Letter from a Filmmaker to His Daughter (2002) Script

Letter from a Filmmaker to his Daughter Sound.

Sound rolling.





One day, my daughter asked me... why I hadn't made a film for her.

...Why I hadn't made a film for children.

I replied to her that I couldn't do it.

It was impossible for me, because it had been so long since I had been a kid, that there was no kid left here any more... so what would I film?

So I'm embarking on a search mission to recover it to try to convey my relationships with others.

Arising from her question and desire there is a desire to answer her: to tell her some stories... stories I had been waiting to tell her.

In Cuba some filmmaker friends interceded with the god Eleggua to help me make this film.

I prepared three small packets with a little something for each one.

A fish caught in a clothespin,

its eyes pierced through with a needle.

And accompanied with a clove of garlic.

Around the packet, red and white twine, cinched tight.


I hid them at day's end in three nooks along the street that passes by our house.

As long as they remain, Eleggua will help you to triumph over your enemies.

I made a fourth packet with a key a sea snail a chain these peppercorns and these dried up raisins.

Wrapped them up in white paper and hid them away behind the front door during that day.

I'd taught you how rivers flow in the direction of the sea, thus I turn them around in the direction of the South I marked the spot, with an arrow made from eggshell powder.

Finally I lit up a cigar, its strong smell certain to revive Eleggua wherever he might be found.

I'm writing to make a film for you.

I'm writing to share with you some images and sounds that would tell you the stories that I wanted to tell you.

I'm writing to tell you about the cinema that I love which is a personal cinema, very much akin to painting almost.

A cinema of beholding.

Of thoughtfulness.

Of sharing.

Rather different from the cinema of power and spectacle.

See this bakery?

I've known this bakery forever ever since I've been buying bread at this place.

But he doesn't know I make films because I've never told him.

I'm so ashamed of cinema sometimes I'd rather be making television.

And his son, I've known him for a long time, for as long as his father has run the bakery.

Whereas you, you met me after I started making films.




Portrait of Mohamed, the pool boy, shared for a moment.

Film, for me, is first of all, looking at another.

The face of another.

But also the traces of others, as here or elsewhere in the countryside.

This is where I should film someone who works in the cinema.

So I've made a portrait of Roger.

Though his face has never been seen on the screen, he spends his time gazing upon others' faces while he's adjusting their color in the laboratory.

This man, this doctor whose portrait I made, was the first man who touched you.

Held you in his hands.

And when your mother was carrying you, before our first meeting and we were shown where you were.

It was a drawing by Leonardo.

The first image of you.

Among all the stories that I want to tell you, there's the story about the little clay tablet upon which are inscribed the first traces of writing.

This was in Sumer

5,000 years ago.

After much searching and study of what was written there, it was finally possible to decipher it:

"Here there were four goats."

And since the fooprints of birds left behind in the clay so closely resembled their writng, the Sumerians believed that god and the spirits had left messages behind for them...

...all of which had naturally been scrambled.

"But," they said, "those who could read these signs are no longer here

"and that's the history of the world."

This glance, this is the only portrait of the Japanese painter, Utamaro.

The sole image of this man is hidden behind the woman the painter loved.

Written upon the fan, the poem tells the story of a snipe, drawn to the flesh to be found in a shell:

When he sticks in his beak the shell snaps itself shut on him and the bird gets stuck, a prisoner of his own desire.

Then there's also the story of the Sultan who lived in southern Persia during the tenth century and who owned one of the greatest libraries of the epoch:

120,000 books.

Yet since he harbored a nomadic spirit, he often left his palace to return to the desert sands.

And since he couldn't bear to be separated from his books, he loaded all of them onto his camels.

And each one of these camels, corresponded to a letter of the alphabet.

But what was even more amazing, was that these camels responded to the alphabetic names they'd been given.

ا‎ This camel stands for ʾalif

ب This camel stands for bāʾ

ت This camel stands for tāʾ

ث‎ This camel stands for ṯāʾ

ج This camel stands for ǧīm

ح‎ This camel stands for ḥāʾ

خ This camel stands for ḫāʾ

د‎ This camel stands for dāl

ذ‎ This camel stands for ḏāl

ر‎ This camel stands for rāʾ

ز‎ This camel stands for zāy

س‎ This camel stands for sīn

ش‎ This camel stands for šīn

ص‎ This camel stands for ṣād

ض‎ This camel stands for ḍād

ط‎ This camel stands for ṭāʾ

ظ‎ This camel stands for ẓāʾ

ع‎ This camel stands for ʿayn

غ‎ This camel stands for ġayn

ف‎ This camel stands for fāʾ

ق‎ This camel stands for qāf

ك‎ This camel stands for kāf

ل‎ This camel stands for lām

م‎ This camel stands for mīm

ن‎ This camel stands for nūn

ه‎ This camel stands for hāʾ

و‎ This camel stands for wāw

ي This camel stands for yāʾ

More than one hundred years ago, in the Ural plains close to the little village of Tabory, a gigantic meteorite fell.

Weighing more than 4,000 kilos, the famous meteorite from Okhansk has today utterly disappeared.

Once the scientific research had been completed, there was almost nothing left to discover.

For the next century, bit by bit, the inhabitants of the village have gobbled it up, convinced of the aphrodisiac effects of the meteorite.

Even a fragment of one kilo, which had once been displayed at the Ochyor Museum, a principal place in the Okhansk region, has also vanished.

This isn't a story, but just an image that I want to show you.

The image of a window in the small village in Jura.

A window behind which a woman arose to look after and to nurse, for twenty-seven years, her comatose son who had been struck by a car.

For twenty-seven years, day after day... she held him in her arms.

The image of a pieta.

And what image to show for that man who could kill his child?

With his wife's dead body, he rushed to a hospital in Chicago.

To the hospital room where his baby was kept artificially alive.

His baby of nine months in an irreversible coma since birth.

Just so: after disconnecting the machines, he kept the caretakers at a distance with his pistol.

And, as though rocking him to sleep, he held his baby in his arms until he died.

I can't find a single image for this story.

And I wanted to bring back from over there another image.

An image strange and sad: that of a clown's burial.

This is my boxcar, everything I've got.


For them, there's social security, unemployment. People have got that.

But I don't.


I'll tell you about something that happened to me recently.

I was right in the ring, clowning around, and with one bad move, mmm...

I busted my ankle, busted it.

I went on with the number, but... but... on all fours.

The effort it took me to get out of the ring, it was... and at all that the people laughed.

People enjoyed seeing the clown hobbled, walking with such difficulty, to get through the curtain, trying to disappear. That... that's pretty funny.

After all of that, you get through the curtain.

Who should I run into? The director who said, "Tomorrow,"

"I want the same thing."

So for three weeks, with my foot in a cast, I did the same number.

The moment would come for me to bust my foot... and to struggle to leave while making a big comic impact

with my foot busted.

Wake up!

That reminds me of two stories.

A little one. and a big one.

The little one?

Well... you were little, very little.

At daybreak, you appeared in the room before me, all dressed up.

In one hand, you held a magic wand capped with a star.

And in the other, you held, I don't know, an object... an eraser, I think.

You stood before me with such seriousness and announced that you were going to perform magic, that you were going to make it disappear, the eraser.

Then, all of a sudden, you said, "Pay attention."

And you said three times in a row the magic words and squeezed hard on the eraser hidden in your hand.

Then... very proud of yourself, you opened your hand slightly and looked into it with curiosity.

Naturally, the eraser was still there.

So a little while later, you said to me, it didn't work.

And you went back to your room.

At that moment, I wanted so badly to make myself believe that it had worked.

The other story... the big one... is the story of the bird who sang so beautifully.

One day, in the north of Africa, close to Aziz, a man heard a bird singing.

Such a birdsong as you've never heard!

Something unique, marvelous.

He peeked into the windows of the house where the song was coming from.

He went ahead and knocked on the door and two old folks opened the door.

He asked the couple, "can you tell me where that amazing song is coming from?"

They told him, "Yes. Come in."

They showed him a bird in a cage, which was the bird who sang so beautifully.

He offered them a good price for him.

But they refused.

He doubled his offer!

He trippled it!

And yet, the old folks still refused his offer.

So... crushed, he went away.

The next day, in a small town nearby, at the bird market he saw exactly the same bird.

He didn't sing.

But he was exactly the same.

He had no sooner bought him than the idea of a swap sprang to his mind.

So that afternoon he went back to wait in the same street in Aziz.

As soon as the old folks went out, he entered their house and made the switch.

Then, he returned to Europe and brought the bird back with him.

And here, for years, he listened to him.

And he shared with his friends the bird's singing which ravished their senses.

But one day, in due course, the bird died.

And his story became just another topic of idle talk.

So he decided to return to Africa.

When he came to the street in Aziz, he knocked on the door.

It was the old man who opened it.

He said to him, "Do you remember me?

"After all of these years?"

"Oh yes!" said the little old man, "How well I remember!

"Years ago, you wanted to buy our bird, "who sang so beautifully.

"Well, sir...

"luckily, you didn't buy it.

"Because the day after you left, "my wife died.

"And the bird wouldn't sing any more."

You see?

I believe that in the future images will travel into space.

We're going to see images go as far as possible into the stars as time will allow.

Because the images can't just go out into space.

They'll also encounter time, the harsh domain of time.

When the first men left Africa, some of them went to Europe and others went into Asia.

So it went on, from generation to generation, from Asia to the Americas.

They populated the North and the South of the American continents.

On foot, they crossed the Bering Strait.

Their descendants numbered twenty million.

2000 years later, Christopher Columbus, coming from Europe, happened upon the new continent.

The indians there saw appear on their horizon the white sails of ships.

And behind them there was also another time, from out there, maybe.

The tribe's sorcerers and shamans went out to discover what they could.

During their shamanic journey, a storm swelled up.

And from his boat, Christopher Columbus saw in the distance men looking at him.

The world stood still.

In an instant.

After twenty-thousand years apart, they'd come face to face.

A moment of equality between those who looked into space and those who looked into time.

This man in this cafe, this man born in Prague, is Kafka.

The writer, Franz Kafka.

Near the end of his life, a story happened to him that I'd like to tell you.

While he was walking, he spotted one day in a park a little girl who was crying.

He approached her.

He asked her the cause for her tears.

She told him she had lost her doll.

Her most beautiful doll, her dolly.

So Kafka asked her than name of her doll.

And the little girl answered him, "Anna."

"But," said Kafka, "there was just a doll called Anna who has started writing letters to me."

And Kafka asked her to come back to the park the next day.

And so for the next day, and all of the days of the weeks that followed, Kafka brought the little girl a letter from Anna, the doll, who had gone travelling, described her adventures.

When Kafka, falling ill, needed to return to the sanatorium, he wrote a final letter from the doll in which she said that she had found a friend.

That she was going to marry this other doll and continue her travels.

While I was filming these images, you were beside me.

I got the impression I was reproducing for your gaze sensations of movement, of disappearance.

Just as, one day, shall disappear every trace and everything written.

Just as our work, too, shall disappear.

Joseph de Jussieu, in 1735, set sail on one of the most incredible expeditions ever contemplated.

A crew of explorers, appointed by the Royal Academy of Science, would go across the Atlantic.

They were charged with cordoning off an area to measure an arc of the terrestrial meridian.

The expedition itself was pure folly:

Yet, with dogged application, ten years were spent in the Amazon to achieve it.

But a destiny even more incredible awaited him there.

Doctor and naturalist for the expedition, he remained in this place with the indians, living among them, in their care, learning each plant, each animal, and discovering the secrets of their medicines.

Then, when his companions eventually returned, he stayed behind.

For hundreds of days, deep in the Amazonian rainforest, reporting on the marvels included in his collection.

For 36 years, he amassed a collection of specimens and knowledge, unique, prodigious.

When he finally returned, sick and exhausted, he went mad in Quito where he was found.

Some Peruvian friends arranged for his repatriation to France and once there, he forgot the precious results of his work.

I spent these last years trying to survey his field and every attempt to recover his work has amounted to nothing.

Nobody knows what had become of these European expeditions, so nobody can follow in their shoes.

Before our eyes, everything has disappeared.

Yet perhaps you could recover everything yourself.

As anyone might recover from her own losses, the entire history of humanity.

I'm done with the film you wanted.

It's naturally a terrible, terrifying story. like the big sisters of little girls.

These tragic, melodramatic stories are the first stories that children know.

They're the first stories that the cinema told in black and white when they were already spoiled.

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful little princess

But one day, a terrible fire...

...and she lost her parents.

In her grief she finds a friend...

...and a new home.

Almost happy.

But one day, a child trafficker...

The return of the friend.

Months went by.

Then, one day...

The reunion.

Short-lived happiness.

After so long in the dark, she'd become blind.

Then, one day...

She recognized the perfume of her mother who wasn't dead.

Her wealthy parents, sent her to get well.

And a miracle happened.

Happiness, at last!

The End.

Don't you see?

Making an image, for me, is also an everyday task.

Like this moment on the street corner, leaving the grocer's for another errand, seen through a camera, makes a scene.

I'd like to end by giving you a final story as well as a song.

This story is a story about women, the first written in the French language in the 12th-century.

It tells the story of Sir Gawain, Knight of the Round Table gathered around King Arthur.

Among them all, he was a man of his word.

So, one day as Gawain was riding on his horse toward the castle of King Arthur, a monster, a terrifying ogre came before him.

The giant would have liked to have fought him right then, but Gawain was said to be a man of his word and not a man of the sword.

"What have we here?" said the giant, "I want to ask you a question. Just one.

"If you're unable to anwer it, "you will die.

"So here's my question:

"What does every woman want?"

Gawain, lost, could only answer by asking for more time.

He gave him his word, yes, gave him his word he'd return.

The giant agreed to meet him after a year to the day and let him leave.

Then on the road toward the King's castle, Gawain encountered a repulsive little old lady who was situated on the way.

Never had Gawain seen anyone uglier.

Anyway, she told him all she knew.

She said she also knew the answer to the ogre's question.

"But," said she, "I'll only give you the answer...

"the right answer, "if you swear to come back and marry me."

Gawain jumped on his horse and left for the castle.

Arriving at the King's court, the feast had already begun.

Gawain was asked what had kept him so he recounted his adventures.

Arthur cried, "Even so?

"You, Gawain?

"You, a man of his word, you weren't sure how to answer this question?

"But what every woman wants

"is jewels, "beauty, "allure."

The Lord Chamberlain interrupted, "Allow me

"to state my mind:

"what every woman wants doesn't dwell in riches but in dreams, "in the imagination, "in the nocturnal acts of this world."

Then a third, followed by a fourth and several others interrupted, and throughout the evening, each one ventured what he knew about what women want.

Days... weeks... months passed.

And each one who thought he knew what women wanted came to the castle to give Gawain his answer to the Ogre's question.

But the more answers that Gawain heard, the less he thought of them.

And once the year was out, he would go, full of doubts, to the fateful meeting.

Along the way, again as before, the little old lady, so ugly and repulsive, stopped him.

"So, Gawain," said she, "Think you have the answer?"

"But I have 10,000 answers!" said Gawain.

"Ten thousand, "but not the right one.

"Hear my answer.

"I'll confide it in you.

"And when you return, "you must marry me."

So she whispered the answer in Gawain's ear.

The ogre had come to their meeting and was waiting now for the answer to his question.

Gawain gave him the first answer he'd been told, the one from the king, and the ogre prepared to kill him.

But Gawain stopped him and gave the second answer and then the third, ...all of them, until he came to the last.

And then he gave him the old lady's answer.

"What every woman wants

"is to freely choose her own destiny."

And the giant was engulfed in a raging flame.

Since Gawain was a man of his word he would marry the little old lady.

And once the vows are given, people like to enjoy themselves.

So there he found himself with her that first night.

He tucked himself in, facing the other side in the big bed.

And then, all of a sudden, he heard so sweet and beautiful a voice, which spoke to him:

"Well, Sir Gawain, "Is this any way to treat your wife?

"Such a gulf between us?"

Surprised by the sweetness of this voice, Gawain turned over and discovered next to him, a young woman of dazzling beauty.

And as he lay there, silent under her spell, she said to him, "Now it's my turn to ask you a question, Gawain.

"Do you want me to be beautiful by night

"and ugly by day?

"Or beautiful by day

"and ugly by night?"

Gawain reflected for a moment.

Only able to say, "I can't.

"I don't have an answer to your question."

"Maybe one day I would have found an answer to the ogre's question.

"but to your question, there is no possible answer."

And so, she looked at him, and responded, "I see, Gawain, "that, while you have truly become a man of his word, "yet you are beginning to find your word has its limits.

"So since that's how it is

"and to please you, "I'll remain beautiful night and day."

And so Gawain found happiness and begot countless children.

Here we are.

This is the end of the film that I devised just for you.

A film that about desire and about pleasure.

And that's all.

I leave you with this pretty song I want to share with you.

The sound of these men's voices which tell their story, even though they haven't been here for a long, long time.

They're telling you that memory is collective and that death doesn't exist.

subtitles: depositio