Interview with Garegin Vanisian

At once the story of a break-up, a reflection on filmmaking, a tribute to cinema, and an essay on breaking the fourth wall, your film has different entry points and levels of interpretation. What first made you want to do it?
The actress or actor often is the starting point for my films. A film feels all the more private to me the more it is private to the actress or actor. The performer Jasko Fide was the initial inspiration for this project. The first outline for the film was very different from its final form. The many changes of the concept are reflected in the film’s polymorphic structure.
The film opens with the song La tendresse, by Marie Laforêt, placing the film under the banner of love, but behind the initial innocence soon appears the harshness of disillusionment caused by the break-up and the absence of the loved one. Why did you choose this song and this rendition?
Apart from it being a simply beautiful song and from my admiration for Laforêt’s chansons, I chose it for the lively dichotomy it creates in regard to the film. It corresponds with the mood and diffident hope which the main character bears in her heart (“Mais vivre sans tendresse/On ne le pourrait pas”; “Pour que règne l’amour,/Règne l’amour/Jusqu’à la fin des jours“), but there is also a certain sweetish nature to the song which creates an opposition to the film’s images.
Your character has just broken up with a woman, and she is reading Renée Vivien’s Une femme m’apparut, the autobiographical story of a passionate relationship. And abstract is read by a voice-over. How is the book involved in the film? Is it the starting point?
At least one lasting influence which I received from the films of François Truffaut is that each film of mine must feature a person reading a book and a close-up of the book. I discovered Renée Vivien as an author just a few months before the filming started (through her exceptional short story collection La Dame à la louve). The film’s narrative owes very much to the passionate turmoil and deep erotic despair of her prose.
Your film seems to be following a dotted line. Gradually, the break-up is coupled with a break in the structure of the film; instead of seeing all its frames, we get to see elements from the making-of: beautiful storyboard plates, a model of the set, the track of a camera dolly, and even the casting at the end. Why did you choose this approach?
In an essay from 1965, Pier Paolo Pasolini reflected about the screenplay of a film as a “structure which wants to be a different structure”, the “desire of the form to be a different form”. To me, this seems a natural impetus and process. Over a long course of time, I experimented with different possible ways of bringing together and narrating the different ideas I had for this film. And then I remember saying to Johanna Meyer, the set and costume designer who also designed the story boards, upon the completion of her drawings that we don’t need to shoot the film anymore because it is already “made” now. This feeling was crucial to open the structure of the film to an intertextual one.
In the end, the actress’ body, its presence or its absence, seems to be the real heart of the film. While she appears on screen as the main character, she withdraws from the film, thus creating through her very absence the conditions for the present film to be. Can you comment on this apparent paradox?
How can one convey with words or images what it means to be possibly forever separated from your deeply beloved person? I decided I could better express the feeling of this loss by creating a second loss.
“The Heart Through Deserts Runs – Working Title”: can you comment on the title that you chose for the film?
The first part of the title quotes a line from a beloved poem of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published in his collection West-Östlicher Divan which is also quoted in the film’s off-narration. I connected it to the film’s narration already from an early stage on. The “technical” addition to the title was an intuitive necessity to me.
A frame hanging on the wall reads: “I too thought that life was a poem”, a quote from the film Absence répétées by Guy Gilles, to whom your film is dedicated, together with Marina Abramović. Can you tell us about their influence on the film?
Absences répétées is among the films which had the strongest influence on this film of mine. I discovered it only a few months before the filming, showed it to the set designer, to the lead actress, we even directly quoted a frame composition from it. The wistfulness, the poetic atmosphere and the playfulness of Guy Gilles’ film were a revelation to me and to many who worked on the film; this particular line (in Gilles’ film it is spoken by a character at the very end) tenderly evokes the beauty and sadness of living. As for Marina Abramović – Nightsea Crossing, the series of performances by her and Ulay, was, for different reasons, one of the first working titles of the film and also one of the first visual inspirations.

Interview by Louise Martin Papasian