Two responses from filmmakers to a questionnaire from the January 2000 issue of Cahiers du cinéma.
1. In your opinion, what are the major events — films, filmmakers, actors, images, techniques, etc. — that have marked the 1990s?
2. How did your filmmaking evolve over the course of the decade and how do you see it evolving in the next one?
The death of Antonio Reis.
My four films, between 1989 and 1999.
Less and less money for making them.
I need less to make them.
JLG’s Nouvelle Vague (1990) and DH, JMS’ Sicilia!
1. A lot of events. Due to the lack of space, I’ll stick to the two main ones.
the eruption, throughout Iranian cinema, of the film within a film.
Kiarostami, Mahmalbaf and the others continue (probably without being
conscious of it) May 68 and the lesson of Vent d’Est, La Concentration, Faire la déménageuse, Rendez-vous d’Anna and La Vérité sur l’imaginaire d’un inconnu.
May 68 and situationism in the country of the Ayatollahs - who would
have believed it? As much as this direction (described as self-absorbed)
was criticized in the French cinema of the time, it has been accepted
without regrets in the framework of a third world cinema, presumed to be
social above all else, that has become the best cinema in the world, in
part thanks to this orientation.
The other, more recent, event is the release of Alan Rudolph’s Breakfast of Champions, from Vonnegut’s novel. It’s one of the best adaptations of literary work, a domain Americans are very strong in (The Magnificent Ambersons, Greed, The Grapes of Wrath, The Tarnished Angels, A Place in the Sun, A Farewell to Arms, The Group),
and in which the French (except sometimes Bresson) always fail. It’s
one of the rare films where the use of video is fully integrated, giving
the film a fresh and very surprising dimension in its final part. It is
a mind-blowing vision of the New America — a commercial city off a
highway exit — where the excess of mush, dumps, and mud is becoming
vomit-inducing. The film rediscovers, through an itinerary full of
contradictions, the holocaustal value of the cinema of thirty years ago (Les Carabiniers, Jeanne Dielman). One also thinks of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
It’s sometimes Fellini-esque, but without the Romagnol filmmaker’s
complaisances. It’s also the unusual avant-garde film made with every
available means and Hollywood actors.
Bruce Willis’ best film or, rather, his only film.
The full confirmation of an exemplary filmmaker, who is the only one in Hollywood that takes risks.
No change in method for me. Recently, I tried to do something other
than always make people laugh. Two films of a more dramatic character
(an adaptation of Henry James and Au champ d’honneur)
have often been welcomed with scepticism and rejected by festivals that
were going easy on me. Does this mean that I’m only made for comedy? Or
did I only transgress my trademark image and throw off my fans? Which
of the two theories is correct? I’d like to know. To be safe, I decided
to stick with comedy for the next one, assuming there is a next one: I
always have the feeling that the film I’ve just done will be the last
one. In any case, I know that I must absolutely avoid big budgets, for
which I won’t find enough dough, and that I can’t go above 3 million
francs for a feature and 200,000 francs for a short.
My article on Godard's Adieu au TNS and refutation of Richard Brody's claims regarding it, as well as a translation of the full text Godard recites in the video, is now online at Kino Slang.
A tender winter sun yellows the old house that I see from my window. What a beautiful evening. André Bazin would have loved it. The pale gold of the luminous rays would have made him forget this famous “dry cold” that Musset preferred to call “a good head cold.”
I forget the script I’m in the middle of writing and I think of all the time I’ve lost. Life is spent wasting time, neglecting a good opportunity, turning one’s back on what is useful to rush towards what is useless.
André was part of the very small crowd of very useful people.
Of course, he was very busy and sick. It would have been indecent to abuse his tireless sociability. And now, I regret not having had this indecency. I miss him all the time. How many questions I still have to ask him, how many dark corners he could have shed light on, how many passionate discussions that will never be born!
In one of his studies, he draws the readers’ attention to the secondary role that scholars have played in the development of the cinematograph and insists upon all that we owe to the visionaries, the obsessives. Reading it, I was thinking of the “Bazins.”
In the simplistic language of our 20th century, we would say “artists,” in opposition to scholars.
An artist’s mission is to precede the pack. He has to reveal hidden feelings, open the window on landscapes that, of course, already existed, but that we poorly discerned, hidden as they were by the fog of false traditions. The artist’s function is to tear away some of the veils covering every reality.
I’m looking at the last spot of sun on the roof of the old house. It reveals some stunning grey moss to me. Some pigeons stretch their wings towards the fleeting light, assuming positions revelatory of their pigeon spirit. The shade increases. I get up and, standing on my toes, I can catch a last ray of the setting sun.
I forget the old house and the pigeons. This light has erased them from my mind.
Certain directors of films, whose work André Bazin analyzed so scrupulously, will only remain in man’s memory because their names will be read in his books. Their worth is not in question. To tell the truth, it matters little to me. I’m grateful to them for having inspired a clear poet, an artist who, by dint of objective humility, made his work the moving expression of his generous personality.
Originally published in Cahiers du cinéma, no. 91, January 1959.