Interview with Andrés DuqueMonday, May 13, 2019
The following interview is the second of a series conducted by the Venezuelan artist Ángela Bonadies. Her conversations with Latin American visual artists and filmmakers continue the CPPC's tradition of preserving first-hand cultural testimony.
Andrés Duque is a Venezuelan-born Spanish filmmaker whose work in the field of non-fiction is driven by an essayistic intuition and affective impulses. Among others, he has directed the films Iván Z (2004), Paralelo 10 [Parallel 10] (2005), La constelación 666 [The Bartleby Constellation] (2007), Color perro que huye (Color Runaway Dog, 2011), Ensayo final para utopía [Dress Rehearsal for Utopia] (2012), Oleg y las raras artes [Oleg and the Strange Arts] (2016) and Carelia: Internacional con monumento [Carelia: International with Monument] (2018). In this interview, we spoke about his approach to filmmaking and about locating the hidden motifs within his films.
Ángela Bonadies [AB]: How do you know when you are going to start making a movie? I mean, when do you say, “There’s something here that I want to film”? And from that point, how do you organize your work? Do you make technical or structural decisions before filming?
Andrés Duque [AD]: My relationship with film has always been intuitive—I don’t start with ideas or concepts, and I don’t write scripts either. It’s a very personal decision, and one that allows me to better enjoy the creative process and not lose so much time searching for financing. But let’s say that the rationale, the form, that which is to be revealed, is something that I generally find during editing.
My first film, Iván Z, was an idea that I had thought up all the way back when I was in Caracas. I mean, more than making a movie about Iván, what I wanted to do most was to get to know him, because I identified with him in some way that I wanted to unpack.
I thought Iván Z would be my only film. I didn’t have anything in mind or anything solidly put together for “the next one,” but the story for my second work, Parallel 10, wrote itself. When I discovered Rosmarie, the protagonist, she’d just spelled out the word “Iván” using plastic rulers. A random occurrence, of course. But as Alexander Kluge said, “luck is intentional.”
Which means that reality has an imagination, and I’ve been tugging on that thread from that day up to now. Carelia and my interest in that whole area came from Oleg Karavaichuk, who was the first one to tell me about him. He suggested that I travel to Carelia. Obviously, that was the blast-off point.
So I decided I would start filming as those random occurrences took place. My sense of smell also carries me off to those worlds that I portray, that depart from reality, that appear fantastical. I’ve been asked many times if my films are fictions in disguise. But they’re not, when I find the landscape and the characters, I can’t sleep until I get it done. And it’s essential to reassert your identity, to find elements that relate to you, then you focus on those and you concentrate your efforts on making them visible in a spontaneous way. It’s the creation of a world that’s real and also cinematographically fictional.
With regard to organization, I can tell you that there’s very little. There’s an idea, it’s shared with the participants, they decide to do it and the spontaneity arises when you’ve spent enough time living with these people, which in my case takes two or three years.
I remember the first time we were at the San Sebastián Film Festival. You wrote a very nice essay about “the home,” and that’s an image that still comes to me in dreams today, where a lot of times I find myself entering into shuttered houses and houses that belong to other people and decide to stay there. There is a sequence in Carelia dedicated to houses.
Having the liberty to display these images, to put together a sequence just about houses, assures my freedom and reaffirms me. Technically, I like to be as heterodox as possible. I’m not married to any style—that’s a trap of audiovisual market logic that you’re an author because you repeat forms, styles. My identity is present in the moment when I meld into the landscape and we become inseparable. Or when I explore my own archives in Color Runaway Dog and Dress Rehearsal and First Symptoms.
AB: What happens if there’s a void, and there’s no chance occurrence to inspire you to pick up the camera? I mean, is there another way of staying in film without making film? Perhaps it’s never happened to you, but I sometimes feel like there are those gaps, and that they can even be important.
AD: Gaps or voids are important because they help you think about what you’ve done. About what the experience of having finished filming a movie meant. To think about the direction of your present and future concerns. And also to clear yourself out and to start to fill yourself up with new subjects. It’s about reviving curiosity. Not letting it die.
I also fill them with teaching, which keeps me busy throughout the year, along with invitations to conferences and festivals. I wouldn’t so much call it a void, as “the other part.” A more reflexive and public part. I enjoy both parts equally.
Of course, the idea of the “void” can occur when a project doesn’t take off. That’s never happened to me, because the only time something like that might have happened, it turned into another film:
Dog Color that Runs came out of an attempt to film a man who lives in Prat del Llobregat, for whom everything has started to fall apart. Then there was the accident, the broken ankle that left me bedridden, and aside from depression, my only pastime was watching classic Hollywood movies (screwball comedies) that I’d never paid much attention to, and that are a miracle cure. My other activity was digitizing all of the images I’d saved on videotape. Seeing those images again brought about a need to do something with all that. I wanted to give them a second chance. Could those images be film? Look at the trouble that I got myself into and that came about when I tried to argue that this, too, was film. But it was worth the effort. Those decisions are really the void you have to throw yourself into with blind faith.
AB: You’ve said, “There’s an idea, it’s shared with the participants, they decide to do it and the spontaneity arises when you’ve spent enough time living with these people, which in my case takes two or three years.” Over the course of those years, are you filming, or do you just commit yourself to living or interacting within that new home? Would you say that the contract that is established is affective?
AD: First we’d have to define what we mean by “home,” as an “affective” (not necessarily geographical) territory, as a value or as something you “decide to film.” It’s an enigma that comes from within, and you find it where “X marks the spot.” It’s an image, and a very beautiful one. It’s Zulueta’s sticker album.
I call that image International with Monument, which, as you know, is the name of Meyer Vaisman’s first gallery in New York in the 1980s. And it’s a name that means nothing in and of itself. He told me about when he and his partners Kent Klamen and Elizabeth Koury found a mysterious poster in the basement of the future gallery with that phrase written on it, and they had no other choice than to name it that: International with Monument.
So here’s my confession, to go with that anecdote. That mysterious discovery stayed fixed in my memory as a beautiful thing. And for years, when my films didn’t have a name, I’d give them a working title: International with Monument. It has many meanings, and it always holds some enigma to seek you out.
What’s happened now is that the title has appeared in the film Carelia: Elizabeth Klodt (Dmitriev’s daughter) describes the forest where the common graves are found as “a forest of international monuments (memorials).” I had no other choice than to title the film Carelia: International with Monument.
AB: Reading it that way, it’s as if you were guided by a hidden map that is pieced together by way of clues, which you can either follow or not. Although your approach is intuitive, there is a certain faith (perhaps you would call it curiosity) in those clues or signs that you encounter along the way and that you leave behind as winks to the audience in your films: sometimes we see them, sometimes we don’t. Do you have faith in—or curiosity about—those clues being discovered by viewers, or are they just for you, an internal structure?
AD: Yes, that’s definitely part of my own personal mapping, and my films are a result of that journey. It’s not something that I aim to textualize or explicate in them, because film is about creating a (visual-sonic-temporal) world and not so much about exploring it. That’s what books are for. It’s true that film still cannot set aside its didacticism, and in art everything has to be processed and conceptualized. I’ve always wondered why. The answer is obvious: to serve the interests of institutions, the market, etc. And I never entered into all that. I defined myself with a first-person style of film (even when dealing with other people), essayistic and at the margins of the industry.
This cartography, touched by a unique idea of faith, is what is going to guarantee that I will continue filmmaking and that the day I die or stop doing it, I will have never drawn conclusions or made a declaration or closed off anything about life, which, for me, would be a failure.
AB: You’ve said, “My identity is present in the moment when I meld into the landscape and we become inseparable.” It’s interesting, I see your films as portraits, where the landscape is just another character, just like those holes that show up over and over in Carelia: homes or graves for spiders, insects or humans. Isn’t that a language that focuses more on portraiture than landscape?
AD: Landscape has, as you’ve said, as many psychological characteristics as the human face, so therefore a portrait and a landscape are practically the same thing. Melding into the landscape is a phrase that José Luis Guerín taught us in his classes, and it’s a pertinent metaphor. Or the way Agnès Varda asks, in her film The Beaches of Agnès, “If I were a landscape, what or which kind would I be?” In that sense, it’s not so much a question of finding a topic or a purpose for representing something, but rather the relevance of what you’re filming.
AB: For you, a film takes shape mostly in editing. Can you talk about that revelation, that moment?
AD: That’s the most exciting thing about filmmaking, along with finding a location, but I very much enjoy editing and I spend a lot of time on it. It doesn’t matter how simple the movie—Oleg—that’s where the film is reborn.
Bresson said that films are born and die three times throughout the process of writing, filming and editing. Perhaps he mentioned a fourth, which would be exhibition, I can’t remember. Editing is reconstructing the logic of the filming. Putting what was previously recorded in order. Editing gives you an enormous power over how to conceive of the film and its logic. All images are susceptible to manipulation. There is no such thing as an innocent image, and I would say that it’s almost a work of alchemy getting to the best way of creating the world you’d imagined. It’s also a moment of discoveries, because the reality you’re living through during the filming becomes something very different when it gets edited, and that’s magical, even healing. Like how it helped me deal with my father’s death when I edited Final Audition for Utopia. Putting your feelings to work in order to heal wounds. There are filmmakers who hate editing, but I think it’s vital for a filmmaker to edit their films, since that’s really where the author’s style shows through. Or at least for them to take part in it and be the editor’s right hand. Unforeseen, spontaneous connections appear. And that’s the base for creativity, putting together two images that have no apparent relationship, but which nevertheless when brought together can have an explosive signifying effect.
AB: At times, the way you play with visual elements, or the camera or the elements of vision, creates a kind of “counter-visual” space that many of us can’t quite place. Zulueta’s sticker album? There are also certain phrases and images that offer an inverse, story-tale logic, something like, “why have a refrigerator if there’s no food,” or other such things in Carelia.
AD: Yes, I call them “spaces of flight.” In a given moment, the characters, or images, are launched out into time and space toward a potential site where the whole film could go, but where it nevertheless won’t arrive. The image appears to tell us that the world… or that our minds, are greater, more incomprehensible or abstract, and we could continue along those lines, which would probably carry me into chaos, which might be a beautiful thing. Iván’s sticker album is an invitation to lose yourself in that landscape that has little to do with what the people are going through. The quote you mentioned from María about wasps, spiders, holes and the refrigerator is an invitation to think like children or like wasps.
AB: The image of the boy who is painting from behind, the one you record from outside the home: you knock on the window, he turns around, he sees you, he laughs; it seems like that revelation to which you’re referring, the surprise or the discovery.
AD: Yes, I knew it was a beautiful moment when I filmed it, but it was especially in editing that I realized how important it was for that to be in the film. Sometimes you even build a whole sequence just to make a proper place for a revelatory image. The beauty is in having the freedom to do that.
Translated from the Spanish by Phillip Penix-Tadsen.
 El hueco que deja el diablo [The Devil’s Blind Spot], Alexander Kluge. Editorial Anagrama, 2007.
 Construir la casa [Building the House], Ángela Bonadies. Athenea Digital.
 Dan Cameron on International with Monument: