"All human beings"
by Fabien Lemercier
- Meeting with a very relaxed filmmaker who tackles major topics to powerfully dissect the human mind
During a short visit in Paris late August, Carlos Reygadas unveiled to Cineuropa some of the strings of his powerful Battle In Heaven [+see also:
interview: Carlos Reygadas
interview: Jean Labadie
film profile], his second feature film that took the last Cannes Film Festival by storm. Return on the making of the film with a polyglot and captivating filmmaker, both philosopher and man of action.
Cineuropa: What was the starting point for Battle In Heaven?
Carlos Reygadas: I heard on TV some criminals saying: "I had to kill the victim of the kidnapping because I had no place to keep him and by refusing to pay the ransom, his family would prevent me from working". They were almost complaining about the fact that their right to work had been scorned. So I started thinking about what really happens when guilt (like the one felt by Raskolnikov in Dostoïevski’s Crime and Punishment) does not exist, when you live in a place where moral standards have collapsed at that level. I hence decided to make a film about it without being moralist. I don’t mean guilt in the Western sense, but suffering from a natural revolt, as if Marco’s inner being was rebelling against himself and his wrong-doing. The other starting point came from a simple visual idea. During the summer of 2002 I was in a provincial town in Mexico, close to a big colonial cathedral and it was pouring with rain. Suddently a man in a trance, naked from the top came crawling with a candle and a Guadalup vergin. A beautiful image. I thought I should end my film like that, so I built it the other way around.
You seem to enjoy visual exploration and mixing various styles, including documentary filmmaking?
A priori I never think about style. Language must serve film, not the contrary. Using my own feelings, I think about the best way to film each shot. I feel free to film each shot just as I feel it. But it’s important to keep a strong unity of language and I don’t change anything inside the shot; I do not go from a fixed shot to a documentary shot.
You play a lot with the volume levels of the sound track.
The film is about an inner conflict. Marcos is literally being eaten away from within. The outside of this man is made up of all the super-structures that we’ve built (societies, History, the State, the law, entertainment such as football, religion...), that surround us and are supposed to help us in our lives. But in reality, they are useless with real inner-conflicts. Music represents what is outside Marcos. Therefore it has a strong power, a huge emotional power over him. But this escape mechanism do not solve anything. There is also a kind of silence as you hear few noises in the streets, only isolated sounds. So some sounds have a lot of power because Marcos slowly drifts away into madness, into a separation from the world that is very far away then suddently very close, almost agressive.
The topic of loneliness was already present in your first film Japón
In an inner-conflict, you are all alone, always alone on a metaphysical standpoint. What I’m interested in is why and how you get into that kind of conflict. You do because you are conscious and because of that, you are special and unique. Japón was a film about life with an inner conflict motivated only by the mind, by the character’s own ideas. Unlike here where the inner conflict is motivated by action which is why the key elements are social and interfere with justice, with the way you deal with the city, communication, the need to be loved and close to others.
Several passages remain enigmatic on purpose.
It’s easy to explain them logically, but in the film it’s not necessary. The shot in the mist for example is almost mystical. Marcos is very close to the explosion, then a strength throwns him at the top of a hill. This is not the sirens’ song and weather conditions can explain this: nobody can see anything, people stop working, silence is all over and all he wants is to escape because it is a moment of peace. For me, physical-explanations are essential. But depending on where they happen, when and how, those elements become almost mystical, enigmatic and symbolic. Film must leave free reign to interpretation because this is not apropaganda film like most films with their one-reactive messages that just disappear after the screening. I’d rather have my film not exist during the screening but outside the screen and most importantly after.
Were you surprised by the scandal that followed the Cannes screening?
I’m surprised to hear that it is THE fellation film. I do not do this to chock because I knew I would be seen as an agitator, but this is the price to pay to be truthful to my vision of the film. At one point, I thought about cutting the scenes from the beginning and the end, but I cannot cheat with myself, practice self-censorship. People are not used to watching love scenes like the one between Marcos and his wife. As if in Iran, you’d watch a film on TV with people in a bathing suit.
What are your film references?
I love Eisenstein and his use of music. Ozu with the particular that becomes universal, Dreyer (mostly his last films) and his underlying light, some films by Abel Ferrara, from the 50s-60s by the Spanish Luis Garcia Berlanga, Antonioni, Kiarostami before the video, post-war Rossellini films...
How did Battle In The Sky become a mainly European production?
Philippe Bober had sold Japón so we decided to make this film together, him for Europe and me for Mexico. And he found an excellent financing for the film. It’s great to see how a country like France with its Fonds Sud and a TV channel like Arte can finance someone non-European. Perhaps that bothers narrow-minded people, but France can be proud of this generosity because we are all human beings.