e Beach Film Festival 2022


Fred Kelemen

Jury member of the 5th edition of Beach Film Festival: TO LOVE IS A RADICAL ACT

Interview by: Zlatko Gјeleski

In several of your films you plant and test love in hopeless worlds. What is the difference between the couple's love in the dystopian Kalyi - Age of Darkness, the existential Abendland and the unrealized love in Fallen (Krisana)?

F.K.: Please, allow me to start with what is the similarity in the three mentioned cases: Desire. There is a desire for love and for overcoming the horror of our merciless and inhuman human world with love. But the question is, if this desire leads to love. If I go a step deeper into the topic, I must say, there is no love, there is no such thing called love. Love does not exist. What only can exist is an individual who loves. This is an ability and an act but not an object. So the question is if we are able to love, if we can achieve this ability and act accordingly. This needs courage, this needs to leave our false egos, our egocentrism behind us, this needs to be nonconformist in societies which are dominated by a system of exploitation, profit making, materialistic pragmatism, violence. To love and to bring this energy to action in a faithful, consequent way is a radical act. It questions the system and its operators, it is an oppositional attitude.

In all three films, you mentioned, the persons seek for the ability to bring the energy of loving into action, to make it real at different points of their relations towards the other.

In “Kalyi” this happens on a mystic level by the unification of the metaphysical and the corporal. Against the background of a decaying civilization at the end of the 20th Century, during the limited time and space of one single night, the protagonists try to find the remains of warmth in an act of desperate devotion. In an unconditioned acceptance of the energies of the present moment, driven by their desire, they try to enflame the last sparkles of hope, vitality, beauty and the ability to love invoked by the human body. More specifically, it is the way to the metaphysical through the physical, the resurrection of the lost spirit of love in the human flesh. Too late; and hence the only way is to leave the fallen, dying, old world and to step beyond its borders into a big mist where Utopia may be hidden.

In “Nightfall” (“Abendland”) the protagonists struggle to prevent their ability to love from vanishing in the darkness of a life situation which oppresses them, a situation where their dignity is questioned by the values of the society they live in, and their love-relation came close to an end. To preserve or renew it, it demands a courageous decision to fight for it against the worldly and mental demons. It demands a reversion, something what is called in Greek “metanoia”. At the end of a love-relation it is an essential question whether there is still enough energy to revive and save it or to let it die. It is a moment of the confrontation with one’s inner reality, bare of the romantic illusions and hopes of the beginning – a moment of the appearance of an essential truth and the encounter with either the own ability to love the other person or the void.

In “Fallen” (“Krišana”) the ability to love is a pure desire, it is an energy which cannot be transferred to the area of the real, it is projected to another person who remains an illusion, a creation of the male protagonists imagination, a reflection of his loneliness and alienation in the mirror of the worldly appearances’ surface. Instead of entering the real, the male protagonist is moving in the threads of a web of the story he is spinning. He cannot get through to the real and stays prisoned in his stories and speculations about the events, the others and himself, whilst around him the real occurs in a more or less dramatic way caused mainly by him. His situation most of us have. We take fragments of the worldly appearances and interpret them and fill the gaps with our speculations. Instead of being connected with the real we are staring to the screen of our concepts. The real behind this screen or veil we could only enter if we would have the courage to break through this veil, if we would reverse our gaze from the outside to the inside and to transfer our desire and potential ability to love to the real, put it into action, let it penetrate our worldly life and let it fill up all we do with its presence and light.

In “Fate” (“Verhängnis”) from 1994, appear characters from different countries and origins, searching for a better future. How much, with this film, did you want to show that different cultures are the core of heterogeneous Europe?

F.K.: The heterogeneity of Europe is one of its biggest strengths and its beauty lies in the diversity of its cultures. The different European countries or nations are united by an experience of pain caused by a long history of wars. A desirable future of Europe will certainly be made up of a peaceful coexistence and collaboration of its naturally grown regions. Then Europe can be a beautiful, richly colorful carpet, instead of a deserted monoculture. In “Fate” persons from different countries meet, but they try to exploit and abuse each other, instead of practicing solidarity, they serve the system of violence we are living in - which has a devastating effect to the society as a whole -, instead of being nonconformist and serving an idea of humanity which cultivates the recognition of the foreigner as a compatriot of the same home-planet, the other as a member of our human family - even if she or he would be an unpleasant one - and not as an enemy.
If Europe overcomes the growing separatistic nationalism on one side and the growing endeavor of globalist uniformity on the other side with the tendency to totalitarianism on both sides, the diversity of cultures could be a vitalizing blessing for the continent.

“Frost” is on the pedestal of European slow cinema. Tell me, was it difficult to get the needed acting performance out of little Paul Blumberg?

F.K.: It was not difficult to get Paul act in front of the camera. He was a child aged six / seven years. Already during our fist talk, I showed him my respect and we agreed about certain things and rules of the game. A child feels immediately if taken seriously or not. I always treated him carefully, knowing about a child’s fragility and sensibility, but never as a child inferior to an adult. There was a good relation of confidence and honesty between us.
For Paul we build up the shooting like being a game and like holidays at the country side, even though pretty cold holidays, where the effective shooting occupied only a part of the activities of the day. Additionally, I talked to Paul giving him instructions during the shooting of the single takes, while the camera was running. It was a great pleasure to shoot with him. He had such a strong discipline and beautiful, unspoiled presence in front of the camera.

What attracted you to Sarajevo, to immortalize it in the film Sarajevo Songs of Woe?

F.K.: In 2013 I was giving the first workshop (a cinematography and directing workshop) held in the Film Factory, established by Béla Tarr in Sarajevo, which opened the teaching of the school. From this time on I worked at the Film Factory two times per year till approximately the end of 2016. Getting more familiar with Sarajevo and its inhabitants, one day I was inspired to a film scene when I watched a certain spot at the town during a walk. Then I developed the whole film imagining its flow starting from this single scene to the possible beginning and to its possible end. The still existing gaps in my imagination were filled up later during the process of the realization of the film.
I began to shoot „Sarajevo Songs of Woe“ 100 years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo and the beginning of World War I and 18 years after the siege of Sarajevo. Sarajevo was sometimes called the “Jerusalem of Europe” due to its long history of religious and cultural diversity. Nationalism and ethnical radicalism destroyed this. I think, Europe should learn from Sarajevo and its devastation and take a different way in cultivating and defending the richness and beauty of diversity.

How important was the play and contrast of light and shadows, reminiscent of noir film, for the making of “The Man from London”?

F.K.: The visual concept of “The Man from London” was not inspired by the so called Film Noir. The aesthetics of the relation of darkness and light is something which is naturally pulsating through my mind, it is dominating my imagination. As the art of film is primarily a visual art and a Chronos art, the relation of darkness and light in its appearance in time and movement is essential. Film “gives the possibility to give light a dimension in time”, as Jonas Mekas once said. The Film Noir is celebrating this essential aesthetics as it was before applied in the silent movie era and in German Expressionism. Me, too, I have a favor for using high contrasts in the relation of darkness and brightness and its grades of grey to create a certain graphics of the light and atmosphere and a play of the visible and invisible or almost not visible. Creating the lighting of a cinematographic shot is basically creating shadows which in the end sculpt the light.

The Turin Horse has an immense meaning in my life and after every viewing, after the lights go out in the room, between the characters, it leaves me speechless, but with sadness in my heart. What can a cinematographer achieve with long shots in a film, that he could not achieve with short shots? Better capture the flow of time? Deepen the observation?

F.K.: This question touches the mystery or life and of the art of film. It is not possible for me to answer it in a satisfying way in an interview. But I can try to mention some points briefly. Like music, film is an art of time, of appearing and vanishing moments. And this is something we know from life. Not to destroy the unity of space and time brings us close to the heartbeat of life. The appearing and vanishing moments in combination with a moving camera creates the poetic presence of the visible world sculpted by darkness and light. The viewer, the one who sees, witnesses the presence in movement and experiences the permanence of life and death, the viewer streams in the flow of the temporality of the phenomenal world. Film is essentially a visual art and thus an art of showing. And what we see and experience in a longshot is poetic truth of the immediate birth and death of all that is existing. And this is something, a cut, an edited scene or sequence could never transmit. A cut or edited scene or sequence is an artificially, somehow intellectually created and manipulated event very different from an uncut long-shot with its metamorphic flow. It is like watching an uncut sunset or movement of the waving ocean in opposition to e.g. a sequence showing one wave cut and edited after the other without their appearance and disappearance and flow from one to another, or to cut a sunset into its single moments which would result in the elimination of its slow movement and hence the sunset as a time based attraction.
The so called “slow films” are not slow, they are precise and they show us the richness of the moments in the flow of time, which is presence; they guide us behind the veil of the surface of the phenomenons to its source, to the magic area of the “dark energy”. As astrophysics knows of “dark holes”, “dark matter” and “dark stream”, there is as well “dark energy”, which might be the source of everything: a small but unlimited, endless area in the center of every matter, also called “nothingness” or “void” or, if you would like to use another word, the Divine: a dark shining spring from where everything flows in a metamorphic stream and to where everything immediately flows back. The poetic reality of this energy can be made tangible in a long-shot and gives it a dark - which means ungraspable, unexplainable - shining.

You have collaborated with Joseph Pitchhadze, Pavel Lungin and Béla Tarr, who have a different style of filmmaking. How flexible should a cinematographer be to the demands of different directors to complete their vision, or do you think they should choose directors who are close to their sensibilities?

F.K.: The mentioned film directors are doubtlessly different individuals with differences in their way of working. But each of them had a clear intention and idea why they invited me to collaborate with them. Their choice was not random. And my approach to the visual flow in time and understanding of film matched with the ideas they had concerning the singular projects.

Where do you see the future of film, on film festivals, cinema repertoire or streaming services?

F.K.: First of all I see the future of film in the individual filmmakers who will bring these films into the visible, material reality. The future of every art is the individuals, the humans who create it. If in the next generation of film-artists there are a number of talented, sensible, visionary, passionate, courageous, uncorrupted individuals capable of suffering, who will defend the artistic and human values and rich dimensions of film art, it will have a future no matter whether at film festivals, in the cinema or gallery or museum repertoire, at streaming services or as a future super laser projection on the surface of the dark side of the moon.

(Ohrid / Macedonia, 2022 July 20)