BAFICI, Day 3
By Robert Koehler
Now that I’ve washed Kim Ki-duk right out of my hair, on to stuff that matters…like the fascinating co-mingling of life and death that I found yesterday running through AurÈlien Gerbault’s intriguing and personal portrait of Pedro Costa, Tout refleurit (whose English title, All Blossom Again, hints at some of the film’s innate optimism about the filmmaking process), Claire Simon’s engrossing and brave «a br˚le, and the final film from that greatest of filmmaking couples, Straub-Huillet, Quei loro encontri (whose title translates roughly as “Those They Encounter” and which I believe I misspelled in last night’s post—blame it on wooziness).
In the Gerbault, Costa is seen as exactly who he is: A supremely confident yet humble filmmaker who long ago (after his film Ossos and his discovery of the decaying Lisbon immigrant suburb of Fontainhas) abandoned conventional industrial film production for an artisanal approach that keeps his crews extremely tiny (as seen in several shots here, during the making of his latest masterpiece, Colossal Youth) and his relationship with his actors on a distinctly personal basis. Even the term “actor” doesn’t apply in Costa’s case–not, to be sure, in the case of Costa’s interaction with the inimitable Ventura, the ghost-like hero and spectre of Colossal Youth. Costa is seen commenting from time to time on dealing with Ventura–a slightly elderly Cape Verdean who had lived for many years in the Fontainhas slums until Costa encountered him, as he did with all of his “actors” (such as his other “co-star,” Vanda). While another, more capitalist-driven director would have long ago lost all patience with Ventura and his own way of memorizing lines or working on the set, Costa spent years around him and other residents (Ossos is now ten years old, and In Vanda’s Room–the work that reflected Costa’s dramatic break with his past practice, shot on digital video–was made in 2000) and integrated his working ways with Ventura’s and Vanda’s, to the point where there’s nothing like a standard director-actor interaction, but–as seen here–more as partners.
Costa stresses that his mode is simplicity itself–he takes the bus to the location with a bag containing his camera and sound equipment, has a coffee at the nearby cafe, and meets with whomever of his subjects may be home that day and film them. His insistence on stripping away the unnecessary in filmmaking is one of several aspects that I would argue makes Costa the most important filmmaker for young filmmakers to study right now–not just his films, but his way of doing things. Tout refleurit records this practice, and I can’t think of another current film–despite the fact that, as Michel Lipkes told me yesterday, Costa dislikes the film, feeling a little embarrassed that it’s all about him–that should be required viewing by anyone who wants to pick up a camera and make any kind of film.
What the film also directly points to is the fact that Costa himself made his own kind of Tout refleurit—Where Has Your Hidden Smile Gone? about Straub-Huillet and their editing of one of their last features, Sicilia! Costa searches and searches during Tout for the room of Vanda–now demolished, like much of the rest of old Fontainhas, a vacant lot containing 20th century ruins–and it’s like watching a kind of living death. (“Here was where the room was….no, maybe it’s over here….or this is it…”) Just as Gerbault spends a good deal of time in the editing suite looking over Costa’s shoulder as he edits Colossal Youth and mulls over his many takes, so Costa locked himself in the editing suite with Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet as they edited Sicilia! In both cases, the process is demystified, stressing the essential day-to-day work and basic labor involved, erasing any sense of glamour or even “art” for something more quotidian.
Costa was deeply affected by his time with Straub-Huillet, and with Huillet’s death late last year and Straub declaring that he will make no films on his own, Quei loro incontri marks the end of the couple’s opus. (The film closes with an epitaph.) Another living death, then, preserved in a series of five sequences picking up some 27 years later from their Dalla nube all resistenza (1979), with five pairs of actors uttering the text from Pavese’s Dialogues with Leuco. These are immortal Gods, all, commenting on and observing the mortals in their midst, and yet also quite apart. It’s not just tempting—it’s downright essential–to view the alienation factor that dogs and saddens these immortals in their relations with human beings as basically the same between us and nature–a nature that forever surrounds and envelops these Gods as they stand in the Tuscan bosque and utter their innermost feelings and thoughts.
More to come on «a br˚le…..
A stranger notion of life in death–or perhaps the reverse–animates Claire Simon’s sinewy, fierce «a br˚le, which I caught in its Wednesday press screening. I had narrowly missed seeing Simon’s film at Cannes last year, where it played to admiring audiences at the Quinzane. Simon works by accretion: What at first appears to be a teen girl’s impulsive infatuation for a fireman in a suburb of the Provence town of Montpellier grows more enveloping and sinister. Simon risks playing with extremely broad metaphors–the use of fire (which the girl starts in a similarly impulsive act) as a correlative for all-consuming love–just as she risked her life and limb filming in actual fire zones. But the metaphor functions operatically and organically within the curious environment Simon observes: the ever-present Provence forest, abutted by upscale, faux-rustic getaway homes. The fire that burns becomes an inevitable process of an emotional rupture that Simon films like a scientist, but one intimately involved with her human animals.
Now, we begin our adventure with one of the Philippines’ most interesting new filmmakers, Raya Martin, who’s receiving a retrospective (three films in all!) here at BAFICI….
(Day 2 entry.)