INTERVIEW – CH…
The central character of ch… is Mili Pecherer, herself a director who presented a film at the FID last year, but we can also see connections (the landscape, some of the characters, the presence of animals) with the film you yourself presented, La Pomme Chinoise. How did this short film come about?
Ch…, or the idea for ch…, first emerged in this landscape. Then there was the encounter with Mili Pecherer in Marseille, and it was decisive because the film then wrapped itself around this encounter, around the grace and strength of Mili’s presence. I’ve known this landscape for a long time but I’d never taken any pictures of it. When I filmed it for La Pomme Chinoise in the summer of 2017 (just after presenting Trivial Poème at the FID, filmed in Beirut), I was very impressed with its malleability. La Pomme Chinoise is a film about transmission and it’s shot through with the issue of the colonial legacy (fractures that still wound the present, and the only hope of overcoming them is by acknowledging their existence), mostly referring to Algeria and the Congo. But, little by little as the project progressed, this corner of the Alpes de Haute-Provence seemed to be transformed by the thoughts that I was working on, the thoughts that were preoccupying me, as if they’d worked on the place too. It became a foreigner, unknown to itself and constantly expanding, eventually offering the film a glimpse of utopia (a utopic affirmation that, what’s more, is championed – and the paradox fascinates me – by a young Bartleby).
So you wanted to experience the malleability of this landscape again?
Yes. Last summer (in 2019), again straight after the FID, I returned to go walking in this area that some close friends and I call Eldorado, driven by the desire to start something new with it. In connection with another feature film, I was doing some research into whispering. I was gathering information about the word “whisper” in various languages for a future “whispering ark” and I was interested in the circumstances in which men and women whisper when nothing seems to oblige them to. It’s an investigation that I’d like to continue, actually, because its historical and political dimensions, but also its intimate, organic, spiritual and musical dimensions all matter to me. For the part that concerns ch… more directly, it was a quest, immediate and sensitive, and I shared it with the birds, the donkeys, the wasps, the path and the river, who are all present in La Pomme Chinoise, or with Juliette, who only features in a single shot. In the meantime, Juliette had had a baby with Hughes, and, in the very spot where, at the end of La Pomme Chinoise, the little fawn-antelope suddenly appears, now the couple were bathing. The landscape was in play again (was it whispering?), Eldorado became Eden – and everything fell into place, the fall and the apple had found shelter in the earlier film, the path was clear. Shifts in meaning, twists, sidestepping, and transfers are poetic operations through which emerges what I can only now, afterwards, designate as a subject.
How did the encounter with Mili Pecherer come about and how did the two worlds connect?
I met Mili Pecherer the following autumn in Marseille during a remake of her beautiful film How glorious it is to be a human being. A few weeks later, I asked her if she’d be willing to tell my little camera how to say “whisper” in Hebrew. We made a date for February 6th. We only spent four or five hours together, but it was intense. From the very first shot, I knew that the film would find its focus in the spillover from my question. It was all incredible… Mili’s radiance, what she said and how she said it, the conversations about ourselves, the places fate had taken us. When Mili played the harmonica, of course, I immediately thought of Eldorado… But the connecting of the two worlds took place and was constructed during the editing. The encounter anchored the film, and, in a way, with its editing, it brought the Mili Pecherer of the film into this landscape that was unfamiliar to her. The fact that Mili is a filmmaker is, obviously, central. Hence the looks and perspective, the purifying water-stone mask… And ch…’s allusions to Mili’s filmmaking, which, I hope, it encourages viewers to explore. I’ve rarely experienced so clearly the sensation of finding myself at the heart of a “discipline open to coincidences” as it’s set out in La Pomme Chinoise in the form of a little manifesto that’s as poetic as it is… “existential”, as Mili would say.
As it happens, the conversation that forms the core of the film is about Mili’s history of names. How did this topic come to mind?
First of all, I’m sensitive to words, and to sounds (the “ch” of Pecherer didn’t escape my notice), and then, and above all, it’s come a long way… It’s a bit like skimming stones… Often, when you meet someone, it starts like that, doesn’t it? In La Pomme Chinoise, for example, while the motif of the moon is there right from the beginning with the first long shot of the young woman nicknamed “la lune rousse”, there are constant rebounds and echoes (the little girl on a bike is called Luna, the stranger encountered at Lyon Part-Dieu station tells us that his name means “moonlight”, and so on). For me, this launching or stone skimming and its speed, this challenge, are as much a part of the creative process as the meticulous material work. And a family name always involves a story. What’s more, when this account crosses the paths of history and politics, it gains depth and acquires a different status. Here, it rejoins La Pomme Chinoise, its movement and its hope. Before you can liberate yourself and fly away, you have to face up to things and make way. Only then, perhaps, there is a small chance of a new beginning, an invention.
Interviewed by Nathan Letoré.