Q & A: NELE WOHLATZThis entry was posted on March 16th, 2017
By Carlos Rentería
Nele Wohlatz was born in Hannover, Germany, but has been living in Argentina for a number of years now. It is in this country where she directed the short film Novios del Campo and her feature film Ricardo Bär. In this pleasant conversation, he talks about different processes: the ones of her last film, of films in general and its frontiers, and the migration process.
Desistfilm: El Futuro Perfecto shows some dynamics to watch cinema in a material way. Dynamics that allows to expose the construction of the film in a very open way. In this sequence, near the two minute mark, I believe, when Nahuel says he’s an actor, this materiality is more openly palpable. Do you think this is a moment in your film where cinema tends to make these movements more explicit?
Nele Wohlatz: There’s something here that attracted me. I studied in a German art school with a small film department directed by two documentary filmmakers. In the last year, one more filmmaker, Thomas Heise, came abroad, and that’s when I started to change my ways to documentary filmmaking. In those years the thing was very clear: this is documentary and this is fiction. My first attempts were very much in this “documentary” way of doing things, a cinema of observation you may say, but I reached some limits where I didn’t feel comfortable anymore. I felt that in reality a sort of hidden manipulation was hidden behind the camera, and that the final product that is presented as a “documentary film” not only has a proper mise in scene and authorship calls, but also whenever a film felt more “documentary like”, was where more manipulation happened. I felt the hierarchy between the person facing the camera and the director as very uneven. When I arrived at Buenos Aires I felt that this was flowing in a very different way, that the frontier between fiction and documentary films wasn’t as hard as it was in Germany. I don’t know why exactly this happens, but you can also find this in Latin-American literature. Argentinian literature has this strong tradition of mixing, of having a lot of hybrid experiments, that goes beyond the genre and experiments in an interesting way.
Desistfilm: And also makes the construction very visible
Nele Wohlatz: Yes, and also has a sense of playfulness when it narrates. This is not only formal experimentation. There’s a culture of narration here, there’s a lot of love for it. That made me felt very comfortable, it gave me a point of departure because this way of doing things was allowed. Right now there are other films that play in this axis, like Teddy Willams’ El Auge del Humano, a film whose place is difficult to determine. The good thing is that these categories are used less and less.
I’m very happy with this film because I feel that really, you can’t say it’s a mix of fiction and reality. I never felt happy in the position of the observer that doesn’t touch reality. I felt like I was manipulating something. In the feature I directed before, Ricardo Bär, we decided to narrate the backstage a little bit, as well as the operations we had to make in order to film, and of course we became as characters in this game and also like the bad guys in a film, but it was an option to give a proper topic for what happens in ethnographic cinema and documentary, this thing about manipulation.
It also makes me happy that we made something beyond in this film, which is not a film that exploits the life of Xiaobin, the lead character of El Futuro Perfecto, and that afterwards leaves evidence of the mechanisms to underline her, quite the contrary, this is a project made with her. A lot of time people think of her as an actress, and well, she became an actress for the film, that’s true. I gave her acting lessons to help her develop acting tools, to defend her in front of the camera, so she could be comfortable. Then, all the script was written from her.
My first idea was to make a film with a different foreign woman, and make a film in Buenos Aires completely from that perspective, and develop it from her life. But when I met Xiaobin a very organic process awoke, where we infected ourselves mutually with our ideas and anecdotes and became friends. Then I started to write the script in parallel, based in the information I was getting from her and her friends. Suddenly it was very clear that I needed to test the space with her and her body, that writing the script and then filming it wasn’t what I needed. I needed to fit the script with her on mind.
Desistfilm: Your film talks about movement, something that happens in Teddy Willams or Matias Piñeiro’s films. It’s a strange moment where films are being shot anywhere. We have Lisandro Alonso planning to film in the United States or Miguel Gomes in Brasil. In general, this thing about travelling and limits in nowadays cinema strikes me as very interesting.
Nele Wohlatz: For me it was very liberating. Once I read an interview to Lucrecia Martel where she said she could only film in Salta because the language was something very important for her and that only she can understand the language since she’s from there. When I read that I felt quite depressed. That was said by an Argentinian woman about a way of speaking in “Argentinian”. How could a German woman even start to film here? It was very hard until I found that formula: okay, I’m going to film it from a foreign character’s point of view.
Now, making the film I understood what this process meant: to appropriate that language for ourselves, this language that isn’t ours and is poorly spoken by us, but that replace our native languages in 95% of our lives, in the quotidian, work and intimate relationships. Everything happens in Spanish. For me it was very difficult, but when we finally filmed that movie we found that this poorly spoken Spanish has beauty and poetry, and will find its audience. While we were filming and become more accepting of it, I understood that was a form of appropriation of our new language and our foreign identity. But the process was very liberating: you can film anywhere in the world but you have to find meaning on it. I hate the films that hide that, that film anywhere in the world because that’s where you have to spend the money.
Desistfilm: Or because you have to be “exotic”
Nele Wohlatz: Yes, that’s the worst. I think that the films you named are filmmaker that always work on telling their mechanisms and that are very aware of what means to make a film.
Desistfilm: But then, which is the way by one relates with this new territory and a new idiosyncrasy or politics, for example? I think that an answer may be the language of film.
Nele Wohlatz: Yes, I feel that making a movie is very similar as writing a philosophy book. In reality what you’re trying to do is to manifest a new idea. And the ideas, where do they belong? To reality or fiction? There’s something that comes from reality but really it’s about being flexible about reality or our ways of thinking,
Desistfilm: Like a metaphore or a dream.
Nele Wohlatz: Exactly, if you open the possibilities of what we can think, reality will follow. And once you begin to think, something that has a lot to do with words, which becomes a reality. I think that’s one of the reasons I reject this category of documentary and fiction. Cinema operates from ideas and expands our ways of thinking, and then, when it’s made, it’s made with the tools of cinema. El Futuro Perfecto is something personal, it’s my story and at the same time I’m happy it’s not my story. It’s the story of a Chinese woman on Buenos Aires, that comes from a culture I don’t know well and it’s completely foreign to mine. Xiaobin is full of things I don’t understand and I think I will never do, but there are things we share and from those things I can talk about her. I can’t do it from something I don’t understand, I talk about her in relation to something that I share of feel, that feeling of being foreign and make this way towards another language.
Desistfilm: I remember the case of No Cow in the Ice, bye Eloy Dominguez Serén, about the process of acquiring a language. In your film this process happens also, you have some sentences in Chinese at the beginning…
Nele Wohlatz: But afterwards there’s more. For me, the first part is more traumatic, it’s about the loss, and she feels more isolated from the world around her. When I arrived here I didn’t look for German friends, I could’ve but I felt that that wouldn’t solve the issue that I had to move forward with Spanish speaking people enough to make the language flow. Being isolated is very sad and I feel that’s why we avoided the scenes where the lead character could solve things in her native language. Then, when she becomes more comfortable, she changes. Best case scenario you manage to live in two worlds. You manage to make the best with your life among Argentinians while reconciling yourself with Spanish, and your life in Chinese with the Chinese people. Xiaobin comes back to China every time she arrives home, in a way. And that’s okay, but between those two worlds, living in those two languages. That’s why we tried to give her more dialogues in Chinese in the second part.
Desistfilm: The subject of assimilation, or to homogenize cultures becomes a problem
Nele Wohlatz: It’s very dangerous. It’s like denying the differences you have to respect in order to make them work.
Desistfilm: I guess those are also responsibilities that people that film in different countries have to attend to, give it some space, or attend to the differences. That’s the risk of making that film that Lisandro Alonso wants to make, for example.
Nele Wohlatz: Of course, that “what am I doing here?” But also that’s a necessary question before you start filming. I honestly have seen a lot less contemporary ethnographic cinema that I would like to. Like the films of Ben Rivers. I’m very interested in the issue of what you can do when filming somewhere. Anyway, it’s very rich. When Jean Rouch returned to Paris he made Chronique d’un été that is suddenly a foreign look of his very own society. That’s something good for cinema.