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Locarno Blog. Alain Cavalier, Master of Reality

An invitation to discover a great filmmaker, one who has understood most clearly the roots of reality in cinema.
The Notebook is the North American home for Locarno Film Festival Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian's blog. Chatrian has been writing thoughtful blog entries in Italian on Locarno's website since he took over as Director in late 2012, and now you can find the English translations here on the Notebook as they're published. The Locarno Film Festival will be taking place August 2 - 12.
Alain Cavalier. ©Vision du Réel
I have been asked to present a great filmmaker. Hence I am inviting you to discover Alain Cavalier, who held a masterclass on 25 April at Visions du réel. 
Before introducing Alain Cavalier’s opus—although it would be better to hear him speaking directly, explaining his cinema experience most accurately—I must admit to having some difficulties. 
There is surely the embarrassment of condensing such a long and varied route into a few minutes, knowing how the words at my disposal are quite frail compared to the power of cinematic images and sounds. Words pertain to the abstract: they name things within a contextual void, while all of Alain Cavalier’s films, the so-called fiction and the so-called documentary films, prove that cinema is an art that sets itself apart from the abstract. Cinema is the art of the present, even when it talks about a nineteenth century female saint or shows a 40 year-old photo, or even when, and especially when, it decides to film such a simple thing as the presence of a horse.  
Another difficulty emerges. How to associate the term “master” to Alain Cavalier’s practice, as a filmmaker who creates films at man’s or a pupil’s height. The opus of Alain Cavalier, who started off as an assistant of Louis Malle, who has made films with great actors such as Romy Schneider, Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve and Michel Piccoli, and who has abandoned traditional cinema to experiment with new formats… Alain Cavalier’s entire opus demonstrates that reality has no masters. Reality cannot be dominated: it may enter through the window though it is not invited, just as it may escape even though it is summoned. Reality looks like the clouds in Pasolini’s short-film with Totò (Che cosa sono le nuvole?, 1968). It is not possible to reduce them to words, they vanish once they are called. 
Nevertheless, if a person deserves such an award, it is Alain Cavalier, because he is the filmmaker, in my opinion, who has understood most clearly the roots of reality in cinema; it begins by offering a place within the narrative to the man behind the camera. It is the fundamental starting point. To say it in his own words, “I have to give an account of my experience to the viewers.”  
And if reality is a matter of escaping any classification, which does not allow any form of hierarchy, Alain Cavalier’s choice of reducing filmic tools to the utmost in order to be solely with the person he is filming, does not only possess a great ethical and political value—meaning the rejection of the cinematic machine, as one would reject a call to arms or a force that seduces and imprisons/poisons at the same time. In this horizontal relationship, within his refusal to conceal any machination, Cavalier manages to find a way of expressing a presence, which is always twofold: his own and that of the person in front of him. Reality thus becomes a question of complicity. Regarding the cinematic portrayal of people in Cavalier’s films, reality ends up being an old friend, whose virtues and faults we have learned to recognize, that we regularly bump into again and that nevertheless manages to surprise us. Filmmakers who are bound to their passion of portraying reality in its various forms (Godard, Marker, Varda, etc.) would therefore be the ones who always keep filming, like a writer who writes something every day.
A friendship needs to be cultivated, it is not a business meeting where we know what we are going to talk about.
I would like to end with an image that has become the distinctive signature of Cavalier’s work. Cavalier has been creating portraits for years—his new magnificent series is currently in the programme here at Nyon. The word “portrait” immediately evokes a picture, often of a famous and influential figure who has commissioned it, in most cases. We think of art dominating the subject and sometimes trapping it. We think of a sort of comparison between the artist and the subject, between a codified format and the ways of eluding it. Well, Cavalier’s portraits are the exact opposite. His portraits only bear the names of the people or of a profession. They spring from the filmmaker’s desire to capture something, or better, to use his camera, as a tool that has become a mode of communication with these people. They have nothing in common with painting in the way in which cinema may approach painting at times, on the other hand, Cavalier himself has created a portrait of the artist Georges de la Tour, in which he reflects the connection with the work of this seventeenth century artist. In reality, Alain Cavalier’s portraits embody encounters. The starting point, always off-frame, is the meeting of one person with another one. An encounter from which something has sprung. The film is its consequence, and in a certain sense, the story gravitates around this missing image. The film shows an affinity, inviting discovery, and allows one to overcome the aloofness typical of a portrait. Hence, a very simple and structured exercise at the same time; being together, and not in front of it. And perhaps, this is where the secret of being a “master” of reality is preserved. 

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