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Florence Pazzottu

Florence Pazzottu
The title is that of a long poem by Jack Spicer, composed of short chapters, almost all of which are rendered here. Florence Pazzottu invites it in to the South Alpine village of La Pomme Chinoise (The Chinese Apple) (FID 2019), scattering it to the wind : written on black cardboard or loose sheets, interrupted by Australian admirer’s rock music, recited in turn by the inhabitants of the village who, in perfect harmony with the Californian’s poetry, add their grain of salt, fine or coarse. If, for Spicer, the poet is a radio, a receptacle and transmitter of voices and things that come to him from the Outside, then Florence Pazzottu’s gesture is one of very high fidelity: casting the poem into the world, she returns it to the Outside and transforms cinema into the most lively and flexible operator of translation.
(Cyril Neyrat)

Interview with Florence Pazzottu

1. Two years after La Pomme chinoise (The Chinese Apple) (FID 2019), you return to the same village south of the Alps to share with its inhabitants Jack Spicer’s long poem that gives its title to your film. What was your initial inspiration? What motivated this encounter between this text and the place?

It all began in a rather unusual way that had nothing to do with the programme or even the project. Spicer’s name came up in conversation and I’d looked in vain on my bookshelves, for a friend, for an old issue of the journal I knew was partly devoted to the American poet. I gave up, but Spicer’s name didn’t give up – it was meant to be… In late July 2020, just after presenting my little ch… at the FID, I went back to Ubaye and it was there that the name of Jack Spicer resurfaced, almost throwing itself at me, there in front of my eyes. This time, it was an issue of If (created by Liliane Giraudon and Jean-Jacques Viton), and it was also dated 2002 (because by that time I’d also found the other journal, an issue of Action Poétique). I’m always in awe of the way certain objects hide and then appear just at the right moment. All it needed was to inverse two numbers (and for 18 years to go by, nonetheless) and suddenly, at last, I received the letter.
“Un roman raté sur la vie d’Arthur Rimbaud” – which became, in Eric Suchère’s most recent translation, “Un faux roman” – left a kind of imprint both intense and cryptic in my mind; it struck me this time with its crazy and enigmatic clarity. It had the same effect on me as if Spicer had whispered directly into my ear “Go for it!”
I immediately wrote to Eric Suchère, Peter Gizzi and Emmanuel Requette – I’d just learnt that all three of them were preparing an issue of Oeuvres Poétiques Complètes in French at Vies Parallèles, Bruxelles (published in 2021 under the title Elégies Imaginaires). “Faux Roman” found itself attached to the place where it was rediscovered, and not because I had wanted to transpose it – instead it was as though, writing the text before I was even born, Spicer had heard me enumerate at the end of shooting The Chinese Apple the places that continued to call out: the stairs of the old post office and the school, the motorbike museum, the marble quarry…

2. The screenplay projects and scatters Spicer’s text all over the landscape, the country: alternating the oral and the written, men and women take turns to recite and sometimes comment on the poem, which is reproduced almost in its entirety. What was your approach for this unique film translation that’s spontaneous yet very elaborate? What about the occasional omissions of the original text?

Every chapter, or almost, brought to my mind a place and sometimes an object too. Those that didn’t light up when I read them remained strangely muted. Obviously, these chapters weren’t silent in the book, but they remained muted for the film. Shooting only took a few days in the summer, and three more days at Halloween, but the editing took a very long time. The idea that some passages would be written and not spoken soon became clear, but not how they would be composed – except for the sequence where the couple show each other the handwritten panels from the windows, which was immediately apparent to me.
I like to learn each time anew how the poetic operation creates unity from miscellaneous materials – without standardising them but by tuning, arranging or holding them together, sometimes balancing the disparate and the discordant. So shifting Spicer’s poem by making a poem (film) of his poem, by rubbing it against the landscape and by hemming in or stamping onto his sentences (written or read) the words of those who, whether inhabitants or passers-by, were willing to play the serious game of impromptu reading – this is what the film is all about. But I have to say that it had its own say in the matter, and so much the better! I tried to be attentive. Not like a ghost or a Martian but definitely at a distance. I almost always followed the chronology of the chapters. I’d set off with the idea of a place and a page in my pocket, and then I’d meet someone, sometimes on the way. I shared the poem, as you so rightly said. Each person discovered the text as they read it. It was rare, very rare, that I could do more than one take or sound recording. Of course, if it was the bar or the motorbike museum, or even the post office, I knew who I’d find, but they didn’t know I was coming with Spicer. The encounter took place through the poem.

3. Spicer’s poem also invents a very peculiar Arthur Rimbaud, somewhere between a postman and a scribe. In what way did Spicer’s vision of Rimbaud interest you and how did it determine the film’s screenplay?

Rimbaud is the hero of a myth (did you know that at the entrance to the Charleville cemetery, there’s a yellow letterbox where people still leave letters for him, 129 years after his death?), but for me, he’s above all the representation of the beginning; a beginning that’s always ahead of us. Spicer’s poem begins “You can’t close the door. It is in the future”.
Rimbaud was born, Spicer tells us, in the post office and he’s in the middle of a whole bundle of letters. Rimbaud is, like Spicer himself, an outrepasseur. It’s this figure of both the beginning and calling from outside that is for me at the heart of the poem, and, I hope, runs through the film. It’s why Rimbaud can be, in turn, a two-year old girl, an eight-year old boy and in the next shot, a sixteen year old, or even a Brazilian dancer (even though in the dialogue, Timbó reads the lines of the “little ghost”!).
Spicer plays around with biographical markers; he’s faithful to something else, and so am I.
What’s more, in the “letter” brought by Raven the Cat and read by Nathan Roche, several of whose songs are in the film, we have Rimbaud born in Roche and not in Charleville. It’s not just a pun, homophony. We have Rimbaud born in the attic of Roche’s house – where he began to write, where he wrote “Une saison en enfer”.
And the crazy thing is that it was only when I began shooting that I discovered Rimbaud’s face on a door opposite the motorbike museum (and also when I discovered the former village schoolteacher Denis Casanova’s passion for Rimbaud)!

4. In addition to the figures of Spicer and Rimbaud, your film, attentive to signs of America in a village in the South Alps, develops a daydream about a transatlantic correspondence, about a certain closeness between French and American cultures. Can you tell us something about that?

Spicer’s text plays with this correspondence a lot. It cites the names of Apollinaire and Gambetta, but it puts Rimbaud under the administration of James Buchanan (president from 1857-1861). But, more significant than the presence of a Saloon where we might expect a Trattoria (it’s very close to Italy) or (more predictably) an Elvis Presley in the motorbike museum, there’s the fact that the present itself began to interact. Just as I finished shooting (All Souls’ Day!), the Americans were about to elect their president. And a lot of commentators were comparing Trump to the 15th President of the United States! And then, while I was editing the film, there was the notorious storming of the Capitol…
As for the history of the Ubaye Valley itself in Rimbaud’s day, with the mass emigration to America, mainly South America (although the Arnaud Brothers, weavers, founded Arnaudville first), this is, of course, not the subject of my film at all, and while the post-script makes a brief mention of it (with a kind of irony that is undoubtedly my own), I didn’t capture the traces of it (I didn’t film any of the “Mexican villas”).
The Outside resonates in a different way…

Interview by Cyril Neyrat

  • Other gems

Technical sheet

France / 2021 / 58’

Original Version : French.
Subtitles : English.
Script : Florence Pazzottu.
Photography : Florence Pazzottu.
Editing : Florence Pazzottu.
Sound : Florence Pazzottu.
Production : Alt(r)a Voce.
Distribution : Florence Pazzottu.
Filmography : ch…, 2020. La pomme chinoise, 2019. Trivial poem, 2017. Le triangle mérite son sommet, 2015. La place du sujet, 2012.