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Jun 18, 2007

Tribeca x 4: João Moreira Salles


During the 6th Tribeca Film Festival I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing some of the filmmakers, actors, producers and festival executives. Next there is an excerpt from the interview with João Moreira Salles, director, writer and producer of Santiago.

Durante el 6º Festival de Cine de Tribeca tuve el placer y honor de entrevistar a algunos de los cineastas, actores, productores y ejecutivos del festival. A continuación, un extracto de la entrevista con João Moreira Salles, director, escritor y productor de Santiago.

Pablo Goldbarg: When you start the film we see emptiness: a house, furniture, walls. I wonder what did you feel when you came back to your house revisiting the past?

João Moreira Salles: When I made the film in 1992/93, the house was empty. The house was abandoned in a sense. My mother had left the house, and the house was left to the cockroaches. And when I filmed the house there was this idea… when I say it, it sound pretentious, and it’s not literally on the film, but for me the house represents to certain idea of, not Brazil, specifically Rio de Janeiro, a city that at some point was very cosmopolitan. A lot of things were happening in Rio, cinema nuovo, bossanova, the best writers, those who re invented the Brazilian literature, they were not from Rio, but they had move to Mina Gerais and they were writing in Rio, the best poetry was being written in Rio. So, Rio was in a sense a city that had ambition, and the ambition was to be part of the world. In a political, economical and social way--the Paris Hilton social way--I think that the house represented that too. The fact that it was a house where Presidents from another countries would pass by and stay, people from the economic world outside of Brazil, the Rockefellers, etc. they would go and stay there. In a sense the house was also part of this idea of Brazil and Rio that had the ambition to be part of the world. Now, in ’92 this whole idea had completely disappeared. Rio was a city in decay, the house had lost its sense, my family was disintegrated, my father and mother had separated and divorced, my mother was already dead when I filmed, so the whole idea of the house and everything that happened in the house was an idea of the past, and that past was a glorious past in a sense. So, for me the empty house, and the way the house was left to its own chance and bad luck was also the idea that I had about my own family and my own city. A couple of years later I made “News From a Private World”, so you see in such a way there’s a connection.

P.G.: There is an amazing discovery about Santiago’s 30,000 pages of writing, and such richness inside. You probably remember when living there that Santiago was special (about the books, the dancing…). When did you know that you would do a film about him?

J.M.S.: Of course in 1992 when I decided to make a film about him it was a very traditional film, a film about someone else. The same way you make a film about a pianist, or a scientist. You make a film about another person, and you’re not in the film. Why Santiago? Because he was very interesting, he was part of my upbringing and childhood, and also he represented this idea of something that was out of place at that time. The same way that the house didn’t make any sense in 1992, Santiago didn’t make any sense either. The ideas that he had, and his idea of the world didn’t make any sense in 1992. Rio became a very violent city; Brazil had impeached the President; the inflation, and the whole idea about a very quaint noble aristocratic, even enclosed place where you can live without taking notice of Brazil... I mean you can live in that house and think that you were living in the first world, but that whole idea came down in the ‘90s, which is good. I’m not saying it’s bad. So, Santiago was also that person who represented something that is out of place. The film is about things that are out of place. But in that time I didn’t pay attention to the 30,000 pages. At that time I just wanted him to fill up the empty house with his stories. And his life, the things that he did with his own spear time was not a fair amount interest for me. And I didn’t film the papers. The only thing that you see in the film, that has been recently shot, three years ago, is in fact the papers. So, in ’92 it was a certain kind of film about Santiago, about the whole idea of the city that was going down the drains. In 2004, the film became a film about my relationship with him, and with the idea of time, and memory and loss. Which is something that for me it’s always there. This is something that I think a lot about. Of course, his papers are an expression of that. So, therefore I paid attention to the papers much, much later.

P.G.: Talking about the relationship with him, I imagine that a lot of people ask you during Q&A about you giving him specific orders during the film. Of course, as a director you must give them to the subject in terms of reaching your goals, but I wonder how did you deal with that knowing that he wasn’t the butler anymore, and you had a different relationship during the shooting?

J.M.S.: I really don’t think that at the time of the shooting the relationship had change that much. Although he wasn’t the butler anymore, I treated him as such, and I didn’t notice it at that time. I thought the relationship was very fair, but it was a very unfair relationship. Someone has the power and someone not. But one thing that I said about that is that he’s not only the object of the film. He is also the subject of the film. He has his own ideas, he has the power to be angry with me, to stop the shooting, to say cut. So, in a sense he reacts. I think this tension between someone who orders and someone who accepts some of the orders and do not accept others makes the complexity of the film. The film is made out of this tension of me trying to direct him, and he accepting and not accepting at the same time. At the time that I shot in ’92 I didn’t have any conscious about the way I was treating him. Not at all.

P.G.: How did you decide the cinematography? The narrator explains the need to search for a perfect frame. There are a few beautiful shots like the movement of hands. How did you choose a visual concept for this kind of poetry in a way?

J.M.S.: This is one of the problems of the film: it’s too beautiful. A large part of the way I related to Santiago was not due to class or power. It was due to aesthetics. It had to be beautiful. This is what I thought filming was at that time. You have to frame perfectly, you have to light perfectly, and you have to control the environment you have. For me now documentary is just the opposite. It’s not that you won’t frame well, but you will frame the way that you’re able to frame, because documentary is urgency for me now. If you don’t have lights you don’t need them, you just go and shoot. I would never do a take two, even less a take three. So, at that time, cinematography and the beauty of the shot was as important, if not more important than what was actually said by Santiago. And that’s why everything is so, so particularly chosen and perfect. The camera is always on a tripod and it doesn’t move. You always have a door between the camera and Santiago, or a curtain, or an element. His kitchen is a kind of dressed up in a sense. It’s documentary almost as fiction, with a kind of intervention that you have in fiction. And at that time that was very important for me, and also very important for the cinematographer, Walter Carvalho who then went on to make the first film my brother made. He shot Central Station also, but before that he was filming black and white, in fact Carvalho convinced my brother Walter to do it in black and white because of Santiago. The film is called “Foreign Land”. It’s a beautiful film. I actually think it’s my brother’s best film. It was shot with the same camera, with the same stock footage, so for me and for him those aspects of the film--photography, framing—were very, very important. Even more important than what Santiago was trying to say, and this is one of the things that I criticize in the film today.

P.G.: Thank you very much, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Santiago explains when the newsman asks if they are shooting a movie, that actually it’s not a movie and you are embalming him. It captures most of the things the film is about: Santiago is a character, you are capturing many moments in time, and if technology allows it, it’s eternal. So, thank you for that.

J.M.S.: Thank you very much.


Nota relacionada (related note):
Finale Allegro Imbalsamato

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