Savagely, Silence - Nadin Mai for tao films

Interview conducted by Nadin Mai for tao films, in September 2018 :

I’m happy to welcome you to tao films, Vincent. It’s a pleasure to have you on board. Why do we not start with the very beginning of your film, a quote by Jacques Derrida : “The animal looks at us. We are naked before it” I have come across this quotation before, but only now I see a link to film and the ways in which we’re naked before a camera that keeps observing us. What do you think ?

And it is my pleasure to embark on Tao Films, Nadin.

First of all, I would like to say that I usually try to avoid explaining my films. I prefer the viewer to feel rather than to understand ; there can be different readings, and I certainly don’t want to put the viewer on a marked trail (that’s why the way you perceived the film is also right).

About Derrida’s (out of context) quote – an excerpt from The Animal That Therefore I Am – I thought it described very well what I felt after I heard the news about the fox... The “animal” being the reason – the “necessity” as Deleuze would call it – I made this film. But I’ll come back to that point later.

I’d like to add that not only Derrida, but Duras and Bataille – and Michel Leiris at some point – are part of the film too.

Savagely, silence is set in Japan and has, to my mind, two narrative strands. I’d like to speak of the colour footage first before we get to the black-and-white footage. The beginning of the film, the very first shot, is very busy. It seems as though we’re at an airport. People walk hastily from A to B. It is an image we almost expect from Japan perhaps. But you counter this magnificently with shots of utter stillness and peace. A film of contrasts that resembles a country of contrasts ?

The first shot is set in the Shibuya station, Tokyo. Two things interested me there. The first one is Tarō Okamoto’s mural “Myth of Tomorrow”, with its solar skeleton that fills me with emotion each time I look at it. I’m sure there is no need to explain why this painting had to open the film. The other one is the impassivity, the indifference to this painting of most of the people who walk there everyday : the acceptance of fatality (should I write fatalism ?).

The sound of the trains, like tearing screams, is quite primordial too.

Your black-and-white insertions are baffling. In some ways, it reminds me of the beginning of Hiroshima Mon Amour. Sometimes, extreme close-ups prevent us from seeing what’s happening in front of us. We see a hand caressing something, though it’s not clear what is happening. Those scenes are, in a way, guided by two voice overs. Can you tell me how you have conceived of this structure ? I wonder in particular whether you knew beforehand that the structure would be like this, or whether it was something that came almost natural to you while editing the footage ?

I must say I didn’t have Hiroshima mon Amour – nor any other film – in mind when I made Savagely, silence, even if I truly admire Renais’ movie.

About the structure of the film, I would say it came in a very natural way. The shooting was split in two sequences : the parts in colour were shot in the Tōhoku region, in the Summer of 2015. I knew I had to film, but didn’t know exactly why and what at that time. I decided to film different spaces, without any particular aesthetic concern. That, in my opinion, would have been the apex of vulgarity. Six months later, I heard the news about the fox, and decided to shoot the black and white parts to make the film as it is now. It is quite strange to think that the fox had already been there before I knew it would become a central part in the film. As you may certainly have noticed, sound is as important as the images ; especially silence. I recorded actual silence to use it in the film, because no sound at all would have felt completely different.

The film has a specific background. As you have just said, in December 2015, a fox had been spotted on a CCTV camera in the Fukushima nuclear power plant. What was the trajectory like from that news bite and the final film ?

I’ve been living in Japan since 2006, and was there when the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami happened. It is unnecessary to say that this terrible disaster had a considerable impact on life and everything else here. Nothing will ever be the same, and not only in Japan. And to witness how things evolve in Fukushima, for example, proves that things are not getting better, thanks to the government’s choices about its nuclear politics, a mix of denial and hypocrisy. In the film, the news caster says : “TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) has pledged to take all necessary measures to prevent more animals from entering the premises”, as if it were the main problem. We are really dealing with a high level of hypocrisy, not to say dreadful cynicism.

Even if I had wanted to make a film about this nuclear disaster for years, it seemed almost impossible to me. But I was deeply affected when I heard the news about the fox, and it instantly became a necessity for me to do this film. This beautiful creature, a deity in the Shinto religion, in this highly contaminated building...

Are you currently working on a new project ?

Yes, I am currently shooting four films (three documentaries in digital, and one – let’s say – fiction film in super 8 stock related to “time and being”). At the same time, I am preparing a film made with analog photos.

Thank you very much for this interview.