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"We are unable to escape from our own time; it's a fatality that controls us"

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FJ Ossang • Director

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- LOCARNO 2017: Winner of the Best Director award at Locarno and filmmaker, poet and punk musician, FJ Ossang, talks to Cineuropa about 9 Fingers

FJ Ossang • Director
(© Locarno Festival / Sailas Vanetti)

FJ Ossang, filmmaker, poet and punk musician, tells us about 9 Fingers [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: FJ Ossang
film profile
]
, A film that takes us from one Melville to the other - Jean-Pierre to Hermann – and from a racing pursuit to feverish expectation, like a season in hell. On a mysterious meandering ship loaded with words and a toxic substance. On a journey that is as literary as it is cinematic, in which the space-time continuum bends. The Frenchman won the Director’s Prize at Locarno Festival.

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Cineuropa: How would you describe the journey we embark on during the film?
FJ Ossang
: There are three sections to the film. The first part is really a noir, Melvillian film, if you will. Nothing happens as predicted and the characters are forced to flee aboard a cargo ship carrying a material that is volatile and deadly but also very light – in my opinion the space that we have the least control over is the ocean. So there they are, embarking on a container ship as stowaway passengers, some might say. The second act is more of a maritime adventure film and then the third part turns more or less into the story of a ghost ship, with a necessary evacuation as its horizon.

The film crackles and burns with fire and references that are not just cinematographic but also literary.
There have been ghost ships in all of my films, drifting ships, ofand f-camera. I decided to film this ship; perhaps it will be the last one I include. I knew it would be very complicated due to the fact that the now entirely globalised maritime economy is not very compatible with the film industry, but I was really haunted by the idea of ​​a return to my roots. I was also haunted by great books during my childhood, such as Captain Marryay's The Ghost Ship and of course those from Edgar Poe, Lautreamont and Conrad, who really are a haven.

An adventure narrative is a sort of coming-of-age story for Westerners, so, yes, I drew on that a little to make a Maritime adventure film, It’s also a little minimalist because the very essence of ships is hellish: confined to a very small space where it’s noisy and it smells, whereas outside we are confronted with an immensity and we have no choice but to go mad because it's a complete vacuum. 

To unite a decadent Europe on a boat is a very cinematographic device. It makes us think of a certain Godard and Marienbad, or Oliveira's talkies.
Yes, this film is like a big hotel slowly crumbling into the sea, as I mentally told myself while thinking of films that I have seen again and again. The Shining also, for example, takes place entirely in a large desert hotel. Decadence and decline are definitely very much present in 9 Fingers. The film also talks a lot about Zeitgeist: we are unable to escape from our own time; it's a fatality that controls us.

At the same time the film, which seems to be in a "non-space", also exists outside of a particular time. It’s reminiscent of one of Antoine Blondin's phrases, who described Gracq’s Le Rivage des Syrtes as 'historically and geographically imprecise, so as to aid society’s imagination." Do you agree with this somewhat Borgesian description of 9 Fingers’ universe, which is also what makes it a total work of art.
I do really like Gracq, and Buzzati - besides, Gracq spoke very well of cinema: he created a magnificent preface to Nosferatu. The type of cinema that has had the greatest effect on me and the genre that was really drilled into my brain, with poets like Trakl, Artaud, or Céline, was actually silent film, and a lot of noir film, in particular American noir film - series B, let's say. With the Jacques Tourneur retrospective here in Locarno, we’re right in it. For me, they are the real classics. That's why I shot in black and white and used 35mm film. It was an obvious choice for me, although I had very limited means. Even after finishing the film, I thought that working in digital wouldn’t have brought anything to the film, only removed something from it.

It's obvious that we treat each subject differently according to the time we are in - the Middle Ages, the sixteenth or twentieth century will all be treated differently even if the same story is told. We create different representations, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about the Middle Ages. Whatever we do, we remain in our own time; we write with our own means and we film with our own means.

In short, we do our best with what we have. We shouldn't overestimate our own resources. As I always say, cinema is closer to construction than to art, it’s only at the very end that there’s any room for art. First of all we must assemble, brick by brick, film, and bring fiction into the film by any means possible, which, in my case was rather limited. But understanding is all these things - that is what we’re taught, and expressionism, and the American noir film.

(Translated from French)

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