I accept your answer about photography's influence upon your work and the integral presence of an image, separate from efforts to interpret or transform an image into a metaphor or a representation or a symbol. I acknowledge your efforts to apprehend directly the integral presence of images in your own film work. That being said, I'd like to discuss the scene in Colossal Youth where Ventura visits Lisbon's Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. That museum sequence is exquisitely beautiful with its paintings on the walls illuminated by mirror-deflected light and Ventura seated on the red sofa. Were you trying to go for a "painterly" effect?
Not really, no. The scene is a surprise for me - as it was a surprise doing the scene - and as it is now probably for someone who is watching the film. Suddenly, after all these moments with the people at Casal Boba, and probably thinking the film will go like this to the end of the film, suddenly you have this very extravagant moment. It's like another planet in the film. But for me it was a surprise and it came about because one day we were passing the museum. We were not shooting and Ventura and all of us were in the car going somewhere, I don't remember where, and he told us, "I built this. I did this." Actually, it was his first contract when he came to Lisbon. He worked four years on the construction of the museum. I asked him if he had been there after the opening and he said, "No. I never went inside after I made it."
I proposed that we could go take a visit that afternoon. And then began the idea of making something there because immediately - as Ventura was walking into the museum a little bit ahead of us - I saw a guard at the door walking towards him. I'm sure he was going to say something like, "You're probably searching for something else; not this museum. You're not in the right place." He had this sense - something that was said in the museum scene - that people like Ventura don't belong in those places, they don't come, they're not welcome. Museums are for "other" people from "other" classes.
This, and the idea that perhaps the museum could be the best place for Ventura to talk about his arrival in Lisbon, the moment he started working, and the moment when he had his work site accident and also because we had all these "children" that were possible - the film is about Ventura finding, searching, taking care of all his lost children, imaginary or real - we could have another one at the museum; it could be the guard; perhaps not his real child, but another young man telling his story and talking about his problems. All of this together seemed good, in the museum especially because it was also a way, of course, for me through Ventura to balance art, classical painting, and work, just work like we do in the film - I insist I'm just working and not making compositions; I'm not making paintings, that's for sure - taking art a bit lower and putting our film a bit higher. We had to confront Rembrandt and Holbeins and Van Dyck, all these Flemish, French and English painters; but we had an excuse, and a very good excuse: Ventura had made the walls for them. If you like, this is also a metaphor, Ventura is in this museum watching and admiring and really moved by his own work, his walls, his floors. It just so happens that there are some Rembrandts hanging.
This was very good for our work because it joins a conception or an idea or a belief that I have that Rembrandt or Van Gogh or Picasso are just workers. They were workers. They were craftsmen, rather than "sacred artists." I see no difference between Ventura's work and Van Gogh's, let's say. They can be moved the same way.
The scene in the museum brings a little bit of the art into the film and, of course, says also that we say hello to these artists but without being too reverent. I don't like films that try to be paintings or try to imitate paintings or try to be close to certain paintings, as I don't like films that are too close to films, to cinema. A lot of vanity and fetishism is involved in that and I'm trying to get rid of that. So this museum scene is for me a nice way to come together with people that we liked in the past who did the same work we did. Very tough, very hard. Reubens worked like that with enormous canvases that he spent months and months trying to find something; it was not about some secret or strange mystique; it was just work, and our's too, so we meet and we do this moment where it's not only an homage to Holbeins and all the paintings but it's an homage to Ventura's work also.
Well, there's work and there's work. I've been taught that within indigenous cultures there's a belief that soulfulness is embodied and corporeal and that it comes through the body to register as creative expression. In other words, it comes from within and literally emerges through the whorls of the fingertips into the creative object. Fine craftsmanship is thus recognized as soulful. When I first read about Ventura's visit to the Museum, I considered that he was in essence admiring the soul he put into those walls.
I admittedly foist metaphors on films. I psychologize characters on the screen. In that respect, I don't think I'm that different from most moviegoers. This is how I've been taught to watch and understand movies. So I agree that your films are indeed challenging because they're more like being plunged into the presence of something; but even you have said that - though not during filmmaking - afterwards psychologizing goes on. An interpretive construction occurs after the film is made. Reading reviews of your films, it's noticeable how frequently construction and architectural metaphors are used to describe your creative process. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, for example, says you are assembling life one room at a time. Several writers are - as is to be expected, of course - obsessed with your doors and windows and walls. If I understand you correctly, you're not psychologizing a film when you make a film? You're working at directly apprehending what's already there? Unconsciously, however, is a certain psychologizing going on?
The best answer for your question is something I shot in my film on Jean-Michel Straub - Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? - the film about the editing. They say something that is not a mystery but that everybody tends to forget a little bit. All the critics and people that write about cinema, they tend to forget what is evidence for me and for Straub. He says it and I could say the same thing: there is not so much psychological investment when we are working. We're not trying to compose a dream or compose with dreams; but of course psychology comes into the film and - for me and for Straub and for a lot of filmmakers, especially the most classical ones, the ones that depend on at least some kind of narrative; it can be modern but they have this minimum narration they have to achieve - psychology comes into the film when you edit the film.
When you edit the film, you are composing, you are analyzing, you are choosing more deeply than when you are shooting. Of course you are choosing certain things when you are shooting a film - you are choosing a space and not another; you are choosing an action and not another; you are choosing a smile against something else - but when you're editing, you're choosing and you're going deeper and that can affect the psychology of a character, of the film. It depends on how you cut your film. It depends on how you put your shots together. It can say things and there it launches a lot of possibilities. That's when a lot of psychology is coming into the work. It's like that; you cannot refuse it. It's like Straub says in the film, you cannot refuse it because - if you cut close to a smile; if you cut close to someone that cries; then you have your next shot and it's larger and the reaction or response of someone to this laughter or this cry - this is psychology. This will tell things in another way, in a psychological way. I cannot refuse it. I'm just saying that when we are shooting, we are trying to concentrate on something that is very dry, actually, very dry. We're trying to get to what's rough. It's not a sketch. We start with the sketch of a thing and then we try to improve and improve and improve, but in movement, in rhythm.
It's more like a musician perhaps than theater work. There is not much psychology; feelings are absent; we tend to expel them to find them again at this editing stage. That's also very fascinating because you can change a lot of things and create a lot of affinities, which are psychological, even more than psychological. Editing is almost a psychoanalytic process, as you can see in the film about the Straubs.
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