Nature as the Sacred Other in Cinema

2017 edition

Chantal Poch i Rodrigo

Hi, I’m Chantal, a 23-year-old student from Mataró. To briefly introduce myself: currently I’m on my first year of PhD (Communication) at Pompeu Fabra University. Before that I studied the BA in Audiovisual Communication and the Master in Contemporary Cinema and Audiovisual Studies, both at the same place. During my Master I worked as a Teacher’s Assistant thanks to a grant from the university’s Communication Department, and now I’ve been awarded another grant from a private foundation (Oriol-Urquijo) in order to dedicate myself completely to my thesis.

My project of thesis started off last year with a Master’s Final Project called “Pujar una muntanya: Werner Herzog i el Bergfilm”. In this project I explored connections between the old German mountain movies made by Arnold Fanck and Leni Riefenstahl and the modern cinema of Herzog. In order to do that I combined Film Studies with intakes from Philosophy, Art, Literature or Religion, mainly from the Romanticism and Mysticism. The project ended up obtaining a 9’5 qualification with honours.

For my PhD I’m “zooming out” and exploring as a visual motive not only the mountain but the nature itself, and not only in Herzog and Fanck’s movies but in some directors across the world –mainly modern and contemporary cinema for now, but I’m trying to look back as well- which I think seek some kind of spirituality or religious otherness in nature, not necessary linked with an institutionalized religion. Often when I read about the relations of cinema and religion I find myself reading mainly about films like “The Passion of Christ” or “The 10 Commandments”, and that couldn’t be more far from my project. I do not wish to analyse films about religion, but some aesthetic relation between religion and cinema. I wish to study how the sublime, the otherness, and some other concepts are applied aesthetically, and to which significations they lead. For now I’m working with of course Werner Herzog and Arnold Fanck but then Naomi Kawase, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Andrei Tarkovski, James Benning, Terrence Malick or Víctor Erice. As you can see they come from such different places –my intention is to work with a universal human need, that of finding “something else”, that can be found in every culture. Of course I’m not writing a new history of cinema nor to say that these are the only directors expressing this ideas, but rather to give some examples of what I think are very similar intentions to define a kind of filmic style which then, hopefully, other people can use to dialogue with new films and directors.

Providing you accept my flash talk, I’ll gladly do a brief introduction of how art has always sought a spiritual meaning in nature just before passing to the cinema area, when I will explain the main objectives of this project and some examples from films I think are key to this topic. All in strictly five minutes, of course! 🙂