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O Magazine

A new altar, probably.

An interview with Velasco Broca and Julián Génisson.


I confess that in the last months I lost any desire to watch films. I used to need cinema, but now I need it far away. I’m not sure what this is due to, but I no longer have that urgency. However, some days ago, reviewing the oeuvre of Velasco Broca to interview him at the Punto de Vista festival, I enjoyed his work for PLAT, I watched again Val del Omar fuera de sus casillas, and something inside made me have that old feeling. It all exploded when I saw Nuevo altar again, with the images of Velasco Broca, with Bresson. The devil’s hands that cited are the hands of Pickpocket and of L’argent; and the slender figure of Julián seemed not a copy, but the other Ambricourt priest. In Pamplona, I put an end to my mourning, this long season in which I didn’t think too much about writing or looking at images. On the road, while Baluarte trembled, I found the text that would illustrate those festival days, and also the beginning of my encounter with César Velasco Broca and Julián Génisson.

César, I heard you underwent a kind of crisis and spoke about the tyranny of images, of how it had cost you dearly to give shape to Nuevo altar, and that reminded me of a passage in Jung’s “red book”. Did this crisis emerge from having very specific images in mind and not being able to capture them?
César Velasco Broca: When I spoke about that tyranny I was referring to the fact that the homogeneous rigueur of the images produced specifically for Nuevo altar made it impossible for them to be joined by previous material, which was one of the initial ideas. In fact, we encountered serious problems to include videos recorded with mobile phones. Lorena Iglesias selected and edited all my private recordings from the last year and a half and she managed to compose a very beautiful piece that lasted one minute thirty seconds. But when we saw it within the whole context of the work, it didn’t quite fit in, so we ended up only using one shot out of all the ones proposed. This is due to the fact that all the shots in Nuevo altar are made with a unique framing policy with a high result of interdependence. I don’t know, it’s something very similar to a cult.

If a film is an image, does that image you had at the beginning of Nuevo altar correspond itself with the final one we ended up seeing? What is the role of Julián in the process by which that first image ended up being the final one?
CVB: Unlike in previous films, I didn’t have a first image in mind. I waited to have the script, the localisations, the technical and the artistic teams to generate them together. For the first time, I recorded digitally, in colour, with actors and a script, so everything was new to me. I marginalised some aspects of the script in favour for others, depending on my own plastic interests. There are situations written down I’m not comfortable recording, so I tend to diminish their presence but never make them disappear completely. The original script was a lot more baroque, more precise… I don’t know, it’s possible that it required a different kind of direction in some of its parts. In general I think I’ve simplified things. I might have contributed to make things more confusing by that, I’m not too sure yet. I feel that Julián’s nature is intellectual and mine is emotional. Luckily, both require rigueur, so I hope that thanks to it we have managed to find the right balance. Thanks to these two natures we can exclude spirituality and mysticism from this work. However, we can talk about the esoteric, a discipline of the soul and the body, but not of the spirit.

How did the fact that Julián wrote the script for Nuevo altar has been key to finishing this work and what influence did he have over this?
CVB: It’s not that Julián Génisson helped me finish the film, he was there from the beginning. It doesn’t matter what initial idea I had, because ideas, projects, are absolutely nothing until the camera starts shooting. We owe the title Nuevo altar to Jesús Sáenz de Pipaón, with whom I developed the first project we presented to X Films. The problem was that after more than eight months of delay due to bureaucratic issues related to the Administration, there was no time left for its execution. This was a tough blow, because it took me a great deal of time to generate those linked images. I somehow need to forget them in order to move on to some new ones and that requires a long period of mourning, something I couldn’t afford. Because of this crisis, I called Julián and proposed him to write the script. On December 31st, when he sent me the script, I didn’t develop any particular image despite the localisation process had already started before he wrote a single line. It wasn’t until the second day of shooting that I realised the kind of film we were making and the kind of audiovisual grammar we had married to: we were making a telefilm. From then on, it was all a lot clearer and, above all, much more fun.

One of the things I like the most about Nuevo altar is that you constantly cite Bresson. Julián is a perfect model, as Bresson used to say. The way he talks, the way he moves; he spectacularly resembles the Ambricourt priest. But there are also quotes from Un condamné à mort s’est échappé. I know you worked on an image by Bresson. Do you find it easier to work over other people’s images? Do you feel comfortable re-writing those images? Would you say that it’s part of your methodology?
CVB: It’s a difficult question. The similarities in the scripts of Nuevo altar and Journal d’un curé de campagne are evident. But once again, this is something I realised afterwards. Julián Génisson confessed to me two days ago that he’s never seen it, so it can hardly have been an influence when it comes to writing the script. The aspect of Julián’s father, so similar to the Ambricourt priest, is also a coincidence. If he wears a txapela it is just because we wanted to include an element of northern folklore. How he wears it is a different thing, more to do with he fact that Julián, who hated it, wanted to give it a French air. It’s also a coincidence that both protagonists are of a similar age, if Julián had been fifty he would have played the part all the same, although he probably would have gotten money for it then. The same happens with clothes, they were something brought to Navarra by the people in charge of art and costumes, Leonor Díaz and Beatriz Lobo, and none of them had watched Bresson’s film.

Julián, have you never seen Journal d’un curé de campagne, seriously?
Julián Génisson:
I’m ashamed about the whole Bresson thing. I’ve only seen Pickpocket and L’argent (and I love them). I’ve also read a bunch times Notes sour le cinématographe, but I’ve never seen Journal d’un curé de campagne. I’m sure, besides, that I would love it too (or will love it, because I’ll end up watching it sooner or later), although it tends to happen to me that when I know I’m going to like something, I avoid it. The most shameful thing is that because I know that César is mad about Bresson, since we met I pretended I’d seen all his films. So it’s impossible for the script to include quotes of Journal d’un curé de campagne, at least on my part. Two things of Bresson I had very present, though, in general, were: the end of Pickpocket, with the voice-over. I seem to remember that the voice-over at the end of Pickpocket had that, a kind of optimism not justified by anything that had happened up to then. Now that I think of it, the shots of the devil stealing wallets and that are very Pickpocket; as is the manipulation of books in general; and about Notes sour le cinématographe: we often joked with César during the filming process about the “lack of poverty”.

Nuevo altar is made out of many close-ups, and it’s true that Bresson uses a more dynamic camera, he moves it about. But still, I can trace his influence.
It’s funny that the film is closer to Bresson’s cinematographic praxis when the camera focuses on Julián, and it goes away from it as soon as we get close to other actors. Julián is really hieratical, he avoids gestures and speaks in a monotone voice, he is like this too in real life. He’s the closest thing to a Bressonian model. If, for instance, I dared to fragment the priest’s room in close-ups was precisely because Julian’s interpretation allowed it. Julián had the same value as the leather case, the crucifix or the bedsit table, it was wonderful. Ramón Churruca, Andrés Gertrudix, Nacho Vera, Dani Terroba or Nacho Vigalondo offer something else, although they’re also very different one from the other: performers, theatre actors, film actors from different schools or people who have nothing to do with the world of show business. The truth is that I didn’t put any efforts into making them homogeneous, I only wanted to have them feel the same rhythm and limit their movements in relation to the cinematographic space. If the casting were good -and I think it was- there was no need for further intervention: I would fit the image to the idea each had of his own character. Since I never work with characters, I felt it was a lot easier to pass this responsibility on to the actors. And they were all excellent, so it was very easy to trust them. On the other hand, there are evident differences in Bresson’s framing policies and my own. To begin with, with camera movements: I don’t use them, Bresson does. The same happens with his composition technique to totally neutralise tension. Unlike his, my shots don’t allow for the gaze to completely relax, they’re somehow more rigid, although without being expressive. In summary, Bresson’s cinema is much more natural for the human eye, and it is, in every aspect, far superior. 

I really like the scenes that are repeated in Nuevo altar, like the entrance to the parish, when the characters observe the confessionary. That’s something Bresson used to do as well: that form of elevation he sought after through sonic and visual repetition; it drove the viewer a bit mad. When you wrote them you were looking to “making the spectator nervous” through the introduction of an element of strangeness, setting two scenes on the confessionary that are almost identical with only a different disturbing element. Were you trying to set yourself apart from that mystique of strangeness? I said Nuevo altar was like a Bresson that made you smile.
CVB: About repetitions, in fact everything is said in a crystal clear way in the speech after the death of Vigalondo: eternity is already, and time, the fact that we’re not given everything at the same time, is a kind of trick played by the devil -that great stage prop expert- for us to forget. I think it all sprung from the fact that I wanted to redo the gag of the Bible on the shirt pocket that saves someone from a bullet, but with a knife. Since the New Testament is a slimmer volume, you die. About what you were saying over disturbing the audience, I don’t know why I’m interested in faith, I’m not faithful at all, but I know what attracts me of it, the most concrete and lived aspects, not so much the dogmas or rituals or institutionalised stuff such as knowing what someone who believes in this or that thinks, and how they defend their beliefs. In general, I’m motivated by defending ideas I don’t believe in (I wouldn’t be able to defend my own position, I don’t have any). When I think about these things I always keep Kierkegaard very present, the insistence upon the “scandalous” nature of Christianity, which has been lost: we’re very used to the idea of God made man and crucified, but when you think of it, it’s a very wild and strange concept. He has for instance a book about Abraham and Isaac in which he insists very much in the fact that the way towards the mountain took three days, he asks himself what they must have talked about on the way, how was the return trip, above all, and what might Isaac have said to his father after seeing him with the knife up, etc. I’m more interested in this kind of concrete details than in the dilemma of whether Abraham was right to obey God and all that. Those details are not featured in the Bible and they’re evidently the most interesting things. In the case of Jesus, if God really does become man, I want to know how was Christ when he wasn’t preaching or curing lepers. Apart from a few moments, which are the best (when Jesus is sad or desperate), they are not mentioned, and it is strange bearing in mind that the argument is that God became a man. Why can’t we see him doing manly stuff, then, boring and dirty things, etc.? In this case I guess there is a bit of that trying to inject humour (or concretion) in this whole faith thing, not as a joke, but to give it back this existential and concrete dimension, which is fundamental. That is to say, the fundamental is the concrete, and generalities, and everything that is joining a community of believers instead of facing on your own the very strange fact that God was this man with his manly things, kills faith and falls into staleness and brutality. I think. From that comes as well that thing the priest in Nuevo altar says about the age of Christ: we tend to forget that during those thirty-three years, which are a long time, he lived as a man like any other, and must have done things that weren’t strictly related to evangelisation and miracles, etc.

All your characters, and probably you as well, out of projection, are between those figures defined by Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling, the knight of infinite resignation, who creates disorder, and the knight of faith, who renounces to everything in the name of faith and finally retrieves it all.
That was the idea with the Testaments. All that thing about the devil manipulating the timelines and that the battlefield between good and evil is time came really from that joke, the one about someone being saved by the Old Testament, and another one, or the same, dying because of the New Testament. It isn’t something so well thought of, but I guess it even has a “metaphorical” sense. The New Testament is more “human,” etc. The truth is I wasn’t exactly thinking about Fear and trembling in particular while I worked on the script, but your questions did remind me of it, and reminded me how much I like it and the influence it must have on me. There are things about him in any case that are always with me (the concept of “elasticity,” for example). And as a stylist he’s a model, of course. I hadn’t thought about infinite resignation and faith being present in this or any other character. It could be! I’m always oscillating between “everything is lost” and “everything is going to be fucking OK.” I remember having read Kierkegaard’s diaries when we were working on Esa sensación, they provided lots of vitamins.

Well, you’re both making films in a very particular moment of Spanish cinema. You most of all, Julián, since you have been labelled as the main representative of the “other Spanish cinema,” I don’t know if I like this Spanish cinema thing too much. I don’t even believe in these words. As creators, do you feel you’re part of something bigger than yourselves? The work teams you shoot with seem a kind of family: directors that go from film to film, actresses… You collaborate with Nacho Vigalondo, I see Chema García Ibarra, Ion de Sosa, Pablo Hernando. You, Velasco, who have been successful with some of your works, as Avant Pétalos Grillados, do you think there is something such as a Spanish industry or other Spanish cinema? Do you think if you found funding for your projects you could make works such as La tumba de Bruce Lee or Avant Pétalos? Do you think these kinds of creations are compatible with an industry?
The truth is I don’t think we’re part of a “movement,” “generation,” etc., although you inevitably end up meeting people doing similar things and in same cases you become friends. At the same time, I won’t reject the label, because that makes me feel less isolated, but, well, I feel like a piece of shit next to all that people usually referred to as “new cinema.” Bad things about this kind of classifications: that it might seem as though working for no money is cool, exploiting your friends, etc. Good things: you get to meet people and end up working with them. If I hadn’t met Lorena and Aarón I would probably never have dared start doing these things (I didn’t study film, I could have ended up doing or trying to do something completely different, etc.). If I hadn’t met Pablo Hernando when he made Cabás, I wouldn’t have decided to write a feature film, and if it weren’t for Cavestany we wouldn’t have made Esa sensación, etc. I have no opinion on the “industry,” but I know it’s not interested in us, so feeling that at least you are part of something is a boost to go on working. But it might also appear, with this label, that we’re quite happy with what we do, and so we’re never going to get work in the real “industry.”
CVB: It’s clear to see who makes a living with this. I can tell you I wouldn’t mind to earn mine as well, but I must be not as attractive… As for the funding thing, I’m told in Spain work like this cannot be produced unless in amateur form, no matter what the BOE says. And yes, I do think if we had real financial help, like other countries with a stronger cultural conscience offer their creators, we could go on -or maybe start- developing the kind of cinema we would like to make and not only the one we can make.

Isn’t it like what Mekas said, “we’re friends making films”? The extreme need to bring and create images. Would you still make films if only you and your friends watched them?
Well, the truth is that no one watches them (I’m talking about mine). In the best of cases, other “new cinema” directors, critics, festival people, etc. see them, that is, not the “audience.” In that case, yes, I at least will continue making films while no one prevents me from doing it and my friends don’t suggest I’m useless at it.

And finally, I’ve heard you’re collaborating again on a project, what is it about?
Julián and Velasco:
Around two years ago, Flipy proposed him doing something for TV. He told Lorena, Aarón and me, we very naively thought of making something in the line of Ocho apellidos vascos and decided to make a comedy with regional jokes about a pantheon of Spanish gods. We complicated ourselves too much and in the end it took us more than two years to post-produce everything. It’s going to be premiered at the D’A festival, alongside other pieces. I will probably use César soon as an actor to take my revenge for making me perform (I don’t like it). But the script thing is OK. It is the first time I write for someone else, and it’s very relaxing. When I write for me I have to think about how I’m going to do it, with what money, etc., and I get depressed. I don’t reject the idea of doing something else together, but the important thing now is to make a new Canódromo Abandonado feature. The script is halfway there, but life is expensive and my everyday life job very time consuming, etc. We hope to be able to start doing things at the end of 2017.

Note [1]: Thanks to Chema García Ibarra, without him I doubt this interview would have been possible.
Note [2]: I confess I had to google who Flipy was, but I pretended a new during the whole interview.