Carlo Chatrian

A personal blog of Festival del film Locarno's Artistic Director


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La partita di Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski

Quando lo incontri, a colpire sono gli occhi. Piccoli lampi scuri che sembrano pronti sempre al sorriso. Sono loro a comunicare per primi quell’inesauribile ironia cui Roman Polanski sottopone tutto e tutti. A iniziare da se stesso.

Il frizzante ottantenne che ha attraversato il secolo scorso, lasciando un’impronta indelebile nel cinema moderno è in perfetta forma. Parla di cinema e chiede informazioni sul Festival.

Poi, di colpo cambia discorso. Chiede della partita, ormai entrata nella storia, tra Germania e Brasile. Non fatico a credere che per qualcuno capace di vedere il lato nascosto delle cose (Frantic), la follia nella quotidianità (The Tenant), il comico in una storia di vampiri (Per favore, non mordermi sul collo!) quella partita, dove la geometria teutonica si è tramutata in spensieratezza latina, deve essere apparsa come il più bello degli spettacoli. La stessa voglia di rovesciare le cose, vedere la luce nel buio e viceversa, è uno dei dati di fondo del suo cinema, così sovente fatto a fior di pelle, così sovente in grado di sorprendere con inattesi cambi di rotta. E se i suoi ultimi film sembrano rinchiudersi in spazi chiusi è forse solo per poter raccontare le linee di forza che governano il mondo. Carnage e La Vénus à la fourrure, come l’uno il rovescio del secondo, non sono affatto dei film intimisti ma anzi dei racconti fondatori.

Polanski non è un fanatico del calcio, ma uno sportivo a tutto tondo. Riferendosi a quell’indimenticabile partita dice: “Sembrava uno scontro tra adulti e bambini. Incredibile, cosa può fare la testa!”.

Impossibile non associare la frase ai film di chi l’ha pronunciata. Tutto sta nella testa. I protagonisti dei film Polanski vivono un rapporto particolare con la realtà; in un modo o nell’altro sono tutti rinchiusi nel loro universo. Un po’ come accade al pianista nel film omonimo, forse il più doloroso e intimo di questo regista che è passato attraverso l’esperienza dell’occupazione nazista.

Un giorno ha detto: “La vita è una violenza perpetua. Ne so qualcosa. Non solo per aver vissuto qualche tempo negli Stati Uniti ma per essere rimasto profondamente polacco: quando si nasce in Polonia all’epoca in cui sono nato io, non si può dimenticare la legge della violenza”.

Prima di essere il grande regista premiato con l’Oscar e autore di film rimasti per sempre nell’immaginario collettivo, Roman Polanski è stato uno dei tanti bambini che affollano le strade della Polonia alla fine degli anni Trenta. Sarà l’esperienza del Teatro prima e poi quella della scuola di cinema Lodz a dargli un quadro dover poter convogliare in modo creativo la sua ansia di libertà e il suo humour distruttivo. Attore per Wajda e in parallelo aspirante regista Polanski comprende in breve  le potenzialità del cinema di cui sperimenta i vari generi e formati. Documentari e cortometraggi precedono il suo esordio, Il coltello nell’acqua. Scritto con Skolimowski, il film rompe con il cinema polacco, innestando in quello che è un triangolo di ispirazione borghese il tema della distruzione, con sullo sfondo la natura bellissima e impassibile del lago di Masuria. Da questo momento Polanski entra nel “Cinema”. E non ne uscirà più.

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Game, set and match to Roman Polanski

When I meet him, it is the eyes that strike me first. Small, dark, flashing, as if always on the verge of a smile. Eyes that express the endless irony to which Roman Polanski subjects all and sundry. Starting with himself.

The lively octogenarian, who experienced so much of the events that marked the last century, and who has left an indelible imprint on modern cinema, is on top form. He talks about films, and asks for information about the Festival.

Then he suddenly changes the subject, asking about the now historic Germany vs. Brazil match. It isn’t hard to believe that, for someone who can see the hidden side of things (Frantic), the madness beneath the everyday (The Tenant), the comic in a vampire story (The Fearless Vampire Killers), that particular match, in which Teutonic geometry turned into Latin insouciance and ease, should have come across as a brilliant piece of entertainment. The same desire to reverse situations, to see light in darkness and vice versa, is a fundamental given in his filmmaking, so often on the knife-edge, so often able to surprise with unexpected gear shifts. And if his most recent films seem to take place in enclosed spaces, it is perhaps only so he can depict the fundamental lines of force that govern the world. Carnage and Venus in Fur, the first being the reverse of the second, are in no way chamber pieces but actually foundational stories.

Polanski is no football fanatic, but an all-round sportsman. Referring to that unforgettable match, he said: “It was like a showdown between kids and adults. Incredible, what mind over matter can do!”

It is impossible not to make a connection between this phrase and the films he has made. It’s all in the mind. The protagonists of Polanski’s films experience a very particular relationship with reality; in one way or another they are all enclosed in their own worlds. A little like what happens to the pianist in the eponymous movie, perhaps the most painful and intimate film from this director who lived through the Nazi occupation.

He once said: “Life is perpetual violence. I know something about that. Not only from having lived in the USA, for some time but from having remained fundamentally Polish: if you were born in Poland at the time I was, it is impossible to forget the laws of violence.”

Before he became the great, Oscar-winning director and auteur of films that remain indelible in the collective memory, Roman Polanski was one of the many children who thronged the streets of Poland in the late 30’s. It was to be the experience of first theater, and then the Lodz film school, that offered him a canvas onto which he could creatively channel his longing for freedom and his nihilist humor. An actor for Wajda at a time he was an aspiring filmmaker himself, Polanski understood the essential potential of film, whose diverse genres and formats he was to explore and test. Documentaries and short films preceded his debut feature, Knife in the Water. Written with Skolimowski, the film broke with Polish cinema traditions, introducing the theme of destruction into the classical bourgeois triangle, set against the backdrop of the natural, impassive beauty of Lake Masuria. This was the moment Polanski made his “cinema” entrance. And he’s never left.


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Jean-Pierre Léaud

Jean-Pierre Léaud – © DR

Jean-Pierre Léaud – © DR

Apart from those actors who began their careers as children, there are very few whose growing up has been lived through and been part of film history itself. And Jean-Pierre Léaud is undoubtedly the only one whose debut, can be pinpointed to a specific date, like a cinematic birth certificate. May 4, 1959 at the Cannes Festival, with the screening of Les 400 coups. The film had already been shown at Avignon, where Malraux gave it his blessing to represent France at the Cannes festival, but it was the Croisette event that clinched it for this youngster, who, as  Godard commented, seemed like someone straight out of a René Fallet novel. Hand in glove with François Truffaut, the pair of them so alike despite the age difference between them. And it was always to be thus. Truffaut had met the youth some months earlier, and, seeing something of himself in him, or perhaps simply blown away by the budding actor, gave him the lead role in the film.

For those who have seen Truffaut’s audition of the young Léaud, the assurance with which the boy grasps his destiny is immediately striking. To the filmmaker who questions his age, he retorts: “But you said you were looking for a guy who was cocky?” Up until this point, the boy had been on the defensive. When Truffaut asks “So are you cocky?”, he unhesitatingly replies “Yes!”, giving one of the rare smiles in this interview, filmed on 16mm.

Léaud wanted the part and, without having to think about it, he knew to behave in character, to give them what the film needed. They were looking for someone cocky. So he’d do cocky.

His thinking is direct, straightforward, and effective. Without a moment’s hesitation, he shoots back with the words the director has just used. Before even getting onto the set. Before even being given the part, Léaud, barely 14 at the time, is already in the movie. Ready to become what others want of him, without appearing to play act. He was cocky, without being rude. He made the words of others his own, and his life became a long, uninterrupted film. This instinct arose from the desire to occupy a world he must had known something of through his mother, the actress Jacqueline Pierreux. Léaud wanted to make movies. For cinema to become his life. And so it was to be.

When I consider his extraordinary trajectory, I cannot help but see in it something that has, inevitably, been put aside. That unmentionable loss of an adolescence which could have gone another way stays with this actor, he of such distinctive, precise gestures, and such a soft voice.

A touch of melancholy is visible in his eyes, and in the set of his mouth. It seems to me that Léaud managed to take the “blues” of the great silent movie comedians into a truly dramatic register. Always on the move, always ahead of the others, as if his actions were transposed from the 18 fps of the silents to the speed of the talkies, he represents the evolution of a Buster Keaton in a modern world. Above all, Truffaut succeeded in giving him that poetry of gesture that can confer on the ordinary a different meaning altogether. Thus a bottle-opener can become a ring.

Like an “auteur”, Léaud was recognizable regardless of the director with whom he was working. And yet, as Philippon noted, he is undeniably the most mimetic of his generation of actors. “He has Truffaut’s profile when he works with Truffaut; the voice of Godard when with Godard, the look of Eustache when working with Eustache”.

Before being Antoine Doinel, he was Jean-Pierre Léaud. “The movie-mad guy who embraced the New Wave”, the young actor who forged links between the filmmakers in the cinema of the modern era. Godard, Rivette, Eustache, Varda, Bertolucci, Glauber Rocha, Pasolini, Garrel… and the list continues… into the next generation, with Olivier Assayas and Bertrand Bonello to mention just a few.

Jean-Pierre Léaud, the “Cahiers actor”, the youth Truffaut deemed “solitary, anti-social and on the verge of revolt”, became one of the greatest brokers of that experience of cinema that changed the representation of people and the world once and for all. It is to him that I owe my own love of modern French cinema, it is from him I took my cue, he who led me from one film to another, and thus to my realization that film is above all a vision of the world, and that a filmmaker is someone who can offer the world a vision.

So I can find no better words than these of Truffaut to conclude this brief profile in the form of a love letter.

“I will add only that Jean-Pierre Léaud is, in my view, the best actor of his generation and it would be unfair to forget that for him Antoine Doinel is just one of the characters he has played, one of the strings to his bow, one of the costumes he put on, one of the schools of his childhood.”

 


 

Français

Si l’on ne compte pas les comédiens qui ont commencé très jeunes, rares sont ceux qui ont traversé l’histoire du cinéma en même temps que leur corps grandissait. Et, sans doute, Jean-Pierre Léaud est le seul dont l’acte de naissance au cinéma soit marqué d’une façon aussi précise. Festival de Cannes, 4 mai 1959, projection des 400 coups. Le film a déjà été montré à Avignon, où il a reçu la bénédiction de Malraux pour représenter la France au festival de Cannes, mais c’est précisément sur la Croisette que se scelle la naissance de ce petit homme tout droit sorti d’un roman de René Fallet – c’est Godard qui le dit. Main dans la main avec François Truffaut, tous deux se rassemblent malgré leur différence d’âge. Il en sera toujours ainsi. Quelques mois plus tôt, Truffaut avait rencontré le jeune garçon et, en voyant en lui quelque chose de lui-même ou peut-être tout simplement ébloui par l’évidence de ce comédien en herbe, il lui avait confié le rôle principal de son film.

Pour ce qui ont pu voir l’essai fait par Truffaut au jeune Léaud, il saute aux yeux la sureté avec laquelle le garçon s’empare de son destin. Au réalisateur qui l’interpelle sur son âge, il rétorque : « Puis, vous avez dit que vous recherchez un gars qui soit gouailleur. » Jusqu’alors, le jeune garçon était sur la défensive. Quand le monsieur lui demande: « Mais est-ce que vous êtes gouailleur ? », sans hésitation, il répond « Oui ! », en livrant un des rares sourires de cet entretien filmé en 16mm.

Léaud veut le rôle et sans trop réfléchir il n’hésite pas à se comporter comme celui dont la production a besoin. Ils cherchent un gouailleur. Eh bien, il sera un gouailleur.

Sa pensée est directe, simple et efficace. Sans hésiter, il s’approprie les mots du réalisateur. Il les utilise avant même d’être sur le plateau. Avant même d’être engagé, Léaud, qui à l’époque a à peine 14 ans, est déjà dans le cinéma. Il est prêt à devenir ce que les autres désirent, sans apparemment jouer la comédie. Il est effronté, mais pas impoli. Les mots des autres deviennent les siens, sa vie devient un long film ininterrompu. Cet acte instinctif relève du désir de s’emparer d’un monde qu’il connaît forcément un peu à travers sa mère, la comédienne Jacqueline Pierreux. Léaud veut faire du cinéma. Il veut que le cinéma devienne sa vie. Ainsi en sera-t-il.

Quand je regarde son parcours extraordinaire, je ne peux pas m’empêcher d’y lire ce qui, forcément, a été mis de côté. Cette perte inavouable d’une jeunesse, qui aurait pu suivre un autre chemin, accompagne ce comédien aux gestes si nets et précis, et à la voix si douce. C’est une note mélancolique qui se lit au fond de son regard ou dans l’expression fermée de sa bouche. Il me semble que Léaud a réussi à amener le « bleu » des grands comiques du muet dans un registre dramatique. Toujours en mouvement, toujours en avance sur les autres, comme si ses actions étaient du 18 photogrammes/sec reproduites à la vitesse du parlant, il représente l’évolution d’un Buster Keaton dans un monde moderne. Surtout, Truffaut arrive à lui donner cette poésie des gestes qui offre une signification différente aux choses ordinaires. Ainsi un ouvre-bouteille peut-il devenir une bague.

Tel un « auteur », Léaud arrive à être reconnaissable avec n’importe quel cinéaste. Et pourtant, comme le remarque Philippon, il est sans doute le plus mimétique des comédiens de sa génération. « Il a le profil de Truffaut quand il travaille avec Truffaut ; la voix de Godard quand il est à côté de Godard, l’aspect d’Eustache quand il est avec Eustache ».

Avant d’être Antoine Doinel, il est Jean-Pierre Léaud. « Le fou de cinéma qui a épousé la Nouvelle Vague », le jeune comédien qui tisse des liens entre les cinéastes du cinéma à l’âge de la modernité. Godard, Rivette, Eustache, Varda, Bertolucci, Glauber Rocha, Pasolini, Garrel…, la liste pourrait continuer. Et elle continue avec la génération d’après, avec Olivier Assayas et Bertrand Bonello pour ne citer qu’eux.

Jean-Pierre Léaud, le « comédien-Cahiers », ce jeune que Truffaut juge « solitaire, anti-social et au bord de la révolte », devient l’un des plus grands passeurs de cette expérience de cinéma qui change une fois pour toute avec la représentation de l’homme et du monde. C’est à lui que je dois mon amour pour le cinéma français de la modernité, c’est à lui que je me suis confié pour passer de fil en aiguille d’un film à l’autre et découvrir ainsi que le film est avant tout une vision du monde et qu’un cinéaste est celui qui est capable de donner au monde une vision.

Alors je ne trouve rien de mieux que les mots de Truffaut pour conclure ce petit portrait en forme de lettre d’amour.

« J’ajoute seulement que Jean-Pierre Léaud est, selon moi, le meilleur acteur de sa génération et qu’il serait injuste d’oublier qu’Antoine Doinel n’est pour lui qu’un des personnages qu’il a joués, un des doigts de sa main, un des habits qu’il a portés, un des collèges de son enfance. »

 


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Locarno – where films and ideas meet

Every film festival, be it small or large, claims to offer, if not an account of the state of things, then an updated map of the art form and the world it seeks to represent. This cartography should show both the major routes and the byways, along with essential places to visit and those that are more unusual. The Festival del film Locarno is no exception to the rule, and I think that looking through the program you will be able to distinguish the route map for this edition.

If a map requires a clearly articulated system of signs, each distinct from the other, this year’s program foregrounds overlapping, sharing, exchange. Locarno has always been a productive site of encounters. A crossroads, a junction: where diverse experiences come into contact and inevitably some kind of exchange between them.

The image of a crossroads, the point at which different roads intersect, is like allied to the idea of the Piazza as a site of exchange of ideas, and much else besides . But rather than focus on enclosure, a central space protected by tall buildings, it is more about the intersection of different roads leading into that space. I am thinking of these roads as journeys made by the viewers who come to Locarno and who then go their separate ways after enjoying and benefiting from those exchanges stimulated by the festival program. Cinema itself is an art of exchange. Images are exchanged for reality, an individual trajectory  for a vision of the world.It is a sleight of vision, but at the same time a kind of magic, something that enchants and enriches. Cinema is an art that that takes advantage of intersections, overlaps, hybridization. The legacy the Nouvelle Vague has left us contains this notion of cinema. And it is precisely this experience of formal freedom and hybridization of film languages that this year’s program explores. Hence the tribute to Agnès Varda, a major influence in that movement, since, like it or not, she will always remain associated with it, and Olivier Assayas, one of those who has drawn upon that experience. In a wider sense, the presence of Víctor Erice and, in the Concorso internazionale, that of filmmakers such as Pedro Costa, Paul Vecchiali, Martín Rejtman, are also part of this conception of cinema.

Similarly with the major retrospective, which, after years of auteur-based tributes, takes on the challenge of recounting the history of production studio Titanus, looking at a crucible where popular film and auteur cinema were forged and fed into each other, ending up being a reflection of an Italy whose identity is the result of a continuous process of reconstruction from fractured lineages. The program of films in the Concorso internazionale, as well as enabling a tour of the world in 17 titles, contrasts two different modalities: on the one hand, films that rely on the power of story invention, on the other, filmmakers who work on the scattered traces of stories that have already taken place. Fiction films and documentaries, the essay and the film told in the first person, flow into an array of work that evidences the vitality of cinema as an instrument with which to recount the self in the world and the world in the self. This is perhaps even more obvious in the competition section Concorso Cineasti del presente, a veritable laboratory of ideas and emotions, risk-taking and intuition that prove highly productive.

If last year’s Festival opened up to 3D, this year there are three films in the program that are the outcome of considered aesthetic research and invention in this domain: alongside Jean-Luc Godard’s Adieu au langage and Tsui Hark’s Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (as part of the tribute to Nansun Shi) there is Edgar Pera’s latest film, Lisbon Revisited.

As it did last year, the Festival welcomes both established and emerging directors, well known actors and new faces and promotes dialog between them. Such is the program for the Piazza Grande that ranges from ensemble comedies to dramas, from American independent films to those made by the majors. Over ten days the spectrum of these offerings will seek to show the variety of the contemporary world, touching on current hotspots and wounds that are impossible to heal, eternal existential questions and events buried in the past.

Another essential aspect of Locarno as a kind of cinematic intersection, sharing experiences and feelings, is the presence of guests who embody the diversity of an art form that never ceases to surprise. For some, it will be their first time here, and I am sure that the appeal of this Festival, free and courageous in its choices, hospitable and generous, will not leave them indifferent. Thus I salute and thank Juliette Binoche and Mia Farrow, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Melanie Griffith (the protagonist of Thirst, Pardi di domani), Jonathan Pryce and Jason Schwartzman for having accepted our invitation and helping us make Locarno the home of all forms of cinema.

Once again this year Swiss production has left its mark in the Festival program. Two names make a welcome return, featuring in the Concorso internazionale: Andrea Štaka’s vision becomes even more acute and sensitive with Cure – The Life of Another and even more courageous, and riskier, than her award-wining Das Fräulein. L’Abri concludes the trilogy that Fernand Melgar has dedicated to those citizens who are all too often invisible. Centered once again on a highly symbolic site, a shelter for fifty homeless people open in the coldest months of the year, the film confirms the hypothesis that often it is in the microsphere that what is happening on a macro scale can be seen with greatest clarity. There are also two films on the Piazza Grande that speak to the plural identity of this country which, despite everything, remains a splendid and contradictory living laboratory for what is happening in Europe. To complete the picture, there is Matthias Huser’s film debut, the compelling Yalom’s Cure by Sabine Gisiger, and Richard Dindo’s re-reading of Homo faber.


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Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda, Pardo d’onore Swisscom 2014 - Julia Fabry © ciné-tamaris

Agnès Varda, Pardo d’onore Swisscom 2014 – Julia Fabry © ciné-tamaris

It all begins with a photograph. With the act, both instinctive and considered, of selecting a portion of space and stealing it from the passing of time to consign it to another temporality. It is not true that photographs exist outside time. Far from it. Agnès Varda’s filmmaking is intrinsically linked to the very principle of photography in its close and constant relationship with time. Her debut feature film Cléo de 5 à 7, with its dazzling use of the camera to capture, without revealing, a feminine soul, is constructed on this very principle. Just like a photograph, Agnès Varda’s film vibrates from a movement within. It offers the illusion of overtaking time ticking by to insert the viewer into a different and as it were, more intimate, relationship with the character. Probably even before such clear stylistic markers as camera movements, a break with basic grammar, the birth of modern cinema needed to find such a position, in this different relationship between the viewer and the vision proffered.

 

Every photographer knows that one of the first and crucial things to do is to find the distance to take from the subject: the right distance, as the documentarists say. Agnès Varda’s films raise and actualize this issue, making it the basis of their dramaturgy. Lions Love (… and Lies) is a perfect example of this. The film seems made in the moment, with actors and friends and a sense of complicity that leapfrogs traditional notions of fiction. The plot is almost non-existent, loosely hanging on a historical event (Kennedy’s death), and gives television a role like that of a character. If the project to film people, leaving them free to improvise within a unity of place, is clearly a legacy of Warhol, it is the way in which she does so that Varda finds her own voice. In this first incursion into American territory, the director’s eye becomes embodied. Nimbly and silently roaming an intimate and shared space, a villa on the hillside of LA. Despite a playfulness that reflects a widespread feeling in those years (the film was released in 1969) where the moving image had to be a kind of antidote to the violence of the media, both disguised and manifest,  the film is at its best when, through filming the performances of the trio of actors (Viva and her two companions, James Rado and Gerome Ragni) it ends up finding a way to go beyond the nudity to tell us say something else. It is not a matter of real and true clarification, but rather a gradual slippage of meaning.

 

For Agnès Varda, an image contains stories. Many of her films are an attempt to recount these hidden images, where the story is not intended to exhaust their meanings, but prolong them. This feeling is, for me, quite obvious in a film like Les créatures. A kind of kammerspiel sui generis – because here the ‘room’ is extended to cover the whole of an island – the film not only plays on the evident ambiguity between what is invented by the protagonist (the novelist played by Piccoli) and what is the reality outside him, but succeeds in creating a feeling of claustrophobia that is not unrelated to the condition of the writer’s wife. Following an automobile accident, the woman, played by a perturbing Catherine Deneuve, lives “immobilized” in a mutism of symbolic piquancy. Les créatures is both a child of its time (those 60s when cinema appropriated practices from French novelists) and a film that can project itself beyond its era. The work on space and bodies is uniquely beautiful, transcending the symbolism through the impetus of the narration’s choppy rhythm.

 

Let us consider Sans toit ni loi, perhaps Agnès Varda’s most linear film. Crowned with the Leone d’oro in Venice in 1985 and a success at the box-office, the film appears to be built around a relatively ordinary news item: a vagrant woman is found dead, frozen in a ditch. The power of this film lies in its cinematic language which, while always focusing on the protagonist, avoids any slippage into subjectivity or straining for emotional effect. The rhythm of the scenes is tight and to the point, unshowy, just like Sandrine Bonnaire’s performance, which seems more a matter of lending a body and voice to the character rather than ‘playing’ her. And is the editing that dictates the pace of the story and sets its tone. At the end Mona, the surly and solitary young homeless woman, is an individual cinema has given us a chance to meet, yet without being able to say we know her. This trajectory of subtraction is closely connected to a refusal to use psychological characterization, here as in every other Varda film. For Agnès Varda, men and women have a life that goes beyond the fiction attributed to them: it is not up to cinema to tell the truth, but to elicit reactions from these stories, unique and irreplaceable, a resonance with those, equally unique, of the viewers.

 

More than wanting to simply add one more prize to the many she already has to her credit, wanting to pay tribute to Agnès Varda arises from the desire to welcome one of the freest and most courageous filmmakers in modern cinema. A prize, however, is also like a signpost, indicating a direction; in this case, how much cinema is a matter of language. More than offering a female point of view, multi-faceted stories on highly topical issues, a to-and-fro between different art forms, the films of Agnès Varda are the outcome of a precise and ever renewed pursuit of cinematic language. In an era in which filming seems ever more like an almost spontaneous act, broadcast and made available to everyone, the filmmaker’s decision as to where to place mirrors and cameras at the beginning of her wonderful Les plages d’Agnès, is, for me, full of significance. The fundamental power and beauty of this “film summa” – which, at its première at Venice received a spectacular standing ovation (which I was happy to witness) – is in its revelation of what is behind, inside, before and after the act of filming, not only enabling the story of a life to be told backwards, in fragments, but also to talk about what it means to make a film. Les plages d’Agnès remains completely unclassifiable, just like all of this (originally Belgian) filmmaker’s work. Resisting definition, elusive and cunning as her beloved cats, Agnès Varda is capable of explosive leaps that are a sign of her incredible mental gymnastics.


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Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda, Pardo d’onore Swisscom 2014 - Julia Fabry © ciné-tamaris

Agnès Varda, Pardo d’onore Swisscom 2014 – Julia Fabry © ciné-tamaris

Tutto inizia con una fotografia. Con l’atto preciso e istintivo di selezionare una porzione di spazio e rubarla allo scorrere del tempo per consegnarla a un’altra temporalità. Non è vero che le fotografie vivono fuori dal tempo. Anzi. Il cinema di Agnès Varda è così intrinsecamente legato al principio fotografico proprio in virtù di una stretta e costante relazione con il tempo. Il suo lungometraggio Cléo de 5 à 7, folgorante uso della macchina da presa per catturare senza svelarlo un animo femminile, è costruito su questo principio. Proprio come una fotografia, il film di Agnès Varda vibra di un movimento interno. Dà l’illusione di sovrapporsi allo scorrere delle lancette per inserire lo spettatore in una relazione diversa e, per così dire più intima, con il personaggio. Probabilmente prima ancora di evidenti segni stilistici (movimenti di macchina da presa, rottura della grammatica di base), la nascita del cinema moderno deve rinvenirsi proprio in questo diverso rapporto tra lo spettatore e la visione proposta.

Ogni fotografo sa che una delle prime e cruciali operazioni da fare è trovare la distanza a cui porsi rispetto al soggetto: la giusta distanza, come dicono i documentaristi. I film di Agnès Varda tematizzano questa problematica, ne fanno la base della loro drammaturgia. Lions Love (… and Lies) ne è un perfetto esempio. Il film sembra fatto sul momento, con attori e amici e un senso di complicità che scavalca l’idea tradizionale di finzione. La trama quasi non esiste, si appoggia in modo molto flebile a un evento storico (la morte di Kennedy), conferendo alla televisione il ruolo di un vero personaggio. Se il progetto di filmare delle persone lasciandole libere di improvvisare a partire da un’unità di luogo è di chiara ascendenza warholiana, è nel modo in cui tale desiderio si esplica che Varda trova la propria voce. In questa prima incursione in terra americana, l’occhio della regista si fa corpo. Leggero e silenzioso vaga in uno spazio intimo e condiviso, una villa sulla collina di Los Angeles. A dispetto di una giocosità, che bene riflette un sentimento diffuso in quegli anni (il film è del 1969) dove l’immagine in movimento doveva essere una sorta di antidoto alle violenze svelate e camuffate dai media, il film dà il meglio di sé quando a forza di filmare le performance del trio di attori (Viva e i suoi due complici, James Rado e Gerome Ragni) finisce per fare breccia nella loro nudità per raccontarci qualcosa d’altro. Non si tratta di vere e proprie agnizioni, piuttosto slittamenti progressivi di senso.

L’immagine per Agnès Varda contiene delle storie. Molti suoi film sono il tentativo di raccontare delle immagini nascoste, laddove il racconto non vuole esaurire il senso ma prolungarlo. Questo sentimento è per me molto chiaro in un film come Les créatures. Sorta di kammerspiel sui generis – perché qui la stanza si allarga a occupare lo spazio di un’isola – il film non solo gioca sull’ambiguità evidente tra quanto è invenzione del protagonista (il romanziere interpretato da Piccoli) e quanto è realtà a lui esterna, ma riesce a creare un sentimento di claustrofobia che non è senza rapporto con la condizione della moglie dello scrittore. A seguito di un incidente d’auto, la donna, interpretata da una conturbante Catherine Deneuve, vive “immobilizzata” in un mutismo dal sapore simbolico. Anche Les Créatures è insieme un figlio del proprio tempo (di quegli Sessanta in cui cinema si appropriava di  soluzioni praticate dai romanzieri della scuola francese) e un’opera capace di proiettarsi oltre. Il lavoro sugli spazi e sui corpi è di una bellezza unica, scavalca il simbolismo di base per essere rilanciato dal ritmo franto della narrazione.

Prendiamo Sans toit ni loi, forse il film più lineare di Agnès Varda. Premiato con il Leone d’oro a Venezia nel 1985 e da un importante successo di botteghino, il film appare costruito su un fatto di cronaca piuttosto ordinario: una vagabonda è trovata morta assiderata in un fossato. La forza di questo film è tutta racchiusa in una scrittura cinematografica che, pur seguendo sempre la protagonista, evita ogni salto nella soggettività e ogni soluzione a effetto. Il ritmo delle sequenze è serrato e sobrio, proprio come la recitazione di Sandrine Bonnaire, che pare offrire corpo e voce al personaggio più che interpretarlo. E’ il montaggio a dettare la cadenza della storia e a darne il tono. Alla fine Mona, la scontrosa e solitaria giovane senza dimora, è una persona che il cinema ci ha concesso di incrociare, senza per questo poter dire di conoscerla. Questo percorso di sottrazione è strettamente connesso con il rifiuto di avvalersi degli strumenti della psicologia, qui come in ogni altro film. Gli uomini e le donne per Agnès Varda hanno una vita che va oltre la finzione che è loro attribuita: al cinema non spetta il compito di dire la verità, ma di far reagire delle parabole, uniche e insostituibili, con quelle altrettanto uniche degli spettatori.

Più che voler aggiungere un altro premio al suo ricchissimo palmarès, la volontà di rendere omaggio ad Agnès Varda nasce dal desiderio di accogliere una delle più libere e coraggiose registe del cinema moderno. Un premio, però, è anche il segno di una strada da percorrere; in questo caso sottolinea come il cinema sia un atto di linguaggio. Prima di essere sguardo al femminile, racconti poliedrici su temi di forte attualità, viaggi tra arti diverse, i film di Agnès Varda sono il frutto di una precisa e sempre rinnovata ricerca linguistica. In un’epoca in cui filmare appare sempre più come un’azione quasi spontanea, diffusa e a disposizione di tutti, il gesto con cui la regista decide di posizionare specchi e macchina da presa all’inizio del suo bellissimo Les Plages d’Agnès, è per me denso di significato. In fondo la forza e la bellezza di questo “film summa” – che all’atto della sua prima a Venezia ha provocato una spettacolare standing ovation (di cui sono stato felice testimone) – sta proprio nello svelarci quanto sta dietro, intorno, prima e dopo l’atto di filmare, permettendo non solo di raccontare a ritroso e per frammenti la storia di una vita, ma anche di parlare di che cosa significa fare film. Les Plages d’Agnès resta ancora oggi un oggetto inclassificabile, proprio come è tutta l’opera della regista francese. Resistente alle definizioni, sfuggente e sorniona come i suoi adorati gatti, Agnès Varda è capace di balzi fulminei che sono il segno della sua incredibile elasticità mentale.