Johan van der Keuken – Amsterdam Global Village + Amsterdam afterbeat (1996)


From an interview about this film, conducted by Serge Toubiana,

Is Amsterdam Global Village intended to be the portrait of a city? Can one in fact portray a city?
– I don’t think you can portray anything, but you can build a city through film, using both fictional and direct cinema techniques, which I purposely blend. The constructivist concept is very important to me. At the end of the film, there is a dedication to my friend, the writer Bert Schierbeek, who died this year. Bert Schierbeek wrote: “I always felt that life was made up of 777 stories going on at the same time.” So I thought we could do 777 four-hour films about Amsterdam, even if it’s a small city. But you have to make choices, take risks. When you film you have to disregard certain realities in order to recreate something physical on the screen. In that way, it’s possible to portray a city.

The film seems to be searching for a heartbeat, the heartbeat of the city… It’s like a heart that pumps and expels: blood circulates and the circulation leads us to distant places: to Bolivia, Chechnya, Sarajevo, Thailand. How did you construct this “here and there”?
– What I really wanted to do was to return to the roots of direct cinema. When I graduated from IDHEC in 1958, I saw Jean Rouch’s first films: Les Maîtres Fous and Moi, un Noir which greatly impressed me in the way they blended direct cinema and fiction. I also saw films by Richard Leacock and Robert Drew. Those films had a very liberating effect on me. At the same time, what I missed — especially in the American work — was an awareness of form. What I saw in them was very classical dramaturgy of the American hero, but it was virtually unavowed. The films claimed to be examples of direct cinema, but there were very marked implicit choices that harked back to Hollywoodian dramaturgy. I told myself that I also needed to work on form, Eisensteinian editing (as much as I knew about it at the time) — all sorts of techniques that I later explored in all my films: and always, that dosage of the synchronous and the non-synchronous cinema, what’s set-up and what’s found, the fabricated conditions and the random things that result from them and to which we react later.
For Amsterdam Global Village, I wanted to (…) acknowledge the direct cinema aspect, go with it, and let the form come later. Thinking about direct, I still felt I needed a basic structure. This structure was provided by the vast loop of Amsterdam’s canals. I imagined the film as a long journey through the four seasons, following the circular form that the Provo movement around 1965-66 called “the magic apple”: Amsterdam as the magic centre of the world. So in my mind I followed the outline of this magic apple, and it gave me the sense of always turning, as much as possible, to the right. I have to admit that in the film it feels more like a lateral tracking shot. But I’m glad you sensed the circle.

Could we say that you began with a European, somewhat ethnographic vision of things, and that suddenly the filmic outcome turned out to be much more dramatic?
– I often say that I work against ethnography. It’s always the moment when the model shatters, when representativity no longer functions, that things get interesting. It’s halfway between something representative and something that’s not representative at all.

…You mean when people suddenly become individuals.
– Yes, the absurdity of life, the singular experience. Serge Daney wrote an article in the Cahiers du Cinéma entitled “La radiation cruelle de ce qui est” (“The Cruel Radiation of That What Is” ) in which he noted that the handicapped characters in my films are often there to break with representativity. This rather marginal position with regard to normality gives them a more penetrating view of what is normal, what is real. This explains the thematic of blindness, deafness, obstructed senses, that to me seems to be one of lucidity with respect to a fractured, fragmented perception that needs to be reconstituted. One can’t see or hear, but one has to live with it.(…)

In this film there’s a rhetorical figure: the homecoming. There is also the notion of exile, and the idea that sons are reunited with their mothers.
-It’s quite amazing, because it was never planned. While working on the project I was very sensitive to binary relationships, particularly male-female relationships. The idea of interviews quickly imposed itself. In the past, I’ve often filmed interviews frontally, with me speaking from behind the camera. It creates a sort of flat surface from which a space is created, which is the space between the screen and the spectator. In the last few years I’ve grown tired of this filming method. For this film, the character’s gaze isn’t directed at the camera, but off to the side, as in a television interview. But in the place of the interviewer, I cut in shots of the wife listening, as with Roberto for instance, simply by matching gaze-directions within the 180 degree axis between shots. That’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing. Because, apart from chase scenes, the shot-reverse shot is the ultra classic movie device that joins two spaces together. If a shot is taken in France and the reverse-angle shot in China, you can splice them together and get them to look at one another. It’s the fictional motif par excellence, and therefore the anti-documentary motif par excellence(…)

I get the feeling that as a filmmaker, you blend two dimensions: slowness and speed. You often film people just before they take off.

– It’s the passage from ponderousness to the state of lightness. Traditionally, information was heavy, you had to carry something, but now it is becoming more and more volatile, airborn. I made a film — in which I failed to get things across, where I didn’t understand things myself — about money, I Love Dollars (1986), in which the people we finally understand the best are those who don’t have money. Those who handle money embody both dimensions because they are totally in a volatile realm, in electronic movement every which way, like a great big floating mosaic of funds and deficits. They seek an equilibrium on earth, and always try to grab something in the flow of things. When there’s movement, you can, like in a current, fish something out. Whereas people who are poor carry their bodies. But those who are out in the floating, volatile world, express their motivations with metaphors involving meat, blood, sex, war, daggers — things of a visceral nature. Their imagery is archaic, so they too are dramatically living at two speeds or in two states of gravity. If I could reshoot the film, I’d have placed more emphasis on that aspect

Why is the love scene multisexual and not multiracial? All of a sudden everyone’s white?
– The thought occurred to me, but I wanted to avoid it being “politically correct.” I must say that I’ve since changed my mind and it perhaps proves that once again I’ve done too much thinking.

Language:Dutch and at least half-a-dozen of other languages…
Subtitles: french-english-spanish-dutch vobsub

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