Festina Lente: A Conversation about Lav Diaz

Over the last ten years Michael Guarneri has had a series of talks with Lav Diaz, gathering thoughts about the Filipino filmmaker’s craft, philosophy and politics. The result of these conversations has been published in Conversations with Lav Diaz (ISBN 9788864761022), available worldwide in January/February 2021. To celebrate Diaz’s birthday, to renew our pleasure in discussing cinema or just to make sure I receive a copy of this valuable book, Michael and I discussed some aspects of Diaz’s work via e-mail.

Michael, a few years ago you wrote me about your holy triumvirate in cinema: Pedro Costa, Lav Diaz and Wang Bing. I don’t know if this triumvirate is just one of those cinephile games we play, or a necessity to remember what is important in the midst of the storm of images. Can you tell me whether you find similarities in their work? For me, the three of them meet in a word that’s maybe used too much nowadays, a word like „resistance“.

Our memories are tricky sometimes, Patrick… I’m quite sure that I wrote you „holy trinity“… In any case, yes, Pedro Costa, Lav Diaz and Wang Bing are my three favorite filmmakers. In the past ten months I heard the word „resistance“ so much that it almost lost its meaning for me, so for now I would prefer to focus on another keyword, another meeting point between Costa, Diaz and Wang: freedom. I guess that I admire them so much first of all because of their freedom. We are talking about three men who understood their place in the world, and worked hard to reach a certain space, or niche, in which they can freely practice their craft or art or whatever you want to call it. Naturally they aren’t free in an absolute sense (who is, really?), but they have worked out their own strategies to tell the stories they want to tell the way they want to tell them. They worked very hard to achieve their freedom, and they are still working very hard to maintain it. First they struggled to get into the system, then they struggled to get out of the system, then they struggled to build their own system. You know, the means of production, the work relationships, the lonely work and the team work… This struggle for creative freedom is a never-ending source of inspiration for me. It’s something that goes beyond the single films they make, which I might like or dislike.

I understand what you mean, but I would still hesitate calling it „freedom“. I think that the world of film festivals is an industry with its own demands. Let’s take the case of Diaz, for example, a filmmaker with whom you had many talks for your new book Conversations with Lav Diaz. It’s incredible how Diaz comes out with a new film every year, almost like Woody Allen… Something has also changed in his filmmaking as far as I can tell, and this change came about at a moment when film festivals everywhere became vertically integrated key players for production, distribution and presentation. My question is: in your opinion, how far Diaz works inside this system, and how far he remains independent from it?

Yes, among other things, film festivals concerned with the idea of cinema as an art allow filmmakers like Diaz to convert symbolic capital into economic capital in order to produce new work. Some filmmakers work fast, like Diaz [but let’s not forget that it took him 10+ years to make Ebolusyon ng isang pamilyang Pilipino / Evolution of a Filipino Family (2004) and 15+ years to make Hele sa hiwagang hapis / A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery (2016); other filmmakers work more slowly, like Costa and Wang. As film critics, you and I also contribute to these capital transactions (if we want to believe that somebody actually reads what we write). Some filmmakers then take advantage of the rules of the film festival game (industry? market? circus?) to make the films they want to make; other filmmakers get caught in the rat race and start serving masters other than themselves. For me, Diaz belongs to the former category. Let me know what you think about this issue. In particular, as you are much more an expert than me on the film festival establishment, I’d be interested to know more about your sibylline sentence: „Something has also changed in his filmmaking as far as I can tell, and this change came about at a moment when film festivals everywhere became vertically integrated key players for production, distribution and presentation“. Afterwards, we can also discuss a key aspect that you mentioned: distribution. Sadly, film festivals are often the only distribution venue for Diaz’s films, which makes it difficult for him to speak to his fellow Filipinos about issues of Filipino history and identity.

Well, I wouldn’t call myself a film festival expert (and not even a film critic because I’m not sure if such a thing exists anymore). What I tried to hint at was just that I feel that with digitalization (or at least around the time of it) came a change in the world of festivals. First of all, the amount of festivals increased a lot and, step-by-step, their function also changed. The idea that they serve as a market where potential buyers can buy films to bring to the cinemas is now only a part of the whole enterprise. The festivals have become the buyers themselves, they give out funds (I think Diaz received some of those in Europe) and create a system that works in itself and takes a powerful position in the world of cinema independent of film theaters and streaming services. There are so many festivals that don’t choose the films but just take what the festival market dictates. Films „make the journey“. So, what maybe changed first of all was the visibility of Diaz’s films around the world. I don’t know whether you know or discussed with Diaz the amount of screenings his films have on average. I guess, it’s still too little and, as you say, there might be a gap between international audiences and the reception in the Philippines, but it must be different now than it was with Batang West Side (2001). I don’t think that any of us involved can work independently of the demands of the festival world. Each time filmmakers travel around the world to present their work, talk with sharks and lovers, meet different cultures, are sucked from vampires, receive praise or criticism based on terms sometimes foreign to their idea of cinema, they will change. It’s not an innocent business and in no way does it protect the art. Of course, there is also Diaz’s switch to digital, which might have brought changes to his cinema… at least in my perception. Maybe you can tell me a bit about the way he works with digital tools and whether you spoke about the changes that digital made for his cinema. After that, I might be able to continue with my argument. After all, Costa, Diaz and Wang are also connected by their liberating use of digital tools.

Yes, digital tools were so important for filmmakers like Costa, Diaz and Wang to „own the means of production“ (a very old expression, I know) and to cut out for themselves this little space of freedom, to create these small production units in the style of Dziga Vertov, Robert Flaherty, Jean Rouch, the „television“ Roberto Rossellini… But then again, yeah, you are right, these films that they make end up on the market (festival, theaters, DVD, streaming, whatever), so ultimately they are a merchandise. I guess that the next step in the struggle is to see what can be done after production, further along the chain… Now that almost everybody can make films, „the issue isn’t anymore that you can’t shoot“ (as Diaz likes to say). Now the „bottle neck“, or gatekeeping, is at the levels of distribution, promotion and exhibition. You need a lot of money to promote your film and inform people of its existence „in the midst of the storm of images“. People who, like Diaz, generally work with low budgets find themselves in the paradoxical situation of needing more money to promote the film than to make it. You can always find a way to make a film… but to get it seen, to get people interested and to reach them… well, that’s a tough job. That must be the reason why several film festivals hand out money prizes to be spent on promotion and distribution.

How does promotion for a filmmaker like Diaz work? Are we talking about keeping in touch with the „right people“? In my opinion the change in his filmmaking I was hinting at has to do with having created a sort of brand in an admittedly rather small section of „world cinema“ and the world of film festivals. In his films I find at the same time an urgency and sincerity concerning political issues and the dealing with the history of his country, and I can’t help experiencing those films as documentations of a bunch of friends meeting and acting something out… it’s almost a game, hence his trying out of very different genres and so on. Maybe that’s like in Jean Renoir’s best films and maybe it’s a form of art for which the bureaucracy and economics necessary to make it happen are valued as much as the actual work. In this regard I find Diaz to be exemplary of certain tendencies within film festivals that have replaced the idea of grand auteurs who disappear and reappear with a film immediately hailed as a work of art with a strange studio-like regularity of production. It’s strange because it’s done without or with very little money. Yet, somehow it works (which makes this system very suspicious in my opinion). Since you said that you don’t like every film but it’s about the whole work, maybe also the attitude of those filmmakers, I would be interested to learn about how you discovered the work of Diaz and what triggered you?

If you create something that you want a lot of people to engage with, you have two options (I’m going to simplify things a bit now, please bear with me). You can work little by little cultivating personal links with fellow-minded people to slowly spread the word about your work over the years until you eventually reach a critical mass and make a name for yourself; and/or you can pay Google, pay Facebook, pay clickfarms, pay all these advertising companies to put your work „on the radar“, to put your „product“ on people’s „priority list“. And while there are price listings for social media advertising, how can you assign a monetary value to friendship? How much should I pay you for being my friend and for kindly accepting to have a talk with me to promote on your website this or that book I wrote? I think you, I, Diaz and his team are people who prefer to work with personal relations, an immaterial economy, but an economy just the same, because it takes time and resources to cultivate a friendship, a dialogue over the years (especially considering that the other option – the paid advertisement one – is much simpler and possibly more effective in the short term). But I feel we are dangerously close to that moment in which I start to complain about how dreadful the world we live/work in is and how much nicer it would be if we created a commune somewhere… Luckily you asked me about my first meeting with Diaz’s cinema and I can keep misery at bay by taking refuge in good memories. Back in 2007-2008 I began to get interested in Diaz’s cinema because the Italian State TV was broadcasting his films all night long during the weekends: Heremias: Unang aklat – Ang alamat ng prinsesang bayawak / Heremias: Book One – The Legend of the Lizard Princess (2006), Kagadanan sa banwaan ning mga engkanto / Death in the Land of Encantos (2007) and Melancholia (2008). They were broadcast as part of a program called „Fuori Orario“ („After Hours“, like the Martin Scorsese film), a kind of cinephile heaven that contributed a lot to my cinema education ever since I learned how to use a VHS recorder. So I watched these three films by Diaz and I was struck by the fact that they didn’t look like any other film I had seen before. The idea of style was very important to me back then: „style“ as in „stilus“, meaning the pen and the hand that holds the pen and uses it in a distinctive, unique way… I was a teenager back then and I felt a lot of sympathy and admiration for whoever was willing to do his/her own thing with art, be it music, painting, writing, cinema… So, instinctively, ever since the very beginning, just by watching the films without knowing anything about anything, I felt a lot of respect for Diaz because his movies told me that he was a guy who didn’t care, a guy who was going his own way, „seul contre tous“… Then, of course, I watched all the other movies by Diaz, I studied a lot, and I understood a lot more about Diaz’s films and their meaning… That’s when I discovered the other etymology of the word „style“, connecting „style“ to „stilo“, the dagger, i.e. to the idea of using the pen, the camera, the brush, whatever, as a knife, to open wounds, to slit open people’s eyes and make them see…

I like those two meanings of „style“. Maybe we can add a third one (even if that will ultimately lead us back to thoughts about the commune): style as a form of addressing somebody (with a title), to give a name to something. I think this relates to what I tried to say earlier about Diaz’s films. There is a sort of laziness among the film community and it shows as soon a director develops or changes. I have no empirical proof, but I feel that most of the texts written about Diaz today could have been written twenty years ago. So I think that his cinema is partly well-bedded in something that he doesn’t do anymore. There are certain automatisms in reception and this casts quite a shadow of indifference over his cinema. It’s the new film by Diaz and not a film showing or slitting open something. I don’t think it’s his mistake at all because his films change, he might be much more open to trying out different things than other filmmakers of his age and intensity. However, if you meet his films in the festival world, they have become a product, a „style“, and I wonder how to escape this?

The filmmaker as a brand, I understand what you mean. Yesterday I was taking part in an online conference about Italian cinema and there was an excellent paper presentation about Italian neorealism becoming a sort of brand in 1940s-1950s French film criticism: first there was the duo Vittorio De Sica – Roberto Rossellini; then the worship of Rossellini began; then, when Rossellini fell out of favor, some French critics tried to build a new „virginity“ for neorealism by focusing on the writer Cesare Zavattini… I’m simplifying things just to give a quick example, of course… but that’s the way things go in cinema. Especially now that cinema has lost its mass appeal and there are a million other things you can do in your spare time: you have to keep people „hooked“, and the filmmaker as a brand is one of the strategies to build „customer loyalty“. I don’t know if we (you, I and all our fellow critics) can escape this, but for sure we can be attentive spectators, ask in-depth questions to filmmakers, write with passion and accuracy, do our part to „elevate the discourse“ and fight laziness. We will probably fail to change the „system“, but people will say good things about us when we will be dead. On a more cheerful note, I’m curious to know: how about your first meeting with Diaz’s cinema?

My first meeting with Diaz’s cinema must have been a screening of Batang West Side at the Austrian Film Museum. As I understand, this institution has a very special relation to Diaz and especially to this film. The Austrian Film Museum screened a film copy, 35mm, and not unlike you, my first sensation was one of pure inspiration. I felt that cinema is a medium with which you can do everything. After this first encounter, I watched several of his films at home on horrible-looking files, but the sensation was the same. Then, there were one or two screenings at the Viennale: Norte, hangganan ng kasaysayan / Norte, the End of History (2013) must have been one of those, and I vividly remember seeing A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery at the Filmfest Hamburg. I was equipped like a mountaineer with food and drinks and I didn’t miss a single second of the film. There have always been these discussions (partly inspired by some of Diaz’s own statements) that it’s actually fine to go out, fall asleep and so on. I never agreed and I especially don’t agree with regards to his films in which a lot of things are going on plotwise. After the 485 minutes of A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery I drove my car for 7 hours and I didn’t get tired one time. Even if I’d like to say that the reason for this must have been my youth, I think that it has to do with Diaz’s style… I felt that he changed my perception of things. Now, I don’t think it’s very hard to do that in 485 minutes, we could say that time works on those things all alone, but with him there is an embrace of time (of its horror as well as its indifference) instead of a theoretical attempt that tries to highlight it. In relation to that, I’d be interested in your initial feeling that he is someone „who doesn’t care“. I want to know how this in your opinion relates to his dealing with time and/or with some technical „mistakes“ (I hate to use that word).

There aren’t many artists like Diaz around. Artists who have that inner calm and wisdom and courage to pursue their own vision no matter what other people think. At the same time, he is a man possessed by a desire to communicate with his fellow human beings, to really make them think, make them reason, make them remember, before it’s too late, before the light dies out and there can be no cinema anymore. From these clashes between the personal and the collective, and between the slow tempo and the urgency, is born a kind of cinema that I find quite unique. And I love it so much precisely because of its fundamental imperfection: too much wind in the microphone, a shaky handheld camera… In all these „mistakes“ I see the struggle – Diaz’s particular struggle as an artist and as a Filipino, and perhaps a more general reminder of „the inadequacies of our plans, our contingencies, every missed train and failed picnic, every lie to a child“. Have you ever heard of the Latin motto „festina lente“, „make haste slowly“? It’s such a wonderful description of Diaz’s cinema, and of my experience of it. It was so great to read your sentence „After the 485 minutes of A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery I drove my car for 7 hours and I didn’t get tired one time“. Every time I come out of a Diaz screening I feel energized, I feel like I’m ready to smash the whole world.

This fundamental imperfection reminds me a bit of early sound films when you can hear the sound of the dolly. When „mistakes“ occur in Diaz’s films I’m always trying to find out what made him keep that specific shot. In some way it helps to change my focus on the acting, or on a tree moving in a peculiar way, and I remember why cinema exists: maybe not in order to make a perfect shot but to see something. A lot of filmmakers I admire have a much more perfectionist attitude. Let’s take Hou Hsiao-hsien, for example. Everything is much more controlled and smoother. Nevertheless there is a similar interest which moves somewhere between capturing something in the world and being captured by something in the world. In both cases the effect is a sort of floating of image and sound that gives me freedom to see, to hear, to think, to feel, to be. „Festina lente“ sounds just perfect. Yet, we shouldn’t forget that the haste is about something. I feel that there is great anger in his films and a desire to speak to the present moment of his country or even more universally such as in Lahi, Hayop / Genus Pan (2020), which among other things also reflects on humanity in a more general sense. I wanted to ask you about cultural gaps in the perception of cinema. Do you think they exist and how do you deal with them?

I do think that cultural gaps in the reception, or perception, of films exist. Yet, at the same time, cinema has this power to connect with you, to communicate with you in spite of language and other cultural barriers. Back in 2011 I saw Kotoko (2011) by Shinya Tsukamoto at the Venice Film Festival and I was too tired that morning and I had a massive headache, so I watched the film without reading the subtitles. That’s the best way to see Kotoko: it’s such a primal and direct film, no words needed. And back in 2011 at the Venice Film Festival there was a bit of mumbling among the „Western“ critics about Kotoko because one of the main characters suddenly disappears from the movie, no explanation given at any point in the film. It’s something that doesn’t generally happen in „Western“ movies, or if it happens there is a highbrow, „intellectual justification“ (see Michelangelo Antonioni, Alain Robbe-Grillet, etcetera). It just doesn’t happen „like that“, „as if it was normal“. Somebody asked Tsukamoto about it at a press conference, because the disappearance of the character was so deliberate and everyone of „us“ thought that there must be some profound meaning, something that was maybe specifically Japanese, some hidden metaphor, something about Japanese history or theater or poetry or painting… but Tsukamoto just said: „Sometimes the people that are important to you simply disappear from your life“. I think that it’s important to watch movies, to pay attention, to articulate questions, to ask questions (even if we are afraid to appear a bit stupid by asking)… so we can discover new things and „fill the gap“. I mean, films are interesting for what they show/tell us, but also for what they don’t show/tell us. Films sometimes give us „homework“ to do… I love that. I remember back in 2016, after the gala screening of Ang babaeng humayo / The Woman Who Left (2016) at the Venice Film Festival, I was hanging out with Diaz and his team in the festival bar. Diaz was discussing with some of his crew and actors. I couldn’t understand what they were saying because they were speaking in Tagalog but it seemed to be something important, so afterwards I asked what the problem was. It turned out that somebody from the festival had tweaked the English subtitles of The Woman Who Left to explain the meaning of the word „balot“, which Diaz left untranslated on purpose so that the curious spectator would do some research on his/her own…

Is there an educational purpose for foreign audiences in Diaz’s films?

Being the son of two school teachers, Diaz is certainly using cinema for educational purposes, for his fellow Filipinos and for any person in the world who is interested in the history/culture of the Philippines and in the struggle of the Filipino people against colonialism, exploitation, authoritarianism, poverty and corruption. And, after all, isn’t the struggle of the Filipino people the struggle of most people in the world? Colonized people who have been exploited for centuries find „independence“ under the aegis of a neocolonial power, which leads to a kleptocrat dictatorship… You can find similar situations in most of South-East Asia, in most of the African continent, in Central and South America… I’m simplifying things perhaps, but Diaz himself is conscious of the worldwide outreach of his cinema. The leftwing rebel Renato in Melancholia is fighting for a specific cause relating to Filipino politics and yet, in his dying moments, he isn’t thinking about the Philippines alone, he is thinking about the whole picture: „Why is there so much sadness and too much sorrow in this world? Is happiness just a concept? Is living just a process to measure man’s pain?” That’s the beginning of one of the greatest monologues in the history of cinema, for me. In Genus Pan, as you mentioned, this world outreach is even more evident: the whole matter of being human is put into question. The film is set in a remote mining area in the Philippines, but it could well be set in the fields of Italy where both Italian and immigrant people are exploited to pick tomatoes for one Euro per hour. You can choose your own examples, I chose an Italian example because Genus Pan had its world premiere in Italy… Do you remember that old revolutionary slogan, „Let’s create two, three, many Vietnams“? With my writings I would like to inspire people and create ten, one hundred, one thousand Lav Diaz…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Introduction

November 16th 2014

From: Michael Guarneri
To: Pedro Costa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your kind attention.

Best regards,

Michael

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

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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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

Pedro Costa (Foto: Thomas Hauzenberger)

Pedro Costa (Foto von Thomas Hauzenberger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JMonteiro

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

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

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

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

7 women

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

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

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

the-city-under-the-sea

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

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

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

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

gertrud dreyer

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

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

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

counttess

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

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

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

Michael: Refreshments!

THE END

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

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

Part 1

Part 2

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

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

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

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

casa de Lava7

Nevertheless I can perfectly understand your points and there is certainly some truth to them. I never really was overwhelmed by Chaplin’s worlds, it is somehow very distant for me, I watch his films in an observing mode. I never understood how one can identify with the Tramp. But while observing I identify with the filmmaker. Which brings me to a rather curious and certainly stupid “what-if”… I just asked myself why Mr. Costa is not visible in his films. He talks so much about the trust, the friendship and his life in Fontainhas. He should obviously be a part of this world. I don’t mean in the Miguel Gomes kind of way, but just in order to be sincere, because we shouldn’t forget that there is someone in the room when Ventura shakes, maybe he doesn’t shake at all, maybe someone tells (I think Mr.Costa has already talked about that) him: “Shake a bit more, Ventura.” But then I know that Mr. Costa and his camera are visible if you look at his films… It is just a question of his body being there, the presence. Do you know what I mean?

Michael: I am not sure if I understand what you mean, especially because I am not well-acquainted with Miguel Gomes’s body of work. Anyway, there is this scene in (near the end of?) In Vanda’s Room: Zita is in the frame, with her little half-brother if I remember correctly, and in a corner you can see a camera tripod against a wall. Maybe it is shy Mr. Costa “revealing himself”? I think so. Otherwise, yeah, as a person, he’s pretty much in the dark, behind the camera, in the 180 degrees of space in which we have been trained to pretend that everything and nothing exists. But is he really “hiding” in the dark? I am not sure. Sometimes it seems to me that Mr. Costa is all over the place, and not just a presence looming at the margins of the frame, off-camera. There’s a lot of autobiography in O Sangue. In Casa de Lava, Mariana is lost in Capo Verde just like Mr. Costa lost himself during a Heart-of-Darkness-esque shooting adventure in the tropics…

About Ventura shaking more than he actually does in real life: yeah, I read that too. I think it has to do with the way the camera captures movement. Did it ever happen to you that something that was perfect in real-time/real-life speed was awful when filmed? Like, you shoot a certain scene, and when you watch it on the screen you realize that this or that real-life movement must be done more slowly to look good once filmed? I think it is the same with Ventura’s shaking. It had to be exaggerated to become “cinematic”, to become visible, comprehensible, dramatic, melodramatic. I guess this is why Chaplin rehearsed on film…

Ossos7

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

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

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

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

 Ne change rien

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

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

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

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

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

O Sangue4

 

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

O sangue2

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

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

Ossos6

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

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

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

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

TO BE CONTINUED

Youth Under The Influence (Of Pedro Costa) – Part 2: The Mysterious 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. (Here you can find Part 1)

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

Patrick: Sure! But first I want to state that, for me, something that is recommended and liked by people like Mr. Costa or Straub can never be guilty. Maybe I’m too weak in this regard. I really don’t know about your mysterious childhood experiences. I think you underestimate a little bit the power of some of those films, and the differences within the evil machine, too. The craft also has some poetry that sometimes is bigger than the whole package… but we have discussed that already, I do not want to insist. Let’s talk about my guilty pleasures.

It is very hard for me, as I am living in a city where the expression “vulgar auteurism” was defined, and the mantra “Everything is Cinema – Cinema is Everything” gets repeated over and over. Now, for the first time, I see a connection with the Marquis, and that makes it even more attractive. Furthermore I think that, in a sense, watching cinema must be guilty.

Anchorman

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

But still, I just love many Ben Stiller/Will Ferrell films, I became a man (did I?) watching films like Old School, Zoolander, Anchorman or Semi-Pro. The same is true for Judd Apatow, which somehow feels even guiltier. Then there is Christopher Nolan. I hated Interstellar, but I would defend almost everything he did before Interstellar without arguments. I don’t remember a single outstanding shot, cut or moment in his films, but I remember the movement between shots (maybe there is an argument in the making…). I love agents, almost all of them. I like self-seriousness because I am very self-serious myself. But I cannot say that, during the last couple of years, there was anything I liked for its color like one could (but needn’t) like The River by Renoir, or for its dancing and singing. It has become harder to have guilty pleasures, because now they don’t sell you a box of candies, they just sell you the box.

But what’s even more interesting for me is what one doesn’t like despite one maybe should. We can call it “guilty failings” if you like. Do you have those failings?

the river

The River

casa de lava

Casa de Lava

Michael: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to skate over my guilty pleasures, and maintain a façade of very serious (self-serious?), austere intellectual. Yes, let’s talk about “guilty failings”! The River by Renoir – which you have just mentioned – is a film I cannot stand. It feels somehow too childish for my taste, as if somehow Renoir was trying to push people to watch everything with big watery eyes (the main characters are the kids/teenagers, it makes sense that Renoir does so: I just do not like it). This tear-jerking super-melodrama feeling is probably why I cannot take it seriously, especially in the big “the child is dead” monologue.

Another big guilty failing for me is The Third Man by Carol Reed. The movie has everything to be an excellent one: a genre I love, great casting (not only Welles but the always awesome, awesome Joseph Cotten), intriguing story and great dialogues, all the package. Yet, when I watch it, I just find it unbearable to sit through. To paraphrase David Foster Wallace, every shot is like “Look, mom, I am directing!”: the film is bizarrely baroque throughout, with lots of weird angles and convoluted tracking shots, a total show-off for basically no reason. For most of the film I was saying to myself: “Can’t the director just keep that camera straight?”… The Third Man is probably the one and only 1940s US noir I don’t like.

Was there a specific film or a director that you couldn’t stand, like, five years ago, and now you appreciate?

Patrick: I have to think about it. This issue basically leads me back to many thoughts I had in the beginning of this conversation. Ernst Lubitsch is a director I didn’t like a few years ago, but now I like him very much. Why is that? First, I hope and know, it is because I have watched more films by Lubitsch. I also re-watched the ones I didn’t like at first (To Be or Not to Be, for example), and found them much better. Maybe my eyes have sharpened, I am pretty sure they have, they should have. I suddenly recognize the movement, the way he builds his shots, the way he works with motives and eyes and the way everything feels always wrong in the right way. But there is also a suspicion. It’s the way people like Mr. Costa talk about Lubitsch, the way Lubitsch is dealt with in certain cinema circles, the way he is a legend with a certain flavor (don’t call it “touch”, it is not what I mean), a certain secret around all those screenshot of Lubitsch films posted on the Internet. I am afraid that those things seduced me, too… or did they teach me? Perhaps they just told me to look closer.

Design for Living

Design for Living

Maybe what I am searching for is an innocent way of looking at films. But one must be careful. Many confuse this innocence with being against the canon, which is always a way of living for some critics. But that’s bullshit. I don’t mean that I want to go into a cinema without expectation or pre-knowledge. It is just the way of perceiving: it should be isolated, pure. It’s impossible, yet it happens. Or doesn’t it? What do you think? Are there still miracles happening in contemporary cinema? I ask you because I want to know if we are talking about something gone here, like Mr. Costa says it is, or something present.

Michael: Thanks for mentioning Lubitsch. In a very good interview-book by Cyril Neyrat, Mr. Costa talks a lot about Lubitsch being a major influence for In Vanda’s Room. He also says that one of the first times he saw Vanda, she was doing some plumbing job in Fontainhas and she reminded him of Cluny Brown, from the homonymous Lubitsch film. Cluny Brown is indeed an amazing film. As all the US production by Lubitsch, it is very witty and some very spicy (at times downright dirty) sexual innuendos are thrown in in a very casual way, which is absolutely fantastic. It is somewhat sexually deranged, but in a very controlled and seemingly proper way, hence (for me) the feeling of vertigo that makes me catch my breath. Plus, of course, in Cluny Brown there are a lot of very intelligent remarks on working within a cultural industry: in this sense, the last 5 minutes of the film are worth 1000 books on the subject. In my view, Lubitsch is one of the very few who managed to use “the Code” (the production code, the Hays Code) against itself, to make every shot a bomb that explodes in the face of the guardians of morality. In this sense, another masterpiece – in my view even superior to some Lubitsch films – is Allan Dwan’s Up in Mabel’s Room. If you haven’t already, please check it out: it is WILD.

Cluny Brown

Cluny Brown

 

Vanda

Vanda

Now, to answer your question… Well, it is a hell of a difficult question, and it requires my making very strict and arrogant statements, for which I apologize in advance. Personally, I do not believe in miracles of any kind. In particular, I do not like to think of cinema as a miracle: I try to think of it as a machine that people use to do/get stuff, and I resist with all my strength to qualify this stuff that cinema produces as a miracle. I prefer to think of films as the result of hard work that might or might not reflect an idea, a feeling, a question, a search, or whatever you want to call it – something on which the audience has to work on, too. I guess I am the typical skeptic character, like Dana Andrews in Tourneur’s Night of the Demon. I guess I still have to meet my doctor Karswell to chastise and convert me to a more “mystical” perspective.

I don’t know if something in cinema is gone, or dead, but I tend not to be too apocalyptic. What do you think?

Patrick: Victor Kossakovsky once said that if he puts a camera at some place, something will happen there. Therefore he does not put it on a crossing.

Concerning miracles (now I am supposed to apologize in advance, but I won’t…), I think it is a question of how willing you are to let them in. Of course, films are fabricated, films are machines. But in my opinion this is a very simplistic way of seeing things, one that certainly is true and was very important at some time, but it has become to dominant. The Bazin-view seems to be out of fashion, I mean the theories about the camera as a recording device, something in touch with reality, with a life of its own. I don’t know if this is mysticism. It is very hard work to be able to let those things in. It goes back to the simple importance of perceiving some stuff around you and then getting the right angle, and so on, for these miracles to happen. It is obviously simplistic too, yes, but it is often ignored nowadays. We might translate miracles as life (those miracles are more often cruel than beautiful)…

About the whole cinema is dead business. I think it is an inspiration. For me cinema is always great when it reflects its own death, the art of dying so slow that you do not even recognize it, it is not only death at work, it becomes already-dead-but-still-seducing-at-work. You know what I mean? Cinema becomes like this girl you meet with too much make-up on it, she is drunk and exhausted, maybe she is coughing like Vanda or shaking like Ventura. But still there is movement, lights and shadows, there is cinema. For me cinema is always more alive when it is like that, not when it tries to shine bright, those times are over. Limelight by Chaplin is a perfect title for a perfect film for what I am trying to say.

Mr. Costa said in Munich that there are no cinematic qualities in a person, it has to do with something else, with getting to know someone, spending time with each other, understanding and trust. But then he somehow came back mentioning qualities in Ventura. What I am trying to say is that cinema for me is a way of perceiving the world. You can see it in a tree or in a person. Of course, it has to be fabricated and consumed and all that after it, and there is a high death rate in that, but as a way of life, as a way of seeing with one’s own eyes it will not die as long as someone is seeing it in things. So for me, Mr. Costa – though he might not agree – was seeing cinema, was seeing miracles (Gary Cooper in Ventura or Cluny Brown in Vanda…) though from a more distant point-of-view there was no cinema in his friends or Fontainhas at all. It was brought to life like a demon in the night, this is why I tend to speak of cinema as the art of the undead.

I completely agree about your remarks on Lubitsch. Do you recognise Cluny Brown in Vanda?

Michael: To be honest, no, I do not recognize Cluny Brown in Vanda, just like I do not recognize Cooper in Ventura. I understand why Mr. Costa makes the comparison, it makes sense and I respect that, it’s just that I – from a very personal point of view – do not really believe in Cluny Brown or Cooper. I accept them as characters in a film, and as a remarkable, at times even sublime abstraction of certain aspects of “humanbeingness”. But I do not really believe in them, I simply suspend my disbelief: because the dialogue is so cool, because I want to have fun, because I want to lose myself in the story, in the screen-world, whatever. Then the film is over, and that’s it for me. Cluny Brown, Cooper, they all die, I tend to forget them and move on with my life, and so did they when their job was finished, of course. What I mean to say is that they do not leave me much, I have the feeling that we live in two separate worlds.

With Vanda and Ventura (or the super-fascinating Zita, or Vitalina, or the incomparable, magnificent Lento) I feel a little different. It’s not a fiction versus documentary thing: I find the distinction between the two very boring, and of course one can tell at first glance that Mr. Costa’s post-1997 digital films are as carefully crafted and staged and enacted and performed as any other fiction film ever made. It’s just that, when I watch or listen to the Fontainhas people, I get in contact with something that it is here, that is not just a film, just a thing I am watching. It is something that watches me back as I am watching, and stays with me forever. It’s life, it’s their life, it’s Mr. Costa’s life and in the end it’s part of my life too. How was it? “This thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine.”

And now a one-million dollar question: if anyone can be in a movie, can anyone be a filmmaker?

Von Stroheim

Erich von Stroheim

Patrick: You have some great points here, so this is going to be a long answer. For me the whole documentary/fiction debate that has been popping up for almost a century now is best solved by Gilberto Perez in his bible The Material Ghost. There is the light and the projector and together they are cinema. So, why bother? It is so stupid of a film magazine like Sight&Sound to make a poll of the Best Documentaries in 2014… In the words of Jia Zhang-ke: WTF! I still can’t believe how many serious filmmakers and critics took part in this awful game. At least people like James Benning or Alexander Horwath used the opportunity to point at the stupidity of such a distinction. It is not boring, it is plainly wrong to do so.

Then, I find it very curious that you talk about “life”. I think your “life” is what I earlier called “miracle”. And here I find a strange clash of opposed views within Mr. Costa’s recommendations. On the one hand, there is someone like Straub. Straub clearly is against the idea of using real life circumstances, of doing something for real in cinema. He said so more than once. On the other hand, there are people like Von Stroheim and Godard: both of them tried things with hidden cameras, both of them were fascinated by the idea of their picture becoming “life”. The most famous incident is surely when Von Stroheim tried everything he could to have a real knife in the finale of Greed as he wanted to see real pain in the eyes of Jean Hersholt, who played Marcus. (We can imagine what happened in the lost Africa sequences of Queen Kelly now). So this is not the “life” you are talking about… This “life” or “miracle” has to do with seeing and not-seeing, light and darkness and so on. I am completely with you there. But what about this other definition of “life” I have just mentioned? For you, when you see the weakness of a man confronted with his inner demons like Ventura in Horse Money, is it something like the pain in the eyes of Hersholt or something different? I am not asking if it is real or not which would be very strange after what I said before, I merely want to know if Von Stroheim was wrong in trying to have a real knife… I want to know what makes the pain real in cinema.

I am also glad you brought up Vitalina, Lento and Zita. They show me exactly what you mean, as all these comparisons with actors are something personal: it is a memory, a desire, maybe also a trick our mind plays on us. Our common friend Klaus, for example, told me that while looking at the picture of Gary Cooper in the first part of our conversation he suddenly recognized a similarity with Mr. Costa. Material Ghosts.

Concerning your last question I will just quote Renoir from his interview with Rivette and Truffaut in 1954: “ (…) I’m convinced that film is a more secret art than the so/called private arts. We think that painting is private, but film is much more so. We think that a film is made for the six thousand moviegoers at the Gaumont-Palace, but that isn’t true. Instead, it’s made for only three people among those six thousand. I found a word for film lovers; it’s aficionados. I remember a bullfight that took place a long time ago. I didn’t know anything about bullfights, but I was there with people who were all very knowledgeable. They became delirious with excitement when the toreador made a slight movement like that toward the right and then he made another slight movement, also toward the right – which seemed the same to me – and everyone yelled at him. I was the one who was wrong. I was wrong to go to a bullfight without knowing the rules of the game. One must always know the rules of the game. The same thing happened to me again. I have some cousins in America who come from North Dakota. In North Dakota, everyone iceskates, because for six months of the year there’s so much snow that it falls horizontally instead of vertically. (…) Every time my cousins meet me, they take me to an ice show. They take me to see some women on ice skates who do lots of tricks. It’s always the same thing: From time to time you see a woman who does a very impressive twirl: I applaud, and then I stop, seeing that my cousins are looking at me severely, because it seems that she wasn’t good at all, but I had no way of knowing. And film is like that as well. And all professions are for the benefit of – well – not only for the aficionados but also for the sympathizers. In reality, there must be sympathizers, there must be a brotherhood. Besides, you’ve heard about Barnes. His theory was very simple: The qualities, the gifts, or the education that painters have are the same gifts, education and qualities that lovers of paintings have. In other words, in order to love a painting, one must be a would-be painter, or else you cannot really love it. And to love a film, one must be a would-be filmmaker. You have to be able to say to yourself, “ I would have done it this way, I would have done it that way”. You have to make films yourself, if only in your mind, but you have to make them. If not, you’re not worthy of going to the movies.”

Renoir

Jean Renoir

Michael: Wow, awesome and inspiring words from Renoir, I have to seriously think about them now! You don’t get the one million dollar, though, since you answered with a quote by someone else.

Back on the life-miracle issue… A certain dose of mysticism is always healthy, it is good that you insist on this point to try and break my stubbornness. As you know, Mr. Costa made Où gît votre sourire enfoui? to destroy a critical stereotype about Straub-Huillet, namely that they are purely materialist filmmakers: as Mr. Costa’s shows, there is something in their daily work with machines that cannot be put into words, something mysterious… a smile that is hidden, or just imagined. And so is in Mr. Costa’s films, from O Sangue until now: there are always cemeteries, there is voodoo stuff going on all the time.

Night of the Demon

Night of the Demon

Where does your hidden smile lie?

Where does your hidden smile lie?

About the Hersholt-Ventura comparison: in my view, yes, the pain in the eyes of the former is different from the pain in the eyes of the latter. Very different. But allow me to make another example, and be more controversial. Are the sufferings of Chaplin’s tramp and the sufferings of Ventura the same? Are they both real? Well, they both are choreographed and made more intriguing by heavy doses of “melodramatization” (a cinematic treatment, or fictionalization, of reality that aspires to make human feelings visible and audible). But we must never forget that one of these two “screen personae” is a millionaire playing a tramp. In the end of his tramp films, Chaplin walks towards the horizon, and I always have this image of him in mind: the camera stops rolling, the tramp wipes off his makeup, hops into a sport car and drives away to bang some hot girls or something like that. Unfortunately, there is no such “release” for Ventura and the others. This is not to diminish Chaplin. He is one of the greatest – not only a total filmmaker but also a total artist: actor, director, musician, producer… It is just that I do not believe in him, in his films, in the world that he shows. I like the films, I enjoy them, I think that their humanism is heart-warming and powerful, and that many people should see them. I just do not believe in the world they show. I do not see life in it, I do not recognize this world as mine. It is a world that I cannot connect to. 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 is another world entirely”.

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

 Chaplin

 

Chaplin2

TO BE CONTINUED