Shot during three free days in Mexico while making Channel 4’s The Story of Film: An Odyssey – a project spanning 100 years of cinema that took six years to make and 15 hours to watch – this is a much smaller, more personal project from filmmaker, critic and presenter Mark Cousins.
With a printed picture of Sergei Eisenstein as a companion, Cousins goes on a walking tour of Mexico City, considering how the landscape has changed since the Soviet director visited the city. Shot entirely on a flip camera, over three days and with a budget of only £10, the film also contemplates the pleasures of walking, and of filmmaking, as Cousins compares his shot composition with Eisenstein’s.
Some of the best observations of the city come when Cousins sets down his flip, on the ground or on a telephone box, allowing passers-by to move in and out of the still frame, while he speculates and reflects on the lives of the individuals he captures on camera.
For his The Story of Film project, Cousins had been working on one of the longest factual commentaries in the history of cinema. Here, he decided to be more playful with his voiceover – or rather, voiceovers. Part of the film is narrated by himself, in the present tense, as he walks about the city; while part is narrated by an unknown woman, in the past tense. On the film’s website Cousins notes “The woman, I hope, seems to be watching the film, watching him. I liked this little sense of surveillance.”
The idea of a factual film narrated by a fictional character came from Chris Marker, the hugely influential filmmaker-photographer behind La Jetée. Cousins credits Marker as one of the film’s ‘patron saints’, alongside Eisenstein and Virginia Wolf, whose Orlando inspired the character behind the commentary. A fourth ‘patron saint’ is singer-songwriter PJ Harvey, whose otherworldly vocals bookend the film perfectly.
“What is This Film Called Love? is everything The Story of Film is not: it’s fun, cheeky and daft, and it’s personal, emotional and a bit sad.” – Miles Fielder, The List
Followed by a Q&A with the director.
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