Week 17/2024

This week begins with a screening of Retratos Fantasmas [Pictures of Ghosts] (2023) at KASKcinema. Set in Recife, the Brazilian coastal capital of Pernambuco, the film is a journey through time, sound, architecture, and filmmaking. It delves into the historical and human territories traced by grand movie theatres that were at one point central to social life in the 20th century. These venues, once full of dreams and progress, reflect significant shifts in social practices and are explored as part of a city’s cinema-infused cartography.

On Friday, De Cinema in Antwerp invites the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp to present a program of experimental shorts by Germaine Dulac and Maya Deren. “When making a film, the story is usually put in the foreground while the image stays in the background, that is, theater is preferred over cinema. When the relationship will be inversed, cinema will begin to live according to its proper meaning. […] The future belongs to the film that cannot be told,” proclaimed Germaine Dulac in 1928 – a principle that resonates in Maya Deren’s work as well.

We conclude the week at the Afrika Film Festival in Leuven with a screening of this year’s Berlinale winner, Dahomey (2024), by Mati Diop. In Dahomey, the return of twenty-six royal artifacts from the Kingdom of Dahomey to the Republic of Benin – after being looted by French colonial forces in 1892 – sparks debate among University of Abomey-Calavi students. When asked what spurred her to make the film, Mati Diop reflects: “I never envisioned what restitution could look like. Imagining it inspired a film about the odyssey of a looted artifact, projecting its homecoming into the future. It's a vision that stretches from the past looting to a speculative return in 2075, a narrative of cultural reclamation I thought I might never witness.”

Retratos Fantasmas
Pictures of Ghosts

Pictures of Ghosts is a multidimensional journey through time, sound, architecture and filmmaking, set in the urban landscape of Recife, Brazilian coastal capital of Pernambuco: a historical and human territory, examined through the great movie theatres that served as spaces of conviviality during the 20th century. Having hosted dreams and progress, these places have also embodied a major transformation on social practices. Combining archive documentary, mystery, film clips and personal memories, Pictures of Ghosts is a map of a city through the lens of cinema.

EN

“Cinemas in city centers are common to many other places in the world, but it so happens that I am from Pernambuco, from Recife, and I set out to show this city’s geography from a personal point of view. Recife is also a city that still enjoys a spectacular cinema like São Luiz, a palace from 1952. Today, there are few cities in the world that still know what that represents.”

Kleber Mendonça Filho1

 

Charles Tesson: Why is the film called Portraits of Ghosts when it's really about ghost cinemas, or about a city, or rather its downtown, that has become a ghost town?

Kleber Mendonça Filho: The title came in very late in the process, around the last month of March. After seeing the film once again I thought it might be a good idea to acknowledge the presence of ghosts in the film. Ghosts have made appearances in some of my other films and they are strong elements both in films and in cinemas. I am sure you have seen a few ghosts in your lifetime in cinemas, staircases and projection booths. Haven’t you? And let’s not even go into the strong paranormal battleground that exists in Recife and its downtown area. Poetically, anyway.

[...]

There is an element of nostalgia, even melancholy in your film. At the same time, through the archive images, we retain something else: to film is to keep a trace of what is going to disappear, or to be transformed. It's a bit like the marquees in the movie theaters that you talk about so much, which inscribe the films in a specific time and context.

I see films as documents, letters which might be rediscovered and re-read in the future, it does not matter if a film is fiction or documentary, “real” or “fantasy”. Now talking to you I might understand that this film came from my own desire to look at old images, many of which I came to discover doing research. Finding new materials at the Cinemateca Brasileira or in a number of families' photo albums and shoe boxes led me to reconnect with old archives, with childhood memories and stories I had heard from older people. It felt right and inspiring. This film helped me write my other script The Secret Agent, which in turn strengthened my connection to Pictures of Ghosts. These older images, still photos, audio and older moving images led me to understand my own city and the neighbourhood I lived in for so many years. And my relationship to cinema, both as a cinephile and as a filmmaker. I think feelings of nostalgia or saudade may be unavoidable once we look at pictures of the past. An honest connection with the past seems to help the present breathe.

Kleber Mendonça Filho in conversation with Charles Tesson2

screening
KASKcinema, Ghent
Dahomey
Mati Diop, 2024, 68’

November, 2021. Twenty-six royal treasures of the Kingdom of Dahomey are about to leave Paris to return to their country of origin, the present-day Republic of Benin. Along with thousands of others, these artifacts were plundered by French colonial troops in 1892. But what attitude to adopt to these ancestors’ homecoming in a country that had to forge ahead in their absence? While the soul of the artifacts is freed, debate rages among students of the University of Abomey-Calavi.

EN

“When I began filming, I was so steeped in the feature I had in mind that my approach to reality was suffused in lyricism. I was looking at what I had already dreamed. The decision to film the treasures like characters with their own perspective and subjectivity enabled Joséphine and I to maintain a strong focus while grasping other dimensions that I wanted to make palpable.

To my mind, the historical dimension of the moment had a mythical dimension that I wanted to transcribe through the manner of filming. To bring out the weight, density and texture of what was going on. Often, reality produces pictures that are far more striking than anything fiction generates. I was astonished by the highly technical process that looked like a funeral ceremony, with a tempo set by the crating-up of each artifact to the sound of drills and construction site banging. We had indeed entered the era of museums’ disquiet. The atmosphere was very solemn; you felt every passing second. History was changing direction; something was being reversed. Sometimes, everyday people turn into mythological characters or archetypes that must be acknowledged and made sublime. That is the case with Calixte Biah, the curator brought in by the Beninese government to fly with the treasures from Quai Branly to Cotonou.

Before coming up with the idea of having the artifacts talk, I wanted first of all to make their silence, which we recreated in sound editing and mixing with Nicolas Becker and Cyril Holtz, as audible as possible. It seemed to me to be the most eloquent way of restoring their power while evoking their secret, opaque and inviolable aspects. The particular sequence when the artifacts are installed in the exhibition space at the presidential palace was fine-tuned and rewritten in the editing suite. Back on Beninese soil, the artifacts open up to a new dimension of themselves. Through the observations on their «condition» read out by Calixte, a part of their history is restored through the marks of time. At the same time, the people looking at them and after them, and talking to them, perhaps also rediscover part of themselves.”

Mati Diop1

  • 1Mati Diop, cited in the interview with Mati Diop in the press file for the Berlinale 2024.
screening
Cinema ZED, Leuven
This Week
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