“The world was made in order to result in a beautiful book.” – Stéphane Mallarmé
YAKIR: What is the relationship between cinema and literature?
ROHMER: They are at once similar and different. A film tells a
story, but a story can also be told in writing. It is very difficult to
make a good film out of a bad story. By contrast, simply because
the story is good does not mean that the film adapted from it is
literary and therefore bad. Many filmmakers dream of making films
without stories, in which there would be no ‘literature’, but I think
this is a false notion. A film without a text is merely a succession of
images, no better, and no more a film than a film that in fact has
a text. A story, when written or printed on paper, lets the reader
imagine it as he wishes. The salient characteristic of the cinema, on
the other hand, is that the imagination of the director precedes that
of the viewer. At the same time, a good film leaves a place for the
imagination of the spectator. When one departs the movie theatre,
one must still be hungry; a good film is one that encourages you to
think after you have seen it. This is why the cinema has in common
with the novel something open and unfinished. Any good film is
an invitation to dream, but the film itself is not a definitive dream.
This, in any event, is how I’ve always regarded the cinema.
ADAIR: Before dealing with Perceval itself, I’d like to ask you about
your habit of making films in series.
ROHMER: Is Perceval part of a series? Perhaps. It is, in any
case, less deliberately so than the Contes Moraux. But it’s only in
the cinema, after all. that series are unusual. Literature offers any
number of examples: poems centered round a common theme and
published as a collection, short stories published together in a single
volume. And a film, by its length, is closer to the short story than
to the novel. There are always enormous problems to be faced when
one tries to adapt a novel to the screen. Die Marquise von O, on
the other hand, was easy: Kleist’s novella barely fills forty pages and
yet it contained quite enough matter for a ninety-minute film. The
idea that some magical correspondence exists between the cinema’s
hour and a half and the 250 pages or so of a novel is a received
one and totally false. But the filmmaker, no less than the author of
short stories, may require more space to express himself than that
afforded by a single film. So you see the usefulness of the series.
LITERATURE/FILM QUARTERLY: Don’t you think that novels
are too unwieldy to be made into films? There’s too much . . .
ROHMER: I feel that film is nearer to the short story than to the
novel. What makes many adaptations of novels bad is that they have
had to be cut terrifically. The Marquise of O, which is a relatively
short story and which is followed exactly from beginning to end . .
. well, that made a film one hour and thirty-five minutes long. As a
result, the scale of length for a film is that of the short story.
- from Interviews with Eric RohmerRead less