A Life in Pieces
by Milos Stehlik
09.01.11 - 12:00 pm
Born in Argentina, devoted to literature and cinema since childhood, Edgardo Cozarinsky spent much of his life in exile in France making movies and writing and editing books. His nonfiction films, which explore how history intersects with the lives of individuals, are more essayistic than straight documentaries. Following a severe illness in 1999, he expanded to literature (The Bride from Odessa and The Moldavian Pimp are two of his works in English translation). He returns to cinema with his latest, a tapestry of images and fragments from his life and work and from materials that he has collected along the way.

MILOS STEHLIK: The music of Ulises Conti was an inspiration to you. How did it guide the unusual structure of the film?

EDGARDOCOZARINSKY: I have known and admired Conti’s work since his first concerts in Buenos Aires, and before this film we collaborated on an installation and a performance. The structure of the film was already in my mind from the beginning. I started by telling Ulises that I wanted to shoot close-ups of actors I had worked with before, and react[ing] to a musical piece of his they had not heard previously, for the film’s “Light from a body” sections.

Later on, Ulises visited the editing room a few times. I suggested to him some of his existing music for certain sequences and he proposed either new ones or new orchestrations of existing themes. I made the final choice while editing.

STEHLIK: The film is structured of fragments like bits of memory. Why the conscious decision not to structure a more “formal” autobiography?

COZARINSKY: The film does not aspire to be an “autobiography.” The word in the title is biography. The fragments of course relate to my experience and imagination, but I think they are “objectified” by that same fragmentary structure. What can you learn about an individual? Little from his own edited version of his life, I believe. I like Borges’ line about a collector of disparate items who at a certain moment of his life realizes they draw his portrait.

STEHLIK: The individual seems to be in the margins of historical events that you lived through: World War II, the Vietnam War, the repression in Argentina. Don’t individuals determine history?

COZARINSKY: I’m afraid that is a Marxist illusion. History appears to me blind and amnesic, far from the Hegelian ideal, taking form beyond the consequences expected by individuals who aspire to direct it, very often destroying them.

I am attracted by the same margins of history as of cinema, by character actors rather than stars.

STEHLIK: Exile and travel—a nomadic existence—characterize your life and the sensibility of this film. In which ways were these your responses to political and historical events?

COZARINSKY: I have succeeded in being a survivor without becoming a traitor. And, then, an oblique light brings out volumes and shapes better than a frontal, deadening spotlight. My favorite American films are 40s noir, not MGM vehicles or socially conscious efforts. Since the early years of the new century, when I started spending most of my time back in Buenos Aires, far from Paris, I have worked and surrounded myself with young people, which makes me a different kind of nomad, a visitor in my own native city, at the same time challenged and attentive to their opinions and tastes. I must say that I am deeply bored by most compatriots of my age.

STEHLIK: In recent years, you’ve also become a novelist and dramatist. How has this informed your filmmaking?

COZARINSKY: As far as I can see, it has allowed me to attempt in films what I cannot do in a novel or a short story. Already in a fiction film like Night Watch (2005), I was more attracted by the ambiance and the moments when the actors were searching into themselves than by the actual action. In my just-completed Nocturnos, there is a narrative, yes, but it meanders and then goes back to a possible main course, while in the soundtrack the main character’s thoughts are expressed by quotations from poets who have written about the night, not only the great German romantics, Novalis, Hölderlin, but also Robert Frost and a few Argentineans. And of course, there is an original score by Ulises Conti that keeps the whole thing going!

Let me add that I have a certain nostalgia for the silent cinema, for the very free syntax of the late 20s, that I have tried to recapture by a very tangential use of sound. In Nocturnos I tried it with poetry and off-screen voices, not only by music, [and] in the opera section of Rothschild’s Violin, with singing and music. Sound often carries a heavy naturalistic burden. I’d rather never have a character entering a room and saying hello.

Milos Stehlik is the executive director of Facets Multimedia, the acclaimed theater, film distributor and video store, and a former recipient of Telluride’s Special Medallion.

Argentina, 2010, 60m
Director: Edgardo Cozarinsky
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