Man And The Sea: Baudelaire Film Adaptation in Brittany

Man And The Sea: Baudelaire Film Adaptation in Brittany

Since my childhood I am fascinated by the sea: the view into the sheer infinite, full of reflections, wild and full of life. It leaves no human soul untouched, everyone seems to recognize a part of itself in it. Herman Melville‘s stage for American dreams gone insane in the personification of Captain Ahab, poets like Chateaubriand saw in it a “philosophical painting”. Of the latter, I filmed the poem La Mer in Brittany in 2010, and for the first time fell in love with the unreal, wild and seemingly untouched nature found there. Eight years later, in 2018, I again traveled to Brittany, this time to the southern area around Quiberon. There I was looking for a new film material and at the same time I wanted to break new ground.

My mood, however, was clouded. Björn Last, a fellow filmmaker, had died shortly before at a young age. He was a kind of mentor to me, with whom I discovered the real cinema 15 years ago, especially that of transgressive experimental cinema. His own powerful and unconventional short and feature films were to me nothing less than life and cinema itself. When I ventured my first cinematic attempts in 2008, he encouraged me massively and presented and discussed films of mine on his television program in Hamburg. Without his encouragement in a time of self-doubt, I would probably have not made films. When I saw that he had thanked me in one of his last films, I wanted to reciprocate this, but posthumously, and make a short film for him. With large, handwritten dedication at the beginning of the film, as the great old Jean-Marie Straub has done over and over again in his films.

During the research I came across Baudelaire’s poem “L’homme et la mer” (“Man and the Sea”). For the poet, the sea becomes the mirror of man and also of himself. At that time, this type of reflective poetry was groundbreaking. Already in “L’Albatros” he showed a bird as the king of the skies, but caught on land in everyday life he is unable to fly and exposed to biting mockery. Thus, he tells something about the artist’s conflict between art and earning a living.

As usual, I copied the poem with ink and pen and recited it again and again until I knew it by heart. This is important to me, because then you get a sense of rhythm. Baudelaire’s poetry is one of the most beautiful in the French language: the words are very musical. But it also gives the mind space for innumerable associations, which are later essential for filming. The small “script” I provided with numerous marginal notes, which pans, transitions, contrasts or quiet moments are necessary.

Now it was time to film. I filmed with the Logmar, the daring engineered Super-8 marvel that a couple of years ago, two Danish inventors launched in limited numbers as a beta version. Congenially, they solved the main problem of the previous Super-8 cameras: the missing pressure plate! The camera pulled the film out of the cassette with a loop and led it into a real pressure plate, which allowed unprecedented sharpness.

Brittany in May was wild and boisterous as ever and offered all sorts of weather conditions: the most beautiful sunshine could switch to lightning and thunder minutes later. Nature seemed boundlessly excited to finally play the lead role in my little movie.

That’s why I went to rough seas like the island of Belle-Île, where Claude Monet was so fascinated by the cliffs that he spent many years painting them. But even in the Morbihan I found on an oyster farm mysterious reflections of rusty grids, which I liked very much. From 8 frames per second to 48 frames per second, I captured the individual scenes on expired, in Super 8 assembled Fuji Velvia brand Cinevia. When shooting nature shots you need one thing above all else: patience! The best thing to do is set the camera on safely, compose the image and wait. Usually nothing happens at the beginning. At some point, everything begins to live: waves whip unchecked, birds fly and the sun turns gloom into magical light. I really like this transformation, Richard Wagner would certainly have invented one or the other, operatic “transformation music”.

I then returned home with four brimming film cassettes and went on to develop the now invaluable, because exposed, material. What followed is almost alchemy for me. Just as Böttger was to produce gold at the time, but ultimately invented porcelain, it is like a wonder how one can transform the thin layer of silver into images that last for centuries. I learned the tools for this from the Berlin-based film artist Dagie Brundert, whose enthusiasm for the film as well as her contagious joie de vivre is limitless.

Seeing the material on the drywall, colorful color reversal film that sparkles like hundreds of tiny gems, makes you happy. For me, this part, when you see the exposed material for the first time, is still the most beautiful thing about filmmaking.

I created a rough cut with CIR Catozzo splicer, in which about 15% of the scenes of the scissors fell victim. This is normal and a good shooting ratio. In digital productions, on the other hand, it usually turns out much worse, since no film costs exist, one can shoot for hours, which in post-production can quickly be to the detriment.

I then gave the material to my friend José Luis Sanz in Madrid, who transferred almost all of my films to the digital world, this time again in 4K. Although Super 8 does not actually have enough information for 4K resolution, it still makes sense in post production because it preserves and displays every grain.

Since the whole movie was a matter of the heart, I spoke the text myself this time. The editing was done as usual in Final Cut Pro X. A small company in Italy created a 16mm film transfer with light sound from the digital intermediate.

The film began its journey to the film festivals: at the New York International Film Infest Festival, it was shown as a finalist in New York, at the Artifact Small Format Film Festival in Canada and the Dresden Schmalfilmtage it was even presented as analog film projection.

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L’homme et la mer (Man and the Sea) by Charles Baudelaire | Moving Poems Posted on 23:37 - 2. August 2019

[…] Müller’s detailed process notes on the film may be read at […]

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