Interview by Roberto Doveris
“Surire” is the new work by documentary filmmaking couple, Bettina Perut and Iván Osnovikoff, about a distant and forgotten salt flat, portrayed through the sharp eyes of these two directors who will be present at Carte Blanche in Locarno. Today they talk to CinemaChile and tell us details about their new production.
To begin, we would like to know what motivates you to travel north to make this documentary about the “Surire” salt flat?
We arrived for the first time in Surire while location scouting for “Noticias”. It was like reaching the moon because of the landscape, oxygen shortage, altitude sickness, and a strong sensation of disconnection. In two days, we realized that it was the perfect location for a movie that would contemplate in deep observation, this remote place distant from what we call the world; it was another world. It also relates to the fact that we had just finished making “Welcome to New York” and we were very excited about the idea of a new adventure in a foreign land. Despite the hardships of shooting at 4,300 meters, in extreme climatic and financial conditions, we were fascinated to discover that in this place where no one seems to live, a complex universe exists in connection to a millenary past that is in constant evolution.
The language used to approach what happens in the area is noteworthy. The silent observation and careful visual composition was already present in your previous works, like “Noticias”. What drives you to set the stage in such way?
Almost from the beginning of our work, we have been motivated by the challenge to explore, grow and progressively come to own a consistent visual language. We have continually attempted to give a less privileged position to the word and to the more conventional human representations; to observe more and talk less, creating images that suggest readings and films that provide the viewer with a chance to experience. Shoots that are an experience and a search and not an errand to illustrate something already defined on paper. The language in the film is the result of the way we face our work.
It seems that between the long shots and the meticulous detail something is missing: mid-shots, full-shots, and the standard documentary approach. What would there be in that gap for you? Why not resort to that?
Not quite so, we do resort to that gap, we just don’t abuse it, and maybe that’s why it creates that impression. Our experience of the world exists at every level: when we have our heads on the pillow and we wake up, we see a close-up of the mouth, nose and eyes of the person we slept with; if we are on a rooftop and see the horizon we see the world on a great wide angle long-shot. Either scale can make sense, create sensations, etc. So we have no reason not to take full advantage of the range, especially if it turns into a tool that enhances the language, and at the same time, the way of thinking about what is being watched.
On the same line of thought, the sound is very independent from the shots, although sometimes it’s synched, it also leaves and appears in off in close-ups and long shots. What can you tell us about the editing of “Surire”?
Just like visually we don’t like to abuse the human scale in conventional frames, sound-wise, the overrepresentation of dialog is another recurrent style we try to avoid. In Surire’s editing, meaning comes from observation and the relationship of the characters, who don’t need to be talking to be so. When we think, we are not talking, we are looking, and what we try to do is to capture that stare onscreen, to suggest what this reality creates in us when we experience it. It’s also about a world in which silence prevails, and therefore, to covey that, it’s necessary to resort to silence.
Regarding the relationship between sound and image, especially as they relate to dialog, another expressive advantage of close-ups and open-shots is that they free us from slavery to lip-syncing. From there on, we can explore new ways of relating sound and image in every audible dimension, which allows us to work creatively with the material. It’s not about pasting something with anything else; in that regard we are very self-demanding.
Just like in your previous work, we could see that approximation to the portrayed bodies is uncomfortable; there’s a direct appeal to the limits of what we are used to, or want to see. However, those shots speak and confront. What is the process of approximation to that blurred image for you? How do you deal with the morbidity of wanting and not wanting to see that which is offensive?
It’s very stimulating to be able to move in the limits between what is conventionally shown and what’s not, not only for the taste of provocation, but because it offers an almost virgin field for audiovisual exploration. To approach a character from the point of view of observing his feet, to narrate a situation in reference to a dead body, or framing the mouth while the character is talking, are not only interesting challenges, but it also allows building readings about those things that escape traditional human narratives. For us, talking heads are to film what geocentrism is to astronomy. Every time we face work, we begin by demanding of ourselves some audiovisual exploration that avoids convention, because it’s the only way to turn the shoot into an exploration, and finally what we show or don’t show is determined at the editing table in relation to the internal world of the film and not about absurd external rules that become dated overtime.