neue Waschmaschine präsentieren, wenn du mal wieder gelangweilt in deiner Wohnung sitzt. In deiner Langeweile liegt etwas, was einen Blick in dich ermöglicht. Du öffnest dich für Zeit-Bilder, dein Spiel existiert immer mit der Zeit, die man nicht mehr sehen kann. Vielleicht hattest du deshalb Probleme älter zu werden. Du singst dann: Each man kills the thing he loves. Ich mag das, es passt zu dir.

Ich muss dir noch etwas gestehen, vielleicht ist es blöd: Ich mag dich lieber in schwarz und weiß als in Farbe. Es scheint für dich gemacht, es betont den Schatten unter deinen Augen, die minimalen Regungen in deinem Gesicht, die mir sagen, dass du dort ,wo du bist, nicht du sein kannst. Die Farblosigkeit unterstreicht deine Traurigkeit, die so viel Würde in sich trägt. Nur du kannst bei deiner Hochzeit schwarz tragen. Ein Trauerzug, wie alles an dir und mir dir, sich abwendend, hinfort fahrend in das Unbewusste einer Sehnsucht.

In der reflektiert ein Licht, das kein Licht kennt.

Nathalie Granger

Courtisane 1: Figures of Dissent – Figures of Lament

Dear Stoffel Debuysere,

we haven’t met in person except anonymously after you found a restaurant for our small group of people in Ghent. However, after reading your book „Figures of Dissent“ and being at Courtisane Festival, I have to address you in a rather personal way. Mainly because your Figures of Dissent are born out of Figures of Lament. Lament which I heavily feel inside myself. Let’s call it an impotence of cinema and being with cinema. I can sense your struggle to create dissent out of lament. It is in your words and in your programs. It is something we all seem to be in desperate need of: Your idea is to go beyond the discourse of mourning the loss of cinema. The sheer depth of the book and the emotional core that lies underneath makes it one of the most exigent pieces of searching for something in cinema I have read. Sometimes, you find real dissent as an author, while at other times dissent is just a perfect word for something that should be there. Yet, in your work as a programmer, there is more dissent in the potential of your presentations than in the reality of how they are carried out. At least that is what I found to be the case at this year’s Courtisane.

To Be Here von Ute Aurand

To Be Here von Ute Aurand

Please forgive me for writing this letter in a rather spontaneous fashion and not at all in the manner of precise research and collective combination of theories and thoughts on certain topics I am going to address. I am neither a scientist nor am I a journalist. Consider me an observer in a modest echo chamber. I am also aware that your book is about your Figures-of-Dissent-Screenings, not about Courtisane. Nevertheless, I see all those movements of dissent as part of the same approach.

Let me try to be more precise: While reading your book, I talked to some of my friends and found that there was an immediate common ground concerning questions of impotence and a suppressed euphoria in the struggle against what cinema and politics are today. Everyone seems to talk about change; nobody really does anything. Every lit flame is persecuted by fears. My question is: If you want to survive with cinema, how can you be Straub? How can you be a collective, how can you be Godard without being called Godard, how can you make Killer of Sheep? How can those examples not be exceptions or a narrated history as it happens from time to time in your book? You write that something must be done even if we don’t know what it is.

Go blind again!

What bothered me while reading your letters written to friends/comrades was the absence of replies. Did your friends remain silent or are their answers held back for another book? Are your letters really letters? Why did you choose that form? Asking myself how you could leave out possible answers while being concerned with giving voice to people, having polyphonic approaches to what we conceive as reality or cinema, I was a bit irritated until I discovered that your five letters contain these voices. Firstly, because you find the dissent in combinations of thoughts of other thinkers. Even more so due to those letters being five fingers of the same hand, each speaking to a different chamber where there will be different echoes. The ideas pertaining to curating as an act of caring you bring to the light in your letter to Barry Esson are inscribed in your own way of working. Thus I feel that this is the first dissent I can take from your writing: Caring.

Die Donau rauf von Peter Nestler

Die Donau rauf von Peter Nestler

The thoughts of caring are strongly connected with those of a collective experience of cinema in your writing. In addition, it seems to me that you write a sort of manifesto for your own work as a curator, observer, writer, cinema person. You write without the grand gestures and aggressive provocations one normally gets in politically motivated thinking in cinema. Nevertheless, to take something out of your first letter to Evan Calder Williams: you are present, it is your fire one can read in the book. This fire that I was clearly able to read in your texts did not exist in your presence at the festival. It was there with other speakers introducing the screenings, but not with you. You write about a return of politics in cinema, you almost evoke it. You write that such an endeavour is also a question of personal experience and worldview, one that tries to build bridges between cinema and society. You state that your screenings want to be a catalyst for public exchange and dialogue.

What is a dialogue? Where does it happen? Such a question seems to be typical of what you describe as a culture of skepticism. So here I am, writing to you publicly. Certainly this is a form of dialogue and your work is a catalyst for it. Yet, I am not sure if there is more dialogue in this than there was in my reading your book at my little table in silence. Am I more active now? Or am I more active because I was allowed to be “passive”? The same has always been true for cinema in my case. I often feel how it takes away the power of films, those that thwart representations, those that keep a distance, those that don’t, as soon as words about it are spoken too soon after a screening, as soon as cinema is understood as a space where the dialogue between screen and audience has to be extended. As I now was a guest at your care taking at Courtisane, I must tell you that I didn’t discover your writing in your way of showing films. Where is the space for dialogue at a festival where you have to run from one screening to the next? Where is the possibility of going blind again at a festival if many inspired and passionate cinephiles cannot help but fall asleep at Peter Nestler’s films because they started the day with Ogawa and had no chance for a meal in-between? Moreover, I was disappointed by the inability of the festival to project film in a proper way. What is the point in having such a beautiful selection of films as in the program consisting of Nestler’s Am Siel, Die Donau rauf and Straub,Huillet’s Itinéraire de Jean Bricard when it is projected and cared about in such a manner? Please don’t misunderstand me, I understand that there might be problems with projections, it is part of the pleasure and the medium but a projectionist running into the room, asking the audience “What is the problem?”, not knowing what the problem is when a copy is running muted, staff running through the cinema, no real excuse and all that in front of the filmmaker present is far away from any idea of caring. I wonder why you don’t get rid of half of your screenings and get some people who are able to project instead. I am pretty sure I leave out some economical realities here, such as the time you have for preparation and so on, but I decided to take your writing as a standard. In my opinion, the space and time you create for cinema needs more concentration. What my friends and I discovered was a festival with a great program talking about utopias, struggles and a different kind of cinema that worked like any other festival in the way of showing this program.

Ödenwaldstetten von Peter Nestler

Ödenwaldstetten von Peter Nestler

When you speak about displacement in cinema in your letter to Sarah Vanhee, about the dream to make art active, I feel inspired and doubtful at the same time. Yes, I want to scream out, I want to fight, I want to show films, I need to discuss, write, make films. However, I also want to keep it a secret, keep it pure (in your letter to Mohanad Yaqubi you write that there is no pure image; you are probably right. Is there an illusion of a pure image?), silent, innocent and embrace what you call via Barthes the bliss of discretion. I wonder which of those two tendencies is more naive? When Rainer Werner Fassbinder said that he wanted to build a house with his films, was it to close or to open the doors of the house? In my opinion it is also curious that the path to disillusion Serge Daney wanted us to leave always comes when the lights in the cinema are turned on after a screening, when there are no secrets and the work of cinema is talked about instead of manifested on the screen. It is this community of translators I have problems with. Yet, I enjoy them immensely and I think that translators in whatever form they appear are more and more important for cinema as a culture. Mr. Rancière’s thoughts on the emancipation of the spectator and your reflections on them seem very true to me. We are all translators to a certain degree. What I am looking for may be a translator in silence. Somebody who lights in darkness and speaks in silence. So you see, my lament is a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand, I ask for more space for dialogue while on the other hand I don’t want to have any dialogue at all. Maybe I should replace “dialogue” with “breathing”. It is in the breathing between films I discover them and their modes of visibility. It is when I am not looking, talking or listening that cinema comes closer. For me, a festival like Courtisane should have the courage to remain silent and to burst out in flames of anger and love.

Of course, when thinking about caring and politics it is rather obvious which tendency one should follow. I am not talking about discourse, but I am attempting to talk about experience. Perhaps experience and discourse should be more connected. You rightly state in almost all of your letters that a direct translation from watching into action is impossible. For me, the same is true for everything that happens around the act of seeing. Let’s call it discourse. Marguerite Duras wrote that for her it is not possible to activate or teach anyone. The only possibility appears if the reader or audience member discovers things by himself or he/she is in love. Love could convince, activate, agitate, change. This idea of loving brings me back to your thoughts on caring. With Friedrich Schiller you claim: “The solitude of art bears within the promise of a new art of living.” With Rancière, you make it clear that art is not able to change the world. Instead, it offers new modes of visibility and affectivity. Isn’t it a paradox that they say love makes you blind? In a strange dream, I wished for cinema to make us blind. In the concepts of political cinema you describe visibility is king. Things are either revealed, highlighted or shown. I am not certain whether cinema is an art of light or of shadows. In my view, it was always very strong, especially in political terms, when it complicated perceptions instead of clarifying them; an art of the night, not of the day, or even more so: something in between.

Four Diamonds von Ute Aurand

Four Diamonds von Ute Aurand

This is also the case with all the discussions and dialogues following the screenings and in the way you conducted them, sometimes much too hastily, at this year’s Courtisane. There is a next screening but we talk with the filmmaker because, because, because. Did any of the discussions inside the cinemas go beyond questions about facts and the production of the films? I am not saying that the production is not very important and/or very political. It is maybe the most political. Yet, I miss the talk that goes beyond cinema/which follows where cinema is leading us. Discussions about caring and fighting, being angry and beautiful, discussions that don’t take things for granted too easily. I could sense a bit of that in the Q&As with Ute Aurand but never in the ones with Peter Nestler. It is a problem of the so-called cinephile that he/she loves to declare instead of listening. Being a cinephile seems to me like being part of an elite club and sometimes Courtisane felt like that, too. For example, showing the problems of farmers in Japan to a chosen few is a feeling I don’t like to have. This has very little to do with the way you curate but more with cinema itself. It is like an alcove pretending to be a balcony. I was expecting Courtisane to be built more like a balcony asking questions and looking at the world surrounding it instead of celebrating itself. In one of your letters, you propose the idea of two tendencies in cinema: that of cinema as an impression of the world outside, and that of cinema as a demonstration of the world enclosed in itself. For me, despite all its potential, the cinema of Courtisane remained too enclosed in itself.

There were also things I liked concerning your guests. For example, I found it to be very nice that the Q&As didn’t take place at the center or in front of the screen but almost hidden in a corner of the screening room. It is also very rare and beautiful that you could approach filmmakers like Ute Aurand very easily because they were also just part of the audience. Peter Nestler joining the Ogawa screenings and asking questions afterwards was another good example of this. Friends told me of having the feeling of a community, the feeling that there is a dialogue. Maybe I was just at the wrong places sometimes. Still, I have to tell you my concerns. This doesn’t happen due to discontent or anger but out of respect. There are amazing things at Courtisane and I find it to be one of the most important festivals in Europe. The possibility to see those films in combination, to see those films, to have contemporary cinema and “older” films in a dialogue and to feel a truly remarkable sense of curatorship in what you do, is simply outstanding. For example, the screening of Right On! by Herbert Danska together with Cilaos by Camilo Restrepo was amazing and many questions about framing and music in revolutionary cinema were asked and possible paths opened. Cinema was a place of difference, of equality and thus of dissent. You could answer me and my critique by saying that what I search for is in the films, not in the way they are discussed, not discussed or presented. I would agree with you until the point where the way of presentation hurts the films.

My favourite letter in your book is the one you wrote to Ricardo Matos Cabo. In the text, you talk about the question of mistakes and innocence. Your writing always concerns the loss of innocence. In it, there is the idea of a world which has disappeared behind its images, a world we all know. It is the world of too many images and no images at all. You write: “But perhaps the associations and dissociations, additions and subtractions that are at work in cinema might allow for a displacement of the familiar framework that defines the way in which the world is visible and intelligible for us, and which possibilities and capacities it permits.” You ask for a cinema that is able to talk with our relation to the world. How to face such a thought without lament?

Well, up to now I always thought about dissent when I thought about the title of your book and screening series. Maybe I should think more about the figures. The figures on screen, the missing people, those we need to perceive. Those I could see at Courtisane. Not inside or outside of the cinema, but on the screen.

In hesitant admiration and hope of understanding,
Patrick