BOMB 111

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CARLOS REYGADAS
BY ~OSE CAST I LLO

F I LM I CARLOS REYGADAS 71 Stolls from S'/flnt L.lm 1N00h sound TOIl'1 running lOme: 136 minutes. 2007.mltge5 courtesy of Manlarrl:lye Producc. . above ' Mena Pankratz 8S Marianne and Corneho Wall 85 JOhen. COlor f. All .ght .ones.

and Silent Light (2007)-a5 welt as two shorts. and other feelings become public. the film I made ended up reflecting my personal vision. death. tragedies. Our conversation made it apparent to me that for Reygadas. In your films there seems to be a moment in which personal miseries. so when. but on an emotional level-are those and Michelangelo Antonioni. and in the process of doing so. sacrifice. I've had moments of complete plenitude and tranquility. Can you elaborate on the issue of making what's private public and on making visible those private emotions? C R: It's all a consequence of action. J C : There's an interesting relationship between your characters' internal and exterior lives. and melancholy in Mexican society. JC: But do you think it's possible to attain such a state through collective experiences? Your characters seem wrapped in their own emotions. And there's also redemption. But going back to film. Steering away from the predominance of narrative and profession a l acting in f ilm. Reygadas's has become a unique voice that stands apart from the filmmakers common ly assoc iated with the New Mexican Cinema movement of the last decade. a film about personal relationships in the tight community of Mennonites in Chihuahua. Over the course of his career. automatically I reflected a personal world. I wanted to make a first movie in order to see if r had any talent for filmmaking-that was it. CR: I'm sorry. I'm convinced that to be original all you have to do is be yourself: we're all original. Of course society as a whole has its own laws and such. involving a family bathing in a pool. Reygadas's technique has become more sophisticated and h is vocabu lary more controlled. This determined what I've been doing ever since. but rather than trying to reflect that in my films. a 12-minute f ilm (for Revo/ucion. living my life. and f il m. So. Reygadas's two most recent shorts have enriched his repertoire of techniques and subject matter: Serenghetti. for instance. through love and intimacy. Reygadas seeks the authenticity of unmediated exper ience. the idea of wanting to live in a particular way is also defined a posteriori. I've never program matically set out to make movies that reflect my world somehow. Having released three feature-length films-Japan (200 1). I went ahead and tried my hand at making a movie. though. where nothing but the present mattered . For me community is nothing but the sum of individuals. I'm thinking concretely of that bathing scene in Silent Light-alii wanted was to transmit the sense of peace and quiet that a family might experience when engaging in a daily ritual in a place of continuing beauty.BOMB111 Born in Mexico City and trained as a lawyer special izing in armed-conflict resolution. a compi lation of shorts commemorating the bicentenary of the Mexican Revolution) that exposes the paradoxes of community and individual freedom. Now that I'm building a house. Ca rl os Reygadas was inspired at age 30 to t r y his hand at film out of his apprec iation of the fi lms of auteurs such as Andrei Tarkovsky 72 JOSE CASTILLO: I would like to ask you about your choice to work with film. His films are neither autobiographical nor self-referential. There's a scene I find quite compelling in Silent Light. suffering turns outward. he prefers instead to let his f ilms evince the ideas and experiences he wants to convey. such as that pool. cinematic H olden Caulfield. I had no idea whether I could pull it off or not. they put forth a new type of humanism. literature. Their severity and power arise from the fact that they address serious matters-love. I've never even thought of this. I prefer to read Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power. and Este es mi reino. He has been making fi lms ever since. -Jose Casti ll o . the road ahead is wide and clear. celebration. the same with their joy. when I wanted to make my first movie I was a lawyer and indeed liked law. fear. It 's like people's fingerprints. These are feelings I must have had as a child. Actually. Morelos-a vi llage an hour outside of Mexico City where he is building a house-and talked about music. As it turns out. I wanted to feel more freedom on a day-l o-day basis. more than of any specific search. They construct a platform in which visua l language is the medi um that produces affect. Could you have chosen a different art form? And how does this notion of creating a world of your own relate to film specifically? CARLOS REYGADAS: For me this simply has been a consequence of being alive. achieving sublime moments of beauty and the grotesque . Regardless. like a modern-day. Battle in Heaven (2005). but I knew nothing about the system. I never put theory before practice. What I'm interested innot dogmatically. Reygadas has developed a moving and a r resting body of work seemingly devoid of artifice. sex. and theorizes about it even less. It's all about spontaneity for me. anguishes. we met at his six-acre property in Ocotitlan. irs manifested from one character to another. whose productions are more in sync with Hollywood norms. a montage of views of a women's soccer match. but I remember wanting a change of life. and redemption-through everyday experiences. I just don't think it's my forte. He se ldom talks about his work. faith.

Truth. I write it down. ineffable. and because of that. but basically. That human being encounters problems. or dreamlike one. Imagine saying that 73 all music had to follow a given tempo! It's the same as saying each page of a script equals a minute in the film . and plenty of illustrated literature. C R: It's curious. you understand why religion promotes monogamy it's complex. But again. In my opinion most screenplays are. But I don't think like a novelist. So this male character begins acting. you'll never experience conflicts. Mine are images and sounds. The characters and plots might change. feel the wind and the temperature. temporary. The truth is never absolute. Cut.JC: Yeah. by definition. You must have noticed that all of my films spring from a male lead character. hallucinogenic. On the contrary. once I enter that character's imagination." I mean I imagine myself in concrete situations: walking up a hill and running into people. How do their moral dilemmas unfold? How do you arrive at your characters' ethics? C R: It's a silly answer. setting limits for myself depending on where I'm coming from and what my goals are. when you think about all this. hurdles.he faces ethical questions as well. thinking about how I'd like this or that character to . I write everything in one blow over a few days and then make very few revisions . C A: It's absurd to think that all films have to have the same rhythm and duration. religious. J C: Inverting Carlos Monsivais's phrase "only the fleeting prevails. but the films are all alike. Your ethical position regarding the character's being in love with two people is neutral. .J C: Ethics become manifest in your characters' personal experiences. it's approached almost tangentially. what feels real is poetic. As I write I imagine I'm already seeing the film: A black square appears.J C: The critical reception of your films tends to emphasize the potency of your images. . . a text in a bright-blue Bauhaus font appears. basically.J C: Yes. people find repetition comforting. and feeling. I come up with them as I'm writing the screenplay. literature. .. that's why the formula is successful. They hark back to Shakespeare's and Dostoyevsky's archetypes. As I said before. but I'd much rather embrace human nature with caution. . . it's not as if I'm taking notes all year long.. . If you firmly believe in dogmas. it does take me a while . sometimes a year. they're closer to film they're not merely translating literature into drawings for a storyboard. it remains on screen for only two seconds.I'm in a state of trance. hear the steps of the people around me. Declaring a philosophical. there are more movies. in a structural and finally even an ontological sense. it will always be normative. Where do you stand in regard to the art of cinema? You've said else where that "there are few films. or social truth will turn it into dogma and therefore will prevent it from being experienced as real. . There'd be a lot of intensity around the idea of infidelity. I understand why there are rules regulating human drives. and in the process. but that's reducing life to nothingness. Ethics are the result of personal decisions. Anyway. it destroys the essence of film's conception of time. for my screenplays I enter this vision. it's actu ally a way of avoiding conflict.FILM / CARLOS REYGADAS brief moments in which the truth is experienced. a hypnotic. or whatever. if I tried to write a novel it'd be a complete disaster. you ask yourself questions and try to solve them at a particular moment.a few months. In Silent Light the engine was the idea of death byemotional pain. open-ended. moments of pleasure . it's people's way of resolving dilemmas like the one in your film. begins to emerge . It's like a friend of mine who never wants to have a dog because she thinks she'd suffer too much when it died . At some point I'd like to start off with a female lead character. CR: Exactly. like the notion that films need to be 105 minutes long or should never exceed two hours . So by "imagination. moving. . I can actually make myself see the colors. religious dogmas. I've always hated pronouncements. So I proceed by having these sensations and letting things happen as I go on writing the screenplay.." C R: My screenplays are not literary in the way that most screenplays are literary. in a moralistic sense.JC: Meaning that you don't believe in infidelity? You don't seem to judge the possibility of being multiamorous in the film. when something goes terribly wrong it seems as though the cause is divine retribution. This for me is the quintessential creative moment. or central motor. or a 1: 1. I understand why there'd be a book such as the Divine Comedy and so many representations of the devil and religious punishment. will be. everything he or she will become. via my imagination .to decide where I'm going to set it and what the film's engine. dramas. militancy based on slogans.J C: How long are your scripts? C R: Very brief: 50 or 60 pages. a cinemascope. 33 screen ratio. C A: It's not a way of resolving them. although it takes me a few days to write the screenplay. is intangible. That Hollywood idea of a page per minute is one of the stupidest I've ever heard: it's utterly uncreative and noxious . it hasn't worked out for me yet. they all have exactly the same structure." what seems permanent tends to be contingent. but the result is not literature . That's why even though Hollywood films can be comedies. it's like a dream in the sense that it reflects everything the person dreaming has ever lived. That's when the questions spontaneously arise. I'm terrible at conventional screenwriting. I don't need to think about this much.

or a poster we'd never imagine we'd find there. C R: The issue of reality and representation is incredibly complicated because it operates on many different levels. I am interested in hearing how you work out the relationship between strong pictorial scenes. his tone of voice in Silent Light. of attempting to translate literature into fi lm -everyth ing is reduced to t he lowest common denominator.. This is different from what you do. TRUTH. they'll have three shelves stacked with the products that people assume are always sold there as well as a middle-aged senora with an apron at the register. but we know that Jose was act ually before the camera at the point in which the picture was taken .. as well as sound. With the moving image. I never remember the plots of his films. but I'm not at all: a novel can inspire a great translation into a sequence of images and sounds. even though I've seen that film about 15 times. or record someone's voice. One of film 's burdens has been that usually someone writes a literary screenplay and then someone else illustrates it through the medium of cinem a. instead of the real thing. And so what I write is images and sounds. my films are always so much better than I could have ever dreamed of. sometimes it's the same person . The face of a dark 30-year-old man appears.J C: I'm interested to hear how close or distant you feel to other forms of visual representation in film. WHAT FEELS REAL IS POETIC. sequences of takes . the code representing it. For instance. even though we both know it's ultimately nothing but pixels on paper. cinema is the art of reality. we'd discover a number of incredible surprises there and people would appreciate having access to a different visual experience.BOMB 1 11 74 Then. INEFFABLE. It's a difficult idea to apprehend. a sunset. I only allowed my camera to absorb them. BY DEFINITION. but because they utilize things that were unthinkable to me before making them: take Cornelio Wall's wrinkles. according to them. which is also the most complex. things you wouldn't have arrived at via your own imagination. I always say the contrary. I act like those people who bluff w hen they say they've seen something that they actually haven't.. They tend to get tangled up. I have no idea what they're talking about. . ON THE CONTRARY. When I attack representation in film. I' ll address the simplest level. not because the end result is magnificent. in effect. Maybe we find a dead cat hanging from a wall. These are t hings I didn't imagine before. Reality has so many things to offer. If we went to a real tiendita right now and the camera was rolling. in Mexican telenovelas. I perfectly remember the textures of the pool and those other things that were really happening . In any case. because people think I'm just referring to the adaptation of novels. We know that the piece of paper is not Jose. In this sense. Of course if I had imagined an actor with such-and-such traits. OPEN-ENDED. RELIGIOUS. I'll give you an example: if you think of certain scenes in the films of Peter Greenaway you have the sense that he's working in a painterly fashion. Often directors talk about how in their films they managed to achieve about 60 percent of what they had envisioned. basically. The sound begins . People talk about Nostalgia and mention the part where so-a nd-so does this or that. That's how I go about writing. the innate beauty of what you're contemplating. far exceeds what you can act ually do in film . The camera moves . I'd be happy to lend you one of my screenplays so you can see how I go about numbering each take . . where you can film marble or a face. IS INTANGIBLE. and the sense of experience. IT WILL ALWAYS BE NORMATIVE. among them a philosophical one and even a semiotic one. my creative moment is reg istered in the script.. Everyone get s used to seeing that tiendita. OR SOCIAL TRUTH WILL TURN IT INTO DOGMA AND THEREFORE WILL PREVENT IT FROM BEING EXPERIENCED AS REAL . that is. Film is based on the principle of photographic reality. and I fumble. I'm talking about the issue DECLARING A PHILOSOPHICAL. When you see a movie you know that what you're seeing.that's what films are. What I do remember is the camera's movements. because that's when I have a total vision of the film.. and then had dressed up an actor so he looked like the character in my head. If we were looking at a picture of you. and yet. the medium in which reality's beauty is captured. which always. t he sound of a saw up in the hills. truly happened . to what it's supposed to be instead of what it is. when they want to represent a rural tiendita (a bodega). Ta rkovsky achieved th is. it appears again on the background and then dissolves . this reality effect is magnified. we'd both agree that the photo is a representation of you.

melancholic. I would end up with less than I had imagined. you'll only be able to see the character that the actor is representing. and realized that the traits of this character who I had imagined all of a sudden were starting to fade and were being replaced by Cornelio's humanity. I sense that there's the logic of the character versus the logic of the actor. instead of representing literary narratives taking place inside cardboard houses. the power of sound. The idea of not bring ing anything to the set that isn't already there makes a whole lot of sense to me.they don't. pleasant. Chihuahua. In my opinion this is not only completely unnecessary in film. In what you're saying. because when you see the film. I had in mind a character who causes his wife so much pain that she dies. I believe in natural locations. there's no technique. I. until he got it right. There's no science to it. If they seem funny. It's about how it's painted. where he lived. It's as if someone asked me how I go about liking a woman. a character in Spanish is called a personaje and that term also is related to personality. An actor is someone trained to represent a character. You've said that in terms of how it is experienced. The Surrender of Breda by Velasquez is famous not because of the story. and so you sim ply see a woman you like. Some people think that my films lack plots .a carryover from the theater. and with your interest in music. The story is there so everything else can be structured around it. though they're linked. You can answer each individually. the power of feeling and being in the world we live in. It's very simple. The ten commandments of Dogme 95. instead of a human being. you'd be likely Stili showing M arcos Hernandez in Be rrie in Heaven. C A: Well. 2009. It's the same with my actors . JC: Two questions for you. I met Cornelio. So he began recording in his studio and broadcasting his music on the radio. Just like with locations.it in volved a degree of falsehood. point to some profound truths even if they might seem silly to some people. All they're saying is let cinema transmit the power of vision. film is closer to music than to theater. it's also quite sad. or unpleasant to you. Glenn Gould stopped playing live at some point because he thought that perform ing music in a concert hall was like a staging . The same can be said about Rubens's paintings of mythological figures. Can you elaborate on the relationship between actors and characters? And the second question has to do with how you understand representation. 2005. and know that you like he r. You've had certain experiences in life that have determined your personality. and not the whole point of a film. color film wIth sound Tot a l runnIng lIme : 98 minutes S t ill f rom Serengheni. I'm often asked about how I cast people. So when w riting Silent Light (I'm talking about it simply because it's my more re cent film). dress like one. in working with non-actors. He would record each Goldberg Variation many times over. TOl al running lime 80 minut es. had imagined who he was. so you have to eat like a soldier. it's just that for me the plot is a skeleton from which things are hung. the Danish film collective. color fil m with sound . We could get into Stanislavski's method acting: you'll playa soldier in the film. I'm interested in seeing human beings. so I'll ask them at the same time. When people talk about a film being "a good story" they don't get it. and almost travel to Vietnam for a few days so you're able to get into character. In English the word "character" is more potent because .F I LM I CARLOS REYGADAS 75 it also points to personality. it's much more interesting to read about it in a history book . more or less. but had avoided describing what he looked like because I wanted the human being I encountered at a given moment to fill in that part. The camera is a funnel taking in real ity. you don't need to rationalize it. There's a chemistry between the actors and me that seeps into the films. ate some shrimp w ith him in Cuauhtemoc.

beings offering their presences. a minimal ist piano piece . . they make sense in the context of my films . groans. humanity. C R: Ninety-nine percent of fi lms are part of the entertainment business. or pretending. If you think about it. The imagery in your films is arresting. Blood is beautiful if it's real. For the gas-station scene. yes. What's the big deal? With Battle in Heaven some people accused me of filming monstrous people making love and then showing that to the public. Even so-called independent film is still a business. I much prefer to see someone contribute their presence to a film. That's when films cease to be merely visual. One is the most poetic.their falsehood is depressing. desperation. Japan . and yes. a sunset. I can't believe that in England. C R: Actually I do want to address the issue of those images that people find shocking. when you've got a camera in front of you is entirely different. but both are distinctly human . that's probably related to what some people perceived as the film's shock value. When you see his photographs the soul of the flesh -and-blood person before the camera manages to emerge. of asking the actor to adapt in order to complete the character. In this sense film is like portrait photography. and he men tioned James Cameron's Avatar. J C: I won't get into why Battle in Heaven is your problem child. and he couldn't believe I was so out of it I didn't even know the film existed. which is more common. it overtakes the viewer's senses. because it involves putting on a mask. J C: I'd like to connect your notion of presences in your films to the way in which your fi lms are experienced. That .BOMB111 to feel the same way about them if you were to meet them in real life. some people would question the idea of hearing Bach at a gas station . I'd rather talk about the role of the human body in the fil m . on the contrary. it's my problem child. The soundtrack. I told him I hadn't heard anything about it. and therefore the film of mine I love the most. I was talking to my brother recently. instead of the other way. like dogs. My subjects are overweight. The last take in Japan juxtaposes Arvo Part's "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" with the image of a train wreck which the camera circles. in other words. You depict a bodily humanism. People feel uncomfortable seeing a beheaded pigeon. the same mecha nisms . J C: Do you also conceive of that when writing the screenplay? C R: I can imagine it. and moral dilemmas. and the other the most practical. I'm thinking of Richard Avedon's work. Mexico has the second highest rate of obesity in the world. Again. an engine. A man looking for a woman on a road trip across the United States. soccer matches. and I love them and that's it. I imagined the conjunction of something sacred and something aU too human and mundane. the most functional. which is much deeper and sophisticated than their professional acting technique. and wrinkles. I'm not trying to impress anyone with those images. and walking. Only humans can create music and engines. and news 76 on the radio? I'm glad you brought up Battle in Heaven.. C R: Or resplendence. and acting. but a beautiful woman and a beautiful house are horrible to me if they're not authentic. What you find in my films you see any ordinary day: a gas station. but also feel ings expressed and experienced through sweat. C R: It 's a descending spiral. J C: I can 't think of anyone who's been able to articulate a moment of perfect attunement between a modern industrial experience and Bach . all of a sudden. That's one thing. To lose that in cinema is a shame to me. It's full of that type of juxtapositions . For me the real is beautiful. I obviously do not say this pejoratively.. people making love. a hunter killing an animal.we go back to the idea of the lowest common denominator." C R: It's actually one of his clavichord concertos. the presences in t hem attain. That frustrates me. How did they come up with that? My subjects never seemed monstrous or grotesq ue to me. The country with the most infamous colonial history thinks that by censoring my film they 've paid for thei r sins! JC: I don't think you've ever referred to your films as art films. The other scene I'm thinking of is that of an engine running at a gas station and the chants by pilgrims walking on the highway in Battle in Heaven. ethereal of our inventions.they have the same formula. I begin to adapt the character for him or her. it's not only that the body is a repository of anguish. is censored: they cut the scenes in which the pigeon is killed and t he village's veterinarian tickles a little dog. Can one only hear cumbias. All those feel-good things to me feel reallv bad.. Once I meet the human being. JC: Absolutely. not only their sight. Matthew Passion . I ask them to offer their presence. what's so outrageous about a naked obese woman? There are plenty of astonishing images in oth er films with flying cars and such . My actors are. Whoever thinks I'm depicting something shocking is a hypocrite who thinks that what he or she would prefer not to see simply doesn't exist . the country that birthed democracy. for which you chose Bach's "St. I filmed them making love. for instance . that we're all characters in the theater of life. Some people argue something that to me seems like a sophism they say that everyone is always acting. conveying the idea of a spiral leading to tragedy. or a tree . the same structure. This might be related to music . divine. to this date. although they do represent an alternate type of cinematic production. say. Most films screened at Sundance are simply a poor man's Hollywood film . beckoning an array of emotions.

I can have a great time not having any artistic experiences per se and simply talking with my wife or a friend. scouting for locations. "I'll be satisfied if even one of you sitting here ends up practicing criminal procedural law.000 who like what they see. I spent mine digging in the dirt. And it doesn't matter to me if there's one person or 3. You know you connected with someone if only one person laughs at your jokes. J C: Is it painful labor. In my own experience. with schoolmates. I really enjoy all of that. It's about freedom. or doing math with the calculator on my cell phone . feeling the sheets of my bed on my body. chil dren playing. Film prizes are frankly absurd. I'm happy from the minute I start thinking of a film until I emerge from the tunnel. bathing with their families in a pool. I remem ber professors saying. sam e day I saw Bela Tarr's Werkmeister Harmonies . but you'll never see them making love. The materialization of a vision that up till then was only on paper unfolds before your very eyes. thei r didact icism. I really enjoy making films. and filmic references. theoretical approach. listening to Glenn Gould's superslow 1983 recordings of the Goldberg Variations.it's like saying a pine tree is better than a rose. shooting the film . I appreciate his daring. building a take." It's completely true. breaking things. Werkmeister Harmonies is truly an art fjlm: it masterfully reveals the nature of existence. JC: In relationship to your audience. I deal with those processes myself. it'd be nothing but a tripped out black-and-white Hungarian film to him . There's no point in trying to explain to him what he's missing . Silent Light could be seen as a better documentary on Mennonites in Mexico than one produced by National Geographic. J C: You made a film called Serenghetti for the Rotterdam Film Festival. C R: I'm not interested in referential films. Ultimately.FILM / CARLOS REYGADAS 77 C A: Yes. that's why I don't like some of Godard's more famous films. but it's not a documentary. but I don't like the demonstra tional quality of his films.it's a shame. Translated from the Spanish by Camino Detorrela SUBSCRIBE AT BOMBSITE COM L . using my chainsaw. walking around. I love casting. Is the film more in a documentary vein? C A: I shot a match in a nearby soccer field. I even enjoy the sUbtitling process. the difference between genres has vanished. so to speak . The same with the soccer match . having an intimate conversation. music. or does it all flow naturally? C R: It 's not painful at all. I wouldn't make films otherwise. though you obviously en joy films . or milk better than beer. And mixing the sound. I take pleasure in small things: feed ing my dogs. thinking about the light. and a bonfire. What beauty! I cou ldn ' t believe my eyes! Yet if my brother were to see it. J C: How do you experience other peop le's films? You're not a film buff. I guess it's one thing if you spent your entire adolescence watching movies. They'll tell you the whereabouts and indexes of Mennonites in Mexico. what would be the measure of your success. conversation. JC: Ideally it'd be screened at galleries instead of movie houses. I'm fascinated by film's materials. or dying. What I recently filmed for the Mexican Revolution's bicentennial celebration is perhaps more akin to a '70s happening: it is a short film about a gathering which includes food." though I used "real" materials. It 's the actual experience that I most enjoy. My film is "fiction. what brings you satisfaction? C R : I have a brutal ambition to materialize my vision so I can share it with others. When have symphonies com peted against each other? People say Citizen Kane is better than Werkmesiter Harmonies .

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