A castle in Spain

Max Belmessieri
Timeless Awards: Would you mind introducing yourself?
Max Belmessieri: I am 53 years old. I am a graduate engineer and first four years I designed television transmitters — which were terrestrial at the time! Not only that, but I was always passionate about images. I remember one HRD who hired me told me I would not be going to see many images there. I replied, “that’s okay, the images are already in my head!” She was right, though, so four years later, I left this job for the film industry. Since then, — it’s been 25 years already! — I have collaborated on over eighty films for cinema and TV. But I have not given up on making my own films!
TA: How did you find out about our festival? What made you register your film to it?
MB: I found you on the Festhome site. When I read that the festival was interested in Time, Memory, and Stream of Thoughts, I thought, wow, if “A Castillo” was not selected here, then it would not be selected anywhere because that is precisely how the movie works: the wasted time, flickering memory, and the flow of thoughts which try to retain something…
TA: You have submitted your film to Best of Memory category. So first, I need to ask you about it. What is your reflection about Memory? How does the theme of Memory translate into the cinema? And your cinema, in specific?
MB: For me, memory is intrinsic to cinema. Let me explain: the sequences of images and sounds that are pure thoughts survive the actors who embody them and the director who created them — a bit like the memories of a book. It is an idea I've been dragging around for a long time, and I even wrote a feature film script about it, called “REWIND”. So, I am very sensitive to this theme, but especially because of the ghosts of the past, they run through all my films, and of course, they exist only because someone is there to remember them. Without memory, I’m afraid we would lose our ghosts.

Regarding “A Castillo”, as Carlota Cortés discovers that nothing physical really is hers, (her camera any more than the desert itself), only the memories of “her man” remain. These memories help her to reconstruct the presence of her lost lover. So, memories may be the only thing that truly belongs to us.
TA: But we moved your film into a different category, Diary Film. Can you guess, why?
MB: Of course, it makes sense now in that, it comes from the making of the film because I didn't look for that. In fact, Carlota's thoughts come from my notes I wrote on the trip. And then at one point, she rereads her diary — my notes. Plus, the voice-over… it was hard to resist the genre! You got it right.
TA: What was your first idea? How did you expand it, step by step? How did it grow into your film?
MB: The first idea was very basic. In 2016, my partner Charlotte and I were on our first vacation, and I wanted to take souvenir images of our trip. Maybe there was already a desire for a film at this point because while I was filming, I was taking notes. I do not normally keep a diary, but I recognized that these notes had relation to what was filmed. I did not know at the time whether the notes inspired what to film, or was it the other way around? Maybe a little of both. Maybe it was a loving gesture towards Charlotte, but at the time I couldn’t guess. Even now, I am not sure about that.

After developing the Super 8 myself, I was desperate for the footage on one of the reels, and it came out “burnt”. The film had stuck in the first development bath. Everything seemed to be messed up, screwed up, damaged. But I found that on the one hand, this moment was very graphic — though I hate senseless beauty — and on the other hand, the few moments that had survived (for example "sex in the mountain", towards the end, but which I had not yet identified then) were miraculous! How could these images have escaped the “disaster”? There was a kind of miracle there.

So, when I started editing the film, I knew that this damaged reel had to be part of it. And more than that: we had to accept accidents — not only accept them, but try to understand their meaning, as the accidents had something to tell. In fact, the process is close to the act of listening: I listen, and I try to understand what is there, hidden in what I filmed.
TA: I feel like I need to ask you about Chris Marker’s films… Have you seen them?
MB: It is a very nice compliment; I am touched, even though I never thought of Chris Marker while building “A Castillo”. Yes, I saw some of his films and in particular "La jetée" at the age of twenty-seven, and it impressed me hugely: how come he had built such a fascinating story with so little technical means?

Yes, maybe it’s a reminiscence of "La jetée". In a way, it fits with what I conceive as the way of making films: I make films that do not exist yet and that I would like to see and at the same time I think that the work in progress film is referring to that I have seen and liked.
TA: You have described your artistic vision as “self-found footage.” Can you explain us this idea?
MB: Yes, it is quite simple. During our trip, the images were shot “by feeling” — when and where I had to film — without having any final idea of ​​the staging. Then, when I found out about the development accident, I got depressed and left everything in a box. Fortunately, I was only depressed for a short time, and I would have liked to work with those images except that I work a lot as an assistant director, and I didn't have the time. So, all of this stayed in a box for about 4 years.

Then the 2020 containment took place and I said to myself, what am I going to do? And I thought about these pictures. So, when I saw the footage again, four years after filming, it was as if I had found them in a trash can… except that I was the one who shot them! Hence, the self-found images!
TA: How does your creative process look like?
MB: For this one, as for the following ones (there will be at least one sequel), I am at the service of the film. The process is that of listening. At first, I put everything on the editing table, and I watch. I see the beautiful moments and the accidents as well. If I am tempted to cut them, I try to resist. I wonder what they can say. I try to make sense of them. Not mine because you can't impose anything on the images. The intrinsic meaning, which is already inside, but must be given birth. There you have it, that is the idea of ​​my work: giving birth, giving birth.

Above all, do not destroy. It is difficult; I constantly destroy, thinking if I am doing the right thing. Sometimes I notice it quite early, so I do apple Z apple Z… If I let myself go too far, I must start all over again. In fact, I hardly cut anything. There were twenty minutes of Super 8 footage, and the finished film is 19 minutes, admittedly with the credits.

The process of constructing a sequence is therefore lengthy, experimental. The assembly of shots and texts is sometimes almost random; to see what happens. If it seems to me like a “hold up” for a sequence, I write it down (using Final Draft) as it is. Then I edit the script to make it more meaningful, and when it feels better, I go back to editing. It's really a talk between writing and editing. By the end, I’ve got a full script for the movie, which was read by a professional screenwriter, my friend Nicolas Barbey. We still made some corrections that I finally carried over to the editing. This jumping back and forth between the film and the script continued during sound editing. It was a long process. It took almost 8 weeks to accomplish this. Fortunately, there was the confinement!
TA: What equipment were you using for filming?
MB: Two Super 8 cameras, the Nizo 4080 (one of the last Super 8 cameras with a nice lens) and a slightly older Nizo 801 which had a diaphragm cell problem, and which gave the slightly scorched images of the footage from the castle and then the path in the forest that I wanted to cut at the start.
TA: How about the postproduction?
MB: It was great! It was a wonderful time for me, and on top of that, Charlotte devoted a part of her freedom to experimenting with her cooking for both of us, so I was able to work two months in a row, twelve hours a day, just to devote myself to what I like the most in the world: making a film. And eat well!

A week after the confinement began, I went to get my old film-editing computer — it was a beast before — which dated from 2006. It was forbidden to drive at that time, but hey, I had no choice. The old computer restarted and, by compressing the images well, I could edit the film with this old stuff.

And then, one evening, after an excellent dinner if I remember correctly, I showed it to Charlotte. Although she hates being filmed, she found it touching and poetic. Her reaction encouraged me.

At this point, the voice was missing! Until then, I had worked with subtitles and some ambient sounds, but Carlota had no voice. Since most of the film was shot in Spain, I thought it made sense that Carlota was Spanish, right? So, I asked José, the husband of one of Charlotte's cousins, if he didn't have an acquaintance in the country who could read the subtitles? José immediately replied that he could do the translations with his cousin, Angelita. In fact, although I love the sound of Spanish, I do not speak a single word of that language myself.

When I spoke with Angelita (she is bilingual) the first time, I knew she was the girl: she has a hoarse voice like in an Almodovar movie! Amazing! So, I asked her if she had ever acted, and she replied: "Yes, I am a shoe salesman". Wow! She really was the girl!

Without knowing it, I had experienced the best part of it. To be honest, the rest of the postproduction was a nightmare. Out of my old editing computer, everything was so fragile (the Super 8 images, the sound recorded on the phone) that it shattered like glass. Without going into details, it took no less than four telecines, three scans of the film (and each time I had to resynchronize almost each shot), hours of sound editing and two mixes to arrive at the final result. But all this is forgotten. The film remains.
TA: Can we see your film somewhere? Is it available online?
MB: I would rather advise you to see it on a big screen in a movie theater, which is what it was made for. Moreover, if you are available, Charlotte and I are organizing the first public screening in France on November 27. If you are in Paris on that date, come join us!
November 2021