• International Competition

Kunst der Farbe

Mariano Llinás

Kunst der Farbe is the third part to a triptych on Mondongo, an Argentinian duo of artists, and long-time friends of the filmmaker. The initiative of making their portrait, as shown in Mondongo 2, was a painful failure. Then why make a third film? Simply because failure, the impossible, are what drive Mariano Llinás’ work. In the present case, the project was a challenge thrown to Mondongo by Llinás: since you have already created a baptistery based on Johannes Itten’s The Art of Color (see Mondongo 1), let’s make a film where you and me will make a piece of art out of this seminal theoretical work. Cinema challenges painting to a duel. But the duel never occurs and Llinás ends up making his film alone, or with a few accomplices who are delighted to play along. For when a film project fails, then you can start having fun with the remainders. Putting on a show. And Kunst der Farbe is a comedy of color. Needless to say, the remainders are anything but garbage: there are shots gleaned by Agustín Mendilaharzu in the countryside and on the road in Argentina, following planes, motorcycles, cars, in search of all the colors of the world ; but also fragments from Feuillade films, whose black-and-white lends itself to all types of hues ; screentests and rehearsals of hilarious skits with Llinás as a histrionic fool wearing an eyeglass in the style of Fritz Lang; paintings that are emblematic of a history of color (Giorgione for green, Carpaccio for red, El Greco for gray, etc.); a brilliant course on color in cinema, given by the color grader on her work station, directly on Agustin’s shots. Triumph of cinema, surrender of painting. But above all else, there is an extraordinary musical score, written for the film after Itten’s book – one movement per color, all performed in the concert hall. Everything is being manufactured, devised in front of our captivated eyes, to the hectic, explosive rhythm of the music-driven editing. If cinema, as Godard said, is “the fraternity of metaphors,” then Kunst der Farbe is the very prototype of an as yet unknown means of transport.

Cyril Neyrat

Kunst der Farbe is the third part of the Mondongo Triptych, three films born of a commission to make a film about the Argentinian artist duo Mondongo. Where did this commission – or invitation – come from? What interested you in this project and led you to accept?

First of all, I’d have to say that I make all the films I’m asked to make. To say “what interested me” in the project would be a boast: I’m working on it, and if I’m told to make a film about something, I do it. That said, the project was both seductive and dangerous. On the one hand, it was a film about dear friends whose work I admired and was interested in. At the same time, what was an attraction could also turn against the film: it could become an unpleasantly self-indulgent film, lacking the necessary critical distance. A celebratory film that wouldn’t interest anyone. So I decided to put my relationship with the subjects at the center of my work, and to ask myself the following questions: how do I make a portrait of someone I know intimately, with whom I have a relationship without which the portrait has no meaning? And at the same time, how do you make a portrait in cinema? I think these two questions were enough to turn the film from a mere functional object into an interesting challenge.

How did you go from making one film to making three? How did this happen? Did you have the triptych in mind from the start, or did each film beget the next?

Absolutely not. Initially, we had to start by recording the work they were doing: the Baptistery of colours. The initial commission was to film the process of this work. Later, when they told me that they had based their work on Johannes Itten’s book, I thought it would be a good idea to play with the device of the challenge between two adaptations, in the manner of a Jules Verne book. Finally, I felt that the film had to take over from our story, and I realized that it was imperative to film one of those terrible nights we experienced twenty years ago. What happened was that the filming of those nights became even more terrible than the original nights, and that’s when the course of the film changed. My initial intention was to assemble these various materials into a single film. Eventually, after many attempts, I accepted that these three things didn’t go well together and that each had, so to speak, “its own soul”. So I decided to obey this particularity and not mix things that were so reluctant to be together.

The structure is remarkable. It’s easy to imagine a triptych in a museum, but with a singular shape: in the center is the portrait, but the side panels would be disproportionately large: on the left is a simple, small-format sketch, on the right a collage that tends towards abstraction in an extraordinary explosion of color. What would be your vision of this triptych?

Obviously, the Portrait has always been the central figure, the one to which I’ve devoted over two whole years of work and where the film, so to speak, sheathes its weapons, as we say in old Spanish heraldry. To be even more medieval, I would say that this portrait puts at stake my honor as a filmmaker, my honesty as a filmmaker and even my talent as a filmmaker. Perhaps these three things are one and the same. I think that the third film, Kunst der Farbe, can exist because this challenge has been met, in my opinion honorably, and the duellist can afford to feast and enjoy after the bitterness of the central chapter. As for the first, I think it’s part of the triptych as a document of what might have been had the filmmaker not understood the task at hand and done, without too much trouble, what was asked of him. I remember having this same conversation with Andrés Buhar, the film’s producer, the commissioner, when accepting the film. “Do you want a film that suits you or a good film?” Buhar has always preferred the latter, even if this path led into thornier and less docile territory. Be that as it may, this “less original” film is here, almost as a rarity, a testament to the path the filmmaker decided not to take.

Mondongo 2 (Retrato de Mondongo) and Mondongo 3 (Kunst der Farbe) are two films that immediately announce their origins in a failure. The failure of a project. This failure gives rise to a prodigious freedom of invention. Can you explain?

You could say that the first failure is real and the second is invented, like a game or a satire. At the same time, it has to be said that what makes both films “failures” occurs at the end of the process. The argument between the portrait and me, which puts an end to a twenty-year friendship, occurs at the end of the process, once everything has been filmed. In other words, the failure is ex post, occurring as the films are nearing completion, and consists in the discovery that we were no longer friends, and that the film had irrevocably separated us. The challenge of Kunst der Farbe was thought out in advance: the only thing the conflict between us does is endow it with a truth that had always been there, but which we ourselves didn’t understand. The film knew our friendship was dead long before we knew it ourselves. In this sense, what fails is something that exists outside the films, but the films, cruel and proud, triumph in their status as seers and soothsayers.

The film is made of six (?) different materials. Let’s take them one at a time.
First, the collection of shots you and Agustín Mendilaharzu gleaned from the roads and countryside, dominated by all manner of vehicles or drivers: planes, cars, motorcycles, high-voltage cables. How did you go about filming in the countryside?

So, at the beginning it was a simple game: go looking for colors in the countryside. I’d seen these big, empty, colorful billboards on the road and decided to start there. I also wanted to film the “fox tails”, a kind of white-feathered reed that appears in autumn on the Pampean plains. From there, the game developed on its own: where to find the red, where to find the yellow, where to find the brown. I’d also long had the idea of filming the wheat harvest, which I found fascinating. So it was a bit like looking for mushrooms in the forest. It was the first thing we did for this film, and it was almost irrational. Nobody understood what these things were for.

Then there are the tests and rehearsals for the fictional sketches, where your taste for comedy and buffoonery is given free rein. Your two actresses, Pilar Gamboa and María Villar, form a very playful and close trio. Can you tell us something about them? About how you conceived these scenes?

It was the last thing I shot, when I realized that the color scheme should be a film in itself. Based on a phrase uttered in passing in Mondongo II (something like “We’ll make a challenge and I’ll be a sort of Fritz Lang”) and the fictional situation they refuse to play out, it occurred to me (when this film was already going off the rails) to film precisely this fantasy. Again: at the time, Mondongo and I hadn’t yet broken up, so this scene of enmity was quite prophetic. As for María and Pilar, they are very close friends of El Pampero Cine. María, the star of so many Alejo [Moguillansky] films, and Pilar, with whom, after La Flor, we know and understand each other in an almost telepathic way – even if she never ceases to amaze me. As soon as I saw that I could put these wonderful women in a new film, I called them up, wrote the scenes and we shot the whole thing in an afternoon. I think that’s where a strong, almost patriotic sense of belonging comes in, and that homeland is cinema. I think what ultimately drove the Mondongos and me apart was their lack of understanding of cinema, the idea that cinema is ultimately a means of showing things, not a subject in itself. The reunion with these film people, eternally accomplices, was a shivering return to the homeland.

Third material: Irma Vep, Feuillade, the soap opera. As a representative of this type of cinema, silent, black-and-white, action cinema where one adventure follows another. Can you explain this bias?

My background is surrealist, which means that for me, approaches and relationships are arbitrary and intuitive. The association with Feuillade is an automatic gesture, with no thought other than an impulse. Just as in Mondongo II (and also in I) I imagined that Bernard Hermann’s music for Hitchcock’s films could be an element that would give greater force to the collage, so it was with Feuillade’s images and Gabriel Chwojnik’s concert of colors. I consider Feuillade to be one of the greatest filmmakers in history, but the same goes for Vigo, for example, and I would never have included Vigo in such a project. I suppose it has to do with a layer of nastiness and perversity that runs through the whole film. Hence the reference to Lang, perhaps the greatest filmmaker when it comes to filming evil. Kunst der Farbe is a film in which evil is present in an abstract way, and perhaps Les Vampires – another great diabolical work – contributes to this dark presence.

Fourth material: paintings from the history of art: Cézanne, Giorgione, El Greco and so on. Fifth: the lesson on color in cinema, taught by Inés Duacastella the colorist at her workstation, in front of the actual film images. It’s a beautiful gesture, to entrust the colorist with the task of delivering the heart of a theory of color in cinema. To put yourself in the background at that moment. Especially as she does it so well.

These scenes (perhaps the most poignant in the whole film) come at a later point, when the film was almost finished. There was a feeling that the comedy wasn’t enough and that the film needed some truth. Several people commented on this after seeing the film. I realized that the accusation was true and that the film lacked a serious reflection on colors, at least the colors proper to cinema. I started with the color silver, which had always been important to me in the film because it was the color of cinema: the silver screen. I decided to film a conversation with Inés, while she was working on the final materials. Her gaze was so lucid that it quickly extended to brown, white and gold. The dignity of cinema came through forcefully, the wise way in which cinema has approached certain colors that it doesn’t necessarily owe to the knowledge of painting but approaches from its own specificity: an art of light, in which light is not necessarily a reproduction or an artifice but works effectively with sunlight, like its big sister photography. It was here that the cinematograph was able to add to Itten’s laborious theory, for whom light was a little less than non-existent. I find the scene as touching as it is lucid: this little woman in a Buenos Aires auditorium, debating as equals with a great Bauhaus professor. I have the impression that cinematography is validating itself as a democratic and popular art form, at the same time as being capable of profound knowledge, far removed from the contempt with which it is viewed, for example, in the visual arts. Perhaps this is yet another example of the cinematic patriotism I mentioned earlier.

Generally speaking, you’re both at the very center of the film, as director/actor, and constantly on the bangs, as part of a small troupe to which you give full rein. Could you comment on this?

I don’t think I’ve ever made a film in which the collaboration was so obvious. The editing (which you don’t mention in your meticulous breakdown of elements) was done by the young Ignacio Codino almost single-handedly. It was he who came up with the musicality and the system that governs the very complicated color collages at the heart of the film. I think the film’s identity owes more to him than to me, and it’s not fair to put myself in the “author’s” shoes and leave out his work, which is certainly no less authorial than mine. The same goes for Chwojnik’s music, which I consider to be one of the great living composers. My place here is merely that of the circus director, the one who goes out to announce the acts: they are, in reality, the wild beasts and the tightrope walkers.

Ultimately, Kunst der Farbe is neither a film about the relationship between cinema and painting from the point of view of color, nor a treatise on color in cinema. Rather, it’s a comedy of color. Do you agree with this view of the film?

I’d say yes for the first few colors. Towards the end, when the colors of cinema appear, the duel becomes real, and that’s when the cinematograph and its companions emerge from the shadows to tell the world who we are. It’s a kind of cold war that’s being played out here, and we even witness a defection, de rigueur in the genre, to our camp: a major defection. I’m talking, of course, about Millet’s Glaneuses, which definitively goes to the cinema. It’s a moment of glory, even if we’ve always known, since Agnès Varda, that they were ours, like Olympia, like Giorgione’s lightning bolt and like the man looking at the camera in The Surrender of Breda.

Interview by Cyril Neyrat

Listen to the Cinémoi interview with the director, recorded by Radio Grenouille

  • International Competition
19:0027 June 2024Variétés 1
11:3028 June 2024Variétés 1
14:3030 June 2024La Baleine

Technical sheet

Argentina / 2024 / Colour / 90'

Original version: Spanish, German
Subtitles: English, French
Script: Mariano Llinás
Photography: Agustín Mendilaharzu
Editing: Ignacio Codino
Music: Gabriel Chwojnik
Sound: Valeria Fernández, Federico Esquerro
Cast: Pilar Gamboa, María Villar

Production: Laura Citarella (El Pampero Cine)
Contact: Laura Citarella