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About the 2005 edition
Rural life, landscape, memory: we offer them as the subject matter(s) of cinema – and we therefore suggest that they also be translated, right from the start, through themes such as gaze, interaction (confronting the camera), movement, work upon space, and work upon time.
Along the way we will open doors upon other worlds, both large and small, which offer prospects for future debates: initiation to images, archival images, and the territory of cinema within the territory of images.
As a conclusion, before our final assessment, we would also encourage a return to some of the themes which extend throughout a number of the brightest examples of Portuguese cinema.
Transcription of the debates
Eight debate, after the films by Victor Erice, by Artavazd Pelechian
and by Abbas Kiarostami
18th JUNE, SATURDAY
Films shown along the debate:
Alumbramiento, Victor Erice
Konec [Fim], Artavazd Pelechian
Zizn’ [Vida], Artavazd Pelechian
Five, Abbas Kiarostami
José Manuel Costa (JMC)
Victor Erice (VE)
Gérard Colas (GC)
Mercedes Álvarez (MA)
Pierre-Marie Goulet (PMG)
[Screening of Lifeline, by Victor Erice]
JOSÉ MANUEL COSTA: Before anything else I would like to explain that the system for this afternoon is a variation on the usual system for Doc’s Kingdom seminars. Normally we begin with a film or a group of two or three films to initiate a debate, which from there opens into a conversation that spreads to the rest of the room. This time we are going to begin with a film, but we are going to encompass other films in the same debate, and, to underline this, we didn’t say what time the other films were going to be screened, because we consider them to come together in a unified conversation that includes three things: Victor Erice’s film Lifeline; the two films and EndLife by Pelechian; and afterwards, Kiarostami’s film. We will decide when to screen the films by Pelechian and Kiarostami according to the conversation. I think that before we leave the room and finish the afternoon we will screen Lifeline a second time; it is a very short film but also very rich, very dense and, probably, it will make complete sense to discover new things in it through a second projection.
Besides the presence of Victor Erice himself and of Mercedes – whose film [The Sky Turns] this morning was already a way for us to bring up the theme of time in cinema, and that’s why I ask her to bear with us and stay a little longer this afternoon – we invited Pierre-Marie, who has had a connection with the organization of the seminar since the beginning, and also Gérard Colas, who some will remember from his participation in previous Doc’s Kingdoms.
The difference in the system for this afternoon is also that we are setting a theme right from the beginning: we said that we were going to talk about time in cinema, which obviously doesn’t mean that we have to be limited to that; it is a point of departure and not necessarily one of arrival.
It made complete sense to screen Mercedes’ film this morning and return after lunch with Lifeline. Even because there are many threads connecting Mercedes’ film to the global work of Victor Erice, and to other works made in Spain over the last few years, of which an obvious example is José Luis Guerín’s film, En construcción , that we screened here in the last international seminar. It seems impossible to summarize it by saying that this is the subject of the film, but at any rate, it’s a film that works explicitly with the material of time itself. I don’t know if Joaquim Sapinho is present at the moment, but yesterday he said that the only thing that is of interest in cinema is time, and the only thing that we can use to deal with time is space. In a certain way this debate, which is already happening close to the conclusion of the seminar, would lead to the material of cinema itself, in the paths of cinema today.
In relation to the film Lifeline, it must be said that it has to do with a much vaster body of work; a series, a film in episodes, in which a number of directors collaborate, each one making a film with the same duration; and the series is called Ten Minutes Older.
And when I say that it deals specifically with time, it’s obvious that from early on there are three, four, five temporal levels. Firstly there is the time of the baby, and of the growing stain. And this is the time... I didn’t want to say “documentary”, because now we are beyond this, but the time, real in a way, between the beginning and the end of the film, that could be ten minutes in the life of a baby as followed in real time, the time as it is inscribed in the film, with a duration exactly equal to that of the event; and also the suspense of what is going to happen. The time of the growing stain. There is a time of the village and of the other characters in the film, in which there are a number of different cases – there is the story of the child and the clock drawing. At any rate this time is felt as something much more constructed in the film. The time of a mise-en-scène, in which real time is not the primary instance any more, in which there is a suspension of time. Then there is historic time. The remission to a period and to a precise date at the end of the film, 1940, with all of the references to the Franco era and to the history of Spain and of humanity. And then, obviously, the time in the film that comes from the play of these various times, of the crossing over of the pieces available to us. And what effect do they have in relation to the time of the spectator? How much time does a spectator feel has passed? For me, it’s not in any way obvious that, if we didn’t say how long the film was going to last and if we asked the spectators, they would all say similar things. And then there is probably imaginary time, the time of the boy who is closed in the room, or, if we like, the time that comes from the destruction, the erasing of time on the clock. But I think that Victor will speak of this later, these were the starting points.
VICTOR ERICE: I should mention that this film was a commission. All of the directors accepted a commitment: to talk about time in no more than ten minutes. Ten minutes for each one to speak about something as abstract, in my way of seeing, as time, that I don’t very well know what it is. Saint Augustine said that when someone asked him what time was, he didn’t know how to reply, but when nobody asked him, he knew what it was. It’s such an abstract theme that I wanted to make it concrete and give it the texture of a documentary film. Documentary on the surface of the image, because evidently it’s a film that is very constructed through the editing. There is, without any doubt, a cinematographic time in the film. I also wanted to nurture this abstract idea with the presence of non-professional actors. All of the people who appear in the images are in front of a camera for the first time. I selected them in the small village where the film was shot, two, three weeks before the beginning of the shoot. It was to attempt literally to give blood, and life, to the abstraction.
For me, time is an idea of language. There is a text that seems to explain a lot: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in his novel The Possessed, presents two characters, Stavrogin and Kirilov. Kirilov says the following, “All ideas start with time,” and Stavrogin, “In the book of the Apocalypse, the Angel announces that one day time will cease to exist.” Kirilov replies, “Ah, I know it well, I know it well. It is written: when man is happy time will cease to exist and will become something useless.” Stavrogin asks, “Kirilov, tell me, where does time end?” And Kirilov replies, “Nowhere. Time isn’t an object, it’s an idea, and this idea ends in the spirit.” This is to say, time is a construction of language.
In the construction of the film, it was the imagination of the child that you find closed in on himself that oriented me. He is isolated from people, but even so, he possesses a certain consciousness of the rhythm of the world. He hears something; there is a clock that isn’t real, that is imaginary. Maybe it’s already the embryo of the consciousness of the poet; because the poet speaks of historical time, but his great illusion is to capture the time of origins, when the idea of time didn’t exist. And this is the fracture that I find between poetry and history. The film is also centred in my own experience of the world.
GÉRARD COLAS: I believe that many essential things have already been said by Victor. I can pose many questions relating to cinema; what seems evident is that it’s a story that could only be told in this way through the cinema. So what does cinema bring to it? Precisely the possibility of presenting a very short moment from different points of view, ten minutes in the life of different characters. And this is something extremely modern. I believe that this came about with the cinema.
There is a sentence that I think we cannot forget, “Your time, it hasn’t come yet, it’s too soon.” And that child is in danger of dying if the adults around him don’t intervene. And so, it’s a story of time. José Manuel said to me, “Make a reflection on time in cinema.” I imagined how one could enrich this with films, and afterwards I thought, I don’t know why, of Serge Daney’s reflection on another filmmaker, Jean-Daniel Pollet, and MéditerranéeThe Sky Turns] also said, “Maybe in forty minutes, maybe in five months, maybe in some years.”
What is interesting in cinema is its relationship to life – and there we find things that, for me, the films of Kiarostami, which are of the same family as Victor’s, share. Kiarostami says, “When I am going to take photos of nature, what interests me is nature, not photography.” That isn’t to say that photography or cinema don’t interest him as a form of expression, but that his mode of expression allows part of the truth of the world to be told. It’s what one would also find in the reflection of the painter in Quince Tree of the Sun [Victor Erice, 1992], when he says, “I will never manage to paint a quince, I will never manage to make it as beautiful as her, despite all of my art.” I believe that what we do through the cinema is to capture something of the truth of the world – and therefore cinema is a gesture that has to do with poetry. Poetry can encompass history, but certainly not pedagogy, or information (for this there are other media, there are other times), it’s a kind of relationship with the cosmos, or with that which is very local – and therefore, finally, to the universal.
REGINA GUIMARÃES: I haven’t very well understood this thing with time, of the time that José Manuel calls documentary. I think that the time of this film is totally elliptical.
I have another comment. The reply that I hear on the part of the mother, it isn’t, “Your time has come”, which would be biblical, it’s, “You wanted to leave us already” – it being implicit that the infant could have suicidal desires, even if this is a little ironic. Or then there could be something in the infant that prevents him from wanting to live. For me, that was the most terrible thing in the film.
On the level of time, even if maybe it’s the opposite, this film reminds me of Tarkovsky. The way in which time – precisely through the ellipsis or, to the contrary, through a prolongation – turns into a completely malleable material. Of course time is a frame of thought, like space.
VE: The phrase the mother uses is a quite common. “You wanted to leave ahead of time.” I don’t understand it as a suicidal impulse on the part of the child, he is a newborn child, not even a consciousness. The newborn child is on the threshold of life, on the threshold of the world. For ten minutes, he is suspended between life and death. What is the world into which this child arrived? It’s a world divided into classes, in which the rich and the poor exist. The father, I don’t know if this is understood, is an emigrant, someone who went to America, became rich and spent his fortune on the youngest woman of the village. All of the actors in the film understand their story, the little story, because it’s a story of all of these villages. Villages of emigrants that wanted to go to their America: Cuba, Mexico, Argentina. The great illusion of the men was to return one day with money, have children, choose the most beautiful “flower” in the place. This is the backdrop. But for me, the child suspended on the doorstep is a consequence of the resonating box that this closed-in child brings with him, and that captures the true pulse of things. I built the film repeatedly on images of feet. We have the shoes of the older men, the shoes of the servants, we see the feet of the cripple, a thousand details that maybe aren’t sufficiently understood; only a Spanish viewer would understand them. The child as an act of redemption. Baptism is kissing the feet. It’s the axis of the acceptance of life, despite the element of suffering it bears. And, obviously, I didn’t make up anything in this film. The newspaper is really a newspaper from the 28th of June 1940.
JMC: Would you be able to explain the [original] title Alumbramiento?
VE: Alumbramiento was translated in English as Lifeline, but it isn’t... Alumbramiento in Castilian is the act of being born, to arrive in the world. But alumbrar is also to bring to light – here we are in a region in which there is a Virgin of Light. Alumbrar is the most secret vocation of the cinema, to illuminate the secrets of things, this capacity to alumbrar their hidden side. I don’t really know what cinema is. I spent many years as a viewer, and above all as a director. The cinema is very easily spoken of, but I believe that it is the most mysterious of the artistic languages and, probably, also the least known.
I insist that the expression of the mother is completely colloquial, that the small dialogues in the film were improvised by the people themselves. I wanted it to become their story. And I wasn’t capable of writing what they were going to say beforehand. The people really incarnated in the film, and this is quite extraordinary. The great problem of art is how to embody things. One can only do this through form. The cinematographic form, more than the documentary, is the means the director has of embodying ideas. The process of the embodiment, the alumbramiento, is the decisive process of cinema. It’s something beyond the idea. I always say that in art there isn’t premeditation, there is revelation, there is encounter – premeditation is for other categories of knowledge. I claim the quality of cinema as art.
GC: I will respond to the Regina’s words, to the concept of the ellipsis, because it’s a recurrent trope in cinema. I don’t see an ellipsis in this film. What I see is ten minutes for ten minutes, this is the opposite of the ellipsis. I see these ten minutes from different points of view, through different characters; we pass from one to the other. This is an extremely rare case in cinema, in which time in the film coincides with time in reality, of the things filmed. This is not the rule in general – obviously, if there is reconstructed time one works with the ellipsis. Even if this seems obvious to us today, I believe that it’s not at all obvious. The education of the spectator is necessary so that he can understand that there are ellipses. Cinema writes things in continuity, and the ellipsis cuts them out, and this is problematic in films that work with the question of time. Mercedes’ film does that, and I believe that if it frequently led the film to privilege long takes, or sequence shots, this isn’t because of purely formalist concerns, it’s not because we like that, but because it’s the only way to feel that duration.
It’s like the works of Kiarostami, when we see the characters, a car; we see them on a road and it goes on, and on. Here an issue that I would almost call materialist must be understood. To go from a point A to a point B, one either says that there are so many kilometres, or one says – frequently in the countryside, maybe even more so in the mountains – that it will take fifteen minutes, that it will take two hours. This is another measure of time, that is not connected to the kilometric measure of space. It’s the time that a man takes, on foot or by car, to cover that distance. I believe that the ellipsis very quickly reaches that limit. And the question of form is something that should be worked in connection with a feeling, with a truth that one wants to share with the spectator in that moment, or that one wants to make him feel – and if he doesn’t feel it, it becomes completely abstract.
REGINA GUIMARÃES: I speak of the ellipsis as it is in poetry, and in poetry there is nothing but that. With novelistic narrativity, you are pushed to continue your reading, you are pushed to the fever of reading. In poetry there is the pause, and the pause is always elliptical. Thus I speak of ellipsis in the contrary sense to what you are saying: not the ellipsis as a narrative economy, that horrible idea of a narrative economy, but in the poetic sense. That which allows the passage from one shot to another and where one creates another level of time, through this passage. And this is the sense of ellipsis as a figure of style. If film critics sullied the term, maybe it’s because they didn’t study rhetoric.
GIUSEPPE MORANDI: Many of the films that have been screened here are fiction because they don’t explain the reasons behind the uncertainties of our time. At a time like this, in which the continuity and survival of the earth is at stake, I think that it’s important to understand the reasons why. It’s necessary to explain the real reasons behind the submersion of Aldeia da Luz [My Village Doesn’t Live Here Any More, Catarina Mourão], which have to do with economic and capitalist interests, like what has been happening in Syria, in China. In this sense the Chinese documentary [Before the Flood, Li Yifan] served to open our eyes in relation to the Chinese situation. The documentary shouldn’t only nostalgically reconstruct the past, even if it does this with beauty and poetry, it has to go in search of the causes of things. It isn’t a fiction, it isn’t a fairytale. And this is the type of documentary that I make, and that I hope others make as well. I have seen many beautiful images here, but not explanations for the changes that are taking place in the world and for the dangers that we are confronting.
VE: I began my cinematic career in fiction, but over the last few years I have been working with non-fictional elements. I want to end the myth of documentary. What is the documentary? I don’t see a substantive difference between fiction and documentary, because fiction is in the gaze that a man or a woman projects onto the world, beginning with the first of the fictions: the great fiction of the private self, the individual self. In every gaze there is a fictional procedure. There is fiction, there is selection, there is representation, every time that people, be they professional actors or not, put themselves in front of a camera.
I think that Lifeline is absolutely a fiction film, it is constructed as a fiction, but it incorporates non-professional actors. Faces that cannot be reproduced by a professional actor, especially nowadays, when cinema has lost a certain level of involvement and innocence that it had in the past. Godard spoke of the great Hollywood cinema as being the art of cosmetics: that it consisted of taking a real person, who was an actor, and putting makeup on them until they had an ideal appearance. That was what was called the glorious bodies of cinema. After the Second World War, cinema felt the need to show other bodies. And that was where reality came in. In the Italian neo-realist films we see the first emergence of non-professional actors in the cinematic representation of fiction, when Vittorio de Sica makes Bicycle Thieves . The need for substitution of the glorious bodies of the great American cinema of the thirties/forties with bodies from reality, with real, concrete people, comes from there. But it continues to be fiction.
This morning, in speaking about Mercedes’ film, I was saying that what guides the images (and this is very subjective) is the need to reconnect ourselves to the world, through cinema. This gives the story of Aldealseñor a new meaning, or fulfils it in some way. I understand the sociological, journalistic and anthropological concerns very well, but cinema is something else.
There is also a question that seems central to me. When I was given the task of making this film, I thought about doing a ten-minute long sequence shot, of making real time and cinematic time coincide. And who knows if that wouldn’t be closer to what is conventionally understood to be a documentary film. The register. But I renounced this idea in order to make a construction of time, like when you construct a visual poem. It’s an abstract time, built of small fragments. What is it that unites them? The rhythm. Look at Pelechian’s film. The rhythm of things is the secret of cinema. It’s something that all great directors say. In silent films there wasn’t any music, there wasn’t sound, but the images of the great masters of the silent films had a secret music. Robert Bresson said that what the sound film invented was silence. Paradoxically, the utilization of silence arrives with sound.
My intention was clear: to create an abstract form of time, and editing is the greatest resource the filmmaker possesses to do this. The only thing I can say is that I let myself be guided by the secret music that appears when two images in movement are united. I can’t explain it in another way. I think that Mercedes’ film has this factor of time, but why is it that the film about Aldeia da Luz, despite being interesting, doesn’t have it? Because in Mercedes’ film there is a clear point of view, there is personal expression, and because the main theme is that of origins. The reconstruction of origins. Because of this time seems to be a central, basic element, which doesn’t exist in Catarina’s documentary.
JOSÉ CARLOS ABRANTES: With regard to Victor’s comments on the impossibility of distinguishing fiction from documentary: it’s a difficult distinction when thinking about the characteristics of the works, but relatively easy to make when we think about the relationship that the films have with spectators. (Last year, over successive days Apordoc managed to fill Culturgest with people who came to watch documentaries.) This audience has the notion that the director wants to tell them a real story; there is a relationship of truth that the film seeks to establish with the spectator, even if it’s through represented and fictional elements – and time and space are always fictional elements in cinema, be it in fiction, or be it in documentary, although there are, obviously, gradations.
GC: Coming back to this issue of time in cinema; you [Victor Erice] spoke of that closed-in child who has his intimate, subjective notion of time, outside of the artificial clocks. I am reminded of an episode, of a French woman, Florence Aubenas, the hostage who spent five months in a basement, her eyes blindfolded. And she spoke of time in a very beautiful and positive way, despite having also been between life and death. She was also confined, and said, “What shall I to do with all this time?”, and she discovered something, a universe. Cinema is in the same situation, it’s also closed-off in the dark, and this is maybe the final experience cinema can offer us, precisely that of time, of subjective time outside of profitability, etc. It’s a reflection on confinement, on time. When films aren’t good, they remove us from time, when they are good, they offer it to us.
PIERRE-MARIE GOULET: This is one of the things that fascinates me as much in Victor’s film as in Mercedes’, this morning... About this ten-minute-long film [Lifeline]; I am incapable of giving it a duration. For me, it doesn’t have chronological time, it refers to another time. It’s a film that lasts an eternity, in the good sense of the term, immemorial. The film escapes western, modern, chronological time. In the East, one refers to a time – maybe in the Middles Ages also – that is more organic. And this, I find this as much in one film as in the other, they give me back my own time. It’s a very, very constructed time on the part of Mercedes and Victor, but one that doesn’t rob me of mine, that allows me the possibility of reconstructing a time for myself, and it isn’t this time of ten minutes, it’s something else.
[Screening of End and Life, by Artavazd Pelechian.]
JMC: It’s the second time in Doc’s Kingdom that we include a work of Pelechian’s, by way of more recent films, both times at the suggestion of Pierre-Marie. It is particularly difficult to speak about Pelechian because I think that, of all filmmakers, he is the most mysterious. It’s very difficult to perceive what exists concretely, materially, in his work, and that transports us to an emotional and hypnotic atmosphere. In relation to a film like this, I can only ask questions. For example, in the first film, in the journey by train, before the passing through the first tunnel and before the beginning of the music with the view of the landscape (that has been referred to as the arrival in a promised land), before one being able to imagine, to sense that what he wants to do is end the film with the world “end”, before knowing that with this he is going to edit a film on the celebration of life, of birth, and after only of a few seconds, I don’t feel that I am seeing some people on a train, in a determined space and determined time; I immediately feel that I am confronted with the whole of humanity, the whirlwind of life, the jubilation of life, something that at the same time is concrete and totally universal and almost abstract. Why? It’s something that has to do with the construction of the film, that is certainly developed enormously in the editing, to the frame, and using very particular processes. In this case I think that it’s probably because of the beat, the rhythm that is there from the beginning and that unites the two films, in that the beat of the rails, of the wheels, is afterwards the beat of the heart, arriving at a bridge. I think that in the second film, at a certain point we ask ourselves, “Which is the sound of one and which is the sound of the other?”, because they could be the same. But why all this?
ANTÓNIO ESCUDEIRO: I think that it is because we are scared, anguished. I felt this fear and this anguish in the deslumbramento [bedazzlement], which, perhaps, is the word in Portuguese that is closest to alumbramiento. Once in a while we have to talk about our own personal experiences. I began my professional life working as a cameraman, filming operations in real time at the Santa Maria Hospital, with a camera operator who is now eighty years old, Abel Escoto. We filmed operations and births, and I always had the notion of the time passing during these experiences. I also had this notion watching Erice’s film, Mercedes’ film and Pelechian’s film. And one of the most remarkable things in the passage of time is the creation of a fear, of an anguish: I don’t know how it is going to end, how it began, I always have the feeling that we are going to arrive at the end or at the beginning of something, and for me this is very oppressive.
GC: I had two reactions watching Pelechian’s films. They are extremely coherent films, and also very linear, that is to say, there are two brothers – one is the sound, the other is the image – in a perfect continuity and linearity. For the images, there is in fact something very elaborate in the editing, a hystericization in the editing which redoubles that of the filming. These are films that move directly towards their predictable endings, in a brilliant way. And I would say that what happens – and what is predictable – is that which was predicted. They are the exact opposite of Victor’s film, a film in which there is the accident, or in which we don’t know where we are going.
Another comment, about the sound; we find questions there that were raised during this morning’s debate relating to the screening of The Sky Turns. Normally, the scope of the sound is broader than that of the image. This was a little what I felt in that very strong presence of the sound, even though the characters are at a distance. There is something in play that puts into question the conventions, the habit of cinema. The relationship between image and sound raises other problems, but I believe that this is at the heart of Pelechian’s work, and it is clearly through the sound that there is an obvious continuity, and that this continuity leads us to a planned ending.
PARTICIPANT: I want to react on the comment that the film of the train [Life, Artavazd Pelechian] is very scary and closed; I felt the same way. And I completely agree with José Manuel, in that it stands for humanity as a whole, racing in this train. But I also felt a bit of a relief from this stress and this tension when people were dozing off – the lady we see from the side with her eyes closed, the young girl falling asleep quietly. It is in those moments that they escape from the rhythm, the speed, the fact of being packed together in this tight space, and they create their own space and time. I thought that was a beautiful thing to do, to put this tranquil image of people dozing off inside the packed train – and the opera music that entered at certain point was also an escape out of it.
As for the first film we saw today [Lifeline], I think the baby is a beautiful metaphor for time, because in itself he has no awareness of time; but for other people, the people around him and the parents, he represents a great deal of time, because he is youth and future, a whole new life – which is time.
ANTÓNIO ESCUDEIRO: Can you explain a bit about whether you have this thing of the anguish and the fear, of the time passing, especially with the story of the baby, of the growing stain, of the life of the other characters? Don’t you also feel anxiety?
VE: Yes, obviously. This is in the atmosphere of the period. When I speak about my film, I have to turn to history, to a reality, to a country that had just lived through one of the most terrible civil wars. I remember the feeling of fear on the streets. But in a certain way it’s difficult to speak about that, because I am scared of reducing its expression. I think that the spontaneous relationships between images and the spectator should be respected. That is to say, there is obviously a point of view, but not a superior point of view. The point of view belongs to everyone, because the spectator becomes the owner of the film. As a filmmaker I am an intermediary, I look for a common truth that belongs to everyone.
One of the things that touch me most in Pelechian’s film is the rhythm. There is the sound of the train, the beating of the heart, and this is rhythm. These are films with a very precise and fragmented découpage. They provoke a sensorial, even irrational, experience in me. Reflection comes after the projection, but Pelechian’s desire is to seize the spectator with the rhythm. The images become metaphysical journeys. He is a filmmaker of the great truths of life: birth, death, etc. We can say that the passengers of this train represent the whole of humanity. Landscape doesn’t exist, we don’t know the location of the starting point or of the destination. We are taken over by the rhythm. I believe that the difference between Pelechian and myself is that he remains bound to the transparency of a certain classical cinema, above all to the legacy of Rossellini. I think that Pelechian’s work is very close to certain advertising techniques that grip the spectator in the most irrational way. This is its strength.
ERIKA KRAMER: This film is a incredible experience of sharing something together. We watched something that inspired each of us differently. And what is so marvelous in your [Victor Erice] film is that, as there is so much information given, we see that universal cry from the mother: the baby is dying. And this is when we know what time is. Time stops, and we see in the images that everybody’s work stops. Everybody’s joy stops, and everybody’s focused on the priority of “life and death”. And when we speak of ourselves as a group we can, probably, agree that when we talk about “life and death” we can make it a priority. What the magic of the cinema can do is unite everyone for a moment and make us agree that whatever happened in the world of fiction, it represents our deep truth raised to the surface and shows us the light of the meaning of our lives.
REGINA GUIMARÃES: In this reflection on life and death, you [Victor Erice] wrest the baby from death and put him on the side of life. There is that redemption. In the case of Pelechian, I believe that he is a little more mystical. I have a friend who is very mystical and who explained to me how he feels this relationship to death and how he places this in relation to life, and he said to me, “When we were in our mother’s womb, we had a heaven above us, we were lulled by a rhythm...” Birth is suffering, you emerge and it’s cold, etc. And death is exactly the same thing. So I believe that for the mystic, death and life are the same thing, a violence, and I believe that Pelechian is on that side.
[Screening of Five, Abbas Kiarostami.]
JMC: I would like to say two things about the film. The first is that, paradoxically, I feel that I can’t stop paying attention to it. We return to the same issue question: the less you say, the more you say; the fewer the elements, the more significant they are. And I think here we beyond everything that we were used to, in terms of a sophistication of the image. My feeling is that I can’t stop paying attention to it, that the decisive element can appear at any second, and if I am not completely alert to all of the details in the image, it could escape me completely.
The second is that I think a lot of things during these films. The first episode raises almost all of the issues, and it was greatly discussed... And I found it curious when I read the references, I don’t know if everyone read the texts that were distributed... Because it’s a film that stages as its main issue this question of the relationship between control and lack of control over the image, and in a debate, in a school I suppose, Kiarostami responded to two groups of students, in two different moments, with completely different things: he says to some that he never prepared the trunk so that it would split in two and that it was an accident, and to others, with the same casualness he says that yes, at a distance he had placed a small detonator which at a certain point would make the trunk split in two. And, apparently, both the groups completely believed what he was saying. It’s very typical of him, in this kind of relationship, to leave something unclear.
But when the trunk splits in two, besides choosing what is in the frame and what is out, my mind immediately begins to think about other things. And for me at a certain level that trunk is an original community that splits in two, those who stay and those who go, or between the part of humanity that became sedentary and the part that became nomadic. And the first time I saw the film, the only thing that I thought was, “Where is he going to cut?” That is, in relation to those who left: at a certain point they disappear, but will they return or not? And those who stayed, are they going to stay definitively or not? And I think that the film ends when those who stay don’t have any way of returning anymore, they really become grounded in the place where they were, and those who left don’t come back anymore, because they disappeared for good.
GC: What is perhaps a little awkward with this type of film, is that it gives rise to endless discussions, and I don’t know what relationship this film can have with these spectators, spectators who are moreover people from the cinema or who work with cinema. If I were to express this in a paradoxical, almost provocative way, I would say that it’s a great speech in defence of action cinema. Because, whoever the people one films may be, the things that one films, there, those pieces of trunk, what is it that is fascinating? It’s that something happens that wasn’t there before, and it’s exactly because something happens that there is cinema.
The last episode is somewhat fantastic. I don’t have any memory of having seen this in the cinema, like that, the heralding of a storm, the storm, and then the return to calm. There is, little by little, something that is constructed – there where one could think that there is nothing unusual to see, because it’s nighttime, but we see more and more. And it’s also through sound, sound helps us to see. Besides this, I find that the ducks are much better actors than the men. Because in the episode with the characters passing by, we can ask all sort of questions: what is staged, what is constructed?, well, there is something that still seems rather formalist to me. And the ducks, they aren’t suspicious for the spectator. This can also be said of the documentary, that a priori we trust, we think that it’s completely true – the ducks didn’t think that they were being directed, manipulated.
PARTICIPANT: This work, this object, makes me think about all of the artistic gestures in which the artist makes use of works autonomous to his product. This happens in writing, in the visual arts, in music, and also here. The film didn’t stir any emotion at all in Gérard. I felt an emotion in that gesture of Kiarostami’s which consists of being distant, as far as possible (in the way of the musicians, or painters) from the work, and letting the product build itself up to a certain point. Because there are obviously interventions in the editing, especially in the fifth part. But I think that the director goes up to a point of rupture, the furthest apart from his own film, and it’s in that that it remains cinema, on the level of time. That abandonment of the control over time, that is what is very moving.
REGINA GUIMARÃES: Either we grant that it’s a film about framing and light (and these aren’t very original images, for example the last one; it’s a beautiful film but not an original one, we have already seen this in theatre...), or we enter a completely delirious discourse, because everything can be in anything... And this is the opposite of criticism, isn’t it?
JMC: I am talking about a possible delirium. During the 12 hours of Warhol’s Empire  you could think about anything, you had the time to think about anything. It’s a similar gesture, that is to say, it’s everyone’s individual dreams that can put everything there, and it’s the fact that the elements are very concrete, material, and very reduced that allows for that. This is what I thought, and I am recounting my personal journey. But I think the work in each episode surprises me, there is no repetition. In this sense, I think that it’s a strong work.
VE: It should be remembered that Kiarostami conceived of this work to be presented in a museum, as an installation, and not in a film theatre. It’s a proposition that belongs more to the realm of installations, in which he has been working for some time, and in which video is mixed with photography, cinema, etc.
He insisted a lot that for him, Five was an act of pure contemplation – and, in this sense, it’s a very militant proposal. Militant, in what sense? In the right to remember that cinema was, and might continue to be, an act of contemplation – something that we often forget, because the model imposed massively, on a planetary scale, is the model of North American cinema based on story, treatment, action, etc.
The effect is, firstly, to strip away. To strip away as one might say in painting, when a canvas is cleaned. To clean the screen of the excess of story, the excess of script. Secondly, in relation to the spectator, the images have a mirror-like effect. José Manuel said what he saw in the first episode. Well, I saw something completely different. The two views are legitimate.
A third aspect that I would like to underline is that there is a great deal of construction, nothing is left to spontaneity. It would be good to ask Kiarostami how many takes he did of the beach with the people walking in front of the camera. Because there is a process of selection. For me the last episode is the most interesting, and it is precisely the most constructed. He told me that he built the whole soundtrack in post-production.
ANTÓNIO ESCUDEIRO: Did he use a projector to make the light?
VE: I don’t think so. In this case I think that it is, in fact, the reflection of the moon. But the contrast between the sound of the frogs, the dogs, and finally, the commonplace sound announcing the dawn, the roosters crowing, suggests to the spectator, through sound, the passing of time; a certain allegory of time. But it is greatly constructed. What does this say? That, whether we want to work with fiction or non-fiction stories, in the language of cinema, as Jean Renoir used to say, we have to construct. And cinema, to be a language, demands a ritualization of time and space. If this is not the case, it can be very valuable, but it will belong to the field of journalism, of sociology, of information, or of anthropology; sciences and fields that are very respectable and that can create valuable audiovisual testimonies, but I establish a difference between the audiovisual and cinema. We find them ourselves at the beginning of a new era, which is the era of the audiovisual, in which cinema lives alongside the language of television and of advertising in a stylistic magma, and sometimes it must be remembered that cinema isn’t the audiovisual. And this film of Kiarostami’s contributed to this work, of a prophylaxis of the image. Performing a task of cleaning, of the tiredness of so many stories repeated following the same schemes. But it’s the formula with which, through television, great patches of the population are educated; it’s the dominant taste. Confronted with this, it’s a militant film.
GC: But one can’t think, in seeing this work of Kiarostami’s, of today’s audiovisual. What one must think of are the origins of cinema, the films by the Lumières. They are much shorter, but we rediscover precisely all this, that is to say, a fixed frame, something that is apparently the simple reproduction of reality, but that is in fact the result of an extremely developed mise-en-scène. It must be remembered that one of the most famous films of the Lumières, Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory , has several versions, and there are differences between them, all the problems of entering and exiting the frame. Seeing or to rediscovering these films today, we realize that a large number of the problems discussed nowadays – about fiction, documentary, all of these issues – were raised and worked through since the beginning of cinema.
PARTICIPANT: Of the various interventions here, one of the things that I understood is that the space of that oeuvre makes different readings possible; we can fill it in with personal interpretations. I looked behind many times during the screening, and one quarter of the spectators were sleeping. I would like to know if this is to say that the relationship of the spectators to cinema is redefined.
VE: The condition of the spectator changed extraordinarily over the history of cinema. Cinema was the popular art of the 20th century, and this disappeared, this is the great drama of cinema. It’s from this moment that another relationship with the spectator is born. The distribution of films itself became divided from a certain point; a distribution to a cultural elite of spectators appeared. There are the consumers of normal cinema and cinema for spectators that we could call initiated, qualified. This is the first great schism. When Chaplin made a film, he made it for everyone. What was Chaplin’s secret? The knowledge of something that contemporary cinema lost. John Ford and all great cinema also had this secret, created by North American cinema, and also Europe.
Nowadays the experience of film consumption isn’t communitarian, it’s individual, in the realm of domestic privacy, of television, of the living room, etc. I myself lived through this transformation. In my childhood, to go to the cinema was a community act, in the darkness of the theatre, in the middle of a promiscuous solitude, there was a group of people. Today, most people consume cinema through television. Naturally, the condition of the spectator needs to be redefined, but this for a long time. For me, film consumption is approaching the experience that we can make of poetry. Today was the first time that I saw this film of Kiarostami’s in a theatre; I had seen it at home on DVD. And between the experience of seeing it here with you all, on a big screen, and my solitary experience as a consumer, there is a certain distinction.
There is almost an extraordinary loss, because we lost the public square – and not only in cinema, also in other fields of everyday life. We need to see how electoral systems function in democracies. The great masses of the population are formatted by television; the manipulation of consciousnesses is possible in a way that mankind never experienced.
But I wouldn’t call the question of whether or not he sleeps in the cinema an indicator of what the spectator is today, because this is something purely subjective. I can sleep from the first minute watching Lucas’ Star Wars.
REGINA GUIMARÃES: There is a very important French theatre critic called Bernard Dort who says that, if he didn’t sleep during a play, it was because the play wasn’t good. It’s also necessary to value the question of sleep in its relationship with cinema: it’s normal to sleep during a film, because there is a very strong connection between the cinema’s images and the images of dreams. . He said, “In the end, the cinema that Pollet makes is a cinema that unfolds between the time of the condemnation to death and the time of the death itself that will come.” Cinema is between the two. I could add that it’s a kind of metaphor for life, because with the child that was just born, what is certain is that it is condemned to death, as a character in Mercedes’ film this morning [ , but it doesn’t mean anything. On the other hand, for me it’s captivating to follow Kiarostami’s film second by second. It’s evident that this kind of proposition was more successful in the history of painting. Figuration in the history of painting is easier to appreciate; to appreciate an abstract painting it’s necessary to have a certain knowledge, a certain specialization. This same process was lived by cinema. Cinema is, who knows, at a stage in which it is a residue – like poetry is.