I conducted this interview with Albert Serra in the lobby of the Sofitel in Melbourne’s CBD. The director was visiting the country to present his newest film, Story of My Death, at the Melbourne International Film Festival. While I was originally allotted a twenty-minute slot in which to speak to the director, he was both kind enough and enthusiastic enough about his work to extend the interview to over an hour in length. In transcribing our talk, I attempted to preserve some of the idiosyncrasies of Serra’s speech – which belies both a multilingual erudition and a mind that is full of a multitude of ideas, often competing to escape simultaneously.
Welcome Albert Serra, and congratulations on the success that your latest film, Story of My Death, has had here in Melbourne and across the world. It’s your third feature, and it’s another “sort of” period film, although I guess the relationship to the sources are a little bit more complex than it was for the previous films. Did you find that it was a more difficult project to realise in that sense?
Yeah in some sense, because it’s a little bit more narrative, no? I wanted to keep the strengths of the previous films if it was possible – the contemplative power of the first one and all the visual and graphic side of the second one – and then try to add something new, [which] in this case was the narrative content. It was quite difficult and quite… unpredictable because usually with this contemplative style, you know, [the narrative] doesn’t fit. So I wanted to look for, to see whether I was capable of giving some narrative content to my film and still keep the strengths of these wild, contemplative and really passionate way of always being in the middle of the action while shooting with the actors… as if I was a spectator of my own film. Being in the centre without controlling, without giving the freedom, but with some meanings or with some senses in the narrative layer of the film. And okay, maybe it’s not absolutely perfect, there’s still some abstractions in the film, but okay… you can understand and you can see a little bit that it can work. In fact I think it works in the film! So, it’s a beautiful conquest in some sense as I will use it for my next films.
That’s something to add I guess.
Yeah. Even if you’re a radical filmmaker or whatever, you can adapt and you can use everything – almost everything… the narrative, the contemplative thing, the visual thing, the conceptual… and still have your own style.
I was going to say that it does resemble your other films in many ways…
Yeah yeah, with the nonprofessional actors…
But I thought in particular, the fact that it’s outdoors…
Yeah well the fact that it’s outdoors… [but] there are a lot of scenes inside that are a little more prepared, more..
– well it starts inside…
Yeah, because I was working in the middle of the shooting the project for Documenta Film * , [where] everything is inside except one part of the thing, but there were a lot of scenes with artificial light… Really, there I realised that even if you… with these actors, it’s my way of shooting, even inside with the artificial light, the essence of my style will remain. So there is nothing so powerful that can kill the work of the actors. Even inside… It’s true that I like to shoot outside because the landscape becomes another character of the film and it’s a “live décor.” When you work here [points to hotel lobby] it’s pointless… what’s this? If there is wind, rain, this affects the actors. But inside, the décor doesn’t affect the actors and it’s not so interesting. And it’s a bourgeois approach, because you can do it without trouble – you can do it in a studio, you can do it in a home, and it’s not so… you don’t have the sensation that it will be a real film. And I like to follow the John Ford advice that being outside, you know, you’re tired at the end of the day, you have a good sleep and you have the sensation that you have worked a lot. Even if have had just fun! But inside it’s difficult to have the same kind of sensations. But okay, for the results, it’s the same.
I was going to say, the film is – because of this shooting outside, and because of (I assume) the natural light that you’re using –
yes, this is one of the ideas… not absolutely, there is some light but the idea was the to have the sensation of darkness, the transition from the century of light to the century of darkness, but also visually. But I like to… there will be some techniques to do it in an easy way, [like] with American night – you can use it always. But I prefer to keep a little bit of the natural aspect of the day. If it was night, we would shoot it at night and okay, this… [creates] problems, because of the dark.. It’s risky, difficult. Maybe there is already too much risk in my way of shooting the actors and with the script and with everything and it adds a new risk. Maybe it’s not so clever! But okay. I think it’s also the same thing with outside/inside. If it is real night and if you try to use the minimum of natural light, and you don’t prepare… it’s always more appealing for the inspiration of the actors, it’s better. What you lose in the formal perfection of the visual side, you gain it in the inspiration of actors. That, for me, is the most important thing; it’s what really counts and it’s what really makes a difference between a normal film and a great film or a great film and a masterpiece. It’s this magic that only arrive by the actors, not by the technical aspect or technical improvements of the film.
I think the darkness does give the composition of each shot something interesting, something closer to painting.
Of course, yeah, because the darkness has a texture in the film. All the processes.. I made it in 35[mm], digital, 35, going back to digital… Darkness has a presence, it’s like landscape, another character, you know? In a Dracula film it’s very important to have this darkness, for the terror aspect of the story. So why not? I was more interested in the abstract terror, because in fact I hate the Dracula part, I hate the Dracula story, I was not interested [in it]. So I really wanted to find an equivalent of the Dracula story, and in this case [it] was the darkness. It was the perfect equivalent of the terror without all the ridiculous iconography we already know about Dracula. I wanted to escape absolutely from the iconography of the Dracula story. You see the costume and the hair of Dracula, it’s closer to a Shakespearean actor or an Orthodox priest from the Middle Ages than the classical Dracula stuff. Darkness was also a substitute for…
…actually engaging fully with the text’s original source, I guess.
Yes. But okay, I was a little bit faithful, no? To the thing, but not for my … in fact I never read the book, I have never seen any films of the Dracula. Usually I watch all the films I can related with the same subject I treat: Don Quixote, the Three Wise Men, the Casanova or Libertines in film history. But in Dracula’s case, I hate it so much I couldn’t even watch the films on the subject. I don’t know if it’s good or not, if it’s faithful or not to the traditional iconography, because in fact what I wanted was to escape that.
I want to go back to what you were just saying about actors. You seem to place a lot of importance on actors, but you work exclusively with non-professional actors and your method of working with them is quite different to a lot of other directors working today for example. Do you find that it’s just a sort of personal preference on the shoot, in terms of working non-professional actors? Or is it something that they give to the film that you can’t get otherwise?
I work with the people I love, and I hate actors, so… In fact, I also hate non-professional actors. It was Baudelaire who said – because I wanted to be a writer when I was young … there is a beautiful text from Baudelaire called “Advice to the Young Writers.” And he said, you should always escape, go away from actresses (because at the time a writer was a man). He said, you have to be aware… [they’re] a very bad influence. So, I followed that and I always hated actors. All the actors I have known in my life – professional actors – are stupid, completely stupid and really… you have to hate them. As human beings they are completely… a disaster, and I think they are a very bad influence for the future of humanity in general.
So I decided to pick non-professional actors because I do not shoot characters, I do not write roles in the script. I like to shoot persons, personalities even, as a human being, as a person. The meaning, the role and everything appears after. It appears in the edge of this physical, spiritual body I love. It’s always on the edge, it’s never the centrality of the role. So for me, it’s useless to have an actor because there is no centrality, there is no possible approach to achieving the essence of the character or the essence of the role, or even the essence of the actor as an artist, no? For me this is bullshit, all these things. So, working on the edge of all of these concepts means that you don’t need [anything] special, just a body. Obviously, if it’s charismatic, it’s better, but if not it will become charismatic because everything that is in the edge… Everybody has to die. You know, in the last five minutes [of Casanova’s life in Story of My Death], everybody is moving, so it’s the same thing. When you are really on the edge of this contact, of this body with the space, with this limit, situation, with the crew, with the actors, with the tension… everybody’s moving.
When you deal with actors, between you and the actor there is the imaginary. All professional actors have the imaginary, or the technique or you can call it whatever you want. This role is an intermediary between you and the actor. And I don’t like that somebody is in the middle, that something is in the middle between me and the actor; his own ideas of the character, his own resources, his own stupid… I don’t want to have direct contact with that body from a mental point of view. History will judge me in a good way because my actors are very good if you compare them [with those of others]. It’s not just a prejudice, I think history will say that I was right in my thinking about actors.
And as human beings also … I put it recently that Phillip Seymour Hoffman… I know [people say] historically, he was a tortured guy. But no. He was a fucking multi-millionaire with an apartment in Manhattan taking drugs all day with a lot of money in the bank. He was a fucking egoist, he was fucking horrible, you know. He left his family, kids just to go on drugs and … because he was a multi-millionaire. I don’t buy this suffering! This is bullshit, it’s horrible. This is a completely disastrous influence for humanity, for young people, for everything and it’s better that he’s dead. To leave a place for real people, to be actors and to leave an example of real dignity and beauty in the world, not an example of horrible egoism and posh, stupid, fake torture. A fake posh bohemian. If you want to be a bohemian, it’s easy – go back to Baudelaire. You can have the syphilis, you can be poor… just try it! You go to the right places and you’ll get it. If you want you can be an écrivain maudit – what’s the translation?
I don’t know? Enfant terrible?
Right. If you really want to be an enfant terrible, you can do it. You can go get syphilis… [it’s] not having an apartment in Manhattan. You are not an enfant terrible [while] having an enormous apartment in Manhattan and buying the best drugs on the street with thousands of dollars, you know? This is not the true story of the bohemian way of life.
So for me, it’s linked with all of these things, working with non-professional actors. But also with the practical reasons – I prefer them, it’s the people I love…
I think it gives something to your films. Bresson worked in a pretty similar way.
Bresson, Pasolini, hundreds of people. And in some sense, the concept of being an actor is something quite new. Something that starts in the 50s, when Actor theatres and the methodology of actors and [the idea of an] actor’s technique appear. In Hollywood in the 30s, there was no [concept] of actors as professionals or as artists. You arrived to Hollywood as a completely unknown girl or a completely unknown man, and you tried to become an actor.
But they were kind of playing themselves.
Yeah, they played themselves all the time and they didn’t care about all these things. They wanted just to be a star because they had personality. And being an actor at that time was being a star! And now that’s a little bit lost, because when you think that an actor is somebody that can create something with a technique, and this becomes more important than personality or the concept of being a star… Because a star is something that is born on the screen. You are not a star in your daily life! It’s because you have a personality, a physical frame or whatever that’s inspiring. When technique can supply or be a substitute of being a star – the concept of inspiring without technique or without anything, just because of your presence… Manny Farber wrote a beautiful article on that also, the famous critique on the decadence of the actor, I recommend that you read that. In the 70s, we have all of these horrible actors like – well Brando is an exception because it’s both personality and a technique actor. But I mean all this bullshit like De Niro, Al Pacino, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, all these other people. They think that being an actor is that – studying for being an actor. You cannot study to be an actor! Can you study for being a writer? No! An actor is the same thing. Do you have technique for being a writer? No, you have your own style. This is more important, like being an actor and having personality, [it’s] the equivalent. You put magic in life, that’s all. For me this was very important, and I demonstrated that I was able to do it with no matter who.
I wanted to just talk briefly about your experience in the art world, where you chiefly worked for a few years after completing Birdsong (2008). What’s the comparison like [between the two]? Do you have more freedom in the art world?
Yeah I have more freedom, but at the same time it’s a little bit sad, because – well I cannot say it too loud because I was commissioned to make the Catalan pavilion at the Venice Biennale next year! – it’s another fucking problem to solve. Because to me, the art world is that: problems to solve. When I make a film, it’s not a problem to solve, it’s a pleasure. It’s really the complexity, the richness of all my life, all my knowledge, all my talent that I can put [in it]. The approach in the pieces made for the art world is more conceptual, more radical, [but] you cannot have the complexity and the multiple layers you can put in a feature film. Because of the narrative – even in my first films when the narrative was not so important, it was still there, and it gave to the images something that is completely impossible to find in the pieces made for the art world because it’s another type of perception. And as it’s another type of perception [in the art world], even if this narrative is there, it’s not there because people will not see it! For me this is a completely different approach, and in fact I use the art world pieces as rehearsals. Trying to discover new things, small things that then I will apply, and I will use in a slightly different way in my feature films [where] they can really be expanded in a serious, ambitious way for the artistic goal.
It’s true that there is some radicality that is only accepted in art, and I like this, because I come from the art world – I mean, all my roots and what I love come from the first half of the 20th century avant-garde. I really come from these roots, I do not come from cinema – even if I was a cinephile. It affects me a lot in the methodology, and this is interesting, because in the final result I am closer to cinema, but in the methodology (and this is very important to understanding my work) I am closer to the pure art methodology. For example, the playful side of my films, the chaotic way of working, all of these things come from Surrealism or Dadaism. I really believe that [approach] – putting in chaos, manipulating people, just making things over four days for fun, that subversive spirit that was in the heart of all the avant-garde artists of the 20th century – can be useful in an industrial feature film. This is quite paradoxical, because you have this performative approach through your method of working, but then you add a little bit of control through the narrative and the edit, which allows you to correct all this craziness of the shooting. But it’s a beautiful balance. The origin is the playful roots of the avant-garde, that’s for sure, and I decided to become a filmmaker because of these roots. I wanted at first just to be an artist but thought “Oh it would be funnier with more people, let’s make a film!” This was at the beginning of digital technology – the first thing I shot was in 1999 – so we said “We can do it, we don’t need anybody else, it will be fun and it’s crazy… let’s do it this way!” It’s a constant that will remain throughout my career as a filmmaker.
For me this was the real pleasure of being involved in cinema: you can be an artist in the classical sense. Don’t explain that to the cinema schools or the industry people! You will never be in a cinema school where they say “Let’s fuck the cinematographer, let’s fuck the actor, let’s put a whole fucking mess on the whole shoot!” This can be helpful for the artistic strengths of the film. You can use that and at the end this can create some cinematographic magic. People say “It’s impossible! Everybody has to contribute. The actor has an idea of the role and its centrality [to the film].” Here [in my films], there is a centrality in the conception of the film, and all of the parts of the film have to achieve it in and help each other do this. [Working with others] was more based on the dialectic, playful side or whatever, but not necessarily as if it was like a company or an enterprise.
The subversive aspect of art is that it’s the only discipline in the world you can work chaotically and the result can be better than working in a proper way. In all other aspects of life, companies or enterprise, military, education, working chaotically will never give better results. But art is the exception, and we have to be conscious of this exception and we have to accept it and we have to go deeper with that. We have to accept the risks of that. It’s challenging, because all is justified if at the end you have a beautiful aesthetic result. If not, all of this chaos is useless, and it brings up all these sad and depressing memories in your mind because you think “Oh, if I’d worked a little more seriously this could have been beautiful.” But it’s a tension, because if you work too seriously, you will lose that [tension] and if you lose that, you are not an artist – you’re a boring guy.
You were saying earlier – and I’m not sure that I agree with this – that you can work [in the cinema] as a classical artist, or an artist in the classical sense.
In the Romantic sense of an artist, that’s still alive. Even in the avant-garde…. This Romantic view that the artist is not like other people, and the means he has or the power he has is in another order. It’s like religion, you know?
So it’s in a kind of metaphysical sense?
Yes yes. He’s like a medium – he has to work like a medium, but literally, with people around him. In cinema it’s more complex and more funny, because it’s a collective creation. This is interesting because it is where it crosses the military approach of a classical organisation – you have to deal with people and you know that dealing with people is always the most difficult thing. It’s easy to design the most complex engineering project, but when you do it in practice you have to deal with people who make that idea a reality. I think that dealing with people is much more complex.
So this crosses with cinema, and it’s linked with time – because cinema is the only art where time has an important presence in the final result and a very subtle and complex presence. In a complex way, in the sense that time is about morality, you know? You have your acts, you have your consequences, you have memories of these acts, you have desires, everything. Film is the only art in which the time of the artwork can develop this complexity. This complexity is linked with the complexity of the shooting, in the relationship between the characters, the person playing them, their personality, the director, the imaginary – all of this is creating all the time consequences. This cannot be visible in a painting, because there is no time. You have suggestions, but you don’t have facts! In cinema, as time is there, you have facts, and if you have facts, you have a morality of facts. You cannot find morality in a picture, it’s very difficult. The ambiguity of a painting… it’s too big to really have a clear conclusion or a clear political or moral approach. But in cinema…
Times introduces that…
Yes. Time introduces more complex, and at the same time it’s less, how to say… it’s less fascinating or less pure. Because here you can always find (it’s what commercial cinema does) easy resources, easy ways of communicating – sometimes it can be used in the wrong direction. But if you use it and you keep it complex (as complex as it is in life), or as it is in a performance, and you focus on precision…
This is another point I understood from the art world. It doesn’t matter what you decide on as a subject. When you see a performance, for example, of a man looking at these sugars [points at sugar cubes sitting on the table before us]. The key point is the precision and the intensity, how he looks at these sugars. It doesn’t matter that it’s absurd, what is not absurd is the precision and concentration. What you do, you can think whatever you want; you will not be judged for the point of departure of an idea, you will be judged on the execution of the idea. Execution is about precision and intensity and concentration, and this is for me one of the keys of all my work. The fatality of my shooting is that every second is a unique second: it’s lived as if it was a real precious moment, a diamond. I never repeat scenes in my shooting. I shot 450 hours in this last film, but I never make a repetition, always variations. Even if I like something a lot and there was a technical problem, I never say to that person do it again because there was a technical problem with the light or with the cameras or with the sound or whatever or there was an aeroplane and the sound was fucked. No! It’s unique, every moment is really really unique; and you cannot live things twice. So the precision, intensity and concentration is linked – it’s unique, it’s a performance. If you have precision twice, you’re in a factory.
This is the classical methodology, it’s not life. You cannot be in love with the same intensity and with the same power or with the same concentration with two women at the same time. It’s only one. One will be always higher, or something will be different.The camera can capture this slight difference between your love for these two women where one is a little higher than the others. Usually the camera can record that, sometimes it cannot if it’s too subtle. But it’s the only thing that’s interesting. It’s not interesting the fact that you are in love with two women – this would only be the narrative. The fucking difference in these two kinds of love… it’s almost difficult to see what is interesting, and if the camera is capable of recording it you are a winner from the artistic point of view. For the reason is so subtle its absurd – you cannot even look at this in the shooting, the reality. For example, in my last film – this is something I’ve been developing and has been increasingly more crazy – I almost never looked at what I was shooting. In my last film , all the violence and sex scenes (we shot more than was in the final film) – I was for example… the shooting was there [points across the room] and I was here seated like you, and I never saw anything that happened.
Why? Did you just trust the crew?
Yes! Because what I’m looking for is so subtle, it’s absurd to…
To try to control it.
To try to control it. I feel it in the atmosphere, in the ambience, in the moment in what happened before we started shooting, what will happen after.
[On this film], I was so obsessed with the idea of the cliche, with the paranoia of the cliche. The idea of being too autocomplaisant – to trust too much in my own ideas and my own style, my own methodology. It’s difficult to understand, but what I am looking for, it’s not visible in the first moments. It’s another kind of manipulation – it’s like a poet. Then you work on the edit, then you put in the rhythm of things. But inspiration is inspiration; and you have the talent of inspiration… because there are two kinds of talent: the talent of inspiration, and the talent of execution. The talent of inspiration, of the subtle connections that arrive in the mind – it’s very difficult to work on that. Maybe you will be a greater writer or a greater poet, but not a more inspired poet. Being a visionary is not about working. A visionary is about intuition so I always trust it…
And as cinema is a collective art, you have to accept the inspiration of others. You have to believe in inspiration, not only in your own ideas, you have to give the freedom to others to be inspired. Mostly the actors because they are on the screen all the time, but even the technicians.. And sometimes manipulating or creating some chaotic atmosphere in the shooting, it’s not going against somebody, it’s simply pushing for inspiration, pushing for his or her or their inspiration. If I am here and I say “you have to be an actor” and nothing happens and you are not interesting as an actor, I have to do something! Maybe it’s like in sport or the military; if people don’t react, maybe you have to use…
…some other way of encouraging..
Yeah, encouraging in another way. Maybe in a violent way, or.. you never know! In cinema we learned that as it’s a very industrial… the wealth of the industry, mentally, the industry mind is so powerful in the shooting because of all of the organisation and all the technical training. But what has been introduced with digital.. some people think that you cannot fight against that. And you can!
It’s always beautiful to destroy, because you destroy everything, also cliche. So, OK, maybe you will destroy beauty at the same time, but cliche for sure also. So the structure is necessary for creation, I think.
Just what you were saying there… there are a few moments in each of the films where – there’s this odd thing where you’re watching the actors and you’re not really sure what they’re doing. Often as a spectator you ask yourself “Why is the actor doing that?'” but it’s not often that you can say “I don’t actually know what the actor is doing there.” I remember in Birdsong right at the beginning, one of the wise men you can’t tell whether he’s coughing or talking or…
Yes, this is the point! I really like that. In some sense, this a conquest of the art world… Ambiguity, it’s something that appears a lot in the last Apichatpong [Weerasthakul] film [Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives]. The ambiguity is so high that it’s a conceptual approach. And it’s beautiful. It’s like being a poet, you know. Usually, being a filmmaker was being a novelist. But when poetry strategies arrived in the cinema, but in a narrative, in a novel you know.. It’s like James Joyce, I mean, where the narrative was classical and then something breaks this up. And it’s some kind of extreme ambiguity, some kind of concept, some kind of absurd things or maybe illogical images or you know, whatever. But at least for me it’s very important, because this is the essence, when you go to a museum and see some contemporary art – you think: What is this? Why? What? Exactly what kind of aesthetic? It reminds you of different things, different kinds of aesthetics, but you cannot… it’s something new. And for me it’s very important that, because to create an atmosphere that it’s new, you simply need something you cannot predict, something you cannot understand, something you cannot put in relation with what you have seen before or after. It has a physical presence in the film and a presence in time, but at the same time it’s not the pure logic with the image before and the image after. So, what is this? For example, in Story of My Death, in the final scenes when he is eating an apple..
Yeah, I was going to bring that up, you don’t know really what’s happening..
Yeah you know, you have four films at the same time. You have the genre film because Dracula is there, the terror film, and pushing the girl to beat him, then you have my wild film with the actor doing whatever, and with absurd conversations. Then you have a little bit of the presence of darkness – metaphysical, you know the very pictorial and metaphysical approach, then you have the sensual, very disturbing sensual film. What kind of film is it? It’s a serious film, it’s fun, it’s playful.. What kind of film or which film am I looking at? And the four films are happening at the same time, but you don’t get confused. It’s a harmonious ambiguity, it’s not a confusion. Ok, it’s a little bit shocking, but it’s unconsciously shocking. It’s the same with the sound that I use. I have been very sophisticated..
It seems more complex in this film.
Yeah it’s really sophisticated and complex. Just to create this sensation that something is really disturbing or something is suggesting new things. But always up to a certain level. Never on the conscious level. And when something gets more conscious, for example, in the first part of the film when Casanova is talking and eating the pomegranate. I was there on the mix.
Yeah, it’s very loud.
It’s very loud! But at the same time.. I mix it loud because I had several microphones and I said “Let’s put up the microphone that was touching his neck.” And it was really [makes throat sounds]. It was really really high.
Mmm, it’s a strange sound.
Yeah. So I put it up you know. The more artificial and the more illogical from a realistic point of view, the better it was. For the atmosphere of the film, for the passion of the guy. But I tried to keep it in an unconscious way. Ok you realise it, you realise it is a little bit high. But most people feel it is a little bit high, but they do not think that the mix is a little bit illogical. But you know, it’s the same thing, it’s an effect that is disturbing but unconsciously disturbing a little bit. And you don’t know why. If you think about it that, there is no meaning. Or the meaning is so high that I don’t even know it myself. Because I am a spectator of my own film, I am living my own film as a part of this methodology we were talking about before. I really feel part of the actor, but also of the spectator, but also I don’t have an hierarchic position when I shoot the film over.. I am all, and at the same time, all the elements. This is a Straub lesson or a Godard lesson – all the elements of the film have the same right to be at the same level. There is no hierarchy. For this reason Godard is the master of sound and Straub is the master of costume. And predictably it’s me who discovered that maybe the greatest costume designer or the person with the greatest taste in costume ever was Straub, so…
They are quite good.
No, no, really you should focus on that. It’s always the precision of what is official, what is ridiculous. It’s kind of imaginative costume and precision that is incredible. And Godard with the sound for example, nobody has ever made better soundtracks or better mixes or more creative sound. Have you seen the latest Godard?
Yeah, I saw it in Paris.
Nobody before said…because in films we have a melody that is usually repeated, you know four or five times, it’s a recognisable melody or..
Yeah. Then he puts this fucking leitmotif of this symphony that is ten seconds of this symphony..
It’s Beethoven, Symphony No. 7.
And all the time! All the fucking time he repeats it… maybe I don’t know, thirty, forty, fifty times. Not five or six. Nobody before thought they could repeat that all the fucking time. And you know it’s an interesting effect. But it’s unconscious… You don’t know why, and it’s there all the time. It’s a little bit the same with me. With this mix of the sound, trying to put elements that you don’t know why they’re there and it creates this sensation.. What kind of film am I? Is this an experimental film? Is this a real film? But it’s the future of cinema. The future of the moving image, I think. For me, it’s much more interesting, you know Godard or Apichatpong than all the video art that has been made in all video art history. Just you know, 15 minutes of a Godard film, he beats all the fucking absurd ridiculous video art, ever. And this is an obvious thing, because it’s so complex, it’s so well done, it’s so creative that you cannot imagine…
You need the time of a narrative to understand that, you know. And you can only do it with the form of cinema. With the narrative and the moral because it puts questions on you, you know. In video art, you know, you are experimenting with something. But it doesn’t put questions, you know, it’s more a conceptual approach. OK, you get it. It’s also about the precision of perception. The precision of the concentration of the video or the hypnosis of the screen, and it’s also about the hypnosis or the precision of the perception. But it’s not all this complex layers of you know, a James Joyce novel. In fact poetry is not there. For me, I wrote a beautiful text making a comparison, saying video art is the language, cinema is the literature. It’s the same equivalent. Literature has language also, one is the grammar. But we can find interesting things in the grammar that were not often used in cinema, and for the reason video art is interesting. Some conquestors (?) of ambiguity, of performance, of precision, of concentration, of absurdity come from the video art… I don’t like this. It’s a little bit easy, but Apichatpong uses this hypnosis of the screen, this pure hypnosis of the surface of the screen. I was still on the texture, and texture was already like being in the old paintings, but the hypnosis of the screen, for example some shots in Apichatpong’s last one [Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives] inside the water of bubbles all the time, like one or two minutes only bubbles. The video art, hypnosis of the screen that nobody was capable of integrating in a proper film before him probably, in a good way, not in a provocative or absurd way, but in a real consistent way.
I think that has something to do with the spectators, there are different spectators for cinema than there are for the art world..
It’s changing I think… Here you have the centre of the moving image and everyone’s talking about the moving image now. For me, it’s just an excuse. All this history of the moving image for me, it’s an excuse for the art world because they realise they were wrong. All these fucking people they support the video art, when it was really bullshit. But they cannot admit it, so they have to create a new concept that is the moving image, to start to integrate the real people who made really interesting films and really interesting audiovisual pieces. But just to avoid accepting that they were fucking wrong supporting all these horrible people.
I’ll ask you my last question. This is a really interesting festival this year, they have a really interesting retrospective this year. Are you going to see any of the films this year?
I wanted to see some films I missed in Cannes, like Jauja, because Alonso is a friend of mine. The program is very good, they’ve got all the good films of the year. But for me it’s like with poetry, a little bit. I don’t like to read a lot. I know what’s going on because people tell me or because I live in a very superficial world, but if I decide to read, it’s because I really go in deep and I read some poems, but in a very deep way and just a few. Because for me it’s over, to watch films or to read. Mostly to watch films, just for the pleasure, If I watch a film, it’s because I will pick up something for my own work, pick up an idea that’s inspiring. I don’t go to the cinema as a dilettante, for the pleasure. If I want to spend time on something I don’t go to the cinema. It’s a very different approach, something that has been increasing.
Obviously I know what’s happening, I know the films and I’ve read a lot about cinema. But you know, it can go against my own style. So if I want to watch something it’s because something will happen to me, something will affect me. It’s completely another attitude of going to the cinema. It’s not all the quality of the film, it’s not about the importance of the film, it’s about whether or not it will be useful for my own work, that’s all. Obviously I have my ideas of who are the good filmmakers, but I can say that I am not interested any more in losing time thinking about that. I already know it, and OK, if there is something very impressive that a friend of mine tells me, “You have to see that.” I go, but it happens quite rarely and I will go to the things that can help me with my own films.
As my style is so close, so personal, I can integrate everything, and it will always be my style. It’s a quite advantageous position, because you can still be yourself and nobody will say, no this is a copy, and this is the advantage of Buñuel or Straub or Godard – they can do whatever they want and they’re still themselves. And they will never have followers. For me this is the key point of everything. When the master is more radical than all the followers, this is how you truly know a master is a real master. I mean, Godard is more radical than all the followers. Or Buñuel is more radical than all the followers. Because in fact they do not have real followers. But you know, is David Lynch more radical than all the followers? There are fake David Lynch’s that are maybe better than David Lynch, or more David Lynch than David Lynch. Is there a follower of Straub that is more radical than Straub? No, he is still the most pure, you know. Or Carmelo Bene or Warhol. Is there a follower of Warhol that is more radical than Warhol, no. Because they create their own style and they push it to the last consequence.
When you do that, it’s impossible that somebody that has not created this style can go further. This is the point, I mean, it’s about self-confidence, also. Not self-confidence, but you believe, it’s about faith more than self-confidence. You believe from a passion about your own work and passion about art in general and you think that your art is important but not as a career, or not as an ‘artist’; you really are passionate about your work, the form, what you are doing, every second, every minute, every hour of your work is really unique because it’s the same thing that I was talking about with the shooting, you know. Every moment, every single second of a work is unique, and you are passionate with that, you are unfuckable, as I said once.
It was a copy, this idea of unfuckable, said in a different way.
Was it a translation thing?
No, I copied it, I put it in another context. In fact as my film, it’s like a performance, and all the elements… it’s very difficult, as you said before, to separate the elements, and say: “No, I can imagine how the script was…” you know, usually when you are a critic and make an exercise, you compare what you see with some kind of ideal. But with these kind of films, with the style that is so personal, so close, that everything is really…
You can’t break it down.
You can’t imagine, “This will be better with a different actor”. You can either take the whole thing or not. You cannot imagine it as another thing. I use the word unfuckable because of that. My films are so… it’s a part of life, you cannot correct life, you know. Because it’s an unconscious way of behaving. But the origin of the word comes Vincent Gallo, a friend of mine was dealing with him and he said: “I don’t have an agent, I don’t have an accountant, I don’t have a lawyer, I don’t have somebody that answers the mails. I am the cinematographer, I am the actor, I am the filmmaker, I am unfuckable.” It’s true, in some sense, if you do everything, nobody will fuck you, because you are completely alone. It’s even more funny in the context of Vincent Gallo.
A lot of people make a big deal of you having said that, but I think I understand.
It was to illustrate this idea of the way some films are made.