Interview with Gustavo Fontan by critic Roger Alan Koza * about the film:
RK -Let ́s start from the beginning. What did take you to film “The Face”, a film that seems to be a continuation by other means of “The shore that plunges”, your exquisite attempt to adapt the work of a poet to the movies? Here, the poetry of J. L. Ortiz, center of gravity of that film, remains in a radical off-screen, but the poetics of “The Face” seems to inscribe in Ortiz ‘s poetry, at least “The Face” conveys a magnificent interaction between species that inhabit a particular ecosystem, a kind of recording about the act of existing as an specie among species.
GF -In principle, I think the shooting of “The shore that plunges”, put me, among other things, in front of the experience of the islands. The islands of the Parana River in Entre Rios, which are the ones I know, are large tracts of land, with mountains of soft wood, willow, timbó, on the coast, and endless grasslands, mountains of hawthorn, carobs and loggings, ponds and estuaries, inland. By nature, the islands are a space charged with certain precariousness: the flood waters, always greedy, build a memory and a risk. Nobody forgets the flood waters, there are traces everywhere, and nobody stops fearing the flood waters that may ensue. The island is a picture of before and after, and the present is a kind of fragile stage between two painful moments. This awareness prints on its inhabitants, the islanders, a strange vitality. They live for today, the sun and fishing, meetings and wine, the bonfire and the silences, as a party and a farewell at the same time. That way of living, the intuition of that particular link water – land-man – animals, I think is the origin of “The Face”. And then you have a dream, a dream told by someone: “Yesterday I dreamed about my father. His visage was full of cobwebs, but it didn ́t scare me.” In what way the experience of the islands and this dream run across I could not explain, therein lies the mystery.
RK -“The Face” eludes any narrative attempt, which does not mean that nothing happens in the movie. The impression is that in your work exists a willingness to give primacy to a direct sensory experience first, which is autonomous from any narrative requirement that tries to order events in a common thread. This is a work aimed at enhancing the overall sensitivity, perhaps a modulation ́s work on how we see and hear. In this sense, there is a very particular work on the soundtrack of all your movies, and in this particular one too. Moreover, here the written or spoken word is elided, so that the sound concept, that replaces anything about what we see, is as atmospheric as minimalist (on a musical sense). The repetition of the sound of certain elements of nature leaves and enters the soundscape, a discrete symphony of an ecosystem. To what does it owe this willingness of retaining the narrative impulse and maximizing the sensory experience? Why in this case the word is completely absent?
GF -First of all, I would like to consider for a moment a word in your question: the word experience. The experience is not a “thinking about the world” but, in principle, is a sensitive certainty of being in the world and being part of something that exceeds us and resignifying us. One leaves always altered from the experience: there is something that permeates us, a length from the other in us, which is always the source of new knowledge.
My understanding also is that the experience is not necessarily the contact with that immensely distant, on the contrary, is the immersion in the contiguous. The revelation that rises in her womb is, apparently, insignificant; they aren ́t dogmatic truths or great philosophical paradigms. What we see is the veiled face – revealed in the experience – of the daily world. We see in the familiar cracks, in the hollow of our prejudices.
I understand the cinema then, the one I ́m interested in doing, as the attempt (impossible) of restoring in a vision that experience to the other.
During the shooting of “The Face”, we recorded a collection of stories. I have transcribed some of them. This told us Maldonado, our guide: “Black is coming from that side, it was a black thing coming… And I was rowing. When I arrived, I felt that the trees rustled, then I held onto some trees and I tied myself with the boat. And when I tied myself, a large branch broke and fell off next to my boat. Then I thought: What am I doing here? What if the butterfishes eat me? What if I sink and the butterfishes eat me? Then I untied me and I came back. So I thought, I said to myself: what happened? When it got dark? Because you couldn’t see anything… I got lost in time”. That end of the story, “I got lost in time”, isn ́t it impressive? Well, at the beginning we thought these texts could be part of the film. But when we started to test them in the editing, immediately we realized that they didn ́t work, because they set up small islands of meaning which didn ́t help to the idea of travel and becoming that we proposed. These stories disappeared as such but survived unseen, they guided us. Since that moment the word remained installed in the same place as the rest of the sounds, as part of the same plot, without hierarchies.
RK -There is certain embarrassment at the time of filming faces of men and women who populate the film. The trees, aquatic animals, cows, dogs and the river have a decisive presence; the river is a decisive character, and I must say that never overact. Only in the end we see some close-ups on some children ́s faces. After a while we will see a shot of the face of the fisherman ́s beautiful woman, who seems at the beginning the protagonist of the film. The surprise at the end is the evolution of the camera on a visage as if it were a shot/countershot unseen. We become, literally, in a face looking. The final subjetives are enigmatic, and they doesn ́t seem to be product of coincidence. Why this gradual progression where the approach to the face is an evidence conquered little by little? Why these subjective shots arrive in the epilogue?
GF -That is beautiful phrase: “The approach to the face is an evidence conquered little by little”. Yes, is like that. The idea was that the world of the story spilled from the presence of man. His arrival is what restores the world, and this is not immediate. That was the trip (and becoming) we were looking for. Things, animals, the ranch, the others, are generated by that presence. That ́s why the present is an instant that accumulates other times. The becoming is not a linear journey, although sometimes it may seem, but the slow appropriation of subjectivity and a gaze. We are, in the end, the one who looks. At one point, at the start of filming, we asked ourselves something like: Is it possible that the film is the land where germinate some objects, some sounds, and a set of actions to slide from the bottom of the time? Can we think the face – The face – as that place where stolen instants to the time are displayed in a new present, cracks in the future, for a luminous joy? We had no answer, but we did know that if that possibility existed, it could only be linked to the realm of the intuition and the sensitive. Another poet, Calveyra Arnaldo from Entre Ríos, somehow gave us a key: “The steps of the one who strolls/ become places. / While he appears before / the maze of the years / he looks into the pit of his body.”
RK – Do you feel part of a cinematographic minority? In your work, there are formal traces from Ivens, Skouras, Erice, De Orbe, among others, filmmakers who have intuited other possibilities for films. You all seem to belong to a secret society that believes in the artistic nature of cinematic record. While your interest in literature and poetry is explicit, your movies have an extreme materiality where the world takes off from the word and seems to claim a desire to capture the world before language. Although it is an anachronism, the bygone Bazin ́s question is pertinent before your movies: what is cinema? What is your work in relation to a mainstream cinema where the perception also seems to matter and which insists in sensory stimulating to the viewer?
GF – The answer is a little contained in the idea of a cinema capable of restoring an original experience for others. But we can think something concrete directly linked to “The Face”. Another of the questions we asked ourselves was: Is it possible to have a more or less innocent, gaze about the world, as if we were looking for the first time? Can the shot, in that innocence, register a dog, a boat, water, a body, a face, in a simple expression, a raw expression? Will the joy in this simple encounter with the world? Somehow, that’s what we tried, and there is the film as an evidence of that effort.
The language? I think the language is reinvented each time, to turn those chips of the world into a vision.
*Programmer of FICUNAM and Hamburg Festival, journalist and film critic.