Teurer Zement: Vitalina Varela von Pedro Costa

Ewigkeiten, über dich
hinweggestorben,
ein Brief berührt
deine noch un-
verletzten Finger,
die erglänzende Stirn
turnt herbei
und bettet sich in
Gerüche, Geräusche
(Paul Celan)

Bei Pedro Costa spielt das große Drama, in den Häusern, die es nicht gibt. Den Lavahäusern, in denen man nicht wohnen kann, den vergilbten Träumen von einem gemeinsamen Leben, den Erinnerungen an eine Liebe. Sie sind das melodramatische Element seiner Arbeit. Ein Haus muss erbaut werden, mit Leben gefüllt, mit Leidenschaft und Zärtlichkeit bereichert. Dächer werden verfeinert, Flure geputzt, die schönsten Türen eingesetzt. Man bringt die Vorhänge der Vorfahren, ein erstes Kerzenlicht, einige Fotos und Musik. Man setzt sich an den Tisch, isst Schulter an Schulter. Bohnen, die nach einem Zuhause schmecken. Die Spuren im Lehm, im Putz an den Wänden erzählen von Arbeit und Hingabe. Doch immer zerbricht etwas. Es rumort im Gebälk, im Sturm fliegen Ziegel von den Dächern. Häuser werden verlassen, Träume vergessen. Stattdessen werden die Menschen in unpersönlichen Wohnungen untergebracht, eingepfercht auf ihren Betten, sie stoßen sich den Kopf an den niedrigen Türrahmen, vor den Fenstern hängen Gitter, es kracht und rattert die ganze Nacht. Der Zement ist zu teuer, die Farbe auch. Niemand hilft. Bagger rücken heran und zerstören die Fundamente, reißen alles nieder, sodass man besser vergisst als sich an die Wärme eines Kissens, eines Kusses im Haus aus Feuer zu erinnern. Doch wie bei den Gebrüdern Lumière, die einst zeigten wie das Kino den Abriss einer Mauer rückgängig machen kann, gibt es auch bei Costa einen beharrlichen Glauben an das Kino, daran, dass man im Kino eigene Häuser errichten, wieder aufbauen, renovieren, mit neuer Farbe versehen kann. Jeder Film von Costa ist der Versuch, ein Haus zu bauen. Einmal, um ein anderes zu vergessen, einmal um darin zu leben, zu lieben, zu träumen, zu sterben. Vor allem aber, um darin zu beichten, zu sprechen, zu weinen, zu verstehen, zu lernen. Es gibt eine Tür in diese Häuser. Sie ist nicht geöffnet. Aber es gibt sie. Dass was dahinter geschieht, passiert auch ohne Zuseher. Es ist nur so, dass Costa den Menschen, die er filmt und den Menschen, die seine Filme sehen, diese Tür zeigt. So zeigt sich, dass der Bau dieses Hauses die Arbeit am Kino ist und das Betreten des Hauses die Erfahrung des Kinos. Erst wenn beide zusammenkommen, kann man darin wohnen und zumindest für die Dauer eines Films durch andere Fenster die Welt betrachten.

Vitalina Varela arbeitet in einem Vakuum. So wie sich ein Raum mit unterschiedlichen Objekten füllen kann, kann sich ein leerer Raum mit verschiedenen Zuständen der Abwesenheit entleeren. Da ist zum einen der Ehemann der titelgebenden Vitalina. Er heißt Joaquim und ist verstorben. Bevor er starb, war er schon weggelaufen, verschwunden. Vitalina kommt nach Lissabon nachdem er gestorben ist und findet nur noch die Reste eines nicht wirklich gelebten Lebens. Ein unfertiges, beschädigtes Haus, das Begehren schluderig an die Wand geklebt, ein müdes, sich kaum erinnerndes Flüstern in den Gassen. Dann ist da die Sehnsucht nach dem Leben auf den Kap Verden, die sich in zwei erhabenen Flashbacks wortlos in die engen, lichtbrechenden Schattenschluchten der Cova da Moura Nachbarschaft fügt. Diese Abwesenheit ist Ausdruck und unmöglicher Ausweg einer Entfremdung. Das tiefe Loch einer entfernten Heimat, einer nicht mehr gesprochenen Sprache, eines vergessenen Winds vom brodelnden Pico do Fogo.

Des Weiteren spielt der Film an Orten, die es nicht wirklich gibt und in den Fällen, in denen es sie gibt, dann sind es – wie die Menschen, die darin leben – jene unsichtbaren Orte, von denen sich eine Stadt abkehrt wie der Kameramann von einer misslungenen Aufnahme. Die dunklen Ecken, aus denen gefährliche Augen blicken, in Mäntel gehüllte, wortlose Kartenspieler, ein Tunnel, durch den stumme Menschen schwanken. Costa zeigt uns viele Wege, aber sie führen an keine konkreten Orte. Menschen kommen aus der Dunkelheit, werden kurz vom Licht berührt und verschwinden wieder. In Weitwinkel-Aufnahmen erzählt die Kamera weniger einen Raum, als das, was es davon nicht mehr gibt. Verlorene Nachbarschaften, entrückte Wälder, in denen die Baumstämme nur als pechschwarzes Geäst den Horizont verdecken, beinahe alles in einer anhaltenden Dunkelheit, die an Edgar Degas erinnert, der einmal schrieb: „Das Tageslicht ist zu einfach.“ Auch hier eine Abwesenheit, jene der Sonne. Alles verharrt im Vorsichtigen der Nacht. Die Menschen verirren sich, suchen sich, finden sich nicht. Bei Costa schützt das Licht die Figuren, aber in Vitalina Varela lechzen sie nach den kleinen Wundern des Lichts, ein einzelner Sonnenstrahl, der die Finsternis durchdringt. Kurz nach ihrer Ankunft öffnet Vitalina die Tür zum Haus von Joaquim einen Spalt. Sie bekommen ihr Recht auf das Geheimnis, ihre ästhetische Würde geschenkt, aber Costa und sein Kameramann Leonardo Simões dimmen das Licht derart, dass die engen Räume und Gassen zu schwarzen Löchern werden. Es sind Seelenbilder, keine Bilder der äußeren Realität. Flackerndes Kerzenlicht beleuchtet die Bilder von Joaquim, durch die vielen Gitterfenster (Ausdruck einer Gefangenschaft) bricht das schwache Licht, das es ermöglicht, einen Brief zu lesen. Doch selbst die Briefe, flüstert Vitalina einmal, wurden alle weggeworfen. Ein Leben dort, wo nichts mehr bleibt.

Zum Teil drehte Costa mit seinem kleinen Team in einem zum Filmstudio umgebauten, leerstehenden Kino. Die Metapher drängt sich förmlich auf, wenn aus dem stillgelegten Ausstellungsraum eine Ort der Arbeit an neuen Werken wird. Das Kino (Licht) ist nicht mehr, aus der Obskurität einer Ruine muss neues Licht entstehen. Costa, der selbst nicht in Verdacht eines strengen Glaubens steht, lässt für seine Protagonisten wichtige Rituale in seinen Film. So sieht man einen Mann im Zimmer des verstorbenen Joaquim. Er pustet ein kleines Flämmchen auf einem Teller an, auf dass ein Rauch durch das Zimmer weht. Vitalina bindet sich ein weißes Seidenkopftuch um, um ihre Trauer zu bekunden. Später wickelt sie es um ein Kreuz auf dem Nachttisch und trägt stattdessen ein schwarzes Tuch. In kurzer Zeit vollzieht sie derart verschiedene Stufen der Trauer einer Witwe. Sie zeigt, dass es Bilder und Strategien für Verlust gibt. In seiner Betonung des Vakuums schafft Costa keineswegs ein Paradox, sondern bleibt ganz nah an den Körpern, die sich aus der Abwesenheit befreien wollen

Vitalina steht am Hinterausgang eines Flugzeugs. Man hört das schrille Atmen der Maschinen, ein regelmäßiges Piepsen, das an ein Herzschlagmessgerät erinnert. Im Lichtkegel des Ausgangs steht die Frau, die zum Film werden wird. Costa hat immer wieder über die Bedeutung einer ersten Szene einer Figur gesprochen. Wie führt man sie ein und wie verabschiedet man sich von ihr? Diese zwei Fragen durchziehen den ganzen Film, werden verschiedenartig beantwortet, aber nie endgültig. Vitalina Varela zeigt den Versuch abzuschließen und je länger der Film diesen Versuch begleitet, desto notwendiger und schwieriger wird es für ihn selbst abzuschließen. Vitalina muss nicht nur mit dem Tod ihres Mannes zurechtkommen, sondern auch mit ihrer Wut darüber, dass er gar nicht da war, dass er ihr gemeinsames Leben betrogen hat. Ein Entlaufener, ein Herumtreiber, ein Mann in einer Männerwelt.

Eine Gangway rollt heran. Über sie der Eintritt in eine neue, eine fremde, eine kalte Welt. Für den Rest des Films bleibt Vitalina auf dieser Gangway, ihr Leben ist eine Gangway, jeder Schritt führt hinüber und hinab, aber auch zurück und beschwerlich hinauf. In der Schifffahrt war eine solche Gangway ursprünglich ein Seil oder eine Strickleiter. Das beschreibt womöglich besser wie unsicher und mühsam jeder Schritt zwischen den Welten ist. Costa betont den Übergang, indem er Vitalina barfuss, mit nassen Tropfen auf den Zehen in Lissabon ankommen lässt. Von diesen Schritten wird sich der Film nicht mehr erholen. Sie sind Eintritt und Ausgang, Vergangenheit und Gegenwart zugleich.

Eine Kolonne aus Putzfrauen empfängt Vitalina. Es ist nicht das erste Mal, dass wir eine Gruppe merkwürdig unwirklicher Gestalten auf die Kamera zugehen sehen. Gleich zu Beginn des Films kommen Schattenmenschen auf einem schmalen Weg, von Asphalt und bedrohlich thronenden Kreuzen umrahmt, auf die Kamera zugelaufen. Diese Figuren passieren immer nur, niemals bleiben sie stehen, wenn dann, weil sie zusammenbrechen oder in sich gekehrt versinken wie ein Mann, der gegen eine der vielen türlosen Rahmen gelehnt steht und raucht während die Kolonne an ihm vorbeizieht. Wohin gehen sie, warum gehen sie? Es ist als würden sie zurückkehren in ihre eigene Abwesenheit.

Pedro Costa war immer ein Filmemacher des Übergangs. Sei es in seiner Erkundung künstlerischer Prozesse bei Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub und Jeanne Balibar oder in seinen mannigfachen Annäherungen an Menschen von den Kap Verden. Für ihn beginnt das Kino dort, wo man kein einfaches Bild machen kann, wo sich das feste Bild entzieht, wo sich etwas verändert, wo etwas entsteht oder verbrennt. Zu Cavalo Dinheiro sagte er, es wäre ein Film über das Vergessen. Es gehe darum, mit Hilfe des Kinos Dämonen auszutreiben, die sich in seiner Figur Ventura angestaut hätten. Vitalina Varela trägt diese Elemente auch in sich, aber nicht zuletzt aufgrund der Protagonistin gibt es auch ein Element der Erinnerung, des hoffnungsvolleren Abgleitens. Die beiden letzten Einstellungen der Filme, die Costa selbst als Zwillinge bezeichnet, könnten nicht unterschiedlicher sein. In Cavalo Dinheiro ist es ein brutaler Blick durch Glas auf einige Messer, in Vitalina Varela das harmonische Bild einer stillen Vergangenheit, in dem ein Haus erbaut wird.

Die Putzfrauen am Flughafen flüstern Vitalina eine Art Synopsis für den ganzen Film zu. Sie sei zu spät für die Beerdigung, in Portugal gäbe es nichts für sie, sie solle zurückkehren. Nicht nur wegen solcher Szenen liegen die emotionalen Konflikte des Films offener als in anderen Arbeiten von Costa. Es gibt eine große Selbstverständlichkeit, die sich spätestens mit der Ankunft von Vitalina durch den Film bewegt. Vitalina wird mehr und mehr zur Präsenz inmitten dieser Abwesenheiten. Der Film bietet ihr Gelegenheit. Er öffnet etwas. Sie bekommt Raum, um über ihre Gefühle zu sprechen, sie kann ausdrücken, was sie bedrückt. Das Kino wird zur Emanzipationsmaschine. Einmal sitzt Vitalina im Halbdunkel, die rechte Hand fest auf die Sitzfläche gedrückt, leicht schief, aber stabil, eindringlich und spricht direkt mit dem, der nicht da ist. Sie wehrt sich gegen das schwarze Loch. Hinter der Kamera, in der Kamera, jenseits dieses Films muss sie jemand hören. Die Kamera registriert, schweigt. Die Kamera von Costa ist wie eine Staatsbühne für die, denen sonst niemand zuhört. Es gibt wenig Licht, aber viel Raum und Zeit. Es gibt den Willen zuzuhören. Das ist das, was dieses Kino zu leisten im Stande ist. Vitalina bekommt eine Präsenz und sie darf trauern. Es gibt eine Messe und jene Rituale, die ihr im „echten Leben“ verwehrt blieben. Weniger geht es um das Abbild einer Wirklichkeit, als um die Auflehnung dagegen. Die Wirklichkeit wird gezeigt wie eine Notwendigkeit, in der das Kino existieren kann, in die das Kino eingreifen kann. Ob diese Worte von Vitalina wirklich selbstgewählt sind oder für sie geschrieben oder eine Mischung aus beiden ändert nicht die Wirkung, nicht die Moral, sondern nur das Genre des Films.

Costa hatte immer schon Portraits gedreht und am meisten hat Vitalina Varela vielleicht sogar mit Ne Change Rien gemeinsam, aber hier ändert der Portugiese trotz vieler Parallelen zu vorherigen Arbeiten doch entscheidend eine Richtung. In Filmen wie Cavalo Dinheiro, No Quarto da Vanda oder Juventude em Marcha hat man das Gefühl, dass Costa zwar nah mit den Menschen und ihren Geschichten zusammenarbeitet, dass er sie ihre Geschichten erzählen lässt, aber dass, was sie selbst von ihm bekommen, ist die Chance einer Illusion, Würde, Freiheit statt wie in Vitalina Varela die Möglichkeit, die inneren Dämonen selbst zu bekämpfen. Bei Vitalina wirkt es manchmal so, als würde sie selbst die Kamera auf sich richten. Das Kino ist hier mehr als reine Begegnung, es ist ein Austausch. Das Drama von Vitalina gegen die Kraft des Kinos, die Bildsprache von Costa gegen die Wut von Vitalina. Wobei das „gegen“ hier immer ein „zusammen“ ist. Mit Ne Change Rien teilt der Film vor allem seine Umarmung immenser Dunkelheit, aus der sich ein mondartiges Licht drückt, das zugleich eine Person ist. Hier die Bühnenpersona von Jeanne Balibar bei der Arbeit, dort das weiße Augenfleisch von Vitalina. In beiden Fällen tauchen die Filme auch in dezidiert weibliche Welten ein. Ein Kontrapunkt zu den jeweiligen Settings, in denen sie spielen (hinter den Kulissen der Theater- und Musikwelt beziehungsweise inmitten der Immigranten in Lissabon).

Eine weitere Justierung nimmt Costa mit seinem „Studioschauspieler“ Ventura vor. Dieser spielt einen Priester. Nicht wenige hatten die Rollen von Ventura, Vanda und Co in den Filmen von Costa bislang als fiktionale Variationen der jeweiligen Menschen betrachtet. Man konnte sich einig sein, dass die meisten eine Version ihrer selbst auf der Leinwand zum Besten gaben. Doch gerade im Fall von Vanda gab es bereits in früheren Arbeiten schon Rollenwechsel. So agierte sie bereits in Ossos als Clotilde und erst in No Quarto da Vanda wurde aus Vanda Vanda. Das Zittern der Hände ist das gleiche, aber die Rolle ist eine andere. Ventura ist Priester, torkelt durch Pfützen und engste Passagen, seine Hand greift an hölzerne Laternenmasten während er Sprachfetzen von sich gibt, ein Selbstgespräch als Klagelied. Mehrfach bricht er zusammen. Es ist eine Art Todeskampf.

Ventura spielt den Priester, der Joaquim beerdigt hat. Als Vitalina auf ihn trifft, sagt auch er ihr, dass es hier nichts für sie gäbe. Die Tür habe kein Schloss und er könne einen Mann die ganze Nacht weinen hören. Doch in seiner Figur spiegelt sich eine weitere Abwesenheit. Denn für ihn sind die Kap Verden keine sehnsuchtsvolle Erinnerung. Er erlebte auch dort Verzweiflung und Grausamkeit. Seine Leere hat einen Ursprung, zu dem er nicht zurückkehren kann. Jede Nacht sitzt er auf den leeren Stühlen seiner verwahrlosten Kirche und weint. Ein Priester, der den Glauben gegen Angst eingetauscht hat. Auch hier findet Vitalina kein Licht. Dennoch kennt er einen Weg aus der Ortlosigkeit, aus der inneren Fremde. Er verkündet ihn nur nicht, denn er glaubt nicht mehr wirklich daran als er sagt: Unser Land ist im Himmel. Dass Ventura nun nicht mehr Ventura ist, lässt das Ensemble von Costa mehr wie eine Stock Company erscheinen. Mehr noch ist es ein Spiel. Denn dort, wo Vitalina eine bestimmte Rolle einnahm, um Ventura in Cavalo Dinheiro zu helfen, ist es nun umgekehrt. Jemand spielt, damit ein anderer überleben kann. Vitalina und Ventura der Priester helfen sich gegenseitig. Der eine trauert um seinen verlorenen Glauben, die andere um ihren Mann.

Aber trauert Vitalina wirklich? Ist die Trauer für sie nicht nur Vorwand für eine Anklage. Es ist wahr, dass man sie einmal weinen sieht und dass sie die Rituale mit großem Respekt abhält. Aber aus ihrem Körper spricht eine gewisse Widerborstigkeit, eine Gleichgültigkeit. Unter ihrer Trauer verbirgt sich ein Schmerz, der größer ist. Es ist ein kollektiver Schmerz. Nicht unbedingt im abgenutzten Sinn einer metaphorischen Betrachtung Vitalinas als The Immigrant à la Chaplin, sondern im Sinn einer kollektiven Arbeit an einem individuellen Schmerz. Man teilt das Leid in diesem Kino. In Vitalina Varela geht Costa damit weiter als bisher. Trotzdem bleibt er ein Mann des Kinos. Nie fragt man sich, warum er diese Menschen überhaupt filmt und ihnen nicht einfach so hilft. Sein Kino ist durch und durch vom Kino angetrieben. Allerdings mit der entscheidenden Einschränkung, dass er nach einem größeren Sinn für diese künstlerische Arbeit sucht.

Costa arbeitet sehr stark in Sequenzen. Daran erkennt man am ehesten den Einfluss des klassischen Hollywoodkinos, von dem er gern spricht. So zieht sich das Ankommen von Vitalina über mehrere Szenen, in denen sie immer wieder eine Tür öffnet, eine Pforte durchschreitet oder einen Vorhang beiseite schiebt. Erst nach und nach wird der Blick für sie und auf sie frei. Auch die Erzählungen von Weggefährten Joaquims tauchen episodisch auf. Der Film ist bis ins kleinste Detail gebaut. Die Bilder folgen aufeinander wie die Ziegel eines Hauses. Motive wie die Gitterfenster, Menschengruppen, die auf der Schwelle zu Vitalinas Haus stehen oder das wiederkehrende Trauerbild der Kerzen und Fotografien auf dem Nachttisch ziehen sich durch den gesamten Film.

Wenn man sich nun im Haus von Vitalina Varela umblickt, ihr zusieht und zuhört, den Blick wagt, sich näher kommt, vertraut oder zweifelt, annimmt oder hinterfragt, dann spürt man Fragilität und Kraft zugleich. Die Bestimmtheit einer Nähe und Geduld, die man so kaum mehr kennt aus dem Kino, die Behutsamkeit, mit der ein Blick, ein Dialog, ein Monolog oder eine kleine Bewegung konstruiert wird, machen jedes Gefühl erkennbar, aber gleichzeitig so leicht vermeidbar. Wenn die Kinos so zerfallen wie die Kirchen und die Filmemacher wie Ventura durch die Dunkelheit stolpern, wenn es einen klischeebeladenen Diskurs um Immigration gibt, wenn Menschen in Nummern gemessen werden und man erwartet, dass ein Film zuerst erzählt und dann zeigt, dann gibt es eine letzte Abwesenheit, nämlich die des Kinos. Gegen diese stemmt Pedro Costa seine Arbeit, seine Wahrnehmung und sein Empfinden und wir tun gut daran, von ihm zu lernen.

Nachbemerkung

Das kritische Skelett, das sich über die Jahre, um den Corpus von Pedro Costa errichtet hat, verstellt mehr und mehr den Blick auf die eigentliche Arbeit des Portugiesen. Dort, wo große Teile der Filmkritik ihre Superlative in Worte kleidet, ihren großen Meister, ihre wichtigste Stimme erkennt und beinahe panisch mit all den Eingeweihten teilen möchte, entsteht zuerst einmal etwas Legendenhaftes, Auratisches, das vom eigentlichen Geschehen auf der Leinwand ablenkt: ein sich selbst und Costa beweihräuchernder Überdruss an Huldigungen, der all umfassende Versuch durch Worthülsen Ästhetik und widerständiges Auftreten des Auserwählten zu imitieren (im Eigentlichen der sehnliche Wunsch vieler Kritiker, ihrem Helden zu gefallen, d.h. keinen kritischen Diskurs auf Augenhöhe zu führen, sondern ganz so wie sein Blick auf die Menschen eher von unten zu kommen; ein Kniefall) und die Wichtigkeit, die all dem beigemessen wird. Ein Text über Costa, zig geplante Bücher über Costa, ein Gespräch mit Costa sind in gewissen Kreisen ein Statussymbol.

Man kramt die alte Tintenfeder aus der Schublade hervor. Publikationen verwechseln in der Folge ihre Texte mit den Filmen, sie stellen sie in den öffentlichen Raum als wären sie bereits die Kunst, die Zärtlichkeit, die Wut. Wenn nun aus diesen Reflexen auf ein Kino, das womöglich gegen die Modi der Wahrnehmung unserer Zeit rebelliert, außergewöhnliche, freie oder auch besonders raffinierte Texte entstünden, wäre nichts dagegen einzuwenden. Stattdessen aber liest man noch häufiger als sonst in pubertären Endgültigkeitsfloskeln, findet einen unersättlichen Drang ins Urteil, in eine Wertung (bester Film des Jahres, bester Filmemacher unserer Zeit) und eine leere Poetik der immergleichen Begriffe. Natürlich sei betont, dass eine Auseinandersetzung mit einem Filmemacher, der Philosophen wie Jacques Rancière vor ernsthafte Probleme stellt, keine Einfache ist und es auch genug Stimmen gibt, die sich gegen dieses Kino wehren. Aber das lässt dieses Skelett nicht zerbrechen oder auch nur in anderem Licht erscheinen. Eine direkte Beziehung zu Vitalina Varela wäre wahrscheinlich erst in einigen Jahren möglich, wenn sich das ganze Gewicht des durchaus elitären Diskurses (du gehörst dazu und du nicht!) in Luft aufgelöst hätte und man wirklich nur die Filme von Costa sehen würde und nicht diese Maschinerie der Anerkennung sowie seine kluge, verspielte, poetische, augenöffnende, widersprüchliche Art und Weise über sein (das) Kino zu sprechen. So ist auch dieser Text von Derartigem beeinflusst und kann am Ende nur ein weiterer Knochen im Skelett sein. Zumindest stand das aufrechte Bemühen niemanden zu gefallen und so gut es eben ging vom Film selbst auszugehen.

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

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

Pedro Costa3

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

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

Pedro Costa2

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

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

Pedro Costa4

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

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

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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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

Pedro Costa (Foto: Thomas Hauzenberger)

Pedro Costa (Foto von Thomas Hauzenberger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JMonteiro

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

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

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

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

7 women

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

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

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

the-city-under-the-sea

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

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

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

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

gertrud dreyer

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

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

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

counttess

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

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

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

Michael: Refreshments!

THE END

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

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

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

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

 

Costa2

Mr. Costa at the Filmmuseum in Munich

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

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

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

 

Canyon Passage

Canyon Passage

Days of Glory

Days of Glory

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dana Andrews

Dana Andrews

Gary Cooper2

Gary Cooper

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

Distant Drums5

Colossal Youth8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long voyage home

The Long Voyage Home

Stagecoach

Stagecoach

Cavalo Dinheiro

Cavalo Dinheiro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mes petites amoureuses

Mes petites amoureuses

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

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

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

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

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

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

TO BE CONTINUED