You Have to Watch Everything: An Interview with Carlos Reygadas

Nuestro Tiempo (English: Our Time) by art cinema bro-vocateur Carlos Reygadas is showing up at the it film festivals – Toronto, Venice, Rotterdam. So, that the busy Reygadas made time to meet me in person for an interview – moi, a Rita Skeeter wannabe critic – is a wild miracle. With this in mind, I endeavoured to milk as much cinephile-ammo from him, knowing our conversation will have zero promotional value for him as an interview. When you free yourself of the burden to ‘advertise’ someone’s film you get to have a sweet conversation with a filmmaker, outside of publicity requirements. In short, I have zero platform so I got to chat to Carlos Reygadas about art for 40+ minutes.

Context: Nuestro Tiempo is three hours of impressionism, meshing together farm life, child playtime, and an adult relationship gone rogue. My interview with Reygadas was a different beast entirely. As an actual conversationalist, Reygadas outdid our 10 minutes of Nuestro Tiempo banter to jam on film culture, his take on human behaviour, and sexual ecology. We even talked about his favourite non-male auteurs.

His love for visual culture is matched by his banter-bility. Read on if you crave an estranged-cousin-interview to John Waters’ inspiring R.I.S.D address. I’ve left out most of the standard film-specific questions so there’s no need to have watched his three-hour opus. You have to please yourself to please others, you know?  

An in-person conversation with Carlos Reygadas at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2019.

André Shannon: I just digested your new film Nuestro Tiempo and what stood out for me is its poetic look at pleasure. Not sexual but, like, wish fulfilment filmmaking: being in a car when it’s raining; a mother reading out a recipe; walking through mud. Things you want to see in a film but never do.

Carlos Reygadas: Yes, yes, yes!

AS: …and seeing someone texting during a theatre performance!

CR: Definitely. I had never named it ‘wish fulfilment’. I’ve always thought of it as experiencing through someone else’s eyes the feeling of existence. There always has to be the wish for the image, the wish for the sound, the wish to share, and the wish to make. But the thing is to share existence, you know? When you’re sending messages to someone, what is going on inside of us when that is going on? All these things aren’t little things, they are the essential things of existence. For me a film, rather than a story, is something that comprises everything. Everything life is… beings; human and animal, and all these things have a power, when we’re living them subjectively. 

AS: Can we talk about sexual ecology? Your film reminded me of Australian filmmaker Jack Jen Atherton who explores how our bodies and nature are so organically connected. Have you heard of their work?

[Reygadas shakes his head.]

AS: It’s like Björk exploring the fine line between bodies and nature.

CR: Pretty much. I have to tell you the working title of the film was ‘Where Life is Born’, and I didn’t mean it in a philosophical way. I meant literally biologically; no matter what we decide on, sex in general [is] about two poles. And I’m not talking culturally, I’m talking biologically – one that produces the male seed and the female seed and they come together to just create life, whether we’re talking about tomatoes, plants, squirrels. We need these two poles so life can continue on this planet. If there was only one pole, we would disappear.  

AS: It’s about the relationship between two things coming together.

CR: Yes, so in nature, sexual ecology is a perfect definition. I’ve never thought of it [like that], but where life is formed, where life comes from is sexual ecology. 

AS: Here’s an idea, do you think this could be true for you: you might not be able to believe things until you film them?

CR: Hmmm. Rather than yes and no as you put it, I would say you would not be able to see something specific until you film it. Before you film, it’s all about presence. As you say, as animals experience life, and probably see life, they’re just there like trees. They’re not thinking about me; am I being treated correctly, what do I have to do, what are my values? No! They’re just there. But once these things have been captured and transfigured into something new, then the directing ego arises. In the good sense, I mean. Ego in the sense of consciousness, and then you have to build up something, and then you see certain things that you couldn’t see before. Because, the other way around, you stop seeing things that you could see before – purely. So, there’s a divide, yes.

AS: So often you hear about younger filmmakers making auto-fiction, or films about them and their relationships. But, it’s quite rare to see an art film about an older couple going through polyamory… 

CR: I wasn’t aware of that but I know it’s certainly very different because the new generation thinks of these issues dogmatically.

AS: Fully, that’s my life. 

CR: … and try to put labels on everything. My opinion about those things is completely different. My opinion is just about freedom. For me, the last intelligent philosophy on these issues was the hippie philosophy. Like, you’re a boy or a girl, right? But that just means you produce sperm or eggs! But, it’s all about freedom, you can do what you want! There’s no need for ‘nomenclature’, there’s no need for dogmatism. Labels in the end exclude others! That’s why they have to keep adding letters to LGBT-whatever because they can spend thousands of years doing that because all humans are different, and we all have different sexual wills and desires. It’s so much easier to reduce everything to freedom. We’re equal, we’ll all the same. This sexual thing is just the poles that produced different seeds. That’s all, so life can go on.

AS: There’s not much drama in the film. At the end of the day it’s about individual moments like sitting in cars while it rains.

CR: That’s the way life is made and composed! Drama, in the sense of what you’re talking about, is how people want to see their own lives dramatically. It comes from the Greeks, heroes, and the nihilistic way of life which started in the West years ago. But as you say, the life we lead is composed of very simple elements [like] you driving in a car, walking back home, playing in the mud, having sex, thinking philosophically sometimes – but it’s all very physical. The presence – the Taoist part of the film – is there. The engine of the car, you know? The engine of a car is as important as the soul of a person! If there’s a soul, or a thought, there’s no difference. They’re all existing elements of energy that keep life going on. 

AS: I have one last thing to ask –

CR: It’s just a consciousness! Everything is consciousness. Everything is just atoms. It’s not even, if we were to talk about God or theology, I would say it’s unnecessary. I don’t want to say it doesn’t exist, but it’s just unnecessary. Even spiritually: Spirituality doesn’t exist either. The soul doesn’t exist, only atoms. But, I don’t know why, because of that huge mystery, and it will probably, we are aware that things are something. And just by that little fact, that we know things are something, and individuals are something, everything is something, or else the act of being something. There is such a powerful power of our minds, that we consider that spiritual. And if we manage to realise things like that while we are filming, then we film things in a special way. It’s just a by-product of this feeling that I think I have, when you feel all those things. 

AS: My last question I wanted to ask you is this: what kind of conversations do you have with younger people who watch your films? I don’t have any friends who watch your films.

CR: I’m glad you asked me [that] because I feel so young; I was here with my first film only 16 years ago which is nothing! If you think about 16 years, but in one second, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s incredible to think that I’m already like a veteran, man! 

AS: Haha, yeah, you’re a maestro.

CR: No, I just can’t believe it! And, this younger generation, and the thing that is most terrible about the younger generation even though I don’t want to –

AS: Ok, here we go Carlos…

CR: No, no, no, it’s only the fact that it’s so closed; that’s what I mean. Because, everything is available, they think. And, the danger of this new way of thinking is the hegemonic thinking. And now there’s no stage, or censorship, or no one pushing; you think everything is possible. So, you have the Internet, you have social media, and you think everyone is talking – but the actual fact that is happening is that everything is being reduced to less. It’s [sic] ironical.

For example, let me just tell you something really quickly. When The Last Tango In Paris was released in France, I think something like 50,000 Spaniards that were under Franco – and this film was completely forbidden – crossed the frontier to go to France to see the film. But now, your generation – and I don’t want to criticise it – but I’m just saying they live in a closed circle. Bertolucci, what’s that shit that happened years ago? You know, who wants to see it? Nobody, because it’s available! So, you might as well just see the algorithms, Wes Anderson, etc, and you think you know everything. But, because there’s no need to crave, no need to know more, no need for more knowledge, that’s my most deep concern. Coming back to your question, it’s like, “who the fuck is this Mexican?” Why look for him? We have our own stuff. 

AS: It’s the pitfalls of the internet I guess. 

CR: Exactly, it’s so ironic that the internet was meant to be a liberating tool and it’s exactly the opposite. Even worse, the Internet has two things: the algorithm that makes what the majority are searching a ‘rule’, and therefore reduces the scope of everything; and then the pure direct capitalism, because I don’t know if you know that the big magazines, for example, give money to Google to appear on their first search page! So that creates a hegemonic thought within liberty, within it being pressed on us. And then, you have the extreme opposite in the Internet but very few people look at it. So, the hegemonic thought is more powerful than ever. 

AS: It’s like subtle censorship.

CR: It’s much worse! Because it’s self-imposed. We are enslaving ourselves. 

AS: To be completely honest with you, for this interview, I had to run to a video library to watch your new film. I watched your film at twice the speed on some streaming service. Do you ever think about that?

CR: You know, I’m completely aware of the fact that everything will disappear from this planet, so it’s not such a big deal. All works of art will disappear, but I do have another hope. And it is that for some time – maybe for 10 years, maybe 100 years – some people will know it exists and their lives will be slightly enriched. As far as that happens, you saw that film and maybe 300 more Australian younger people will see it, and if that enriches their lives that’s all for the better.

AS: That’s kind of beautiful.

CR: The terrible thing is to want to get to everybody. You know? I also believe that films should not ‘get to people’ but people should come to films. So, if you have an interest you will have a look, because life is rich; life is rich in plants, life is rich in fruits, in places, in people, and they’re all just there! And then, it’s up to us to reach out, or stay at home. But, the cosmos itself doesn’t come to us, imposing on us its landscapes, its beauty. The beauty is there, and you associate with it if you want to or not.

AS: Do you think your films communicate that?

CR: … Some sort of beauty?

AS: Giving people the desire to look?

CR: I hope so. Actually, that’s the only reason why I make them. As you said at the beginning of the interview, it’s there in the places you want to see. You want to see life elsewhere. It’s not elsewhere in the sense of ‘travelling’ and it could be next door. It’s not your life, so it could be elsewhere. I mean, even in Australia. Just living things and realising that we go through the same things but differently, like checking your iPhone at the Opera. This is what brings us together. In the end, why are we talking? Because whether we like it or not, we are gregarious! We are not isolated tigers; we are gregarious, we communicate, and we need to see that we exist. So, I make films for the same reason I watch films. When I watch films and I see what we’re talking about my life is enriched. And, I suppose, I have to do it the other way around. The fact that not that many people see them is not a big issue. In the end, they do come out in many countries, and piracy is very important! 

AS: I know a lot of my filmmaker friends will pirate films illegally but they have such a rich film culture even though they haven’t got access to certain things.

CR: Exactly! That’s why it has to exist, because the system doesn’t work. If the system had it available for everybody, and it would be in our economic capacity, then I would be against piracy, but so far it is not the case! That’s how it goes. But, time also changes, and what can be known today can disappear. For example, Mozart had never heard of Bach; the music of Bach! Certainly, the largest body of music created by a human being.

AS: Ok, last question and then I’ll let you go. I’m always on the hunt for amazing female auteurs, do you have any recommendations? I’ve watched all the male auteurs and I need something different. 

CR: There’s a Chilean girl – Dominga Sotomayor [Castillo] – she’s between us, age wise. Claire [Denis] is the best. 

AS: You love Claire Denis?

CR: Yeah, of course. I think she’s great… But I was thinking, who else, man? There’s a Mexican documentary filmmaker, Tatiana Huezo. I don’t know, I’m trying to think, Japanese, Chinese…

AS: I think Lynne Ramsay is cool.

CR: You know Lucrecia Martel? She’s exactly my generation— we started doing films at the same time. I think she’s the most interesting filmmaker so far, I mean, together with Claire Denis. Lucrecia’s really good, I think you’ll like her. More will be coming up in the following decades.

AS: Thanks for your time Carlos.

CR: Hey, how old are you?

AS: I’m 22.

CR: Oh man, you’re so young! You know what? We talk about generations and all that, but the truth is, there are special people in every generation. People like you, there’s not many. I mean, there’s also a lot, but not many. Seneca, the Greek guy, who said – and I mean, these Greeks were crazy – 4% of the people in life are “aware”That’s how he put it. That’s one out of 25. He said that and it’s probably an exaggeration. But also in life, in my time; and I’m not a filmmaker by training, and I went to Brussels because I wanted to do films; I remember I went every day to the museums of cinema, there was a film playing every day. There was a silent film or a talkie, every day. Amazing! I was there every day and there was almost no one from the film school. They couldn’t be bothered, they get bored, you know? People get bored, they don’t want to revisit films, in every generation. The only problem with your generation is not the generation, it’s that the power of the hegemony is so strong. 

AS: I reckon – coming off what you just said – to be a filmmaker you just need to watch a lot of films. 

CR: But of course! If you want to be a chef, you have to eat a lot! For me, it’s all about intuition. If you have the intuition then how can that intuition be powerful? How can you move along and not be afraid, and not need to ask why? If you start to ask yourself why, you fuck up. Art is intuitive, by definition. So, how can that definition be strong? It’s only if you have taste. The only thing informing you will not be the ‘why’, but your taste. 

AS: Taste is so powerful.

CR: But how can taste be formed? A child has no taste. The first time you drink wine you have no taste. You have to develop your taste for wine and then you can become a subtle wine drinker. So, you have to watch films. From Birth of a Nation to Méliès films, you have to watch Australian documentary, you have to watch African films, you have to watch everything! And when you do that, the first thing that will happen is that you will not appreciate normative cinema. But don’t worry, it’s not a problem. You’re not missing out. You can do so many better things, like read a book or whatever. There’s so much to read. And then, when you see a good film, it will be so special, and so good, that it will do for the 300 people that will see it. And at a certain point you will stop watching the normative cinema because it will be so boring. 


André Shannon is a Sydney-based queer filmmaker and film critic. Previous work includes being Cate Shortland’s nanny, an e-mail to Mark Cousins, and published criticism across publications and film festival platforms. André co-hosts podcasts at FBi 94.5 and his Twitter is @andreshannonfr.

André Shannon

I'm André Shannon; film critic, filmmaker, and huge fan of everyone's work on Rough Cut. I make podcasts about film, host a weekly film segment on radio, interview filmmakers, and my mum's cousin is Tilda Swinton which is bonkers to me!