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In the world of media and cinema, we share some challenges today. We are often urged or asked to have strong, contrasting opinions or stories that sometimes are forced to be more antagonistic, or more black & white than how we perceive the world. Maybe because of the tabloid pressure of reviewers to have strong opinions for click-bait and filmmakers to make plots that are simple to pitch and sell. Criticism should align itself with the possibility in art to show complexity and ambivalence and a space where you can feel many different things at once ; a space in cinema that is not so easy to summarize just from the perspective of a strong opinion. Not just to say it’s good or bad, but to fight for the open possibility of a communication which is not easily reduceable. Criticism, as opposed to reviewing something and try to give it a qualitative stamp, is exactly important today with the commercial pressure that both critics and filmmakers are facing. To fight to convey and open up possibilities for viewers to feel and discovers movies that are more nuanced, and maybe need more time to be perceived. To help share and open up and shield the complexity and the many possibilities of cinema.
That is a great moment when criticism makes me think and makes me curious to explore a movie. When I read something that makes me curious, that opens up rather than to make a consumer selection, that is more important than ever. Because we have such a plethora of things to see, and there tends to be kind of an homogeny in what we read about. Everyone writes about the same thing at the same time. It’s fun to see someone bring forward a movie that we might not have discovered in this multitute of films. I’m optimistic about this.
As a filmmaker, there will always be things that are personal and that I might feel like a failure about what I’ve done. I can see uglier things in my work than probably any critic can ! I know my mistakes. But I try to accept myself as a filmmaker, and I hope that I can create something that goes beyond my control. I don’t learn so much when someone says « This is not good enough ». That’s not a surprise, I’m used to feeling that way ! But I’m very happy when someone can have a perspective or an interpretation that is unexpected. That makes me inspired.
I’m genuinely grateful for anyone who’s brought a critical view of a perception of my work, but for me my creativity is born from a different place : it’s a dialogue I have with myself. And with the idea of a viewer as an abstract entity. And this is good for reviewers also : I can’t make anything to please someone else’s taste, but I can hope that I create curiosity for something. That’s what I’m hopeful for in people. But my own sense of criticism against my own work and my own curiosity, and feeling also that I need to move forward, that happens automatically for most creative people. You feel that there’s something you’ve done, and then you need to do something new. That’s an ongoing process.
In the past, criticism has helped my movies. A commercial help, that’s the irony. I remember we got a front-page review for my first film, Reprise, in the New York Times, from a very good critic called Manhola Dargis. She wrote a very enthuastic review for the movie that changed the life of that film. I felt that someone had stood up for a smaller film in the American market and said « Listen everyone, you haven’t heard about this ! » So I have had that experience of being helped by critics. But I’ve also experienced criticism that was being nonchalant, that didn’t care, and it hurt me. I was very sad, so I’m very cautious about how I approach reviews as a filmmaker, in terms of reading and not reading. I usually tend to wait. But you can have many good reviews, and then you have one bad, and that’s the one you’ll remember.
It’s always hard to create things. I hope that critics will take a film for what it is, and not want it to be something else. Because you can only do what you do. Sometimes I read criticism which I think « Well, this critic wants the film to be something else. The filmmaker didn’t try to do that ». But you’re unable to defend yourself, and therefore you keep going, you make new films. Then again, I’m most interested in reading criticism for other people’s films that have that sense of curiosity and openness. I’m less interested in someone bringing down an artist. Because you can always do that. In most cases, the artist and creative people I know don’t work from a standpoint of believing that everything is easy or they have complete control. It’s a very chaotic process to create, and to dare to be vulnerable, to take a risk, is of great value in art. So I would hope that critics understand and give credit for risk-taking and vulnerability, not just perfection of craft, for example. Those values are dear to me. I have to add that I don’t want to instruct critics, they should be allowed to do what they want. I’m only an artist, I step back, I rest my case !