The mathematical precision of intuition

interview with Ramón Gieling about his latest films

illustrations: stills from the films L’Amour, La Mort’ and ‘This film will save your life Paul Blanca’

In the fall of 2022, two new films by Ramón Gieling: “L’Amour, La Mort” and “This film save your life Paul Blanca” via distributor Cinemien. Currently, the ever-busy director, painter and photographer is finalizing the details of both films. For this interview I looked at the most current versions.

Update: You can now find the official trailer for ‘L’Amour / La Mort’ at the bottom of the page

This film saves your life Paul Blanca is about the photographer Paul Blanca, who died shortly after filming, once described by Robert Mapplethorpe as his only competitor. Blanca therefore made penetrating work about love and violence, death and commerce. He used his own body as a canvas: a body that was suffering from his drug use and obsessions. In addition to these demons in his life, there were also angels: his girlfriend and others clearly loved the enfant terrible dearly and are extensively discussed in the film.

The result of these two poles is an oeuvre that is particularly penetrating. For example, as a result of his successful New York period, Blanca carved a Mickey Mouse into his back, he depicted himself with the head of a rat stuck deep in his mouth with the hind legs and tail still sticking out, but also as a corpse covered with bluebottles and blowflies. then naked himself with his naked mother in his arms just before she died. As a young adonis, he already established his name by sewing his own lips shut and photographing it. He later drove a nail through his own hand for a photo.

well known photographs by Paul Blanca

Apunto: In your films you often deal with psychologically drastic issues around the themes of love and death, but with the distance of a director. How do you see that ‘distance’ and the directness, the physicality of Paul Blanca’s work in relation to each other? Do you find it impressive, brave, etc.?

Ramon Gieling: In several conversations/interviews I mentioned that art or my own work should have the impact of seeing a traffic accident. in other words, as an event that makes you silent, grips you, and stays on your retina.

The film Duende, which I made a long time ago in response to the essay by Federico Garcia Lorca, is about a dark moment in the (living) work of art that, in Lorca’s words; “Makes you lose the skeleton of the artwork, to give free rein to a rabid, burning Duende.”

I recognized that in Blanca’s work, among other things. Work that makes a clean sweep of neat, overly conceptual, overly intellectual gallery art. The fact that he himself was an un-Dutch brute, also in the good sense of the word, who did things that were not done and in a way was brave, made me start filming with him.

Reactions to my own work sometimes vary so much that I give up going into it; for many it is too intense, intuitive, and deeply touching, others find it intellectual and distant. Those two are so incompatible that it becomes interesting again.

Mickey Mouse carved in back Paul Blanca

A: On the basis of conversations with Paul himself and people from his immediate environment and the Amsterdam art scene, a penetrating picture is sketched of the artist who at his peak celebrated triumphs in America and experienced deep declines, especially after the accusation by Rob Scholte that he was behind the attempt on his life. Paul Blanca’s photography had a great influence on Erwin Olaf and many others, among others. Erwin Olaf even exclaims in one of the scenes: “Blanca, that was god!” Models and editors often walked out with Blanca and he was an inspiration to many. His works are sometimes of great tenderness and sometimes hard and cruel. Has Paul Blanca also influenced your work as a director and/or photographer and if so how would you describe that influence?

RMG: He hasn’t influenced me, but I find every encounter, whether it be with someone from art or with a painting/music/book, inspiring.

Paul Blanca in front of the famous portrait with his mother

A: In the film you ask Paul whether he needs to be rescued and the title also refers to this: did you have the idea at that moment that this was indeed necessary?

RMG: The title of the film, besides being a nice title, came from the fact that I knew he was going really bad and that he continued to drink and use anyway.

The Paul Blanca collection of Hans van Manen

A: The entourage of Blanca from the art scene of the eighties in particular (including Hans van Manen, Erwin Olaf, Harald Vlugt, Henk Schiffmacher, Rob Malasch, Rob Renoult, Azul Ehrenberg, Marlies Jongsma, Koos Breukel, Henk van Dijk and other prominent figures from the art world) recalls him in the film and sometimes speaks with a certain tenderness about him, then again with awe (fear?). How easy or difficult was it to deal with someone who wanted to go so far in his life and in his art? Where does he draw the line between the violence in his art and the violence in his life? One moment you see him with a bald head and a large Rottweiler on a chain chasing a ‘gun’ (as an art project), the next moment Harald Vlugt in an anecdote tells us that Blanca himself had a physical aversion to violence, or perhaps more precisely: to the violence he evoked in others. How do you see that?

RMG: The boundary between life and work increasingly dissolved for him. I believe that everything in life comes in opposites and so in him the tender and the violent coexisted and formed a troubled marriage. In fact, a few months before his death, he threatened to “beat me to death.” Interestingly, many people cared about him, but he didn’t really have any friends. A friendship was practically impossible. I found the concern of the entourage around him to be something to distrust.

Füsli scene - 'L'Amour, la mort'

A: In your other film, ‘L’Amour, La Mort’, a large number of scenes are staged after paintings by great names in art history. Which artists and works have you chosen and how do you see the relationship to the other subjects and scenes in your film between which you evoke these images?

RMG: For ‘L’Amour La Mort’ I chose a few paintings in history that expressed the motifs of love and death; Goya, Velazquez, Fusli, Picasso. But just as important was that the paintings naturally had to lend themselves to staging. The Picasso was also the most difficult. Edward Hopper could not be staged within my construction because then you have to recreate rooms, or bars, or restaurants.

Francis Bacon scene - 'L'Amour, la mort'

A: You are currently painting again. What makes you pick it up now and not at another time? How personal is your work to you? How would you describe your painting process?

RMG: I was in Paris for a few days recently, and after seeing the great stuff in the museums – be it Baselitz, or Warhol, or Picasso, the sense is back to paint. I started doing that a while back anyway.

As for my own painting, and I shouldn’t say that of course: I don’t consider myself a very good painter. But I do it with a kind of pleasure that expresses itself in swearing because something else doesn’t work out. And I paint what I can’t write or film. Everything I make is personal, otherwise it would be worthless. Even when I paint (or write or film) something I have not experienced myself. There too it is your moral duty to make it personal.

For example, ‘Welcome to Haddash Hospital’ is a film I made in Israel about the hospital where Palestinian perpetrators of an attack are treated with the people they injured. Yet it is a very personal film.

The personal in ‘L’Amour’ took so far that the story of my brother’s violent death is one of the stories told in the Freud room we have reconstructed by his then girlfriend, who wash.

Freud was very important to the surrealists, because he naturally explored the mystery of consciousness and with it the dream.

Paul Blanca answers to the question wether he needs to be saved

A: They have become two heartbreakingly intense and abrasive films where people, including yourself, in the case of the story of your brother’s death discussed in ‘L’Amour’, make great exposures and go deep. Also the people from whom you expect “interpretation”: the psychiatrist, the cardiologist, perhaps also the director undergoing in ‘L’Amour’ marvel at the blows of fate instead of commenting on them from a distance. How do you see the relationship between that emotion, that naked person and getting to the essence of the question that underlies a film?

RMG: Unfortunately the first thing that comes to mind is that I don’t like to interpret my own work. Often when people, or employees of the crew or cast ask what I mean by this or that, I answer: ‘I don’t know.’ I don’t mean this as a pedantic answer, on the contrary; it takes the riddle away from some images or scenes. Why you might be impressed by characters or scenes is that I meet them without knowing more than they do (of course I know more, but it’s also my job not to exploit that).

Velasquez scene - 'L'Amour, la mort'

A: In one of the scenes of the film ‘L’Amour’ you contrast an intensely lived love story with the clinical experience of a cardiologist who wants to do the seemingly irreconcilable: he wants to fix a broken heart. understand and explain a scientific and physical level. The two opposites meet in the sound of a broken heart that actually turns out to sound different from a healthy heart. To what extent do you try to rationally explain the phenomena discussed in your film?

RMG: I’ve been not-knowing (maybe I’m repeating myself; ailment of the aging man) in recent years, allocating an even more important place than it already did. And again: not as something vague or fashionable’, but as something essential. I may be in a bit of a luxury position to afford not-knowing.

Paul Blanca in interior

A: To what extent do you see your films (and perhaps other work) as a kind of family constellations (one of the scenes in L’Amour is about this) in the sense that they hold up a kind of therapeutic mirror to the viewer ? And what makes people want to tell and relive such personal things in front of a camera?

RMG: I really wanted the family constellation in the film, while I also find it a floating therapy, with the garden pond depth of astrology. I.e. you believe what you want to believe.

In contrast, I think psychoanalysis – Freud – has something of a thriller; the therapist looks for “the culprit” in the patient’s emotional history (character, in my case of “L’Amour La Mort”). Ultimately, the visual content of psychoanalysis is a gift to a filmmaker; people on the couch who in the good sense of the word lose control and reveal their story as if in a stream of consciousness. The lying position allows you to speak freely.

Penetrating to the essence, as you put it, is simply my job. I must not settle for less and must not use my characters superficially for my purposes; for both of us there must be something at stake. I found it delicate to work as a kind of therapist and to ask them about the most serious matters.

Goya scene - 'L'Amour, la mort'

A: Mohammed, one of the characters in L’Amour, actually lost his wife to the Brussels attacks a few years ago. Thanks to this enormous loss, he himself emerges as an author who declares the ‘Jihad of Love’ to the world. What follows is a moving portrait. The events themselves are not explicitly mentioned. Why did you choose this?

RMG: In Mohamed’s case, the essence of his “story” would not have been showing pictures of Loubna, or footage of the attack. You want to know what’s going on in his head.

David scene - 'L'Amour, la mort'

A: Does the contrast between Apollonian and Dionysian play a role in your work? If so what could you say about this?

RMG: Interesting question! Yes: the Apollonian versus the Dionysian that has always interested me. I would call it a fairly happy marriage. I’m not an intellectual, but I do like thinking. A good artist/filmmaker/writer/composer is also a thinker. In a good work of art you see the maker at work, and you also see ‘Thinking’. I read a lot and am influenced by everything that interests me. I’ve read Joyce’s Ulysses, but I also like Stephen King. I think I’ve told you once before that to me intuition is a tool of mathematical precision.

Magritte scene - 'L'Amour, la mort'

A: As you indicate, Freud is important to the surrealists. In the stagings of paintings that play a role in the film ‘L’Amour’ we indeed see a surrealistic work passing by. In your choice of music as well as in the other stagings of figurative paintings, you mainly opt for much older work (17th, 18th, 19th century). Does this work have a certain deeper expressiveness that was necessary for the film? What determined your choice for certain paintings?

RMG: About the paintings: the Bacon and Picasso are 20th century paintings, so they are not that old. As I said, I was looking for images that lent themselves to staging.

The fact that I sometimes choose certain works in the blink of an eye does not alter the fact that they have a major impact.

Hans van Manen showing Paul Blanca photo with nail through his hand

A: At a certain point in ‘This Movie Saves Your Life’ you casually mention that Paul Blanca traveled to Spain as a sort of Hemmingway for a while to delve into bullfighting, a phenomenon that is just as penetrating ritualizes death and life and makes it tangible as his own art. What is it in Spanish culture (which you are also fascinated with) that makes this connection with death and life and the directness but also the stylization of it so fascinating? And to what extent do you think that your own Spanish roots make you look for the intensity, the peaks and the valleys, the presence of death, sadness and love happiness and ecstasy in your work?

RMG: I only learned that Blanca had been in Spain for a long time when I was working with him. By the way, he didn’t understand much about the bullfight and his photos are therefore the least interesting thing he made. Incidentally, I don’t have much of a ‘fascination’ with Spain; it is simply my second country and I have made a number of films, books and drawings to ‘treat’, sometimes almost anthropologically, a number of phenomena in their enigma.

Picasso scene - 'L'Amour, la mort'

A: What is the iconographic significance of the Minotaur and perhaps bulls in your work for you?

RMG: It’s funny that most of your questions point to something like I’d been thinking about that. That is not true. The Minotaur? I can say that I was born in April (Taurus), I can say that I think the black wild bull, along with crows and wolves, are the most impressive animals. Bullfighting—probably banned or extinct in ten years’ time—has always attracted me, by—again—the geometric precision without which the Dionysian ritual of life and death would not exist.

L’Amour / La Mort – Official Trailer

Read more about Ramón Gieling?

View his profile with a short biography and a wide selection of drawings and paintings.

To profile Ramón Gieling >>

Or read the previous interview with Ramón in the preparatory phase from ‘L’Amour, la mort’

View work by Rámon Gieling in the gallery