José Luis Guerín • Director
Time is the essence
by Mazzino Montinari
- One of the special guests of the Festival is Spanish filmmaker José Luis Guerín who explains his filmmaking style in this interview
Iberian filmmaker José Luis Guerín is one of the special guests of the 39th International New Cinema Festival which honoured him with a retrospective of four of his most celebrated films: Los Motivos de Berta (1984), Innisfree (1990), Tren de sombras (1996) and En construcción (2000).
Guerín’s films stand out for the variety of subjects they cover. Describing and watching them is a challenge in itself that requires all your attention. It’s worth it in the end because his films induce the viewer to think more deeply about out existence.
We asked Guerín to explain his filmmaking art.
In recent years Spanish cinema has produced a wealth of interesting filmmakers and titles. Do you think that your work is in tune with this new surge or, are you hanging onto your radical independence; the impression one gets seeing your films?
"My films do not belong to the Spanish school. I refute the concept of national identity. Each filmmaker is a cosmopolitan individual whose only point of reference is the history of film. Exceptions are allowed, for example, the Italians who made films right after the end of the second world war and recent Iranian productions. Generally speaking, different criteria define affinity and complicity. In my case, the only Spanish artist who ever inspired me is Victor Erice. he is the only one whose basics are rooted in modernity. I could also mention Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Ermanno Olmi, Gianni Amelio, Eric Rohmer and a few others from the distant past like Robert Flaherty and his Nanuk of the North."
You tend to cast amateurs who say their lines in a very convincing way. How do you get that sponteneity?
"What I manage to draw out of my actors is the result of my familiarity with them. In my latest film, En construcción, the situations that arise were not planned out beforehand but the result of natural dialogue and interaction between individuals. The director takes control of reality and captures, observes and photographs it. It is clear that after filming similar moments of reality you must make choices; you end up writing those screenplays that initially I avoid doing. My goal is to create a situation. Then again, I am not interested in traditional settings. Reality and the situations that simply happen without prior planning are much richer and more satisfying than any fiction could ever hope to be. It’s a fact that our everyday existence spontaneously generates words and pictures that you could never hope to create in a screenplay or storyline."
Why do none of your films ever have an initial screenplay?
"D.W. Griffith was the first director to understand the importance of revealing the characters by means of a clear and subtle psychological link. Over the years, you could say that the need to write a screenplay bit directors back. The screenplay is a form of ideological control that producers exert over directors. The most ambitious exponents of contemporary cinema tried to escape this tyranny by not having screenplays. I work alternating the different phases that make up the film production process: I shoot, write, edit, view the footage and then shoot again, write and edit. Obviously you need plenty of time and means that don’t have much to do with the film industry. Only thus is it possible to capture the reality of those elements that make up a meaningful and rich storytelling style. It took me three years to make En construcción, 120 hours spent filming and all my time. Time is the biggest taboo in contemporary filmmaking. The greatest transgression is taking time to think. You need to respect your characters by learning to wait for them. If you’re patient, sooner or later something happens that means you don’t have to resort to tricks. "
One of the most outstanding aspects of your career is that you made a complicated film like Los Motivos de Berta aged just 23, and you managed to hold onto the richness of that narration in all you subsequent work?
"I made my first films after I was given a Super8 camera at the age of 8. The only film school I ever went to was a film library where I saw and loved the classics of cinema. I also used all the endless discussion of films that I and my friends would get up to. That was my training. At twenty I wanted to make films that would explain the nature of time, memory and the fact that nothing lasts for ever. That is why I turned to filmmaking as opposed to photography. The latter stops time while cinema allows you to show the way time corrodes people, the vanity of an image that appears to give man immortality. We are deluding ourselves if we think that we can fight the passage of time and death itself. And cinema experiences that contradiction firsthand. "
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.