The Rebirth of Cinema

Susan Sontag's Notes on Japanese Film

And I'm still a glutton for movies. What I'm looking for is an ecstatic experience. In the end, it's doesn't matter what the subject is, whether it's the incompetent hoodlums of Hou Hsiao-hsien's Goodbye South, Goodbye, or the mannered privileged bourgeois people in Alain Resnais's Melo—the worlds of these two films are opposite extremes in every sense, yet as experiences they have something in common—they're indelible visually, and they take their time in a way that allows you to feel something. I like long films. Béla Tarr tells me I hold the world's Sátántangó record. I've seen it from start to finish 15 times—and it's what, six hours?—and have not been bored for a second. I love total immersion. One wants to be transported.

You had a good deal to do with the founding of the Sarajevo Film Festival. How did it happen? There was a marvelous fellow there called Miro Purivatra who ran a gallery, a kind of alternative theater space, a bit like the Kitchen. It was the center of whatever creative was going on. My son David had gone to Sarajevo before me—he met Miro, who became one of my first friends there. He put up an art show in a building that no longer had a roof and was being shelled, and people would come. He loved movies. We talked about film a lot. Well, at first, the siege was still on, but I was going in all the time—I brought in cassettes in my backpack. We got a generator from the army and showed them on a little flickering TV monitor in a basement—and that was the first Sarajevo Film Festival. It has since grown into this wonderful event.

You recently said your future will be principally devoted to writing fiction. Is that what you enjoy doing most these days? Are there plans involving films? I want to—I will make more films. If only I could stay home—that's my problem. I had two big experiences in the '90s—I lived in a war for a couple of years, I lived surrounded by war, and I became very ill again, with cancer for the second time. I learned a lot that I wanted to share, so I wrote a little book, and essay, Regarding the Pain of Others, about war—through the theme of what people can or think they can learn about war through images. There is a new novel in the works—I don't want to say much about it except that it takes place mostly in Japan. It's not quite contemporary, but I'm moving forward—The Volcano Lover was late 18th century, In America is 19th century, and the new novel is set partly in the 1920s, partly in the 1950s. And to boucler le boucle, the later passages of the book are influenced by my experience of the kind of moral anguish and pathos and solitariness that you find in the magnificent post-war films of directors like Ozu and Naruse, in Kurosawa's Stray Dog and No Regrets for Our Youth.

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