Pedro placed Tita on the bed and slowly removed her clothing, piece by piece... She was experiencing a climax so intense that her closed eyes glowed, and a brilliant tunnel appeared before her. She remembered the words that John had once spoken to her: 'if a strong emotion suddenly lights all the matches we carry inside ourselves, it creates a brightness that shines far beyond our normal vision... The soul longs to return to the place it came from, leaving the body lifeless...' Laura Esquivel, from Like Water for Chocolate
Camille Vivier's short film Monument shows us an abstract narrative of romance in a tiny space of time. Through the embrace depicted, the viewer is offered only glimpses of the lovers' stories and is left to guess what kind of love they are experiencing as they come together.
The intensity of the scene from Esquivel's novel climaxes with the ecstatic death of Pedro - his 'little death' more powerful and less easy to control than Tita's, who pulls herself away so that she can experience the immense feeling again. Realising that her lover is dead, she is left with a 'freezing chill' and in desperation eats matches, given to her earlier, to return to the place where her Pedro was lost. He is still there waiting for her and after a long embrace they 'left together for the lost Eden. Never again would they be apart.'
The light in 'Monument' may burn more slowly and less fervently than Tita's, but it symbolises the same thing: love and the desire to be as one. The moment when couples experience pure love is like when all is suspended - time, law and reason. It is ultimately a still place where bodies melt and collapse together gaining strength from one another so when they separate again they are more equipped to cope with the chaos of life.
We sense it is far from a melancholy affair riddled with tricks and anxiety, but is something very beautiful, long lasting and intimate. Simple, but also full of change, concessions and contradictions which ultimately make individuals stronger. The piece takes us through the whole of life until the couples' death - a unified space where the simple embrace has become something we can no longer fathom.
Susan Bright: Why did you call the piece Monument?
Camille Vivier: The title I finally chose was Monument because it refers to a celebration and I like the gap between what a monument is supposed to be and the intimacy of a candle, which is more related to still life paintings and the Vanitas tradition. It was also a way to break with the over-romanticised aspect. I was doing work about candles at the time and more specifically about rituals and magic candles. (This one is a Santeria candle - a Brazilian cult mixing catholic and African animalist belief, something like voodoo. People use it to celebrate a union and make it more fruitful).
SB: How did you choose the music to accompany the film?
CV: A friend composed the music to whom I gave complete 'carte blanche'. I liked the idea that it told a story and that it accompanies the film. I did not want either something too conceptual or something that would have been more important than the image. I hope that we have found a good balance and a true compliment.
SB: The two figures become one - is this a symbolic representation of love?
CV: My initial idea was centred round time and transformation or alteration. It's true that the couple brings a symbolic dimension, but I liked the idea that these two distinct bodies just became one in an abstract block. They do not suddenly become one, but with time they become consumed with love and their future is as one. It is a history of love from its start to its end and with all its tests along the way. I like the idea of sharing and find reassuring the idea that they face the fire together.
SB: A flame is an ancient symbol associated with love and desire used throughout art and literature. Are there any specific works that were an inspiration?
CV: The flame of course leads us back to passion. I was rather thinking of Wild at Heart by David Lynch where the fire becomes a recurrent motif; through the fire, the sound of a struck match, a cigarette lit after love. Fire recalls above all time that passes and the fatality of life, through their love they are linked in their destiny. I also saw, a little after I finished my film, Fritz Lang's The Three Lights, where each candle represents a life and where death is represented by each extinguished flame. In my film it is the double death. The flame becomes symbolic through what the candle represents, but I could have found another process of degradation. I wanted the action of the fire to act progressively in real time, knowing that I was then going to accelerate it.
SB: What did you want to say with the film?
CV: To sum up, what makes a happy life (and therefore a happy end) is love and poetry, the acceptance of our fragility, and our ability to absorb things. In spite of our individuality, we only live through others and are part of a whole.