Current and Upcoming
Manon de Boer
Mario Garcia Torres
Narkevičius and De Boer meet during Film Festival in Rotterdam
by Manon De Boer and Deimantas Narkevičius, 2004
ROTTERDAM, 24 JAN – During the International Film Festival in Rotterdam,
Deimantas Narkevicius and Manon de Boer managed to sit down for a while and talk
about their work. What started as a a conversation about the parallels and differences
in their works, became an intimate talk about life, relationships and hope.
Manon de Boer: In many of your films, like for instance Legend Coming True one
doesn’t see an image of the person who’s talking. I was wondering how important it is
for you that you don’t see the image of the person, that you just have the story.
Deimantas Narkevičius: I try to explain it briefly. The first film, Europe 54° 54’ – 25°
19’, is a very simple road movie going to an artificially created point, which is supposed
to be something and in fact it’s not so much. It’s just an exact measured geographical
point of the centre of Europe. To me it was not the most important thing to go to that
centre, but the motivation of going somewhere, understanding what you’re doing, why
you’re going and where you’re going. Things pass by while you’re traveling and what is
filmed are ordinary things. Destination is not that important, it’s the notion of moving
towards a certain point which you, in a way created in your mind. It’s not symbolic.
Probably the main importance of what interests me are the things which are very close
to you, which are normally not the subject of something, an artwork or film. Then me is
not so important; the view from my perspective during this journey is presented for the
others to share with and to understand. It was not important for me to be myself there.
Then I would like to ask you why did you start to use narrative?
MdB: What interested me was memory, that people tell a story or a memory and they
tell the same memory differently. I usually first collect stories of a person, often several
stories about the same subject. What interests me is that you have all those stories
which gives a certain image of the person and then you have the image of the person
which give another image if you don’t connect it directly. Like with the film of Sylvia
Kristel, it’s another person when you hear her voice without seeing her. Her voice is
more ironic, more detached from what she’s telling.
DN: The voice itself expresses a lot. So what made you interested in Sylvia Kristel and
why did you start to talk with her?
MdB: I met her and I became interested in her and the way she speaks about her life.
Seeing her, hearing her talk evoked my childhood in the seventies, because she’s so
much an icon of that time. You can feel that her story is partly a public story and that
she has told it many times, because in interviews the same questions are asked about
her life. Her stories refer to a collective memory of the seventies / eighties, on the other
hand she always gives a different version, which reveals, in the differences, something
of her as individual. What interested me most was the working of her memory.
DN: But you were aware that she’s an icon of that time and you cannot deny that she’s
an actress. It’s not because of the kind of actress she is, but she’s part of a lot people’s
imagination of certain dreams even.
MdB: When I started to film her I became more aware of this. I was amazed how she
behaved in front of the camera, how her image was transformed on film, how there’s
immediately a narrative and how she becomes an image.
DN: So do you think she’s a sexual icon ?
MdB: I think she would also have been a good diva for silent or mute films in the
twenties/thirties. When I started to record her stories, I didn’t have a clear idea yet what
I was going to do with it if it would be a film or something else. That’s why I find the
question what my motivation was a bit difficult, to give it just one answer. For you the
subject is really the first thing, reason to…?
DN: No… no I was uncomfortable when I showed my first films, as in some reviews the
political subject was taken as the main issue. I was not happy about that, because I
filmed characters, people with their own histories, who have experienced many things.
They were motivated individuals, and then politics wasn't necessarily the main subject.
People can not be easily categorized.
MdB: I think, because you grew up in a different context than I did, you went through
many more social changes which were directly part of your daily life. You cannot avoid
the political context.
DN: Nowadays it’s not that different anymore.
MdB: Yes, but you meet people whose stories are set in the history of communism and
I come across people like Sylvia. It’s our context. The stories you’re showing are set in
a history more important in a general political way than the stories I use in my work.
DN: No I wouldn’t say this, because Sylvia she’s an historical person already, better
known and has more identities towards a much larger audience or possible viewers
than my characters.
MdB: But, like the Jewish woman, she stands for a part of history that’s more important
to reflect on.
DN: In this point I disagree with you because the way the film and especially the
narrative of the film is constructed – that was probably the aim of the film– is that she
doesn’t represent anything except herself. And that’s also interesting what you’ve said,
that with Sylvia you noticed that with some parts of what she’s telling it’s like a
prepared text because she has told it many times. I was interested in Fanya, because
of what she told there are things that are absolutely very well known, regarding Jewish
history, but even those aspects she presented with a personal touch. She’s placing
herself within the events. Some of them are very well known, some of them are just
really personal, but she doesn’t make a difference between them. And then it
reactivates the story we know about the Holocaust.
MdB: The issues ‘Emmanuelle 1’ raises and the way Sylvia talks about her life are in a
way similar. In the film’s ambiguity regarding questions of open marriage and all kinds
of sexual relationships I recognize very much that time when many people were
experimenting with this and trying to… some people see this film as an exploitation of
women and others as a liberation… but it was mostly seen as a liberation, I think.
Sylvia is not ‘Emmanuelle’ but she is a person of her time.
DN: Possibly people lived in another way they had possibly different understanding of
relations, other ideas about marriage. Their social game was different. She reminds
you of that time but then again how do you describe this time? It’s your early youth so
you observed it as a child, but somehow it fascinates you. I’m just explaining to you
why I’m asking you this, because in my films I’m also grasping recently gone time, like
ten years, five years, even fifteen years it’s still the same time but there are also many
changes and not only social political changes but the priorities of the people changed,
their orientation and self-understanding changed. I think that is much more important
than the political transformation. So what’s your image of that time?
MdB: I associate it with hope for change and people experimenting with things.
DN: What kind of things?
MdB: Questioning of relationships, work, life… I think that generation, for instance the
feminists, did make a lot of things possible for my generation so in that sense things
DN: So we don’t have to make those changes anymore…
MdB: No, no, it was not enough it kind of stopped, there’s not the same kind of…
DN: …courage anymore?
MdB: Yes courage… it was also a bit naive.
DN: Even if it was simplified it was marked by commitment, courage and a collective
will for a message. I wouldn’t say that this message would change something radically
in society but it was the form of possible changes. People had dreams, collective
dreams as well as ideas they discussed. In the East it was the same. Dreams were
dreams as well as ideas they discussed. In the East it was the same. Dreams were
different. The goals of possible realization were different. Having a dream, a collective
dream, making a sign of it, a collective awareness, that’s probably completely gone.
That makes things similar on both sides of the continent.
MdB: What kind of form did it take in Lithuania? What do you remember from your
DN: One word would be common for the generation of your parents and of my parents,
the meaning would be different, but it would be ‘freedom’, no doubt about that. It’s the
one word, but what they put into that was slightly different.
MdB: How did they define freedom? Here in the end the idea of freedom was so much
focused on the individual, on sexual freedom and how people could choose freely…
explore the self.
DN: Well my parents died relatively young. Because they’ve gone early I was still too
young to understand many things. The possible sexual freedom wasn’t exposed, that’s
for sure, not visibly, but people had, I think, very interesting sexual lives. I’m quite sure
about this. Definitely we haven’t had a widely influential sexual revolution. This wasn’t
possible, even though the life-style changed during the sixties and seventies as our
society became modernised.
MdB: I think our generation also saw the other side of it. It was a collective dream but
many people became egocentric in the search for themselves. The hope of a collective
dream failed in the end.
DN: So in a way we are victims of those dreams… You said another thing that there’s
no collective and personal courage for possible, not necessarily realized, but possible
thinking about changes. You think people have become more conservative? Our
generation relies again on social conventions?
MdB: Maybe I have a too idealistic view of that time, maybe they were just naive, I
don’t mean this negative, but a naivety that made it possible to belief in it. Anyway
things which are labeled ‘radical’ nowadays, questioning limits of a system, they quickly
become part of the system, they’re never aside so it’s not dangerous at all. That’s
where I don’t see courage anymore. It’s not just in art.
DN: This radicalism is institutionalized and well articulated.
MdB: That’s why we can’t have collective hope…
DN: …and individual. Do you think we lack ideas?
MdB: We are looking even longing for ideas but they’re quickly institutionalized.
DN: I know what you mean. I’m lucky I met some courageous people, very idealistic
people. I think there are still people who are looking for something else, who have
certain ethics and norms which go beyond everyday routine. There are not so many of
them and it doesn’t come to a collective, a social platform or political movement. Those
people are a bit lonely even if they’re very active. They’re a bit different, slightly
excluded and not necessarily only artists. Yes, mainly I come across those people.
These idealists with a completely critical knowledge of who they are, confronting the
limits of who they are and still being very balanced, intelligent individuals.
MdB: Is this a subject of your work? Do you choose people like this?
DN: Yes, I think they are, but they don’t think about that. So do we still look for our
freedom? I think we do.
MdB: Yes certainly, it’s probably the subject I think of most, also in relation to my work,
in the sense that… it’s not my freedom but more in relation to the other, to a system of
behaving. Sometimes people have an image of you or you of them and you can only
act according to that image, even if you feel you’re changing, this image of the other of
you can be so strong that it’s imposed on you and your behaviour. Then you don’t feel
free, you’re fixed in what they think you are. Thinking about freedom, for me, part of
freedom is that people can look at each other and are able to see each other change
and to give space to change.
DN: So freedom is constant development and being able to change. There’s no point
where you can say ‘I’m free’ or she or he is. It’s seeking a certain ideal. When I start to
notice that I’m not changing for a while that scares me. So we know that there is no
kind of state where you are that you achieved that you can say: Now…
Source: Gallery Newspaper 41, March 2004