ELENA’s director talks to a newspaper from Belo Horizonte, MG
When pain inspires art
Pungent documentary from the mineira Petra Costa to be screened today, at Instituto Inhotim
Photographers won’t stop clicking when Petra Costa is around. It has been this way in several movie festivals where her first full length-film, “Elena”, is shown. Beauty that gains a sad ingredient at the personal report exposed in her movie, the fact is related to her sister, whose name entitles the tape, dead for 20 years. A plot she only overcame after transposing the story to the big screen. But the director from Minas Gerais asks the reporters from Hoje em Dia not to advance any details.
The uninformed reader will thus have to come today, at 2 p.m., to the Instituto Inhotim’s theater, in Brumadinho, to find all answers. After the screening, which is free of cost, there will be a panel discussion with researcher Carla Maia.
Petra will not be present. She is in France, where she prepares her next work, a mixture of fiction and documentary made in partnership with the Danish Lea Glob. “It is, in a certain way, a psychological investigation, once more looking towards working with feminine aspects”. Next, you can check out parts of her interview.
You insert the movie in the recent ingather of documentaries envisaging characters that are very close to the directors, specially family members, like “Otto” by Cao Guimarães, and “ The Days with him”, by Maria Clara Escobar?
When I started to make “Elena” there were still few Brazilian movies approaching the family environment. I knew of “33”, by Kiko Goifman; “Un passeport hongrois”, by Sandra Kogut; “Person” by Marina Person, and of “Days in Sintra”, by Paula Gaitán. I think it was the beginning of this aeon that today seems more consolidated. Thinking of foreign movies, the ones that touched me the most were “The beaches of Agnès”, by Agnès Varda, and “Her name is Sabine”, by Sandrine Bonnaire. My feeling is that every artist puts a lot of himself, of his intimacy in his or her work, even if it’s not about documenting or about family members. But in this kind of movie, this delicacy and subjectivity get even sharper, which only benefits the cinema. With easier access to technology, I believe that the trend is that this kind of movie multiplies and get to be a positive trend of reflexion on universal topics related to affection, mourning and loss. Going from personal experiences we have the possibility to plunge deeper.
Has “Elena” also represented a way to overcome the trauma of losing your sister?
There were 20 years between losing Elena and the moment I started to make the movie. The first ten were the elaboration of mourning. When I plunged in the movie, the trauma had already gone by and I already felt prepared. In a different way, it would have been too painful. And I thought it could be valuable to tell this story exactly because I learned a lot in this process. On loss and mourning and also with respect to my own experience of finding identity and autonomy through art.
What was the most difficult moment of rebuilding Elena’s life? Was it when you watched the home movies? Or when you read her diary?
A very difficult moment was reading the autopsy and noticing how life could be reduced to so little, that her heart weighed 300 grams. It was when I felt death in its crudest way. Another moment, but one which was extremely pleasant, was looking at the archive images, the scenes of Elena dancing and playing actress, some of them with me on her lap, when I was still a baby. Watching these movies brought Elena back to life in front of me. It was difficult because I noticed it was a quick revival. That she wasn’t truly there and that, in a certain way, she would die again.
The diary, by the way, was a special motivational factor to the accomplishment of “Elena”, wasn’t it? Was it the way in which you entered your sister’s mind, making the film tread a psychological narrative?
Absolutely. I found this diary when I was 17 and totally related to her words. They were descriptions of deep existential feelings, that I also felt and didn’t know how to express. It was when I decided that I would make a movie about her. Those were very meaningful to me and, by doing the movie, I tried to take the spectator as much as I could through the psychological trips Elena made in New York. Of euphoria, loneliness and desperation. So that the audience could also plunge into her mind. And mine.
I noticed that the film has a special thank you note to directors from Minas Gerais. What was their contribution?
When we reached an almost final cut, I tried to show it to some directors and moviemakers that I admired in quest for their distant and thus refined look. Among the “mineiros” were Sérgio Borges and Rodrigo Siqueira. Their feedback and from others was very important to the process of final elaboration. We get a little bit addicted when we devote to a movie for so much time, mostly such an intimate movie, and a more distant look is required, which these film makers had the generosity to share.