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Philippe Grandrieux, T-Mobile Nowe Horyzonty Film Festival, fot. Marta Strzoda

Interview by Amos Borchert and Dennis Vetter. We would like to thank the festival staff of T-MOBILE NEW HORIZONS 2012 for the kind cooperation.

Some of the most unique and promising contemporary cinematic expressions come from the French filmmaker Philippe Grandrieux (here you can find a German essay about his work). Rooted in documentary filmmaking and video art, he created three feature films so far, all characterized by a radical idiosyncrasy of style. They deal with existential questions on live and death, with our physical presence in this world. Often described as part of the French cinema of sensation, all his films circle around the human body as a key issue and seek to offer a cinematic experience that is not only deep and intense, but also open, enabling the viewer to link it to his/her personal background. While attending the 12th T- Mobile Nowe Horyzonty Film Festival in Wrocław with his 2011 essay-documentary IT MAY BE THAT BEAUTY HAS STRENGHTHENED OUR RESOLVE: MASAO ADACHI, he spoke to us about some main aspects of his work. He also described his recent project, the experimental film WHITE EPILEPSY, addressed coming steps and future maybes.

DV: How was your documentary feature received here at the festival and how were the audience reactions? Do they keep surprising you sometimes? I noticed that one of the Q&A-sessions was quite long.

PG: Surprising – I don’t know if it’s surprising me. You know, when you go to festivals with movies after a while you get a kind of sense of what questions you can have with this particular movie. So it’s not a real surprise but it’s always interesting to have a contact with the audience. It’s a very concrete contact – people – you really speak with somebody else. It’s not like on TV. Instead it is very concrete, very embodied. I am generally interested in receiving the audience reactions.

DV: You’ve been to many festivals with the film so far?

PG: The film really travels around the world. It was absolutely incredible how well this movie has been doing in the festival circuit. I didn’t tag along that much because I try not to go to many festivals. It’s nice, cozy, you meet very kind people, like you guys, you know… but after a while you just travel and can’t really be concentrated on your own work. So I try to go to less and less festivals.

DV: I was wondering about the dimension of politics in your work. In former films like SOMBRE or LA VIE NOUVELLE you have political references and now with portraying Masao Adachi, one of the most radical and well known activists and filmmakers in Japanese history, of course you created a very explicit context. Do you consider the film as a political film?

PG: Well, it’s trivial to say that, but all our acts involve politics. You couldn’t be here without thinking about politics. It is much more than ideology; it’s decision in fact. Politics means making decisions about your own life: How you act in the world and how you want to be. So it’s really something very important. In SOMBRE for instance there wasn’t any morality – no good, no bad. It is a decision, a very political decision to let the audience face their own desire, their own unrest. LA VIE NOUVELLE was more or less the relationship between the chaotic historical post-communism in Bulgaria and the chaotic psychic world. You drive inside of it. So ADACHI is politics but a very sensual movie at the same time, I hope. It’s based on emotion and sensation, as my movies generally are. Making movies, like life, is a path. So you’re following your own path as much as you can. Sometimes you’re weaker and sometimes you feel energized. This is always more or less the same question I’m working on.

DV: I noticed as well that you link, in a very interesting way, the portrait of Adachi itself and the formal strategies of the feature films you did before, for example the dissolution of the images which are mirrored in the landscape of Tokyo that you depict repeatedly. I have the impression that the connection of this real political background with your artistic style gives your work a new layer.

PG: You’re right, yes. It’s true.

DV: Do you intend to further follow this direction?

PG: The movie I’ve just finished now is called WHITE EPILEPSY and it’s supposed to be a kind of a tryptich on the question of unrest. This movie is very particular, because for me it’s a feature film, but it’s done out of a very radical position: the frame is vertical. The question of storytelling also became very important to me, in order to understand how I want to work with it. In WHITE EPILEPSY there are no more questions of characters and the psychological map of the characters throughout the movie, of how the story grows out of these characters – instead the question is more about the event: something happens. Questioning the event is rather in the centre of the movie itself compared to the development of the story. This is something that I really want to work on. I also want to further pursue the relation between sensation and emotion. They are two different issues, but not so far from each other. I try to explore the same possibilities over and over through cinema.

ADACHI, Foto: Nippon Connection

DV: I’ve heard that after Masao Adachi you and Nicole Brenez are planning to portray other radical filmmakers as well? Will you be directing?

PG: No. We try to provide the possibility for making other movies but I’m not going to do the other ones myself. Other filmmakers will. We have a project on René Vautier, a french filmmaker. A very strong guy: at 15 he was a part of “La Résistance” in France, after which he fought against the colonization, in Algeria too. Now he’s old, maybe 80-82, but he is an incredibly strong filmmaker. We also plan a project on newsreels in America. Well, we’ll see, because for this series we haven’t got any money yet. We don’t want to write things to get money so we try to keep it very, very free. Because I think this is very important. This movie – ADACHI – as I went to Tokyo, I was facing the possibility that there might have been no movie at all in the end. So it was not necessary to finish something. This gives you a lot of freedom.

DV: Since you were mentioning the money aspect: This is of course closely linked to the fact that depending on your work it is not easy to reach an audience. I have the impression that you’re a filmmaker who seeks to address people through cinema and move something in their way of perceiving the world. Being fairly well known now, is it easy for you nowadays to reach new audiences? Are you actively trying to reach out?

PG: I would like to try to expand the possibilities of cinema with my next feature film. It’s not necessary to reach huge audiences. Maybe the audience will be more important than the other movies had, but I can’t think in terms of that. I really try to follow my own steps.
I’m very interested in actors, stars. I think it could be very interesting to make a movie with no money at all but with very well known actors. Because this is also a part of what ‘cinema’ is. It’s about political problems, agents, lawyers, distributors and sellers. About these very well formed industrial systems and I think they offer a huge possibility for working. I would like to try something alike next.

AB: I’m interested in the relationship between emotion, sensation and intellectualization. How has it changed over the years in your personal view and in the reception of others, in their approach of others towards your work?

PG: I think it depends on where you are, because when you are making movies – as Adachi says at the end of the movie – there is an intellectual aspect, but in the end it must be about the sensation itself. Because sensation is life in a way: something you couldn’t control, that you couldn’t put inside any kind of system. Even if the systems are very, very clever and very powerful. Think of Leibnitz or Kant – even with all these very strong philosophers we couldn’t reach the real point of knowing what life is. Maybe ‘odd’ is a possibility. Maybe it’s the only one. Sometimes I think like this, when I am in a positive mood.
To answer your question: When you do a movie, you organize things, you write, you scout, you cast, you think a lot, you take notes, you write the script, you prepare everything, it’s a very intellectual process. But when you shoot it’s something else. It’s really back to sensation, pure sensation, pure feelings, and pure intuition. A beautiful aspect is that time is an editing process, an intellectual process. You cut things and put them together, and after a while sense appears. But sensation is something else. It’s intuition, pure duration. It’s not any more the time that you can cut into discrete seconds; it’s an eternity inside of yourself. It’s a big question. Maybe the same question as: If you are thinking too much in terms of intellectuality and sense, you’re thinking in terms of immortality. If you’re thinking in terms of duration you’re thinking in terms of eternity. It’s two different ways to be and to me art is really part of these eternity feelings, which are a part of us.

AB: What about the reception that comes from the outside, from theorists or critics? Do you still find something useful, when they interpret your work in a highly intellectual way?

PG: Well, it’s not helpful at all to make movies. It’s helpful for me to be inside of the world. I mean to be with my… I don’t know what to say. It’s helpful, because you see that what you are trying to do is not just ‘nowhere’. Of course it’s important. But after a movie is done, one can write a thousand pages. It’s strange; it’s really something completely different.

AB: And what about beauty? Is this something you are searching for? Have you got a concept of beauty or is it pure instinct? For example Bruno Dumont says that he tries to avoid beautiful images, but that is something I can’t believe.

PG: It’s not beauty at this level; it is not the question of beautiful images. The beauty is something much stronger. When Dostojewski says that the beauty saves the world, the question is not about doing beautiful things. Beauty is a political decision in a way. It’s to be alive with your own self, strongly alive. I mean not under submissions. Beauty is the possibility to feel ‘la force’, the strength of the things, the reality and the real. So beauty is very important of course, but it’s not at all about beautiful pictures.

AB: What about melancholy? When I saw UN LAC it seemed to me that for the first time in your work appeared a very strong sense of sadness. Do you think sadness is a proper way to react to this world?

PG: I think it’s impossible to be untouched by melancholy. We are dealing with time, memories and our childhood. We can’t escape from this and I think these melancholic dimensions are very important. It’s also in terms of politics: All the organizations are transforming more and more into paranoid systems in which you fit in. You fit in via computer, cell phone or Facebook – it’s a paranoid organization of our feelings. Melancholy is something else. Melancholy could be dangerous too, as a tendency you may incline towards. But it’s very important.

AB: Maybe it’s kind of subversive to be melancholic.

PG: I think so, yes. You know these systems to control the streets? If somebody stops walking, after two or three minutes, the computers signal that somebody stopped walking. Something happened. Someone stopped in the middle of the street, but the person shouldn’t be immobile. This is a very interesting conception of your destiny [laughs].

AB: You mentioned that you try to dive further into this field of pure sensation. Now you did WHITE EPILEPSY. I heard it is very focused on bodies. I wonder if it is very important for you to find a certain body. Would you cancel a project if you couldn’t manage to find a certain professional or non-professional?

PG: Absolutely. For this project I worked with a dancer, Hélène Rocheteau. We worked together on what we can call choreography, although I’m not a choreographer. It was a piece of twelve minutes; it was shown in Metz in France and was very interesting. It was a cycle and featured a loop of Joy Division music: a ceremony. We worked on insect movements, on the way insects are completely limited to their instinct. For them there is no possibility to escape their instincts at all. There are very few needs, but these needs are accordingly intense, there is no doubt. We tried to work on these kinds of movements and I was very impressed by her body, how she can move each muscle with such intense possibilities, like Butoh dancers. An when I was thinking about WHITE EPILEPSY I had this idea of this naked body, that I can be with her in this kind of very, very strong relation: very strange way of movement, human but not completely human.

DV: Being a critic and writing about film, I’m more and more doubting that people take out a lot with them, when they leave the cinema. I’m a bit pessimistic about film and the way that it fails to activate something in audiences. Many seem to use these two hours in order to separate themselves from their lives. I would love to contribute to them connecting more to film and I’m trying to do my part through writing. Since we talked about bodies, do you think that using the body and its physicality expands the possibility of cinema to reach people more intensely?

PG: That’s an interesting point of view, the question how cinema is moving inside of us. We never know; it’s strange. Maybe cinema is less powerful than years ago. But I couldn’t really think in those terms, because I don’t like glorifying the past. We are here, just here and now, and we are dealing with our reality. This is nice and it’s strong and I like it. I have no regrets about anything – no regret about the 35mm, no regret at all. I like numeric cameras and if tomorrow there are no more cameras, ok. Then there are no more cameras; who cares. But the question you rose, how the movies are inside of us, or what we can call movies today, I think this is very important. Because I’m sure it is still operating, it is still strong. I mean you are still undergoing a certain experience when you go see a movie. If it’s pure entertainment, you get a good moment with your friends, you have a beer and that’s it. Why not? We shouldn’t be dogmatic in this aspect of the things. But you know, there are some kinds of movies that move you very deeply and sometimes even influence all of your live. Of course, this is what I would like to try to catch with my work. I don’t know if I have success. I would like to put one human being in front of these pictures, inside of this sound, inside of this world to get the possibility to feel something within itself. No words, just the feeling of being alive and of the complexity this situation achieves.

AB: So are you still interested in recent cinema and do you enjoy seeing other works?

PG: It depends. I don’t go that much to cinema.

AB: Did you enjoy the festival program?

PG: I haven’t seen so much, but it seems a good program. It depends. Movies, books too – it’s very important to read. I don’t know, it’s like trying to catch something that’s always pouring. It’s the way we are, we just try to catch something that’s always pouring. But the effort ‘to catch’ is very important and very strong.