Saturday, June 12, 2010

Claire Denis on narrative in cinema

This is something Eytan sent me this morning, it's one of the best descriptions of how I approach narrative in cinema. From Jonathan Romney's interview with Claire Denis (bold emphases are mine):

Jonathan Romney: But the way you tell stories, you don't make it easy for the audience. I saw Nénette et Boni the other night, and what's amazing about that film is that it's a very simple story. A brother and a sister and they meet again. But we don't know everything about them. You take out all the things that other film-makers would put in so we know where we are. We don't know where we are in this film and we have to find ourselves, we have to find the story. Is that a conscious process?

Claire Denis: It's conscious and unconscious. Because again I am not trying to make it hard. I hate that. But I am trying to float on the impression of what a story could be. But for me, cinema is not made to give a psychological explanation, for me cinema is montage, is editing. To make blocks of impressions or emotion meet with another block of impression or emotion and put in between pieces of explanation, to me it's boring. Again, I am not trying to make it difficult but I think, as a spectator, when I see a movie one block leads me to another block of inner emotion, I think that's cinema. That's an encounter. I think cinema is linked to literature by a lot of social ways. Our brains are full of literature - my brain is. But I think we also have a dream world, the brain is also full of image and songs and I think that making films for me is to get rid of explanation. Because there is, I think, you get explanation by getting rid of explanation. I am sure of that.


Something I wrote on a_film_by four years ago:

"Here's my problem with taking 'the story' too seriously. As Zach [Campbell] points out, what we call the story of a film only exists in our minds. What there really is in the film is bits and pieces of information/happenings. Those can be taken in time-based cause/consequence relationships and we have a story.

OR we can take those in a more poetic way, as a continuous flow of thought/feeling/images that sometimes create interesting effects not because they construct a story but just because they contrast or draw parallels between different ideas.

And I'm not talking about contrasts/parallels between different scenes. It could be that in the same scene, same shot, different thought/feelings might be aroused by different elements.

If a character expresses regret by the way she looks in a funeral scene, what we have is more than that character feeling regret during a funeral. We have the ideas of regret and death meshed together, which creates a different idea impossible to express in words. This would, of course, have to be helped by the composition since cinema is a cinematic medium.

I find that most of my favorite narrative films also work in this poetic way. Au hasard, Balthazar, Viaggio in Italia, I Was a Male War Bride, Some Came Running, The Birds, Objective, Burma! are all great examples of this."


Or we can summarize all this thanks to a simple quote by Jean Mitry: "Le roman est un récit qui s'organise en monde, le film un monde qui s'organise en récit," Tag Gallagher's translation: "The novel is a narrative that constructs a world; film is a world that constructs a narrative."