Retrospective Eugène Green


"To think the cinema is to solve concrete problems: narrative structure, image, sound, work of actors. But it is, above all, to face Western man's leading metaphysical questions, after all, the cinematography was born of them (these questions)."1

A cinema of words. Eugène Green's world of the senses arises from discourse and survives through it. Born in the United States in 1947, Green went to Europe in his twenties to build his identity. He is French, period. Almost unknown in Brazil and occupying a risk position in authorial cinema, Green is such an original director that he has created his own lexicon: interpretation, texts, intonations, music. A cultured man, playwright, poet, art theorist, scholar and lover of Baroque music, with several books published.

What his films express is sacred, Green wants the spectator to be touched (spiritually, perhaps) by the spoken feelings, not necessarily by the physical expressions, interpretive flights, whispers in the ear or banal speeches; he creates a whole ritual so that the spectator can (literally) perceive what is articulated. Stop, look and listen. However, it is not theater; it is cinema. The whole filmic frame is complex: the choices of the shots, counter-shots and perspectives.

Actually, Eugène had everything already planned when he made his first long feature, Toutes les Nuits, in 2001, when he was 54 years old. His unusual style was born with this first film. A certain construction that is typical of the actor's interpretation: the intonation, the body posture, the positioning of the camera, the anti-naturalism without improvisation. When asked about how his aesthetic project was born, he says:

It is difficult to answer this question. I have decided to become a filmmaker at the age of 16, but succeeded only at 50 years old. I have never attended a Cinema College, neither worked on a movie set, but had much time to think. So, when I started, I had not learned any rule, but had seen many movies and had a cultural background in other areas, such as literature, music and visual arts. At 40 years old, when I started writing the screenplay for my first work, Toutes les Nuits, I "saw" the film in my head and tried to put everything I had seen on the screenplay. Since then, I always do likewise. In relation to the elements of performance, I ask the actors to talk as if talking to themselves, trying not to create any rhetorical result that could sound too intellectual and cut the flow of the real feeling. For the same reason, I ask them not to make unnecessary gestures: all internal energy must pass through the face or precise movements (such as the movements of hands and feet). I do not try to be 'unnatural' but rather to capture what is hidden in nature. The 'naturalism' of many films is actually false; at least that is what I think. In a film's plot, as in real life, the characters do not look at the camera but at each other. However, in order for the spectators to fully perceive the look a character exchanges with another, I feel free to place the camera between them. Technically, it produces a "look in the camera" that, according to academic rule, is a mortal sin. Such aesthetic arose spontaneously throughout my first film and, because it suits me, I continue to follow it.

If the theater, the Baroque, the spiritual elements and particularly the word create Eugène's filmic structure, it is the role of the actors not only to interpret, but also to become, with their spiritual inner energy, the channel for the expression of a perfect text. Many actors are recurrent in his films, such as Alexis Loret and Christelle Prot, who have worked in the three first ones – Toutes les Nuits, Le Monde Vivant e Le Pont des Arts. Eugène explains what he looks for in an actor:

What I look for in an actor is, above all, an interiority that corresponds to the character and a commitment to the artistic project. Moreover, I feel a kind of love towards most of my characters that may be called compassion. Because certain of 'types' of characters are recurrent in my films, I tend to form a bond of friendship with the actors I work with – and that corresponds to my relationship with the characters –, so, of course, I call the same interpreters for various films. But each new film always has a new actor, which is good because it introduces an unknown element. When it comes to negative characters, such as the Indomitable from Le Pont des Arts, the actor works more than the others, precisely for being a character who has another interiority, whose existence is circumscribed to a social comedy.

The mythical representation of the world captured by the cinema, the fragmented moments that fill the frame, all seem to have a philosophical dimension, a relation typical of existence. For Eugène, the purpose of the cinema and its significants is to reveal the real present to the spectator:

For me, the present is the real time that holds everything that has already existed and is still to come. Nowadays, the problem with the world is that people do not live in the present. Thanks to the "digital revolution" and the universal barbarism (two things that are related), people are increasingly choosing to live in a "virtual" world that exclude them from the present; besides, they categorically refuse to be incorporated in the past and that causes an interruption of transmission. Since we do not have the present, we do not have the future either and that creates an anxiety devoid of a search for a solution. My films always revolve around the need to search for the present's reality as well as the sudden need to live harmoniously with the past and the future.

Green made ??his two last films in different countries. A Religiosa Portuguesa (2009) in Lisbon, Portugal, and La Sapienza (2014) in Italy. Always refusing to speak or answer questions in English, he explains the meaning behind his choice for another identity, while referring to his homeland, the United States, as the Country of the Barbarians:

Being born in the Country of the Barbarians has made ??me understand the importance of the difference that exists among cultural truths and, thus, appreciate them. I know the value of a true identity, which is a treasure that instead of drawing us together must grow and develop; it allows us to examine alterity and that which makes us special. It is true that I feel at home in all European cultures, but when I see an Asian or South American film, it does not seem "exotic" because, based on my specialties, I recognize the humanity that is at the bottom of them. (The barbarians are unable to make real films; besides, they call their movies "moving images").

With five long features and three short ones released in the last thirteen years, Green explains the gap among the works. From the launching of A Religiosa Portuguesa (2009) to La Sapienza, in Locarnos's last Festival, five years have passed:

This intermission has been a period of great suffering. It was not supposed to last that long (La Sapienza's screenplay was written in 2007), but it is explained by the difficulty of finding funding for this kind of film. I have occupied my time writing, now I suddenly have several books waiting to be published and various screenplays. I hope that this lapse of time "between the films" will not be too long.

A Ponte das Artes has a dialogue with music, A Religiosa Portuguesa with literature, La Sapienza with architecture (a French architect travels to Italy to look for inspiration and knowledge in the works of his idols Guarini and Borromini). As a scholar and someone passionate about the arts, Green explains why he has chosen Borromini (an Italian genius of the Baroque architecture in the Seventh Century):

Ever since studying art history in the 1970s, I have always been fascinated by Borromini, which to me is a great mystic and artist, who goes his own way at all costs, even though it might close the doorway that leads to social success. In this case, he was the opposite model of his rival Bernini. I probably feel some identification with him. Ever since working in theater, from 1977 to 2001, I have started calling my company Théâtre de la Sapience.

To have the opportunity to know Eugène Green's cinema is to be confronted with his singular use of the cinematographic syntax and a conceptual idea about the creation and making of cinema. As Green has said in his book, Poétique du cinématographe: "What interest is there in showing to the spectator a shot of the clouds if he does not see anything else there, except what he usually perceives in the morning looking out the window?"2 It is necessary to go through the obvious layers of meanings given to them by the images and to recreate others, endlessly.

1 "Penser le cinéma, c'est résoudre des problèmes concrets: structure narrative, image, son, travail des acteurs. Mais c'est d'abord se situer par rapport aux principales interrogations métaphysiques de l'homme occidental, car c'est d'elles qu'est né le cinématographe." GREEN, Eugène. Poétique du cinématographe. Actes Sud Littérature - Hors collection, October, 2009.

2 "Quel interet y a-t-il a montrer au spectateur un plan de nuages, s'il n'y voit pas autre chose que ce qu'il apençoit, le matin, en regardant par sa fenetre?". GREEN, Eugène. Poétique du cinématographe, Actes Sud, Arles, 2009, P. 50.

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