Daily Tiger in Rotterdam : Interview Fj Ossang


ln Rotterdam for a retrospective of his work, F.J. Ossang tells Ben Walters why his film output is a bit like rock ‘n’ roll.

« It’s a demonstration that there’s life after death, » says F.]. Ossang. He might be talking about his new film – Dharma Guns, a poetic, Orpheus-like journey through a hi-tech dystopian land of the dead marked by conspiracy and clones – but he’s actually talking
about his own unorthodox career. « I died several times, but I’m still here! »
Born in the Cantal region of Auvergne in 1956, Ossang has enjoyed a mixed career embracing musical and literary work – nine albums and 20 books – as well as film. « I didn’t choose really between writing, rock ‘n’ roll and cinema, » he says, « because I wouldn’t always have the chance to make a film immediately after finishing another. But that can
be another kind of luck. .. »


Ossang’s cinematic output – expressive, dreamlike, half in love with death – is the focus of a special Signals strand at this year’s IFFR, incorporating five shorts and four features, dating from 1982 to 2010. I’m lucky because the films didn’t get old,’ he says. « They age weil. Young people like them – I don’t know why! Maybe because I had to struggle to make
them but I made them with aIl the energy possible. To make film without much money, you are obliged to push cinema language. »
Rotterdam has played a role in Ossang’s career from its early days. « I had a short film in Cannes in 1983 (La derniere énigme), » he recalls. « I was in the elevator and suddenly a big, tall man said ‘Oh, you are a filmmaker! My name is Hubert Bals – you must absolutely come to Rotterdam!’ So in ’84 I was here with my short film Zona inquinata. It was very formative, accentuating my curiosity for different sorts of cinema: American New Wave, Brazilian films, Chinese films. Then in ’85 I presented my first feature, L’affaire des divisions Morituri, in Rotterdam. »


Ossang’s next feature was Le tresor des iles chiennes (1990), followed in 1997 by Docteur Chance, which shot in Chile and featured ]oe Strummer. « It was a wonderful experience, » Ossang recalls. « The film was difficult but he was very confident. We met again later
in Paris. He was incredible – spent the whole night out until 9 oclock in the morning, then got the bus to go and play in Brussels. The film was in Locarno because of Marco Müller, who I met in Rotterdam. »
A fallow period followed in terms of filmmaking (I wrote, travelled, made music ») until, in the middle of the last decade, opportunities arose via film festivals in Portugal and Vladivostock, resulting in the threeshort cycle Trilogie du paysage (2007-8), comprising
Silencio, Vladivostock and Ciel eteint! The second had a pressing deadline: « I arrived and there was a typhoon coming so they said you need to finish the film in three days! » However, Ossang returned to Vladivostock a month later for Ciel eteint!, which marked his first collaboration with Guy McKnight, singer with The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, whom he’ d met in 2003 and wanted to try as an actor. « By chance he was between two tours. I called him and said, ‘Hey, come to Vladivostock ‘ He said, ‘Okay!’ We had only two weeks to shoot the film but we spent a month and a half there. It was much colder than
here: minus 15 degrees. »


McKnight also stars in Dharma Guns, a French-Portugese co-production that shot in the Azores and Auvergne and premiered at Venice last year. His character wanders a semi-apocalyptic interzone, beautifully photographed and conceptually mysterious,
with meaning and reality constantly subject to question. « Ilove stories where the world is on the border of chaos! » laughs Ossang. « And 1like to use genre. Like in literature, it can be a real inspiration. Docteur Chance was a road movie, Le tresor an adventure film, this is
very gothie,’ He also describes it as « cinema poesie, like Cocteau or Pasolini » and »perhaps a paranoid film because ifs without countershots ».
It also takes inspiration, like much of Ossangs work, from early cinema – he’s especially keen on iris shots., « Silent movies very quickly invented their own performative language, different from theatre and literature, » he notes. « If you look at great silent movies, the
world that’s described, the evocation is much richer than normal feature films today’ He also suggests they have a universality akin to other modern forms. « Cinema is ‘Babel language’, a !ittle bit like rock ‘n’ roll. You can play a film in Moscow, China, Buenos Aires,
London. » They can even go well together: « Iremember watchingEisenstein’s Strike with the Sex Pistols [as accompaniment]. It’s incredible! »


Ossangs musical sensibility was shaped at an especially dynamic time. « I had the luck to be there at the beginning of the punk movement – punk, post-punk, coldwave and industrial music. Between ’76 and ’84 was a wonderful time. I discovered bands whose songs were the perfect soundtracks : Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle. And I learned a lot of things from rock ‘n’ roll (that were useful) for cinema. It wasnt always easy to play – you could have hostility from the crowd and the first thing is to stay on the stage. And you had to make the mind of your band think [your project] is real, is possible. With a film crew, it’s a little bit the same,’
Without taking anything for granted, Ossang hopes to remain active in filmmaking in the immediate future – he has several projects, including a spy story, that could be adapted to various budgets and insists that « when I know exactly what I want to write, I can be fast because I have lots of notes ». He also feels inspired by the present historical moment. « There’s political change, but also the century has changed. Centuries begin seven or eight years late – the twentieth century began in 1905. I think now we’re at the real beginning of the new century so it’s interesting to open your eyes and shoot. So I’m back in business! »

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