René Frölke

René Frölke discusses his film Le beau danger

René Frölke, Le beau danger , 2014, DCP, black-and-white and color, sound, 100 minutes.

Two films from German director René Frölke will screen on April 22, 2015 in New York as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center series Art of the Real 2015. The feature-length Le beau danger (2014), which Frölke primarily discusses here, gives a present-day portrait of Romanian author Norman Manea, who has lived in exile for many years in the US; the medium-length Guided Tour (2011) presents a 2008 trip taken by German president Horst Köhler to the HfG Karlsruhe, a fine arts university, where he observes similarities between art and politics.

IN BOTH OF THESE FILMS, I’m interested in exploring how something is said, how communication between people is structured in public, and how that communication fails or succeeds. I think that they both try to trace the frame within which our common cultural narratives appear. The feature film’s title comes from a book-length interview with Michel Foucault, conducted by Claude Bonnefoy. Foucault addresses the problem of an author and his work being often confused for each other and calls this confusion “le beau danger.”

I had been asked to do the camerawork for a film about Norman Manea, which I eventually also directed. During the course of preparing myself, I read two of his novels and several of his short stories (all in translation). I was intrigued by his oeuvre’s autobiographical base and by his elliptical form of writing. I wondered how a way could be found to represent both the man and his art. I also felt that this very autobiographical aspect of his work would make it possible to do the film.

My idea was to use individual texts as scaffolding for the film’s dramatic structure. After I observed that interviews conducted with Norman would always focus on his childhood, I thought that I had to look especially for the literary counterparts to his answers. During the first half of the film, title cards sometimes appear presenting the short story “We Might Have Been Four” (originally published in 1981), in which four people are placed in a forest weighted with ambiguity. Strangely, these characters are bound to each other exactly because they are steering apart from each other by following their own individual paths and longings. The story is told from the perspective of a young man, but somewhere behind his words the author also becomes visible. In the second half of Le beau danger, I chose a different approach. The excerpts that appear there from Norman’s novel The Black Envelope (originally published in 1986) are much more broken up and fragmentary, and they register less as telling a tale than as creating an atmosphere.

Trailer for René Frölke’s Le Beau Danger, 2014

In general, my intention was to build an associative movement between intercalated elements—these cards containing Norman’s writings and my firsthand footage of the man. I decided to use both a video camera with synced sound and a 16-mm wind-up camera that produces a maximum of twenty-four seconds per take. I found black-and-white celluloid to be most adequate to creating a portrait of Norman, with the video camera’s color images working in counterpoint to the analog approach. The mix of means with which I observed him derived from his writing style, for which I wanted to find a filmic analogy.

I believe that in film one stylistic component should always question another, with each holding its own intelligibility. Sometimes a scene in Le beau danger simply didn’t need sound, and cutting out the audio would create intriguing irritations that could intensify the process of reading the information on-screen. The written text in particular had to be visible as tissue. This is so much the case that we have created different versions of Le beau danger, with words appearing printed in English, French, German, or Spanish, depending upon where it is being screened.

All these choices allow me to rethink the forms that I’m using in cinema, a game in which I hope spectators can also take part. Making a film is a way of thinking about and reflecting on something, a process that is worth at least as much as the final result.