Le filmeur masqué : interview with Alain Fleischer

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As an artist, what in the telephone camera interests you ?

Alain Fleischer : Precisely that it’s a telephone ! What intrigues me is to use it as a phone and then film as I speak. As though it has a facade which is that of the voice, and another, that of the image, it doesn’t film what I see but what is at my right or at my left. It’s kind of like an ear which frames ! This next-to, out-of-frame, is totally captivating.

Has your theoretical and practical knowledge of the “traditional” image slowed down your appropriation of this new object ?

A.F. : To the contrary. I think a lot about the specificity of languages, of disciplines, of tools. Because each has an extremely singular identity, the telephone remains very stimulating. It inaugurates a field of brand new and quite vast possibles in the sense that it shows one principal function but it has another, a secondary role. It hides its game and moves forward masked... that’s why it’s the generator of fictions. You imagine it in spy stories, or in romance intrigues. In a film, it can be simultaneously in the image and also producing it, be the filmed and the filmmaker, an essential accessory for fiction, an adjuvant for the story. If Hitchcock was alive today, I am totally sure that he would shoot a film in which the mobile would be the principal object of enigma, the element of conviction and maybe even the crime weapon !

Can it be at the root of new narrative forms ?

A.F. : It should be. For the screenplay of my first film made with a mobile, I wanted something absolutely specific in relation to its characteristics. Why use it simply for shooting when much better cameras exist ? I wanted therefore a story which, like the phone, would associate voice, sound, image and places, all destined to be conveyed within the framework of communication. In a wireless movie, the mobile allows me to be guided by a voice in a city where I’m lost and to shoot my path. But because the camera shoots from the side, there’s a gap between the verbal indication and the vision, since I have to turn for the lens to be in front of the object described. This interval creates expectation, surprise and makes the imagination and memory work together.

Can one speak of an artistic, pictorial aesthetic, unique to the telephone, that would be linked to its optical imperfections ?

A.F. : Of course, but that’s not critical for me in the sense that this aesthetic can also be produced by cameras half the size of a pack of cigarettes. What really captivates me is the ambiguity contained in the object. Universal communication tool, mode of expression, it drives the voice and now it films, without that being its initial destination. It creates the image as “a plus”. One could say that the telephone is a hybrid object that produces a clandestine image.

Is this telephone camera an explicit interrogation for cinema ?

A. F. : More generally, it questions all modern imagery since the advent of photography. It’s about a new family of image capturing objects. It is, in that sense, a capturer of everything : of the real but also of completely invented things... one passes one’s time lying to the phone, no ? While waiting for visio-telephones - that would create a terrible obligation in terms of truth - the mobile is an object crossed at the same time by the real and the fiction, by the truth and the false.

The school in Fresnoy that you chair is one of the festival partners. How do you integrate this experience into your pedagogy ?

A.F. : The goal of this school is to incite students to use professional tools : it could seem paradoxical to encourage them to get interested in this ultimately very common object. But my starting point was above all to oblige them to think about the singularity of the telephone. At the beginning, they all want to make features, to use the best cameras... but what counts, is to adapt the technique to its subject. It’s thus more about reflection on the justness of technique in relation to the artistic discourse.

Juillet 2006

Read more about Alain Fleischer.