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Film: an open or closed case?

Film: an open or closed case?

Two press conferences concluded the NYFF’s four-week-long press screening marathon: Patrice Chereau and Pascal Greggory spoke about Gabrielle, and Michael Haneke about Cache. Both directors make films in French, and between their recent films they’d cast four of the finest actors in the world, not to mention France. They also were modest and affable in the face of an ever-incoherent line of questioning. But along the way, they spoke about film in ways that can best be described as diametrically opposed.

Chereau spoke at length about the standard need to make a nineteenth century text accessible to a contemporary audience. Haneke also spoke of engaging with the audience, explaining that he often makes films about nuclear families in order to maximize audience identification. But in forming a narrative, Chereau was adamant about finishing what he starts. “I’m not interested in what’s next, or what’s going on after,” the film has ended. He spoke of how his attraction to the Conrad story, “The Return”, on which Gabrielle is based, had something to do with the story’s unambiguous finale, going so far as to superimpose the story’s final line onto the final shot of his film. When a questioner with knowledge of the Conrad story tried to draw him into a discussion of the many ways to interpret the line, “If I had know you loved me I would never have returned,” Chereau proceeded to state the one simple interpretation he thought was appropriate. The implication was that all questions should be answered within the film, and that all stories should have an end.

Haneke clearly can’t abide by those rules. By the sorts of questions he fielded at the press conference, many people wish he would. He started by asking, “please don’t ask me who sent the tapes,” only to be asked, since he was reluctant to provide an answer, whether or not he himself knew “who sent the tapes.” Apparently disatisfied with his answer (which was that he gave his young actors meaningful dialogue for the final scene – dialogue he’ll never reveal), another questioner accused him of relying on a conceit.

Finally he said the following (which, due to the fact that I may have missed a word or two, I will paraphrase rather than quote):

(In my films) I try to leave the endings open. Leave room for the the audience, and involve them in the film. It forces them to wrestle with these themes and finish the films in their heads. Any film that answers questions that it raises ends there. Cinema steals images from our heads (whereas literature allows the reader to fill the unwritten space). I’m trying to ‘restore’ that potential in film.

Two films, two filmmakers, two very different ideas about the dimensions of film. Say what you will about each, but I think these ideas are borne out on screen. I think of Gabrielle as a cinematic object – alternatingly precious and crude, familiar and unique; and of Cache as something I will never be able to get my hands around or put down.

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