Discussions of Lasting Impressions of an Unconventional Film
by Professor David Gerstner & Jéan-Claude Quintyne
On March 10, 2015 French filmmaker Christophe Honoré visited New York to screen his latest film “Métamorphoses” (2014) at the CUNY Graduate Center, as part of the “Rendezvous with French Cinema” series hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance Films.
Following the screening, Honoré provided CUNY students a master-class. Hosted and guided by Professor of Cinema Studies, David Gerstner, the well-attended event included several College of Staten Island cinema-studies students.
Jéan-Claude Quintyne was one of those students in attendance. His and the other student’s encounter with Honoré served something as a capstone event for their careers at CSI.
“It was quite disorienting and it’s still disorienting,” Quintyne said in an interview with Gerstner. “I’m still thinking about the way the story unfolded, because at first I didn’t know what was going on for quite a long time.”
Honoré is also important for Professor Gerstner’s recent research. Along with his colleague in Paris—Julien Nahmias—he has completed a new book to be published in the fall by Wayne State University Press. The book is entitled, “Christophe Honoré: A Critical Introduction.”
The film focuses on Europa—played by Amira Akili—who follows a man named Jupiter, who takes her on a journey through a world dominated by powerful gods with abilities to transform humans into plants or animals on a whim.
Through the series of experiences that Europa moves through, she meditates on, scoffs at, and is penetrated by, a world that seamlessly transcends reality and gains the ability to grasp a new, raw way to approach love and live life.
On April 24, 2015 Jean-Claude and Professor Gerstner sat down to reflect on Honoré’s visit and consider the ways the cinema studies program at CSI has directed and encouraged Jéan-Claude’s creative and critical thinking for his own filmmaking.
David Gerstner (DG): What have been your lasting impressions after watching Christophe Honoré’s “Métamorphoses” and then having the experience of talking directly with the filmmaker?
Jéan-Claude Quintyne (JCQ): Every time I think about the film I’m thinking “sheer disorientation,” and the cohesiveness of that disorientation.
DG: That’s an interesting description: “cohesive disorientation.” What was complex about the film experience that yet allowed you to develop meaning from the film?
JCQ: After hearing Honoré talk about “Métamophoses” as a comment on Greece and European history, and reminding us of the contemporary issues occurring in Europe around the European Union, I was able to draw out the abstract senses—really abstract—of the film to understand the way the director was making a point.
Using the Greek mythological stories that center on the young woman, Europa, as a way to connect, or find a way to connect, two seemingly very different things in order to comment on contemporary issues in Europe really brought things into light for me.
DG: You’ve got this old set of myths about gods yet, on the other hand, Honoré, reminds the viewer that the “old” has a very intimate relationship the “new.”
Economies of sexuality, desire, capital, and so forth have been in operation for a very long time. Obviously what is happening with Greece and in Europe now, is disorientating but “Métamorphoses” draws together this huge historical shift in period to show the resounding echo of the past into the present. That is disorienting!
Measuring this echo was an important aspect Quintyne pulled from his experience listening to Honoré discuss the film, which he felt opened a new way to approach making his own work: The absence of limits.
Quintyne expressed that he got a strong sense of reassurance from Honoré’s film that, because the filmmaker could bring ancient stories into the contemporary realm, he could go as far as he could to “break the rules” when thinking about his thinking, screenwriting, and filmmaking.
The chat concluded with an analysis of this topic, keeping “Métamorphoses” and philosophy at the fore, and weaved those into discussing Quintyne’s current project.
JCQ: [My] piece is about an up-and-coming artist who was taking photographs of some landmarks in the city. As he pulls out his camera to take a shot, an off-duty police officer shoots him because he thinks that the artist is pulling out a gun.
DG: There is a very strong cinematic metaphor here. The camera that “shoots” versus the gun that “shoots.”
This seems like another moment of “disorientation” that takes place in your film. I don’t know if you remember but one of the first cameras built around 1882 by Jean Marey was in the shape of a gun [the Fusial Photographique].
The metaphor of a camera “shooting” derives from his invention. It was basically a rifle that shot film.
If I can ground the conceptual ideas we are discussing for a moment: What film classes that you have taken that were important for you in terms of developing this idea and other cinematic concepts?
JCQ: “Intro to Editing” and “Cinematography.”
Right now I’m taking “Film Theory.” We’ve been introduced to a series of theorists, particularly André Bazin.
I haven’t really had a chance to meditate on anything in that class—so many things to really think about, and to see where I can pick strains of this-and-that to add to my work.
DG: That is important, as an artist, a thinker, and a writer that answers don’t come right away—if ever. Part of the fun and intrigue of a class like film theory or any film class—any class at all really—is that you should be bombarded with a lot of ideas.
Over time the ideas begin to saturate a bit, settle in, and you can think about how in fact these multiple ideas inform future projects.