interviews

Jean-Claude CarrièreJean-Claude Carrière

"Cultural borders are much more difficult to abolish given that they are invisible"

Jean Claude Carrière, a celebrity in manifold facets, has always proved to be particularly receptive to cultures of the whole world. He was Luis Buٌuel’s fetish script writer from 1964 to 1976. In cinema, he has also worked with Luis Malle, Millos Forman, Volker Schlِndorff, Andrzej Wajda, Jean-Paul Rappeneau and Nagisa Oshima. But his eclectic character approached him to theatre, where as from 1974 and together with the director Peter Brook he has prevailed in the international scene with success as Mahabharata (1985), The Tempest (1991) or The death of Krisna (2002). A professional career of outstanding fertility completed by numerous other creations and adaptations for the scene or the small screen, about twenty works, novels, and essays. He is nowadays vice president of the SACD (society of authors and dramatic composers-www.sacd.fr). This wise erudite born in 1931 keeps on exploring the world, human spirit and cultures with a curiosity with no comparison and the will of sharing and making known richness and creativity without borders.


In your works and attitudes you have always defended cultural diversity. What is your conception about intercultural dialogue?
“It’s inherent to the concept. The notion of culture holds the idea of diversity: there’s no uniformity in culture In uniformity there’s no culture, there is no thought, no initiative, no uniqueness, no emotion, and even more, no laughter. Culture is by definition (even ethnologists defend it) diverse. Every culture has to be compared, put side by side to other cultures and sometimes be in opposition to them. To seek to uniform culture is ridiculous and to say it properly, impossible.

At what point is mutual comprehension between European and Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries today?
It is a little better today than two centuries ago. For a long-time this dialogue has really been a monologue in one direction. We, Europeans, considered other peoples as less advanced, not only technically but also intellectually and morally. We therefore transferred good techniques, but also the good words. This conception of the civilizing mission of Europeans burst into pieces and was not replaced by balanced dialogue between countries. Even if we are slowly aiming the right direction, it is however difficult. When we decided to adapt the Indian Mahabharata with Peter Brook, twenty years ago, it was a premiere. A superlative work of humankind remained completely unknown in Europe and in the Western culture in general. Cultural borders are much more difficult to abolish given that they are invisible. We have exported during centuries Shakespeare, Mozart and Picasso throughout the world, but the “Shakespeares”, “Mozarts” and “Picassos” of other cultures find it very difficult to enter our spheres. I always remember a beautiful sentence of Luis Buٌuel who told me one day: “How many Hemingways have been born in Paraguay”. Without the American dollars and cannonballs there would be no Hemingway. The main problem is that we cannot develop cultural exchanges, without raising the level of life without considering the others as ourselves. In the cultural sphere one of the major dangers is the feeling of hegemony, of superiority. It is dangerous in all domains. Militarily it lead to nazi invasions, Jew extermination. Culturally it leads to annihilation.
We can however greet the efforts of many people during centuries. The first French orientalists of the beginning of the XIXth century (Burnous for example) deployed a great effort to get to comprehend other cultures. However we are speaking about individualized efforts. The aim was never attained, we have to carry on working”.

Is art, are artists engines of intercultural dialogue?
“We count a lot on them. It is them who must be in front. We don’t need an army, bombards, torpedo boats or atomic bombs. It is enough to make the effort that we did with Peter Brook and all our group. We could be good at helping to show the way to people around us, to raise curiosity. The approach is to move out, find the best contributions of the other people and take them home.

Do images and particularly cinema play a decisive role in improving intercultural dialogue?
The problem of cinema, of images and movement in general was also a technical problem. This was a western, a European American invention.
So that the rest of countries express themselves through cinema, show there own images they have to adopt an occidental technique. And this has not always been easy. Above all in the Muslim countries where the representation of the human being is forbidden, or in any case not recommended except for shiism. Cineastes of sunnit expression have difficulties in finding in their past the pictorial representations that we have. When a Parisian cineaste visits the Louvre he finds the story of framing. All great painters of the past have worked the notion of light, framing, views and backgrounds. An Algerian cineaste lacks this. Once this obstacle of technical assimilation has been surmounted (and it has taken almost a century) we see that other countries (for example Iran twenty years ago) may get used to our techniques, assimilate them to their roots and be able to provide an image of themselves that we would be incapable of providing.
From the economic point of view, the Anglo Saxon Occident is getting to minimize all the rest of cinema of the world. They consider cinema as a product and defend it commercially. For the African countries for example it is everyday more difficult to make films, even more difficult than it was twenty or thirty years ago. There is a great effort to be done. What is a country without images? In today’s world of images is a country incapable of providing images of itself still alive or only risking to be rubbed out?

Fabien Lemercier