…..but forswear the girl and a gun for a moment, for the mystery of a face and a landscape – the juxtaposition of document and dream, and the shadows between, and where chance is a sublime gesture of decision at the crossroads of destiny….
The Lived ‘Quete’ of José Luis Guerín
“I need to explore, every time, this limit between control and chance. This, for me, is the most important aspect of cinema. I think the history of cinema revolves around this idea: How much is control? How much is chance? In the Lumière Brothers? In Jean Renoir? In Hitchcock? In Ford? One function of contemporary cinema is to go further with this conflict.” – RtQ Mubi article
A Joyous Testimony of Encounter
……or what delights me so much about Guerín’s work that I chose to manage him for the cup….
(which is unfortunately an impressionistic mouthing through mainly apologies of cut&paste quotes, as I must number myself amongst the indolent inarticulate that still naively enjoy watching film enough not to have wanted to learn to write about it, yet)
Chance, Rossellini’s plus of Truth, and the Gesture
One starting point for describing Guerín’s work is the abovementioned dialectic between control and chance, the tension between documentary and fiction, the relation between human face and specific place:
“I don’t believe in cinema that films dreams or worlds which are completely outside this one.”
“Cinema, as I understand it, reproduces photographically a part of the reality in front of you, so the documentary part of the process is an intrinsic part of cinema from the outset.”
“So in my films, instead of directing, what I often do is create a situation, a device, in which I am the hunter with my camera, waiting for the moment of revelation to capture that moment.”
Barring his first feature as a director, Guerín uses not so much mise-en-scène, as mise-en-situation. To what purpose? He expands on his theories a little more in his Rouge essay (link below) where he mentions Rossellini’s ideas about the limits of knowledge in cinema, and about how only by pushing and pushing through the appearances of things can we get closer to the truth, that the quest for knowledge is based on the necessity of knowing that all you can negotiate is illusion (for some ungarbled info on that there’s some summary here ). To Guerín, this means using chance to discover things in his films, always set in the historic present, in life, that the knowledge-limiting control of a screenplay could never reveal, to some extent surrendering his power as filmmaker over to wonders, works in progress…anarchy against intent….
“Every filmmaker should have a revelation about his film while he is making it”
And the biggest revelation that can be found, when Guerín lets chance loose, is in what makes mystery in some painting and (big silent filmfan that he is) what makes dialogue-less films so expressive and intelligible – the gesture.
“To me, I think that the movement of an expression, a face, is the greatest enigma.”
Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère – Édouard Manet (let’s not mention here that the mystery Guerín sees in this painting is the suspicion that this is the woman that gave Manet syphilis)
Guerín’s films flourish with (found) gestures, reinforced by structuring film as though it were music rather than narrative, with chance-revealed audio/visual overtures and motifs that bud and bloom throughout, and where the differences between documentary and fiction become lines on a map of a territory to be explored – by often incredibly romantic characters (he has professed to a heroism straight from Delacroix, or Courbet).
Gustave Doré – Dante Alighieri – Inferno – Plate 7
“To me, reflections and shadows are the true virtual image…images which are evocative of cinema itself, and of illusion. In fact, they are almost like more subjective images, images which could be illusions, recollections or memories.”
The recent Jeonju Digital Project called Guerín a ‘promenader‘. Where does he walk, this hunter of moments? He stalks, camera in hand, through chance, through gesture, the fragile and illusive/allusive poetry of identity and representation…
So finally, to refer to an actual film of his that I probably won’t get round to using (hopefully get to discuss the cup films in further c&p depth in the actual matches) here’s some nice illustrations of ‘shadows’ his camera found from his film Innisfree, a documentary focused on the modern-day village of Innisfree, the location used by John Ford for his film The Quiet Man.
“The film opens with the derelict cottage of the O’Feeneys, i.e. John Ford’s family, who emigrated to the States. Later there is the cottage used in The Quiet Man, i.e. the materialisation of an emigrant’s dream of home. And finally, there is the fake reproduction of the cottage set up by a local publican for the sake of the tourists who flock into the village to buy souvenirs, and who, incidentally, are shown a false version of The Quiet Man. The ruins of an actual Irish cottage, its idealised image and a commercial forgery illustrate how far representations of Ireland have strayed from reality.” – some description I found on the net
(from the Harvard Film Archive introduction)
As one of Europe’s most influential and innovative non-fiction filmmakers, José Luis Guerín (1960–) occupies a unique place in the vibrant and still largely underappreciated history of Catalan cinema. A brilliantly original director and a professor at Barcelona’s prestigious Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Guerín has brought a new dynamism and experimental spirit into Catalan and Spanish cinema. Together with his colleague, the radical documentarian Joaquim Jordà, Guerín has transformed the Documentary Program at Pomeu Fabra into one of Europe’s most important centers for experimental non-fiction work and inspired a new generation of young filmmakers, such as Mercedes Alvarez (El Cielo Gira).
An omnivorous cinephile since his childhood during Franco’s regime, when foreign films were extremely difficult to see, Guerín openly acknowledges the profound debt owed by his films to those masters who he so carefully studied during his “education” at Barcelona’s Filmoteca – not only directors such as John Ford, Howard Hawks and the Lumière Brothers, who are quoted and referenced throughout Guerín’s films, but also those who Guerín boldly sought out and befriended such as Bresson, Ruiz and Philippe Garrel.
Major Filmography: “IMDb”:http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0346360/
2007 Unas fotos en la ciudad de Sylvia
2007 In the City of Sylvia
2001 En construcción
1997 Train of Shadows
1990 City Life
1985 Los motivos de Berta: Fantasía de Pubertad
Links/Further things of interest
Guerín at the Harvard Film Archive
Work in Progress – Rouge Essay where he expands on his ideas about chance, namechecking everyone from the Lumière brothers, to Robert J Flaherty, to the other JLG, to Rossellini, Rouch, Chaplin (he loves him!)and Pialat.
Women We Don’t Know, photo-installation, 52nd Venice Biennale
Rediscovering the Quotidian – Mubi ‘Guest’ Interview
(The unattributed quotes are from an interview on the UK dvd release of In the City of Sylvia)
Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!
The most unconventional and exciting intro so far in the cup. Enough slippage for the reader to chance-read. Jose Luis would love it. Keep it going! :D
awesome intro! i loved it!
I concur with the praise above.
Very nice intro indeed!! Clearly he would consider Sunrise a worthy opponent.
quite ironic you would say that max…..from the mouth of the man himself: “For example, in In the City of Sylvia—and maybe this is naïve and too simple—but I wanted to shoot a fictional movie on a streetcar. I love streetcars in the cinema. Murnau’s Sunrise, for example.” only…i’ve not chosen in the city of sylvia to oppose sunrise…
thanks for the nice words btw..i’ve got a cold and my head’s all over the place at the minute so it might be a bit fuzzier than i even intended…
i also forgot to say that cecil has the link for my round 1 film Berta’s Motives if it is so required.
What a great intro. Sunrise v Berta’s Motives. The latter is a wonderful find, i’m still feeling a bit lovesick. Little wonder Bresson gets a mention as an influence, but for me, here Guerin surpasses him. Surely there’s something Rohmerian in In the City of Sylvia? Irrespective of the cup, I’d be interested to see Innisfree cos i’ve visited The Quiet Man area, really beautiful.
When I saw “JLG” in the title of this thread I was a little afraid someone had come back to haunt us from last year’s cup. Thank goodness that isn’t the case.
“So in my films, instead of directing, what I often do is create a situation, a device, in which I am the hunter with my camera, waiting for the moment of revelation to capture that moment.”
I love this!
some stuff about his latest group project here
a quote: I was privileged to see Guerín’s third carta just as it arrived in the CCCB, and suffice it to say that, for me, it served as the central focus of the entire exhibition. What begins as a simple tribute to a young cinephile becomes a meditation on the unexpected vicissitudes of life. It is expertly edited and unforgettable. This dignified homage evokes a powerful response, even upon repeated viewings.
Sally, this is really great!!! I’ve always stayed away from the WC, but this time I will participate, Guerín merits an opportunity even if with a hard oponent such as Murnau.
Here is an article on Train of Shadows in Senses of Cinema.
And since for the momet we’re talking about Berta’s Motives and given that no one has yet writen broadly in English, I include a few links to some articles in Spanish (but everybody knows the goodness of Google Translate :p)
One is El nacimiento de un cineasta. The other is a short article appeared in the journal El PAÍS back in 1983, in which Guerín expresses a few thoughts on his first feature, on his election of B&W and on the theme of the film: article
I hope you all find them interesting.
Now that Guest has been released in Spain (thank God!) reviews have started appearing in the press. If anyone is interested I’ll add links to them here so that peole can know more about the Spanish JLG :p
@Sally: maybe it’s better if you add the links in your introduction if you find them of interest.
@Kenji: I didn’t know you liked Guerín that much! Nice to know. And since you named Rohmer regarding In the City of Sylvia, well, in Berta’s Motives we also have Arielle Dombasle who worked with Rohmer as well in Le bon marriage :)
I often think how dogs live in a different time zone to us, they live for the present not the future and don’t dwell on the past but are attuned by scent to the recent past, to traces left- in Berta’s Motives there’s something of that, Arielle Dombasle (another Rohmer link?) on her horse looking into a building, a buried hat, paths crossed at different moments, without meetings, chance, how fate affects us in ways we know or are unaware of, what doesn’t happen as well as what does, finds to wonder at, places unoccupied, some things the viewer may know that a character doesn’t, some we glimpse as observers at a point in time, not grasping all the history and meanings, to be gradually made sense of or wondered at, and fantasy blurred with reality, as with films….transience, traces, childhood to be left behind in a past that affects but is gone, a loss of wonder…
A lovely film, what a shame two great films have to be opposed
Just saw Tren de sombras (Train of Shadows) by Jose Luis Guerin in a download from the internet (not available as a Region 1 release). This is soon to make an appearance in the 2011 Directors’ Cup. I became intrigued with Guerin after seeing Berta’s Motives – an early attempt to deal with ideas that come to fruition in this masterful film.
The film is a conceit about found footage of an old home movie shot in 1930 by a French lawyer who supposedly dies mysteriously soon after shooting it. The film unfolds obliquely, mostly told without any dialogue. Guerin uses the recreated decayed ‘found’ footage contrasted with modern images, suggesting the current house and location where the old film was shot. The end suggests a recreation of the old film – itself a ‘recreation’ of the ‘creation’, if you will.
Guerin expertly recreates this old footage, giving it an antique, decayed look. It is all scratchy and blotchy, but the images still resonate from it in unself-conscious abandon. Like the curious photographer in Antonioni’s Blow Up, the filmmaker keeps winding and rewinding the tired film stock, focusing on certain images, suggesting certain hidden relationships.
A magical collusion of images, both old and modern, all exquisitely linked by chimeric patterns, reflections, and mult-cross references. The modern day sequences employ contrasts of shadow and fog, clouds drifting past a full moon, lights reflecting against windows, old clocks ticking, old photographs lovingly scanned – all to the tasteful score of pieces of Debussy, Ravel and Bartok thrown in for atmospheric measure.
This film could be called a meditation on the act of creating cinema, cinema as memory and illusion, or just the simple play of light and shadow. For fans of films from last years’ Directors’ Cup like Bartas’ House, Ruiz’s Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting, the beginning/end of Silent Light, Erice’s The Quince Tree Sun. I would call this ‘contemplative cinema’, but it is obvious from a recent thread here on such films that they are poorly understood by many. So, I will just add that if you are open to a non-narrative, experimental look at the possiblities in cinema as an art form, look no further than this film by Guerin.
thanks bob! i appreciate such an eloquent appraisal for a film i really love. if it’s already found a fan in one person, my round 2 choice has justified itself…
and this excerpt from Experimental Conversations Issue 3
Found footage’ of a different kind is central to Jose Luis Guerin’s greatest work, the delicate and deeply haunting Tren de Sombras (1997, produced by Pere Portabella). Taking as its conceit the mysterious death of a Parisian lawyer and home movie maker beside a Normandy lake in 1931 while seeking the ideal light for a shot, Tren de Sombras is a poetic, multi-layered exploration of the memory-charge contained by film. It is presented in several distinct sections: after a brief prologue, the reels of family home movie footage the lawyer has left behind him unfold. Then there is an atmospheric documentary segment detailing the contemporary aspect of the sleepy village where the lawyer’s house is, followed by a truly extraordinary sequence exploring the space of that house as day turns to night. Beams of light, latterly provided by the glow of passing headlights, penetrate it, bringing the disturbing phantasm of cinematic projection and motion into the tomb-like stillness of the apparently untouched house. Then Guerin returns to the footage from the ‘30s, speeding up, slowing down, reframing, repeating, wordlessly opening it up to the audience to scrutnise not only for clues concerning its author’s demise but also the tensions besetting the whole family. Finally, the fluid camerawork and colour images of the house’s grounds so far associated with the present day become peopled by characters from the old footage, now composed in theatrically stiff tableaux irresistably reminiscent of the conclusion of Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974).
Guerin is interested less in examining his ‘found footage’ for factual information than in scanning it for the interpersonal subtleties it has preserved perhaps unbeknownst to its filmer. Rather than a solution to the mystery of his death, Guerin is concerned with uncovering still more mysteries, those contained, unconsciously or otherwise, in moment-to-moment human expressivity and pinned down in flight by the inevitably paranoid eye of the film camera. But he is not Martin Arnold; there is more. The old film, as a physical presence in its cans, seems charged with a ghostly aura that interacts with its surroundings, surroundings which also seem imbued with events past. The infinite patience with which Guerin allows his camera to discreetly glide through the deserted house results in numerous allusions to projection emerging from the stillness, most obviously the car headlights penetrating the house’s darkness.
There is a haunting, certainly, but a unique one in that it never completely reveals itself or becomes specifically linked to any apparition or explicit event, the unseen death notwithstanding. Instead, space itself is caused to vibrate with the potential contained in past events, a potential which resists reduction through the sort of narrative explication that inevitably whittles down possibilities. Instead the viewer’s senses are awakened to an atmosphere of mystery that is concentrated in the old film, but is also ineffably present throughout the space which contains it. Unusually, this atmosphere is not overtly ominous, but rather full of gentle enchantment, at once unsettling and seductive. What is sinister in the story the old film recounts remains clearly present but just beyond our grasp.
Ultimately, what makes Tren de Sombras such a creepy experience is the lack of a clearly defined witness to what happens. The home movie footage was shot by the lawyer; it preserves his viewpoint. But who is reviewing it? The house is an echo chamber of memory. But who is remembering? In materialising vision through cinema, it seems that the dead filmmaker has unbound perception and sensory experience from the human subject. It now belongs completely to the cinema, whose power to cause time to fold in on itself and dissolve in an image of memory that transcends the event-specific has seldom been anywhere near as fully realised as it is here.
These descriptions are quite tantalizing!
Can’t add much about Tren, but I did want to mention the factor, of our own questioning of this preservation, do we want to be remembered in moments of assembly? Certainly, there is a fear to be forgotten, never to experience the ghostly presence in the future through such a film. But, like in questioning who is it that is remembering, how valid are these memories? Are they even memories?
Well, they are really single images, constructs, subject to tricks and mystification, of both history and film. Here, Guerin exemplifies his own study of these fine lines, and these parallels of collective memory with cinema of every stage, the theoretic to the physical. Film itself, the object, which is given equal screen time and study in Tren, is literally composed of single images, or the gestures that can make up a narrative. Film itself, is a flickering of lights and shadow, the creation just as much happening by the viewer in the present, the same viewer watching the ghosts, even if less visible, in the house. Everything about the film can be seen in terms of areas of ambiguity, it just oozes mystery. How different is this film remnant, subject the the hazards of aging and the whims of an cameraman and editor as to what images make the cut, from any historical account, subject to both those necessities of reducing information and detail to some degree and the bias of the storyteller? Is this something to lament and fear, humanity blowing away like dust in the wind? Is the mystery, the variations in audience interpretation, something to revel in? Guerin seems to display both reactions, among others. But, then again, is he really? Or is that just my own personalized interpretation, of Guerin’s own personalized interpretation of these long lost Parisans?
Film, at every speed, exists the same. This is brought to light, quite literally. Watching the footage, watching the actual film reel, watching the house in the modern day, showing still screenshots, nothing is certain, but we indulge in creating our story and memory, until we ourselves are lost in the shadows. So Guerin also indulges, creates his own assemblies, splicing faces together in his own images, recreating the shots, based on what he, as a viewer, has already inevitably assembled as the story. In that moment of focus, as she rides by on her bike, there are certain cuts that could very well lead us to believe this is not just an image of how she rode her bike, perhaps a creation from multiple instances. So, how wrong is it for Guerin to do something similar, to use the sparse images, at whatever level we want to deem them as reality, and create his own extrapolations? Own showing the reverse shot (that second screencap above), of the cameraman, of the other side of the actors? We each define our own place in history as a director does in cinema, by adding on to what has come before. And in this process, we remember those moments, those obscured glances on the swing, perhaps of a shy, or giddy, or polite, of outgoing personality, that define an ‘oeuvre.’ These are just as present in Berta, even if one feels a tendency to label it has having more of a narrative. For, even though in Tren we are not given the story of the relics (e.g. the shell of a car) by a mysterious stranger, a ‘history’ of sorts, how different is it to have that story of his wife’s death? A story which we can’t safely call factual, just a creation of a singular memory, what is to live on with Berta, even if that memory is dismissed by other characters, by other viewers.
Berta’s Motives is not a film about night. Rather, its impressionistic river landscape, playfully spotted with light stains, says the opposite. But, aside from the moments spent at the river, the lavish curves of the fields and the few things that appear in the movie are so drastically reduced to minimum, that one can only think of night and the melting effect it produces. Things and people are so scarce, that the movie can almost be read ideogrammatically.
you lucky americans….
· Director-approved transfer from HD source material
· Some Photos In the City of Sylvia (2007, 65 minutes) ♥♥♥
· In the City of Lotte (2007, 7 minutes)
-Women Waiting for the Tram
-Woman Waiting for the Tram
· Teaser Trailer
· Essay by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum
Especially for Tren de Garsas, CB, Yuki, Arsaib, Vikram, Laal, Juan Luis & Annahara with love and for Guerin’s lovers ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
Some days ago I Could assist at the Prado Museum in Madrid to the screening of Guerin’s film for the installation showed at the Esteban Vicente Museum of Contemporary Art in Segovia. The name of the exhibition is La dama de Corinto. Un esbozo cinematográfico (The Lady of Corinth. A Film Study) and the film that serves as prologue for the audiovisual installation’s name is Dos cartas a Ana (Two Letters for Ana). It’ll be there for those interested until 28th August 2011.
It’s almost unnecessary to say that this epistolary film-essay is the sublimation of poetry, poetry made out of images, images on top of which shadows lay scattered here and there. No sound, only images and written words. Complete silence.
The main subject of the film is cinema as the reflection of the art of painting. Guerin uses the writings of Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia, where he introduces his thoughts on painting and narrates the birth of painting in the following terms: “I’m going to talk about an art which is already dying”, and that also in 1st century A.D!!! In the talk that followed the screening, Guerin recalled how the Lumière brothers when asked by Méliès when he wanted to buy from them a cinématographe, they told him that having a cinématographe was useless, since cinema was an art already agonizing.
At the beginning of the film, Guerin quotes Pliny: “So much for the dignity of an art that is dying” says Pliny the Elder when closing the chapter dedicated to the development of painting in his Natural History An art of the past, already without a future, already in the 1st Century.
The film is a look back in time…. Guerin states: “I like to go back in time, towards the first things: the origins, silence, black and white… perhaps the essential things” Guerin is astonished (‘asombrado’) that the screen be a canvas. “An intimate secret between the canvas and the screen, between the lines and the shadow”. He then follows: ”Later artists abandoned this legacy and perhaps the legitimate inheritors of those distant arts today are filmmakers”.
JLG recalls how Zeuxis chose five women to paint the parts of his Aphrodite, ”five bodies to create one. Like in Russian editing” The film shows paintings over which shadows of nature (moving branches of trees) are projected, because Pliny included the art of painting in his treatise of nature.
The second letter to Ana starts with Guerin wandering around in Parnassus, where he has gone ”in search of the oracle about painting (…) where they read portents in the flame of a candle, in the movement of the leaves o in the reflections of a pool”
We see Guerin’s shadow…
He then refers again to Pliny’s text, where he wrote that ”in Corinth, a young woman invented painting by accident, when on the eve before the departure of her beloved cast his shadow on a wall by candlelight and traced his outline with a coal…”
”In those times… a love story”
A tale of premonitions, of loss and longing, of the desire to make the beloved’s image eternal as a painting on the wall ”fixing a shadow… The movement of a line to fix a shadow. A love story between a line and a shadow (…) In those times, a love story between a woman and a shadow”
We see the mount of Venus and Apollo’s Temple:
A dance of love between a woman and the painting of her beloved…
The constant dance of the shadows of tree leaves over the beloved’s portrait:
Here are some excerpts from the catalogue of the installation written by Spanish art historian Francisco Calvo Serraller:
“Somber (“sombrío”) are of course the night, sleep, love. Sleep is food for our shadows, but love, which the cause of so many sleepless nights, surveys them and illustrates them. To outline the shadow of the sleeping lover on the eve of a departure no one knows where, except that it’s departure for an afterlife where, is an extreme conjugation: it projects the most intimate and unmentionable on the bare wall; it gives rise to desire; greets death, and, above all, it leaves a visible trace of this courtship of shadows. In fact, it establishes that mystery, that enchantment, that invocation, that prayer, that elegy (…) that is the image, the the threshold of art.”
Calvo Serraller follows asserting that here we see “_dance as an act of self-absorbed reflection, a recognition and a confession_”
The screen as a canvas… Tree shadows projected onto canvas, sets of masks…Then Calvo Serraller points at ”Caravaggio as the inventor of the animated image, which is one that has found the time that corresponds to it under the refuge of light. In art history, this invention is called ‘chiaroscuro’. Caravaggio gives expression to the mortal, the somber, the changing (…) Cinema began with Caravaggio (…) As inseparable as chiaroscuro is from colour, black and white is, in its turn, inseparable from the quality of drawing, which is inseparable from its shadow, from its soul (…) Painting alters the human soul while drawing turns the soul into self-absorption; one takes you out, while the other takes you inside yourself".
Calvo Serraller defines Guerin’s cinema as a cinema of astonishment (cine de asombro). Oddly enough, in Spanish language, astonishment (asombro) and shadow (‘sombra’, from the Latin ‘umbra’) have the same etymological root. The Spanish verb ‘asombrarse’ (to be astonished) literally has it’s origin around the end of the 14th Century and it was used when the horses of the cavalry were frightened away by the apparition of a shadow. At the same time the English word ‘somber’ has the same etymological root as the Spanish ‘sombra’.
This is wonderful, Laali! Thanks a lot. cine de asombro indeed.