For the director-screenwriter Jacqueline Lentzou, filming is, at best, like writing a poem. R&A Media interviewed the award-winning director, who is inspired by lunar landscapes, rainbows, and Nirvana alike. Her short films will be seen in the Cut to the Chase – R&A Shorts event on September 27.
You’ve talked about conscious and unconscious aspects in film making. Looking back, could you talk about your films’ language and how it has developed throughout the years? What kind of a role does conscious and unconscious decision making play in it?
Looking back is indeed the only way to unearth both conscious and unconscious aspects regarding the construction of a language, no matter the context in which we use the term. Film language, broadly considered mostly as a visual one, for me, is way more. It Is the extension of an inner world, along with its attempts to manifest itself.
I feel everything started with me asking for a camera, when I was 8. I got it for my birthday and ever since I had a new way to kill monotony, by recording monotony. It was always handheld and blurry. Topic was mostly around my grandmother’s domesticity, my dogs’ games in the garden or my mother’s frozen silence. Some sudden zoom-ins and outs, some super long takes of water running, the wrinkled skin of a lady playing cards. A lot of uncut time with scattered words that emphasized randomness.
It was very peculiar to see some of this footage after I had made some of my films and draw connections between the way I portray the world as a filmmaker and the way I was portraying the world as a kid. I realized that there is not so much of a difference.
Back then, I just enjoyed deeply looking through the view-finder. It felt like a filter. I was distancing myself in order to cope with what was going on. That’s why I love POV shots and V.O, I feel. It’s like back then when I would whisper commentaries on top of what I was recording.
Many years later, after I had locked in my head that this part of my filmic language stems clearly from my childhood camera life, I wondered why did I ask for a camera in the first place. This was THE big psychoanalytic question. I had no dreams for a director’s career then, all I wanted was to become a writer. After a lot of introspection, I found out that probably this is owed to the fact the only positive memories I have from my father before my parents broke up, was the image of him holding a camera. A VHS one.
In our pre-production for my debut feature, which indeed is about my father, this realization hit a chord. And I figured out that either if we name it unconscious or conscious, dream or awaken life, either we approach it as analysts or as archaeologists, any creation of any language, is always tied to preserving something loved, but long lost.
To me it seems your latest film The End of Suffering (A Proposal) (2020) differs quite a bit from your previous work. Could you talk about the process of making it?
It’s interesting: some people perceive the latest short as rather different, some others as a natural continuation of the abstraction I tried to employ in Hiwa (2017). I think it lies in a middle ground. Hiwa is a poem for a city, stemming from a nightmare and The End of Suffering is a poem for a planet, stemming from a panic attack. Is personal unconscious, as a psychoanalytic construct, our God? Which is that voice that orders what to do and how to feel? These questions, I feel, unite the two shorts in a perfect way.
We made it fast. Shooting without prior location scouting, shooting without casting, shooting without licensing, shooting without preproduction. It’s really like writing a poem – the poem can find you anywhere. It can find you at the beach, it can find you in the bus, it can find you in the shower. You do whatever you can in order not to miss it, you have to run in order to jot it down. This energy is electric. This is how I feel mostly alive – not as an artist alone, but as a fully-fledged person.
Your films move effortlessly between personal and universal narratives. What are your thoughts about the discussion about auto fiction in films? How much of your writing has auto fictive aspects?
Possibly all of my writing. Even a text or a ‘story’ that seems far away from me, at the same time, if I am about to deconstruct it and break it into pieces, I can find details that come directly from my life. Even a word that I like and I keep using, eventually becomes part of auto-fiction. Yet I think it’s not me, it’s the very nature of writing. Anyone who grabs a pen due to a calling or a need, they definitely express parts of auto-fiction, they definitely write from an experiential basis and experience is – for me – a synonym for auto-fiction.
My films indeed have auto-fictive qualities for sure. Other times it’s conscious and this is when I desire to represent and depict a feeling I had at a particular situation. Other times, I realize later on that I might have picked a prop only because it reminds me of something. Memory is key to these processes, and it’s a significant vehicle in creating.
Regarding personal and universal, I have been having trouble with the particular distinction. If anything carries honesty, even if it is a perfectly tiny micro-narrative, it has the potential to radiate to the whole world. This comes I think from the fact that we all tend to think that we, along with our personal narratives, are unique. People tend to think that their story is super complicated, that no one can ever have been through similar situations, that no one has ever felt so bitter, so lonely, so sad. But then, you distance and you see that there are so many people sharing exactly the same experience. This is how we eventually connect.
So, if an individual is a metaphor for a ‘personal film’, and collectivity is a metaphor for ‘a universal film’, isn’t the first part of the greater latter?
How much do you leave room for coincidence when filming, or is everything strictly thought through when you start shooting?
I am very moody. So it depends on my mood on a specific day.
There are days that I wake up in a military chief mood. I know that today I have to execute – I have to shoot particular things in a particular way for a particular aim. I am ruled by logic and order. There are days that I wake up in a water mood. I know that everything is flexible, everything can and should flow, everything is soft, possibilities arise in every step we take with the camera. I am not ruled by anything these days; I am instead guided by something.
In order for these identities to arise, for sure there is work beforehand. You need to discover the world you want to create or re-create. And this is a life-long process, it does not come on a project basis – at least for me.
You’ve said you really enjoy writing and that it comes easy to you – could you tell a little bit about your writing habits, and how do you usually come up with a story?
Writing is my nature. I honestly do not think I could survive if it was not for the writing practice.
I mention the word ‘practice’ because I want to underline the very action of feeling or thinking something, big or small, and then taking it from the abstraction of the dimension of ideas in order to transform it into something. By writing you give existence to things to that do not exist. You give the chance to something that crossed your mind as you were watering the plants, to be with you tomorrow, next month, to be visible by others that have nothing to do with it. It’s a demystification process.
Stories usually tend to develop on an image realm. I have an image and around the image other images appear and then they make up a story. However, I have a terrible difficulty with the word ‘story’, as I don’t always find the beginning-middle-end system satisfying. Even in my life, I don’t know when something really finishes.
Which directors or writers or other things and figures have mostly influenced your work and how?
This question somehow pairs up with what I told you before in regards to preparation for a film being a lifelong process. I’ve picked bits and pieces since I remember and do not remember. It is like a big box with collage materials. You can find cinema tickets, photos of people you know and you don’t know, words, garments, toys, dried flowers, sea shells.
In my reference box someone can find an awful amount of names, songs, books, films, places. In a free-streaming way: Anne Frank, moonscapes, Chantal Akerman, Duchamp, Monet, Roxy Music, The Awakenings, Jane Campion, astrology reports, rainbows, deer, Man Ray, Blue Velvet, Brackage, Magritte, Lion King, Camus, Lacan, Sartre, DOF, my child self, Margarita Karapanou, Escher, Vienna, expired food, all of my dogs, Louise Bourgeois, New York, turtles, Leonard Cohen, lavender, Margeurite Duras, buckets with ice-cream, ELEPHANT, churches, Nirvana, Salinger, Phoebe, Simha, blue.
You’ve already won several awards, what do they mean to you and which one has been the most important to you?
Any award feels exactly like one of the golden medals I was winning as a runner when I was a kid – I was really fast, the fastest, so there were many.
At the first announcement I feel moved, proud, honored, happy. I feel like my work pays off. Then, some moments later, I feel just lucky. Luck of course always includes happiness, but a different texture of happiness. A fleeting one.
In this respect, they mean everything and nothing at the same time. Art and competition are by nature two incongruous things. Who is the one to judge which is the best painting, the best photo or the best film? What is the very definition of ‘the best’ in a world owned by subjectivity?
In film, the only ‘true’ meaning in awards arrives when they come in pair with money, and in that way the award is not just a soulless statue, but it becomes a solid building stone for your next endeavor. In this spirit, I will never forget the Award in the Memory of Ingmar Bergman issued for FOX by Uppsala SFF, since if it was not for this monetary prize, I would have not been able to shoot Hector Malot: The Last Day of The Year (2018). Equally, the Cine Leica Discovery Award is also probably the most important, both for its prestige and for its material support – I lived like a queen for three months or so!
Cut to the Chase – L&A Shorts has a series of Greek short films. What are your thoughts about the short film scene in your home country?
Greek short film scene is like listening to an intriguing music album.
There are some masterpiece tracks that you listen obsessively to, some obviously inferior tracks, some indifferent ones. Yet, all of them somehow have a spark of their own. Even the indifferent ones can have two, three really mesmerizing moments or characteristics.
The last years I have observed new elements in our filmography, elements which were totally absent in the past. Humor, formal experimentation, risk. And it’s a totally different thing to take risks when things are safe and another thing when things are absolutely unsafe.
In Greece, filmmakers take risks while knowing that they probably won’t be able to shoot in the next two years or so, due to the unacceptable conditions under which we are forced to create. This makes the scene courageous, and courage as a condition, as an option, as a feeling, is one of the most remarkable ones.
What kind of dreams do you have for your career?
My one and only dream is to write, shoot, share and publish with effortless ease, just like breathing. ■
Interview: Kiira Koskela