The carte blanche of Jacqueline Lentzou
We gave Jacqueline Lentzou, our main guest this year, a carte blanche. While in New York, walking the streets of Jonas Mekas and Chantal Akerman, Jacqueline tells us about why she chose these classics from between 1966 and 1973. She accompanied this essay-like interview with some polaroids she made during her walks.
Mathieu Janssen (programmer Go Short): You chose for ‘Saute Ma Ville’, Chantal Akerman’s first short film. The film feels like a strong but tragic outcry, even more tragic after her suicide in 2015. Do you, as a young filmmaker, feel a connection with Akerman?
Jacqueline Lentzou: Though mostly pessimistic, I do believe in magic.
Not in a flamboyant, romantic manner that the word magic may suggest, yet in a grounded way -acknowledging how contradictory this may be. I believe in the interconnectedness of the universe, and I guess this is why I keep striving, working, travelling, reading, making, searching, writing, existing: to find signs, and through them, a meaning.
Discovering Chantal Akerman was such a sign. An interview of hers popped up rather randomly on the internet, those dark London days, when I was studying, feeling deeply disenchanted. I felt that this was not what I had set up for when I decided to make films back in my teens. I could not put it in words back then, yet I knew that things were not in place.
I remember like yesterday, how immediately I got absorbed by listening to this –then- unknown woman to me. Smoking non-stop, speaking non-stop, moving her hands non-stop, with eyes crystal blue, shining. A special energy all around her, a glow. To me, a symbol of a person knowing life, therefore being able to love life. Another interview followed. And another.
After this first encounter, I started watching her films. The degree of identification was scary. I knew the ‘reason’ behind any shot, I tuned in with her pacing. I laughed and cried wholeheartedly. I could smell her apartment, as if I had been there. Then, our shared birthday seemed like a mad coincidence. By then, Chantal had become a friend.
Soon, Chantal becomes an existential comrade, and this when I realize her adoration for her mother, along with their relationship. Chantal was nothing, but a forever child
that never managed to wean off her mom. And this where the missing piece of the puzzle is found, and I realize instantly why I feel I know her, while I don’t know her. I am like her. I feel we are made of similar materials; if we were houses we would be made out of wood.
With Chantal, I spoke just once. Actually, we wrote. We wrote to each other the day her mother passed away, and my hands were motionless over the keyboard.
When I programmed the carte-blanche, this film was the first in my head, and I do hope that the day we screen her short in the big screen, she will be with us in spirit, along with her mother. : )
M: You also picked a film of Jonas Mekas – a part of his diary film ‘Walden’. Can you tell me something about how his highly personal cinema, focused om the beauty surrounding us at every moment, speaks to you?
J: Jonas is a poet. His cinema speaks to me directly to the heart, like T.S. Eliot, like music, like the moon. I envision him behind the camera, I imagine him walking around and being overwhelmed with the tiniest of the details that most people just oversee.
There is something unique in his work. Although it’s personal, intimate, soft and warm, there one can find a celebration of life in its whole – not a celebration of the self. He has such a genuine and deep respect for his surroundings, and this seems to be his motivational force: to share what he sees, not to show who he is.
Through his works, one can discover a very tender soul. Tender souls tend to glorify the past, and this is another reason why he speaks to me: his approach to memory. The multiple home-videos, the variety in images, textures and words. The worlds within worlds, seasons, faces, animals, windows. Non-fabricated, non-posed, non-fake. All of what we see in Jonas’ films were really there for that small minute, and he manages to eternalize them. Keep them safe for ever. He turns things from mundane to sacred. Is he a saint?
Jonas’ films make me cry before they finish. The tears are very different from other kind of tears I shed in other filmmakers’ works. I feel they are the tears of the realization of the interconnectedness I mentioned in the previous question. For sure Jonas belonged to a very unique planet of his own, a planet full of love, music and caresses, and he was generous enough to take us from the hand and lead us there.
M: Through most of your choices, I sense a love for filming common daily life and more personal cinema. Is it an inspiration for how you write your scenarios?
J: I write what I know, or I write about what I know, or what I think I know.
I feel this is the only way to fetch truth, or to create something that carries some truth. Sure, what is true and what is not is a huge discussion -yet let us agree on the relativity of it, and in parallel agree on the fact that, at least in my minimal experience in life, not in cinema alone, when someone has honest intentions, then bits of truth are to be found. Like small treasures. A direct link to someone’s inner being. A distance from superficiality and artificiality.
I am hesitant in saying that yes, personal cinema, domesticity, daily life and the seemingly mundane is an ‘inspiration’ to me. Inspiration has an outward/inward movement to it. Is it the prefix ‘in’, or the stories about how inspiration arrives and people run to finish their work of art? I don’t know. I don’t exist that way. Writing and then making films out of private moments is part of my very nature. I never thought about it, as I have been writing about these things ever since I remember me consciously writing something for the first time – about 7-8 years old. I guess it’s a healthy habit that never left me, and I am lucky enough to make films out of this habit/need I developed as an only-child.
What fascinates me in ‘small narratives’, daily life and the rest, is how effortlessly they can talk about master narratives, ranging from the family narrative to the love narrative, to that of the totality of existence. It’s like dating. You either take them to a fancy restaurant, so they have to dress up and put make up on, and be careful how to eat because they don’t want to ruin their nice clothes, or you can take them for a walk in the park to see people walking out their dogs, wearing hoodies and having unmade hair. I bet the second date is much more telling than the first. More particular, more specific, more special.
All pictures are made in New York by Jacqueline herself.