By Mónica Delgado and José Sarmiento Hinojosa
The recent edition of BAFICI (Buenos Aires Film Festival) dedicated a focus on Marc Hurtado’s work, a French filmmaker born in Morocco, of Spanish and Sicilian origins, the heart and brain of the mythical band Etánt Donnés. This work consisted 14 shorts and a feature film under his name and one short and a feature film with his brother Eric, under the moniker Etánt Donnés. Among his works is the feature film Jajouka, quelque chose de bon vient vers toi, which is considered an essential work of the 21st century.
We talked with Marc Hurtado, who talked about his cinema through his vision of the divine and his main influences.
Desistfilm: To show hands is a recurrent motif in your short films. I think it was Pascal who mentioned something like “the soul makes the hand”: meaning that our actions and reflections in the spiritual life take a physical dimension. How do you work with this motif?
Marc Hurtado: It’s both simple and complicated. The first time I’ve filmed my own hand, it was a matter of economy, since I couldn’t afford to film other people besides myself. I started filming my face a lot, as a reflection of space, in the same way I can film drops of water or reflections in the water. I’m constantly trying to film the macro cosmos inside a micro cosmos. This filmic gesture is kind of an “ultra-spiritual masturbation”; I just couldn’t allow other people to enter this private space. Besides that, the camera that looks at me isn’t anything but the lens that is constantly emulating a mirror. My eye and the light both bounce off this mirror, since you can’t go beyond it, it’s like a wall.
Finally, I’ve understood something very simple: my body was part of the film itself. My film was a kind of body; all my oeuvre in 8mm formed a great body full of different small spirits that ended up being a kind of tomb, since I’ve always been constructing my own death. Stone by stone you build your tomb, and film by film I’ve realized the mausoleum of my own cinema. When the 8mm film stock disappeared, it was a happy event for me, since it marked the final stage of the construction of this “tomb”. Now I can go out and project these films from outside, they are part of a clean tomb, made out of purity, films where I always followed the same path.
The hand for me has many interesting things inside. In the first place, the lines: the lines of life, luck, and all those things that people know. But for me it went beyond that: a hand that opens and closes is a reproduction of the heart, which also opens and closes. In second place, this is a final mechanical act, the last act of the body, of the furthest points of the body that belongs to you. If you can touch something that can change your life, it is thanks to your hand. Giving a hand to a man can change your life. To eat, to pick up something, are gestures of something that is completely vital. People say that we have five senses, but I’ve always thought that there is an extra sense, the positive sense, meaning, a line drawn directly from your body to the cosmos, the stars, and an invisible line that connects it all. That’s precisely what Saint John of the Cross was talking about! Though I should mention however that I entered this world as an atheist, not believing in God, and insulting him even, and little by little I’ve seen the image of that that you can feel when you have faith in something superior, in something transparent that lives among us. My films have allowed me to look into that mirror and see the forces of nature. The hand is super important in my films because it is a tool that touches things, that penetrates things, that tries to touch things like the sun, the spirit, things that it will never be able to touch, but things that it can show. The hand is the tool that tries to touch those things that can’t be penetrated, the forces of nature and spirit.
Desistfilm: In Des autres terres souples, the short film you made when you were a teenager, the presence of the city is more evident, there’s more concrete, even among the inserts of images shot by your father. How do you migrate from these urban closed spaces to the space that is occupied by nature in your following films?
Marc Hurtado: This first film is very particular, because as you can imagine, I was fourteen, and very young. I had an incredible connection with death. I spent two weeks in bed with lots of medications for anxiety; I felt voices that shouted inside my head. My father used to enter my room and speak very quietly, but I felt screams everywhere, I asked him to please speak slower. After this crisis, an obsession about jumping from my apartment started. I didn’t find any value in life. To live for what? Going to school, having a job, doing sports, everything was okay with that but, where was the fire, that fire that makes you feel alive?
Later, my father made me a huge gift. He gave me his little 8mm camera which he used to film our young years (mine and my brother’s) in Morocco. My first gesture with this gift was to lock myself in a room and project all the films that my father made in my stomach, while I filmed my stomach at the same time. This was a sort of psychoanalysis, this projection of the legacy of my father. After that, since I was afraid to go out too far way, I started to film inside my room, and I projected every single thing that I thought represented my prison: my environment, my parents, who I filmed asleep and in other rituals like the morning breakfast. All of that was too much for me, I was only fourteen. I tried to find an escape. I tried writing about death, alchemy, and the colors. After that I started filming what was around my house: lots of trains, which for me were a symbol of departure. The Grenoble Mountains, which were like walls to me. I’ve filmed everything that was in my way and then projected all those images in my room, only to feed from that light, which was like food to me, a new fire. This fire from the projector light gave me the food I needed to go further. Finally I ended up filming myself, like saying: “Here I am, I no longer have words”. But I had already understood something: the fire was already here. This film became the cornerstone where I set the rest of my movies.
I was very afraid to go to nature; I just didn’t want to observe things in a way like saying “oh, aren’t these flowers nice”. I wanted to film nature as I filmed my own body, my soul, everything in a single gesture. Everything is like a dance, this fireball where there’s no distance between the elements. Me and the universe. It’s a sort of explosion and of reduction as well. I filmed my weight but also the weight that we carry on the back which comes from the universe, a way that can help you to go further.
Desistfilm: What process does music have inside your films? Do you make it before or after you film?
Marc Hurtado: The music in my films is fundamental. I can even say that my films are 50% sound and music and 50% image. When I made my first film I realized that it couldn’t live without sound, it was there, like a body without word, without a soul. It was a body that could move, that had some strength, but had no spirit. Then I made the music without watching my images (as I have done lots of times). I calculated how long the film was, and I made the music without watching the movie at the same time, without thinking if the parts would fit. Everything came together out of grace and magic, two elements that are fundamental in my work, these moments where things come together: Image with image, as a juxtaposition, and music with image, is all works of chance and grace. We’re talking here of something purely spiritual: the sounds, the ocean, the sea, the water, the wind, are all like a horse I’m mounting, trying to control. But I always let the reins loose, and just follow that horse. This process is akin to my work.
For the rest of my films I’ve chosen music that was already here, which existed already. The music of Royaume already existed, and I picked it up with eyes closed, just focusing on this magic process, and it fitted very well, beyond well, because there’s even exact coincidences of a second where the image is cut at the same time than the sound, out of chance. Every day I say thanks, I don’t know to whom, but I can imagine. Like Rimbaud said “man thinks / someone thinks for me”. In every single moment where men think, someone is thinking for them. Like Leonardo da Vinci you see, his work is part of alchemy, of magic which when it is placed in his paintings reaches the infinite. That Gioconda’s gaze is beyond Da Vinci’s hand, it’s something else, a sort of divine power.
Desistfilm: And that has to do also with this process of “editing” that you realize, that consists in exposing the material once and again so you can juxtapose images, and surrender yourself, in your words, to this “magic” process that occurs when you see the final result. Do you think this sense of “divine” has intervened in how your images were configured at the end?
Marc Hurtado: It’s something very funny, because in the first film there are so few overprints, which were something I tried later instinctively without thinking it was “experimental” For me it was just cinema, I didn’t have the culture of that.
This process of juxtapositions responds to a personal need to experiment with everything. From the first time that I had musical instruments in my hands (I come from a family of musicians) it didn’t occurred to me to learn how to play them, but to experiment with noises, thuds, sound of the wood crackling… Later I made noises with iron planks, with the water, with street horns, shouting, everything was music for me. The music of birds, for example, is the source of what we musicians call the loop, which is the source of everything, life, and the universe. That’s how I decided to create a symphony, because what difference did it make to play a violin or bang this small spoon against my coffee cup? What made the difference for me was the order you find in chaos. Chaos, which is the ultimate expression of order. The most beautiful kind of mathematics is the one which deals with the universe, which is the source of total chaos, which in itself is an incredibly complex order. I would say that more than magic, my process dealt with being one with the water, the sun, nature, so this order can pick you up and you can live inside it. It is this order which manipulates us, its nature.
I’ve never done any editing in those films. I just bought my little film 5 minute reels and made my film. If I needed a tree with snow, I just waited for months and recorded again with the same material, two, three, four times. The first time I did that was to experiment, for pleasure, but the result was so huge (the order) and the perfection of chance was such that I said “I’m not going to think my films anymore, they will think for me” The universe will be the director of my films, and I will be the spectator. That’s how the ego is destroyed, achieving complete transparency, something so huge that you allow yourself to be filled with all forces of nature.
Desistfilm: Everything we have talked about this relationship of the artist with the cosmos leads us to make this question: Which artists do you think share a sensibility with you? not only as a direct influence, but maybe as a conversation with your cinema with different works of art.
Marc Hurtado: In a very selfish way, when I made my films in 8mm, I made them with a very “classic” view of cinema, I mean in the sense of, for example, Fassbinder for me is a complete genius, you know? And maybe his cinema has nothing to do with me but I feel we share that same rebel spirit and we have something in common which is to search for the extremes, the ultimate transparency of things, no compromise.
Some painters also touched me a lot: Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Fra Angelico… they were painters that influenced me with their use of colour, their way to paint man and the universe.
After that I discovered Buñuel, Godard, Scorsese’s first film. An enormous shock for me was when I discovered Parajanov at age 20. I felt we had something in common: this poetry, this way of filming. He uses fixed shots, but the poetry inside them, this way of the theatrical… Because I haven’t talked about that, but I never intended to film life itself, but the theater of life, the ridiculous theater of our life, a comedy which only ends with death. I found that in his films, that smile, that panic and Dionysian force.
And then I discovered Peleshyan, who also has an intimate relationship with nature. His cinema opened me the doors of experimental cinema which is something that I struggled to understand. Wasn’t Dreyer in The Passion of Joan of Arc experimenting a lot? And you’re talking about one of the most classic films of all times. That was for me the higher point of beauty; I saw the genesis of my films in part of the expressionist cinema. I also find some common points with Derek Jarman and Kenneth Anger, which made so many amazing films.
Once someone told me “your film reminds me a lot of Pink Narcissus” I didn’t know that film and I went to see it. It was a film about homosexuality. So I thought, I want to go beyond that, I don’t want to show man or woman alone, what I want is to show a universal man that has nothing to do with society and time. Time, which doesn’t even exist. Everything is a big, big joke.