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Histórias de Fantasmas

About this film

Berlin at night. Darkness surrounds us. From time to time, a lightning strikes at the horizon, illuminating the iconic TV tower at the heart of the city. Darkness - a vital character in Carlos Pereira’s Historias de Fantasmas, a character which gives rise to haunting phantoms, to our fears, to our desires. But above all, the dark night gives rise to the phantoms of History. In this short film, which comes straight from Indie Lisboa, Pereira investigates an invisible weight which shapes the lives and experiences of people in often unexpected ways.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
Welcome to tao films, Carlos. I’m happy to welcome your short film Histórias de Fantasmas, which is different from our other films and brings something truly new to our platform. Can you perhaps tell me what inspired you to make this particular film?

Thank you, Nadin, I am very happy to have Histórias de Fantasmas on tao films. I think it belongs here. I wanted primarily to make a film about my first impressions of living in Berlin, where I moved to in September of 2016. After the initial months I started having two strong ideas about the city. On the one hand, there was this feeling that in Berlin we are permanently walking through History – a heavy one, full of ghosts and ruins. On the other hand, I started perceiving Berlin as some sort of limbo, a melancholic passage between worlds, almost a non-place. I remember reading the sentence that Karl Scheffler wrote in 1910 – “Berlin is a city condemned forever to becoming and never to being” – and thinking it contained the essence of what I was trying to grasp. How to make a film about this?

I kept asking myself these questions and one day I met Pierre Maurcot, a Belgian painter who was learning German in the same classroom as me. It was when he took the whole classroom to his studio and I saw his paintings that I understood that his work was talking about the same things I wanted to talk about: melancholy, ghosts, ruins and the irrevocable passage of time. So I started structuring the film around one of his diptychs – Impression Baptiste – that for me worked as a mirror of everything I was trying to embody.

You have completed a parcours of Film Studies in Higher Education. You studied in Lisbon, Barcelona and Stockholm. I’m often asked whether or not the directors I meet have a professional education. Do you think that studying film at a university or film school is essential for your development as a filmmaker? In what way has it allowed you to advance and progress?

I know people that have done the film school and learned almost nothing and people that never went to any film school and are great film directors. There are no formulas. Personally, the film school gave me a structured line of thought, taught me to watch things closer, to fail better, to work in a group and also to feel closer to myself, to my own contradictions. Film school can be a great place if it is a place of confrontation, of exposure, where the deepest and most difficult questions can be asked – not necessarily to find definitive answers, but because it is important to question everything we see or hear.

For me, film is not a language, is not a grammar. Cinema is something that happens or not. And sometimes, in order for that to happen, we have to destroy everything we think we know, all the systems, borders and associations. That’s how we can produce new cinematic ideas. I believe in an education of the gaze and in environments that stimulate us emotionally, intellectually and aesthetically – in that sense, I would say that I was not only influenced by the schools where I studied, but also by the cities I’ve lived in. What I carry within me, nowadays, is a mixture of my experiences in Lisbon, Barcelona, Stockholm and Berlin.

How do you generally approach a film? Where do you draw your inspiration from, is it stories that you read, that you hear? Or is it a simple idea that one day manifests itself in your head and wants to be pursued?

Sometimes it can be an image I saw or a story I heard. Nonetheless, what interests me is not retelling it but rather a process of appropriation of that story, which I will later rewrite in a different context. Most of the times, it is simply an idea that gets stuck in my head and refuses to leave. In that sense, I always perceive my body as a mediator between ideas with an uncertain origin and cinematic work that needs to be done. Cinema is about waiting for good ideas and, consequently, about a gesture of refinement of those ideas.

Let's return to your film. Histórias puts phantoms at the centre of your film. They are not only in the narrative, but also in your choice of aesthetics, your mise-en-scène. There is always something, and yet there isn’t. It’s as if the film itself becomes a phantom.

That was my intention, that the film itself would become a phantom. I was attracted to the ghosts of History – since our world is literally built-up above the dead – but also to the uncanny side of Berlin – the nightlife, the underground scene, the shadows, the ruins, the echoes, that mysterious energy that makes Berlin seem from another dimension... another planet inside this one. The coexistence of these two dimensions, physical and ghostly, didn't seem, however, particularly threatening, but rather serene.

In that particular moment of my life, I was feeling like being in a waiting room – so the film is also about the phenomenology of waiting for something, about the uncertainty and acceptance of waiting. There is something deeply ghostlike about this idea for me, something closely related to death. Moreover, I perceive the figures in the film as ghosts trying to return to the human side, to their own humanity. I wanted Histórias de Fantasmas to be about the difficulties of reaching the human, in daily life as in artistic representation.

Histórias is divided into three distinct, and yet merging parts. Has the structure of the film been clear from the beginning, or has it developed in the post-production stage?

The structure was not clear from the beginning, but I knew I wanted different parts that would flood each other, evoke thoughts and open new spaces. For example, I wanted to start the film with a storm that could “contaminate” everything we see after. It is a film difficult to explain through a conventional synopsis – and that was exactly what I was searching for, since I come from a more classical cinema. I wanted to see things from a different angle but I didn’t want Histórias de Fantasmas to be abstract, only mysterious and open. I had the desire to produce concrete emotions, a particular mood – for me, all the images of the film belong to the same universe and are variations on the same matters. It is a film searching for something that doesn’t belong to the order of the visible, so I wanted to work with suggestion, with what is hiding in the shadows. Deep down I wanted to play the game of hide-and-seek that Pierre Maurcot talks about.

As a German, who was born and grew up very close to Berlin, the film speaks to me in a particular way, especially the third part, which is set in an old Stasi building. To me, Histórias is a message from home, from the past. We already spoke about the eery feeling inside that Stasi building in a private conversation. Can you tell me what attracted you to film there?

That was one of the most cinematic coincidences during the process of finding the film. When Pierre Maurcot took us to his studio, he told us that it was located in an old Stasi building where they used to produce espionage equipment. As soon as I entered the building I felt – once again – the weight of History. There was something deeply eerie about that place, and naturally I felt immediately attracted to it. It is a building where you can easily lose the space-time coordinates: on the one hand, it talks about the past; on the other hand, it could be a place from the future, from a sci-fi. It is full of echoes, of reverberations.

I know that it can be immensely difficult to respond to the question, but I wonder how you see your role as a filmmaker today?

I see my role as filmmaker linked to the need of producing new images and ideas that reinvent poetically the world – and reinventing myself in the process. It is always a work towards the complexity of things and against banality. I am not very interested in any sort of realism, but I am deeply attracted to everything we don’t know – and we know so little. Filming is like a love relationship, there are no formulas and we are all improvising. But we can love better, and we can film better - by being present, by being immersed, by being aware, by taking risks. Above all, I would like to make films without fear of fear.

Thank you very much for this interview.