When one of the directors of the new batch of Spanish filmmakers such as Carla Simón or Clara Roquet is asked about her references, the same name always comes up: Claire Denis. It is not weird. In an industry dominated by men, Denis has built an incorruptible career speaking like no one else about women in complex ways. The French director’s camera portrays female bodies and desire, making it clear that there is another way of showing, of filming sex and pleasure. There is no voyeurism in Claire Denis’s cinema, but always a camera that sticks to the skin of her characters, whom she shows full of contradictions and with depth.
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This year it has premiered two films at festivals. The first of them, Fire, arrives in Spanish cinemas this Friday, and is the story of a woman —huge Juliette Binoche— who enters into a love triangle with a former lover and her current partner (Vincent Lindon). A film that deals with a woman’s doubts and makes it clear that they too have the right to wish, to doubt and to make mistakes without asking for permission or forgiveness. An adaptation of the novel by Christine Angot, an author that Denis loves, because she laughs her head off at her books, even though people think they are “dark and sinister”.
Fire shows that woman who is an active subject who desires and is not only desired, a type of woman that for Denis has always existed, but that fiction was not portraying. “I think there has always been this type of women who put themselves at the center of desire. But now the difference is that we allow ourselves to tell it”, she says in an interview at the San Sebastián Film Festival, where he presented the film.
Denis admits that he knows a couple of young filmmakers who have told him that she is their role model, but he confesses that it is difficult for him to see himself that way. “I don’t even know if I’m even aware of myself. I’m not a theorist at all. I am someone rather instinctive. I like it. I don’t think that instinct is uniquely female. I also believe that there are very instinctive filmmakers. My references for me were often male, although I also have women like Marguerite Duras. Ozu’s films, for example, seem to me to have something masculine and feminine at the same time. I think that in her films women are always on the same equality as men”, she says about her references, among which she also cites another Japanese director, Shôhei Imamura and the portrayal of his desire.
He doesn’t think he thinks and intellectualizes his way of portraying bodies and sex, and he only has one inspiration: the truth. “When I started making movies, little by little I began to see the body, the desire. I was not aware of that at all, and I tell you honestly that today I still am not, but if someone asked me to shoot it in another way, I would not know how to do it. I don’t think I know how to roll any other way. And yet I am very modest. I even like modesty. In the actors too. But I always have the impression that cinema is a physical matter, and if something physical is asked of the actors, what you cannot do is stay far away, at a distance. I don’t feel like it. It’s like saying, we’re going to make a movie and you’re going to get wet, you’re going to be in the rain, but I’m going to be in there and warm. That’s hard for me, I also want to get wet. That’s why when they tell me this about desire, well, it may be true, but I don’t notice it.
In this film, he works with Vincent Lindon, an actor whose fame as ‘complicated’ precedes him, something that Claire Denis denies. She says that he is “a very easy actor” and describes him as “a man who suffers, who doubts himself constantly and who tries to be the best he can be and be the best he can be.” “In my opinion, he is a wonderful actor, lovable and also sexually attractive. For me, perhaps the complicated actors are actors with whom I get bored. And with Vincent you never get bored. An actor must be something in my story, and he doubts himself, but he never doubts the director or his co-stars”, he says of the interpreter.
I am very modest. I even like modesty. But cinema is a physical matter, and if something physical is asked of the actors, what you cannot do is stay far away, at a distance
— Film director
Another of the directors that all the young filmmakers mention as a reference is Lucrecia Martel. The Argentine told a few years ago that Marvel approached her to propose a superhero movie, a genre that a priori did not interest her, but that she decided to meet to see how it was going. When she told them that she wouldn’t know how to do the fight scenes, they told her that it didn’t matter, that someone else would direct them, and at that moment she realized that this was not for her.
Denis laughs at the anecdote and makes it clear that Marvel has not offered him anything, but he is running to do it. “I think I would do really well and I think Marvel should ask me to do a superhero movie, because I think I know how to make people heroic and beautiful. I think Marvel is profoundly wrong not to hire me, ”she releases with irony but making it clear that her vision would have much of his personality, of his portrait of the bodies and the desire that have made her a living legend.