Sunday, March 23, 2008

Notes to Chacun son cinéma

I find it illuminating to see or read interviews with directors and other key players of films that I enjoy. Film is both a solitary and a communal experience. Some meanings we share, some are individual, based on our unique experiences.

Chacun son cinéma was a moving experience for me. Many of the segments visually encapsulated why the cinema medium is so profoundly important for me. The following are the director notes that accompany each three-minute film produced for Chacun son cinéma.

Theo Angelopoulos
“My relationship in the cinema began a little like a nightmare. It was in 1946 or 1947. The first of the post-war years. Motion-picture theatres drew in crowds and we kids took advantage of all the jostling to slip in and lose ourselves in the magic of the darkened theatre. I saw lots of movies at this time, but the very first was Michael Curtiz's Angels With Dirty Faces.

In this film, there's a scene where the hero is led to the electric chair by two prison guards. Their shadows grow larger and larger on the wall. Suddenly, a cry rings out: "I don't want to die!"

I don't want to die. This cry has long haunted my nights. I woke up covered in sweat. The cinema entered my life like a shadow cast on a wall, like a scream. Nearly 40 years have passed since my first film. To paraphrase T. S Eliot, I might say:
“Midway upon the life's journey
My years mostly wasted in the wrath of history
Striving to learn to the usage of words and images.
And every attempt is a fresh start,
A raid into the inarticulate
To find once more what was lost
To find once more…
In my end is my beginning”

Olivier Assayas
Recrudescence (Upsurge)

“I’ve never had a fetish for cinemas: they’re a place where films are shown in front of an audience into whose diversity I love to blend. We see lots of advertising in them, we pay according to an ever increasing number of esoteric formulae, we buy childish candy, at least in the multiplex which I go to. And that is precisely the one I chose to film.”

Bille August
The Last Dating Show (La séance du dernier rendez-vous)

“The movie theatre is a universal place for fulfilling your imagination and still the ultimate place for dating. You sit there close together in the darkness, full of hope and expectations, fragile and innocent. Only surrounded by the images screamed and whispered to you from the screen. The two of you sharing something secret, something magic, something you could never have envisioned, you are completely open, completely united…”

Jane Campion
The Lady Bug (Lady insecte)

The Lady Bug loves the beam of the projector but not everybody loves her.

Youssef Chahine
47 ans après (47 Years Later)

“My love for the cinema has always been passionate… but one never says, “I am in love”, without accepting all the tribulations that go along with it. Talent alone is not enough, it must be nourished with knowledge, assiduity, a will of iron and last but not least joie de vivre.”

Chen Kaige
Zhanxiou Village (Au village)
“As a filmmaker, I’ve found that it often becomes difficult to totally separate yourself from the projects you work on. The surprising result is not that you leave a part of yourself in the story — as a director, that is a given — but rather that every story leaves a part of itself inside you.”

David Cronenberg
At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World
(Le suicide du dernier juif du monde dans le dernier cinéma du monde)
“My view of the past and the future of the cinema theatre is encoded in this filmlet.”

Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Dans l’obscurité (Darkness)

“As if this could only happen in the darkness, the obscurity of the cinema theatre, the light of the darkness, so favourable to what surprises yet unable to yield altogether.”

Manoel De Oliveira
Rencontre unique (Sole Meeting)

“The stomach is opposed to the head, while the latter strives to satisfy the fundamental needs of the former.” The first time I went to Mexico City, I was astonished at the sight of these words engraved in stone at the entrance to the Maya Museum, so wise and natural: “Sow to harvest, harvest to eat, eat to live”. Neither policy nor politics is capable of changing our nature. Solely ethics stands opposed to all our instincts in order to more or less change and ease our human condition. And ethics are not the fruit of nature or even science but rather religion, for all ethics are opposed to our instincts. The stomach is of the order of instincts and thought, and thought belongs to the order of religions, that is to say, ethics. It is necessary to eat.”

Raymond Depardon
Cinéma d’été (Open-Air Cinema)

“I remember a celebration on these terraces of Alexandria at nightfall in the summer, little matter the title of the film… I think that’s what cinema is really about.”

Atom Egoyan
Artaud Double Bill

“Nothing is more cinematic than a close-up. To behold a human face on an enormous screen is both mysterious and intoxicating. We used to need movie theatres for this experience. The close-up as a physical act can now be easily violated, and this short is a contemplation of that desecration.”

Amos Gitai
Le Dibbouk de Haifa

“Cinema is a sort of a shield, it helps you put your brain and heart away from the turmoil around you, without disconnecting from it, but rather trying to reformulate it into cinematic images. It is also a bridge that for me as an ex-architect can cross borders and sometimes overstep minefields. Doing it is an act of self-liberating and transmission to others.”

Hou Hsiao-Hsien
The Electric Princess House

Memories of cinema… when cinemas were palatial picture houses, when a movie was a fine day out for an officer on leave and his pregnant wife, when a young “princess” had the time of her life on the electric dodgems. But now…

Alejandro González Inarritu

“Anna, as a cinematographic exercise, challenged me with the same difficulty that a writer faces when writing a poem. In such a short time lapse, almost as a cinematic Haiku, I intended, in one single shot, to capture a scent and caress the idea of the transcendence of film as a powerful emotional experience capable of surpassing both our sensory capacities and physical limitations.”

Abbas Kiarostami
Where is my Romeo? (Où est mon Roméo ?)

“To each his cinema and to each his own viewpoint. It is precisely this diversity of outlooks, putting everything completely into question, which is all the beauty of this initiative. A diversity which renders all our certitudes uncertain. My pleasure in taking part in this great adventure was all the greater as I am infinitely curious about the views of others and have a natural affinity for uncertainty.”

Takeshi Kitano
One Fine Day (Une belle journée)

“I saw very few movies as a kid. My strict and education-minded mother tried as much as she could to keep me from doing fun stuff. Not just movies but comics and novels too. The first film I saw at the cinema was when my older brother took me to see an Italian film, The Railway Man (Il Ferroviere, Pietro Germi, 1956). Being a kid, I didn’t understand the film very well, what with its socio-cultural theme of labourers, strikes and socialism. I could just tell that it was a sad film. With that sad feeling on our minds my brother and I went on home minding our own business. Then, a gang of local kids showed up and beat us up and took all our money. We walked for two hours to get back home. It made the whole “my first cinema” experience even sadder than it probably was.”

Claude Lelouch
Cinéma de boulevard (The Cinema around the Corner)

“My love of cinema grew from a romance… between my father and mother who met in a cinema on the Grands Boulevards to see a film with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. 30 years later, quite precisely, I received on Hollywood Boulevard two Oscars for A Man and a Woman from none other than the hands of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Incredible but true, the loop was looped…”

Ken Loach
Happy Ending

“I grew up in a small industrial town in the Midlands. There were five or six cinemas. My pals and I favoured the one that showed "continental" films. This was not because we were perceptive critics, but because the films were more risqué and consequently a good place to take girls. The only problem was that the fleas usually outnumbered the audience. Sadly all the cinemas have now gone, replaced by one out of town multiplex. The fleas may have gone but they appear to have taken the European films with them.”

Nanni Moretti
Diario di uno spettatore (Diary of a Movie-Goer)

“A few cinemas where I’ve seen a few films. Today, some theatres are uglier, some prettier, while others yet have become something altogether different. My way of seeing films might have changed, but fortunately I still have the same feeling of curiosity about seeing those of others.”

Roman Polanski
Cinéma érotique

“Since Two Men and a Wardrobe, I haven’t touched the short film. I’ve lost my hand!”

Le don (The gift)

“A three-minute film whose running-time is in fact an essential part of the story.”

Walter Salles
À 8944 km de Cannes (5,557 Miles from Cannes)

“A country without cinema is like a house without mirror,” declares Luis Carlos Barreto, producer of Glauber Rocha and Nelson Pereira dos Santos. To Each His Cinema, to each his national identity.

Elia Suleiman
Irtebak (Awkward)

“Awkward is a "making-of". Not the making of a film, but a filmmaker's awkward paranoia in the aftermath of making one.”

Tsai Ming-Liang
It’s a Dream (C’est un rêve)

“The old cinemas of my childhood have long been demolished and nothing remains of them. They only come back occasionally to entice my spirit, as if calling me to return to the warmth of its old days.”

Gus Van Sant
First Kiss (Premier baiser)

“When I heard about this project, the Bagdad Theater in Portland, Oregon immediately came to mind. It's an ornate, grandiose, old-fashioned theatre with an Arabian Nights theme, built in the 1920's — the kind of theatre they don’t build anymore. My Own Private Idaho opened there, too, so it had a lot of personal relevance for me.”

Lars Von Trier

“Occupations is most probably the shortest film I’ve made.”

Wim Wenders
In the fall of 2006 I spent several weeks in a remote town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, way down the Congo river, in the province of Katanga. The place was called Kabalo, and Joseph Conrad’s novel "Heart of Darkness" is supposed to take place here. This is in fact where Marlow meets the ominous Mr. Kurtz. I went there to shoot a documentary for “Médecins sans frontiers”, on the subject of violence against women. (The film called Invisibles consists of 5 contributions by 5 directors, and was produced by Javier Bardem.) I had never been to Central Africa before. I had never been to a place that radically cut off from the world: No more roads are leading to Kabalo. The ships on the mighty river had all been destroyed, and here and there you could see their rusty carcasses sticking out of the water. There are only two train engines left for an area as big as central Europe, and they service the largely defunct rail network on an utterly erratic schedule. There is still a dilapidated train station in Kabalo, a remnant from a glorious past when lots of trains were departing here every day to the east and west, the south and the north of the province. Today the town is without electricity. The main street of Kabalo is still lined by a row of elegant street lamps, but for decades already they are no longer shining. There is no more running water either, except for the river water, and people drink it straight from its muddy banks. Most brick buildings are destroyed and have caved in. The hospital is kept alive by MSF, and their generators allowed us to recharge our camera batteries. The most striking impression right from the beginning: Even if there was so much to do here, nobody seemed to be working but the women. And they indeed worked hard from early morning to late evening. They walked miles to get the water. They collected the firewood to cook. They worked the fields to harvest the sparse crops. They walked long distances to reach the market. They took care of the children. Where were the men? I saw them lie in hammocks. I saw them play soccer or basketball in the late afternoon. I saw them hang around on the street corners, driving on bicycles and some highly privileged ones even showing off their motorbikes. None of them seemed preoccupied with any work. One day I found the "Cine Video". It was the ruin of a former colonial building. In the backyard a tiny generator produced an aggressive buzzing sound. Out in front some men played cards or backgammon. Inside in the dark sat all the men I had been looking for. They were watching movies, played on a crummy TV set from a DVD player that were both powered by the generator. (Also, while the men were watching films, that generator charged a line-up of about 30 or 40 mobile phones.) Which films were they watching? Out in front I found the program for the week handwritten onto a blackboard. War movies formed the bulk of the list. Some karate films, some violent action movies, but most of all these men were watching war! Most of them had never known anything else, the kids in the first rows were born into the war, and now that there was peace, finally, they all sat there, mesmerised, taking in the war action with a form of stoical obsession. I had never understood or witnessed so clearly and directly how films are able to accommodate needs. Or better: how they can feed an addiction and supply some strange substitute life. In this case it was not life, though, that cinema promoted but a disturbing propensity for death and destruction that had a firm grasp on these men and rendered them unable to see the actual needs of their own world. We shot a screening of Black Hawk Down in the total darkness of the Ciné Vidéo using infrared light. Nobody noticed us with our cameras. The grown-up men as well as the kids were in the firm grip of an everlasting war.

Wong Kar Wai
I travelled 9,000 km to give it to you (J’ai fait 9 000 km…)

“Cinema can be the citric scent of a peeled orange, the touch of warm skin through a silk stocking; or simply a darkened space bathed in anticipation.”

Zhang Yimou
En regardant le film (Movie Night)

“Whenever thinking about watching movies as a child, I could never remember what it was that I watched, only recalling the expectation and joy!”

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