‘An unclassifiable filmmaker in 20th century French cinema, Guy Gilles is the director of a little-known body of work, melancholic and poetic, that combines nostalgia for the past with a haunting evocation of the present. His work was a passion of many of the most respected French actors and actresses, and it remains a favorite of film buffs, who love his films for their acute literary references and close attention to private emotion.
From Love of the Sea (1965) to Nefertiti (1996), Guy Gilles developed his films on the sidelines of the New Wave, his work sometimes colliding painfully with the contemporary trends, and often facing the indifference of a public confused by the precious uniqueness of his vision.
‘It is in precarious conditions – three years of work and a more than limited budget – that, in his first film, Guy Gilles turned to the sea for a romantic love story of two protagonists who do not live with the same intensity. Already, in the film’s many obsessions (thematic and aesthetic), we see the lifelong interests of its director. We meet for the first time the actor who would become his favorite (Patrick Jouane) and number of stars attracted by the enthusiasm of the young filmmaker. He will always convince stars to volunteer their contributions to his cinema: Jean-Claude Brialy, Alain Delon, Jean-Pierre Léaud and Juliet Greco appear in his work repeatedly, contributing to their poetic strangeness a sense of timelessness that one can already see clearly in as early a work as Love of the Sea.
‘This atmosphere is also reflected in Au pan coupé (1967), starring Patrick Macha Meril Jouane, who created his own production company, Machafilms, in order to enable the film to be made. The charm of this sensitive film rests on the memory of a lost love. It shows none of the indifference of the work being made and celebrated at the time, by such as Jean-Louis Bory or Marguerite Duras.
‘While Gilles hoped to shoot his next film, Le Clair de terre (1969), in his native Algeria, he was forced by circumstance to do so in Tunisia. This delay forced him to replace Simone Signoret in the central role of the retired teacher. Edwige Feuillère accepted the role, and brings much to the film’s character and its imperial, faded elegance. Considered Gilles’s masterpiece, Le Clair de terre is a concentration of all of his art, lingering between nostalgia and modernity.
‘He would never again find this delicate balance, even in Absences répétées (1972), despite winning the Prix Jean Vigo for the film. Darker than his previous films, Absences répétées follows the deadly process of a young man isolating himself in a haze between drugs and a desire to commit suicide. Apart from the very impressionistic Jardin qui bascule (1974) starring Delphine Seyrig, Guy Gilles made no feature films for the next decade.
‘Le Crime d’amour (1982) is a flawed film situated between a police investigation and the story of a crazy and tragic love affair between a young man and an older woman (Macha Meril), and it exudes a strange and powerful latent homosexual drive. The film’s staging rarely succeeds in articulating these various levels. This failure is even more obvious with Nuit docile (1987) which was met with general indifference from both critics and the French public.
‘Although he was already very ill, Gilles then began to make the film Nefertiti, an ambitious international co-production that exhausted him and was considered a fiasco. In 1995, an unfinished version was shown very quietly on television. On February 3, 1996, Gilles Guy died from complications from AIDS. His brother, Luc Bernard, later devoted a documentary to Gilles’s work in 1999: Letter to my brother Guy Gilles, filmmaker too soon.
‘Parallel to his achievements in film, Guy Gilles was a prolific director for television. He directed a very highly regarded documentary about Marcel Proust (Proust, art and pain, 1971) and another successful documentary about Jean Genet (Holy martyr and poet, 1974). He was also a cultishly beloved photographer and painter, and he wrote several books, most of them as yet unpublished.’ — Cinematheque Francaise
Guy Gilles Website
Guy Gilles @ IMDb
‘Absences répétées’: A Guy Gilles Retrospective @ Cinematheque Francaise
‘(Re) découvrir la splendeur des films de Guy Gilles relève de l’urgence…’
Guy Gilles @ Ciné-club
‘L’Amour à la mer de Guy Gilles (1964) – Analyse et critique’
Video: ‘Guy GILLES sur GODARD et la nouvelle vague’
‘Les courts métrages de Guy Gilles’
Hommage à Guy Gilles
‘Je suis formaliste, mais la forme est l’expression de la sensibilité,’ Guy Gilles
‘Guy Gilles, Nouvelle vague proustienne’
DVD: 3 films by Guy Gilles
Documentary: ‘Guy Gilles et le temps desaccorde’
Guy GILLES, souvenirs
Marcel PROUST et Guy GILLES
Rétrospective Guy Gilles. Présentation par Marcos Uzal
Une vision plastique du monde (1967)
by Guy Gilles
I fell in love with Henri Langlois, the Director of our Cinematheque, the day I heard him say to Henry Chapier, who interviewed him for the French Television, that the cinema was, you should never forget it, first and foremost a plastic art.
Great creators like Eisenstein, Murnau or Stroheim had opened magnificent doors on this road and, with the exception of Hitchcock and a few others, with their disappearance these paths were deserted.
I think that it is impossible to translate in other ways than the image and the plastic, cinematographic poetry, in the Wellesian sense of the word: “the camera is an eye in the poet’s head”.
Neither painting, nor literature, nor related to any other existing art, the cinematograph is a plastic vision of the world – this having nothing to do with aesthetics, because if I can not do even a plan, in a way other than that which corresponds to my visual vision of everything, it is the same way and above all, of course, impossible to film a feeling, an idea, which is in opposition to my convictions politics or with my heart.
A flower, a wall, a street or the face of Greta Garbo are, I believe, also “vehicles” of poetry and sources of emotion. It all depends on the gaze on them.
Author of my films, I take full responsibility. I believe in the importance of every detail, plan as well as word, framing as well as sound, scenery, choice of actors, music.
More than the title of director, I would like the one invented by Sternberg of “commissioner”. A true film author is responsible for everything, of which he must of course have deep knowledge. That’s why I wanted to be able to be my own cameraman, my own director of photography and I would like, like Chaplin, to know how to write the music of my films.
I believe that a film creator must have an idea and the science of each element of the film: script, dialogue, image, cutting (sound, words, sounds and music) editing. (Resnais, Bresson, Melville or Godard for example).
The rest being, as François Truffaut puts it, a question of balance to be found, of the dosage of all the elements and, finally, of that inexplicable something that makes the mystery and the beauty of the cinematograph.
From there, if I am very strict with myself, I am on the contrary very free and very open to the work of the other men of cinema. We can, as François Truffaut still says, draw his plans as Eisenstein or Hitchcock, or shoot in 16mm and color with a crazy camera like some young American filmmakers, the important thing is the film. A beautiful movie is a beautiful movie.
Since my first short film in 16mm and in black and white, Sun off, until the Pan Coupé, as in TV shows that I made for my friend Roger Stéphane, there is not a single idea or an image that I have turned according to my heart. To resume the beautiful article by Sylvain Godet (about a film Rouch), I also believe that it is necessary in this hard and beautiful job of cinema “to win the right to film the sunset or the sunrise” , and I will try to deserve it, and to forget those who are on the side of the chromos …
The sunrise and the sunset, these enchantments, are the heart of the beating nature, and the trace of time.
11 of Guy Gilles’s 19 films
Au biseau des baisers (1959)
‘Algiers, summer, Sunday. A young couple in love goes to Tipaza: strolls on the beach, seeing the dancing, ride scooters. Imperceptibly, there is the initial crack in their harmony. “When kissing the years pass too quickly; avoid, avoid, avoid the broken memories” (Aragon)’ — guygilles.com
L’Amour à la mer (1965)
‘Waltzes between youths displaced from their country characters, feelings of confusion and Daniel Guy, sailors return to France after the war in Algeria, and Genevieve, also moving between Paris and Brest , young people troubled by their dreams of freedom and hesitations between Paris seductions and sunny beaches of summer … ‘ — collaged
Un dimanche à Aurillac (1967)
‘A whole day in Aurillac, on a rainy Sunday. Angling, shooting range, little ball, walks hand in hand on the roads around. Coffee at the station, the places, the faces and the time that elapses are captured in an impressionist way, without dialogue or comment.’ — unifrance.org
Au pan coupé (1967)
‘A boy and a girl meet in a cafe in At the cutaway. They love each other. They will separate, however. There is in Jean a lack, a revolt that makes him powerless to live. To redo the world in its own way is to be free. To Jeanne who wants to understand him, he tells of his troubled adolescence, the prison of children, the runaways and always the desire to break rank … One day he disappears. Jeanne searches for it and discovers the impossibility of forgetting and, in turn, the strength of “lack”. At the Cutaway is the second feature film by Guy Gilles, with a taste of first film. There are two types of films to be made, explains Guy Gilles, the composition film that explains open, free situations. Let’s say that the camera follows people who leave from given points, cross various places and meet other people. Then the inspirational film that is done in an intimate story and revolves around specific characters. The cutaway is an intimate film, but both forms of interest interest me.’ — guygilles.com
Le Clair de Terre (1970)
‘Pierre Brumeu, a twenty-year-old young man, leads a drab life in Paris with his father, a man he does not understand very well, and his friends Michel and Sophie. Father and son live in the memory of Pierre’s mother, who died too early. One day, Pierre decides to go to Tunisia, the sunny country where he was born…’ — IMDb
Cote cours, coté champs (1971)
‘On the Champs-Elysees, between windows, cars, passers-by, various characters cross each other. An old lady in Rolls, a young house painter, a young couple. From their fugitive appearance, the montage of sounds and images describes the course of a day on the main avenue.’ — guygilles.com
Absences répétées (1972)
‘Guy Gilles knows how to show the thousand and one flashes of the daily spectacle and memory. Series of flashes mounted alive, crumbling the real fast notations – which does not prevent the sharpness of the observation nor the precision of the memory. With this swarm of lights and reflections, faces seen in the flash of a glance and objects a second elected by attention or memory, Guy Gilles composes a symphonic pointillist, true poem enriched a soundtrack, music, sounds, words, mounted with as much skillful sensitivity as the images.’ — Le Nouvel Observateur
Le Jardin qui bascule (1974)
‘This is an interesting film that the public and fans of Delphine Seyrig should seek out. She is given a substantial role and makes the most of it. The film is genuinely odd in that it feels like two unrelated tales; Karl (a hit-man) dispatches his victims coolly. Then he enters the tranquil world of Kate and falls in love, with tragic consequences. The film is beautifully shot and well observed, its complex characters interacting and developing. For no apparent reason Jeanne Moreau appears and sings a song by Stephane Grappelly. There are shades of Rohmer and painterly influences. The French countryside has rarely appeared lovelier. At times the camera simply lingers on a tree or glass which creates an atmosphere. The performances are terrific, Guy Bedos, usually a comedian, plays it straight here with great success. However, the film belongs to Seyrig, one of the most totally underrated and truly great actress’ of theatre and cinema.’ — IMDb
La loterie de la vie (1977)
‘The real museum in Mexico City is the city, it’s the street. To grasp the impalpable, Guy Gilles decides to tell Mexico by questioning the value of images and sounds, far from tourist clichés.’ — La Cinémathèque française
Un garçon de France (1985)
‘The action takes place in Paris in 1959, with some backtracking. A teenager looking for a mother he did not know enters the age of man and discovers love.’ — guygilles.com
Dis papa, raconte moi là bas (1993)
‘The times however are hard and it is only five years after The crime of love that he manages to film Nuit Docile, with Claire Nebout and Patrick Jouané, perhaps his most personal film. It is then a new homecoming, with a documentary: Dis Papa, tell me there, where Richard Berry interprets the role of a blackfoot father who explains to his film what was his Algeria.’ — guygilles.com
p.s. Hey. ** Master Wolf! Hey, pal! Rotterdam was pretty excellent. Met a few seeming cool unusuals, yes. Compliments, yeah, sweet. Food was decent mostly, although did end up at Pizza Hut one night. And I am a happy bunny. *hopping* Thank you about Friday’s post. The gender thing in French is the one and only thing I wish wasn’t a thing. As a writer who likes to make people become it’s and things and stuff a lot for reverberating reasons, translations become murder sometimes. But okay. Anyway, your comment made me wish it was the opening volley of a long tete-a-tete over a bunch of double espressos. How are you, what’s up, what’s the do and be and things? Bear hug yourself for me. Love, me. ** David Ehrenstein, Thanks, D. And thanks for linking to that article. And for the thing about Henry Green. I’ll be over there in a short while thanks to you. I’ve never heard of ‘Nice Girls Don’t Explode’. How very interesting, and quite the cast. I’ll hunt it. Thank you for the great generosity, sir! ** Sypha, Ah, so a couple of them broke through. Snideness murderers! That stuff is so hard to predict, no? I’m always like, oh, ‘they’ll like this’, and then they don’t, and ‘this’ll get ignored’, and it isn’t. Self-estimation is a shot in the dusk if not the dark for sure. ** Bill, Hi. It did, thank you. Yeah, the tap dancing one was a sweetie, right? The ‘Soundtracks’ show does look good. Thanks, pal. How is everything and anything with you du jour? ** Kyler, Happy about your birthday big-upness. Birthdays are freaky. I think I hate them. ‘Actors Tax signup thing’ has nice utilitarian-meets-mysteriousness quality. The word tax is underrated. Hope that sign-up thing went like gangbusters or smoothly as silk or something appropriately upbeat. ** Steve Erickson, I have heard Greta van Fleet, yes, and whatever without malice to them. Lucky you about the Fassbinder. I’ve seen almost every film Fassbinder made, but not that one. How was it? It does seem like Timberlake has been swept up into the vendetta addiction shit. I can’t imagine his new record is much good, but the hatred for it is just bizarre. ** Joshua Freeman, Hi, Joshua. Welcome to here and thank you very much for coming inside and for your very kind words. Huh. Generally I am weirdly uninterested in conspiracy theories. I have this weirdly very logical aspect to my character that arose when young from god knows where. Well, I should really say I tend to ward off conspiracy theories there days, I think because of social media’s oversharing and hysteria-inducing thing. But I’m far more ugh about people writing off evidential imaginative leaps as ‘internet kids trying to be edgy’. That kneejerk-ness is the ugliest kind. Anyway, I will say that the piece you linked to is pretty alluring, so I am going to scour it today. Thank you for it. Oh, I don’t anything about any of that stuff really. I’m way outside and lost in my own head. So I probably can’t help. But I’m very interested about this artistic project of your own that it’s inspiring. When something is an artistic project, I become infinitely more intrigued. Btw, you don’t seem batshit crazy in the slightest, goodness no, not at all. Unless I am. And I’m pretty sure I’m not. Well, thank you for all of that. Come back and hang out anytime, obviously. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Yes, I can’t wait for you to show it off too! Maybe we should make a ‘welcome to the word’ post for the new issue? Up to you. I would love to if that seems useful and possible. The screening went really, really well! Zac and I were very happy. Even the filmmakers and artists whose opinions we were very nervous about were very enthusiastic. And it was so nice to see the performers and crew again, very family-like. And Milo was happy, yes. As were the other actors and folks, it seemed. So, yeah, the screening was a big pleasure and even a joy. Nice weekend you had, balanced, work-y and very not, cool! My weekend was good. The screening was the big center of it. Started to get back to work on stuff. Had a tiny birthday thingeroony with my friend and birthday-person Bene. This and that. A good one. How has the week started for you? ** Misanthrope, Great big news about the tooth. What a bumpy road your mouth has been. Hopefully your teeth will now return to being silent as gravestones. It’s true, re: LPS, you can’t be too cautious about angry people these days, but huge chances are it’ll be a small, brushed off thing. ** Jamie, Tick-tock, Jamie! The screening went really well. So far everything seems to be coming up offbeat roses for the film. Fingers crossed. Sorry you didn’t get to see art, and that you felt unwell. But hopefully the same art is still there with open doors, and I trust you are springing back to full potential. I am very excited about your script, and script buddydom is a done, done deal. I’m so very happy that the post engaged and pleased you. It means a lot to know that. Often with posts, one never really knows how explored they were. Jesus, that curry sounded good. Literally Jesus. Well, almost literally. May your Monday put all the wahs in the wah-wah-wah. Tickled to the point of delirium love, Dennis. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Yeah, the Vogel thing ‘rocks’, right? I thought so too. Mr. Russell Haswell has come with the Tune of the Year? How about that! I strangely haven’t heard it yet, but that ignorance won’t last more than another twenty minutes or so. Thanks! That is a strange and terrible decision. Can they be pressured into changing their verdict? It sounds like there’s a total wave of outrage understandably. Fucked. ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff, and thanks. Oh, critics’ comparisons are always lazy, I think. A standardised, disrespectful short cut albeit not intentionally disrespectful in many cases. Unless a film is blatantly influenced. I don’t think our film is like Haneke or Bonello. It’s better than at the Rotterdam festival where a couple of audience Q&A people compared the film to Gus Van Sant basically just because most of the protagonists are teenagers even though PGL is very obviously not like Gus’s work at all. Very honestly, I don’t think any comparison is useful because Zac and I were not thinking of any filmmakers’ works when making or editing the film whatsoever. We tried to make something that was only ours and unique. We’ve been very happy that quite a lot of the opinions we’ve heard so far is the the film is unique and unlike other films. In terms of existing films, I would imagine there’s some Bresson in there, at least in terms of the way the performances work and the absence of externalised music. And maybe some James Benning tonally in some way. But basically I think the film is its own thing for better or worse. I’ll see the new Dardennes somehow and let you know. I’ve read some Goytisolo, but not in quite a while. I did like what I read very much. I remember really liking his ‘Álvaro Mendiola’ trilogy: ‘Marks of Identity’, ‘Count Julian’, ‘Juan the Landless’. Are you reading him? ** Florian-Ayala Fauna, Hi, Florian. Good to see you! I can only imagine that a sound piece/work/physical object by you would be really incredible. Your work lends itself to that possibility with great intrigue. Yeah, I’ll be in NYC for at least a couple of weeks in June for the ‘Them’ performances, it looks like. It would be awesome to meet up if the logistics put us in the same place, obviously. Take good care, maestro. ** Okay. Guy Gilles is this very intriguing French filmmaker whose work became quite obscure after his death for totally unknown reasons, but there seems to be a kind of revival of interest in his films in France of late. Very odd and worthy stuff in the best cases. Have a close look please. See you tomorrow.