Continuation from the introduction of the exhibition
An ongoing series of video-lettres between Victor Erice (V.E.) and Abbas Kiarostami (A.K.) comissionned by Alain Bergala and Jordi Ballo on the occasion of this
joint-exhibition that opened in Barcelona (February 2006) with 4 videos, then 6 in Madrid (july 2006), and now 10 and counting in Paris (Septembre 2007).
This one-on-one correspondence between two auteurs is a new form of production in cinema, at least to this extant (to my knowledge). Godard did some video-lettres, the group Dziga Vertov also made ciné-tracts... it would be interesting to compare with other similar experiences. Anyway, these two auteurs are rather solitary and introverted, so it's extraordinary they would agree to commit to this idea and want to collaborate on a common work. Looking at this collection of videos we can see the exchange wasn't easy, nor entirely spontaneous. We can feel tensions, expectations, frustrations, provocations... all through ellipsis without spelling out what they really wanted to happen, with an utmost respect for the other's whimsical personality. And they also mentionned this with amusement during the conference :
Alain Bergala calls it an epistolary romance, like sharing a private diary, communicating with a lover.
A.K. says this exchange fills him with happiness. It's a change to make a film for a single known viewer. It's also a responsability to produce a video for someone who is anticipating it. It's like a marriage contract, a pact to bound eachother to write back and forth. To him it was a love mail, the transcendence of romantic correspondence, where the lover is an abstract archetype for all lovers in the world, not just a mail between A.K. and V.E.
He was moved when he received the first video-lettre, which V.E. had made subtitled in farsi already (or was it an idea of the curators?). The night when he received it, he was so proud he showed it to his guests, announcing it was a letter sent by a Spanish filmmaker friend of his.
V.E. says this correspondence took more an more importance in his life. Everytime he would see or read something of interest he would immediately imagine how to include it in the next video-letter to A.K. He cites Jean Renoir : "Je suis citoyen du cinématographe", to emphasize how isolated filmmakers are in our contemporean world and how they can reach out beyond political frontiers too around the world because they are all part of the cinema family.
He says how disappointed he was by A.K.'s first reply (The Cow) because it seemed totally unrelated to his, without any feedback on his initial proposition of dialogue. Especially since it took A.K. over 4 months to respond. V.E. had a feeling of unrequited love, and the curators, Bergala and Ballo had to comfort him and encourage him to pursue anyway, to go past the apparent coldness, to play the game.
"On one hand, obviously, the first DV letter which Víctor addressed to Abbas, the latter’s surprising answer, and the ensuing real exchange is a modern version of messages in the bottle – sent not only to communicate, but also in the knowledge that they would be shown to strangers, those who wander now through the rooms and corridors of this new Marienbad which is the exhibition, and thus the virtual meeting point of two lonely and distant filmmakers struggling for the survival of cinema as a way of reaching knowledge."
Risks and Revelations, Erice-Kiarostami: Correspondences (Miguel Marías, Rouge #9, May 2006)
They have a mutual admiration for eachother's work. A.K. said he could stop making films if he had made one like El Sol Del Membrillo. Which could explain why they are intimidated to take part into this dual project that will call for further interpretative comparisons. There is a reason why La Politique des Auteurs credits a single person for the coherence and fullness of a work... art is rarely a collaborative project. The idea born in the mind of a person shall be carried out to the finished product under the direction of the same person, otherwise compromises along to way to incorporate other subjectivities and creativity will pervert the integrity and unique depth of the artwork. That's what we see in this improvised video project that was intentionnaly unconcerted, unplanned and unnegociated. Both filmmakers filmed whatever, wherever, whenever they wanted without any requirements (that I know of) or unifying directions. The result is a little patchwork of ideas that is less significant aesthetically as a whole than it is, narratively, as a cumulative process, step by step. And it is in fact an open ended project that may or may not continue, privately or publicaly, after the exhibition is over.
I assume they had total freedom of style, length, subject and frequency. Except maybe the fact they had to film with a mini-DV for practical and financial reasons. The series is indeed quite varied in shape and size, which makes it richer and more lively. The videos run from 2'1/2 to 20 minutes. With or without music. With or without narrator commentary or onscreen indications. With a plotline or an abstract concept. With people or none. And the postage is spaced out from a few days, up to 7 months. The common trait might be they always use non-professionnal actors, regular people playing their own "role".
"Here we see writing, literally, on the screen. Language becomes a salient feature right from the beginning, with the subtitles (in Castillian Spanish and Persian) considered as part of the creation of the author, not as a later addition. (When the installation moves to France, new subtitles will have to be added – in a language both directors understand but which is not their native language.) (...)
The filmed letters link but are far from symmetrical. They link one to the next but they also link within the world of the writer. Erice’s cartas focus on children and their reactions to nature and to film. Kiarostami’s, in contrast, play with perspective. The pleasant asymmetry of the cartas both reveals and conceals the writer."
Letters to the World, Erice-Kiarostami: Correspondences (Linda C. Ehrlich, Senses of Cinema, Oct–Dec 2006)
Oddly enough, the language barrier was not an issue in itself. The first two lettres are subtitled in the recipient's language, as a friendly gesture across the barrier, but the others aren't. Probably not to clutter the screen with multiple translations as the exhibition will travel in different countries. The distance seems to be properly cinematic, corresponding to their understanding and practice of the video medium. Erice uses it as a homemade documentary. Kiarostami uses it as an art form. But it's interesting to notice how their attitude towards the project evolves after receiving the videos made by the other. A connection builds up, and an effect of emulation and mimetism seem to prevail and reveal a true friendship of kindred spirits. Though this convergence is not without mystery.
To be continued... here
* * *
These videos are available at the website of L'Institut de Recherche et d'Innovation du Centre Pompidou. (Click "Entrer" then click on "Films" at the top. The first 9 videos "Correspondance" are the series of video-letters, the number 8 combines 2 V.E. lettres, the second of which should be the 10th) I can't load them, I hope others can see them or that it will be fixed soon. The rest of this website is amazing too, featuring the project "Lignes de Temps", a new interactive analysis for visual medium.