The unfolding of this diarist relationship is a fascinating glimpse at the psychology underlaying the confrontation to another creator. The first thing we notice is how each have understood the concept of the project and how they give their interpretation. The first four videos are already described and commented at Senses of Cinema.
- VIDEO-LETTRE #1 : El Jardin del Pintor (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 22 april 2005, 9'30"
He films a mini home-made family documentary. His proposition is surprisingly "non-professional" (formally I mean, not that it was a bad thing), contrary to what we would expect from a seasoned auteur. We could say he takes it easy, and enjoys a nostalgic retrospect on his career as well as looking in the present to update the premise of his film as seen by the new generation. In any case, he doesn't engage in a skill showdown with Abbas Kiarostami (A.K.), it is simply a spontaneous exchange of personal videos to him. Far from being detrimental, it is a refreshing and touching moment of intimacy, filmed with a loving attention. It's also showing complicity with his counterpart, Abbas, who loves El Sol Del Membrillo (1972).
V.E. returns to the house of his friend Antonio Lopez, 13 years after the shooting of his film. The quince tree is still there, painted now by the painter's grandchildren, each with an artistic representation corresponding to their age (variations of colors, details, realism, composition).
- VIDEO-LETTRE #2 : Mashhad/The Cow (Kiarostami/Iran) AK to VE, 5 Sept 2005, 10'
Unexpectedly, his first contribution has nothing to do with V.E.'s openning of the series. It is both disconcerting and exciting. Because it seems like A.K. is completely ignoring the collaborative project, but at the same time he affirms his freedom of expression and takes the project further, in a different direction. He seems to say they don't have to play ping-pong, they don't have to quote eachother, they don't have to make this project a self-referential conversation, but should instead open it to the world and explore surprising stylistic clashes.
A.K.'s hand is seen writing a postcard to Erice, all subtitled in Spanish. A brief voiceover introduces a memory from a recent drive in the country. This introduction appears to follow the model set up by Erice (coincidentally the running time is equivalent too), but what follows is totally unique. The title, he explained later, was a reference to an important milestone in Iranian cinema : Dariush Mehrjui's Gaav / The Cow (1969), an Iranian New Wave icon. Miguel Marías at Rouge pretends these video lettres (the first 4 at the time) are "definitely not major works", but when I see this piece I think this is one great cinematic achievement (my favorite of the series so far!), with the genial abstraction of the most basic material possible. All the more fascinating since it's so far from what Kiarostami usually does in his documentaristic and realistic filmography.
In successive stationary shots (extreme close up), A.K. presents us several views of some kind of a velvet drape, a gently waving flag with black and white patches. The shapes, animated curiously, are too abstracted to be recognized at first. And the soundtrack has a continuous ruminating noise, that should be a clue. A.K. actually maps the body of a cow in cautious detail, with artfully composed framing of certain parts. Each tableau is a living surface, with a furry texture, vibrating to a rhythmic pulse. This hilly skin covers organs and bones like a tensile fabric. Veins crawl right under the surface like snakes. The skin folds in the angles. Then we discover a section of tail, more agitated, and assume pudicaly the beginnning of pink tits with erotic sensuality. The video ends with a wider shot of the entire cow walking away surrounded by electric-green grass.
While V.E. cites his own film, A.K. cites the film of someone else. While V.E. comments on the past, A.K. proposes something new. While V.E. documents, A.K. creates.The antagonist and fertile polarities of the possibilities offered by this project are installed right there in only two videos.
- VIDEO-LETTRE #3 : Arroyo de la Luz (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 22 Oct 2005, 20'18"
He had the excellent idea to show A.K.'s Where is the friend's home (1987) to a first grader classroom and film the following debate directed by the teacher. Now V.E. establishes a direct relation with A.K., showing him how his film is received and understood by the kids from another country. He also uses a documentary technique A.K. is very familiar with, as he used to film kids a lot for the Kanoon. We assist to a session of ciné-club for kids, with all their spontaneous, naive, innocent responses. They comment the story, the dilemma of the young hero and the justification to lie and disobey to his parents and his teacher. They pounder on the preference to get into trouble rather than let a friend get punished. And we are reminded of A.K.'s great documentaries on kids like First Case, Second Case (1979) or Homework (1989).
- VIDEO-LETTRE #4 : The Quince (Kiarostami/Iran) AK to VE, dec 2005, 12'
- VIDEO-LETTRE #5 : José (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 18 Jun 2006, 7'19"
To be continued...