Visceral Storytelling

Cinema is still only a youthful art form, and one some filmmakers will describe as an amalgamation of the other artistic mediums. To begin to understand or appreciate the emergence of cinema out of these other art forms, the perspective of a filmmaker for whom film is not their primary voice of creative expression, offers an insight into the amalgamation of the forms.

Bulgarian writer-director Ralitza Petrova is in a position to offer such a perspective, finding creative expression in her youth through sculpture, fine art and poetry before discovering film. In London for a screening of her debut feature Godless at the Barbican, hosted by The New Social, the writer-director spoke with Aesthetica about approaching film as an artist.

A: Why a career in filmmaking? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?
RP: Well first of all, early in my life I’d done sculpture and fine art, and I’d written poetry when I was young. So artistic expression was always something I was doing. Then about six years ago at the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, I had a moment in front of a painting that had a real impact on me. It somehow lacked time and I thought film. I don’t know, it had maybe been in me sub-consciously somehow, but it was in this moment I realised film is a medium I haven’t worked in, and one I’d like to try.

I then did a documentary and it went from there. I think it’s rewarding to me as an artist because film and the stories I tell first of all have a dialogue with the making sense of my own life and the experiences I witness. I approach film as an artist more than as a storyteller or filmmaker, and so I try to push my language. There is story and narrative of course, but I try to position the cinematic language as artists are probably more used to doing with their own work, whether it’s fine art, insulation or conceptual art.

A: How has sculpture, fine art and poetry informed your approach to filmmaking?
RP: I think I approach a film very much from the point of a notion, of something I would like to express emotionally. Then there is the conceptual form of that feeling I’d like to talk about. When I marry the two, the conceptual approach to that expression, I try to create a visceral experience that is more of an experiential sort of hour and a half, rather than a strictly narrative cause and effect structure that leads you through the story. There is always a story, but my main focus is on its visceral elements.

So I very much rely on the feel, the sound design and image much more than on a cabalistic narrative structure, and not only on an actor’s performance for example. I use all of the cinematic tools to create an immersive cinema, where you can have an experience that is more than just watching a story. I think that comes from the arts and comes to me as a viewer. I always try to impact the audience in that way.

A: The idea that narrative is just a vehicle, which cinema moves beyond to emotionally resonate with an audience is one that looks at the physical and the spiritual possibilities of film. Is it this understanding that you see as mirroring the human identity, in which you have the body and you have the soul?
RP: Yes absolutely. Film is one of the few art forms, perhaps music is the other that because they are temporal with time and rhythm, there is a direct link in the way it effects us – in the sense that we are living creatures in action as it were. The living body is in constant motion and so in that sense film and music effects the body because of its rhythm.

Of course that impacts the way we can hopefully have a spiritual experience, or an intellectual or an emotional experience because there is meaning that is communicated through those different currents and rhythms. Much like a dream would be on a subconscious level, film, music and sound have a similar capacity and power to talk to us in a more subconscious way. We can experience sublimation in that sense and so I think there is a direct connection.

A: If film is a dialogue with the self, would you say that it is built on a dream logic, therefore a means to help us understand our world?
RP: Absolutely, and I think there is a filtering quality to any form of creative expression. Any form of art, not only film comes from the need to process, to understand and to grow from that understanding. I think film has that magical power to reflect the time one lives in and make sense of it.

There are universal qualities to stories that could be told today or could have been told a hundred years ago, but every time, each generation has its own specific themes and problems that they want to deal with. It’s interesting in a bigger context when you look at the history of cinema and the history of art to recognise references that are the same or different. Yeah, film is a great art form in that way.

Paul Risker

For more information on The New Social and planned screenings and events visit: www.thenewsocial.co.uk

Credits:
1. Still from Ralitza Petrova’s Godless (2016). Courtesy of the filmmaker.