Nicolas Provost

A beautiful dark world, gently touching on sensuality and sexuality 07.03.13  /  Interview by David van der Leer for Extra Extra Magazine

Over the past decade artist and filmmaker Nicolas Provost has carefully shaped a portfolio of works that explore the quirks of human expectation by playing with images from film, literature, and popular culture that are ingrained in our collective memory. For Extra Extra, Guggenheim curator David van der Leer speaks with Provost about place, space and the relationships between people in his films and in his personal life. His first feature film The Invader (2011), starring Burkinabe actor Issaka Sawadogo, investigates our expectations of the exotic and the foreigner and is interlaced with sensuality.

In The Divers (2006) Provost resets the parts of our brain programmed with images of romantic balcony scenes. He captures a brilliantly glowing sky – of which the sparkles sadly surpass those of the timid young couple under it. with his urban triptych on New York (Plot Point, 2007), Las vegas (Stardust, 2010), and tokyo (Tokyo Giants, 2012), Provost plays with our conditioned anticipation for intrigue that can almost effortlessly be fed by visual and auditory triggers, uncovering beautiful mysteries that hide in the shadows of our everyday lives.

David van der Leer: Many of your works seem to both criticize and celebrate cin- ematic history. what is so appealing to you about this?

Nicolas Provost: I have a feeling that in cinema we have been telling the same stories for the past hundred years. Especially in the western world we treat these generic story lines as something close to religion. ‘Here we are: Humans who have to live together. Something happens, so we have to go on a journey together. And hopefully we learn some- thing on that journey. About ourselves, and in the really good stories, not only about ourselves, but also about what’s out there.’ I’m sure we can go on and on with telling these same stories, with the same plot lines, but over the years I got so disappointed with all of this that I stopped watching film for a long time. I got especially tired of stories that spend the last third of the film explaining what happened in the first two thirds and des- perately trying to close all the circles so nothing is left for the audience to fill in or chew on.

So what do you want to do with film as a filmmaker and artist?

I want to know what it is that makes people dream. where does that warm feeling inside come from when you watch a film? I want to know if there is something more we can do with image and sound besides telling a story from left to right. what is it that makes one film part of your life, and not the other. I try to see film as a form of fine arts, and I use sound and images to sculpt. I use Hollywood’s storytelling methods and try to make everlasting poetry.

You reference the old masters of film a lot in your pieces: how come?

The great masters, like Hitchcock, Kubrick or Lynch, made films like dreams. they can be very simple stories tapping into universal themes, like Space Odyssey, The Shining or The Birds, but they are told in a way that it reaches a subconscious level and change something in us forever, they become part of us.

How do you open up your audi- ence to these different layers?

What I try to do in my work is use these different cinematic codes that we have developed over the past century and make the viewer aware that we are all part of a big film memory. I think what people are most concerned with are rela- tionships. Great storytelling is not only about relationships with one another but also with the cosmos. However, the greatest challenge for me is to create a fabulous visual and intellectual increase in tension to tell that story. to create tension I like to play with contrasts and I try to balance on the fine line between these contrasts that are always just about to tip over in the other.

How does one do that?

You have to play with what you see around yourself, and what I see is a beautiful dark world. For me, the most intense experiences are when the dif- ference between dream and nightmare becomes very small. Because that’s what the world is: it’s beautiful and it’s dark. Just as people are beautiful and dark. we’re all trying to live with our demons and our angels like all the great anti- heroes in cinema. My films may be dark because I find this ambivalence of find- ing beauty in darkness and darkness in beauty interesting. which doesn’t mean my films are negative or bitter. On the contrary, I try to make something posi- tive by playing with the ambivalence of the Hollywood dream machine.

Especially in the recent, more mainstream films, emotions that steer relations between people are not always addressed so subtly: How do you go about this, and how does it play into the theme of eroticism in your work?

I like playing with the emotional dimension, knowing that this can eas- ily turn into the pathetic. Especially in contemporary art this is a no-go, which I like to defy. As a kid I admired Serge Gainsbourg. He was an ugly man, but his extremely charming personality and charisma made him so beautiful. He became famous for his lyrics full of dou- ble meanings. His songs are extremely erotic because they are on the verge of becoming vulgar. From a very early age I understood he was playing that game. with eroticism in film you can easily fall into vulgarity and it intrigues me not to fall in that trap.

Can you give an example of how you use those game tactics of Gainsbourg?

There is a short film that I made in which I mirrored smoke in the middle of the image. to me that piece has an erotic dimension because it’s stripped from any specific reference. It’s just something organic and it’s not ‘framed’. It’s just smoke in the middle of the im- age without perspective.
Of course, if you want, you can see vaginas in there, but to me it reaches beyond our physical world. It becomes something cosmic and sacral. And be- cause it is part of the unknown, it is also erotic. to me eroticism and sexuality are part of the unknown that we want to discover.

Let’s stay on the topic of darkness for a moment because for me that has al- ways been a bit of a struggle, especially in the context of sensuality and sexual- ity. Sexuality in very dark, mysterious settings often becomes a hidden outlet in our shiny happy cultures. So perhaps that is the overlap that you’re speak- ing about; something so close between dream and nightmare, that we do not know where one begins and the other ends.

Yes. when I was young and started discovering sexuality it was so intense. this awareness of ‘Oh-my-god- there-is-a-whole-new-dimension-to-the- world that I have to discover. It is going to be fantastic and I can’t wait.’ But from the very beginning I realized it was go- ing to be surrounded with a darkness.

What does that mean for what you personally find erotic?

Hah! this is the only personal thing then that I’m going to tell you, about a sexual fantasy I’ve had for along time!… what I think is attractive are contrasts. Such as differences between genders, ages, and cultures for instance. As a young man I used to be attracted to older women. And it had much to do with them being inaccessible because of their status, power and knowledge. And the beauty of a young and old body mak- ing love together. to learn the sexual codes from an older woman is the dream of many young men. But this longing for something inaccessible has a very dark dimension.

When you start to explain this you make it about her having more experience, more mental territory, but immediately after that you shift to the physical. I guess that happens when you’re a teenager?

Yes, because as a teenager, as a boy, that’s the biggest contrast you can have: Someone with a body so different from your young and inexperienced body. the body of an older woman has history. And then there is the psychol- ogy between a young man and a mature woman that is so sexually interesting. there is something warm in this all, something nurturing.

How does this translate in your work?

Sexuality is always complicated because we’re dealing with people and people are complicated. In the end we all are anti-heroes. In The Invader for instance, an African man comes to Belgium hoping to find paradise and he falls in love with a beautiful rich woman. For her it is a different story. She is more attracted to him because of the adven- ture, and also because he represents a charismatic, mysterious encounter that she needs at that moment in her life. In general I have a hard time believing sex scenes in movies because we know it’s fake. Actors are often too busy try- ing to look beautiful. But I felt I needed one sex scene between this strong black man and this beautiful white woman. So he takes her from behind while she is leaning against the big window in her loft that has a wide view over Brussels. there’s a lot of thinking from her side during the act, and at some point it feels like rape – when you can see he’s put- ting his feelings in it more than she is. that scene has a lot of double meanings. You wonder who is abusing who. who is enjoying it?

Where you ever criticized for be- ing politically incorrect with this scene or the movie in general?

Political incorrectness is something that interests me a lot. the world these days has become politically correct to extreme levels. Not only in politics but also in the arts. I don’t know what is happening… I think that making things undiscussable is very dangerous. It makes me angry that in an age of super-information, the world gets more radical, and narrow-mindedness rules over courage.
And I do not agree with labeling prac- tice. For instance I hate the idea that I should be thinking far-left just because I’m an artist. I strongly believe that things aren’t left or right and that com- mon sense and respect are the answer in this chaos. People are very complicated on many levels and that’s what I try to show in The Invader. I try to tell the story of an African immigrant’s dream for a better life but as a real anti-heroic cinematic character with demons and flaws like every human being. And not yet another sentimental film that puts the immigrant in a simplistic box of the suffering African.

If you compare yourself to the main character in The Invader who by his move to Belgium is opening him- self up to all these issues of power and sexuality: what do you pick up on being recently transplanted to New York City?

I have the feeling – especially on the subway – that everyone in New York City is investigating. Everyone is scanning you. Or least I notice I am scanning. there are so many colorful characters, and often my imagination is running completely wild.

When you are talking about in- spiration on the subway, could this be with anybody? From the elderly lady to a beautiful young woman – or how does that work for you?

No, I didn’t mean it in a sexual or erotic way. I mean it more in general terms of judging of people. I’m judging people all the time and sometimes I am happy I do so, because something positive comes out of it in terms of work, but sometimes I feel I am too negative. Immediately after seeing people I am putting them in boxes.

How does this impact the rela- tionship you have with people?

I am very sensitive of relation- ships with others. For instance I am always very self-aware of what the other person is thinking. Among my favorite relationships are those with close friends – and there aren’t so many of them. these are completely based on humor. relationships in which you can trust each other so much that you can go all the way, and push all the buttons because you know the other person will never hurt, challenge, or betray you. Sometimes I miss these strong relation- ships you had with very close friends as kids. You could be so free. Now with adults it becomes more difficult and I still don’t know why.

Where do you think humor and sensuality overlap in everyday life?

Humor is the way to commu- nicate with people. And of course it doesn’t have to be about big laughter. Communicating with people is somehow flirting. Of course there are people in business that are very serious, that don’t want to step out of their role. But that’s something else.
Usually when people communicate or get to know each other there is a sense of immediacy… they work on first impression in which flirtation plays an important role. Even with the same sex there is some level of flirting that goes hand-in-hand with humor.

I fully agree. And it’s interest- ing what you say about same sexes. Especially with my European straight friends, I realize they’re often so flirta- tious. You would never do that in an American context. It’s probably just how culture is organized differently.

Yes, different codes. Sometimes when I go to another country – and you don’t have to go far – you can feel you may be flirting too much. without doing it on purpose. Suddenly you realize that something is not right. the other person is a little bit afraid of you and doesn’t know what box to put you in. then you realize ‘oh maybe I am a little bit too personal’, or too smiley, working with my eyes… I don’t know! I know it will take me some time before I understand Americans and before I know what a real friendship is in New York. I’m curi- ous to see if my cynical humor will be a problem or not.

Speaking of New York, you shot the first part of the Plot Point Trilogy around times Square. to many older New Yorkers this area was representa- tive of sexuality and sensuality. It no longer is, but to me somehow you almost enliven it with eroticism – an eroticism of suspense. Can you tell me more about your intentions there?

Well, when I made this film I was very inspired by the beauty of times Square as a film studio. the beauty in it is that everything I see around me there is part of common memory. Everything I see; the trains, the hot dog vendors, the cars, the buses and yellow cabs – all these characters, I feel I have known them all my life. this was the perfect place to try and make fiction by filming reality. It became such a fantastic con- cept that I did it in Las vegas and tokyo as well.

When you’re just on the ground for a few weeks before a shoot – as I imagine you have done for the pieces in the trilogy – you must be captivated by trying to figure out what all of these characters and sets can mean in the con- text of your film. How do you do this?

It is so fascinating. Being in the right place at the right time when the light is perfect, and catching interesting characters doing the right thing at the right moment is a feeling of ecstasy. I try to be as free and naive as possible so I can work on pure intuition.
Filming magic moments with a hidden camera is like being in paradise. But the hard work is making these puzzle pieces work in fiction with dramatic tension. when I am in the editing room I am try- ing to find some kind of interpersonal intrigues, but when I am capturing the image itself, it is pure enjoyment for me.

I’ve been wondering about how you make your selections for places to shoot? New York, Las vegas, tokyo, your own city… Brussels, and so on.

Everywhere I put my camera, the place represents something. Every film set or location I use is a metaphor, or frames the emotional level of the characters, and the great thing is that this can transcend to the viewer simply through the beauty of light.

Did you realize these are all rest- less places?

It’s impossible to find rest – peace. It’s a restless world, so you give up on it and you better embrace it, as naive, intuitive and free as possible. that’s when imagination whispers the truth to you.



Stardust 23.03.14  /  Exhibition text by Jaap Guldemond, Cinema Remake, Eye, Amsterdam
Stardust (2010) is the second part of the Plot Point trilogy by Nicolas Provost. In this trilogy Provost employs the grammar of suspense – a twist of self-filmed images together with dialogues and sound from well-known films or television series are schematically and rhythmically coordinated into a Hollywood-type language. In other words, the scenes in Stardust are not staged, but situations encountered by Provost in situ, to which he then applies a Hollywood-style cinematic language. In Stardust Provost is inspired by the cliché image of the city of Las Vegas. He introduces various intrigues which overlap one another without yielding their mystery. By means of clichéd film locations – casinos, hotel lobbies, limousines, clubs – Stardust creates a conspiratorial atmosphere of glitter and crime in a world of stars, gamblers and dollars. In every aspect, the film resembles a Hollywood movie, but is actually a documentary image of Las Vegas. The fact that real stars appear on camera, such as Dennis Hopper, Jon Voight and Jack Nicholson, only increases the confusion as to the ‘reality level’ of Stardust. Because though they appear before the camera as a random passer-by or extra, their iconic appearance still prevents the viewer from seeing them in a role other than that of actor. Stardust is also in keeping with another cinematic tradition. Already at the inception of film, masters such as Walter Ruttmann or Dziga Vertov tried to capture an experimental portrait of cities on film. Rather than focus on the city-dweller or typical architecture, they wanted to record the fascinating dynamic of modern, energetic city life with the eye of the camera. If we draw a line from Vertov until now, then Provost teaches us a new lesson in the phenomenology of seeing. If Vertov showed the city as he would want us to see it, namely as a Marxist utopia, then Provost shows us that we can hardly see the city differently than the way we see it, namely as cinematographic ideology.

(Text by Curator Jaap Guldemond)

From 23 March to 1 June, the exhibition Cinema Remake – art & film at EYE shows the work of filmmakers and artists who use iconic feature films as a basis with which to create something radically new. Cinema Remake reveals how the phenomenon of the remake has produced exceptional results, both within cinema and on the interface between film and visual art. Filmmakers and artists seize upon existing films to make new and meaningful works.

Artists in Cinema Remake
Cory Arcangel, Slater Bradley & Ed Lachman, Chris Chong Chan Fui & Yasuhiro Morinaga, Gregory Crewdson, David Maljkovic, Nicolas Provost, Ana Torfs, Clemens von Wedemeyer
De vernieuwende verleider 09.04.14  /  Interview by Jeroen Laureyns for Hart Magazine on The Perfect Wave exhibition at BePart

‘Nicolas Provost: de vernieuwende verleider’

Sinds Nicolas Provost bij het begin van de 21ste eeuw  zijn entree maakte in de wereld van de beeldende kunst, heeft hij het genre van de videokunst ingrijpend vernieuwd door aan een experimentele esthetica een stevige dosis disco en filmmagie toe te voegen. Nicolas Provost versnijdt en goochelt ook nu weer in BE-PART met filmtaal, niet om film en tv als leugen te ontmaskeren, maar wel om met nieuwe taal over de magie van het leven te spreken: “Ik heb een relatie met schoonheid en ik weet dat dit taboe is in de kunstwereld, maar ik wil het publiek verleiden door hun hart open te maken en er schoonheid in te steken. Waar de emotie met het brein verbonden is, dat is de climax die ik zoek.”

Jeroen Laureyns 

          Een paar dagen voor de opening van zijn spectaculaire tentoonstelling in BE-PART in Waregem, ontmoet ik Nicolas Provost (°Ronse, 1969)  in het buitenverblijf van zijn ouders, ergens aan een groene heuvelflank in de rand van Ronse. Dat betoverende stadje op de taalgrens is de plaats waar hij is opgegroeid. Het is het paradijs van zijn jeugd waarin alles begon: van de straten rond de meubelwinkel van zijn ouders in het hart van de stad die hij samen met zijn broer op ouderwetse wijze onveilig maakte, tot de avonturen die hij zelf beleefde in ‘den bos’ of de avonturen die hij zag op tv en die in zijn beleving en verbeelding op natuurlijke wijze in elkaar overgingen.
          Zelfs nadat hij tien jaar in Noorwegen verbleef, en ondertussen al een paar jaar met zijn vriendin en androgyn mode-icoon Hannelore Knuts in New York woont en ook al enkele jaren Brussel achter de kiezen heeft, blijft Ronse een sterke aantrekkingskracht op hem uitoefenen. En alhoewel de stad en het omringende landschap nooit letterlijk het onderwerp van zijn films vormen, de invloed daarvan op zijn werk is bijna even sterk als bij Thierry De Cordier. Die andere Grote Kunstenaar afkomstig uit Ronse, die in tekeningen uit zijn periode als Kleine Meester van Schoorisse in het golvende landschap de opengesperde dijen van een moeder zag.
          Net zoals nu, in Waregem, Nicolas Provost de beginscène van zijn eerste langspeelfilm uit 2011 ‘The Invader’ tot een adembenemende video-installatie heeft omgebouwd, die begint met het onwaarschijnlijk gedurfde shot tussen de benen van een naakte, zonnebadende Knuts, die zich opricht en als in een droom wandelt naar de pas aangespoelde Afrikaanse immigrant Amadou, gespeeld door Issaka Sawadogo.

          N.P.: “De openingsscène van ‘The Invader’ is geïnspireerd op de geschilderde vagina in ‘L’Origine du Monde’ van Gustave Courbet en bevat de essentie van de film en dat is de man op zoek naar zijn plaats in de wereld. Natuurlijk is het eerste wat hij wil een vrouw. Hij spoelt daar aan op strand, vol goesting om iets van zijn leven te maken en het eerste wat hij ziet is een blanke, beeldschone Europese vrouw, die voor hem de uitdrukking vormt van de hoop op een beter leven. Ik wou niet, zoals dat in een politiek correcte beeldvorming past, een Afrikaanse immigrant voorstellen als een slachtoffer, dat is te gemakkelijk. Ik wou het verhaal vertellen van een antiheld die vecht tegen de wereld en zijn eigen demonen.
          Ik heb zelf die migratieproblematiek aan den lijve ondervonden en diepe eenzaamheid gevoeld. Ik ben tien jaar in Noorwegen geweest en na zeven jaar geprobeerd te hebben om te integreren, dacht ik te weten dat het niet aan mij lag: ik kende de taal, ik had werk en ik had een Noorse vriendin en toch had ik het gevoel dat ik daar geen toekomst had. Op dat moment denk je dat het aan de anderen ligt, maar een paar jaar later besef je weer dat het te gemakkelijk is om het op iemand anders te schuiven. Het is veel en veel complexer dan dat.
          Ik heb bijzonder veel geleerd uit het werk van Paul Schrader, de scenarist van ‘Taxi Driver’ en ‘Raging Bull’. Als filmmaker had hij een totaal verkeerde achtergrond, doordat hij was opgevoed met de strenge principes van het calvinisme, maar uiteindelijk zie je in zijn films hoe hij die religieuze achtergrond vertaalt in verhalen met personages die een spirituele zoektocht doormaken. Voor mij is dat nu ook duidelijk geworden sinds ik de trilogie van ‘Plot Point’ afgewerkt heb en waarvan ik in Waregem, het laatste deel ‘Tokyo Giants’ (2012) toon.
          De ‘Plot Point Trilogie’ is voor mij mijn belangrijkste werk. Het is het meest vernieuwende omdat ik daar toon dat fictie even belangrijk is als realiteit, door gewoon met een verborgen camera op straat van dagelijkse realiteit een spannende fictiefilm te maken. Van in het begin is het leven onlosmakelijk verbonden met ‘storytelling’, of het nu gaat om religie, kampvuur of cinema. Nu ik dat werk af heb weet ik waarom filmtaal zo belangrijk is voor mij, omdat het mij via die filmische ‘storytelling’ in staat stelt om die spirituele zoektocht tot uitdrukking te brengen.
          Nu begrijp ik ook dat de eenzaamheid die ik als immigrant in Noorwegen gevoeld heb, misschien ook verbonden is aan het gevoel dat ik van kleins af had dat ik mij niet op mijn gemak voel in een groep, waardoor ik altijd al geweten heb dat ik kunstenaar wou zijn en dat ik mij artistiek wou uitdrukken. Ik vroeg al als kind aan mijn moeder om van de Delhaize een bepaald soort wc-papier mee te brengen waarmee ik in de badkamer installaties bouwde en waarvan ik dan dia’s maakte. Ik kreeg ook al heel snel als kind een eigen ‘kodak’ omdat ik op vakantie altijd goede foto’s trok. Voor mij was dan ook de komst van het digitale tijdperk een godsgeschenk, doordat je plots met relatief goedkope middelen zelf films kon maken en bewerken.”

J.L.: “In al jouw films valt het op hoe mannelijk ze zijn. Met een atletisch acteur als Sawadogo die als een reus uit het water opreist, valt dat natuurlijk nog meer op. Net zoals wanneer hij later in de film met ontblote bast als illegale werknemer met een drilboor tekeer gaat, of wanneer hij met de bloedmooie, rijpe vrouw gespeeld door Stefania Rocca tegen een ruit de liefde bedrijft. Net zoals wanneer hij helemaal de pedalen verliest en zijn agressie botviert, eerst door een auto te vermassacreren, dan door een moord te begaan. Maak je bewust kunst waarin mannelijke viriliteit zo op de voorgrond treedt?”

N.P.: “Ik ben altijd fier, niet alleen als man, maar ook dat ik als man een vrouwelijke kant heb. Ik zie het nut er niet van in om dat te ontkennen. Het is een verleidingsspel dat enorm sterk verbonden is met humor, maar ik probeer vooral het publiek te verleiden. Niet vanuit het machoperspectief om als man met kunst vrouwen te versieren, maar wel om een publiek warm te maken. Ik ben mij bewust dat je als kunstenaar een publiek hebt en dat je zeker als videokunstenaar daar zeer bewust mee moet bezig zijn. Ik weet wanneer de kijker afhaakt, ik ben daar zeer sterk mee bezig. Als je uw vinger op magie weet te leggen dan moet je dat lang volhouden.”

J.L.: “Misschien is die viriliteit die ik beweer te zien, dan eerder een geslachtsoverstijgende levensdrift? Maar als ik alleen al naar de poster van jouw tentoonstelling in Waregem kijk waarop een mannelijke surfer het opneemt tegen een reusachtige golf, spreekt daar toch een zeer sterke mannelijkheid uit? Zelfs in een advertentie in de meest zwart-witte kunstkrant van de Lage Landen springt dat beeld eruit.”

N.P.: “De film ‘The Perfect Wave’ dat is de oneindige climax, gebaseerd op een bijna-dood-ervaring die ik had toen ik ging zwemmen in Rio. Pas achteraf had ik natuurlijk door dat er niemand anders aan het zwemmen was, omdat het water zo gevaarlijk was. De golven sloegen mij voordurend naar beneden, waardoor ik dacht ‘that’s it, het is met mij gedaan terwijl mijn lief op strand zit toe te kijken’. Ik heb die ervaring omgekeerd en research gedaan door samen met andere surfers te wachten op de perfecte golf. Van zodra ik op een plank lag om samen te wachten op de perfecte golf heb ik de filosofie van de surfer begrepen. Uiteindelijk gaat het bij de surfers die op zo’n hoge golven surfen maar om wereldwijd een kleine groep van zo’n honderd man die de wereld afreizen, omdat er per seizoen maar een paar mogelijkheden zijn. Ik zeg altijd dat ik intuïtief film, maar film dat zijn ook ideeën. Ik vond dat zo’n schoon idee die obsessie voor de eindeloze golf, omdat het over het spirituele verlangen van de mens naar oneindigheid gaat en ik wist dat wanneer je de ‘cuts’ juist plaatst tussen die verschillende beelden van verschillende golven, dat je die onderbrekingen dan niet ziet, waardoor die oneindig doorgaat.”

J.L.: “Kan je nog eens verduidelijken wat voor jou de verhouding is tussen intuïties en ideeën?”

N.P.: “Voor mij is een idee al een emotie. Kunst is het punt waarop emotie en het brein elkaar raken. Ik ben opgevoed met de kracht van het beeld en het geluid, maar zonder literatuur of een ander intellectueel referentiekader. Ik heb mij daar lang over geschaamd dat ik geen literatuur kende. Als je kijkt naar mijn ‘Plot Point Trilogie’ dan zien je drie films die drie keer opbouwen naar een climax die louter uit abstractie en suggestie bestaat. De spanningsboog in die films zijn opgebouwd puur op een emotioneel niveau, want na 100 jaar filmtaal is ons onderbewuste geconditioneerd door ‘storytelling’, daardoor is er een collectief taalgeheugen ontstaan. Filmtaal werkt op het onderbewuste, elke film heeft een verhaaltje, maar bij elke film is het de filmtaal die beslist of het een goede film is of niet. Film is de clash tussen realiteit en droom. Dat is het sterkste wat een mens kan meemaken, daarom vind ik ook dat filmtaal die dimensie van de droom moet aanraken. Ik heb dan ook ‘The Invader’ gemaakt vanuit de traditie waarin film een kunstvorm is, zoals ik in mijn artistieke carrière video als film benader.”

J.L.: “Is de film de ‘Dark Galleries’ waarin je op oude zwart-wit films uit de jaren 40 en 50 ziet hoe schilderijen in een film worden binnen gebracht dan ook een soort van artistiek statement?”

N.P.: “De start voor deze film was een opdracht die vertrok vanuit een onderzoek van Steven Jacobs en Lisa Colpaert die een verzameling van filmfragmenten hadden aangelegd waarin die kunstwerken als een soort personage voorkomen. Ik heb van die fragmenten een verhaal gemaakt en een soort labyrint ontwikkeld waarin elk beeld dat je ziet overgaat in het andere. In Waregem word je vanuit de zaal waarin ‘The Invader and The Origin of the World’ op een groot scherm wordt geprojecteerd, door het geluid van de stemmen en dialogen die zo typisch zijn voor de film-noir naar ‘The Dark Galleries’ gelokt. Aangezien die laatste film volledig is opgebouwd aan de hand van bestaande filmfragmenten, vormt dat weer een goed contrast met de laatste film op de tentoonstelling ‘Tokyo Giants’ die ik dan weer volledig zelf gefilmd heb.”

J.L.: “Dan blijft er nog één film uit de tentoonstelling onbesproken. De eerste film op het parcours ‘Illumination’, waarin voorbijgangers door een felle zonnestraal belicht worden. Hoe is die film tot stand gekomen?”

N.P.: “Na ‘The Invader’ was ik toch een beetje in de war en uitgeput. Door ‘Illumination’ te maken heb ik ingezien dat ik weer veel meer de magie moet zoeken op straat. Ik heb die plaats waar die mensen in dat felle licht uit het duister verschijnen op den bots gevonden. Het is een plaats in Manhattan waar door een gelukkige samenloop van omstandigheden in het begin van de maand juli het licht weerkaatst wordt via een naburig gebouw. Die mensen staan daar onder een afdak aan te schuiven om naar een musical te gaan, terwijl dat felle licht hen belicht. Door dat fenomeen was ik weer in staat om met toevallige passanten een verhaal te maken. Alsof je op een rustpunt komt waar licht de liefde bedrijft met de mens. Ik heb die scène meteen in slow motion gefilmd waardoor je goed ziet hoeveel drama er in iedere beweging zit. Daar heb ik weer ervaren dat het liefste wat ik doe het filmen zelf is, zelf de camera in handen nemen. Zoals die twee keer tien dagen filmen in Las Vegas en waaruit de film ‘Stardust’ is voortgekomen die nu te zien is op een ‘Cinema Remake’, een internationale groepstentoonstelling in het Eye in Amsterdam. Voor veel mensen is Las Vegas de meest vulgaire plaats die ze zich kunnen voorstellen, maar voor mij waren dat de schoonste dagen van mijn leven waarin je de wereld die je ziet op hetzelfde moment al aan het maken bent.”

Nicolas Provost ‘The Perfect Wave’ van 30 maart tot 11 mei 2014 in BE-PART, Westerlaan 17, 8790 Waregem, +32 (0) 56/62.94.10, [email protected],

The Invader – The Hollywood Reporter 05.09.11  /  Review by Neil Young on The Invader premiering at The Venice Film Festival

Dark Belgian pic from visual artist Nicolas Provost is more of a thriller and less an avant-garde art piece than one might expect.

Ambitious, surprisingly successful attempt to combine tough urban thriller with edgy socio-political parable.

After several years reaping awards and acclaim for his experimental shorts, Belgian visual artistNicolas Provost now makes a promisingly bold transition to features with The Invader. The film’s desire to provoke is blatantly evident from its very first shot: a close-up of female genitalia, a startling image which is also a highbrow nod to Gustav Courbet’s 19th century painting, The Origin of the World.

But while this opening sequence and the credits which follow promise a movie of avant-garde weirdness, what Provost actually delivers is mostly a surprisingly straightforward crime-drama that could even function as a calling-card for a Hollywood studio gig, should that be the direction he next wants to take.

Slickly accomplished and anchored by an outstanding central performance by the imposing Issaka Sawadogo, this offbeat picture will be a surefire talking point at festivals especially those also showing Steve McQueen’s Shame, with which it happens to share certain key thematic and visual parallels. Art-house play in Francophone territories beckons for this film punctuated with frank nudity and resolutely unglamorized violence.

Much of the latter is meted out protagonist Amadou (Sawadogo), a swaggering bull of a man who makes his way from an unspecified African country to work illegally in Europe. He finds a tough construction job in Brussels, which involves wielding an enormous drill, the first of several instances where Provost deploys overt phallic imagery with semi-ironic directness.

Amadou is a man on the make, both financial and sexually, so it isn’t long before he’s engaged in a steamy affair with a sophisticated, white European woman – Stefania Rocca’s Agnès. When this liaison turns sour, Amadou’s fortunes quickly deteriorate. A chap who has previously been a potentially model EU citizen – hard-working, caring, conscientious, intelligent, resourceful – spirals into bloodshed and murder. Whether this change involves some revelation of Amadou’s true savagery, or whether he is haplessly driven to desperate acts by capitalist Europe’s callous cruelty, is a matter for debate.

Provost and his co-writers, Giordano Gederlini and François Pirot, knowingly play with cultural and economic stereotypes — specifically, the bygone idea that powerful black men long to “invade” both the European continent and the bodies of its women – in a manner which some may find offensively glib. But they do so within a context that manages to be at once gritty and plausible and intriguingly fantastical.

Indeed, it’s hard to know what, if anything, to take at face value – the very final shot casts into doubt absolutely everything we’ve seen up to this point. What isn’t in question, however, is the magnetism and physical intensity of a multi-layered performance that deserves to propel Sawadogo towards stardom. He’s a charismatic combination of menace and easy charm here, superbly cast as an intelligent man who, for all his power and indomitable determination, is really a cork on the capricious tides of fate.

Amadou’s urban wanderings are imaginatively captured in relentlessly pin-sharp detail by cinematographer Franck Van den Eeden, whose cool digital images effectively and amusingly endow the oft-derided European capital with a dangerous night-town edge.

By Neil Young 

The Invader – Twitch Film 14.09.11  /  Review by Todd Brown on The Invader at Toronto International Film Festival

Though you may not expect a white Belgian director to share much in common with early 1990’s American hip hop, it would appear that writer-director Nicolas Provost has an intimate understanding of white Europe’s Fear Of A Black Planet. But while Public Enemy’s seminal 1990 album was a angry outburst against racial prejudice Provost’s debut feature is more of a somber mediation on the subject, a quietly mournful acknowledgement that the cycles of poverty and prejudice are as strong now as they ever were.

Provost begins in shocking fashion, the camera locked in close on a beautiful woman lying naked on a nameless beach. Responding to some off-screen commotion she rises and strides across the sand, eventually arriving at a place where a pair of black men – one of them the powerfully built Amadou (Issaka Sawadogo) – have literally washed ashore. They lock eyes – she with simple curiosity, he with the intensity of someone who has just won an impossible struggle to stay alive.

We jump forward then, both in time and space, and find Amadou hard at work on a construction site in Brussels. He’s even more powerfully built than we may have first seen, and gifted with both obvious intelligence and charisma. He is also in the country illegally, completely under the thumb of a local mobster who houses illegal migrants in the bottom of a parking garage, essentially using them as debt slaves as he forces them to pay down the cost of promised illegal papers that will most likely never arrive. And Amadou has to pay this debt down twice, carrying as he is the load for the friend he washed ashore with – a friend who is now deathly ill but cannot seek out medical help for fear of deportation.

Though unhappy Amadou is willing to play his part as long as his friend is safe and sheltered. But when he disappears and Amadou’s questions as to his whereabouts are met with scorn then he lashes out with anger and strikes out on his own, quickly fixating on a wealthy white businesswoman who thinks may provide the keys to his freedom.

Both title and opening sequence make it very clear that The Invader is intended as provocation, a sharply barbed piece of satire ripping a hole out of white fears that the black man will wash up from Africa and steal our women. And it certainly is that, though Provost proves too smart by far to simply retreat into anger and violence. Both are present, yes, but the film has layers that run far deeper than that. It is a sad meditation on futility, a reflection on the situation of a man coming to realize that he simply has no way out. That despite his gifts and abilities he will never be treated as an equal. It is a reflection on how a man’s morals will shift when they come to realize such a thing, about how the will to survive can lead a man to abandon dignity and civility when it becomes clear that neither is going to put food in his belly or a pillow under his head.

Anchored by a magnetic performance from Sawadogo – who is at the center of literally every scene in the film – The Invader is a bold yet subtle debut from Provost, a sure sign that the wave of young talent coming from Belgium is not over yet.
The Invader – Filmmaker Magazine 02.02.12  /  Interview by Scott Macaulay

A sort of Taxi Driver set within the world of European immigrant culture, Nicolas Provost’s The Invader is one of the most intriguing and seductive films currently on the festival circuit. It premiered in Venice before screening in Toronto (where the below interview was conducted) and now Rotterdam, and it marks the feature debut of Provost (pictured above), a Belgian video and installation artist whose work has always taken as its subject the way cinema orders images into narrative.

The story opens with the camera fixed on the vagina of a beautiful blonde woman, sunbathing nude on a Southern European beach. It pulls back, taking in the scene of vacation frolickers until we spy Amadou (Issaka Sawadogo), an immigrant from Africa literally washing up on shore. After a hallucinatory sequence that sends Amadou from the beach to the city (Brussells), the film proper begins. Amadou is now part of an illegal labor force contracted out for day labor jobs by an imperious mid-level crime boss. An altercation with the boss sends Amadou on the street, without a job, money or papers. Spying a beautiful blonde executive, played by the stunning Stefania Rocca, he uses his considerable charm, verbal dexterity and sexual persuasiveness to insinuate himself into her life. Soon, though, his own anxieties, his resentments and feelings of being out of place, send him on a path to self-destruction.

Provocative in its socio, sexual and racial politics, The Invader makes us watch as an initially honorable African man gradually implodes when the shiny images of Western culture are dangled before him. The film plays with our sympathies, and our stereotypes, and it does so with a sleekly absorbing visual style. In the below interview, I talk with Provost about his art background, his move to feature filmmaking, and the archetypes he evokes in this picture.

Filmmaker: Let me start with the obvious question: where did the idea of making this film come from?

Provost: Well, as a visual artist working with the phenomenon of cinema, the grammar of cinema, [making a feature] was bound to happen. Everything I do is like sculpting with image and sound. [My work] looks very cinematic because it’s not abstract video art. It’s sometimes very narrative and since I play with film grammar in my video work, making a feature film was almost the same challenge. It was just longer, but you still ask yourself the same questions. How do you surprise an audience today when they’ve seen so much after 120 years of cinema? Like with all my work, I started from a few images, very intuitively, first having the feeling of what I wanted to convey, what feeling I wanted to [evoke in] the audience, and only then came the story. In 2004 I had made a short film with Issaka, the main actor, as a goodbye to a chapter of my life when I lived 10 years in Norway. It was such a good experience to work with him that I decided if I would ever make a feature, I’ll make it with him. I wanted a story that had a universal theme because I want to move the world, not just my country. Immigration politics, that’s something actual in Europe and all over the world. I think cinema has to be universal. It was a challenge, then for me to do something different, not only with my cinematic poetry but also with how I attacked that subject. So I put the immigration politics on the far background and told a story of an anti-hero because these are still my absolute favorite film journeys — the outsider stories, fighting the world around him and his own demons, becoming a hero, anti-hero. That’s what moves me the most in cinema.

Filmmaker: The film has an interesting structure in that the bulk of the middle is fairly realistic, but it’s bookended by these two very ambiguous sequences. I wasn’t sure whether they were meant to be reality, fantasy, or perhaps commentary on the film itself.

Provost: Of course the opening scene, it had to be a commercial for Europe, for the modern New World that he’s looking for, his dream. The painting from Courbet,The Origin of the World, on which the first image of the film is based, I thought it was perfect to start the film from there. His journey, or the story of the film, is born out of the woman that he is looking for. That’s his goal — to become happy, to find emotional satisfaction — and the woman is fantastically played by Hannelore Knuts, who is a fashion icon and a very famous top model. Instead of using a Flemish actress or an extra, I thought it was important to use a symbol representing modern woman in emancipated Europe. The tunnel sequence that follows is a continuation of the beach scene. It’s his journey from the beach to the city. It’s his psychological downward spin towards hell. I wanted to create a feeling where this story is not just an anti-hero story. It’s also about our projection on immigrants. It becomes the monster that we project on immigrants, sometimes. I’m not trying to judge anyone. That’s what I hope is clear with the film, that I’m not taking parts. I’m not trying to come up with a voice for the immigrants, and I’m not blaming the Western world. It’s a tragic situation.

Filmmaker: Do you work with a conventional screenplay?

Provost: I’m a terrible screenwriter (laughs). It takes me a lot of time. I had two good co-writers. We knew the film had to be very simple. I didn’t want it to be a plot-based film. It was a character-driven film. Again, I think it’s interesting to play with the expectation of the audience because I think they’re smarter than we think after 120 years of collective film memory. I like to flirt with different [expectations], to create expectations and then go on a different way. I think it’s interesting that [the film] suddenly turns into a thriller. The film opens like a dream and it could easily be read as pretentious. It’s then my challenge to not fall in that trap. That’s why I [followed it with] almost social realism before slowly going other places.

Filmmaker: The fixation on the blonde Western woman is something that the protagonist doesn’t seem to challenge. It’s like he, or even the film, accepts that he is almost powerless to resist her. There were maybe other things he could have done in the movie but he’s fixated on her.

Provost: Well, for me as a heterosexual man, the woman is still the mystery of life. It’s something I would have done, I think. I think it’s very touching that the first plot point is him putting all his hope on a woman. His friend just died, he has nothing, he has nowhere to sleep, so meeting this beautiful and powerful sexual presence….

Filmmaker: Are your shorts and work in the art world as narrative as this film is?

Provost: Well all the films that I make are between one minute and half an hour, and I use the language of cinema. The works that are closest to this feature film are my “Plot Point” trilogy. That’s three films: the first one is in New York, the second one is in Las Vegas and the third one is in Tokyo, which I’m making now. They’re 15 to 20 minute films where I’m filming in the street with a hidden camera, filming people who become characters. I imagine a story and in the editing process, I make fiction. It looks like pure fiction, not documentary. It’s not arty. It almost looks like a Michael Mann film. It’s a lot of work. The New York one plays with the police force as a character, New York as a character and suspicious looking characters in the streets. It plays with Hollywood thriller codes. The second part is in Las Vegas, which is called Stardust. There I play with crime film codes. I even got to film Dennis Hopper, probably the last appearance he ever made. Jack Nicholson, Jon Voigt . . . they appear in the film. Some of them I have directed, which was perfect for that concept of trying to make fiction with reality. And now the Tokyo film that I’m making, I’m following an actor who interacts with the real world, but it’s all hidden camera. People are not aware that he’s a fictional character, a serial killer, so it’s very exciting. It’s a very strange tension because you almost think it’s real but it’s not possible.

Filmmaker: Are these films shown in galleries, and on European TV?

Provost: All the platforms of the audio-visual that are there. They are broadcast on television but also sold in limited editions in galleries and museums.

Filmmaker: When you were making this feature, how much did you think of the filmgoing audience as opposed to your normal art world audience?

Provost: A lot (Laughs). Yes, because you try to reach as many people as possible. To go for a big audience you have to be very ambitious at the beginning. In all my work I’m afraid to bore an audience for one second. I try to make sure when the film starts the tension occurs from the beginning and works to the end. With a feature, it’s the same thing. With [The Invader] I chose to have a very simple story with not too much plot but with a very strong narrative structure so that I could smuggle a lot of my poetry in there.

Filmmaker: When you say your “poetry,” are you referring to the way you’ve captured the city and its textures, or the way you access the inner world of your protagonist?

Provost: That was a question from the audience yesterday. I had no idea how to answer that. How can you explain how you make that poetry? It’s with a huge love for cinema. I’m raised with film history. We’ve watched so many films in my family that today I have to give something back because cinema made me dream so much. Our common film memory, that’s something that I work with. We’ve all been subconsciously raised with the same cinema, with the same language, all over the world. I think an audience today understands much more than we think. I think it’s so beautiful to play with that collective memory we are all part of, and that maybe we have the same dreams because we’ve been watching the same material.

Filmmaker: How do you think that collective memory is changing today? Obviously younger audiences aren’t seeing all the films you grew up with. And the grammar is changing too.

Provost: I’m not sure that the grammar is changing. I have a feeling that it’s still the same thing. I still watch a lot of old films. For me anyway, the inspiration doesn’t come from cinema today. It’s very seldom that I’m moved today by a new product. Of course scripts become tighter and they try to re-invent it . . . it’s a lot of “trying to be smart.” I have a feeling that it used to be purer, earlier. I saw Shame yesterday, and I was very moved by it. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen something that was to me so inspiring. The poetry of [Steve McQueen’s] film language is so strong, so pure, and it has, funnily enough, several similarities to my film. From Venice, already they were telling me that we had almost exactly the same sex scene [with the woman pressed against the window]. The locations are very similar, and I was very afraid to be disappointed [by the film] but I was just blown away.

Filmmaker: Like you, Steve McQueen is an artist who has crossed over from visual art to feature filmmaking. Who do you consider your colleagues?

Provost: You mean in the visual arts or in the cinema?

Filmmaker: Either one.

Provost: My colleagues, my role models, the people who brought me the most are Hitchcock, Lynch and Kubrick. To me they are the most important masters. They made me dream the most. They made films that are like dreams, and I think that’s what a film should be. Of course there are some recent works: James Grey, it’s just unpretentious classicism. Love it. I thought Elephant from Gus Van Sant made a difference at a time. It was one of these key moments, like when Blue Velvet changed cinema in ’87, I think. And honestly when I saw Shame yesterday, I thought this is one of these moments that I’m experiencing like when I saw Blue Velvet or Elephant.

Filmmaker: Anything else you want to say or add about your film?

Provost: The most important thing is that people understand that it’s not a political film. It’s a subject that has always been there: immigration. For me, it’s important to do something completely different with it.

Filmmaker: At the same time, I think it’s hard not to think of it as a political film because there’s a big dialogue about immigration politics in both Europe and the U.S. right now. And the politics of your film are provocative. You have an African protagonist who pretty much unquestioningly accepts and is corrupted by the Western ideal of a blonde, beautiful, sexualized woman. Faced with her presence, he loses control. Do you think he is a victim in the film?

Provost: No. That’s what I hope you don’t read. If there are victims in the film, we’re all victims, including, also, the woman. I hope it’s balanced, victim/hero, and that I’m not judging.

Filmmaker: Do you see the woman as a kind of iconic, essential ideal of beauty? Or is she a construct of Western media, of the ideals of advertising?

Provost: Both. It is an image that has been created but I love it. You’re attracted to it. It’s made to be attracted to. That’s what I think is fascinating. That’s what I hope you read through the film. The characters are very stereotypical, archetypal, but I hope that you can read on these archetypes different subtexts.

Filmmaker: Who’s the actress?

Provost: Stefania Rocca. She’s a very well respected star in Italy, and she has also played in several Abel Ferrara films. I discovered her in a French film, where she was playing a tormented character, the wife of a politician, and she played it in this very tormented tradition of Monica Vitti. It turned out that Monica Vitti was her mentor. She was a dream to work with. We just met in Venice last year on the film festival. We had 15 minutes to talk because she was presenting a film she made with Willem Dafoe directed by Defoe’s wife. And she said, “Well, I like your script, and it will be fine. We’ll be friends and you can ask me anything you want.” And that was it. I thought that was a good lesson for me, to always work with great actors who are professional, well prepared, who have done their homework, and who are not afraid of trust.

Scott Macaulay

The Invader – De werkelijkheid als voetnoot bij de beeldcultuur 02.12  /  Erik Martens, Ons Erfdeel
Gepubliceerd in Ons Erfdeel 2012/2.
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De werkelijkheid als voetnoot bij de beeldcultuur. Een eerste langspeelfilm voor Nicolas Provost.
Door Erik Martens.

De naam en faam van de Belgische audiovisuele kunstenaar Nicolas Provost zijn al geruime tijd gevestigd.1 Tot voor kort waren zijn films hoofdzakelijk te zien op de karakteristieke plekken waar korte experimentele films vertoond werden: op festivals, in galerieën en slechts bij uitzondering in een klassieke bioscoop. Met zijn eerste lange speelfilm komt Provost plots in een heel ander universum terecht, met heel andere gewoonten, andere netwerken, ontmoetings- en vertoningsplaatsen.

Het minste wat je van deze riskante migratie kunt zeggen, is dat de landing in de nieuwe wereld succesvol is verlopen. Zoals een ideaal releaseplan het vooropstelt, werd de film voor hij in Vlaanderen in de zalen kwam, geselecteerd op belangrijke buitenlandse filmfestivals (Venetië, Toronto en San Sebastian) om vervolgens zijn nationale première te beleven op het filmfestival van Gent. De recensies waren uitermate lovend, ook al maakt dat The Invader nog niet tot een film voor het brede publiek. Volgens Boyd van Hoeij in het vaktijdschrift Variety is de film “strictly niche fare”.

Provost heeft nooit klassieke films gemaakt. Zijn producties zijn van in het begin gericht geweest op het onderzoek van de taal van het medium. Voor The Invader is dat niet anders, ook al vertelt de film een op het eerste gezicht verrassend eenvoudig verhaal. Als toeschouwer volgen we de wederwaardigheden van een al dan niet economische vluchteling die letterlijk aanspoelt in het westen in de hoop daar een beter leven op te bouwen. Hij komt terecht in Brussel. Zijn droom verandert in een nachtmerrie.

The Invader is allesbehalve een hermetische film. De intrige voert een aantal bijna klassieke personages op. Het hoofdpersonage Amadou is charmant, zelfverzekerd en heeft gevoel voor ironie: wanneer nieuwsgierigen naar zijn naam en herkomst informeren, geeft hij zich uit voor “Obama”. Verder zijn er een paar duistere figuren uit de onderwereld die illegale migranten tewerkstellen in bouwprojecten in het Brusselse, en ten slotte, zoals in (bijna) elke bioscoopfilm, wordt er een potentieel romantische relatie in het vooruitzicht gesteld. Amadou ontmoet de rijke zakenvrouw Agnes. Zijn fascinatie voor haar is dubbel. Er is een sterke fysieke aantrekkingskracht, maar tegelijk hoopt Amadou dat Agnes zijn toegang wordt tot de nieuwe wereld. Die hoop blijkt een illusie.

In de eerste helft van de film zien we hoe Amadou tal van moeilijke situaties het hoofd biedt. Zijn nieuwe heimat, Brussel, blijkt bijzonder onherbergzaam voor mensen zoals hij. In de tweede helft krijgt zijn zelfvertrouwen een serieuze deuk en leidt de wanhoop die erop volgt tot geweld en dood. De vervreemding die Amadou aanvankelijk nog koppig negeert, krijgt nu de overhand. Zijn morele ondergang maakt de kijker ongemakkelijk, precies omdat de ondergang zo totaal is. Provost biedt geen enkele hoop.

De films van Provost spelen zich af in een wereld die een sombere plek is, maar die tegelijk fascineert. Ze worden gekenmerkt door een nadrukkelijke esthetisering, maar daarnaast ook door een maatschappelijke aanpak die nooit zonder grond is.

Migratie is een thema dat de jongste jaren almaar vaker aan bod komt in films en documentaires, ook in Vlaanderen. Zo speelt Isaka Sawadogo, die de rol van Amadou vertolkt, ook mee in Swooni, de debuutfilm van Kaat Beels. Zijn personage in Swooni staat heel dicht bij zijn personage in The Invader. Maar naast markante overeenkomsten (beide films werden ook gefotografeerd door Frank van den Eeden) is er tussen beide films vooral een wereld van verschil.

Bij Beels levert de vertelling de “inhoud” voor de film, bij Provost biedt de vertelling veeleer de structuur van de film. Die inhoud van The Invader is niet nieuw voor wie het werk van Provost kent. Ik signaleer kort een paar opvallende karakteristieken.Om te beginnen gaat deze film in eerste instantie over… film. The Invader is een metafilm die vertelt hoe verregaand de bioscoopfilm de voorbije eeuw onze verbeelding, onze angsten en onze dromen heeft gekoloniseerd. Cinema verdicht of mythologiseert de realiteit. Tegenover de werkelijkheid op het grote scherm is de alledaagse realiteit triviaal, armoedig en onsamenhangend. De werkelijkheid op het grote scherm met zijn grote emoties en zijn retorische kracht suggereert een veel waarachtiger discours. Het leven van alledag voedt zich hieraan, trekt zich eraan op. Provost brengt dit mechanisme op een heel lucide manier in beeld.

Niet alleen het beeld, maar ook de muziek speelt hier een belangrijke rol. De muziek van Evgueni Galperine dwingt de kijker tot een uitgesproken epische lezing van de beelden. Diezelfde techniek paste Provost al meermaals toe in zijn korte films. In Plot Point (2007) en Stardust (2010) kregen “gewone” opnames van “alledaagse” taferelen in respectievelijk Las Vegas (Stardust) en New York (Plot Point) de allure van een beklemmende genrefilm. En dat enkel en alleen door de suggestieve montage en de manipulatieve soundtrack.

In The Invader is de realiteit waaruit hij put minder neutraal of onschuldig, maar de houding van de filmmaker ertegenover is dezelfde. Isaka Sawadogo heeft op zich al een behoorlijke présence op het scherm, maar door een aantal goedgekozen ingrepen laat Provost het existentiële gewicht van zijn hoofdpersonage nog aanzienlijk toenemen: door muziek en montage, maar ook bijvoorbeeld door de keuze voor het breedbeeldkader dat we eerder associëren met genres als de western.

Amadou krijgt hierdoor een tragische grandeur. Het breedbeeldkader toont het personage in samenhang met het omgevende landschap. Voor The Invader is dat Brussel, een stad die niet de omvang en de status heeft van New York of Las Vegas, maar wel alle andere karakteristieken van grootstedelijkheid: de veelheid aan visuele en auditieve prikkels, de razende onrust, de versplintering.

Waar het klassieke breedbeeldformaat gebruikt wordt om de continuïteit van het personage met zijn leefwereld te tonen, brengt het hier de vervreemding in beeld. The Invader toont geen esthetiserende stadspanorama’s – wat je zou verwachten – maar beeldcomposities die in de eerste plaats chaos evoceren. Het brede beeld is geen zinvol gestructureerd geheel, maar toont een gedeconstrueerde realiteit, die niet langer de som is van haar onderdelen. Flarden van Amadou verschijnen in beeld naast reclameschermen en verlichte etalages. Verkeerstunnels vervormt Provost via een spiegele¤ect tot een caleidoscopische kijkervaring, iets wat hij ook in andere films deed (ook nog in Storyteller). Het grafische patroon is aantrekkelijk, maar het heeft geen betekenis meer. De realiteit verliest haar leesbaarheid en wordt abstract.Provost gebruikt de realiteit als grondstof voor een eigen kosmologie. Hij laat componenten van de realiteit voor de camera samensmelten met referenties uit de beeldcultuur. De haveloze migrant transformeert hij tot een mythologische reiziger van de wereldzeeën die bij de aanvang van de film zoals Odysseus aanspoelt op het strand van het eiland Scheria. Het afgetrainde lichaam van Amadou verwijst naar de taal van de reclamefotografie en de genrefilm. Amadou wordt op het naturistenstrand onthaald door fotomodel Hannelore Knuts, wier naaktheid zeer direct in beeld wordt gebracht. Ook hier werkt de plasticiteit van de naakte lichamen als directe verwijzing naar de vele iconische afbeeldingen uit de catalogus van de westerse beeldcultuur.

De stijl van Provost is tegelijk direct én abstract. De hoogstpersoonlijke emotie maakt er plaats voor een abstracte tonaliteit, een gestolde emotie, die breder gaat dan het particuliere, precies omdat ze verankerd is in het collectieve beeldpatrimonium. Provost refereert zonder ophouden aan dit gigantische vat van beelden, geluiden en sferen. Hij doet dat zoals hij ademt: vanzelfsprekend en zonder dat hij er erg in heeft.

Tegenover de wereld die in deze film geëvoceerd wordt, verhoudt Provost zich op een ambivalente manier. Hij kijkt gefascineerd toe, maar tegelijk wekt het contrast tussen de bovenwereld van decadente overvloed en de onderwereld van uitbuiting en ontbering onbehagen, bij hemzelf en bij de kijker.

Die zeer hedendaagse gespletenheid tegenover een extreem ambivalente maatschappelijke realiteit brengt Provost op een intrigerende manier in beeld. Niemand heeft het hem zo voorgedaan. Dat hij daarbij een heel eigen beelddiscours binnensmokkelt in een genre dat meestal niet happig is op een dergelijke complexiteit, is meer dan een provocatie of een cerebrale spielerei. Het omgekeerde is waar. De kijk van Provost is al bij al een verrassend correcte weergave van hoe wij de werkelijkheid vandaag ervaren: als een voetnoot bij de beelden die we van de beeldschermen lezen.

(1) SAM STEVERLYNCK, “De cinematografische experimenten van Nicolas Provost”,
Ons Erfdeel, jaargang 50 (2007), nr 4, pp. 134-136.
Cinematic City Symphonies 1.05.12  /  Robrecht Vanderbeeken, Catalogue text on the Plot Point Trilogy Exhibition at Argos, Brussels
Cinematic city symphonies. On the Plot Point trilogy by Nicolas Provost
By Robrecht Vanderbeeken

With his surprising and multifaceted oeuvre, Nicolas Provost is a genre in himself. To be sure, he adds a new chapter to a tradition which once began with something like video art, but then one which subtly negates and elevates that tradition. Provost plays with the codes of cinema to create visual poems about our reality, more specifically about that with which our experience of reality is permeated: cinema. Not only did we all grow up with the film canon, it is also a window through which we have learned to look at the world. Whether we like it or not, our conditioned gaze is continually focused by the parameters of our collective memory of film. Provost senses this like no one else. This explains why his films always succeed in finding a direct access to the viewer. The viewer in his case is the so-called ‘aesthetic elite’ of visual arts – if they would actually exist – the garden variety television viewer, the occasional visitor to a film festival as well as the diehard film enthusiast.
How can we describe Provost’s formal experiments? They are not purely conceptual exercises in style, as they are full of visual narrative, humour and emotions. They are not purely aesthetic image worlds because they also constitute a hall of mirrors reflecting on the medium. They are not art for the sake of art because they generate too much amusing viewing pleasure for that. It is an unprecedented, absurd or abstract visual language but at the same time also a collage of recognizable, familiar images with a multitude of allusions to cinema classics. Furthermore, it is a quite an achievement – even the ever-reserved art sceptic would admit that – to create work about which you can say that it renders a pure, art-critical discourse but which also intimidates with its unabashed, sublime beauty. Otherwise stated: how do you describe films which bring the antithesis between roughly the essentialism of Douglas Gordon and the drag queen show of Matthew Barney to a synthesis? How do you describe the mixture of extremes such as the rational lateral thinking of Bruce Nauman with the religious pathos of Bill Viola? Provost does it time and again and in a variety of ways.
He prefers to describe himself as a sculptor who wants to touch the viewer emotionally as well as intellectually and to that end creates his own timeless mutants. Long or short, it does not matter; in terms of style, image as well as flow, Provost opts for a particular, masterful cocktail by which he sometimes composes a commentary on a genre – porno, thriller or horror – and another time addresses the identity of primal scenes, such as the kissing scene. In The Divers, for example, his work swells into one big yearning mating dance: the kiss which hangs in the air like a firework cannot be captured. In Gravity, we are steamrolled by a stroboscope of kissing scenes dizzyingly overlapping one another, making one gasp for breath, and in this way create a lovely portrait of what being in love in fact often is: an intense and intimate slipping away.

In the spring of 2012, Argos is showing the world premiere of Provost’s Plot Point. This trilogy adds a new episode, filmed in the streets of Tokyo, to the now renowned award winners Plot Point (2007) and Stardust (2010): Tokyo Giants (2012, working title). This trilogy is also a litmus test for the fusion of reality and cinema in which fact, fiction and the viewers’ schemes of interpretation are uniquely processed. Provost films reality as it is with a hidden HD camera, but he uses that material to compose a coded puzzle in which film and reality mutually transcend one another.
In the first episode, the NYPD receives the leading role and Provost transforms the everyday bustle in Times Square into a thriller with a high surveillance content. Together with random passersby and the NYPD, this monumental metropolis is given a lead role. While we as viewers are emotionally stunned and visually sucked in by the masterful build-up of tension, the story remains at a sardonic standstill because the plot is entirely suggestive. Ultimately, a ballet of police vehicles with lights flashing provides a cathartic and even moving denouement.

After Plot Point in New York, the viewer is taken in tow to Stardust in Las Vegas. Here Provost employs the same grammar of suspense – a twist of self-filmed images together with dialogues and sound from well-known films or series are schematically and rhythmically coordinated into a Hollywood-type language – but uses it to write a different story. Provost is again inspired by the glorious ambiguity of this infamous city and introduces various intrigues which overlap one another without yielding their mystery. By means of clichéd film locations – casinos, hotel lobbies, limousines, clubs – Stardust creates a conspiratorial atmosphere of glitter, crime and vengeance in the Walhalla of stars, gamblers and dollars. Of note: real film stars such as Dennis Hopper, Jon Voight and Jack Nicholson took part in the film. But even if here they would appear before the camera as a random passerby or extra, their iconic appearance still prevents the viewer from seeing them in a different role than that of actor.
Finally, there is the long-anticipated final part in Tokyo. Provost’s hidden camera submerges into the everyday lives of this metropolis and its fascinating subcultures where the simplest things are often the most surprising. There he found a man he suspected of murder and meticulously records his interactions with the unsuspecting local population, who are always just as friendly but also always just as strange. In this way the man becomes a protagonist whose course abducts us into a world in which the border between dream and nightmare is missing.

In order to add something to this trilogy by way of description without lapsing into what has already been written about it or slipping into obvious interpretations in terms of appropriation, pop art, (anti-)spectacle and simulacra, I would like to invite the reader to look at it against the background of the rich avant-garde tradition of city symphony. Already at the very birth of the audiovisual medium, masters such as Walter Ruttmann or Dziga Vertov tried to capture an experimental portrait of cities on film. Rather than focus on the city dweller or typical architecture, they wanted to record the fascinating dynamic of modern, energetic city life with the eye of the camera. The classic Man with a Movie Camera (1929) also reminds us that the invention of the camera, and later the motion-picture camera, not only went together with a fascination for the magic and mystery of the medium but also and above all with a great many ambitious expectations. The mechanical eye enables us to transcend the limits of human capabilities, and in doing so, people would be able to represent a truth which was unattainable previously. According to Vertov, the eye of the camera showed the viewer, for example, what for him was the true nature of the city. The fact that he emphasized that film in the first place should be ‘documentary’ furthermore illustrates that representation and interpretation were already mutually interchangeable from the earliest years of cinema. Apparently the pioneers of documentary film also aimed at explicit formulation rather than registration, and for them as well a documentary is an argument rather than a document.

Throughout the history of film, numerous artists have put the idea of documentary film as truth machine to the test. Israeli artist Omer Fast, for instance, produced intelligent audiovisual reflections about the inextricability of fact and fiction. But he did so by means of the medium itself, so that he thus did not deconstruct the potential of the eye of the camera, but emphasized it. French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster travelled around the world from city to city with her camera and compiled subjective impressions which offer the viewer a snapshot of her encounter with these cultural locations in the form of a diary narrative. She as well can only convey these private experiences thanks to her camera. Nicolas Provost ingeniously brings all these lines of thinking together into a wider story: the Plot Point trilogy namely shows how the entanglement of faction and fiction starts from the viewer for whom public places like New York and people like Dennis Hopper are in the first instance the film set or character as they exist in our imagination. Furthermore, the trilogy demonstrates how this at first glance personal experience is something we all share, by means of which it has thus become an intersubjective truth: New York is Plot Point and vice-versa.

If we draw a line from Vertov until now, say from pre-cinema to post-cinema, then Provost teaches us a new lesson in the phenomenology of seeing. If Vertov showed the city as he would want us to see it, namely as a Marxist utopia, then Provost shows us that we can hardly see the city differently than the way we see it, namely as cinematographic ideology. The image world of cinema glided across the years like an eclipse in front of the lenses of our personal perception and thereby generated the contemporary worldview which we consider to be ours. Who still dares to assert that art cannot be audiovisual science?Robrecht Vanderbeeken is a philosopher. He is currently associated with the School of Arts Ghent as post-doctoral researcher. He writes about art, science and philosophy.
Cinema as a Powerful Dreammachine 1.02.12  /  Interview by Ive Stevenheydens for Argos Mag on the Plot Point trilogy Exhibition at Argos, Brussels
Cinema as a Powerful Dreammachine
by Ive Stevenheydens

After his successes at a number of international film festivals with his recent works ‘Long Live the New Flesh’ and ‘Stardust’, the artist and filmmaker Nicolas Provost is currently finalising his first feature-length work, ‘The Invader’. Alongside this, he is currently shooting the final part of his ‘Plot Point’ trilogy in Tokyo. Provost’s complete body of work is part of the Argos collection and is actively distributed by the centre, where he will present a solo show opening in April 2012.

IVE STEVENHEYDENS: What made you decide to make a feature-length work?
NICOLAS PROVOST: “I got an offer from the producer Versus Production, inviting me to make a feature film. Although I had known since an early age that one day I would make a feature film, I was at that point totally unprepared. I wanted the subject to be universal and topical. I also wanted to avoid making a film that would only appeal to a small audience. So this compelled me to think ‘large’ rather than ‘artistic’ from conception and then see where the project took me. To be honest, it took me a long time to figure out what kind of subject the film should address. In 2005, I started writing from scratch. I felt like I was performing an anti-hero film, undertaking an outsider’s journey, in the tradition of films in which the anti-hero becomes the hero during the battle against society and his own demons. I thought of well-known examples such as ‘Taxi Driver’ (Martin Scorsese, 1976), ‘Bad Lieutenant’ (Abel Ferrara, 1992) and ‘The Verdict’ (Sidney Lumet, 1982). In my short fiction film ‘Exoticore’ (2004) Issaka Sawadogo, a fantastic actor and good friend, plays the role of an immigrant from Burkina Faso trying to integrate into Norwegian society. He carried the whole film on his shoulders, so I decided to write something made to measure. This film will not be another sentimental portrait of migration politics, it goes deeper into the shadows. ‘The Invader’ is about a man who tries to find his place in the world. It is a bit of a thriller, and it is politically incorrect because he becomes the monster that we project onto the stereotype of the immigrant.”

IS: At ninety minutes long, ‘The Invader’ seems a typical commercial film.
NP: “Yes, I have chosen a standardised format. The film will also be shown in the regular Belgian cinema circuit thanks to Versus Production and O’brother Distribution. Hopefully it will also circulate internationally. ‘Exoticore’, a 30-minute film, was made with 3000 Euros and without a script. My new work, a film that is exactly one hour longer, took me five years to write and produce. To go from making short to feature films is a huge step. We only had thirty days to shoot ‘The Invader’, a very short period. Everything is done in the centre of Brussels, which I think is a very cinematic city. You can make Brussels into a small New York or a small Paris. As in all my work, the film locations and sets are important characters in their own right. I spent a lot of time finding the right streets, façades, interiors and the finest restaurant to give the city a universal look. As a Belgian filmmaker, I do not want to play on the so-called local ‘Belgitude’, I think it is more challenging to charm an international audience into identifying with Brussels as a universal and timeless place. By the way: Sawadogo plays the main role beautifully, but he is not the only actor in the piece. ‘The Invader’ has a very diverse and international cast with Italian star Stefania Rocca as the leading love interest. She featured amongst others in ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ (1999) and in several Abel Ferrara films.”

IS: In general, your work reflects on the grammar of the ‘language’ of cinema, and the relation between visual arts and the cinematic experience, analysing and questioning the phenomenon of cinema, its various elements, its influence and conventional rules. Where does your fascination with cinema actually come from?
NP: “I am very grateful for cinema and I am totally in love with it. It made me dream when I was growing up and inspired me as an artist. I always like to name the same three master filmmakers as a source of inspiration: Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. Like them, I also perceive the medium of cinema as a great dream machine. It is a factory that generates a waking dream for the public for ninety minutes, and that is what I aspire to do in my art. These makers are also important to me because in their works they actually played with the logic of dreams, with the subconscious. I try to explore these themes in my works too. Furthermore, I am interested in the mechanisms of storytelling. How can we explore new or other ways to pass our message – a simple story – on to the audience? I also have to admit that these days I am rarely pleasantly surprised or deeply fascinated with film and cinema anymore. I hope this is a temporary professional deformation but I have a feeling that cinema is going through an artistic crisis right now. For the moment I am only enjoying classic films like ‘Two Lovers’ (James Gray, 2008) or more recently ‘The Social Network’ (David Fincher, 2010). Well-written, beautifully acted and with a strong tone. In general, I think you need a good story, but the overall tone of the film is more important.”

IS: Slavoj Žižek, who wrote extensively on Hitchcock and on Lynch, said quite a while ago that “what still appears in ordinary commercial films is the shift in the notion of subjectivity. You can detect what goes on the profoundest, most radical level of our symbolic identities and how we experience ourselves. Cinema is still the easiest way, as for Freud dreams were the royal road to the unconscious.”
NP: “Cinema is a powerful dream-machine. We like to think about it as something divine that, for 90 minutes, takes us to a place we have never seen before. I think most of Western cinema is based on a Christian idea. It relates to concepts of salvation and guilt, of living in a state of castigation in order to become a better person. As a viewer, your brain is in full analysis mode because your senses are wide open to let in the constant stream of emotions produced by the endless combination of so many storytelling elements. I think it is logical that our subconscious becomes overloaded with information and starts living a life of its own, through dreaming. For me, one of the most hopeful ideas is that all these years of cinema have connected us to our subconscious. And it is with that collective memory that I try to make poetry.”

IS: In your own works, you often make use of found footage, mostly parts of very well-known feature films, of Hollywood classics. In ‘Long Live the New Flesh’ (2009) for instance, you draw from popular horror films. Another example is ‘Gravity’ (2007), in which you mix fragments from, amongst others, Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ (1958) and ‘North by Northwest’ (1959), and Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’ (1986). Why do you use found footage from mass cultural production to construct your own stories?
NP: “I like to sculpt with existing or prefabricated audiovisual material and turn it into a new story, a new idea. A great quality of classic Hollywood imagery is that it forms an important part of the collective memory. Actually, the fact that I started working with found footage also has to do with technological developments. Around the turn of the millennium, the digital revolution made it possible to upload films on your computer or laptop and easily re-edit them yourself, just at home. So I started sculpting existing material almost by accident.”

IS: Other works like ‘Plot Point’ (2007), ‘Exoticore’ or ‘Stardust’ (2010) contains no found footage whatsoever, they are entirely shot by you. At the same time, you also play on the codes of major Hollywood cinema. Through the use of voice-over and narrative, ‘normal’ situations become very tense and suspicious, just like in the movies.
NP: “Exactly. Actually all my works, even the more abstract ones like the mirrored cloud of smoke in ‘Suspension’ (2007), are stories. They also all have a beginning, a middle and an end. I think if you offer an audience a creative work – whatever context it is presented in – you always offer a story. This is even true for a sculpture: the moment that a piece catches the attention of the viewer in the museum is the beginning of a story. The reflection and interpretation forms the middle part, the satisfaction – or lack of it – and the act of the viewer turning his back on it to look at something else behaves as the conclusion of the story. As an artist, I have chosen the audiovisual as my medium, but that is the only difference. In my works I want to attract attention, build up tension and create an emotion. When I start to sculpt an audiovisual idea, I never know what the length will be. Every story demands its own time. I focus on really developing the image, I try to find what I call audiovisual magic and then I try to keep the tension curve going as long as possible.”
IS: ‘Stardust’ is actually the second part of a trilogy that kicked off in 2007 with ‘Plot Point’, the so-called ‘Plot Point Trilogy’. In these works you question the boundaries between a staged and a hidden reality. You are in fact constructing fiction with the material you ‘find’ on the streets.
NP: “The trilogy will be finished in 2012. The third part plays out in different parts of Tokyo, where I have already filmed a large part. In this film, I chose not only to shoot in the streets again, but also to work with an actor. In this Tokyo work I follow an actor who plays the character of a serial killer and interacts with real life filmed with a hidden camera. In this way, real people become fictive characters in the fictive world of the actor. This creates a very interesting tension. Filmed in New York City, ‘Plot Point’ became a fiction thriller made entirely using a hidden camera and juxtaposing the two most basic elements of the thriller genre, the police force and the people in the street. For ‘Stardust’, shot in Las Vegas, I went a step further by not only turning real people into fictive characters but by also filming and staging real Hollywood stars who became part of the story. I used the glorious and ambiguous power of the gambling capital to spread several intrigues of a crime story, intersecting one other during the film. At the end of the film, the resolution is the moment when the crowd look up at Jack Nicholson and hope to get some of his stardust.”

IS: The ‘Plot Point’-trilogy is shot with a hidden camera. ‘Stardust’ features Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Jon Voight and Danny Trejo (recently discovered by a wider audience in Robert Rodriguez’ ‘Machete’, 2010). How did you capture them?NP: “I am actually making a point of not giving this away. My work is based on telling audiovisual dreams. It plays with the expectation of the viewer. For me it is important that the viewer questions these mysteries, which I prefer to leave unrevealed. A magician does not reveal his tricks either, because that will only lead to disappointment. But let me say this, I met all of them and I filmed them. Dennis Hopper was a very warm person. I had no idea that he was very ill, he was radiant when we met.”IS: In ‘Stardust’, the bombastic soundtrack creates a very tense atmosphere and many moments of suspense. How important is music and sound for your work in general?NP: “Sound functions as an emotional guideline, just like beauty, which is also a recurrent theme in my work. Sound and beauty also seduces, it tries to open the heart of the viewer so I can fill it with my poetic content. In ‘Suspension’ or in ‘Storyteller’ (2010) I prefer not to use any sound because the moving images can do the job alone. They are both hypnotic, and offer a meditative, demanding the viewer’s engagement. In the ‘Plot Point’-trilogy I clearly play on American film codes, and sound is an important element in this storytelling. It helps to create emotions built on suspense, tension and surprise. These are the favourite emotions of the viewer. They keep him/ her in the moment and create a dynamic tension curve.”
IS: ‘Storyteller’ (2010) takes found footage of the skyline of Las Vegas, recomposing and mirroring the images. Here the already ‘hyper reality’ of this city becomes a slick artificiality reminiscent of science fiction, of a spaceship. It is like you are saying that a ‘normal’ image cannot express the condition of this city.
In ‘Suspension’ the image is like animated black-and-white Rorschach inkblots, trying to absorb the viewer through the images they induce. In these works, the fairly simple technique of a mirroring screen simultaneously halves and duplicates the image – erases and adds at the same time – resulting in an intriguing meta-commentary on the status of images at the present time.NP: “I am not criticising the normal image, I am questioning why we are so obsessed with it. When I say that I am sculpting with moving images, I am not only trying to make something beautiful that hopefully gives the viewer a mesmerising and self-reflecting experience. I am also trying to push the interpretation of the moving 2D image as far as I can. Today we are still stuck in telling stories from left to right on a 2D screen, which we call cinema. I am curious to know how this 133-year- old storytelling technique will evolve in the future. Will we still call it cinema? The 3D technique of today only gives more depth of field, but I think that one day we, the viewers, will be drawn into the story itself – maybe through a chemical or technological device that physiologically stimulates our subconscious. I think the cinema and videogame industries will merge. It might not be called cinema anymore but it will still be storytelling because we want to be endlessly entertained. I gave my film the title ‘Storyteller’ because I wanted to make a point that we will always be in the storytelling business. It has been there from the very beginning of mankind and it will always be there. We are obsessed with it because that is how the cosmos and human beings work: in circles of tension developing towards a climax that resolves. Again: everything has a beginning, a middle and an end.”

IS: The Argos collection holds nineteen works by you. With one exception, they are all in active distribution. Argos has been following you work for the last ten years. What role has the centre played in the development of your career?
NP: “I am very grateful for the fact that all my works have a very good, efficient distribution among festivals, for instance. These days I would not be able to do this alone anymore. I get a lot of support from the centre, and I do realise this is not always evident. Technically, I always get help when I need it. To say the least, I am also looking forward to my show in April-June 2012. By then the Tokyo film will be ready, so the exhibition premieres the complete ‘Plot Point’- trilogy and maybe more. Personally, I think this is my most important work up to now.”

IS: You recently had solid exhibitions in Haunch of Venison, both in Berlin and London, and a retrospective solo exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. With more than 20 international festivals programs focussing on your works, you have won over 60 film awards. How do you feel about exhibiting works both in a gallery/ museum context and in a public screening? What is the difference, if any?
NP: “Although the show in London was quite different to the one in Berlin, both spaces were monumental and the projections were top quality. But when you exhibit, you are always constrained by certain conditions and you try to make the very best of it. For me, however, the audiovisual experience, the film itself, is the most important thing. I keep in mind two things: My works should be able to work linearly as a large-scale cinematic experience as well as a small painting on the wall where you come in the middle of the story. I think that since most of my films play with the element of expectation, there is no problem for the viewer to follow the content. Because my work questions cinema and looks like cinema, all films also have a film festival journey. From the very beginning I managed to use both the arts and the festival platforms to show my work and I made sure that they supported one another. In fact, this was not easy in the beginning because there was a risk of falling between the two funding programs and getting nothing in the end. Since the digital revolution, more artists are making films. There is a greater tendency to crossover traditional divisions between the arts. It seems that everyone is questioning cinema now, even in theatre and dance. Luckily in Flanders we can get funding support at Flanders Audiovisual Fund where they have set up the FilmLab especially for those of us who make single screen art. It is difficult to conclude that the two publics are different from one other. There are all sorts of people seeking salvation in cinema and all sorts of people looking for answers in contemporary art. In the end, for me it is all the same: we want to be entertained by an enlightening emotion.”
(1) Žižek in conversation with Geert Lovink, 20 June 1995, pub/ic_mag/ic014/zizek/zizek_e.html
Bedwelmend ritme van de straat 29.04.08  /  Sacha Bronwasser, De Volkskrant, Review on the Solotentoonstelling at De Brakke Grond Amsterdam
Bedwelmend ritme van de straat
Recentie, Van onze medewerkster Sacha Bronwasser
gepubliceerd op 29 april 2008 

Scène uit Plot Point. (Courtesy Tim Van Laere Gallery ) Een werk ontstaan uit teleurstelling. Dat is de film Plot Point van Nicolas Provost, te zien in Vlaams cultuurhuis de Brakke Grond in Amsterdam. Aanvankelijk zou de maker samenwerken met New Yorkse politieagenten die zouden acteren in zijn film, maar alles werd te elfder ure afgeblazen. Provost toog met wat hij noemt een ‘discrete camera’ naar Times Square, verzamelde vijf avonden lang beelden van toeristen, auto’s, agenten, bewakingsmensen, zwaailichten, passanten en halvegaren –– en monteerde er een voorlopig hoogtepunt in zijn oeuvre mee. Plot Point, die eerder dit jaar in première ging op het International Filmfestival Rotterdam, wordt in de Brakke Grond bovendien op de mooist denkbare manier vertoond.

Rechtstreeks uit de computer geprojecteerd is het beeld een wandvullende projectie, van plafond tot vloer, in een speciaal gemaakte blackbox. Beeld en geluid zuigen je op, veroorzaken een hart zwaar van spanning – terwijl er eigenlijk niets gebeurt. Agenten zijn in de weer met hun portofoons, ze wisselen blikken uit, de mensen haasten zich over de straten op het ritme van de stoplichten, een verwarde vrouw staart naar de neon. Maar kadrering, montage en vooral de uitgekiende geluidsband met bestaande filmmuziek en -dialoog zorgen ervoor dat het einde, als politieauto’s in een strakke choreografie uitwaaieren over de straten, als een opluchting komt.Nicolas Provost (België, 1969) is een filmmaker en kunstenaar die vooral bekend is in het festivalcircuit. De korte films die hij sinds 1999 maakt zijn vaste prik op festivals in Rotterdam, Clermont-Ferrand, Oberhausen, op het Sundancefestival in Utah, kortom: alle belangrijke plekken voor de onafhankelijke, korte en experimentele film. Toch zijn zijn films net zo goed thuis in de beeldende kunst. Hij is een zij-instromer – een filmfanaat die een kunstopleiding ging doen, halverwege naar Noorwegen emigreerde, daar pas op zijn dertigste kunstzinnige films ging maken en onlangs een opleiding scriptontwikkeling aan het Binger Filmlab in Amsterdam afrondde. Hij hoopt dit jaar te starten met de opnames van The Invader, zijn eerste lange speelfilm, ‘voor een zo groot mogelijk publiek’, zoals hij toelichtte.

Kunstenaars die zich op de cinema storten: tot enkele jaren geleden stond dat garant voor veel filmtheorie en de ‘deconstructie van de wetten van Hollywood’. Maar er zijn inmiddels meerdere kunstenaars (Sarah Morris, Margaret Salmon, Jesper Just en ook Provosts landgenoot David Claerbout) die juist gebruik maken van de vuistregels voor fictie, zonder dan ook meteen een klassieke film te maken. Zo is met een vreemde zwaai ‘Hollywood’ de frisse wind in de videokunst gebleken. Curatoren van grote musea lopen (of zouden dat moeten doen) inmiddels niet alleen kunstbeurzen en manifestaties af, maar ook de filmfestivals. Provost volgt bijvoorbeeld in Plot Point, dat uit documentairebeelden bestaat, het ritme van plaatsbepaling, introductie van karakters, vervolgens een probleem of paniek, en uiteindelijk de oplossing, de opluchting of de ‘resolutie’. Ook de keuze uit andere korte films die Provost in de Brakke Grond laat zien, in de zaal of op monitoren, kennen zo’n symfonisch verloop. Zelfs de volledig abstracte ‘rookfilm’ Suspension, waarin witte rook in een zwarte achtergrond stroomt en in het midden gespiegeld wordt (een door Provost vaker toegepast stijlmiddel), kent een verloop van een ijl begin, een vol en tumultueus midden en een terugtrekkend einde. Maar voor een droge analyse is dit werk eigenlijk te onweerstaanbaar. Nicolas Provost heeft nog een eigenschap die ervoor zorgt dat dit overzicht tot de mooiste van het jaar behoort: hij is een romanticus en een poëet, die niet terugschrikt voor clichématige schoonheid en treurigheid. Hij maakt een knipperende ode aan de filmkus, bestaande uit opgeknipte omhelzingen (Gravity). Hij maakt van zijn favoriete acteur, Issaka Sawadogo uit Burkina Faso, een grootse en tragische held, die als hij geen aansluiting vindt in de Noorse maatschappij, over straat zwalkt in een grotesk leeuwenpak (Exoticore). Of in en rond een huis spookt als een inktzwarte sjamaan, terwijl onverklaarbare rookwolken door de bomen opgezogen wordt (Induction). Het is te hopen dat Provost zich deze vrijheden blijft veroorloven als hij, wederom met Sawadogo, zijn lange speelfilm gaat maken, zodat ook andersom de beeldende kunst in de bioscoop doorsijpelt.

Sacha Bronwasser Amsterdam, Brakke Grond (Nes 45): overzicht van het werk van cineast en beeldend kunstenaar Nicolas Provost, t/m 1 juni;
ma 10-18u di t/m za 10-20.30u zo 13-17u. Tel. 020-6229014
Dying Dennis Hopper among the stars of Las Vegas film project 06.09.10  /  Arifa Akbar, The Independent, Review on Stardust premiering at the Venice Film Festival
Dying Dennis Hopper among the stars of Las Vegas film project
By Arifa Akbar, Arts Correspondent

Monday, 6 September 2010
A belgian film-maker who secretly recorded crowds in Las Vegas with a hand-held camera has captured the final movie appearance of the late Dennis Hopper.
Nicolas Provost’s arthouse film, screened at Venice Film Festival, primarily features unassuming members of the public in bars, casinos and restaurants, and captured with a surveillance-style filming technique. But it also contains star turns from veteran Hollywood actors Jon Voight and Jack Nicholson, as well as Hopper.

Yesterday, Provost said he wanted to blur the lines between reality and fiction with his film, entitled Stardust – so much so, in fact, that he was unwilling to divulge whether he had stumbled across the highly paid actors accidentally and filmed them in secret, or if he was responsible for directing their every action.

He was also refused to divulge how much the actors were paid, if at all, although he insisted the film was “very low-budget”. He admitted Hopper was in on the secret and had been very open to the concept of the film.”It is very important that I don’t reveal how I filmed them, but I will just say it is not all found footage [gained covertly],” he said. “I directed some of them; some was accidental. I filmed it last summer and, with Dennis Hopper, it was a wonderful encounter. It was striking how warm he was as a person.”Provost, who shot the entirety of his no-frills, one-man production in just two weeks, said he had not known that Hopper – who died of prostrate cancer in May – was ill. “I wasn’t aware that I might have been filming him for the last time,” he added.He had hoped to send a copy of the completed movie to Hopper but did not manage to do so before his death. All three actors appear repeatedly, sitting or moving among the crowd. Hopper is first shown in a branch of McDonald’s, while Nicholson walks around a hotel lobby, opening his arms and smiling menacingly, as the camera pans across the crowds.

The soundtrack incorporates ominous music and gunshots muffled by silencers, and the images range from scenes of Las Vegas glamour – bright lights, rollercoasters and smiling tourists – to more threatening visions of blacked- out limousines creeping along dark roads, and men smoking cigars or making surreptitious phone calls in murky corners, conveying a sense of dread and criminality.

Provost said he filmed throughout the city without being observed. “I had a very discreet, hand-held camera which I sometimes put on an aeroplane cushion instead of a tripod or on a garbage bin or table. In casinos, I worked with a smaller, hidden high-definition camera. In editing it, I introduced different crime stories and intrigues.” The film has been dubbed so that any real conversations are unheard. Instead, the audio includes lines sampled from famous films, spoken by the well-known voices of Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, which refer to mysterious murders, a criminal underworld, kidnappings and extortion.

Provost, whose artwork has been exhibited at the Berlinale exhibition in Germany, Seattle Art Museum in the US and across Europe, is working on his first feature-length film, The Invader, starring Stefania Rocca, who recently appeared with Willem Dafoe in A Woman, which also premiered at Venice this year.

Provost wants to transform his 20-minute film starring Hopper into a feature-length production. He intends to incorporate it into a trilogy with his other covertly-shot projects, which began with 2007’s Plot Point – a fictional thriller filmed on the crowded streets of New York City.
Artforum, Plot Point 01.10.07  /  Review by Jos Van den Bergh

It is hard to believe that Nicolas Provost filmed the entirety of Plot Point, 2007, with a concealed camera on the streets of New York. The production value of the images and styling seems more like what you would see in a vintage Lynch film, and with a similar sense of artifice. Ordinary life is transformed into pure cinematography, as if you were watching a Philip-Lorca diCorcia photo come to life. The light feels like stage light. The people on the street move like dramatic performers. There is a suggestion of an intangible tension in the streets, and we feel that something is about to happen. Policemen on their walkie-talkies seem to be nervous about something. Suddenly, one of them appears to notice the artist’s camera. For less than a second he looks into the lens. Then he continues on doing what he was doing—acting important. And what about that sharply dressed bodyguard? Who is he watching, and why? Is it that woman who is acting so strange? What are her intentions? Why is the bodyguard focused on her, or is this just an illusion? The tension builds. Police cars drive off—toward the place of action, we assume. Meanwhile, a suspicious guy walks out of a building; the guard looks up at the sky; a helicopter flies over Manhattan. And then the grand finale: A row of police cars, lined up side by side, drive away, one by one, just in front of the camera. Sirens howl, lights fl ash. It’s all like a gigantic choreography, a staged world.

The term plot point—which was also the title of Provost’s show—is used to describe the moment in a screenplay where the story switches tracks, develops into something different. Provost uses all the tricks of editing to suggest that something dramatic is happening, but we are trapped in a visual cul-de-sac. This is paranoia in its purest form: fear of something that isn’t real.

Another work on view here evidenced a similar mastery of editing. Gravity, 2007, includes a variety of clips from classic films but turns their original meanings inside out: A passionate kiss becomes an assault; an embrace appears to be a fight. On the other hand, in The Divers, 2006, nothing has been edited at all. On a balcony somewhere in Brussels a man walks toward a woman, apparently attracted but hesitant to get too close. Suddenly, gigantic fireworks color the skyline of the city. Again an illusion is presented: You might at first think that these fireworks were produced especially for this film, but a split second later you realize how improbable that is. Provost shot the video around the planned event, using the city as a gigantic readymade. This magnificent yet enigmatic scene goes on for a couple of minutes. The contrast between the bursting fireworks and the characters’ clumsy behavior is strikingly beautiful, expressing what they cannot say: It is yearning visualized. At the end of the festivities, the man walks away. Beyond the pyrotechnics, on an emotional level, nothing happened. And this could be said about all of Provost’s work. The cleverly builtup expectations are intense and result in a sense of anticipation that ends only when the film does; yet somehow we don’t feel let down. The very fact that nothing happens is reassuring (Plot Point), tragically poetic (The Divers), or in a way even silly (Gravity). As David Byrne sang, “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.”

Jos Van den Bergh

The ‘Human Touch’ in Nicolas Provost’s films 01.04.08  /  Jeroen Laureyns, Catalogue text Solo Exhibition at De Brakke Grond, Amsterdam
The ‘Human Touch’ in Nicolas Provost’s films.

By Jeroen Laureyns.

A March evening. Night has fallen and I am making my way through a spring shower to get to an art opening. At the end of his introduction, the speaker concludes with the statement that the most important characteristic of a museum is not so to assemble objects, but rather a reflection on what art could be today. In silence I sigh discouraged. My thoughts shift to Nicholas Provost’s films, in search of the joy that I experienced the first time that I saw one of his films. The best art aims directly for the heart. And that is exactly what I hate this town (2002) did. No hours of thinking and worrying, but instead disco and dancing.
My first encounter with a Nicholas Provost film (Ronse, 1969) was one that I would not easily forget. The disc of his I hate this town hit the player in the video lounge of the Argos Festival and it felt as if a party broke loose. Initially, the screen was black, and we heard a voice-over, much like an old-fashioned black and white film, in which a woman asked a man for protection. Followed by booming beats and a rhythmically edited film fragment from a rather tame sex movie. His clip-like processing had the images swinging, in scratch-like fashion, from a pair of nude breasts to aroused looks and love-making poses. There was no reticence, no impertinence; rather an ironic and loving approach to his subject: physical lust. This was a breath of fresh air among so much artistic embitterment and doubts cast on lust and love. A new sound. Free of theoretically substantiated desperation and difficult words and concepts.
Cinema is the alpha and omega of Nicholas Provost’s movies. He always uses cinematographical images as his starting point, which he edits or films himself in a cinematographical manner. We imagine that his love for film must have originated sometime during his happy youth in Ronse, somewhere on a couch in front of the TV of a middle class family. In a flash of film between TV broadcasts in two different national languages or in a local cinema, of the “Cinema Paradiso” type. There and then the desire to capture the world in film language must have been born.
This is predated by numerous professional, amorous and geographical encounters, before he made his first film, during his ten-year stay in Norway. Need any help? (1999) is a short film about love, filmed against the dramatic backdrop of the Norwegian fjords. It is a typically melancholic and romantic Provost film. Swinging, funny and touching. Replete with filmic atmospheres and amorous feelings.
The film narrates the tale of an accidental meeting between a man and a woman during a car trip in a mountainous landscape. They discuss their broken love lives in a touching but somewhat clumsy manner. The film starts with Bond-like credits of a female silhouette, dancing to an instrumental number, which also serves as the score for the images and determines their rhythm. The whole James Bond atmosphere determines the actors’ interpretation, who are virtuosos at imitating the typical male and female roles of a 50s movie. At the same time, it clashes with their lack of cool and vigour. This contrast is like a fissure in an attitude that hints at a certain fragility.
This is how Provost makes his movies. Full of filmic desire and with a talented camera eye, he heads into the mountains with intuition, but without a budget, until he has created a condensed, cinematographic short film. The pleasure, with which he translates a characteristic of love into a film story, is reminiscent of the early, playful Cindy Sherman and her first film still series.
Provost always enjoys doodling with film codes, a grammar for writing filmic love poems. The hesitant rapprochement in love returns once again in the film The Divers (2006), in which a man and a woman let their rapprochement slip away from them under a shower of fireworks. In Yellow Mellow (2002) meanwhile, a man in a lion’s suit roams the streets, overcome by pangs of love, looking for consolation under a street lantern in the blue light of dusk.
Nicholas Provost is not trying to settle any accounts with his movies. Not with another genre, not with society and not with the world. He strips down the codes of the big Hollywood productions. But his films are stylistically condensed versions, rather than the usual criticism or commentary on the appearances of American imagination. Tragic film poems about lust, suffering and love. Like other good artists of his generation (Banksy, Koen van den Broek, Jan De Cock) Provost releases art from its straitjacket of green-eyed suspicion. The best artists of this generation have an artistic bone to pick with (American) mass culture.
This is nowhere clearer in Provost’s work than in the six-minute long film kiss Gravity (2007). A compilation of kisses from various movies, which alternate in a flickering light. Technically speaking, Gravity is not very original in its reworking of stereotypical film scenes. But its deconstruction must be seen in a different light than that of the pure anti-attitude of art to film. Yes, in this film you do see how he sees through the sugary sweet aspect of Hollywood, with the rapid succession of kissing fragments. But at the same love is revived in all its forms.
And the dizzying succession of fast-moving images and light flashes is both auto-referentialand existential. Provost undresses film and love, like a body on the verge of being loved.
He also does this when he takes on fragments from well-known films, as is clear in Papillond’Amour (2003), based on fragments from Akira Kurosawa’s movie, Rashomon. Under thedirection of a repetitive guitar fragment, a woman is transformed, before two seated men,from a one-eyed monster into an elegant butterfly and a dancing veil. Provost undoubles andmirrors the black and white fragments of Kurosawa’s movie and manages to write a song inimages, to the vicissitudes of the melody that determines the ebb and flow of love.
In Provost’s films, any form of filmic abstraction is more a translation of a mood than a theoretical reflection. Even in the most ‘abstract’ films, such as Suspension (2007), in which reflected palls of smoke surface from the dark under the glare of bright studio lights. The shapes adopted by the soft, white clouds are just as peaceful as the waves beating down on a beach. An acceptance of life emanates from these images, with their highs and lows. Much like the human spirit which, even when beaten down with worries, is still unable to relinquish its life force.
As a pictorial artist, Nicolas Provost has an unusual sense of style and tragedy. His decoding of film language is a stylistic technique; its objective is to tell an accessible and touching drama. By deforming the images, he is not out to confuse the viewer, but simply to touch him. Provost believes in image and fiction; in his work, personal imagination quenches its thirst at the sources of mass culture. Within the context of contemporary art, an unproblematic use of image and story is rather exceptional. American art critic Clement Greenberg’s conviction that art needs to leave images to mass media, in order to create its own ‘image’ continues to be the norm. Much like the strategy of the storyteller is still considered a ‘bourgeoisstrategy of presenting an illusion’ (Thomas McEvilley on Paul McCarthy).
In the film Exoticore (2004) Nicolas Provost tells the dramatic tale of an African immigrant in Western society, played by actor Issaka Sawadogo. Without much dialogue, we see how the lead character is trying in vain to establish contact. The film is a succession of painful disappointments and frustrations of an African man in Norway. Away from his African family and Norwegian family, he is desperately in search of friends, tortured with loneliness. From the very first scene in which the lead character vainly tries to strike up a conversation with two women, Exoticore supersedes the concrete story of a difficult integration, taking on a general, more human meaning. The viewer is not an outsider, who is taught a lesson in racism, but is able to identify effortlessly with the loneliness that the character is suffering from in this touching epic.
Provost does not mind using ‘classic’ narrative structures. There is a lead character, which the viewer can identify with, but the story also runs along a recognisable pattern of opening development and denouement. The belief in fiction is also very much present. His own experiences as a Belgian who emigrated to Norway serve as a source of inspiration. Thanks to the power of fiction, Provost is able to elevate them to a higher level. The only experimental aspect of this film is that images and music carry the story, rather than words. His uncomplicated relation with an ordinary narrative structure is related to his love for the image, which is just as relaxed.
As a result, Provost is one of the rare artists, who uses the formal aspects of cinema as a full-fledged narrative structure, and who does not play gratuitous form games or defines his own identity as a work of art in a negative relation to cinema through formal interventions. There is no theoretically substantiated inaccessibility in Provost’s work. The images speak for themselves. The work of art tells its own story.
‘I am not a political artist’, says Provost. He is quick to emphasise the difference with the average contemporary artist, who desires to be political, read, and subversive. In its rush to be political, art forgets to be itself. A clear example was the politically correct installation Dream by African artist Romuald Hazoumé at the last Documenta in Kassel. It consisted of nothing more but a photo of an idyllic beach with an improvised boat. But the message about the West being to blame was abundantly clear.
Worse than the lack of artistic quality is the guilt and victim thinking, in which this type of contemporary art is entrenched. American art critic Robert Hughes refers to it as a cultural form of separatism in his book The Culture of Complaint. In Dream Hazoumé demands from the (Western) visitor that he confesses his guilt and asks the (African) victim for his forgiveness. Provost manages to escape the ideological stranglehold of guilt and victim thinking with Exoticore. In so doing, he creates a tragedy that is able to transcend the political and artistic contours of its own age. Man in Exoticore is neither the perpetrator, nor the victim in this film, no more, no less. He is an “exotic hero”, to which this film is dedicated. More man and hero, than culprit or victim.

Fiction has a separate status in the field of pictorial art. It is a concept that is no longer in use. It no longer represents an artist’s capability to condense reality. Fiction in the mouth of pictorial art has come to mean a lie. And it is the artist’s task to cut through this lie. In reality the artist attacks the lie of mass media. It is the representation of our culture, which is being assaulted in mass media. The first victim is always Hollywood, that American dream machine, which rocks people to sleep. An artist will preferably decorticate an American film, in order to reveal the lies and manipulations. As an artist-psychoanalyst, he wishes to confront the viewer with the truth.
Not that there really is another truth, or that such a truth is known. But it is better to live in a confrontation with the desert of reality, rather than live in the lie of a dream. More than reality or truth, the artist is striving to reveal what is real in his revelation, an obscure zone between reality and imagination. Earth’s equivalent of Purgatory.
The assignment, which today’s conventional artist faces, is hugely difficult, because people are so poisoned by the lies of mass media, that he can only hope that the viewer becomes aware of this poisoning. And sometimes tough, aggressive means are required to do this. An artist is the angry conscience of his era, and hopes that man becomes aware of the burning sun in the desert of reality. Fiction, imagination, beauty and creativity are burnt concepts, which the artist cannot use in his role of the angry conscience. He needs to yell, blackmail and hit. Kick people’s conscience, not create beauty.
The most prominent target of art is thus per definition always Hollywood, “America” by extension. Art loves to lodge a frontal attack on American culture in the lion’s den. This can be achieved by perverting Hollywood, Disney, Bush or another symbol of American culture, or by firing at the moralistic concept of ‘the real’ at 9/11 and by making it clear to Americans that they have been completely alienated from the tough reality by the images generated by mass media. The angry conscience of art wants to force the (American) viewer to confess. Nicolas Provost is not breaking any new ground by making a film based on footage shot in the streets of New York with Plot Point (2007). Ordinary street life takes on a filmic gloss, reality is converted into fiction. Ordinary passers-by in the street become actors in a film. Ordinary policemen cool protagonists, on the beat against an invisible threat. He filmically manipulates reality and sketches a portrait of a nation living in fear.
Provost films the timeless human capacity of imagination in all its beauty and tragedy, without inflicting a moralistic wallop on the magic of American imagination. The palpable tension in the movie is not merely a threat; beauty is not merely about appearance. The gloss, which he extracts from New York street life, is also the glow of daily life. A glow, which jumps like a spark of recognition from the movie. Provost turns reality into exciting fiction by condensing reality. The old dream of imagination is not a lie or a fraud. It is a gift for artists with talent.
Jeroen Laureyns
The Esctasy and the Manipulation 1.11.09  /  Roberto Manassero, Retrospective Screening Torino Film Festival
The Esctasy and the Manipulation – Retrospective Screening Torino Film Festival
By Roberto Manassero.

Like the mirror effect that doubles the images of Rashomon in Papillon d’amour (2003) and brings to life the dance of an anthropomorphic butterfly, the films of Nicolas Provost are split in two by an uncertainty between two possible outcomes: the emotion of the ecstasy, in which the admiring gaze remains suspended in time, and the manipulation of the images, which dismantles filmed reality and recomposes it in new forms.
If Provost is considered a video artist rather than a film director, it might be because there is an almost existential creational thrust at the center of his creative process. In his use of found footage (I Hate This Town, 2002, Gravity, 2007) and his construction of narrative sequences (Plot Point, 2007) or postmodern universes (Norway in Exoticore, 2004; the ultra-designer villa in Induction, 2006), his work as a “manipulator” betrays a purely spiritual desire: to encounter the mystery of reality.

In his films, there is always a moment of ecstasy that goes beyond the image of the city as a temple of mass alienation and reveals the soul of things in their true essence. Even in the stroboscopic whirlwind of Gravity, after a hallucinated sequence of superimposed kisses from classic films has distorted the mechanism of the gesture, Emmanuelle Riva’s farewell to her lover in Hiroshima mon amour concludes the film in a sign of expectation, with a compassionate look at the solitude that every person feels with regard to their beloved.
After all, every image depicts nothing other than the solitude of a body in front of a lens – and this realization alone is the origin of alienation. But Provost goes beyond. The extraordinary editing on the raw footage in Plot Point, besides revealing the mechanisms of Hollywood blockbusters, creates the latent plot of another reality to void the paranoia of the New York police of any meaning. Chaotic Times Square fills itself with that legendary breadth that only cinema has been able to perceive in American cities. In The Divers (2006), the sadness of an unrequited love finds a universal echo – well beyond the miniscule private dimension – in the fireworks bursting over an urban landscape, thanks to a medium close shot that has the patience to stay put and let the situation develop.

In all of Provost’s works there is a continuous dialog between discordant elements that shifts the filming of reality from an estranging effect to one of epiphanic ecstasy. In the tiny masterpiece Oh, Dear… (2004), the encounter between a fawn and three children driving go-karts encapsulates in one minute the meaning of his opus. A visual and symbolic contrast forces the viewer to stop short, amazed, and the unexpected situation gives new emotion to an otherwise banal image: the hand of a child searching for another hand to hold is, thus, not only the gesture of an innocent soul but an attempt to feel less alone when the final frame leaves the young protagonists at the center of the scene.

Roberto Manassero
This to me is sophistication 25.02.10  /  Maximilien van Aertryck, Review on the Solo Show at Haunch of Venison Berlin
By Maximilien van Aertryck

“You ought to keep you awake”“People have seen everything” is a quote from Nicolas Provost that sticks out of all the notes I took during our hour-long interview at the Haunch of Venison gallery in Berlin, where selected works of the Belgian video artist where shown while his latest short film Long live the new flesh competed in the Berlinale; especially because it is the antipode of what I felt during my first encounter with one of his films, and I warmly invite you to meet the work of an alchemist that knows how to kidnap your senses by aiming straight to the heart.

Provost’s new “potion” uses a technique that spread like a virus among recent music videos: data moshing, an approach to editing he calls “infinite beauty”. It’s a simple codec mismatch that results in a sublime but somewhat deranging colour explosion. You most likely have experienced it watching an ill-fated downloaded movie, when the image turns into rainbows and magically fixes itself after the next cut. “First” seen in Takeshi Murata’s Monster Movie, the from then on deliberately used digital glitches quickly became vaguely mainstream and rarely justified (though with the exception of Nabil’s debut video for Kanye West). To make it short: everybody can data-mosh, but this “new proposition” did not pass the phenomenon status. Most of Provost’s films use rather simple techniques, for example vertical and horizontal mirror effects, and footage that is either found or deliberately taken out of other movies. “You have to find the images worth to be worked with” he says. For Long Live the new flesh it became data-moshed horror film footage.

A real aesthetic challenge in the making (it’s almost impossible to predict the effects of two data-moshed sequences), the film mixes gore, slasher, sci-fi horror and other genres in a melting pot of moving images so strongly disgusting they become beautiful. Among others, Provost manages to superpose both the facial expressions of Jack and Wendy Torrance as he chops his way through the door in The Shining. He uses data-moshing to push his reflections on cinema grammar forward while seamlessly making edits disappear; you have to see it to believe it, when three shots of William Hurt dropping dead in A History of Violence are merged into one, the film becomes totally plastic. An experience I made the day before the interview when I (re)watched his work Gravity in the gallery, a stroboscopic film where respectively three and five frames of different kissing scenes alternate. The flick has such a tension resulting from his technical complexity (you are basically watching several films at the same time, magically orchestrated) that at times you wish it would be over because you have reached your emotional climax. The density of Gravity feels like a free fall, until you realise you are falling and the ecstasy begins.”I have to stay as naive as possible, so the images can come naturally”, he explains, “art and editing are a matter of taste”. Then perhaps it is the recognition of taste that would constantly over time make me try to conceive Provost’s moving images, yet unable to find the right words. But that’s alright because taste is indescribable and has to be demonstrated; my thoughts go to filmmaker Juan Pittaluga and his documentary El Miracolo del Gusto, where he illustrates that the transmission of taste has “to be from human being to human being, there’s no need for words, because words come from another level.”Talking about silence: his work Storyteller, where Provost mirrors found footage of Vegas at night, was screened without its soundtrack at the gallery in Berlin. I never heard the soundtrack, but was surprised to find out there even was one after having seen it; and then again when Provost stressed that image and sound are as important in the making of his films. The explanation came soon: “these works should function as cinema as well as classical paintings”.

Storyteller looks like bizarre neon lighted spaceships, lost in soundless space, they are “peaceful images of madness”; like starting from the cosmos and approaching earth, what at first glance is a beautiful composition of colours transforms into the inert comprehension of our own aberration and foolishness as our perception gets in focus. Imaginably that film is representative of what goes through my mind when I’m captured by his works: they fly in my head like airplanes waiting to land, but they’ll never, and in that particular case it’s probably OK.
Provost works with little or no budget, his self-confidence on his methods and work is contagious and to look up too. Listening to him was a rare hour of enlightenment.
Nicolas Provost, le cinéma revisité par notre imaginaire 1.04.08  /  Interview par Fabrice Marquat, Bref Magazine n°83
Nicolas Provost, le cinéma revisité par notre imaginaire 
par Fabrice Marquat

Nicolas Provost, doux géant dégingandé, semble cheminer dans un univers cinématographique connu de lui seul, depuis bientôt dix ans. Maniaque du détail, obsédé par la combinaison de l’image et du son, ses œuvres questionnent, intriguent, dérangent, envoûtent. Il avait trois films en compétition au dernier Festival de Clermont-Ferrand et s’apprête à tourner son premier long métrage. Rencontre avec un artiste en perpétuel mouvement.Nicolas Provost aime séduire, c’est un fait. Il émane de ses films une forme de fluidité, de fragilité et une subtile dose d’humour que l’on retrouve avec plaisir chez le personnage. Artiste secret, si l’on en juge par le fait qu’il voulait ressembler à Gainsbourg “et avoir cette aura mystérieuse qui planait autour de lui”, totalement intuitif, il peine à parler de son travail, du sens de ses films, très différents les uns des autres. L’harmonie de la combinaison image-son et la précision du montage associées à un imaginaire parfois fantasmagorique lui sont amplement suffisants pour atteindre une certaine forme d’euphorie et la faire partager. Un séducteur romantique donc, Nicolas Provost. Mais le regard qu’il porte sur le monde et la nature humaine fait ressortir quelques aspects moins glamour.

Tout commence par Need Any Help ?, premier film tourné en Super 8 et en Norvège. Une histoire d’amour dans les fjords, baignée d’humour et de mélancolie. Provost porte par la suite un regard plus caustique sur le sentiment amoureux et le sexe : I Hate this Town est un pétard acidulé de deux minutes dans lequel un beat musical énergique accompagne un montage d’images porno-soft des années 70.Dans sa première période de found footage, le réalisateur s’empare de Kurosawa et de son Rashomon. Naît Bataille, film miroir où la célèbre scène de duel prend les allures d’une lutte perpétuelle de l’homme pour conquérir la femme. Provost démontre ici tout le talent dont il dispose : le montage est un ballet de l’image où l’esthétique de l’effet miroir effraie autant qu’elle séduit. En apparence plus léger, The Divers, en 2006, surprend par la simplicité de son dispositif : sur une terrasse, le jeu de séduction entre un homme et une femme, sur fond de feu d’artifice. Intriguant jusqu’à la drôlerie, le film révèle pourtant un malaise dont l’auteur pourrait en assumer l’origine. Dans un tout autre style, Gravity laisse entrevoir un nouveau regard du cinéaste sur la chose amoureuse ; une orgie de baisers hollywoodiens, “glamourissimes” à l’origine, bat au rythme chaotique d’une répétition déstructurée, nerveuse, stroboscopique et néanmoins lyrique. Le point culminant de cette série “romantique” provostienne est certainement Induction. Dans un style très lynchien, le film franchit des limites narratives et s’ouvre à la sensation pure de la transgression par l’adultère, de la puberté ou de la puissance sexuelle de l’homme noir en particulier. Ce film montre l’ampleur du parcours accompli, parvenu à l’ère de la maturité et de l’épure.Qu’il en soit conscient ou non, chaque auteur a ses codes, son imagerie intérieure. Chez Nicolas Provost, que ce soit dans le détail esthétique ou dans la métaphore revendiquée, une forme d’animalité traverse la moitié de ses films.

Papillon d’amour est le second opus inspiré de Rashomon. Par le même effet miroir que dans Bataille, Provost métamorphose la femme en papillon. Sous le regard constant de deux hommes en arrière-plan, l’animal se révèle être tour à tour éblouissant de beauté ou monstrueux. Dans la forme de non-sens qui le caractérise parfois, le réalisateur crée Oh Dear pour répondre à une commande de films d’une minute pour le Festival de Rotterdam. Une pépite pétaradante – on assiste à la course de trois kartings in door – mais néanmoins poétique, où la surprise finale tient en partie à la présence incongrue d’un faon, encadré des trois pilotes en culottes courtes à la pause. L’œuvre de Nicolas Provost ouvre les portes de notre imaginaire.Dans Suspension, d’un nuage de fumée, dont la forme et les mouvements sont modulés par la pression et le débit de matière gazeuse, l’artiste nous entraîne dans une sarabande fascinante et ludique, qui renvoie à nos jeux d’enfants, quand les nuages, par la grâce de notre imagination débridée, devenaient des monstres célestes et suspendus.Si la métaphore du lion dans Exoticore* (voir Bref 67, p. 32) est évidente grâce au costume que revêt le personnage principal, le film distille cependant des détails qui soulignent discrètement cette animalité. Le jeu de rugissements entre le père et la fille ou le drôle de sèche-cheveux en forme de Donald Duck apparaissent comme les prémices de la transformation de l’homme noir en animal exotique, aux yeux de nos sociétés occidentales.Nicolas Provost se joue des frontières. Être là où on ne l’attend pas. Être dans la fiction, l’expérimental ou le documentaire. En Norvège, en Belgique ou aux États-Unis. Être artiste visuel ou réalisateur. Il fuit les étiquettes car aucune ne lui correspond, mais toutes lui collent à la peau, paradoxalement. Protéiforme et insaisissable, il le prouve encore avec le récent Plot Point*. Nous ne sommes plus en Europe, ni dans un film de fiction, ni une vidéo expérimentale, ni un documentaire. Nous sommes à New York, dans un film d’un nouveau genre qui, s’il existait vraiment, porterait le nom barbare de reality-docu-fiction-show. Une fois encore, Provost surprend car il se laisse surprendre ; le résultat visible aujourd’hui ne correspond pas au projet initial, avorté pour des raisons administratives. Mais, via le montage, il fait de cette impossibilité une force et, une fois de plus, convoque au festin de la sensation nos mémoires collectives de l’histoire et du cinéma.Fabrice Marquat*Voir notre dvd#8 La petite collection de BrefEntretienOù avez-vous passé votre enfance et adolescence ?Nicolas Provost : Entre le Nord et le Sud de l’Europe, à Ronse/Renaix, en Belgique, avec le privilège d’habiter sur une frontière linguistique où j’ai pu profiter de plusieurs cultures. Je me suis rendu compte de cette force en revenant, après avoir vécu dix ans en Norvège.

Quel a été le déclencheur de votre départ en Norvège ?
Comme l’enseignement à l’Académie des beaux-arts de Gand ne m’intéressait pas trop, j’ai eu envie de partir dans le cadre d’un échange universitaire. Il restait une place en Norvège, pays dont je ne savais rien. J’avais 23 ans ; pour moi, c’était l’aventure. Les trois mois de programme d’échange se sont transformés en dix ans à cause d’une femme !

Exoticore a été conçu en Norvège. Votre situation personnelle a-t-elle influencé le film ?
Je savais que je ne resterais pas : je ne trouvais pas ma place, même en tant que Belge. C’est comme ça qu’est né Exoticore : c’était une période où j’écoutais Massive Attack, une musique sombre et exotique. Le film a aussi été inspiré par le fait que je voulais savoir ce qui aurait pu se passer avant Yellow Mellow (2002). Et puis un jour, j’ai vu un homme noir devenir complètement fou dans une rue d’Oslo, comme dans la scène d’Exoticore.

Qu’est-ce que vous retenez de cet exil ?
Depuis mon expérience norvégienne, j’ai une vision plus grande et plus universelle des choses. En fait, je souhaite à tout le monde de partir deux ans en exil et de recommencer une vie à zéro.

Et en Belgique, au niveau cinématographique, est-ce que vous avez profité de la double culture, francophone et néerlandophone ?

Non je n’ai pas été inspiré par le cinéma flamand, ou du Nord, pas vraiment. Et le cinéma nordique était difficile d’accès. Ce n’est que plus tard que j’ai découvert Bergman ou Carl Dreyer. On ne regardait pas la télévision hollandaise. Par contre, je regardais beaucoup la télévision française.

Quel a été votre premier désir de cinéma en tant que réalisateur ?
J’ai toujours su quand j’étais gosse que je voulais être artiste, parce que mon cousin en était un : c’était une star de rock locale ! Le cinéma, j’en ai été sûr à l’âge de 17 ans quand j’ai vu Blue Velvet pour la première fois. Je savais que c’était ça que je devais faire, sinon je l’aurais regretté toute ma vie. Mais à 18 ans je n’avais rien à raconter et je ne voulais pas faire une école de cinéma, surtout pas en Belgique. J’avais peur d’être dégoûté. Donc j’ai fait un détour par l’Académie des beaux-arts. Et heureusement, il y a eu très vite la révolution numérique qui m’a permis de faire des films autoproduits. Je n’ai encore jamais fait un film avec un budget. J’ai reçu de l’argent en postproduction uniquement pour Exoticore et Induction.

Vos premiers films étaient du found footage avec notamment des séquences du Rashomon de Kurosawa pour Papillon d’amour et Bataille. Était-il nécessaire pour vous de retravailler l’imaginaire d’un autre artiste avant de créer vos propres images ?
Mon premier film, Need Any Help ?, a été tourné dans les fjords de Norvège en images réelles, en Super 8. Donc je voulais déjà faire du cinéma. Puis au début des années 2000, tout le monde avait son ordinateur, Final Cut et une caméra. Alors le premier truc auquel j’ai pensé, c’était d’importer des films qui existaient et les retravailler. Et ça a eu une bonne résonance. Mais je n’avais jamais entendu parler du found footage : on me disait “tu dois voir le travail de Matthias Müller et Martin Arnold” et j’ai compris que je n’étais pas le premier, évidemment !

Vous ne vous doutiez pas que vous deviendriez un artiste “inclassable” ? Est-ce que cette ambivalence entre artiste vidéo et réalisateur vous convient ?
Non pas du tout, mais c’est une question que je ne veux plus me poser parce que ça m’a beaucoup énervé et frustré. Mais maintenant qu’il a été écrit que mon travail questionne les codes du cinéma, ça commence à être plus accepté.Pour obtenir de l’argent c’était frustrant aussi. On me disait “puisque dans le milieu de l’art visuel on te dit que c’est du cinéma alors il faut aller chez eux”. Et vice-versa. En fin de compte, je n’avais rien. Maintenant, je sens que j’ai un pied dans chaque milieu, et que l’un aide l’autre. Je sais que l’art visuel et le cinéma sont deux industries avec des gens et des mentalités complètement différentes. Mais pour moi, ça reste la même chose. Je vois le cinéma comme un outil pour raconter, mettre en perspective la poésie de l’art visuel. J’ai besoin des deux.Même dans vos travaux les plus abstraits, on retrouve vos thématiques de prédilection : le bien et le mal, l’amour et la violence. La variation des genres vous permet-elle d’en aborder toutes les facettes ?Oui, c’est un truc qui me fascine : les gens, les relations entre eux, ce qu’ils se font, l’amour qu’ils se donnent avant de se détruire. J’ai pourtant eu une enfance et une adolescence heureuses, j’avais une vision très positive de la vie. Mais elle restait un mystère pour moi. J’étais très attiré par les gens et en même temps j’en avais peur. Maintenant, quand je lis les actualités ou que je vois ce qui se passe dans le monde, ça me mange, ça a beaucoup d’effets sur moi. Comme j’y suis très sensible, il faut que je puisse évacuer ça avec des films.Dans vos films, on sent votre volonté de plaire au public malgré le fait que vous utilisiez des voies narratives innovantes, donc pas forcément séductrices : c’est paradoxal, non ?Je crois que dès le début je me suis posé la question “qu’est-ce que les gens veulent voir encore aujourd’hui après plus de cent ans de cinéma et tout ce qu’on prend dans la figure à la télé ?” J’avais peur d’ennuyer les gens, je trouvais que chaque seconde devait marcher. Mais je ne me suis jamais posé la question de la forme, je me suis toujours laissé guider par l’intuition : je travaille ça comme de la matière, comme en sculpture. Et ça devient quelque chose. À chaque nouveau projet, j’essaie de me réinventer moi-même. Et je n’utilise aucun effet, ce n’est que du montage classique. Même les films miroir ou de found footage : il n’y a pas d’effets, ou alors de tout petits détails parce que j’adore travailler sur les détails. J’essaie d’embrasser notre mémoire collective du cinéma : tout le monde est né avec le cinéma. Intuitivement, on sait comment ça marche. Donc ce qui m’intéresse, c’est de jouer avec ces paramètres connus de tous, pour que chacun réalise la force de la combinaison “image et son”. J’essaie de faire rêver les gens. Le cinéma est un médium qui permet de détourner la réalité, d’ouvrir plein de portes. En expérience directe. Ce n’est pas une semaine ou un mois après que l’on ressent les effets, c’est immédiat. C’est ce qu’il y a de plus proche de l’effet de la drogue. Vers la fin de Plot Point, il y a des moments d’euphorie, et c’est sur ça que j’essaie de mettre le doigt, le plus longtemps possible. Quand je commence à dévier vers l’expérimental et la poésie, c’est quand je cherche à atteindre ce moment d’euphorie. Et j’essaie à chaque fois de toucher les gens émotionnellement et intellectuellement.Par exemple, je n’espérais même pas que des films comme Plot Point plaisent autant. L’idée de base était d’aller à New York et de devenir copain avec les flics. Ensuite, partir avec eux et filmer ce qui se passe. Enfin, de leur demander de jouer des scènes, pour mélanger la réalité à la fiction. Faire une sorte de “reality show’s cops”. En fin de compte, je n’ai pas eu l’autorisation du responsable de la police de New York. Mais comme il me restait une semaine sur place, je suis quand même allé dans la rue pour les filmer. Je suis resté à Time Square pour la lumière : c’est un vrai studio de cinéma ! Je me suis juste appliqué à bien cadrer, avec l’idée qu’au montage je ferais une fiction de la réalité de la rue. N’utiliser que la beauté de la rue, des personnages, des visages. J’ai laissé ça pendant un an dans un tiroir, je n’osais pas regarder les rushes. Mais pour les besoins d’une exposition, j’ai dû en faire quelque chose, en utilisant les méthodes d’écriture du cinéma classique pour qu’il y ait une courbe de tension. J’ai vite vu aussi que ça ne durerait que quinze minutes et que ça devait commencer par une exposition classique des personnages et de la situation, puis raconter leur histoire, pour arriver à un climax, un sentiment de résolution. Mais tout cela avec un guide émotionnel, pas narratif.

Donc vouloir plaire n’empêche pas la prise de risques ?
Quand j’ai eu terminé Exoticore, je trouvais le film beaucoup trop sage. Donc j’ai fait Induction. Et là, je voulais vraiment voir jusqu’où je pouvais aller avant de me casser la gueule ! C’était complètement intuitif. J’avais une toute petite équipe et je voyais qu’ils avaient très peur de ce que j’étais en train de faire… Mais maintenant je suis fier d’Induction, et ce n’est que deux ans après que je peux l’expliquer : j’ai essayé d’utiliser la logique du rêve et du subconscient pour reconstruire un rêve, tout en détournant les règles de cinéma connues. Et il y a une histoire dans le film, mais je ne le savais pas : c’est l’adolescent qui découvre la sexualité – cette période dans la vie où tout vient vers soi très, très fort – par la métaphore de l’homme noir et de sa mère. Parce que la sexualité, c’est quelque chose de très noir. C’était aussi un moyen de jouer avec cette façon occidentale – impérialiste et naïve – de faire le portrait de l’Africain, en préjugeant de sa force mauvaise. J’aime bien aller sur les frontières où ça peut être pathétique. De nos jours, c’est un peu dangereux de jouer avec ces éléments-là.

Il y a du Shining dans Induction : un couloir et beaucoup d’angoisse, de mystère…
Oui je sais, j’ai beaucoup pensé à Kubrick… Ce que je trouve fascinant, c’est qu’il y a énormément de beauté dans la tristesse et énormément de tristesse dans la beauté. Il y a du suspense là-dedans. Kubrick, c’est un peu ça, il joue avec ça. Ça a l’air froid, mais il met tant de distance entre lui et ses personnages, et entre les personnages eux-mêmes que ça en devient chaud. Pour moi, les plus grandes sources d’inspiration, ce sont Kubrick et Lynch. Ce sont les plus grands maîtres, les plus grands artistes. Et ça me rend triste de savoir que l’on n’aura plus jamais quelqu’un comme Kubrick, c’est impossible. Il pouvait faire tout ce qu’il voulait et avec une grande vision. Et toucher tout le monde en faisant des films commerciaux. Quand on voit aujourd’hui Lynch qui sort Inland Empire, il n’y a plus personne pour aller voir ça. Pour moi, c’est le seul artiste qui essaie de réinventer le cinéma à chaque fois qu’il fait un film. Et son dernier film annonce une nouvelle époque dans son travail, alors qu’il a déjà plus de soixante ans !

Vous écrivez un long métrage depuis trois ans. Comment est né le projet ?
J’aurais pu, comme beaucoup de réalisateurs, choisir un genre qui me plaît. Mais comme je n’avais pas cette expérience, je me suis dit qu’il fallait que l’idée naisse d’une émotion ou d’une intuition. Le déclic est venu quand j’ai vu un documentaire de trois heures sur l’histoire de la house music, fait par la Bbc. C’est un film qui m’a touché parce que j’étais en plein dedans quand j’avais 17 ans, quand je commençais à sortir en boîte. À la moitié du film, la voix off annonce “et voici maintenant le premier morceau de house music enregistré”. C’était Frankie Knuckles & Jamie Principle, “Your Song”. Sur cette musique, ils ont mis des images de Chicago survolé de nuit en hélicoptère. C’était pour moi un moment d’émotion très fort, une sorte d’euphorie due au fait que je connaissais très bien cette musique et cette époque. J’ai alors pensé que je devais bâtir mon long métrage autour de ces images très fortes. Ensuite, je me suis demandé quelle histoire construire autour de ce moment, quelle couleur donner au film. J’ai tout de suite pensé au noir, donc à Issaka, avec qui j’avais déjà tourné Exoticore. Donc parler à nouveau de l’exotisme et de l’exil, revenir à mon expérience de vie en Norvège. En résumé, à partir d’un moment euphorique dans un documentaire, j’ai construit une histoire dont le pitch se résume à nos peurs de sociétés occidentales face à l’immigré, l’envahisseur. Ce qui n’a rien de nouveau, mais c’est le sujet qui reste pour moi le plus actuel aujourd’hui.

Avec le long métrage, n’avez-vous pas peur de perdre la liberté de création que vous aviez dans vos films courts et sans budget ?
Si, j’ai énormément peur. Déjà l’écriture du scénario a été une torture. Je n’avais jamais écrit de scénario jusqu’à présent, même pour Exoticore. Mais je ne me suis jamais dit “non je ne peux pas écrire ça” en pensant que c’est pour un long ; je ne me suis pas censuré et mon producteur m’a suivi. Et maintenant la version finale du scénario est un “one hero journey” inspiré par Taxi Driver, où tu vois le même personnage toujours dans le cadre, qui descend en enfer. L’histoire du personnage a été guidée par mes désirs plastiques. Mais j’ai dû me faire aider pour l’écriture du scénario. François Pirot a fait un très bon travail de ré-écriture, même si c’était difficile pour lui parce qu’à la fin, je partais vraiment dans des choses très irrationnelles.Et puis je suis obligé de confier la caméra à quelqu’un d’autre. Je dois, et je veux le faire parce que je sais que ça va donner une valeur ajoutée au film. Mais il faut que je trouve un chef-opérateur sensible à ma poésie. Je peux faire confiance à quelqu’un qui maîtrise et pratique le cinéma classique, mais qui est capable, et qui accepte, de faire un pas en arrière à chaque fois, comme prendre une photo d’une photo.

Quand doit commencer le tournage ?
Normalement l’été prochain. Mais j’ai la sensation qu’une partie doit être retravaillée à l’écriture… Je ne sais pas si l’on me laissera le temps de le faire !

Propos recueillis par Fabrice Marquat en avril 2008, à Bruxelles
Amor de Twinski