SQL Error ARDECHE IMAGES : Fragment of a filmmaker’s work : Mauro Santini
Les États généraux du film documentaire 2022 Fragment of a filmmaker’s work : Mauro Santini

Fragment of a filmmaker’s work : Mauro Santini

One thing that immediately strikes the viewer of your films is the crossing of barriers and genres: documentary, experimental, video art, personal diary, essay. How would you define your work?

I think that it’s true that I’ve gone through all these genres, but without completely adhering to any one of them. Documenting, but without a deep knowledge of what I’m recording, for I prefer to discover things at the moment of the shoot. Experimenting, but without making research the central element, always putting the accent on a form of narration. Transfiguring the image, but without falling into the traps of conceptual art. The essay is, on the other hand, the form that suits me the least and that I have never practiced. It is certainly the personal diary that is the expressive form closest to me. It allows me to act with great simplicity and to have the purest way of seeing. For me, cinema deals with everyday life, and even more so today with the new technologies. I think of that ultimate possibility of filming with glasses, quite simply by looking – it is a dream I have always held dear. It is the possibility of making “pure” cinema, because it is in the closest possible proximity to life. When you’ve got rid of all the things which are at the basis of commercial film (the script, dialogue, actors, studio…), all you have left is the creator, one’s hand and way of looking. Cinema returns to what makes it specific: the composition of the image, sound, time. The fundamental question is that of the point of view: from what angle are we looking at the world? It is a cinema which documents a passage, which captures in its images the trace of a presence in the world, which records the panting of a hiker, the heartbeats of someone waiting. It is also a primitive cinema because it links the point of view of the camera and the creator to that of the spectator, just like the Lumière brothers. It is a cinema which draws its source more from the metrics of a poem, with its details, symbols, sensations or again from music – its rhythm, tempo, pauses – than from a story. There is no plot. The project is more to “make a film about nothing”, to show the little things of daily existence, as Georges Perec taught us so well. Associated with lived time and shared with the spectator, the film is made up of camera movements, the vestige of a passage. In the absence of a story to tell, each image, each cut, each choice in the soundtrack makes it possible to sculpt the sensations of the viewer, but in total simplicity, without any showiness.

Your audiovisual practice is at the same time something ephemeral linked to daily life and a slow excavation of images after the fact: one might say that you move through the Real with the camera in order to give image and sound to the Real. Do you recognize yourself in this “analytical” trajectory?

Yes, that’s exactly it. It revolves around the relation between a way of looking trained daily in collecting images (with dedication and patience, but also with the rapidity of a shoot) and the organisation of the material collected through a meticulous labour of assembling image and sound. Exactly like poetry, the Real is deconstructed and is only seen partially, almost symbolically. We are not talking about a cinema of the Real but rather of a crossing the Real, as you said so well. The Real is crafted by the membrane of the camera and the inevitable filter of the person recording, selecting and refining with almost obsessional care. The rapidity and immediacy of the shoot are often perceived as synonyms of carelessness or in any case of a lack of attention for the beauty of images. I try rather to create images of unexpected beauty, but refined in its manner, images which are not beautiful individually but in the way they dialogue amongst themselves. I always take into account this fragile, informal beauty, based on the camera’s intuition and which goes against the structure. And when we manage to do that, you also have to protect these collected images from the narratives that would compromise them: their dignity is sufficient to support the film. You have to remain on the edge of the evident and the invisible, like a membrane, the retina on which is deposited the persistence of vision. And you should look at each image as if it were the last, be moved; with eyes capable of providing access to the invisible meaning. The filmmaker is the transparent medium of an elementary image. To appreciate this elementary image, you do not need as much a cinematographic education as a “sentimental education”, capable of perceiving what hides behind the light-weight surface of appearances.

The memory of places and people is at the centre of most of your videos: it is in the editing that you find the dazzling conjunction between the different layers of time. How does this stage of film construction work for you?

For films of this kind, montage is a key moment. The intuition at the moment of the shoot finds its equilibrium in a meticulous montage which organises precisely what acted against the structure. There are two concrete examples in the Videodiari. The first is from Petite mémoire: the summer shot of four boys in the sea is associated with another take, a winter scene, shot a year earlier in the same place. The second is taken from the feature film Flór de Baixa: the empty window of the eponymous inn at Lisbon is animated by the presence of Monica, my new companion in life (and in film). In both cases, the revelation took place during the editing, whereas nothing had suggested the idea during the shoot. It is especially in the series of Videodiari that the image once collected, decanted, is transformed into memory and enters into a dialogue with other fragments of the past. In addition, this research during the editing goes together with work on the soundtrack. Since Attesa di un’estate, the sound is always diegetic, it coincides with the shoot: it is a piece of concrete music, betraying here and there, by evocation, cinematic reminiscences. First episode of the trilogy Le Vacanze, this film of 2012 was a turning point in relation to the previous decade, inaugurated by Dove sono stato (2000) and completed with Dove non siamo stati (2010): Attesa de un’estate is made up of images shot all along a year and associated with photos of my childhood and adolescence. The film articulates family relations and temporal transitions more openly, incarnated by the relation between me, who was a child in the old photos, and my son who is a child in the present of the film. The editing of the sound and images moves forward by ruptures, hiatuses and brutal cuts to try to manifest an absence due to the sudden loss of my mother.

In your first videos, you accorded great importance to the videographic translation of the interior experience, reinventing experimentally the shoot and the post production to visually translate sensations, perceptions and emotions without the use of words. Today you try to obtain the same result thanks to the single shot scene and the capture of the “decisive instant”. What is the link that unites your work?

I think that there is a big difference between Videodiari of the 2000s and my current films, not so much in the way of looking – that is to say being in the world by observing it – than in the fact of “sowing and harvesting” images. The Videodiari were deployed over a long period, because the image I had just captured needed to be transformed into memory and nostalgia of a time, perhaps close, but already gone. Today, the capturing of images is much more immediate and the proximity with daily life becomes the pivot of the film I am making at the moment. I achieve it through the very act of shooting, spontaneously, not filtered, sometimes even “dirty”, because the banal gesture becomes structural in the narration I develop. This is true for the series Vaghe Stelle, which originated while I was testing a new camera at night, but it is even more true for the series Le Passeggiate. Here the collection of images is entirely produced during my promenades, by observing and capturing possible revelations along my path, sometimes behaving in a naïve manner with childlike gestures: I think of the children’s slide in the third promenade or the merry-go-round in the fourth. It is a collection of images which terminates immediately, where daily occurrences and the banal do not need to dialogue with other episodes of daily life. They are bearers of a fresh and instantaneous experience, sometimes full of imperfections. It is a “treasure hunt” to quote Robert Todd, who during the times we spent together inspired me to this method. To answer your question, I think that the common thread of my films is the constant reflection on the fragility of the image. It was already the case in the Videodiari where the style was based on the blur of a low quality image, and it is still the case in Canto dello terra, where the high definition image is blown up until it loses its figurative consistancy. It is a cinema as fragile as the digital support on which it is based, so immaterial and intangible. It is made in a precarious equilibrium, capable of containing the dissonances of the world and to account for its innumerable differences. It is no longer an icone called on to represent the universal, but rather a multiplicity of ways of looking, including my own which is part of this whole.

Interview with Mauro Santini by Federico Rossin.

Screenings hosted by Federico Rossin.
In the presence of Mauro Santini.

Screenings hosted by Federico Rossin.