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Elisabeth Perceval,

Nicolas Klotz

We’re on Ushant, where Jean Epstien, in the midst of a crisis after The Fall of the House of Usher, retired to take up his film career afresh and make Finis Terrae (1928).  “A century later, where do we stand?” ask Nicolas Klotz and Elisabeth Perceval in this film whose tone and title are reminiscent of an invocation. From one century to the next, for the pair of filmmakers pressed by the urgency of the times who set off to Calais to film The Wild Frontier (FID 2017) or to find out more about present and future revolutions in Let’s Say Revolution (FID 2021), it’s a question of responding to today’s demands in different ways. With Epstein’s foundational position in mind, the calm landscapes of Ushant are filmed in long shots, slow, insistent travelling shots in which the economy of their filmmaking seems to be relaunched and redefined. With, as an echo, past and present unrest that runs through the film in Hannah Arendt’s pessimistic voice or René Char reminding us that “once heaven and earth hated each other but heaven and earth lived”. We have to start over again from nothing, or almost nothing, from these dark times, far from this world polluted by images, colonised images that we need to get rid of so that we can inhabit it differently – like the poet we see scouring the countryside in a hostile environment. Start over? Better still, set out afresh from a material base, cleanse ourselves of all pollution (of images, of the Earth), as the final movement seems to suggest. To redraw the world, lucidly, anew.

Nicolas Feodoroff

In Nouveau monde ! (Le Monde à nouveau), you set up your camera on Ushant Island in Brittany, following in the footsteps of Jean Epstein. Could you explain this choice?

For the last twenty years, we’ve been roaming the grassy paths of Ushant, without a video camera. We’d sometimes take a camera for a few black-and-white photos. 

The light, the colours, all the shades of green, the rocks shifting from grey to brown to ink black, exhilarated us. Our heads were buzzing with the landscapes and the incredible blues of the majestic sea. We didn’t even dare to think of setting up our camera there, knowing how challenging it is to capture reality. As Cézanne said: “Painting from nature is not about reproducing it, rather expressing one’s sensations.” Then an invitation to write a preface for the next volume of Jean Epstein’s writings propelled us fervently from words to images and sounds. 

You blend Epstein’s cinema with other texts and languages, from René Char to Hannah Arendt. Could you explain how you worked with this material?

We tried to create connections and meeting points. The film speaks of many things. The texts appeared gradually during the filming and editing. There are texts we wrote and texts we recorded with the voices of our children, friends, and Elisabeth, in French, Portuguese and Arabic. There’s archive material from the 20th and 21st century: René Char, François Tanguy, Jean-Pierre Léaud / Saint Just in Week-End overlaid with the voice of Hannah Arendt, the songs of Patti Smith and Rosaliá, a play by Schoenberg, extracts from LOr des Mers by Epstein.

There’s the springtime sequence in Italian, in which the deserter wanders the island, reciting Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. The film transcends centuries, space, and time. There’s no hierarchy to the material. 

The editing process is a very important part of your work, in which you also mix rich and numerous material. 

Nouveau Monde! is without doubt our most intimate film. It’s just Elisabeth and I, with a small hand cart to move around the island, the camera stand, and our image and sound recording equipment. It’s our most intimate and most populated film. There is much presence, and many friends, visible and invisible. Friends we’ve had for 20 or 30 years. Alain Franco came to work in our editing room in Fécamp to explore 20th century music material. François Tanguy, who passed away on December 7th last year, and to whom the film is dedicated, is there too with his luminous friendship, his voice, his accordion, and the work of the Théâtre du Radeau. 

Fosco Corliano, the deserter, one of Radeau’s actors, willingly came to join us on the island with the Leonardo da Vinci notebooks. JL Godard and JM Straub, of course, passed away around the same time as François Tanguy. The “new world” that cinema has sensed is already here, visible and audible, despite the heavy ruins of our civilization. But in order for it to come forth, we must take a stand against the current catastrophe, and free images from everything that is destroying them.

The wind, the elements, and the landscapes, all of which were important for Epstein, are also very present in your film. Animals too, especially horses, also feature prominently. Why is this?

Filming from nature can be very intimidating, given how powerful, supreme and resistant it is. This was accentuated by the fact that we were filming with a cheap camera in particular lighting conditions for color. The animals invited themselves into the film from the start of the shoot. They watched us with incredible curiosity. We’d appear in their field of vision/sound, and they’d either stay at a distance or come closer. The camera fascinated them; not the object itself, but the interaction that developed between us because of it.  They are so present in the here and now, that the relation between them, us, and the camera, remained apparent and enigmatic. The landscape and the animals living there aren’t separate, they are one space. And they give you the gift, or not, of a flight, an approach, a zigzag, a song, a look, their presence. Perhaps even a form of telepathy. They are absolutely enigmatic, and familiar at the same time. They are colors, songs, breaths, silences, movements, appearances, disappearances. The horse stood before us, in all its majesty, as if it had come straight out of film history. But now, there are no more cavaliers, guns, Indians, cowboys, battles, John Ford… It was as if he’d been watching us since before the first Westerns and said: “I’m still here.” The goats that we filmed in the bushes on the southern side of the island are wild. 

They live, roam and feed in packs, and belong to no one. While the landspeople chase away the Italian deserter who wanders the island with his tale of the flood, the animals listen and respond to him. Perhaps they’re more sensitive to Leonardo da Vinci’s prophecy and humor than the humans?

From the film’s first words, we are guided by the voices of two children, who read several of the texts. Is this about (re)beginning ? 

Our idea was to shoot Nouveau Monde ! from the future, in retrospect. After the collapse. Long after Auschwitz, after Hiroshima, there’s a gigantic explosion. The world starts over. Cinema too. From the darkness and music that open the film, the voices of two children emerge, speaking of the blood of metals that humans extracted from the earth to make images. These children know our history, that the climate is a living entity, and how much the industrial contagion of digital images has contributed to the world’s combustion. How can we rebegin cinema? How can we rebegin the world? This question has been at the heart of our work for ten years now. Hence why we work in artisanal conditions, with very modest means. Time has collapsed, the distances separating eras abolished by a change of epoch. Cinema is a geological era. It was born out of the Big Bang, the invention of light, the revolutions of the cosmos, and geological eras.

Rebeginning, as the title suggests, is also a reflection on images as much as on the world, reality and cinema. A world in turmoil and threatened with destruction, of which you capture few images. Could you tell us more about this emphasis?

The world is not threatened by destruction. It’s already happening all around us. How can we film today without confronting this reality, which is intensifying day by day, and without exploring its effect on our consciousness? The effect of which is worry, of course. We attempted to make an “aftermath” film, by freeing ourselves from the heavy-handedness with which the film industry crushes and consumes cinema. This freedom is ahead of us, it is yet to come. It is perhaps even the consistency of a horizon. Making images that escape the over-explosive industrial process. Images are work. They are produced by a relationship to work. To make a film is to express a relationship with the work of images. When Jean Epstein settled on the Ushant archipelago a century ago, the sixth extinction had not yet left its mark on landscapes, but he sensed that it was already threatening cinema, and so he organized his film project around it.

Interview by Nicolas Feodoroff

  • Ciné + competition  
  • French Competition
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Technical sheet

France / 2023 / 102’

Cast: Fosco Corliano

Production: Raphaël Pillosio (L’Atelier Documentaire), KLOTZ NICOLAS (MATA ATLANTICA), PERCEVAL ELISABETH (MATA ATLANTICA)