Albert Serra • Director of Pacifiction
“The character of De Roller reminded me most of Donald Trump!”
by David Katz
- CANNES 2022: We spoke with the Catalan director, flying high off the fine reception for his woozy, hypnotic Cannes competition debut
The first thing you notice about Albert Serra is that he would make a fine subject for one of his own films. This critic has never been so dazzled by a director’s menswear game in his interviewing days: the shades, the slippers, everything. And then there’s his conversation style, laden with articulacy and sometimes profanity. He was in fine spirits at the Cannes Film Festival, after the previous day’s Grand Théâtre Lumière premiere of Pacifiction [+see also:
interview: Albert Serra
film profile], his most ambitious and possibly most powerful work to date.
Cineuropa: Would you call this a film you’ve been wanting to make your whole life, or at least your entire artistic career?
Albert Serra: I wouldn’t say that, because maybe you mean that I can’t be more ambitious or get bigger than this. It’s a process of evolution, that’s true. It opens the doors to something totally different, more ambitious and more crazy. For the people who know my work in the art world, there is even more output – the work I did for the Venice Biennale. I don’t prepare; I don’t have an agenda; I don’t have any worries about my career. I concentrate on each piece, the evolution of the images, and the visuals I can create.
Could you explain the resonance of the international title?
It’s just a fiction of the Pacific! And the idea is this: the film is pure fantasy – it touches on the political, it touches on the contemporary, and it touches on the human and human relations, but in the end, I like the idea that it’s exotic, artificial and unbelievable. All of these relations between these two people – De Roller and Shannah – are almost grotesque. He’s an admiral who has a lot of atomic submarines as well.
What was the preparation like on the various islands before you started shooting? How did you find the non-professional actors, such as the dancers and the clan chiefs?
I only made one trip, and I was supposed to shoot immediately, and then COVID-19 happened. I prefer the friction of going there and not knowing anything, and being with the whole crew. The friction, the clashes, the shock. This creates innocence and spontaneity. There are lots of things that aren’t under control – it’s the total nightmare of industry people. They want to keep everything under control because it’s a huge industry and there’s time pressure. But with this, you only get one thing or the other – you are economically comfortable, but you are artistically fucked.
At your Amos Vogel lecture last year at the NYFF, you talked about what you describe as “the vulgarity of narrative”. Was this preoccupation on your mind when making Pacifiction?
Usually, when you talk about narrative, it’s like it would be for a child. You know: “That’s the good guy, that’s the bad guy – I understand,” or “The devil – okay okay, they are corrupt, thank you very much.” You’re paying people who are telling you what you already know. You pay them $10 to give you images you’ve already seen or a sensation you’ve already felt. In the future, you won’t pay – you have hundreds of these on Netflix. It’s much cheaper to have 200 examples of the same shit, at the same price – if you really want that kind of shit, that is. If you want good things, it will be more expensive.
But you’ve spoken of Chinatown as an inspiration – surely that’s a supreme example of narrative?
Well, it has nice actors, especially John Huston. Then there is the whole confusion of the last scene, the very dark subject matter of incest, and the topic of corruption, with the water. Point of view is important – Jack Nicholson is in all of the scenes in the film, and we only have the information he has. We are in his mind or in his eyes. So here, I wanted to do the same thing, but in a more contemporary way. There’s The Parallax View and Cutter’s Way, also – there’s this sense of paranoia that rules the world. Talking of paranoia, there were these things called trusts – a group of companies. But now they are visible; they don’t need to hide any more. But still, military power is under a darker form of control because the economic power of these companies is quite obvious. Nonetheless, for me, military power is more fascinating. It’s always more interesting to have a sergeant in the army, compared to the top guy in a big company.
Do you see De Roller as reflective of elected politicians today, who might occupy the ideological centre, like Macron or Biden?
He reminded me most of Donald Trump! With the cockfighting, and the “Aggghhh!” [imitates the cockfighting]. Okay, he seems affable, but he’s also more on the populist side, then on the very friendly side, and then even lovely. After that, you see him as paranoid, then as a psychopath. There are some smiles, but they are those of a psychopath.
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