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Mia Hansen-Love

Film with its own Memory


What is it in Mia Hansen-Love’s work that is so moving? In The Father of My Children, Goodbye First Love and Eden, it lies partly in her ability to show characters alone all the better to register them in the company of others. This is much rarer than we might think. Often when a character is alone in a film that solitude is registered in absent presences. In Wild, Reese Witherspoon cusses and curses as she treks alone, registering less her solitude than the absence of others. We sense that she is still very much in the social world rather than in her head: she moves like a woman being watched and judged by a third party, and so the film never quite shows her alone with herself. Hansen-Love, however, manages to register not absence but loss, and thus shows a solitude that can’t easily invoke a presence. In Goodbye First Love it isn’t enough for Camille (Lola Creton) to pine for her lover who has gone off to Latin America for many months; the director creates the feeling that here is a woman holding the other so completely in her mind and body that the rest of the world becomes absent to her even as she lives in it. In one scene, long after Camille would seem to have adjusted to her lover Sullivan’s leaving, Camille is an architecture student discussing her work with a teacher. “Your project is more suitable for solitary retreat than communal living. What you’ve imagined is a monastery.” A half smile comes to her face, as though she recognizes that the vocation she is pursuing as an architect at this moment meets with the vocation she has been living: for years she has been faithful to Sullivan in his absence; she has had no other lovers. In the following scene, another student reads out passages from a book where she talks about the differences between art and architecture. Art has no wish to please; architecture must accept that people live in houses and their needs have to be met. All the while the camera moves in on Camille, and we might wonder whether she is fascinated by what is being said or preoccupied with other thoughts. The film then cuts to Camille in her room, and she is looking at her diary. She hasn’t heard from Sullivan for four years, though “every day is another day without him. But I have a vocation.” It seems she was both listening intently to what was being said; but also completely alone with her own pain and solitude. As Hansen-Love says in a Guardian interview: “I did have a big, very real, very powerful relationship with someone from when I was 15 till 19. I thought he would be the only one I could ever love, and when it was gone it left a void in me. I think I’ve tried to turn that void into some kind of creativity ever since, using the sadness to do something poetic.”

Later, she goes on an architectural trip with a group of students and the charismatic teacher Lorenz; after she talks to him and Lorenz comments on her courage and maturity, we see her joining numerous others for a swim, but throughout the scene Hansen-Love shows her alone, as if she can be around hundreds of people but completely in her own thoughts. We might have expected in this scene that comes so soon after she has talked with Lorenz that we would see them swimming together, but it is as though the film is wary of losing that thread of aloneness which can only be compensated for by Sullivan’s presence. It isn’t that during this sequence she won’t be thinking of Lorenz (they go on to become lovers and move in together), more that she seems to be contemplating the possibility of allowing someone else into her life. It is still her solitude that matters. When much earlier in the film, when she is fifteen and before Sullivan leaves for South America, she says to her mother that Sullivan is the love of her life and her mother mocks her. Years later he is still the love that she yearns for even after she builds a life with Lorenz and a career in architecture. Is this about Camille being true to her youthful devotion, or a feeling in her nervous system that will never quite go away?

The film’s achievement is to suggest it is both. Early in the film her relationship to Sullivan is like a cat seeking to rub itself up against fellow warmth, and we might feel that Camille’s attraction to Sullivan is hard to explain in terms of sexual desire or shared comprehension. Late in the film, after she starts seeing Sullivan again behind Lorenz’s back, she tells him that she doesn’t understand the love she has for him: “I’ll always love you and never know why” she says after they’ve seen a film she finds beautiful and sensitive, and he finds dull and pointless. She tells him he lacks sensitivity; he says at least they share the essential. She thinks they don’t even share that, as if they have little in common but bodies that can’t not be shared. They are like two particles separated; no matter how far apart in time and space they must reunite. Early in the film after her mum says she should stop moping around and that Sullivan doesn’t seem to be making her happy, Camille says “he is the one” and her mother replies she shouldn’t be so stupid: she is fifteen. Later in the film her mother and father will split up, and the mother seems to take it much more pragmatically than Camille accepts parting from Sullivan, as the parental break-up is matched by the form. It is presented elliptically as an event of no great importance as Camille and her mother talk about it, but the split remains offscreen.

What makes Camille so sure that Sullivan is the one? Hansen-Love says that she didn’t want to try and explain Sullivan’s appeal to Camille: “I wanted this boy to remain unexplained, his behaviour a mystery, so I had to be brave and honest and tell it from the girl’s view, and yes, that’s me. (Guardian), but it is important the film captures it. Camille is right to suggest that Sullivan is insensitive. At one moment in his letters from South America he talks of kissing other girls and thinking of her; at another moment, when he is back in Paris before they embark again on an affair, he talks of other women: his adventures, he says, as Camille tells him that the way he talks about them hurts her. At another moment he discusses being back in Paris and says he comes to visit friends, family and work. “I didn’t come for you” he says. “I figured.” she replies. His appeal would seem to reside at least partly in his movement: he is a young man it would seem always on the move, restlessly going from one place to the next, actively in pursuit of small things or large. Much of this is captured diegetically in the bike we often see Sullivan on, and non-diegetically by the editing that captures his smooth rhythm. The film opens with five shots of Sullivan cycling through Paris as he picks up a packet of condoms before going back and making love to Camille. He is always the man on the move as Camille passively waits. At one moment a little later in the film Camille is lying on the bed next to her father and looks forlorn. She hears something from her bedroom, jumps off the bed and goes to the room next door and there Sullivan is chapping on the window. “My Romeo…” she says as he climbs in. While Sullivan is a young man constantly moving, a Heraclitean figure of constant flux, Camille is the Platonic character of fixed forms. She wants her love to be eternal; Sullivan represents the man who can’t so easily be held down. If Camille always gives the impression of feathering a nest, Sullivan continually wants to leave the coop.

Thus Goodbye First Love is a film about movement versus stillness, or rather that Camille’s movements are hesitant and thoughtful, as if each gesture contains within it her entire mind and body. Sullivan moves as though a kinetic machine and his comments about kissing other girls and his adventures are reflective of a man who does not reflect: who doesn’t really think through the consequences of anything. After they meet up again he expresses surprise that she is pursuing a career in architecture. She asks what he expected her to become and he says he never really thought about it. One senses she has spent a great deal of time thinking of what Sullivan would become. Yet perhaps this is part of his appeal: to fall in love with someone whose mode of being in the world has so little in common with one’s own.

When Hansen-Love says she wanted to show the film from Camille’s point of view, this is partly why we find the film so moving. A film about Sullivan could have been too much like Wild: a movie about a man seeking adventure but little interested in his internal thought processes, with flashbacks (as in Wild) expected to do the work. Instead we focus on Camille. We know constantly that there is a lot on her mind, and the film is as if watchful in her presence: completely respecting the pain that she nurses and how it shapes her world, her perceptions and her feelings. When Hansen-Love admits the film is autobiographical she says: “You know, I became a film-maker very young because I was very unhappy, basically. I had a broken heart because I loved this impossible man, and I spent my teenage years mostly crying. But I also loved being in love – at least I wasn’t bored and just hanging around a shopping mall.” Camille is someone whose love creates depths, so her fifteen year old self telling her mother that Sullivan is the love of her life might be dismissed by her mum but not by the filmmaker: it is this love that gives her not the immaturity of a girl petulantly saying she has found the one, but the authority of a woman who knows where she can find the texture of her personality: the importance of finding meaning in her life, which one might feel she will find in her work if she accepts she can’t quite have it through love. When she writes that it is four years since she has heard from Sullivan but found a vocation, she is a being in deep communion with herself. Throughout there is no suggestion that Camille has close friends: she seems to live for love and work, and if she can’t quite have the one as she wishes, she will sublimate it into the other.  

If Goodbye First Love chooses to concentrate on Camille’s point of view, Father of My Children is much more generally focalized. Initially it appears to be art house producer Gregoire Canvel’s story as he tries to keep his film company afloat and his family happy. Halfway through the film he feels he can do neither and takes his own life. Hansen-Love may have said in interviews that she doesn’t like showing too direct images, saying “I never like to dramatize violent events in a way to push emotions of the viewer” (Blackbook), but here she is both explicit and implicit. An abrupt cut, from some envelopes Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) leaves burning in the gutter to the image of Canvel putting the gun to his temple and immediately taking his life, leaves the viewer stunned. It is close to the famous scene in Hidden where Georges’ half-brother slits his own throat: an image that has nothing to do with the adrenaline buzz of the violent action sequence, but nevertheless demands from the viewer a very intense response. Where in Eden one of the central character’s friends commits suicide offscreen (in Paris while the rest of the gang are in New York) here Hansen-Love shows the event. Critics have invoked Psycho: “ The rupture that occurs at the picture’s midway point” says Sight and Sound‘s Ryan Gilbey “may not quite be a narrative non sequitur to rank with the shower scene in Psycho, but it nonetheless leaves the audience bereft.” It leaves the audience shocked both viscerally and emotionally. The suicide in Eden is emotional as the other characters deal with the aftermath of what is nevertheless for the audience a minor character. Canvel is the person whose tribulations we follow: after his death the film demands we find another point of identification and perhaps thus makes the shock even more of a surprise than the one in Hidden. In Michael Haneke’s film we expect to continue following Georges who has been our leading character throughout. We might lose for him any remaining sympathy as a character: he cares little for his half-brother’s death and the self-interest we suspected becomes unequivocal, but it is one thing to shift our perception of a character a little, and to find ourselves having to reaffiliate with different characters altogether.

As in Goodbye First Love the director is good on the contrast between movement and stillness, and the first half shows a man who rarely has a moment to himself, leading to a second half that gains much of its emotional heft from following his eldest daughter as she copes with both the loss and with her own burgeoning maturity. Canvel is shown as a man of hassles: still capable in the film’s early stages of enjoying the company of his family and trying to work out the problems in his film company, but over time failing on both fronts. In one moment we see how enormous happens to be the burden of a man who feels he needs to be there for everyone. In a lovely scene he is talking to one of the actors on a film he has gone to oversee, and the actor tells him his wife has been having an affair and is pregnant with the other man’s baby. The scene is shot at dusk and we see Canvel offer his condolences, a touching moment that will of course hint at Canvel’s own chaos to come as he tells the young man to be strong. A few scenes later Canvel meets his own wife on a bridge and it is again dusk as he talks to her about his feelings of failure. His wife talks of all that he has accomplished: the films he has made, the directors he has given an opportunity to, and we feel his wife must support him just as he has supported the young actor. But if the actor must feel alone as his wife is seeing another man, Canvel’s wife insists that she loves him, but this is not enough for a man who says that everyone has grievances. Indeed his wife in earlier scenes has expressed a few of her own. When holidaying in Italy he takes a call on his mobile and his wife storms off. As the situation becomes more and more desperate we witness a man shrivelling inside, who can’t quite look himself in the face and when he does, accidentally on the computer screen, will shortly afterwards take his own life.

How the filmmaker registers the solitude of characters is not easy to discern, but its rests partly on the capacity to follow a figure through space without only showing an interest in their purposeful actions. Some directors do this to an astonishingly intimate degree, and perhaps none more so than Philippe Garrel and Eric Rohmer, distinct directors in many ways but both fascinated by observing an aspect of self that isn’t simply given over to the social. Hansen-Love will often follow a character a little longer than usual or introduce them a little earlier. When at the beginning of The Father of My Children Gregoire talks on his mobile about the voluble Georgians he’s been speaking to, the film stays with him for a moment as he walks down an almost empty street. It is a Garrelian moment of solitude, held for far less time than Garrel would offer, but just enough to register a feeling of separation from the world. Hansen-Love includes both directors in her Sight and Sound top ten, saying of the latter’s The Green Ray: “there is something in the work of Rohmer that isn’t given, that’s unsaid, that’s mysterious. I find that is very moving because there’s something that escapes us in the loneliness of this woman.” Later, not long before Canvel takes his life, the camera follows Gregoire as he exits the building where his company is housed. As he goes down the stairs and out the door the director follows his movements as he is shrouded in the darkness before stepping into the light. Of course his own actions will prove the opposite, but it is as though the director has no interest in ironic symbolism: only capturing in cinematic form a man who, no matter how many people are relying on him, is basically alone.

Though Hansen-Love sees the film shaped around the company’s fortunes rather than specific characters, in the film’s second half what makes the film so moving is its focus on Gregoire’s eldest daughter, Clemence. As we see her curling herself up on the bed, or walking alone by the Seine, the film has shifted its focus while retaining the film’s hold on a certain type of solitude. While Gregoire cannot understandably handle the pressure, it is as though Clemence can’t quite cope with the loss. Many of the scenes with Clemence resemble those in Goodbye First Love, images of a young woman pining: in the latter film for what Hansen-Love calls an impossible man; the former for the impossible situation of wishing she could have her father back. Near the end of the film there is a scene that echoes the one where Gregoire is shown leaving his work place. This time his wife and three daughters enter the building, and we linger for a moment longer on Clemence and her sister rather than her mother and her other sister. Shortly afterwards we see the family leaving Paris and Clemence is crying, saying she thought they would be going to the cemetery before leaving. The mother says they don’t have time as we hold on the face of Clemence, as the tears come. It is as though the director has to find the place of the most devastating solitude, and locates it not where we might most expect it, with the bereft wife, but with the eldest daughter.

This devastating solitude is vital to Hansen-Love’s aesthetic. Just as we earlier proposed that she is a great director showing characters alone all the better to show them with others, so the loss of other people can bring out this sense of isolation. Both Clemence and Camille are grieving, so their solitude acknowledges a felt absence quite different from the solitariness evident in films like Wild, Into the Wild or even Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy. In all three American films the characters are escaping from something. In Hansen-Love’s films they are left without something. Whether it is a father, a lover or, in Eden, a friend who commits suicide, hovering over the films is a feeling of absence that makes one’s solitude more pronounced.

In Eden this would seem less evident than in the other two films, but in this work that covers over twenty years in the life of a DJ involved in the electronic music scene through the late 90s and into the 2000s, we have a sense of loss not only in this peripheral character who takes his own life, but also a sense of obsolescence as the DJ Paul (Felix de Givry) holds to his faith in electronic music even as the times change. By the end of the film he is someone who can’t make a living, still relies on help from his mum, and is a recovering cocaine addict. If his friend took his own life, there is a sense that Paul has wasted his. Yet Hansen-Love, who based the film on her brother, doesn’t settle here for hasty judgement. Instead it is the opposite: elaborate empathy. By taking place over more than two decades, the director details the ups and downs of a love affair with music: a kind of coup de foudre that means Paul can never easily let go even as his well-being and financial wherewithal become compromised. As she says in a Guardian interview about the film: “He loses his energy and his passion because he has lost his self-esteem. There is this idea of the risk of ending up being alone or losing your way.” In one scene, we see Paul playing on the beach with ex-girlfriend Louise’s two children, and we might wonder if he could have been the father if his fascination with music had waned; if his love for Louise had been strong enough to put aside a musical obsession that was increasingly becoming his alone, rather than a societal shift as it had been at the beginning. He may not have taken his own life as his friend has, but that doesn’t mean he has used it as fruitfully as he might. We offer this again not with a quick assumption, but taking into account the scene where Louise announces she was pregnant with Paul’s child, and aborted. She already has two kids and doesn’t want anymore, but throughout the film, as the connection remains strong between Paul and Louise, we might wonder if Paul would have been the father she would have chosen for her children. It isn’t long after he visits her at her seaside home that she leaves the father, stays with her mother and then starts seeing Paul again.

By the end of the film Paul is a man in his mid-thirties, more or less alone, childless and penniless, a recovering addict. This doesn’t mean a conventional life would have sorted him out; more that Hansen-Love registers a loss within the life Paul has led. He is a man who has sacrificed himself to his love of music, and the director’s achievement is to acknowledge that dream but also indicate the losses involved. Just as Sullivan’s disappearing act in Goodbye First Love leaves Camille bereft, and just as an expensive art-house production by a major auteur leaves Canvel financially struggling and eventually compelled to take his own life, so Eden also wonders what costs there happens to be when one person pursues a dream often to the detriment of other things, of other people. We might wonder for example how much Paul has cost his mother emotionally and financially throughout those years, but again we ask not because the film is keen to judge, more that it wants to register loss in various manifestations.

But what is lost more than anything else one feels in Hansen-Love’s films is time; and this is time that isn’t of course wasted (time that could have been better deployed), but time that inevitably passes. Anybody watching Goodbye First Love and feeling that Camille has wastefully spent years of her life yearning for Sullivan has missed the point. This is the most meaningful way in which those years could have been spent, and we watch Camille maturing rather like a fine wine, locked in an emotional cellar, only to be opened in the most important of circumstances. One evening, years after she had last seen Sullivan, Camille takes a young man back to her flat, but she asks him to sleep elsewhere: she isn’t ready to give herself to someone else. Not so long afterwards though she starts seeing her architectural teacher, and this isn’t so much a relationship between an older man and a very young woman; more between a man who has lived in the world and a woman who has suffered in it and learned about its possibilities through grief. It is a point Hansen-Love makes in relation to her own life and loss and the remark about a broken heart and yet eschewing the mall. Camille has no friends and almost no social life, but there seems to be an interior existence at work much greater than any socializing would be likely to compensate for. As the film makes Camille’s feelings absolutely central while the parents’ splitting up becomes a peripheral event, so Goodbe First Love suggests that this isn’t Camille’s pathetic preoccupations overriding her parents’ parting; it is just that certain break-ups generate a new space in the person; others don’t: the idea of certain events leaving a void in us that she talks about in the Guardian interview about the film. There is nothing in the film to suggest this was the case with the mother, so she remains a minor character: a figure who cannot represent the void.

It is perhaps this attention to the void in various manifestations that makes us feel that Hansen-Love’s films are so moving. There are numerous works that move us to tears, that actively seek to extract from us so singular an emotion; yet they don’t quite manage to activate the notion of time that gives a certain ontological gravity to the situation. As Proust says in Time Regained: “if owing to the work of oblivion, the returning memory can throw no bridge, form or connecting link between itself and the present minute, if it remains in the context of its own place and date, if it keeps its distance, its isolation in the hollow of a valley or upon the highest peak of a mountain summit, for this very reason it causes us suddenly to breathe a new air, an air which is new precisely because we have breathed it in the past…since the true paradises are paradises we have lost.” (Time Regained) In Hansen-Love’s work it is as though she wants to move us by loss, yet a loss that is not singular, but haunting. If for example a film ends with the death of a protagonist this is often touching, even lachrymose, but it doesn’t come close to the contours of feeling Proust invokes. When leading characters die at the end of Saving Private Ryan, Titanic and American Beauty the deaths lack a reverberative quality partly because the films conclude on them. And in Basic Instinct, Top Gun and An Officer and a Gentleman a supporting character dies much earlier in the film it is again not reverberative because they are not important enough to impact on the underlying emotional tone of the film. They are no more than sad or surprising deaths, easily forgotten even if narratively pertinent.

Hansen-Love’s work is so good on the problem of loss that a death isn’t necessary to invoke it: she understands like Proust that it isn’t always categorical loss that creates the deepest of feelings, but an echo that cannot quite be comprehended. Sometimes this will take the form of death; sometimes absence – but what is important is that permeating loss is what matters most. The friend who dies in Eden is no more central a character than the supporting characters we have invoked in Top Gun, Basic Instinct and An Officer and a Gentleman, but it is much more present in the feel of the film. This isn’t only because the young man commits suicide (so does Richard Gere’s friend in An Officer and a Gentleman), but also that we might wonder what signs we should have looked out for but that we ourselves missed. It makes us want to go back and re watch it. The deaths in Top Gun and others are categorical in several ways. Usually we can see it coming formally, narratively or characterisationally. In numerous American films there is the second-act buddy death and this is evident in all three examples: it is almost a given of a certain narrative structure. It can provide an emotional heft to the film without requiring a demise so central that it can damage the form. This is very different from Janet Leigh’s death in Psycho, or Ryan Gosling’s in The Place Beyond the Pines. These are central characters; and the form becomes reshaped in their absence. Narratively the deaths in Top Gun etc. provide a narrative twist; a turn of events. Finally the deaths contribute to the learning curves of the central characters (in Top Gun and An Officer and a Gentleman Tom Cruise and Richard Gere ‘grow-up’, while Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct becomes more isolated and in danger after his buddy is murdered).

Hansen-Love has no interest in such things, and this is partly why the father’s death in The Father of My Children, Sullivan’s disappearance that feels like a death in Goodbye First Love, and the friend’s suicide in Eden, aren’t formally predictable, narratively functional, nor characterisationally conventional. They are in this sense more novelistic than ‘scriptorial’. Hansen-Love herself uses the term ‘romanesque’: “My films are full of events, except I don’t show them when they’re happening, I show in the middle, or the before. It seems to me I’m not as interested in the actual moment when the dramatic thing happens, because for me this brings me back to the conventions.” (BlackBook) She seems more interested in a permeating sense of time than a series of punctuated moments that leave past events where they are. This isn’t easy to describe but it is easy to feel in certain films. It is the sense that what has happened before doesn’t have only a causal and effectual relationship with the events, but a causal and affectual one. Frequently a person dies in a film not chiefly so that the film can dwell on the affect of a person’s passing. Whether it is Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore or The Bourne Supremacy, a loved one’s death early on is a catalyst for transformation or action: it sets the story in motion. But the deaths and absences in Hansen-Love’s films set the story in emotion. Wim Wenders called his book Emotion Pictures after a John Ford film, but it is remarks he makes in The Logic of Images that interests us: “I dislike the manipulation that’s necessary to press all the images of a film into a story, it’s very harmful for the images because it tends to drain them of their life.”

This is one of the dangers of the scriptorial over the romanesque ironically. After all the romanesque suggests the influence of literature, the scriptorial clearly refers to the cinematic, yet the former is often more true to cinema than the latter if we take into account another remark by Hansen-Love, and a further comment by Wenders. Hansen-Love says: “ I’m saying it’s good that you have those kind of stories that are so simplistic—and I say simplistic because in real life we are not determined by one or two objectives we have and just stick to that like robots—because it has a universality, but I do think both can exist. I think you can try to tell stories in other ways and try to show the life of people in a rhythm that’s not the same, or choose to tell their stories and show moments that usually people don’t choose because they think they’re not enough dramatic or essential. “ (BlackBook) Wenders says “many new films no longer refer to any reality outside the cinema – only to experiences contained in other films – as though ‘life’ itself no longer furnished material for stories.” (The Logic of Images)

We believe very strongly that Hansen-Love’s films possess this capacity, but it doesn’t only reside in her respect for found realities, for a sense of place that means we can easily wander around the Paris she films and find the locations. It rests also in her insisting that each filmic moment is not a building block of narrative exigency, but a temporal reality in its own right. For example, when Canvel plays with his kids in the lake in Italy, or watches them put on a performance at home while he sits on the couch, we don’t watch these moments thinking here is a man who will take his own life as we might in a film that clearly foreshadows an event so that the audience can predict its future consequences. These are beautiful sequences in and of themselves. If the film possesses any sense of foreshadowing it remains thematic and reverberative as we suggested earlier. It rests, for example, in the mention of someone having hanged themselves, or the depressed actor talking about his wife’s affair.

Taking into acccount Proust’s ideas about a moment that returns as paradise lost, in cinematic terms this is all the more effective if the sequence doesn’t predict loss because otherwise the bridge of memory Proust invokes would be too easily crossed. When a scene is foreshadowed in the sort of commercial cinema Hansen-Love invokes, even admires, but can’t make, it is as though the scene is entirely consumed at the time, even if it is there to indicate the likelihood of future events. When the femme fatale tells the fall guy that her husband is worth fifty million dollars as they smooch, we are only partly in the kiss; we are mainly wondering what plan will be pulled off to kill him. The sequence is unlikely to create that sense of lost time numerous scenes in Hansen-Love’s work possess. If we sometimes believe that a generic piece (like Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye) goes beyond its genre parameters, it might rest on this question of refusing the ease of genre foreshadowing because it wants to remain true to a sense of time that doesn’t reduce it to narrative progress. As Hansen-Love builds scenes in her films that aren’t necessarily going anywhere, so they gather not the progressive force of script building, but the retrogressive power of the temporal, of the durational, perhaps of the romanesque in Hansen-Love’s terms.

This is central to the importance of rhythm in Hansen-Love’s work. Speaking of Things to Come, with Isabelle Huppert, she says: “However, I still thought about rhythm. I have always had it in mind since my very first feature, the speed and the dynamic and the flow of a film. But I learned a lot with Eden and transferred it to this one. I learned a lesson.” (The Film Stage) Her sense of rhythm perhaps in some ways coincides with both Tarkovsky’s notion of the rhythm of the shot and the philosopher Henri Bergson’s ideas on duration. Tarkovsky says: “one cannot conceive of a cinematic work with no sense of time passing through the shot, but one can easily imagine a film with no actors, music, décor or even editing.” Bergson believes that the “cerebral mechanism is arranged just so as to drive back into the unconscious almost the whole of this past, and to admit beyond the threshold only that which can cast light on the present situation or further the action now being prepared – in short, only that which can give useful work”. (Creative Evolution) Taking into account both Tarkovsky’s insistence that it isn’t character, story and situation that generate cinema, but finally and fundamentally a relationship with time and rhythm, and taking into account Bergson’s notion that our mind generally deals only with what it needs for the present predicament, we can see that most films repress time, they don’t release it. They keep us in the present. This is why many bad films (and occasionally good ones) use a series of flashbacks at their conclusion to remind the viewer of plot points they wouldn’t otherwise quite remember. They jog our memory and a categorical bridge is built. But what if we accept that the memory cannot easily be found because the filmmaker wants the maximum temporal refrain? They want us to struggle with time so that we cannot quite say why a film has moved us because it has done so through a subtle accumulation of the temporal, generating a certain emotional rhythm. In Bergsonian terms they haven’t allowed the mind to settle on useful work, which happens when we cry at a tearjerker. In the latter, the moment is still concentrated and focused: a big funeral with lots of reaction shots and tearful cutaways keeps us in the scene, not especially indeterminately echoing back to earlier ones.

Talking of the end of Eden, Hansen-Love says her central character is alone: “He’s always surrounded by other people, so he’s never actually alone, but he’s alone. In the last scene, I realized when I was editing that it’s the only time he’s ever alone on the screen, totally by himself. It turned out to be very meaningful. It was like the whole thing was leading to that image.” Here she acknowledges not a deliberate intention, but a result of the film’s accumulated rhythm and time, a rhythm in the film that has show Paul constantly on the go, as we have witnessed him over twenty years of his life. The scene beautifully brings together the filmmaker’s ability to represent the solitude that we opened with, and also her need to find a way in which time and rhythm can create an emotion that isn’t remotely generic, isn’t at all ‘useful’ in Bergson’s terms. “I’m obsessed with Patrick Modiano’s last book. Modiano is a very famous, great French writer that for some reason I feel very connected to. He’s always writing about memory. He used to write about memory and then it became about difficulty, the memory that’s disappearing.” She adds: “The more it goes, the more it seems to be about recovering memories, the loss of memories, the fog. His books become more and more abstract. In the one I just read, I think in the front of the book, there is a quote from Stendhal saying, ‘There is no reality, there is just memory of reality.’” “I have this obsession with the relationship to reality. What is real? What is not real? Reality doesn’t exist. It’s just the way we reconstruct it and the dialogue between the past and the present; how to be present in the world, how to connect with yourself and the past.” Hansen-Love says. “I guess that’s why all my films are connected [and] have to do with passing of time. It’s always about constructing a past or a life, so that at some point in the film you have the present of the film and you have the memory. The film has its own memory.” (Interview) It is this capacity for a film to create its own memory through the viewer engaging with our own memories, without clear foreshadowing or emphatic flashbacks, that can help us feel that cinema is romanesque rather than scriptorial: a film that is somehow much more our own than one that too generally belongs to us all. It is to find a way in which to make so categorical a form as film possess within it the subjectivity necessary for reading literature: to allows us to create the film we have seen in our head and not only in front of our eyes. It is to view the film not in an ongoing present that allows us to forget what has come before except for key plot points, but somehow to keep the entirety of the film in our mind as affective response.


©Tony McKibbin