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About the 2006 edition
A point of view about the world is a point of view about cinema. If one expects any film to incorporate a point of view about the world, today one should also note the importance of stressing almost the inverse: in the midst of the present audiovisual saturation, the productive use of the means of the cinema claims for an even stronger engagement, exigency and clarity concerning the place of cinema in the modern world. As much as a point of view about the world, the production boom claims for a point of view about cinema as a consequent part of our vision of the world.
The 2006 seminar includes some examples of this, films and film makers that define the landscape, and, consequently, may guide us along a journey through some key trends of contemporary cinema. Starting with films where each shot reveals a strong construction method, we will then rather concentrate on the recent methodologies of direct cinema.
Regarding the latter, we will propose a confrontation between different filming strategies, including an analytic approach of various parameters: treatment of space, treatment of time, handling of the camera, sound, editing.
The 2006 edition shall run according to a new structure of debates, in three distinct levels: dialogues on specific films; thematic presentation on formal strategies; collective debate.
Transcription of the debates
Second debate, after the films by Aurélien Gerbault and by Pedro Costa
14th JUNE, WEDNESDAY
Films shown before the debate:
Tout Refleurit, Aurélien Gerbault, 2006
Juventude em Marcha, Pedro Costa, 2006
José Manuel Costa (JMC)
Emmanuel Burdeau (EB)
Pedro Costa (PC)
Aurélien Gerbault (AG)
JOSÉ MANUEL COSTA: I begin by insisting on what I said this morning: we’re trying to organize the debate sessions in a slightly different way from how we did them these past years. So, the session will take place in two parts: first, a dialog between Emmanuel Burdeau and Pedro Costa, and then the open debate with the rest of room. We also have with us Aurélien Gerbault, the author of the film about Pedro’s work which we saw this morning, and who will also participate in the discussion. I would also like to remind everyone, once again, that, just as with Pierre-Marie, this session has an important precedent in this Seminar’s past: in the first edition of Doc’s Kingdom, in 2000, the film In Vanda’s Room was shown for the first time in Portugal. That other projection was followed by a conversation between Pedro Costa, Emmanuel Burdeau and Tierry Lunas. So, Emmanuel Burdeau (who is currently, editor-in-chief of Cahiers du Cinéma) was therefore invited, again, to enliven the debate about a film by Pedro, this time Colossal Youth. I will therefore let Emmanuel speak.
EMMANUEL BURDEAU: C’est la deuxième fois que je vois le film, je l’ai vu là où il a été présenté la première fois en projection de presse à Cannes, et puis je l’ai revu à l’instant. Je trouve que c’est un très très beau film, très impressionnant. Il y a une manière toute simple de le présenter, c’est évidemment un film qui fait suite à Dans la Chambre de Vanda, c’est un film qui procède de la même méthode: filmer tous les jours, au même endroit, pendant un certain temps, et de profiter de la légèreté du matériel numérique pour pouvoir le faire tout seul ou avec seulement quelques-uns, pour le faire d’une manière très régulière, et de pouvoir accumuler des heures et des heures et des heures de rushes. Celui-là c’est à peu près trois cents heures de rushes, accumulées après un an et demi de tournage, si le mot convient encore, quasiment quotidien. Ce film-ci, En Avant Jeunesse, il aurait été, je pense, impossible sans Dans la Chambre de Vanda, qui est un film qui a fait rupture pour Pedro, par rapport à la lourdeur du cinéma, ￼à une certaine lassitude accumulée particulièrement sur le tournage de Ossos . Mais il me semble que ce film-ci aurait été impossible également si Dans la Chambre de Vanda n’avait pas été suivi de Où Gît Votre Sourire Enfouit , qui est le film que Pedro à réalisé sur le travail de Jean-Marie Straub et de Danièle Huillet, en particulier sur l’énième remontage d’une version de Sicilia . Pour moi, une façon très simple de présenter En Avant Jeunesse, qui est un peu trop simple évidemment, c’est de dire que ça serait Dans la Chambre de Vanda plus ou multiplié par Où Gît Votre Sourire Enfouit, dans le sens où c’est la même méthode documentaire extrême, totale ou absolue que Dans la Chambre de Vanda, avec ce qui pour moi était un des apports et des surprises de Où Gît Votre Sourire Enfouit, c’est-à-dire, une inspiration plus expérimentale, plus formaliste. Le film conjugue ces deux choses, il les ajoute ou les multiplie. En ce sens-là, je trouve extrêmement précieux de suivre le travail, de voir comment les choses évoluent.
Le film ne s’appelle pas pour rien En Avant Jeunesse, c’est évident que c’est encore un grand pas en avant par rapport à ce qui était la recherche de Dans la Chambre de Vanda et la recherche de Où Gît Votre Sourire Enfouit. Le film est à l’endroit où se passent les choses qui m’intéressent aujourd’hui au cinéma, c’est-à-dire, ce que permet le tournage en numérique, cette légèreté qu’on connaît. Étrangement, cette légèreté permet de faire des films de plus en plus lourds; le film a un côté monumental, on pourrait presque dire que dans ce film il y a l’ambition de faire un chef-d’oeuvre. Ce n’est pas pour rien que le titre anglais est Colossal Youth, il y a quelque chose de colossale qui est liée à beaucoup de choses: à la dignité des personnages, à la place extrême prise par l’architecture, à des choses dont on reparlera, les contre-plongées, la violence des lignes, cette ouverture au début qui nous ramène presque à l’expressionnisme allemand. Enfin, beaucoup de choses comme ça qui font que, paradoxalement ou pas, le numérique – dont on a dit tellement que ça allait donner lieu à des miettes de films, tout le monde ferait son film dans son coin, comme chacun fait son journal ou son auto-fiction – permet de faire revenir dans le cinéma une sorte d’ambition monumentale, qui est peut-être une ambition que le cinéma avait perdu.
Il y a un film dont on a parlé brièvement tout à l’heure, je sais que Pedro ne l’a pas vu, mais auquel on a été plusieurs à penser en découvrant ce film-ci à Cannes. Les films sont très dissemblables bien sûr, mais ça me semble être à peu près la même équation, c’est le film de Sokurov qui s’appelle , qu’il a fait sur Hirohito et qui conjugue ces mêmes deux choses, c’est-à-dire, le numérique et une très très forte affirmation d’image. Le numérique aujourd’hui est la forme d’économie la plus minuscule ou la plus modeste, mais qui donne lieu à des films qui sont des films luxueux. Ce film-ci est un film qui donne une impression de richesse, de générosité, et pas simplement par sa durée, par le nombre des histoires qui sont filmées, évoquées au passé, au plus-que-parfait ou au conditionnel... visuellement, c’est un film d’un très grand luxe. Et de ce point de vue-là, il est tout à fait significatif que la scène de musée n’est pas là pour rien, elle est là, à la fois, pour affirmer un lien très fort à l’histoire de l’art et aussi pour affirmer qu’il s’agit ici de fabriquer quelque chose qui ressemble à un diamant. Ce qui me frappe aussi c’est comment est-ce qu’on peut comprendre le titre. Le SoleilEn Avant Jeunesse, ça reste quand même un titre un peu provocateur ou contradictoire, dans la mesure où ce n’est pas l’énième teenager movie des années 2000, ça c’est une évidence, et pourtant il est question grandement de la jeunesse, de prendre une grande gorgée de jeunesse, il me semble, dans la lettre qui revient comme un leitmotiv. La question c’est de quelle jeunesse il s’agit, de quelle avance il s’agit, et de quelle exclamation il s’agit dans le film. Le film de Pedro n’est pas le premier qui se situe à cet endroit-là.
Je reviens encore au numérique; c’est que, étrangement, depuis quelques années, les films les plus forts qui se font en numérique sont des films résolument tournés vers le passé, ce qui ne veut pas dire du tout qu’il sont passéistes; mais là c’est un film qui est résolument tourné vers le passé, tourné vers un quartier en ruines, un quartier qui est en train de disparaître (comme était déjà Dans la Chambre de Vanda), tourné vers le ressassement d’expériences passées, même si peut-être dans le film une seconde chance est offerte à ces espérances de se redire différemment. Alors, une question importante du film c’est: comment est-ce qu’on fait du monumental avec de la ruine? Mais tourné vers le passé pas simplement dans le scénario, mais aussi tourná vers le passé du cinéma dans l’expression formelle. Je parlais tout à l’heure du début du film, le premier plan, cette violente contre-plongée sur la cour et l’immeuble, c’est un plan que, d’une certaine manière, on ne serait pas surpris de trouver dans un film expressionniste allemand de la fin des années 20. Beaucoup de contre-plongées (surtout au début, il me semble qu’il y en a un peu moins ensuite), notamment la contre-plongée lorsque Ventura sort pour la première fois et qu’on découvre les immeubles tout en blanc, peuvent faire penser au grand cinéma soviétique. Tout le système des raccords et le fait que, sauf exception, il n’y a dans le film que des faux raccords, je dis ça de manière un peu schématique, que des espaces qui non seulement ne se raccordent pas, mais dont la géométrie n’est jamais certaine; c’est comme ça, en tout cas, que j’ai compris le gag de la porte qui se referme toute seule. C’est manifestement un monde qui ne tient pas droit, peut-être la seule chose qui se tient droit dans ce monde c’est Ventura, sinon les portes elles se referment toutes seules, comme si tout ça tanguait ou n’était pas sur un axe stable. Aujourd’hui j’ai pensé au cinéma de Welles (évidemment, Welles ça va plus vite), parce qu’il y a beaucoup de scènes dans Monsieur Arkadin  qui se passent dans les débarras, dans des endroits avec des assemblages hétéroclites de meubles, de lampes comme ici, et avec des espaces qui sont construis en cône, en triangle, dans lesquels la géométrie telle qu’on￼la connaît n’est jamais respectée. Ça aussi c’est un type de traitement de l’espace qui n’appartient pas à notre age du cinéma.
Je ne suis pas sûr que ce soit un film complètement homogène tout le temps dans son ambition, il m’a semblé qu’il y avait aussi des régimes narratifs qui n’étaient pas toujours les mêmes, il y a des scènes qui sont plus purement documentaires, d’autres qui sont plus purement dans un autre espace qui serait celui du mythe, ou de la légende, ou du récit. Parfois, il y a des ajustements qui sont un peu étranges, peut-être. Mais ce qui me frappe, c’est que c’est un film que, malgré son titre Juventude em Marcha, envoyé comme ça vers l’avenir, c’est un film dont la date me paraît presque impossible à fixer. En généralisant, je dirais volontiers que le cinéma en est là aujourd’hui, c’est-à-dire, qu’il est cette espèce de moment où d’aller vers l’avant c’est supposant, entre autres choses, de revenir en arrière.
PEDRO COSTA: I would rather people asked things, or gave opinions, because I find it difficult to speak. Everything he said is more or less right, except for the part about Orson Welles.
I don’t know where to begin, because I think that, for the people who made the film (there were four of us, I mean, in the more technical team), we don’t really think of it as a film which begun and ended. This is a way of working I am very much used to. Maybe not so much for them. I think it is the way in which it is possible, and the only way, to continue to think about film. There are books, and people read Deleuze and whatever else, but in reality, it is all fake, there’s no real thought. I think I can only think, really think, in practice. I can’t go home and read books, or... I read some interviews with directors. What he says is true, they are usually dead. They are dead directors or very close friends who get me interested in certain things, someone’s latest film. I’ll read an interview, something that comes out of someone I admire, and so on, but this whole business of thinking about film and doing it at the same time, I think that, nowadays, is a big bluff. Since we are in the kingdom of the documentary, I think people have an enormous tendency for discussion, almost as if in the café, lively and healthy and friendly and good, and all that. Actually, it shows through in the films. In fiction it is even worse, because it’s the luxury, the bad luxury of the six weeks with an assistant, and a car, the usual. It’s an interregnum of luxury in the director’s life. The rest of the time, he’s a teacher, he’s something or other. I think when you’re a teacher you’re nothing. A film teacher, to boot... I don’t know a single Portuguese film teacher who thinks about anything. I am being sincere with you. The outlook for the teaching of image and sound in Portugal is catastrophic. It is much worse than anywhere else in the world, that I know of. In Europe, at least. There are no chances, no way, even the official, or main, Portuguese school is probably among the worst. At least in the others they get a little bit of practice. I only managed to find this way of thinking, to think certain things, to think distances, heights, focals, light, sounds in the foreground, sounds in the background... Things we didn’t talk about, me and Olivier, who was the one who did the absolutely magnificent sound on this film, which I am sorry you didn’t get to hear at its best, because the projection isn’t very good yet. The image is fair, but the sound is poor. This is done in digital, and it was projected in [Dolby] SR and, well, it depends on the rooms. I think this room is too large for this film. It was that way in Cannes, too. Although the film does have that side Emmanuel says, or that ambition to do something like Land of the Pharaohs [Howard Hawks, 1955], if it were a little smaller, nothing would be lost, or it would add something. As far as sound, for instance, it would gain a lot. In proximity, for instance – between the first and the last row, there is a big difference. We stuck to a very strict discipline. We worked very hard, and during over a year, six days a week, with some short breaks. Even when we weren’t filming. There were many days when there was no filming, because someone was sick, or in a bad mood, or because I didn’t know what to do, or the conditions weren’t present to do something with acceptable sound, or an acceptable picture. Then, since I work (and this film was very much worked on) with natural light... except for short scenes, or small exceptions, it was always dine with mirrors and reflectors and aluminum foil, anything we had to make the light come through... This is also why they go to the doors and windows – there wasn’t any other way to do it. My hatred for small films is such that, every time I hear the expression “little film”... What we need is to always make them much, much bigger, to try to do what he [Emmanuel Burdeau] was saying: a very, very rich picture, very luxurious, in which actors are great, are always larger. I am talking about the people: characters, actors, whatever you want to call them. That already happened in In Vanda’s Room and a little bit in Bones, too. They need to be heroes, a little bigger than life. That takes a bit of work. You don’t do it in seven weeks, and I have a suspicion that I couldn’t do it with professional actors... I don’t say other people don’t do it. To have this aspect (as he so justly said) maybe more past than present, but not dated, is something that’s very hard to do in five weeks. In five weeks you get a documentary about filmmaking. That’s what you see nowadays. A documentary about the lack of money, the lack of talent, the lack. To have something that eliminates the lack (not to camouflage it, to go beyond those individual fears, the collective, whether it is two people, four, or twenty) – I think nowadays, that takes a lot of time. I have been observing that for some years now. And then, the kind of thing I do (which for now, is very close to this sort of limbo, a boat that you can’t quite tell if it’s moving full speed, or very slowly, if it is going forward or backward) is a very strange time, and it has too be tested many times, for many days, and with the people who will be in front of the camera. So, this kind of work that I do, which is as punishing or as difficult as shooting in five weeks, or six or seven or eight, it is multiplied... It does have an advantage, and that is that you think. At least I do think quite a bit, and I think the people who are there with me think quite a bit. Without thinking, right? Without daily meetings or reports. I have the feeling that this method or way of working we have (I keep including many people, because I really didn’t do anything by myself) includes a thought, a sort of mechanics which is lacking in normal shooting, which is prepared at home, or at the production office, and then there is a period of repérage and then there is a period of casting and then there is a period... In the work we do, things aren’t even mixed up, I don’t know how I can explain it, they cancel each other out, they cause each other to happen, they are born from one another... The scenes, the narration itself isn’t born of the day-to-day – it’s as if the narration were already the memory of its own narration. It is instantly of the past, we don’t even have to do anything to make it that way. Narration, memory: to me they are two very similar things. For instance, a person like Ventura, just him, all alone, of his own, he brings that, or he brings a lot of it. You don’t even have to be working on a film with him to feel that, it is enough to be with him, or even in the neighbourhood. Things immediately have a gravitas... Then, there are few of us who feel things. When there are thirty people feeling a picture it’s no good. When there are three, four, five people, you feel a picture.
All that with many wrong turns and mistakes. It was meant to be Ventura’s story, more or less. This all began after In Vanda’s Room. I was interested in continuing to go there, I mean, I didn’t have any other idea, and I didn’t even leave. Since Fontainhas, the neighbourhood was completely destroyed, there was almost nothing left, I thought we could go back to the first shack and make a story about pioneers. There was a smell hanging, of certain things – some things from Ventura, some others in the shots, especially in the character of Bete, whose house is very western. There was a pioneering side to it – who had begun the neighbourhood and settled it, the first shack, the first stone, the first fight, the first love story, the first things in Fontainhas – and there is some of that left. For instance, they say: “It was in this room it all started.” That room is now at the end of the film, it’s in the new neighbourhood and it is all burnt, and it’s not Ventura who says it, but it stayed. The story about the letter, the one about the long conversations, and, especially, the children’s story – the notion that Ventura had many, many children, children without end. That was the best excuse to begin the longer shooting, without an end in sight, because there was no end of children in sight. It was the multiplication of the children, a new child could always come along. In fact, we kept thinking there might be another one or two. The film had some upsetting setbacks. For instance, Bete, who is one of the children, died during filming, and that left me, and everyone else, with a great sadness. There was a period that had come to an end.
For Ventura, too. I asked all of the children to come with their stories (and they are their stories, their lives) and it all began to slip into a much darker side than I had initially suspected. Since my tendency isn’t exactly the sunniest, it all began to get... I won’t say heavier, but the movie began to go on its own way. It totally began to make its own path. There was a point where it was narrating on its own, no one had to speak for it. It had to be nurtured, given a bit of direction, organized. I organized somewhat the things Ventura or the others would tell me, we would try to insulate a doorway or another, to get a little sunshine in, but what he had to say was there and I think the film came more or less to the limit of what can be said, of what is said. This thing with the children was meant to be much lighter and easier. Hence the title Colossal Youth [literally, the Portuguese title would translate as Youth on the March], which at first was fun, there wasn’t the slightest bit of irony to it, and now it’s a little (and in Portuguese)... but that’s how it was, that’s how it stays. There is a soviet side to it that I like. Not Orson Welles, but the Russians.
The thing about expressionism isn’t exactly right. These were things we were working on for months and months in the houses, and all, all, all of it is always about the sun and how to cover it and uncover it and work so that the image isn’t too shitty. I like things to be well done and we worked like dogs so that it would turn out to be something. Often it didn’t, and things were done that weren’t anything, and then repeated and repeated and repeated again. The average of takes must be around thirty, and we went so far, for instance, with Vanda, who is such a perfectionist and crazy and delirious person that we spent three months working on those scenes – we went so far as to do eighty takes. We lived there. We lived there and there were people who spoke about some things, and people who filmed those things. We were all in agreement, and the work we were doing was being perfected. We always did a great many takes (never less than twenty), for months. And some scenes were shot and later repeated or redone, or even re-rehearsed six or eight months later. This had already given me good results in the other film, and on this one it was even better. It is a slightly odd way to work, but it was the way I found with these people (I don’t know if it would work for everyone). In their heads, there is a selective sieve which can get very far with complicated texts. The first few times are a little heated, theatrical, weak, off the mark. Six months later, with small interventions in the course of those months, with small reminders from me, you can arrive at a form, a concentrate, a distillation. It isn’t even rehearsing, just reminding people there is that scene to be done, or that purpose – it is a bit like in painting, where you go over the same spot to do the same thing again. Very surprising, because we went back to certain décors a few times, and things took on a whole different meaning, and this with the same actor, the same text, nearly the same light. It was their memory that selected certain things, took things out, made them say it in different ways (maybe less sentimental). The film has a nobility, a wholeness, that comes from time, only from time. They have it naturally, of course, and, obviously, we four tried hard to bring it out. I did in one way, and they in another. Olivier was more concerned with the voices, Gustavo in some other way, or Quim another, but always trying to pull people toward the side we thought was their best, and it is, because by now we know them well. I mean, best for the film. Then there are a lot of other things. Maybe it would be best for you to talk for a while.
MANUEL COSTA CABRAL: Did you show the actors the images, the takes?
PC: No, not really. In spite of everything, it was very, very tough work, every day. It would end and we would go home to rest. All of us. There is a more special case, which is Vanda, who watches every once in a while, and who likes to watch herself and who takes it all very lightly, jokingly, although she is the most... I won’t say tragic, but she is someone who always brings some very surprising truth with her. In the lighter things Vanda says there is always another, underground, meaning. Even before, in the other film, she likes to watch herself, but at her house it’s easier, because we were in that room this time. For instance, when her daughter was being filmed, she was with us. In that sense, yes, they do watch, but it is more like an amateur film: “Look, there’s mom now”, “Look, now it’s the daughter.” They don’t watch in order to make changes. And I don’t really like it. Video has that drawback, you can see it the whole time. The camera has a tiny screen and, sometimes (very few times), we used a larger monitor because of colour issues or for the more complicated light problems, but I don’t really like that. Even back when I was filming in 35mm there was the video, and I didn’t like it. I find it confusing, I’d rather watch as it is being done and then never look at it again until it’s time to pick the take that goes into the edit. And I really don’t like going over things with them.
MANUEL COSTA CABRAL: Did you do a screening with the participants?
PC: Not yet, because the film played there in Cannes, then there was a sort of post-Cannes, a dead time... Since Zé Manel had already talked to me about Serpa and I had already told him yes, it could be subtitled in Portuguese and it hasn’t been yet. All this to say I haven’t even started working on it. The film is going to be subtitled, if it’s shown in Portugal – around eighty percent of it must be spoken in Creole. It was ready thirty-some hours before the first screening in Cannes – the sound, mixing, everything. Now, I am going to take it up again, because there are a lot of things in terms of images that aren’t done: the colours, the so-called étalonnage, the colour correction has to be done again. Copies have to be made, two or three, and now it won’t be until after summer. I still don’t know when it will be shown commercially, but I’m going to do something that’ll be just for them. In spite of everything, it isn’t just what you see here. In this film, more so than in In Vanda’s Room, we can say that, at least the so-called Casal da Boba, which is the white neighbourhood you saw, is all involved in the film in one way or another. Even the people who didn’t like us are involved, so even they will have to watch it, will be compelled, will watch it. I am going to do the screenings in a theatre which belongs to the Amadora city council, which has an auditorium similar to this one. For a week if need be, but just for them, without tickets and just for the actors, because there’s a thousand people and there can’t be enough thanks. At every level. This isn’t sentimental, it is a practical issue, they’re all mixed up in it, whether they like it or not. Four of the actors have already seen it. It’s possible some will see it on video; we’re going to make these DVDs... Vanda, for instance, really doesn’t like to go to the movies, she doesn’t really like to come out. She’ll go to the session, but what she likes is to be at home talking, having a beer.
I would like to apologize to you [Manuel Costa Cabral] for the sofa at the museum, but we didn’t damage anything. I was just looking at you and I remembered that. About the museum, it’s just like Emmanuel says: the museum is there, because I think these people have much more of a right to art than the others, or that they also have that right. That’s the only reason it’s there. Or that’s also the reason. It was when Ventura told me: “I did that” (we were in a taxi, I don’t remember when it was), and I asked him “Did what?” “I was the one who put Mr. Penguin there.” Mr. Penguin is that statue with the hawk. He’s the one who built it, as he, in fact, says: he put in the plumbing, the flagstones. It was the first or second or third big contract, long term-job, he had when he got to Portugal. The garden, too – the part with the amphitheatre, exactly where we shot. When he said that, I thought it might be interesting, and then, when I was there, something happened, and I think it proved me right. Ventura was looking at the wall and I said: “Ventura, we have to shoot a painting.” I thought he was going to go off-screen through the sound, saying a letter (that letter), and that we would hear that until it faded and then go into the next shot through the sound of the footsteps, which is a very distinctive sound – these sandals, you know it’s him right away. Now, about that sound, since it was a museum, I thought of having a painting and I asked Ventura to pick out the one he liked best. On the first visit, when we did a bit of repérage, he said, all of a sudden: “That one.” “That one” is the first painting you see, the one you see the longest – a Rubens: The Flight into Egypt. He stood there looking at the painting, but what he was seeing wasn’t the painting, it was the wall behind it, and that was what I think proved me right. Those walls at the Gulbenkian Museum happen to have a painting on them. They have a Rubens on them, but he is looking at the wall behind the Rubens. That was it, and from there I started to organize the whole scene toward it – it wasn’t a very long scene, it was just go in, get kicked out, quickly. It’s somewhat fictional, but it’s probably not very far from reality. I shouldn’t be saying this, but it’s very likely that some Ventura wouldn’t get in to the Gulbenkian, or the CCB, or some place like that, all that easily. A Ventura in bad shape, a raggedy Ventura, or some such. I am very pleased that there is this moment at the Gulbenkian in the middle of the film. It resolves things, it says a lot. It is a very special moment for him, because it tells how he got to Lisbon, and how he was treated, and it does that in a funny way, I think.
MANUEL COSTA CABRAL: I noticed an interesting contrast between the new house he goes to, the social housing place that is completely empty and the museum, which is enriched by the paintings. Since those are the only two spaces outside the neighbourhood, I thought that contrast was interesting.
JMC: Aurélien, veux-tu dire quelque chose maintenant? A propos de ton expérience avec Pedro...?
AURÉLIEN GERBAULT: Bon, c’est un petit peu particulier, puisque d’une certaine façon, moi j’ai un peu travaillé en marge de son travail. C’est une équipe très très très soudée, c’est une bande de gens que même s’ils travaillent six jours sur sept, ils se voient le septième jour pour manger ensemble, discuter et faire des choses. Donc, ça outrepasse un petit peu le cadre d’un tournage traditionnel. Moi, je suis arrivé là-dedans, enfin on était deux, et la difficulté c’était peut-être de ne pas déranger, de se faire accepter. Je crois qu’ils ont été très généreux, on s’est très très bien entendus, et on commence un peu à se connaître maintenant. C’était très intéressant d’observer un petit peu comment Pedro fonctionne, en dehors de juste voir les films, voir comment il travaille, voilà.
JMC: I would like us to go on then, into the open debate. Comments... questions...
CATARINA MOURÃO: How did this idea of the letter’s repetition come about, and to what extent – you were talking about the working method, about the countless takes – isn’t it also a reflex of that work? In other words, the repetition of the letter, Ventura always repeating the letter, to what extent is that also you?
PC: It’s him. It was him. At first, it was him and Gustavo, for example. It was their job. While I did some things, they would work on it, they would take walks. They had a lifetime with the letter. Then I started thinking the letter could be heard over and over. People have to listen over and over, these days, because they don’t understand what’s in films. You have to say the same things several times. Since I have a sort of closed system (it’s really not about me, but it’s about certain motifs)... Why not have Ventura be his own construct? He was constructing himself. I had mine, the film. There were two processes in parallel. To what extent would Ventura, for instance, memorize the letter, would he “put it in his head”, which is the first thing he says? We saw that he put it into his head easily. Obvious. Not easily, but... he did it. Then, how would he feel it, say it, how would it come out of him. That was an anchor of the film. Every once in a while, we’d do a scene with the letter in it. The letter was used for a lot of things. It was used for testing the sound, for instance. Olivier used it very often to place the microphone – say the letter in a certain way, louder, softer. The shack where he says the letter was, at first, all built up (by both of them and another man) from the ground up. Then, it was razed by City Hall, before we started filming, but that was where we had to do it. It was the construction of the shack, of the film, of the letter. The letter was in pieces, it goes through several stages in the film. There is one stage when they are playing cards, he says some things, and, bit by bit, he adds on to the letter, and the letter changes its tone slightly. Like Lento says, at the end, the letter is ugly. In other words, the letter is very sunny and very loving in the beginning, but by the end it is somewhat dark. Let’s say, there are some disturbing things in it. So, the letter, was there with us, in fact, throughout the whole filming process. Deep down that is beautiful, to have the letter along with us, like that. Then, of course, to memorize it, not to forget. At a certain point, we all realized, and were awed and more, that Ventura never forgets anything. He has dates, places, names, it is absolutely hellish. It’s like Emmanuel says: he is someone who lives in the past, because he doesn’t have much (indeed, like me) to look forward to. The outlook isn’t... It’s not that he only looks back, or something like that. He is the person I would most like to be, he’s the person who has no opinion. Ventura has no opinions, and that’s what I would like to be. To truly have no opinions. This may be bizarre, but I know what that’s like. I know from him. With you it’s different, but with him, I have no opinion, and he doesn’t with me. It’s very good. Now, it’s all way back, it sure is. All of the meaning lies in a day, April 26, whatever year, or May 12, whenever, or in a place. That’s why there are so many places. Maybe not so many, but in spite of everything, there is that pioneering aspect. To go back to today’s western, the only thing missing is the signs (and, in fact, they’re there – the street signs, the places). Traces, things, a little the way they say it: to mark things. Fontainhas was very much marked. People leave marks in places and that is interesting in film, in the work we do, this business of memory... Since I work for a very long time, things go the whole way through to the end, you see? I have the feeling we’ve been the whole way through a story, a life. Without really knowing it, keeping it all imperfect, in spite of everything. There are a lot of things I never wanted to know from him, or others, and there are a lot of things the three of us, without ever talking about it, never even brought up. The story of Ventura’s accident at work, for instance, is something I know he doesn’t want to talk about, with us, or anyone else. There is a mystery which remains, and that is for the good of the film, as well. The mystery of the film isn’t about me creating a film like the ones from the 1930’s or 40’s, with shadows and whatever else, or like the expressionist films. No. There is a Ventura mystery which we went all the way around. I don’t know if you can see it, or if you can’t. There is a moment when the letter took on (to us) a somewhat magical quality. There’s a moment when you realize Ventura isn’t going to write any letter, that he is going to keep it all in his head. The boy, Lento, has also despaired of ever seen it written, and he starts scratching on a table. At that moment, Ventura (I asked him for a song) put on that record – it was a song he already knew. It happens to be a song about Amílcar Cabral (I don’t know if you realized that). It turns out this amazing thing, where politics and the love story go together really well, with that poor man with no love letter, and the other one who only has a love letter, and then Amílcar Cabral who was murdered, and the two of them in a shack... I don’t even want to talk about it, because to me it’s a true moment of super-concentration, Fairy Liquid. It turned out really well. It reminds me a lot of a story about Mandelstam. I don’t know if you know him, he was a Russian poet. I don’t know if he was really killed, but he was in the gulag. At a certain point, he wasn’t able to write his poems. He dictated them to his wife, who would memorize them and then write them down. She had to get on a train all the way from Siberia, and only when she got to Moscow would she write them down. I thought about that a lot (but only later), of these correspondences, which are beautiful. CapeVerdeans, the gulag, Fontainhas, things all start to be interesting. By a certain point, I didn’t want to leave the letter out at all. There was always another scene to do with it. Usually, with Lento: those bits where they are (to me they’re flashbacks), which are the construction of the neighbourhood, the building of the house, of the shack and of the letter. And building the film.
CATARINA MOURÃO: [Asks about the possibility of less recurrence of the letter if the film had been shot more quickly.]
PC: Yes, yes. If this film had been made as irresponsibly as it was, but in five weeks, the letter would show up once. That’s all. This way, it’s much better. It’s there many more times, and there are more mirror effects between the scenes. The fact that Lento studies the letter, for instance. I really like that idea that several times, when he comes in, Ventura tells him: “Come study.” That’s how Ventura talks. I didn’t write the dialogue. He’s the one who began like that, in the scene: “Lento, come study.” There’s the issue of school, of the father, the son. There are a lot of things happening. The letter has a little bit of Ventura (disperse things) a poem by a French poet called Robert Desnos and me, organizing it.
KEJA HO KRAMER: Par rapport à cette idée de faire des films comme on vit sa vie: maintenant, avec l’expérience que tu as, tu sais prévoir un peu le temps du tournage ou est-ce que tu as encore une liberté totale de laisser le film vivre avec toi?
PC: I don’t have any obligation to make films, nobody makes me do anything. It depends. For instance, I am shooting something now, I have been shooting it for a long time, bit by bit. The film [Où gît votre sourire enfoui?, 2002] I did with Jean-Marie [Straub] and Danièle [Huillet] was completely circumscribed in time. It was a month and a half of filming, and I knew that’s how it was: it began, it ended, and it had a predictable and known ending. I thought it be would something else: the end of that film about the Straubs is a “happy end”. It is also a love story and it ends well, and it really did end very well. For me, for them, for everybody. These films, of this kind, they end well, but they need others, don’t they? They need children, brothers. To me, that sort of metaphor with Ventura’s children, that figure of his children is a bit like making films today. Making films, working on a film. It’s seeing how many scenes a son [or daughter] has – how many this son has, and how many another one has. This film has to be watched closely. There’s two ways to watch it: if you haven’t seen In Vanda’s Room it’s one thing; if you did see it, it’s something completely different. For instance (and, at least to us, it’s frightening): Vanda talks a whole lot, in two or three scenes, about Vanda. Now, that’s a Vanda (maybe a lot of the people here have seen In Vanda’s Room) that you all know, someone she thinks of as dead, almost. The Vanda in this film is talking about a Vanda who did this, lived that, and that’s not all: she acts, she pretends. She says to Ventura: “If you had seen me the way I was, if you had seen what I did, I was a kid, I was this and that, I blew it, I could have been and I wasn’t, I something or another.” Now, you all saw that Vanda, you saw how she was. And what’s worse, Ventura knows perfectly well what Vanda was like, because they always lived together, They’re both just pretending there. It’s very funny and very spooky to watch those parts, especially with Vanda, with In Vanda’s Room in the background. There’s a sort of acting and even a comical effect, or a critical one, of this film towards the other. Also formally, as Emmanuel was saying. It’s like the other one is the more underground, more lost brother to this one. This film is more of a father, it’s more fatherly, it listens more. I don’t really know how to talk about it yet, the film is very recent, and since it was permanently in construction and it was up to the end... In shooting, in étalonnage, it’s always in construction, because I never know if it’s this way or that. I can’t understand people who do know. My critique of the film is either in the future, or already in the film, but it’s a bit too soon. Now, this film has a very serious problem, a misbehaving brother next to it, which is In Vanda’s Room.
CATARINA ALVES COSTA: I wanted to get back to the question of the working method, and to the question of the narrative as memory. The feeling I had after the film was that the two characters, Ventura, on the one hand, and Vanda, on the other, were almost opposites in the way they narrated, the way they spoke. As if Ventura was a sort of holding back, of silence of that memory and of all those narratives and his silences said much more about him than he does when he speaks (he is either repeating the letter or giving some objective facts about his life, and he is not emotionally implicated in what he is saying). Vanda is just the opposite, in other words, when she speaks, it’s as if she is giving a lot of herself. I think two scenes where this comes through are, one the one hand, the Gulbenkian museum scene with Ventura and, on the other, the bedroom scene, with them watching TV, in which they are reacting, obviously, and the camera is simply watching. That conversation about animals, which I think is fabulous, happens in front of the TV, and we are just watching them, we’re not watching television. You can feel a side of hers that improvises, something that goes far beyond what you had said or decided was going to be done. On the other hand, you feel that Ventura is waiting to do what he is supposed to do, but his strength is in those silences and you really use that. He’s almost always still, silent, listening to someone or simply looking.
I wanted to link this issue to the issue of Creole, because it’s also interesting how Vanda expresses herself in Creole. People who know it know that, for CapeVerdeans, Creole is the language of emotions. When you speak Portuguese, that’s for serious matters, and when you speak Creole, you do it to talk about what you feel. A love letter, for instance, or a declaration, must be said in Creole and not in Portuguese, and, all of a sudden, there’s Vanda speaking in Creole like that... I would like to ask you what her speaking Creole is about. Is it something she grew up with, a sort of second language?
And to conclude: some of the lines that are spoken are very purposeful, thought through, we feel the weight of each word. When you are writing those lines, you do it (obviously, as you said yourself) from things they said which you combine with things you read, but do you also write in Creole? Have you incorporated Creole as a language? What is that writing process like? Do you write as the film is being shot... For instance, when you return somewhere six months later, do you return with a different text, or is the text the same and the thing that’s different is the time which has passed?
PC: I do speak a bit of Creole. Not that I speak Creole with them (it’s very rare), but I do speak it, and, more importantly, I understand it. Nowadays, I do understand even the most difficult of all. I have made four films with a lot of Creole spoken in them, so, it couldn’t be any other way, or else... Olivier and Gustavo also speak Creole now. Gustavo was the one in charge of what you say, of the texts. In our minds, they aren’t so much texts, as they are these sheets of paper we write on with some ballpoint pens, the ones you can see, in Creole. Sometimes I was the one writing in Creole, sometimes it was him, and always, always, it came out of things Ventura had said. In Vanda’s case, it’s different. In the case of Paulo (the boy who’s in the hospital), that might have been the hardest scene to do in the whole film. Also because of his personality, he is, maybe, the most fragile person in the film – the sweetest, but also the most lost. We spent some two weeks just to do one scene. The first stage is what you’re going to do, what are the stage directions. We know what he’s going to say, not how he’ll say it, or where he will stand (by the door, or by the window), or if Ventura is next to him. He tells me, I write, then we go to the stage where he tries to say it and I correct him orally, on sight. “Not like that, because it leads us to something that will take up too much time”, or, “That’s a detail that won’t be relevant, it’s not important.” All that takes a week. And then it’s about his memory: he’s able to concentrate and, especially, to get it all in his head. I’ll say, “Look, do you want to tell this story or another?” and he’ll tell me “No, I’d rather tell this story.” And then he tells it to me. The second time around, he isn’t able to tell it back to me, and I will tell him what he told me. That’s how it goes; “Look, you said this” and he goes back to the beginning, but that will change everything – commas, periods, pauses. All that changes, and we spend (not always, but as a rule) a week or two doing that. What’s different about the way I work is that I do exactly what Chaplin did: I am always recording. Instead of rehearsing, we are filming from the get go. Not that we get anything out of it, meaning, not that we luck into things. It was never about stumbling into something, like: “Oh, what luck, we just picked up a gorgeous scene” or “That was such a good take.” On the contrary, it was always the forty-second or so take... In Paulo’s case, it really is one of the last takes. That’s the method, always. There’s a text, some four sentences of their own, that I normally rewrite, and then we put it away for a long while, get back to it later, or worked it over right away for two weeks. And not just filming. We walk a lot, we go out to locations and, for instance, Gustavo and Ventura walk a lot together, talking. And it’s back to the thing with the letter: they’re saying the letter, or they’re saying something else. Think what you like, it’s about the actor’s work. It might be half-religious, an insane thing, but it’s a little what shows up in the film, him walking around in the street, saying the letter out loud. That was the idea: Ventura walking around, saying a letter. That was the beauty of it, him walking past the Boba police station, repeating a love letter out loud. Walking past the police works every time.
CATARINA ALVES COSTA: [Asks if the working method was the same with Vanda.]
PC: Not Vanda. Vanda is different, but that’s from way back, from other films, especially the last one. At the very start, when I go to tell her “Okay, Vanda, let’s go make another movie” (to which she replies “Oh, then, alright”), I’ll tell her there are three subjects I’d like to work with. This time, I first went to her (I wanted her to be one of Ventura’s children) a long, long time before the film. She was pregnant at the time. I started to think that if we didn’t start so soon, there would be the daughter, a package deal, and I told her that maybe the thing would be to have her talk about the pregnancy. I was shooting at the time, finishing up the Straub film, and whatever else, and I was delayed. It was the pregnancy, the mother (her mother died in the meantime) and the time when she completely quit heroin. There was nothing more interesting to me than quitting heroin and being a mother. That was going to be it, and we had talked it over a bit. By the time I went back, when we got there, ready to film, it was two years later to the day. Beatriz was already there. The thing that’s hard to manage is when you go out to the location. Maybe that’s the one part of it where I feel most alone, and, right now, it’s the work I really feel is directing: to know when I will go here or there with one person or another. I still didn’t completely get it right in this film, but that’s where a great deal of the “secret” is. I don’t mean to apply this to actors. I’m talking about the people I work with. With Vanda, I have a very long and very complicated relationship, and that really comes through in the film. She rules over the film. She makes them for me, she is in complete control of things (she was before, too), control over me and anyone else. None of them [the crew] will say it’s otherwise. She controls the mise-en-scène: she stages herself and does what she pleases. Then I tell her: “That’s too much” or “That’s too loud” – the kind of things you read in interviews, at least in interviews with guys who know how to talk about it, John Ford and Jean Renoir. They probably only said: “Softer”, “Slower”, “Louder”, and not much more. The only things I said to Vanda were “Not that” or, “Yes, that, only softer there”, “More calmly”, things like that. Then, it just takes her time to get into her narration. Each scene had, more or less, its own theme; we spent two or three months at her house, in the room, and each scene was pretty special. For instance, the longest shot in the film is the one where she talks about giving birth. There are other takes of it, just the same. I can show you a take: there are three words that are different. She doesn’t say “the maternity ward”, she says “the hospital”. Her problem is getting into it, she is temperamental. She’s exactly as you imagine she is – exactly like that. She’s a very special being, and she has a great talent for storytelling.
About speaking in Creole. She and her sister (who was in the other film) were practically the only white family in Fontainhas. People who’d come from Chaves, in 1960, built a shack, and lived there. What happened was, when they were very, very young, just babies, their mother had to learn Creole, because all the rest were CapeVerdeans and she sold them vegetables and stuff. So, it was about money, her having to understand things. It’s wonderful to realize that someone from Chaves (in the North), with a fourth-grade education (or maybe not even that), comes and learns Creole so she can be there. She even married a CapeVerdean man (who, by the way, is in the other film), who is Vanda’s step-father. As a child, teenager, and so on, Vanda spoke much more Creole than Portuguese, because Fontainhas really is a ghetto (they all are), which they are terribly scared to leave. To get Vanda, or one of the others, to come out to Bairro Alto, or to dinner at our house, to get them on the bus, is insane. They’re petrified, they get lost, and they don’t want to. They won’t come out, and Creole is what you speak there. You were saying about Creole, the official language... I’m not sure I really agree. For instance, the letter is said in Portuguese here because Ventura said to me: “It’s a love letter. It has to be said in Portuguese, because if it’s going to be written down, it has to be written down in Portuguese.” You see? He said: “If it was a real letter, if the guy even paid” (the illiterate guy who asks a man to write a letter about something or other and then gives him ten euros) “it would always be in Portuguese.” So, the letter is said in Portuguese, but Creole is the language of the neighbourhood. Everybody’s language, even the white people. Even the new neighbourhood. It’s spoken far more than Portuguese, and Vanda spends a lot more time speaking it, because she has a lot more acquaintances and friends from Cape Verde than white ones. Although, now, it’s a lot more mixed – there are people from outside, who came from other neighbourhoods, other projects, other places.
JMC: I’d like you to expand on something you touched on a little while ago, but then didn’t stay with. You said: “I repeat, repeat, repeat, but I’m not waiting for things to happen, or to luck into things.” So we get the notion that, when you work the same situation over dozens of times, with practically the same script, you’re not doing it in the expectation that there will happen to be a better take. So, hypothetically, you do it so you can use it in the editing...? What is it about your method that consciously leads you to repeat a scene dozens of times?
PC: It’s a stupid thing. The good kind of stupid. I was reading a book by Samson Raphaelson, Lubitsch’s scriptwriter, yesterday, and he says this: “my life is technique.” My life is technique, too. It’s all I believe in, nothing else. When I have a guy like Ventura in front of me, all I can do is repeat. I don’t go looking for some artistic secret, or expect him to be Luís Miguel Cintra. That’s not the goal.
JMC: But when is it that you, the fortieth or fiftieth time over, decide to stop? That’s the question.
PC: It’s at a certain point of tired. In my case, when I look at Olivier or Gustavo and see, well, they’re not going to hold up much longer. In the other film, I was alone, so it went on for much longer. It’s totally delirious, but my delirium has to be matched by someone else’s, doesn’t it? Films aren’t worth making without some bit of insanity, but it has to be very closely guarded, there has to be something backing it. That’s why I think this film truly is very much a luxury, as Emmanuel says. It’s very polished, indeed. I look at things, sometimes, and see that it’s well polished. It’s not so much about me, it’s about the actors, the conditions we had, that I provide, that I manage to get – which aren’t, in any case, very hard to get. You might not be able to show the film afterwards, but you make it... The guy said something else, he said: “My life is technique, it is craft.” They were asking him: “But how did you manage to make that scene in Trouble in Paradise [Ernst Lubitsch, 1932]?” and the guy just had that one answer that’s in the book: “I do it again. Lubitsch says some silly thing to me, and I do it again, and he says some other rubbish and I do it again, and we go around and around and around again, and it’s pure and simple technique.” That’s what we did there. I am very slow, I like being slow, and I think that things don’t just come to me the first time around, they only develop, they’re only constructed in time, in those weeks of fine-tuning. I don’t see why a film ought to be made any faster, especially nowadays. This has nothing to do with the narrative or visual speed. It can also be about people’s temperaments. Straub, for instance, spends two years doing a ten page découpage. I’m talking about that urgency that happens in documentaries, that sort of half-rushed quality that’s disappointing to see, because the work ends up being cut short of something. It’s unbalanced “It was a wonderful idea, but...”, “Oh, this was so good, but that other thing...” The film should get to the end of what it has to say, and to the end of its ambitions, in sound, visuals, in sum, technique. I really, really wanted to copy a film, the Land of the Pharaohs. I couldn’t do it, but I will someday, because that’s the movie I most loved to watch when I was younger. And, to boot, it happens to be by a director I like a lot. I didn’t even know it was his. The film has everything rolled up inside it, without making you aware of it. It’s a Ben-u-ron [a painkiller for headaches], not a Ben-Hur [William Wyler, 1959]. We wanted to make a Ben-u-ron. There was a Ben-Hur side to it. He [Emmanuel Burdeau] says monumental but that’s it, it has one side to it like that... What the film was meant to do was so vast, at least in my eyes. So auspicious, too, to have Ventura and Vanda. I mean, when you have people of that calibre, to me, it’s like having John Wayne right in front of me. This won’t be peaceful in a documentary festival, but there it is. Having John Wayne in front of me is, for me, a little like having Ventura or Gary Cooper. Having Vanda is like having the equivalent, Shelley Winters or something like that. When you have that, but you have a lot of time, fear and nervousness are somewhat counterbalanced. You always have more time, you always have another chance, there’s always another day. Well, to a point. There is only one thing that can cut it short, unfortunately, which is death. It cut me short in In Vanda’s Room, it cut me short a few times in this one, but it’s the only thing that can make me stop, because, in any case, it’s not exactly about finding anything. I have the sense that it’s not about finding, that it’s more about tuning. At least in this film, and in all aspects of it, that sense was very strong in me. To Olivier, the work was about placing his microphone better. He changed it many, many times, trying to change height, position, in the same scene, in the same shot, which was always repeated, repeated and repeated. One: to improve things. Two: to concentrate them more, to make them clearer. But the thought that something might happen never crossed my mind. In the other films, I was still vaguely hoping that some things would happen, but not in these. Just the opposite, I am always expecting the worst, or that things will go worse every time.
SUSANA NOBRE: Is the repetition always about the same scenes, or are there some things that were left out of the film?
PC: There’s al lot that was left out of. Scenes in almost every location we shot at, and scenes in locations that aren’t in the film. But I think the hard core, the fundamental thing about this film is this film. Knowing that, for instance, this shot where she recounts giving birth (which is over twelve minutes long), I don’t know how many takes we did, but I remember eight, which is a lot for this kind of shot, for how difficult it is. It’s a shot you can do once in a day, and then you try to do something else, a trick, knowing it’s nothing, but it’s being there, that’s all. Then, the next day, you get back to it again. So, it’s a shot that takes a week. Others need eighty takes. The film isn’t all that varied, you see? In shooting, there wasn’t a lot of change, not a lot of “Now we go to this décor, now we go to that”. There were stages in our life. There was the shack stage, the time we lived in the shack. It was a rough time, the wooden shack with the letter. We all lived in it, and it was something special. Then there was the Boba stage, the Fontainhas stage, the Seis de Maio stage. As for Gulbenkian, we went there and came back. Since it was only on Mondays we would go one day, then another – some six times, for the amphitheatre scene. It wasn’t varied, there was a certain monotony, but it’s good to always be in the same place. It’s the place where we work. In the room, with microphones, cameras, whatever else, that’s the work we have to do: to get to the point where you think it’s not too far off the mark, the camera is at the right height, the light is, more or less, okay. Light is very complicated, for instance, in Vanda’s room. There’s a lot of stuff outside, with a lot of mirrors reflecting off each other, it’s terrible. The sound wasn’t easy, what with the television. So, two weeks, right?
EZEQUIEL SILVA: One of the film’s greatest qualities is a perfect symbiosis between documentary and fiction, and I think there are probably not too many like that in film history. Your previous film, In Vanda’s Room, is, I believe, one hundred percent documentary. So to speak, but it’s practically a documentary. What is the percentage of fiction in this film?
PC: Seven percent? I don’t know. I was joking about the percentage. It depends, I don’t know what you see as a documentary. You might also be terrified at what I think of as a documentary. In In Vanda’s Room, for instance, eighty percent of the scenes are repeated, as they are in this film, forty, fifty times. There are things, obviously (and I am sure they are immediately recognizable) that were shot on the first take. The neighbourhood seen from a distance, with the boy walking by, and so on. Things like that. The, lets say, strong scenes (the ones that, as Preminger said, have people saying things and things to say) were always rehearsed and always re-shot many, many times. I don’t know if that immediately undercuts your idea. If a documentary is something that is filmed straight off, improvised, in that sense, there are very few documental shots in either this film or in In Vanda’s Room. There are maybe one or two shots in this film that were done like that, without thinking through and at the moment. This is a discussion that maybe you will have in another way, with other people present here, about documentary and fiction. Honestly, I am sorry, but those are things I don’t spend a single second of my life with, because they make no sense when you are working. To me, that makes no sense when you have that letter and Ventura. The problem is Ventura is real. The letter is his. It is also from me. He wants to say it, I want it to be said. We want to make this film, how should he say it? It was said in 1970, he told me, in a shack like this one. “Was it like this one, Ventura?”, “Ah, it was cleaner than this one.” This is enough to upset us. Well, we’re going to try to make a shack like he wanted. We couldn’t, because we are idiots, we can’t build shacks like them. “Those idiots. They couldn’t build a shack like Ventura.” Is this documentary? Yes. Of course it is.
MANUEL COSTA CABRAL: Concerning In Vanda’s Room and this film: there’s a person in this one that seems completely different from all the others, the man showing the house. He doesn’t seem to have the sort of relationship the other characters have, and in In Vanda’s Room there was no equivalent character. I don’t know whether that means that in future films there will also be people who are there to arrange the story, so to say, or to help tell the story, who are there, practically as actors. Whether they are professional or not. That is one point. The other is: Will you continue to film with these people in the future? Were they paid to be in the film? To what extent were people’s lives also changed by being in the film, with the intensity of your work with each other? In the midst of your very enlightening and vehement speech about your methodology, which was absolutely fascinating to me, I was suddenly struck by these issues.
PC: Starting with the end. The film was at Cannes and went over very well with the audience. With the press, it was awful. Three actors were there with me. As for the others, some couldn’t, some didn’t want to, others, well, it was difficult. Ventura, Lento and Pango, the boy who only appears once at Emaús but who was also in In Vanda’s Room. It was such a hit with them (really, especially Ventura), that Lento got a job in Cannes, as a stonemason. He is in Frejos. That’s a good thing to say. So, it changed his life. He calls us every day and he’s over there. He said something terrible: “I don’t see anything good down there for me,” but he’s there, near Cannes. I think he’s supposed to begin today, or something. Changing their lives is something that was already happening, with the other films. There is no obligation. For instance, in In Vanda’s Room: I had no money at the time, I really had none at the beginning of the film, almost through all of the shooting, I had no money. I remember that a lot of the tapes, the original tapes for In Vanda’s Room, are Vanda’s. She was the one who paid me, because she had a lot more money than I did. Now I can say it, she dealt a little, and she gave me money. She was the producer of the film. Her name should be up there. In this one, I already had money, a bunch of co-producers, and so we were all paid. I though it was best, since it was going to take a long time, for us to be paid by the month. We were all paid by the month, more or less the same, crew and actors. The actors, for instance, got seventeen months. For some of the crew, it was much longer.
Now, to be with them, to make films, it changes things, it has to do with whether I want something to change or not... It has do with that man who shows the house, who really is the man who shows the house. André is a man who lives there, who is a friend of ours, who we see everyday. Brecht really is right. There is always this guy, the liar. And he is always there. That’s him. He is not a bad person, but he is the liar. And he is good, he is always good. In Brecht’s plays, he is the traitor, the liar, the one who is of the same class, the same race, the same Cape Verde, and he’s the guy who tries to fool them. He gets ten euros for filling in the form for an identity card. He works at the Amadora city council. He is the guy from the CapeVerdean community Joaquim Raposo (who is the mayor) put in the council. It’s nonsense. Obviously, André is the funniest guy. He’s very good in the film, but he really is like that. Everyone talks behind his back, but it’s not bad, it’s mockery, satire. “Here comes Mr. puffed-up, the basofe” – basofe means vain in Creole. He walks by: “So, André, how are you?”, “There goes the basofe”, right away, behind his back. He’s the guy no one believes, the guy who got ahead in life but takes the bus in the morning to work and then walks back up the hill with his supermarket bags, just like the rest of them, he goes through the same things as all the rest. Then he tries to get his ten euros here and there and he thinks he is very close to us, unfortunately (which Ventura does not). Since he has that side to him, and it really is a speech he has prepared and memorized, it’s what he says, the thing comes out naturally deceiving...
INÊS OLIVEIRA: I remember in 2000, when In Vanda’s Room was presented here, you said that you might work the sound over afterwards, but you frankly didn’t think you should treat the image. When Ventura is first seen, in the new neighbourhood at Casal da Boba, there is a treatment (I don’t think I dreamed it up, the sky is black), and I wanted to know what changed your mind. I really liked it, but...
PC: I still have more or less the same opinion about manipulation. There are several, not just those. There are, for instance several boom poles removed from the image, deleted. That’s a manipulation, in and of itself. Colour correction (especially these days) can come to outrageous results – it doesn’t in this film. Without being very extravagant, you can go from a very dry green to the brightest of greens. When the film was finally edited, I thought all the white was more important. I hadn’t had the sense that it was so white, the neighbourhood, in the film. I probably had never looked at it, I mean; I was going around shooting and not noticing. And then, visually, in the final edit, I thought the white was very explosive, very video, and it is. The sky that was in those shots was blue, and, suddenly I had the thought, in colour correction, of asking the guy if he couldn’t make it black. True black. To have it be black and white. We did it. It’s as simple as pressing a button, drawing a line like this, and that’s it. Why not? A small liberty. There are other things, but they’re about removing things from the field. For instance, I had (because there are few of us, and work is very complicated sometimes) a lot of tripods with mirrors and things, and sometimes there is a leg. In video, framing isn’t very exact, what we see. Sometimes there are some legs left in, and when you take one out, you have to put something in on the other side, you have to darken it. The black sky was very...
ANABELA MOUTINHO: In In Vanda’s Room we follow people, and in this film, we follow people. There’s a narrative in In Vanda’s Room, which is totally different here. Is it because of that difference between the narration or memory that in In Vanda’s Room there is an insistence on the close-up or fairly close shot and here, on the contrary, the close-up is practically non-existent, or, when it does exist, it’s always in Fontainhas? Why is everything that happens in the new neighbourhood, whether with Ventura, or Vanda, always seen from further away, in a group shot? That is my first question. The second is: I believe there is a scene that happens in Campo Grande, when they come in on the little boat. I don’t know if it means anything, or what meaning you want to give it, whether it’s a riddle, a sign of hope, a mystery, or simply poetic.
PC: The construction issue is too complicated to talk about, because that’s what really counts as far as I am concerned, it’s the only thing I know, I mean, the only thing I like to do: to imagine, compose, discompose, take out, put in, every day, every minute, always there, doing. How do get to the thing with the medium shots and close-ups? In Vanda’s Room, in spite of everything, had closer shots and things that were much closer in on the faces, because I was coming out of a near remorse that the other film hadn’t met [expectations]... As she says: to go to Fátima and not leave the candle. It was really about shooting her face. Especially because I was totally in love with Vanda. That was the time for it. Spend months and months in a room with a girl and film her. I wasn’t going to put the camera far away – I couldn’t, in any case, because the door was... Her sister wasn’t any less than she was. Then, I was alone, alone. From time to time, there would be a person who did the sound. There was very little light. The room had little light, all the sites had little light. I started by doing the close-ups, and then I had to adapt. The film just sort of went on, and now, that’s the way it is. It’s a more muted film. The ambition of this film was very much what Emmanuel was saying. From the beginning, for me, it was about making Ben-Hur, if possible. Making something huge, with pioneers and knights, a western, and catacombs, and things like that. Making a saga, a big thing, which took very long in shooting, because everything made it that way. As soon as we had Ventura (I already knew what Vanda was), even Lento, Pango, all of them, even Paulo (who is the boy in crutches), we can’t not... I myself became more anxious, too. I was a little more afraid and I moved back a little more. At a certain point, I started to lower down quite a bit and the film has a very large percentage of low-angle shots. It’s not a style thing. I started to enjoy looking, behind the people, to see if I could see the foundations of houses, the corners of walls, and that gave me some sense of security. Them, too. Since the film has a lot to do with space, with houses, housing problems, rooms, more rooms, windows, doors, it made some sense to have a door jamb in there. There are many jambs, many things like that in the film, and I think those things are better shot at low-angle, for instance. And people are... Ventura, I think, is a person... Not too low of an angle, but a little lower than the height of his eyes.
JMC: Is it a matter of the lens, as well? Did you always use a wide angle?
PC: Yes, it was always a wide-angle lens, which distorts somewhat. On occasion, it even distorts much. You can correct it, but... It’s a lens I have used for a long, long time and I like it enormously, because I adapt to it. We’re made for each other, that’s all there is to it.
Now, Campo Grande. In the final scene, when Ventura goes to see Lento, in that burnt house, at a certain point (but, since there are no captions, you might miss it), there’s a dialogue on what their life will be like now, and he says: “What are you going to do?”, “I’m going to stay here “, “And what will you do?”, “I’m going to be your neighbour and we’ll live here forever. I’m there at number six and you are at seven”, “And your children are all at the window and your wife.” I think that’s when he says: “How scared we were of dying then.” Or, rather: “How scared I was that you were going to drown in the little sea in Campo Grande.” They say that in Creole, I am going to translate it to Portuguese. This is what the subtitles will say: “How scared I was that you were going to die in the little sea in Campo Grande.” You can’t make this up, I didn’t write it. Nobody can. These are their dialogues. Campo Grande, at least to me, or to people from Lisbon, has always been a park of the very, very, very petty Lisbon bourgeoisie, if not of the rural types, nearly. People who came to Lisbon, some from Benfica, Caneças, what’s now Sete Rios. They came almost to Lisbon and came to that park. I have a memory of that park (where I went very often), of Sundays, where everyone was in their Sunday clothes. There was the photographer, the recruits, the maids, all those things. It was a low-class park, it belonged to clerks, janitors, maids and all that. It was the place where Ventura went for a boat ride on Sunday. To work every day and then on weekends go to Campo Grande to ride a boat with a friend (exactly as he does), and then eat an ice-cream and then off to the spicy things that went on in Bairro Alto then. We decided to go to Campo Grande (which is also the only place in Lisbon where there are boats and, on top of that, it’s still the same), and he says that in the movie: “How scared we were of dying then.” “How scared I was that you were going to die in the little sea in Campo Grande.” It was just the image of them going by in a boat (they’re the ones in the boat) and then to have this thing at the end. Also, because Lento (I don’t know if that comes through) sort of has two deaths in the film. He’s supposed to fall from a post where he goes to get electricity and then appears in this house that’s all burnt – he’s supposed to have thrown himself out the window. So, he’s a kind of ghost. He [Emmanuel Burdeau] will write it’s like Murnau, something poetic.