May 28, 2024

Veteran French editor Dominique Auvray says there’s an essential intuitive element to her work. The woman who created the sound for “Paris, Texas” and cut such films as “No Fear, No Die,” “L’Amour Fou,” and “Hu-Man” says her career has been built around one key ability: Tuning in to your eyes and ears.

Speaking at the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival this week, the longtime collaborator with seminal French director and author Marguerite Duras said, “I think the first thing when you are an editor, you have to look and to listen. And to listen at the same time to your heart and your head. And to listen to the director. And to listen to what the images say, you know.”

Auvray says she approached her work on the definitive Duras films “Le Camion,” “Woman of the Ganges” and “Le Navire Night” this way, and is still listening for the rhythm these days as she did when working with director Wang Bing on his new film “Youth,” which screens at Ji.hlava this year.

“You just have to wait and to wait until the music of the editing comes to you,” Auvray says. “And if you are a good editor – someone who can look and listen to the music of the images and the sound – you find the film.”

She spent long days working closely with Duras, Auvray says, but one additional factor was the director’s affection for rose wine – she felt “a little drink” fit nicely into the editing process but Auvray had to insist on keeping it to one glass.

The 27th edition of the Ji.hlava fest, running till Sunday, is screening a retrospective of 15 Duras films spanning the years 1965-81, including several introduced by Auvray, who is also serving on the jury for the main competition section, Opus Bonum.

Auvray acknowledges that many editors today face pressure to cut scenes and shots with a tighter pace than traditional cinema of years past was built on. But that just means more of them should make a stand, she says.

“You know, if people are not able to fight against the length getting shorter and shorter then these people they are not making films.”

Luckily, many contemporary filmmakers are returning to more luxuriant pacing in their storytelling, she says – but this approach can also go too far.

“Right now I’m working with Wang Bing and he would be very happy to keep a shot of 15 minutes,” says Auvray, who, aside “Youth,” edited his 2017 study of family relationships and dementia, “Mrs. Fang.”

“On ‘Mrs. Fang’ I said, okay – after three minutes I cut. I don’t say anything, I just cut. And he says okay.”

Auvray, who took on the directing role herself in 2014 in creating a loving tribute to her collaborator, “The Cinema of Duras,” presented the film at Ji.hlava – part of a collection of 15 films in the fest’s Duras tribute. The section also includes Claire Simon’s “I Want to Talk About Duras.”

Duras, who died in 1996, was the author of books including “The Lover” and penned the screenplay for “Hiroshima, Mon Amour,” the classic 1959 French New Wave film directed by Alain Resnais. She was a leading literary light of post-war France, who directed 19 films and wrote more than 70 novels, plays, screenplays and adaptations.

Auvray’s film on Duras delves into her method, philosophy, inspirations and controversies while imbuing viewers with a sense of the wonder Duras felt about the work of auteurs from John Ford to Jacques Tati and Charlie Chaplin. Duras had a special fascination for the classic film noir “Night of the Hunter,” with its almost surreal MGM settings, mainly built and lit on soundstages with a heightened nightmarish quality.

Auvray argues that the film editing profession is also inspiring – and instinctive.

“Good editors, they know,” she says. “And bad editors, they don’t know.”

As she puts it, “I’m not pretentious – or maybe I am pretentious. I don’t mind. Anyway, I think you know or you don’t know. You know, Marguerite, she said, ‘I know when there is a book and I know when there is no book. And I know when there is a film and when there is not a film. That’s it. So when you edit you know when you’re right and you know when you’re wrong and it’s going the wrong way.

And when a good editor collaborates with the right director, she says, a new concept of the film can emerge from the cutting process – but it depends on trust and connection.

“We have to be together,” she says. “And maybe we find a new film when we edit it but that’s okay. As long as we are both agreed.”

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