Jimmy Gimferrer. Photo by Jan Baka.
The bold films of Catalonian filmmaker Albert Serra—Birdsong (2008) and Story of My Death (2013), along works commissioned by museums or galleries, the cross-over of documentary and essay, The Lord Worked Wonders in Me (2011), and the unorthodox and experimental 14-episode “television series” El Noms de Crist (2010)— share the same man behind the camera, French-born, Spanish-based cinematographer Jimmy Gimferrer, often billed as Albert Serra's cameraman.
Gimferrer studied at Arts and Design school Escola Massana in Barcelona, and, similarly to Serra, is an autodidact. Their film career trajectories have roots to Serra's first film, Crespià (2003)—though Gimferrer did not grab the camera before Birdsong, for which he won a Gaudí Award—carrying the tasks of art director, production designer and actor in the director's second film, Honour of the Knights (2006). The penetrative and concentrating gaze of Gimferre's lens has also served other filmmakers, most notably José Maria de Orbe on Aita (2010) and Lluis Miñarro on his homoerotic costume drama Falling Star (2014), which revolves around a brief episode of Amadeo van Savoy's life using specific lighting reminiscent of Caravaggio's tableaux.
Though Gimferrer's most notable work come from cinema of Albert Serra, we discussed his idiosyncratic approach to every project, his input into projects born in collaboration with Serra, and his insider's tour of the set of Story of My Death. Our discussion took place as Gimferrer fulfilled jury duty on an annual gathering of cinematographers, International Film Festival Kamera Oko in the North-Moravian capital Ostrava in Czech Republic, where he had won the main award for best cinematography on Story of My Death the year before.
NOTEBOOK: Your work has some particular characteristics. Could we call it your signature style?
JIMMY GIMFERRER: I like to think that I do not have a style. I am autodidact and for me, the cinema is a mix of challenges—technical, personal and creative—and some kind of subversion. For me, the subversion stands for itself. I need to make some kind of auto-subversion. I cannot work comfortable if I know exactly what I am doing. Obviously, with works and years of experience, you gain technical skills and I use those. I always try to change cameras, systems of camera, systems of light, the idea of light.
My first film was a very graphical one, my second was very naturalistic, third one was pictorial but mixed with some aspects of classic horrors. I think the most relevant, maybe not the best, is a film most inspired by comic books and opera and all this tutti frutti classicism of Technicolor of the 1950s.
I always have some kind of coherence but it is not a coherence of my style but a coherence stemming from what I think works. I try to have the least speculative approach in every project and boil the image, like Albert Serra says, in a performatic way during the shoot. Maybe somebody can say I have a style, but I personally do not know what my style is.
NOTEBOOK: Between Albert Serra's projects, projects commissioned by galleries, and, for example, Aita by José María de Orbe, it seemed like there is a common denominator.
GIMFERRER: For example, in works by Albert Serra or my earlier films, you can see there the idea of “do not move the camera,” but sometimes the production is faster or we do not have time—but the decision behind it was due to an architectural reason. Sometimes, we have movement but it is edited out in the final cut. In Albert Serra's works, I did make a long panoramatic shot that became very famous...
NOTEBOOK: ...in Birdsong...
GIMFERRER: ...exactly, and that was inspired by a film of [Jean-Marie] Straub where they did a panoramatic shot in the middle of nowhere. But still I prefer “do not move the camera.” If I need to move the camera, I still feel comfortable. But in one of my last films, I was filming with camera floating with strange movements and not very premeditated manoeuvres. In next film I am going to shoot, I will try to do something extremely organic in a way of Philippe Grandrieux, with close shots and this interaction between the camera, the cameraman, and the actor, very close. Trying to find something in that way in order to not produce the same result, because I start to be bored and if I am bored, I am less enthusiastic. In the beginning, it was easy to be enthusiastic, but now, some days I say “Fuck it, it is like a job.” Obviously, it is a privilege but sometimes you cannot help to feel like it is just work. I need some challenges—mental—and craziness. The last film of Albert Serra was too much of a challenge.
GIMFERRER: I mean in personal terms. It was very difficult to work...
NOTEBOOK: ...because you have to shoot over 400 hours of material?
GIMFERRER: That is not a problem. That was just a decision. You have to be always correct and you never know when it is good and when it is bad. You always want to be useful—good—but when you decide for this approach, it is logical. No, the problem was the constant sabotage of Albert and making this big circus around it, and the rock 'n' roll anarchy attitude in front and behind the camera for actors, for technicians, even for himself. All of it only for the sole idea that all this chaos can be dealt with by himself in the editing room. That is real egomaniac bullshit. But it is his system.
NOTEBOOK: He was telling some crazy anecdotes from the set of Story of My Death.
GIMFERRER: You mean the one where he cropped the image after altering the original ratio?
NOTEBOOK: Among others. I meant the one where he explained how you shot scenes with him where the director was not looking at what was happening in front of camera, literally not caring what was going on.
GIMFERRER: That is true. But I agree with him, it is very intelligent. He is not concerned by the image. Now it is a little bit less, but in the beginning, we did not have any theory nor skills, and we would be confident about the image. But in the cinema of Serra and regarding me, in the best cinema, one of the most important things is the sense of detail more than psychology, narrative, story, composition, beauty of the image and so on. And Albert was thinking, "I need to find the real detail, not the detail taken by the camera." I's 360 degrees, he wants to have all the possibilities in terms of image, dramaturgy, and even aesthetics. I was talking to a guy making a chronicle about the film and in our last film, I was discussing a lot with Albert this kind of fatalism.
Now Albert says, “I want to change,” “I am not a cinema fatalist auteur anymore,” but it is always there, and he says, “the art is a question of faith.” We must have the hope in art, and if you are connected and close to this action, this manifestation can happen. So I was talking to this chronicler and he goes, “what is this idea with cows, why these cows, why this constant sabotage, where is the interest when you can't be sure whether it is good or bad,” and I replied, “it's a question of faith.” And Albert corrects me and says "it's a question of aesthetics.”
And that was very intelligent, it's another degree. This intention is not only for the mechanisms of construction of film in creative terms, in production terms, in poetic terms—but in aesthetic ones. These cows had their own aesthetic. And that is uncommon. And when it's uncommon, it's not a cliché and it can be very interesting. Talking about the cinema of Serra, of course, is very particular. He is the only auteur working that way.
NOTEBOOK: Albert Serra told me that his artistic approach is complete rejection of communication.
GIMFERRER: Yes, no, no and yes. He was not communicating with the actors, but in the end he always talked to them in some aspects. He did not try to make precise corrections, but he manipulated them.
NOTEBOOK: How much liberty do you have on the set?
GIMFERRER: I do not know, but Albert said very bad sentence: “I do not know what I want, but I know what I do not want." That is like, “Fuck you, give me what I want but I do not know what it is and I have the option to say 'no, I do not want this',” but what do you want then… And that can be a little bit complicated. The cinema of Albert is even paradoxical. It's like Dalí all over again. It can be very, very crazy, very mental, very difficult, very, very easy and all can change very fast, all these systems, theories, praxes can be very in his own orthodoxia, but he can break this orthodoxia suddenly because he feels like it. It's not a dogma. He never works dogmatically, he just observes what's happening, he has a good time. He is not a maniac and is very logical. You can talk with Albert. But he has his own reasons.
NOTEBOOK: You said you need challenges and since he creates the anarchy, he even told me that he consciously created tension on the set...
GIMFERRER: ...that's new...
NOTEBOOK: ...so it's true that he was gossiping about your work behind your back to indirectly provoke you to work better?
GIMFERRER: That never works for me. At some points, he can be very disgusting because in the end, the final person that needs to manage this chaos is the camera and the sound guy. Because in the end, you must take everything and everything must be correct. He has the option to not be correct or right, that's his privilege, but we don't have this privilege and that never works.
At one time, we started with Albert together and we were very close friends. We met everyday, for example when we were young and we started to make movies and the ambiance of the first film was like holiday camp of crazy good experiences—a party. We were making the film and that is always hard, even the confrontations, but everybody had very, very good time. The second film was an adventure and I think Albert became a little bit preoccupied with this ambiance and he says we need to start to change this bullshit of ambiance and this fraternity just to make something different and to avoid making the same film again. At the beginning, we said with Albert that we do not have a problem making the same scenario all our life. We made Honour of the Knights, the second film, it's the same actors, the same attitude, the same film with different aspects, the graphic aspect becomes this video naturalism. Honour of the Knights is more emotional, Birdsong is more surrealistic. It is a little a bit boring in the middle, but we were looking for something that could be developed in a much better way—which we did in Story of My Death.
This tedium—and I presume just for this—Albert wanted to make this subversion between our friendship. And it is a little bit cruel; we had some problems with cameras but he has the same responsibility because we were starting to make the film with Arri Alexa and we totally agreed to work with German Alexa cameras. And in the middle of the film, for some stupid aspect, not a real aspect, an aspect of chaos, he decides to make a big drama and accuses me that it's my fault again. “It's your fault, your responsibility,” and it becomes symptomatic of everything. But it was not a mistake, the film worked very well, maybe it could be different at some parts, here and there. When we began, we were crew of friends who became professionals but first we are friends, and it's very difficult to work in those terms and at some moments, I thought he started to leave this side to be more free. More free to do his cinema.
NOTEBOOK: This quarrel regarding cameras at the set of Story of My Death, you had three of them, Sony, Alexa, Panasonic: Why is that?
GIMFERRER: Actually, we had four of them.
NOTEBOOK: How come?
GIMFERRER: Alexa, Sony and two different types of Panasonic, which frankly is a very bad camera. Originally, we decided to take Alexas, to have good quality of image, good ratio of light but in terms of portability, it is a quite heavy camera. And in the beginning, once Albert installs the chaos, it got out of the hand beyond the chaos he orchestrated for the effect.
Anyway, Albert decides we need to change the cameras. And another camera arrives. And in one day or a day and a half, Albert decides to stop the shooting. And he was thinking, thinking, thinking and decided that the only possible option is the most radical one, some filmmaker made films on DV and the image is wonderful.
Then he decides to use Panasonic with some kind of lens. I found something on the internet, I say I have the result , Albert arrives, BBC says this camera is very good. The reality is the opposite, it is the worst camera possible, problems with light, the camera is too much complicated and Albert is still mad “We have two cameras that do not work”. And this next camera arrives and Albert wants this camera and it is basically the same one we use to shoot Honour of the Knights but with some upgrades.
NOTEBOOK: He told me he intentionally uses the cheapest cameras.
GIMFERRER: The deal with Albert is that he always needs to find a solution that is less bad for him. For example, this degradation and the look of Story of My Death was the result of a series of Albert's bad decisions and mine, probably. I did grading on the film in three hours because we had to send the copy of the finished film already and he is still editing it one year after the shooting. “You have the film and you must grade it digitally in three hours.” Thank you.
So because the film is long, you do not have enough time, you can only watch a bit and click. And then he returns and is not satisfied with the quality of lens, to which I always say the quality is not correct if you do not have the perfect conditions. Lens are softer and he realized it just now, so he goes, “Put me a little bit of sharpen.” After I have finished the grading, he wants more sharpen. And then the image is just totally crisped, burned, and a month later, I must fly to Paris and Prague with the negative...
NOTEBOOK: The film was shot on digital.
GIMFERRER: Yes, we shot it digitally and made an intermediate in 35mm, organic copies, and with this organic copy between positive and negative, you have another option of grading but you cannot touch everything. You have problems with a contrast, you can soft a little bit, maybe do some light adjustments, a little bit of texture adjustment with film stock. I spend one week in Paris, trying to improve the copies, putting up with this bullshit. It's totally crazy. Then he makes a DVD and absolutely does not care about the compression and the DVD copy is totally crap. And he is “Oh yeah, I do not know, I do not care...” Well, Albert Serra.
NOTEBOOK: Especially considering you shot 400 hours of material, are you revisiting it somehow?
GIMFERRER: No. Never. And I hate to see rushes. I hate, I hate. For me, it is boring because by the time I finish the shoot, I am tired, I want to drink not to make a party, just put my mind to another place because when you stop, your mind is still going and you cannot sleep. Some directors I work with go through the rushes, but for me it does not work. It only makes me doubt aesthetics, and I'm a fanatic.
NOTEBOOK: In the case of Story of My Death, were you surprised by the final cut?
GIMFERRER: No. The change of [aspect] ratio Albert did was a totally bad idea. Albert likes very much to say “That is the result of my theory that the image is performatic and this image did not exist, it became into existence in the end” and “It is not coming from the imagination of DoP," blah, blah blah. That is very nice discourse, but it is not real. Or it could be real but the change of format was a bad idea, 4:3 was also a bad idea, I was trying it...
NOTEBOOK: ... 4:3 was the original framing...
GIMFERRER: ...yes, it was the original framing, and Albert went for cinemascope and he is always saying “ I had never told my DoP” but I always knew it exactly from the first day. I discovered the first day that this film is in 'scope, but I pretend that I do not know. So let's do it in 'scope but I do not know about it. I think the end of the film could be better and more beautiful in 16:9. Cinemascope is little bit too cropped and the central compositions are classic but not pleasant, and to make strange things for the sake of them being strange is not a good idea.
NOTEBOOK: You often co-shoot with Àngel Martin on Serra's projects.
GIMFERRER: Àngel Martin is the editor of Serra's film. Albert always says “I edit my films,” but the process is always starting with Àngel. Always in the middle of the editing, a confrontation between them escalates and Àngel leaves and Albert finishes the film. But yeah, we are always two or three cameramen in the films of Albert Serra.
NOTEBOOK: Where does that idea comes from?
GIMFERRER: The idea of three cameras on the set was a bad one. At least for me. It was a big chaos. Albert, I presume, wants to have Àngel doing something and he starts to be afraid that I am becoming too technical because I became the DoP, so he says “I will put there Àngel, who is totally fresh.” That was the reason why we were co-shooting.
NOTEBOOK: This is also part of the philosophy of subversion?
GIMFERRER: No. This is more because of practical aspects. Àngel is his friend and he wants to keep him close doing something.
NOTEBOOK: But you were three with cameras...
GIMFERRER: Yeah, the third one was Artur Tort, who is now probably becoming the new cinematographer of Albert, his secretary in the production. He decided that Artur wants to take the camera, he is a talented guy.
But it is maybe a problem between Albert and me. He feels I am too much technical. Albert only wants sound guys to have technical skills. Then in the editing room, we can make some magic work because it is always a nightmare when you are shooting a period film in a countryside and you have all the noises around, planes, cars—that was always the biggest problem in films of Albert, the sound. We were losing much of the energy fighting against the fucking planes rather than focusing on proper problems of creativity and production.
NOTEBOOK: All of you are shooting the same scene at the same time?
GIMFERRER: Sometimes we are. If you have a big room and big angle and lights coming from the back, it is possible; we can put all three around but it is not very useful, especially in the landscape or for example if you make a progression with people walking and one camera walking, the other cameras covering. Though now, Albert is shooting only on two cameras because it was not very useful and it is very complex process, boomers have problems to enter, and actors has problem focusing.
NOTEBOOK: You shot over 400 hours and the final cut is 148 minutes long. Were you satisfied with it?
GIMFERRER: Well, I was happy with the final product. In the end, you are looking at the actors. Any good sentence of one of these actors is actually much more important than the ambiance of the film...
GIMFERRER: Of course, of course...and the detail of Sancho's hand...some moments are more important than graphical or aesthetical aspects...at least for me. Story of My Death can be shot by a guy who is usually doing weddings and the result will be still a good film, whereas other actors or ambiance would not result in such good film.
NOTEBOOK: That is interesting that you consider the close-up of Sancho's hand the most important when you made several memorable shots, long takes and...
GIMFERRER: ...long takes are done in terms of rhythm or poetics but in 100 or 400 hours of material, we have a lot of long takes, a lot of short takes, a lot of everything, and then in the editing room, they put it all together.
There are many films in one film. Take, for example, Honour of the Knights. The result is a very poetic film but the shooting was a comedy. While editing the material, Albert left out all the comic elements. Even though it is still a comedy, but in another sense. During the shooting, it was like being on the set of Marx brothers but in an Albert Serra way. Very talkative, full of absurdities...and Story of My Death...I love this idea Albert came with...in the end, it was not a result of the editing but the last visualization of the audience.
In France, where Albert has a lot of fans, we discovered that a lot of his fans were disgusted by the film in the beginning and by the end of it, the audience was totally exhausted. You know, watching almost three hours altogether...and my favourite part is when the film changes.
This fresh film of Casanova becomes something more dark and abstract, and in a moment the audience becomes exhausted. We said to ourselves that we must be exhausted because it is the death of Casanova, and we must also kill the audience in order to get them into the mental space of the protagonist. And then these abstract details of his death, the resolution of the film, will have a profound effect. If the audience would be fresh, it would not have the impact...
NOTEBOOK: ...it is almost conceptual...
GIMFERRER: ...well, I think, for me the most relevant of all of my work is la présence du reel. This term of Bresson, some kind of the presence of reality, much more real than even the real reality. To work with some concepts to achieve this result is for me not conceptual, that is the origin and the idea of the cinema.
You must understand that for me is important to have this symbiosis in cinema. When you see Seven Samurai, it is a three hour film, and the first hour, you are bored. The second hour, you start to like the film and by the third hour, you do not want the film to end because you have this presence of the reality. You are inside, you are ailleurs—somewhere.
NOTEBOOK: Serra is frequently referring to his work as non-academic...
GIMFERRER: ...Aita or works of Miñarro are also not academic, but they are much more academic than Albert Serra.
In terms of my work, the approach is not so different than on Serra's projects. It is more in terms of ambiance. In the films of Miñarro, everybody is at their place on time, breaks for sandwich, I have people so I can say, “Ok, lights, camera, art direction... pam-pam-pam...,” I am talking a lot with the first assistant director...but even in this kind of film, some technicians, people from production, will be always disgusted, going “This is chaos, this is chaos.” And I am like “What, what, what, wait...come visit a set of Serra's film, it is a nuclear bomb, not a chaos.”
You see, I say “Let's improvise a scene” and they are horrified: “You can't do that, that is not professional.” I mean, fuck you, dude, go make television dramas or commercials then. I am the master and you are the servant, so fuck you. We can do whatever we want, right now with everything.
We have one and only obligation. To make a good film. We are making cinéma d'auteur, we do not care about producers, industry, public. We are not making films for the public, we are making films we want to see. We are the public and then we can share it.
If I want to make a film for the public, I would shoot football, I won't be making cinema.
NOTEBOOK: Do you read Serra's scripts before becoming engaged in his projects?
GIMFERRER: Yes. But Albert always writes a script that eventually becomes totally different because in the first place, you need one to secure funding. The script for Honour of the Knights was a beautiful script. We always say the same: at the beginning of making a film, we try to make something, in the middle, we became completely lost, but at the end of editing process, we have the impression that the first idea was resolved, maybe in a different way but the poetics or aesthetics of the film is correct.
In Story of My Death, the idea of a script to make some scenes concrete with some clear ideas was much more present. In Birdsong, we had two or three ideas we discussed with Albert, for example the adoration scene, the composition, the disposition, but the rest was pure uncontrolled improvisation of actors becoming these personages in a crazy place like Iceland and that provokes something, in a way.
In the beginning of Honour of the Knights, there was a system. He wanted to try to change a little bit, subvert himself into going more close to the scenario. Even maybe to have a rip on his detractors, they say “no, your cinema is nothing” and he says, “no, I can make a scenario.”
For Albert, it is impossible to make a normal cinema. He does not have the skills, he has no system and no patience, but he is trying to go with something more constructive. I think it is a logical progression to go to a more fixed narrative, but in a strange way. I am not entirely sure whether this idea is the most interesting from his work, but maybe it is a part of his artistic development. I do not know what will be the next stage. When you finally understand him, he comes up with something completely different.
NOTEBOOK: The three films you mentioned are literary adaptations...
GIMFERRER: ...they are totally literally adaptations, one from the Bible, the other from Cervantes and the last one from Casanova...
NOTEBOOK: ...and Bram Stoker...
GIMFERRER: ...yeah, but Nosferatu was there to put a little fantasy, and Albert's idea was the confrontation between rationalism of Casanova and romanticism of Dracula, and there was also my idea in the mix, but not to justify the film, but to justify the film's aesthetics. Casanova with the Marquis de Sade attitude is the most hardcore guy in the city ,and Dracula with his wildness and animality is much more hardcore. Even Casanova uses some kind of moral. Dracula just needs to eat.
NOTEBOOK: Books, the script and the final cut are three different artifacts. Was the prior knowledge of the adaptations relevant to your work on the films?
GIMFERRER: Well, it was useful. Take Birdsong. At the New Year, I was at Barcelona and he was in Banyoles and we had a call and Albert says “I have this idea, we will make a film about three wise men,” because we are in Christmas time and magi in Spain are so important, and I say “Oh yes, in black and white like in a Bergman film”—I was thinking about Bergman aesthetics at that time. So, the film originated in those two decisions. We just needed to put together some aspects to secure funding, to meet the people, to train the actors and so on. But the film was born in just two sentences.
NOTEBOOK: Does that mean the reference to Bergman was more important than the one to the Bible?
GIMFERRER: No. Because in the end, the reference to Bergman did not materialize. The Bible was always in play. The three kings have only one sentence in the Bible. Well, they were not actually three. The number is not right, three is a modern interpretation of the medieval era. In some medieval paintings you have twelve. There is also this legend of Arteban, the fourth magi, an old legend from Central Europe because obviously we check everything. We check ideas, we go to talk to priests...
NOTEBOOK: So you made such deep research?
GIMFERRER: Of course, of course. We even met with one eccentric priest who has passed away. But you know, just to check some ideas, not all. For example, what is the idea of the prophecy. Because in the end, that is what it is, a prophecy, guys crossing half of the world to see a child.
And there was this idea of Birdsong to build the film in a prophetic way and wise men were always looking for the sign. Unfortunately, in the end, during the editing process, some of these aspects got lost because, as always, we are shooting a lot of material and while editing it it might get lost or we choose different aspects over the initial ones. And we had birds who are angels because they assure the communication. And we interviewed some priest and we asked him what is the idea of the prophecy in the Jewish world of this era, in Galilee. And we got some ideas.
In Story of My Death, it was a little bit different, obviously. Albert reads all the books he likes but he refused to read absolutely anything about Dracula, which he hates. He starts to read Stoker and after second chapter, he says that it's bullshit, “this is the worst book I have ever read.” And Albert loves to say that he never saw a film with Dracula. That's not true, because I clearly remember me and Albert in the cinemathéque watching Todd Browning's Dracula and his liking the film a lot. But we were seventeen years old at that time.
NOTEBOOK: Do you make such research every time?
GIMFERRER: It is not like we are making deep research. It is carried out to find anecdotes or new ideas so that we can use it. It is not necessary used but could be used because we need to construct the scene and we have nothing, but these details can come in handy to actors, for example.
Dracula was a Hell's Angel, the actor playing Dracula, Eliseu Huertas, is actually a Hell's Angel, and he was obsessed with the idea of the freedom of the sixties. And his character is talking throughout the whole film about liberty, subversion, you know, “Come to my house, in my house, Christianity does not have sense, it is the place of total freedom, you are free to love everybody...” and those are the proper ideas of the guy re-conducted. And the guy goes, like,“Dracula, Dracula, Dracula...haaaa” and we are shooting and this shouting is coming from the mimetism between Eliseu and [actor] Lluís Carbó because Don Quixote always goes “waaaa...” Eliseu appropriated it and made it more dramatic. Sometimes you have these strange ideas from people from around, and Albert says we must retake it again and again, and that can be a central idea of the film in one moment, or one day or two days, and then we take it out because we are bored with it.
NOTEBOOK: When you read the script or the basic premise, are you already reconstructing the images in your mind?
GIMFERRER: That is impossible. The image materializes, in films of Albert Serra, in the moment I work with it. I am doing much more work than just operating the camera, because Albert is always involved in production and I am more than anybody else involved in scouting. I am working with costume designers choosing costumes. I am involved in art direction...
NOTEBOOK: ...you are credited as art director in Birdsong...
GIMFERRER: ...yeah, and in some matter also in Story of My Life. We had a set decorator but it was me choosing the décor and giving instructions to the set decorator before the shooting. Actually, I was the first guy to go to Romania, two weeks before the crew, to organize the stuff, and when the crew arrives I had clearer idea of the work because I know already the costumes, the landscape, décor and then…the chaos happens.
Take the actors. Jordi Pau was suppose to star in the film and two weeks later, it is somebody else in the role. Also the part of Dracula was originally attached to somebody else but he goes crazy, it is totally impossible to work with him, so Eliseu stepped in. It is like the last degree of sabotage. The one you cannot physically influence or control.
NOTEBOOK: Are you familiar with the term “slow cinema” that has been labelled also on Serra's projects you shot?
GIMFERRER: No, I am not aware of that term. At the beginning with Albert and everybody, we had very deeply rooted the idea that we do not want to make deambulative films, even though Honour of the Knights and Birdsong have people walking, but in those films, it is not important.
The cinema of ten years ago, this idea can be bad, but it is not enough and I am convinced that the films of Serra can have long takes. I guess he likes them because reality becomes more present and tangible and real and you can have the sense of the detail and look for different aspects and understand the atmosphere, the idea, the poetics of movement. And for that, obviously, you need time.
I am not sure that there is a lot of long takes in Story of My Death. But we chose a different approach for Story of My Death. There is a lot of confusion in scenes. For example, there is a long dialogue at the dinner with Casanova and girls in the middle and you cannot see the faces right. It is disgusting and it is also impossible to understand the text.
And people are saying “I am lost in translation” and “I am bored” or “Maybe if I would be fresh...” but even if they are fresh and have the right translation, it's bullshit. It is impossible to understand anything. That was the idea. To create that fucking confusion.
And then you have that beautiful scene when Clara takes a grape and the girls are walking on a hill. It is to have this reflection....“What is this?” and “I cannot understand,” “I can't see anything” and then—puff—you have these fresh scenes. We need to give some water to the audience because they are very mentally dry.
NOTEBOOK: Some of Serra's works are more fit for galleries than dark rooms, but usually are more demanding than regular arthouse fare.
GIMFERRER: I am not sure. I am much more bored at films of Lisandro Alonso or even Carlos Reygadas than at films of Serra. But this is my case.
This idea or option to have something magic happen in the dialogue or with actors, I believe in it, and it is always a motor. I understand that many aspects of the film are lost in translation. The Catalan, or old Catalan and even Catalans from the north, even Catalans from the south or Barcelona are missing details of words, sentences, what is funny, why it is funny. For some, it might be original and funny, what you are saying, but that very same thing does not come through to another Catalan. Sadly, some of these aspects got lost, but it is question of geography, not of creativity. Making films in Catalan and probably with Jean-Pierre Léaud... this happens.
NOTEBOOK: Casanova or Dracula are not tied to the Catalan region in any way...
GIMFERRER: ...no, but we worked with this paradigm in Honour of the Knights. He [Lluís Carbó, who plays Quixote] talks in very rare Catalan, he makes sentences with very strange logic. We have a friend who is great poet in Spain and he is always fascinated by one sentence Don Quixote says. “Don't believe Lancelot, Lancelot has our kind of mentality.”
But the construction of the sentence is very strange and he, like a poet, is fascinated by it, you know, “it is so abstract and concrete.” “How did you come up with it? Where did you find it?” And we explained him that it was the actor who just had this momentary occurrence and said that. For me, this is one of the greatest moments in the film, but this is totally irrelevant to a guy from Madrid or Paris. And for this, I do not think Albert's films are boring.
NOTEBOOK: I did not say boring, but demanding...
GIMFERRER: ...they are demanding. The same way a book of Cervantes is demanding...
NOTEBOOK: ...or Dostoyevsky...
GIMFERRER: ...yeah, or Dostoyevsky, and in the end, it is much more interesting to read Dostoyevsky than Dan Brown and you still have more people reading The Da Vinci Code...
NOTEBOOK: ...this might be attributed to a form of elitism...
GIMFERRER: ...but this is not our problem. That is the problem of society. We want everybody to be part of this elitism.
NOTEBOOK: Do you consider Serra's works elitist?
GIMFERRER: No. Well, Story of My Death may be a little, but in the case Honour of the Knights, and I always say this, if my grandma and some hotshot super critic from Paris watched the film, the result would be the same. They both would find and understand the very same.
All the rest is just a speculation. Whatever you want but important things are clear for everybody. No more and no less.
This is the very idea of Serra's cinema. It is anti-psychological and anti-speculative. You can hear Albert saying “I am not speculative, but I speculate,” and “I do a strange kind of psychology but my cinema is neither psychological nor speculative.” And that is it.
Recently, we just used a term “symbolic thrash.” I coined it and Albert likes it a lot. I used it while doing my previous film and he liked it.
NOTEBOOK: But in the positive sense, not as pejorative.
GIMFERRER: Yeah, positive. We must put in the film something symbolic, but not for the symbol itself but for the aesthetics of symbolism. So that people will go, “Oh, that is something, they want to say something,” but the idea of saying something is better than the result. That is the symbolic thrash.
“Let me put a bit of symbolism here,” but I do not care about the semantics of the symbol. At the beginning, we refused to do it a lot, to let the films become too much cryptic. Don Quixote putting on his armor is obviously a symbol—metaphor or sign—we used and that is because the film was touched by God. This happens, it is not prepared beforehand. You know, animals....
NOTEBOOK: ...for example, the severed cow's head at the end of Story of My Death...
GIMFERRER: ...this was Albert's idea. Probably, when he was young, he saw this image of a severed ox head and this got stuck with him, this cruel fantasy...
NOTEBOOK: ...it was not a symbolic thrash...
GIMFERRER: ...maybe it was...the rabbit was a symbolic thrash. I did not really think this way about the severed head. We were so impressed with the idea of a cut head, but now I am thinking that that is a terrible image and it wants to affect the public like we were making a horror film, and that is the real horror.
NOTEBOOK: Do you consider your work underground?
GIMFERRER: Sure. What is the name of Serra's production company?
NOTEBOOK: Ander Graun.
GIMFERRER: We are coming from this tradition.
NOTEBOOK: Even Aita or Falling Star?
GIMFERRER: Aita was underground..it's like five people making this movie...Falling Star is a tutti frutti gay film with a guy fucking a melon, so you see what I mean. In addition, it is not exceptionally commercial.
NOTEBOOK: It is not, but there is still a difference between arthouse and underground film.
GIMFERRER: I do not make any differences between them. Cinéma d'auteur.