“What I am trying to convey to you is more mysterious, it is entwined in the very roots of being, in the impalpable source of sensations”
I was born in a small town, its horizons enclosed by the houses’ granite walls and by the wild nature that surrounded us. I grew up in a Catholic school, full of forbidden halls and rooms, as if certain paths to God alone belonged. Imagination has always been my most recurrent occupation. Our family, whenever we were together, either at Christmas or vacations, was overwhelming in conversations and gestures. The movements and the sounds had so many layers, that they became distorted within me. Adults’ stories barged in children’s imagination, as I grew up without knowing for sure what was true and what was a lie, what I had seen or heard, what I had dreamt or lived. And perhaps for this reason, cinema has happened to me as a continuation of this permanent stimulation, of what is visible and invisible. In a way, my earliest memories and experiences formed what I now recognize as inner perception and gaze.
When I started to study film, I found this same attention to everyday revelations in films like Ozu’s, Bergman’s or Kiarostami’s. And it was with great astonishment – and a sense of consciousness – that I realized that life, so banal and singular, is the greatest creative source. The simplest discoveries are the ones that operate the greatest transformations in our gaze and in the way we choose to continue. It was then that I understood that the origin of knowledge is in the simple fact that we can see. What we see is, normally, within our reach. Like the gaze of a child who does not set limits. With an urgency more urgent than the urgency itself. And it was during the processing of this chain of reflections, which had the striking power of the first thoughts, applied to a craft that one desires to follow, that a friend told me: you must see Lucrecia Martel’s films. We were in 2005, and I had not directed any films yet.
I still recall today what I felt – much more than what I understood – when I first saw La Ciénaga. The film did not resemble anything I had seen before. And, at the same time, it echoed in everything I knew most intimately. La Ciénaga changed the formal sense and narrative that I had studied up until then, to teach me that what shapes cinema – and art in general – is life, not the simple conceptualization of the author. La Ciénaga carried me to a time without time, in which its harmony resided in an apparent chaos and threat of disintegration. Danger was foretold but never seen, not delivered visually, like our greatest fears, which only move within us. At the same time, La Ciénaga was an ode to pleasure, which transformed dream-like universes into carnal ones. It was a milestone for me to see the bodies of the actors confronting the weight of gravity, rain, heat, pain, desire and eroticism. Light, shadows, reflections and colors are, in La Ciénaga, exploratory objects of life.
Today, when I think of La Ciénaga, I remember Klee talking about his painting: in a forest, several times I felt that it was not me who was looking at the forest. I felt, on certain days, that it was the trees that looked at me and spoke to me. I was just there, listening. I would say that Lucrecia, in her first feature film – and in all of her shorts and features -, is also pierced by her own universe, not the other way around. She is a vehicle carrying everything her curiosity has collected. And perhaps this is why we should not speak of her singular inspiration as a director, but rather praise her exhalation: the capacity to return her world without ever wanting to tame it. La Ciénaga does not try to resemble anything. And much more than the need to create narrative ties, the film excites our thoughts through a world of sensations, visual and sound. It is, to me, the power of wonder.
It was in Brazil, during a period when I was in São Paulo studying film, that I saw for the second and third time La Ciénaga. The proximity between Argentina and Brazil allowed me to have access to the vast cinema of Latin America (at the time with very little repercussion in Europe). I looked for her second feature, The Holy Girl, and I was fortunate enough to catch an Argentinian cinema programme, with free entrance for students, at Augusta’s CineSesc, near Avenida Paulista. I could be Amalia, the central character of the film, so eager to discover, to see, to touch and to feel, through body, sex, through the sin condemned by prayers, delighted by the mysteries, just like the ephemeral forms full of colours that remain in our eyes after we pressed them for a few seconds. The Holy Girl is a child who sees and thinks: I can. Not in the sense of appropriation, but in the sense of being drawn, and, still rather small, stretching herself on the tip of her toes, and accessing the world. It is a film about the frailty and force of desire – or miracles. And again, on the visible in the invisible. And vice versa.
When we watch a film on our own – perhaps the most complete way to let ourselves be invaded – we do not have to justify the experience when the lights come on. And I mention this because, by coincidence, I have always watched Lucrecia’s films alone. And maybe that has allowed me not to have to find meaning for every movement or scene. Is it not the permanent search for a final meaning, the basis of Catholicism, which torments Amalia’s world and our whole existence? This is what her catechist tells her: in our lives there are mysterious calls, more or less clear, more or less urgent, coming directly from God and showing each person her role in the community. I believe that the pleasure of Lucrecia’s gaze is related, to begin with, to the small seeds sowed throughout her films, which probably blossom in the continuity of our experience, outside the theatre, in the course of our lives.
The Holy Girl and La Ciénaga are extremely sensorial films, anchored to the ability to look – and knowing how to see – during our childhood and youth. During this period, reality is a much wider world, encompassing the dream, thoughts and desires. We believe in what we don’t see and in what others say. Just as in The Holy Girl we believe in a theremin because we hear the sound that it makes, this rare instrument that has no strings and is touched in the invisible. Children are tormented by adults’ own fears: if you do not look, if you do not move, nothing will happen, or else you will suffocate, until you die. Fear and lies are acquired torments. They are inherited. And this is very clear in Lucrecia’s films, where light and sound cross the spaces and characters, enter our eyes and ears, into our brain, and what is veiled becomes visible and audible. Like a blind man, who sees by touching. Her films unite our eyes to the horizon and to everything that, apparently, is hidden. Meaning, or nature, if we prefer, is in gestures, movements, sounds, and words. Lucrecia does not seek the exterior but the interior.
I don’t mean it as a comparison but, presently, I also live exclusively from this search and, sometimes, from this encounter. I have discovered, certainly during my childhood, that when you look closely at something, it speaks to you. There is nothing in the world that doesn’t reciprocate. Wisdom lies in the act of looking. And daring to wait, even though not knowing why. I realised, since my first contact with Lucrecia’s cinema that films are endlessly questioning, recommencing in every new work. Cinema – and life – is a game that we should not take too seriously because nothing guarantees that it is not just a delusion. Or as Agustina Bessa-Luís would say, he who takes himself seriously finds himself in a position of inferiority in relation to life. This is what we see in The Headless Woman, in Veronica, who doubts her memory after a car accident. Her perception hesistates. Vero feels fragile and helpless by the lack of certainties. She and we who have learned that cinema tells a story with a final revelation and that all life is built around certainties. But The Headless Woman is an incessant web of questions. And it is impossible to see this film without laughing at ourselves, our fears and frailties. I would say that it takes lucidity to know how to walk into madness without losing your way back. The Headless Woman is very brave, sensitive and with a great sense of humour. A film that has the power to resist time.
Lucrecia compiles the world, with transforming eyes and ears. Her cinema is a gift deserved by her exercise of seeing, which does not come from isolation, but from the relationship she establishes with everything that surrounds her. The sensoriality of her films makes things look a lot different than the things we are accustomed to seeing. They become something else. They are born within us. They are an invitation to actively participate in the construction of her cinema – and the world. Not having the sensitivity to perceive the different layers that a story brings us, is the result of an education with a strong tradition built on immediate return. Because, contrary to what we might think, what is expectable and believable conceals the meaning of things. Distortions are what allow us to see. It is a silent science. The signs are always present, but you must know how to see and hear.
If there is someone who knows how to imitate life, that person is Lucrecia Martel. With all its unknown places, dangers, desires and pleasures. And for that, we must live more in curiosity than in fear. With pure intelligence, dominated by interest, victories, and havoc. It is a gaze that knows that what lies in the dark generates anguish but it is also a place where treasures reside, as Mayumi Mitsuhashi said in my film Ama-San: without monsters, there are no adventures. That’s how the characters in Lucrecia’s films move. Like Diego Zama, who closes the film almost lifeless, with his body broken and without hands, in a boat that slides smoothly on the river until we lose sight of him. Do you want to live? Do you want to live?, the child asks. This is, most certainly, one of the most poetic images I have seen in a film.
There is a fish that spends its life back and forth, struggling so that the water does not throw it out. Because water rejects it. The water does not want it. These suffering fish, so attached to the environment that repels them, use all their forces to gain permanence. You will never find them in centre of the river, only on the banks. These are Zama’s first lines, a beautiful and crude film, about waiting and power. But it could also be an allegory to resilience so vital to a filmmaker. Diego Zama is a body that wanders, waiting to be taken to Buenos Aires. Just as a director is stagnant, cyclically, while waiting for the financing of the films. Diego Zama is an anti-hero. Just like the filmmakers are. Only failure will save Diego Zama from the swamp that is his long wait. Zama is the betrayed hope but it is also the inner triumph, carried by the restless river.
Unlike her previous films, in Zama fears are no longer threats. Our greatest terrors materialize. And there is no force to fight the unwanted, in the film – and in life, in our lives. Death has demands, we hear at one point, like a ghost. Lucrecia, as a woman, as a filmmaker, as the daughter of a crisis-stricken Latin America, of a contemporary world that has become ill, is also Diego Zama, forced to resist failure, pain, fever, and turn the adversities of the world in her favor to return to her holy girl swamp, with curious eyes, without direction, without being threatened by any danger other than that of the physical pleasure of freedom.
Zama is one of the best orchestrated and humanistic films I have ever seen. Lucrecia travels in time without ever leaving her place. And to make this happen you have to possess a rare understanding of the human being. She is born in her works, it is not the works that are born of her. The spirit of the world comes out of her eyes. Lucrecia again lends her body to the world – this time radically – and transforms it into cinema. In Zama, again we find a choreography of bodies and animals, children and adults, oppressed and oppressors, torrents of water and asphyxiating natures, where beauty is the place where secrets lie, just like behind long and shiny hair that whispers desires and lost stories. And it never made so much sense to say that we know that cinema is a lie but what we see – and feel – is real.
Zama is a true gesture of love for cinema – and for life. We must praise this.
I began this text describing my childhood because my eyes are only able to see what they have learned to see. And learning comes from a distance, from the time when the roots are watered in the first rays of the sun. What I recognize in Lucrecia’s films is, of course, a place of empathy for worlds that touch each other, despite the distance between continents. Humanity – and the web of characteristics that define it, like emotions and history itself – is a shared territory. We are all part of a very old movement, which is cyclically intertwined.
And here we are, so I invite Merleau-Ponty to end: it is the work itself that has opened the field from which it appears in another light. It changes itself and becomes what follows; the interminable reinterpretations to which it is legitimately susceptible change it only in itself.
Cláudia Varejão, Lisbon, April 2018
On Jacques Rozier’s Way
“An independent filmmaker is an increasingly rare animal nowadays”, said Jacques Rozier not so many years ago. He should know what he is talking about given that he obstinately experiences independence from and within cinema. Freedom is one of the qualities of his work, a creative condition but also one of origin, which is not always easy to navigate. This condition is marked by the loving and adventurous way he approached the craft to which he gave himself to in the mid-1950s, at a time when cinema was about slightly more than 50 years old, and to which his devotion continued, as a modern and a contemporary filmmaker.
Independence of mind calls for a practice of independence, which has resulted in Rozier’s legendary reputation as a director of time-consuming productions whose conclusion is difficult, lengthy, or concomitantly subjected to lack of visibility, barriers imposed by lack of distribution or late distribution, and seldom overly restrained, commercial releases.
To his cinema of secret essence, the secrecy of what is not visible was progressively associated to. Jacques Rozier is responsible for a body of work whose importance is recognised through a paradoxical general unfamiliarity that followed his emergence during the French Nouvelle Vague, which Rentrée des classes (1955) had foreshadowed offering it the emblematic Adieu Philippine (shot in the summer of 1960), the first of his features, has cemented him as one of the key features of the movement. From then on, Rozier has kept faithful to the joyfulness of filming and editing, steps he associates with the pleasures of cinema. He directed films that share a haptic energy whose secrets lie in the sudden feelings of amazement.
Jacques Rozier’s filmography, which amounts to around thirty titles, resists categorisation by format and also by genre. It comprises of divergent paths towards cinema and television, which somewhat facilitates the reading of his oeuvre, yet does not always give full clarification to his body of work.
The nucleus of his output, which forms the heart of his career, is composed of short films from the 1950s and 60s and features from the 1960s onward: after Rentrée des classes, Blue Jeans (1958) and Adieu Philippine comes the diptych Paparazzi and Le Parti des choses: Bardot / Godard (1963), shot on the set of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le mépris. These films are more than a staged portrayal of Brigitte Bardot and the paparazzi who followed her during the peak of her stardom, and the observation of an unlikely meeting between Bardot and Godard on the set. They already contain a reflection on society’s media coverage and a commentary on Godard’s cinema. Two other shorts from the same period reflect on imagery of Parisian fashion and the letters written by the readers of women’s magazines – Dans le vent (1962)  Romeos et Jupettes (1966), which Rozier relegates to small side notes, but that are drenched in the same vital spirit of the portraits of youth from Adieu Philippine, that reflected the youngest French generation at the beginning of the 1960s.
Regarding the feature-length films; Rozier’s second exercise, Jean Vigo (1965), is the second film at the beginning of the most enduring, inimitable and cinephile television series, “Cinéastes de Notre Temps”, later retitled “Cinéma, de Notre Temps”. Organised on the impetus of Janine Bazin and André S. Labarthe, who proposed that the young Rozier directed a portrait of one of his favourite masters, his film, bristling with life, celebrated a filmmaker who had vanished 30 years before. Then, with decade-long intervals, came the long-duration fictions Du côté d’Orouët (1969), Les Naufragés de l’île de la Tortue (1976), Maine Océan (1985), and Fifi Martingale (2001) that was released after a more protracted intermission, during which there was an unfinished project, partially shot, called Le Perroquet parisien, “a story of cinema”, that Rozier nevertheless has not abandoned, referring to it as “in production”.
The core of these films talks directly with other films within Rozier’s filmography, punctuated by his return to some of these titles and the production of different versions and declinations. For instance, Fifi Martingale is originally linked to a four-episode series directed for television, for which there is a cinema version, Joséphine em tournée (1989), which also revolves around characters of actors, acting and theatre. Similarly, L’Opéra du Roi corresponds to the moment in which Rozier discovered musicality of the French language in the work of baroque XVII century composer Jean-Baptiste Lully during the rehearsals of an Opera staging of Atys in Avignon. In turn, Revenez plaisirs exilés (2010-2012) is centred on another of Lully’s pieces, Alceste, from which comes a similar filmic gesture about the staging of an Opera, using images shot in 1992 at the Royal Theatre in Versailles . In both, the music and the operatic staging become mise en scène motifs for Rozier.
Behind the scenes of cinema (Paparazzi / Le parti des choses), of television (the live scenes inside the television studios or the private screenings of rushes from the shooting of a failed commercial in Adieu Philippine), of fashion photography (the studio shooting in Dans le vent) and of theatre (Joséphine em tournée, Fifi Martingale) are of interest to Rozier time and time again. By directing his gaze towards places of life, he kept it open to the places of representation.
Reflections (both from mirrors and thoughts) appear in some of his other works: conceived as a pilot for a slapstick series in collaboration with Pascal Thomas and experimenting with the possibilities of video technology – that Rozier had discovered watching Frank Zappa and Tony Palmer’s “rock musical”, 200 Motels (1971) –, Nono Nénesse (1976) is a delirious revisiting of Brats (James Parrott, 1930), one of Laurel and Hardy’s films that belonged to memories of Rozier’s childhood. The two main brat roles were given to two of his recurrent actors, Bernard Menez (Nénesse, the same name his character was given to by the three girls in Du côté d’Orouët, Menez’s first film) and Jacques Villeret (Nono, the same nickname from his character in Les Naufragés de l’île de la Tortue). Marketing Mix (1978), directed after Naufragés for the series “Contes Modernes”, turns on, with derision, to the harsh labour conditions, from which the characters of Orouët, Naufragés and Maine Océan had been temporarily sheltered from. Lettre de la Sierra Morena (1983), is Rozier’s “filmmaker’s letter” originally produced for the “Cinéma cinémas” series, but for which there is an autonomous version, that stages a dialogue between two filmmakers proposing to recreate a confrontation between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Comment devenir cinéaste sans se prendre la tête (1995) is Rozier’s answer to the challenge posed by the television channel Arte for a biographical approach to his time as a film student. Taking, as he often does, the path of fiction, he shot a story about an aspiring young female director, to which the humorous title of the film wishes good luck.
His oblique approach to originally formatted proposals is already present in his early works. In two television shows directed for the series “Ni figue ni raisin” (1965), Rozier experiments with the genre of musical comedy, by, for instance, staging a mythical fantasy in a television studio (Nº 8 Corinthe), that sparked controversy when it was first aired, and for which there is also a later re-edit that shows the director’s affection for this early project. The same happens with his contribution to the series “Vive le cinéma”, starred by Jeanne Moreau which includes a meeting with Orson Welles (1972): it was once more for a second episode that Janine Bazi and André S. Labarthe invited him. Again, Rozier returned to it to re-edit it since he recalls this moment as one of his fondest memories of working in television.
New Wave and the off films
A bunch of kids run through the streets and alleys, carrying leather bags under the arms, succeeding the chequered background of the opening credits, like the pages in a school notebook. It is the first day of school in a small rural town. One of the kids takes a different path away from school and ends up in a river bank flanked by trees and reeds. The river runs under the bridge carrying the child’s bag after him having thrown it away. After this cheeky behaviour, Rozier’s protagonist goes back to school completely soaked and with a water snake in his pocket, which may prove useful for pranks. These ensuing pranks provide joy of the infantile sort, as a counterpoint to the posture of the adults. The film’s greatest achievement remains the previous sequence of a dive into nature, under the effects of sunlight on the surface of the river and the sounds of the countryside married to the music of Darius Milhaud’s score.
The opening sequence of Rentrée des classes is the first of Jacques Rozier’s escape movements, that had this debut under the sparkling influence of Jean Vigo (Zéro de conduite) and Jean Renoir (Partie de campagne), “the boss”, for whom he was an assistant on the French Cancan shooting, as part of an internship at the end of his studies in IDHEC in the mid 1950s. Self-produced and self-financed, with film bought with his earnings from his live television job, where he had started working as an assistant, Rentrée des classes opens the way to Blue jeans, shot in Cannes. In the course of his “neo-realistic” hand-held (or Citroën-2CV-car-held) silent shooting, the modernity of Blue jeans takes shape through the later synchronous soundtrack that would blow life into the images with the voice over, the few lines of dialogue, the Latin-American songs and the rock music coming from the intermittent car audio system that drives us to a night ball on the beach.
The two boys in jeans wander along the boardwalk behind two girls, with the camera panning between them, observing their flirty gazes by the sea or accompanying them on their Vespa rides counting the few cents they have left for gas. It is both a summery and youthful daydream as well as a tale of frustration. The young film critics Jean Douchet and Jean-Luc Godard noticed Blue jeans to be innovative. Godard listed the completely unknown notable directors of the yet inexistent Nouvelle Vague, Jacques Demy, Jacques Rozier and Agnès Varda, to Georges de Beauregard, the producer of À Bout de Souffle, who would indeed go on to produce Lola, Adieu Philippine and Cléo de 5 à 7.
Culminating in a meandering production process marked by the creation of the soundtrack on the editing table, which amounted to the reconstitution of inaudible dialogues and not without conflict with Beauregard, Adieu Philippine became a sensation at the Cannes’ Critics Week in 1962, defended with enthusiasm by Godard and François Truffaut. The former challenged the Croisette: “Those who have not seen Yveline Céry dancing while staring at the camera cannot allow themselves to speak again of cinema.” The second, anticipating one of the essential ideas about the films that Rozier would still have to direct, wrote, “You will not find one single ‘poetic moment’ because the film is an uninterrupted poem. The poetry would not be visible in the rushes since it comes from the sum of perfect relations between the images and the words, the sounds and the music.” In the special edition of Cahiers du cinéma, on December 1962, dedicated to the Nouvelle Vague, Adieu Philippine is the cover picture, announcing the film as an icon for the whole movement, whose inaugural moments were historically pinned down as Rozier’s Rentrée des classes, and, from the same year, Varda’s La pointe courte.
Rozier evokes the story of a “film which the good people described as endless”, in the short Voyage en terre – Philippine (2008), in which he also recounts how the Corsican song that lulls the film came up accidentally as a musical accompaniment for the final run of waving goodbyes from the two girls on the pier to the boy on board for military service, that is to say, the Algerian war, mentioned only once in the opening credits of the film, that render the somber background to that summer, “1960 – sixth year of the Algerian War”.
The war had already ended when the film premiered. Nevertheless, it was one of the rare films that dealt with the prohibited subject, together with Le Petit Soldat (Godard, 1963, shot in 1960). It also portrays a love triangle, to which Truffaut inverts the proportion of masculine/feminine vertices in Jules et Jim (1962, shot the year before). Rozier’s narrative thread runs between the lines following youthful action without losing sight of “the more serious stuff, besides the little seamstress story”, as the boy says, in exasperation, to the two girls at one point, proceeding through ellipses, unforeseen transitions, breaks, match cuts or the polyphonic soundtrack, with dance music, abrupt interruptions and full-hearted songs. “Ah, ce désespoir”.
Adieu Philippine is constructed by the perfection of its multiple shots, encompassing a fluidity, which may seem improvised at first, but is neither pure nor simple. It is important to underline that both in interiors (urban) as in the exteriors of the Corsican incursion of the second part – which memory tends to privilege as the film’s backdrop – the film goes from Paris to the maritime landscape, just like Orouët, Naufragés and Maine Océan, the latter condensing an itinerary beginning at Montparnasse train station, at Maine Avenue, towards the ocean surrounding the island of Yeu.
Even if it was more naturalistic in the beginning, even if his cinema is impressively spontaneous, open to improvisation and to the actors gifted portrayal of their characters, the free-spirited cinema of Rozier is set against an elaborate construction of images and sounds composed in the editing room, characterised by its musicality which, for each film, finds its rhythm. It can be the traveling, linguistic, digressive euphoria of Maine Océan, the absurdity of the pilgrimage of Naufragés, the melancholy of white or golden light from the end of summer days by the sea of Orouët, youth on a razor’s edge in Philippine or the scenic superimpositions of the operettas and variety shows in Fifi Martingale, set in motion by a stage director’s fury roused by a career award given to him and in which an old actor with an astonishing memory forgets his text after traveling hundreds of kilometres to a casino where he wins the money he needs to finance the little theatre company he directs.
Failure does not vanish on the happy horizon of a journey’s vicissitudes that in different ways, all of Rozier’s characters go through from film to film. United in unlikely reunions, they are on familiar terms with freewheeling digressions, but from where they know they must return. As in Maine Océan in which a group composed of a dancer, a lawyer, two train ticket inspectors, a sailor, the dancer’s manager and some fishermen come together for a memorable moment of samba, a party that is followed by the group’s dissolution. A film whose last scene portrays the reluctant ticket inspector, filmed with a view of the sea behind him and the Brazilian rhythm from the previous night still playing, but now not as energetic as before. An ending in which the sound is set against the image to make him no longer the “king of samba” but a man forced to catch yet another train.
The openness to change course, that is available to all characters in all Rozier’s films, reflects an emotional -roads, seen through a warm sense of humour, never-the-less lacking candour. In the simulating sailing boat from Naufragés, in which is conceived the crazed idea of a thousand-franc travel package that reproduces the Robinson Crosue experience, guaranteeing “nothing”, one of the tourists asks: “So, why make such a film?” and the most non-sailors of the sailors responds, “So that it may seem a little bit real”.
“Cinema is always the artifice which recreates reality, as said Renoir” recalls Rozier, who, perhaps for his persistent practice of this principle, is described by Jean Douchet as a profoundly Renoirian filmmaker. On Jacques Rozier’s way cinema is the seamless artifice, in which the most unpredictable movements in the connection between shots, as well as in the alternating attention given to each character, the flipping of action, fluidity surfaces in the suspended moments. The wandering, the indecisiveness of ordinary characters who seek the vibration of the world whilst struggling with difficulties that Rozier calls the “contrary winds”, all this comes across in the sensibility of his films. A sensibility that is forever new, in forever new films.
Maria João Madeira
 Dans le vent is the only one of Jacques Rozier’s initial titles excluded from this retrospective due to missing projection materials. The film’s restoration work is being started at this moment, which imposes several patrimonial constraints. Directed with a noticeable sense of humour, Dans le vent is inspired by that year’s fashion, on the streets of Paris, to which the director matches a photo shoot at Elle magazine’s studio.
 In the case of L’Opéra du Roi, a title that reflects Louis XIV’s preferences for Lully’s opera, the music director of Atys is William Christie and the stage director, Jean-Marie Villégier. In Revenez plaisirs exilées, Rozier shot a rehearsal of Alceste, ou Le triomphe d’Alcide by Jean-Louis Martinoty with music direction by Jean-Claude Malgoire.