"If I think about the future of cinema as art, I shiver" (Y. Ozu, 1959)

THE LAST THINGS BEFORE THE LAST (1) - Siberia (Interview with Abel Ferrara)

Sunday, 07 June 2020 12:40



Lorenzo Esposito, Giona A. Nazzaro


Rome, 9th May 2020. Skype call, 12.30. Abel calls first.






Hi man, how are you?



…yeah, you know, the lockdown, since Monday we can go to the park… sending the baby to the park… yeah, let’s see how it goes…we’re laying low…






Yeah, but you know, will see man, will see what’s gonna happen after this week, I’m curious to find out.



Let’s hope they won’t lock us down again..



Well, I mean, if it’s going to be, be dead and everybody gets fucking sick, what would be the option, you know? I mean really? What are the options? For me, Annie’s out there with her friends… their friends have people around, you know… Especially the older people… I mean, the older you are… Listen: everybody’s life’s in danger but the older you are the more you got a chance of not surviving, you know… I lost bunch of friends in New York so far.






Yeah yeah yeah. I mean do you read the grabs…? It’s one disease if you are twenty, it’s one disease if you are sixty. It’s another disease if you are eighty.



New York is the perfect city for an apocalypse.






How do you prefer to do this conversation?



Let’s just make it. Let’s just talk. I don’t want to start explaining the movie. Include this in the interview. It’s not my position to explain the movie. It’s just not. It’s like, you know, Bob Dylan says: “I’m the first to give it to you and the last to explain it”. I don’t want to seat here and try to make sense. I’m not good at it, to begin with, if I was good at it, I wouldn’t be making movies. So, let’s just talk.



Did you listen to the two songs Bob Dylan released?



Yeah. (short silence) Yeah yeah yeah… But what this is for? What’s the publication? Why are we doing this? Who’s this for?



Film parlato. Named after Manoel de Oliveira’s film (Um filme falado/A Talking picture).



Oh, yeah.



So, as in the film, something that reflects on the relationship between word and image. A multilingual magazine. Which experiments on writing. That doesn’t talk about all the films, but about the films as a secret trace of a speech that hasn’t been seen yet and that therefore needs to be revealed. Only two, maximum three issues a year, so that all the writers have time to... to think.



Sounds great bro.



Thanks, man.



I hope I can help.



Sure. So, we have the feeling that Siberia is a crucial project for you. When did your start to think about it? What was at the beginning? Just an idea? An image? How did you get the final structure of the film?



I started writing it after Pasolini. Again, this makes it difficult. Where does the idea come from? I don’t know. You know, I had this vision of a cold (long pause) place… You know, everything it’s at the beginning of the movie, it began in the beginning, it began with that, the bar. It’s funny, I used to go to this bar in Rome, it’s not terrible, it’s a real working-class bar, I went there every morning. It was two guys working. One was the barista, who would be serving the coffee, talking, the other guy didn’t say anything. He would be working in the back, getting the deliveries, making the sandwiches, the panini. You understand? And these guys never said a word to each other. I didn’t even know who owned the place. They were interchained. They both did their thing, they both owned the place. It made this bar run the way it probably ran for fifty years. It was a very cool place. I would watch these guys every day. I was thinking to myself: “Imagine a place like this… only it wouldn’t be in Rome. It would be in the middle of nowhere. And there would be these two guys working it. And then I thought “What if Willem Dafoe played both of them?” I had absolutely no idea where to go with it but I was thinking about that. So that’s kinda the story of the movie.




Is it the same bar we see in Tommaso located in Piazza Vittorio?



No, it’s not. That’s the Neapolitan bar. There are two bars in Tommaso. The one downstairs, the cool roman bar in Via Angelo Poliziano where a lot of people come and eat lunch and this and that. Then there’s Gianluca’s bar is in Via Merulana, it’s a little hole in the wall. If you took a bar in Napoli and stuck it in Rome, that’s Gianluca’s bar, Neapolitan music’s playing non-stop… you now? When he puts a sign on the door it is written in Neapolitan. It’s like that. There was another bar near Piazza Dante but it’s no longer there.



The final structure, the journey of Siberia - snow, desert, countryside, snow again - it’s something that came up later writing or on the shooting?



We had to put that journey together. We had to go on location. We went to Mexico. We went to the Alps. You know? You’re not gonna come up with “Let’s go to the desert!” or “Let’s go to the Alps!”. You are not gonna wake up in the morning and say “Let’s go to the desert!”. You have to wake up in the morning and bring seventy-five people to Mexico. I’m not Godard, you know. If you can’t be ready you can just move from one part of the woods to another, from one side of the street to the other. You just can’t swap the desert with the woods. It was all planned, all scripted. The events you are talking about it’s Odyssey away from Home and Odyssey coming back home. You know? What do they say? There are only seven stories out there. There are only seven real stories. And every film is basically one of them. Siberia is a story that’s been told: a long journey and the return home.



Did you work on Siberia with the same group of people you worked the last years to bring this journey to life?



We all live in the same neighborhood: piazza Vittorio, Colle Oppio, Teatro Brancaccio. That side. Stefano lives there, Willem is there, a film school is there, it’s a community. We work as a group even though the writer Christ Zois is in New York.



How was it to work again with Christ Zois after New Rose Hotel?



We have never stopped working together. We did Blackout together. He’s a doctor, a psychiatrist. He’s a very important player in the group not just for everybody’s mental health although probably he’s the craziest of all of us. So even when he’s not credited, he is a part of the creation of the movie. But here he’s writing with me.



This is why we mentioned New Rose Hotel, not only because of Christ Zois. We were thinking of the end of the film, with Dafoe alone and the film itself, completely fragmented, that comes back like a virus. It feels as if Siberia starts exactly from that point onward.



Yeah, right, right… You know Siberia is a self-imposed exile. Willem, I mean Clint the character, was running for his life although he might not think that way, psychologically, choosing that place like a kind of last stand. The end of New Rose is pure desperation. It’s someone who knows his days are numbered no matter where he goes. I don’t know if we got it across but in the book, it is very clear. The helicopters are tracking him. The helicopters sense him. You are not gonna hide from that world the way it is becoming now, a computer driven environment, surveillance world.



It is an extremely prophetic film, New Rose Hotel.



Well, William Gibson is a fucking genius, man. It’s as simple as that, man.



But it is also your work, your film.



Yeah, but it is not my story. Me and Zois we wrote the film together but we took a pretty brilliant story. New Rose Hotel is only eight pages long. But it is brilliant.



The element of exile is also present in your previous film Tommaso. The characters played by Dafoe in both films are caught in some extreme forms of exile. Don’t you think that both films might be deeply connected?



They are surely connected but in Tommaso Dafoe he’s aware of his isolationism. He’s aware that’s not a place for him to be. He’s consciously finding connections. Whether it’s with the class, with the group, in a relationship or with the baby itself. He knows his salvation is in the community. Clint, in Siberia, has kind of given up on that.



We have a hunch that what Dafoe did for you in Siberia was more than the excellence that he usually brings to the table. At some point we thought that maybe Clint’s visions are Dafoe’s. Somehow, we thought that maybe both your visions blended together. And these visions, are they dreams or nightmares?



That’s a good question. You know a dream doesn’t have necessarily to be a nightmare. Unless you are an advanced yogi or some kind of Buddhist practioneer you cannot take control of your dreams, it really takes something. You know the act of filmmaking becomes a group. So, when you have these dreams in a film they are being created. A writer writes them down, then there’s the cinematographer, the producers, they are all putting them together. The actor is involved in all those elements, Willem is involved in all those elements and he goes on performing it. It is a communal trip. No matter how… I don’t know… Otto Preminger, Stanley Kubrick, whoever you would choose, no matter how singular a director, even someone like Alfred Hitchcock, in the end it is still the group, it’s the nature of the beast. You are not a poet; you are not a painter where it is just you and the canvas and the materials. It’s the community. By working in film, you are embracing the idea of community. Otherwise you are kidding yourself. You are delusional. Totally delusional.



This idea of community is extremely interesting because there is also the spectator that becomes part of this process. The Dafoe character in the film feels as if he is not always completely understanding what is happening to him but he’s experiences it just as the spectator who might need to let go to be part of the experience and the process. This happens quite a lot with your films.






You don’t agree? You think we’re wrong?



No… great that’s beautiful. Make sure that’s in the interview.



Is there a connection to Jung’s psychoanalys in Siberia? Because it felt like there is a deep esoteric undercurrent to the film.



We can’t really discuss the junghian elements here. There is so much of it. It would take us in a completely different direction. Let’s say that Jung is the William Gibson of Siberia.



In the scenes in the desert we felt as if there were some remiscences from Italian cinema such as Rossellini, Pasolini, but also Scorsese’s Last Temptation.



We used a scene right out of Last Temptation in Tommaso. You know Rossellini, his documentaries are the bible, besides the Pasolini movies. Did you see the documentary I made about the projectionist?



Yes. Of course.



We have Arabian Nights (Il fiore delle mille una notte) in there. Rossellini and Pasolini where world travelers. As Italians as they are, they are the real filmmakers of the planet. Rossellini made a film in India but all of those movies are remarkable. I watched them very early on. These documentaries are remarkable. Unbelievable.



So, it is something that stayed with you all this time?



Those films were the inspiration for us to be filmmakers.



In Siberia it feels like there are two distinct spiritual paths: the Christian and the Buddhist one.



Where do you see the Christian one in Siberia?



This idea of a transition of images, of visions is - in our view - extremely related to the gospels. In would not be the first time for you either, if we think back to Mary.



I mean our Catholicism is our guide. Being a Buddhist it enhances your relationship with Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus was a living man. This stuff is as much history as it is religion.



Are you still working on the Padre Pio project?



Yes, we are going to make it. I hope.



We like the song you wrote…



Oh yeah, My Hands Are Bleeding.



We told you that during the concert only the Italians got the reference.



I hear the words of the Devil, from the mouth of a friend. I see the work of the Devil in the house of the Lord. That’s what Padre Pio project is about.



It’s a sentence that works well for Siberia too. Thank you Abel!



Be creative with it! You understand it better than me.




Transcription by Giona A. Nazzaro



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