Translations


[The following is a translation of Serge Daney’s interview with Satyajit Ray published in Libération on 9 February 1982 and reprinted in Daney’s Ciné Journal Vol. 1 (1998, Cahiers du cinéma). With kind help from Laurent Kretzschmar of the indispensable Serge Daney in English blog.]

Satyajit Ray by Nemai Ghosh

February 1982, Calcutta

In which we go meet Satyajit Ray at his home in the city that he never stopped loving.

At any rate, he’s stands tall. Heads and shoulders above the rest. He just celebrated sixty years of life and twenty years of cinema. To the rest of the world, he is “Satyajit Ray”, the symbol of Indian cinema. But in his country, where films are made on an assembly line (743 films in 14 languages in 1981) and dreams are ruthlessly manufactured, he’s the first one to have left the factory. It happened between 1952 and 1956, here in Calcutta, and the film was called Pather Panchali. Since then, with his baritone voice and his impeccable English, Ray has never yielded on the most important thing: to shoot at home in his language (Bengali). A little less than thirty films in twenty-five years. But Indian cinema, the “all India film”, hasn’t yielded to him either. The struggle has been long. When you leave Bengal and ask the man in the street, no one knows Ray anymore. When you remain in Bengal and talk to any kid coming your way: he knows the names of stars, of cricket players and of Ray.

He’s at home in Calcutta. This inconceivable city, where it seems so easy to live and so easy to die, oozes with culture. Ray writes, produces drawings, composes music, and one day, in 1947, the year of independence, he starts the first film club in Calcutta. Ever since, this old capital of colonial India (from 1773 to 1912), this “premature metropolis” that has become a giant village, remains the conscience of Indian cinema. The film festival (called “filmotsav” here) is a genuinely popular event. The theatres—New Empire, Metro, Jamuna, Society, Jyoti, Paradise, Elite and Glove—are full. A ticket is a precious commodity. Tickets for second-class seats are sold on the black market.

Reaching Satyajit Ray’s house isn’t hard. Bishop Lefroy Road isn’t far from Chowringhee, the aberrant centre of this decentred city. Overcrowded arcades face an empty stretch of land where, amusingly, the Russians and Hungarians have been pretending for years to construct a metro that, all of Calcutta likes to think, will collapse with the first train (they still have ten years to go, says Ray who finds the idea funny). The filmmaker’s house is located in a central district of Calcutta, in a rather calm and posh neighbourhood. The houses, their windows and balconies have been fittingly corroded by humidity. Their ochre is turning into black. Ray lives on the top floor of a mansion barely older than him. I notice the spacious office where he receives me. I make out the rest: slow domestic helps, plants, film reels piled up, a diorama of greeting cards on a small table (it’s January, and the winter weather is wonderful), books of course, an old radio, two windows overlooking two streets, folded newspapers and, in an armchair, Satyajit Ray, very relaxed and even cheerful. Ray expects admiration from a visiting Westerner. He knows he deserves it. This respect pleases him but doesn’t surprise him anymore.

That’s for the image. As for the sound, the pitch is set by crows that caw with as much repressed hate as on the soundtrack of India Song. Traffic jams, human cries, honking automobiles, street vendors and assorted birds make for the rest. It’s simple: the city enters by the window.

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[The following is a translation of a chapter from Serge Toubiana’s memoirs Les fantômes du souvenir (“The Ghosts of Memory”, 2016, Grasset)]

Anxious to know if Maurice was suffering, Sylvie Pialat called the doctor. The prognosis was that he’d possibly not last the weekend. We three had a meeting of sorts to decide whether or not to increase the morphine dosage. That very evening, just before midnight, Maurice Pialat died in his bed. He was in the sky-blue shirt that Emmanuèle and I had gifted him on 25 December 2002 during the Christmas meal we were invited to. Sky-blue suited him well, Maurice seemed at peace after a long illness.

Shortly before Maurice’s death, Sylvie did the right thing by inviting all those who mattered in his personal and professional life one after the other. She wanted everyone to have a memory of Maurice, without the regret of not having seen him one last time. But he wasn’t capable anymore of recognizing the person sitting next to his bed. The only one whose voice and presence he recognized by instinct was Gérard Depardieu. Whenever he entered the bedroom, the actor had the gift and energy to banter and make himself heard. Maurice’s face would then light up with a faint smile. The two men loved each other deeply, there was an obvious and natural complicity between them that Maurice had with no one else, except of course Sylvie.

An intense atmosphere reigned all through the night of 10-11 January, suffused with remembrance and shared affection. Death brought together those who were present physically. At one point, I had to take little Antoine in my arms and grip him tightly because his body trembled as he cried. I was able to calm him after several long minutes. He slowly pulled himself together and received his friends from the neighbourhood. The children soon started playing and running around, but ensured they went to see Maurice on his deathbed from time to time.

Around 1 AM, Sylvie asked me to take care of the funeral services. I’d never done that. On the telephone, a man asked me pointed questions that I was unable to answer. Something like: “How many people should the vault accommodate? Two or three? Should the service be religious or not?” “Hmm… a little religious but not too much!”, I mumbled. Behind me, Sylvie, Daniel Toscan du Plantier and Isabelle Huppert burst out laughing. Daniel Toscan du Plantier came up with the right answer quickly: “Antoine is too young; I think a vault for two will do!”

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[The following is a translation of Luc Moullet’s book Politique des acteurs (“Actors’ Policy”, 1993, Cahiers du cinéma)]

Politique des Acteurs - Luc Moullet

Foreword

Gary Cooper: Immortality of the Sphinx

John Wayne: Towards Decrepitude

Cary Grant: The Sprint and the Pose

James Stewart: Man of Hands

 

[The following is a translation of Georges Didi-Huberman’s Sortir du Noir, a long, open letter to László Nemes on his film Son of Saul, published by Ēditions de Minuit in 2015.]

 

Paris, 24th August 2015

 

Dear László Nemes,

Your film, Son of Saul, is a monster. A necessary, coherent, beneficial, innocent monster. The result of an extraordinarily risky aesthetic and narrative wager. How could a film about the Behemoth1 that was the Nazi extermination machine in the enclosure of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944 not be a monster compared to the stories we are used to seeing each week in theatres in the name of “fiction”? Is your film something other than fiction? Of course not. But it’s a fiction that’s as modestly as it is audaciously attuned to the very particular historic reality it deals with. Whence the ordeal of discovering it. During the screening in the dark of the theatre, I wished at times, not to close my eyes, but that all that you bring to light in this film returned to darkness, even if for a brief amount of time. That the film closed its own eyelids for a moment (which does happen sometimes). As though darkness could offer me, in the midst of this monstrosity, a space or a time to catch my breath, to breathe a little amid that which was taking my breath away from shot to shot. What an ordeal, indeed, is this bringing to light! What an ordeal is this flood of images and this hell of sounds tirelessly giving rhythm to your narrative! But what a necessary and fertile ordeal!

Like many others, I went into the dark of the theatre equipped with some preliminary information—an incomplete knowledge, of course; that is everyone’s lot—about the (historical) story that your (filmic) story deals with, namely the Nazi death machine and the role played by members of the Sonderkommando, special teams formed from interned Jews whose terrifying work is soberly described at the beginning of your film in a title card that defines them with the expression “Geheimnisträger”, “carriers of secret”. Your story (your fiction) gets out of the dark: it “carries” the secret itself, but in order to carry it into light. It is dedicated through and through to the story (to the reality) of the diabolical fate of the Sonderkommando members at Auschwitz-Birkenau: not a single shot in the film that isn’t backed up, that isn’t directly drawn from sources, from testimonies, to begin with the extraordinary secret manuscripts that you claim to have discovered in the special edition of the Shoah History Review published in 2001 under the title Voices Under the Ashes2.

Despite having gone through the same sources as you, I was left without a defence, without any protective knowledge, by the images and cries of your film. They grabbed me by the throat in many ways. Firstly, I must confess that it felt like seeing something of my oldest and most painful nightmares in front of me. There’s nothing personal in that: it’s the power of nightmares to reveal to us the structure of reality, and it’s the power of cinema to reveal to us the structure of nightmares which so often make up reality itself. I automatically think of the situations that made up the reality you narrate—and which survivors like Filip Müller and Primo Levi3 attest to—these situations without respite for anyone, and where all of life’s energy, its capacity for invention, cunning, decision, persistence, with its genius for seizing the most improbable opportunity, well, all this nevertheless led to a death sentence.

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[The following is a translation of Luc Moullet’s tribute to Jean Douchet that appears in the January issue of Cahiers du cinéma. I’m grateful to Andy for sending the piece to me.]

I met Jean Douchet when he came to Cahiers du cinéma some months after me at the end of 1957. Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol and others, more and more taken up with preparing for and directing their first films, hardly had time—or the desire, at times—anymore to continue to write criticism. I and Douchet were delegated to take over, as much at Cahiers as at the Arts magazine. We were hence partners, accomplices and at the same time competitors (without overtly expressing this internal struggle). Douchet spent a large part of his time at his seat at Cahiers or at the Cinémathèque, making contacts with young viewers whom he encouraged to write for Cahiers, and with small parallel groups at Cahiers, such as the one that had formed around the Mac-Mahon theatre. He had a real entourage, in contrast to Rohmer, who often refused external contacts. More affable, and exhibiting great civility, he had an advantage over me, who was more preoccupied with making my first short films. But at the Arts magazine, he barely stayed longer than me, following the media backlash against the Nouvelle Vague at the end of 1960. Douchet’s activity at Cahiers was marked by initiatives such as the creation of a Prix de la Nouvelle Critique (which awarded, to his great anger, the prize for the most overestimated film to Psycho) and by strong critical stances for or against certain directors. Douchet violently opposed Buñuel, Antonioni, Bertolucci, Kubrick, Peter Brook, Autant-Lara (against whom he lost a lawsuit). This sectarian quality, his somewhat esoteric way of speaking, suited him well: he was highly inspired by spiritualism and the secret societies he haunted. Thereafter, in the spring of 1963, following the eviction of Éric Rohmer from Cahiers, he slowly left the magazine.

            After this, he was mostly involved in public speaking, moderating debates at the end of film screenings, or on television in programmes on cinema, or as a teacher. His writing activity, at times destructive, hence made way for an oral activity, for a dialogue with the viewer, for a more convivial, more measured attitude. For more than half a century, he spoke with a certain serenity, seemingly beyond petty fights, beyond all famous filmmakers (except Antonioni, whom he could never stand). At the end of the day, a richer, more indulgent, more mediatory attitude—a real ombudsman—than during his time at Cahiers. Studying films in minute detail, and thanks to video cassettes, he discovered hidden meanings in certain sequences of Fritz Lang, notably in Fury and While the City Sleeps, that no one before him had noticed. Over the years, he had acquired a Santa Claus-like status. His majestic portliness won him all kinds of good wishes, and numerous filmmakers, from 1958 till his last years, happily gave him cameos, small roles in which he excelled, harnessing his inimitable appearance and voice. Among his very rare forays into filmmaking, one must note two unexpected accomplishments: a short comedy, Et Crac ! (1969), in which Bulle Ogier and Claude Chabrol engage in delicious fantasies, and La Servante aimante (1995), where he successfully integrated the backstage and the hidden face of theatre with Goldoni’s play.

[The following is a translation I did with Andy Rector of the 14-page interview with Jean-Luc Godard that appears in the October issue of Cahiers du Cinéma]

That is what is beautiful about The Image Book. The whole life piles up. You keep everything with you.

I debuted in the second Revue de cinéma when it was with Gallimard and it was with the help of Doniol-Valcroze that I entered Cahiers little by little. Doniol-Valcroze was the son of a friend of my mother’s at the Victor-Duruy high school. I thought he received me because of that. I learnt later that he was demobilized and took refuge in Switzerland. It was my mother who got him to France, to Thonon, on a little speedboat called “the hyphen” and with which we often went vacationing in my grandfather’s property. I discovered that after Doniol-Valcroze’s death. I wasn’t against the Cahiers management at that time. He was the editor-in-chief along with Bazin. He was a “gentle man” in the literal sense of the term. I didn’t know Bazin like Truffaut did at all. I knew Bazin as the head of a communist organization, Work and Culture, just opposite the Beaux-Arts. There was a small library opposite run by a friend of Rivette’s from Rouen. It’s a story that I attached myself to little by little, not from the beginning, but there are all these stories I want to keep to myself. I was prudent like the Delacroix character. I stole some money from one of my uncles to finance Rivette’s first short film, Le Quadrille.

Whom did you feel closest to?

Rivette. Then Truffaut, but before he made Les Mistons. I don’t know if he was already married to Madeleine Morgenstern, whom I liked a lot. He’d become rich by this point. Madeleine Morgenstern’s father was the head of a distribution company called Cocinor in the Nord region and in Paris. But when he wrote “A Certain Tendency of French Cinema”, I hung out with him a lot. I wasn’t so much with Rivette. We could go see films at 2pm and leave at midnight because it was a single-admission cinema. I’d give up after an hour or two. Rivette stayed until the end. Rohmer had a different life. He was a professor and lived in a small hotel opposite the Sorbonne. His name was Schérer and he started signing “Rohmer” so that his mother didn’t know he led a dissolute life in cinema. These were three different friends. It was real camaraderie with Schérer—I still call him Schérer—Rivette and Truffaut. Schérer was one of the few who knew which woman I was in love with, and I was the only one to know that he was in love with the wife of an old head—a communist—of the CNC. Rohmer was ten years older and he was the counterbalance to Bazin and Pierre Kast. In The Image Book, I have a shot of the Liberation of Paris. We see an FFI member from behind, with a gun on his back, speaking to a woman on her knees. To my mind, this man was always Pierre Kast. I hope it’s true.

We get the feeling that you didn’t have political discussions at Cahiers at that time.

Very little. It was the cinema. Even girls were a secret. I remember a moment during the Algeria war. I was at the Place de l’Alma with Rivette. A car sped by with the “nee-naw” of the OAS siren. I saw that as a shot by Douglas Sirk. And Rivette chided me. I couldn’t see things politically at that time. The one who could easily do that was Straub, because he was there from the beginning.

 

In Memory of Jean Douchet (1929-2019)

[The following is my translation of the interview with Jean Douchet that introduces his collection of DVD reviews, La Dvdéothèque de Jean Douchet (Cahiers du cinéma, 2006)]

Your first collection of articles, L’Art d’aimer1, was published in 1987. It’s almost been twenty years since. What was the context for this book, which has since become a reference work?

I moved away from Cahiers following a famous episode—the magazine’s opening up to modernity and to great thinkers of the sixties (Levi-Strauss, Barthes, etc.): to put it briefly, it seemed that the kind of criticism I encouraged and practiced wasn’t intellectual enough. This separation lasted a while, until Cahiers’ Maoist period of the seventies, when the magazine almost went into a turmoil. It was an interesting phase too, but that’s not the point: I remember being very worked up about the collective article on Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (No. 223).

I came back to Cahiers little by little, notably with the interview “Douchet dissects De Palma” (No. 326), on a filmmaker that the magazine didn’t like at that point in time, not enough to my taste at least. After this, certain critics, including Serge Daney and Jean Narboni, started to think that what I proposed was powerful. That’s when I got the idea of publishing my important articles for Cahiers, as well as a few rare ones from the Arts weekly, for which I wrote five to six lines as well as authentic reviews.

L’Art d’aimer allowed me to go back to the world of criticism—even if it would be an exaggeration to say that I’d been totally absent in the intervening years. Immediately afterwards, Serge Toubiana entrusted me with a column that I wrote for two or three years. But my real return to Cahiers was in 2000 when, during the launch of the website under your editorship, you both invited me to write a weekly DVD column. The column I write today in the magazine is a continuation of that. These articles for the site were numerous, “lost” for the most part since the site doesn’t exist in its original form anymore: that’s part of the interest of republishing them today.

 

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[The following is my translation of Luc Moullet’s review collection Piges Choisies (“Selected Paychecks”, 2009, Capricci). Articles translated elsewhere have been linked with credits. The uncredited images are my additions from the internet; the original volume contains none.]

Piges Choisies (From Griffith to Ellroy)

OPENING ESSAY

Why Do You Film?

The Twelve Ways of Being a Filmmaker

 

1. MY BEGINNINGS

L’Écran français

Binary Unity (Que viva Mexico)

 

2. MY MASTERS

Georges Sadoul: The Goats of Le Poil

François Truffaut: Seesaws and Connections

Jean-Luc Godard:

Jean-Luc Godard  [Translated by David Wilson]

A Letter from Luc Moullet

A Cosmic Film [Translated by Ted Fendt]

 

3. THE ROYAL PENTAGON

Sam Fuller in Marlowe’s footsteps [Translated by Norman King]

Kenji Mizoguchi: Ugetsu

Luis Buñuel: Otras Inquisiciones (The Exterminating Angel)

Raúl Ruiz: All is two, except Allah who is one (The Blind Owl) [Translated by Rouge]

Robert Bresson: Think, You Fool

 

4. THE HEXAGON AND ITS FACETS

A Small Treatise on Cinematic Determinism

The Mysteries of Paris: An Investigation by Inspector Juross

The Maoists of the Centre du cinéma

The Real Problems

Hazards, Counterpoints and Meteorites

 

5. THE WOMB OF AMERICA

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break: A “Non-sense” Gem

The Last Hunt: Frozen in Hate

Men in War: Nothing but Facts

A King in New York: Austerity of Style

The Quiet American: Metaphysics of the Arabesque

The Naked and the Dead: Better than the Bridge on the River Kwai

Wind Across the Everglades: On Inspiration and Neorealism

John Ford: The Slide of the Admiral

Edgar G. Ulmer: Webs of Destiny and Bits of String [Translated by Ted Fendt & Adrian Martin]

 

6. FESTIVALS

The Martyrdom of San Sebastian

Oshima at Cannes

 

7. THEORY

On the Harmfulness of Film Languageon Its Uselessnessand on the Means to Combat It

Dispositivism in Contemporary Cinema

Long Live Oaks! Down With Penguins!

Jaundice

 

8. ELOQUENCE OF THE SILENTS

Ah Yes! Griffith was a Marxist! [Translated by Ted Fendt]

Bruegel, Kafka, Jump Cut and Beckett

Towards A Pure Fiction: Cecil B. DeMille [Translated by Ted Fendt]

 

9. TURKEYS & WINDBAGS

Adam & Eve: Doesn’t Measure Up to the Subject

Old Yeller: Cynical

Young Sinners: Missing the Small Picture

Michael Powell Doesn’t Exist

Pedro Almodóvar: Nothing About My Mother

 

10. SURPRISE STARS & REVELATIONS

Michelangelo Antonioni: A Serene Nihilism (Blow Up)

Coline Serreau: The Cellular Tree (Saint-Jacques… La Mecque)

The Devil’s Blast: Unstill Life

Gian Vittorio Baldi, Real Winner of Tours Festival, Isn’t Among the Awardees

Alain Guiraudie: Tit for Tarn

Jorge Furtado: The Goldsmith of Porto Alegre

 

The Bravura Sequence [Translated by Ted Fendt]

 

James Ellroy and the Revolution of ’89