It's a well-known fact that most cinematic sequels are bound to disappoint - but thankfully, this is not the case with director Sophie Fiennes's and rock-philosopher Slavoj Zizek's latest collaboration, The Pervert's Guide to Ideology. At turns provocative, inspiring, and entertaining, Zizek speaks from within the reconstructed scenes of an astonishing array of popular films including Taxi Driver, Titanic, Lost Highway and West Side Story. Delving once more into the hidden language of cinema, Fiennes and Zizek interpret what the movies reveal about ourselves, and the collective fantasies that shape our beliefs and practices. Fiennes commented: "We are responsible for our dreams. That's the genius of cinema: there's more happening than what you can actually talk about. "
While speaking to Fiennes this week over the phone, I was also surprised to learn that, although Zizek was responsible for The Pervert's Guide script, he was quite easy about relinquishing all artistic control over the film. Here's how veteran filmmaker Fiennes managed to transform the notoriously irreverent thinker into her "puppet," and why she thinks fiction cinema and psychoanalysis are more relevant than ever:
What was the most challenging aspect of Pervert's Guide to Ideology?
Sophie Fiennes: Because the Pervert's Guide to Cinema was so enthusiastically received, I felt I had to raise the bar. This time it's a more sophisticated intervention into the films: Zizek and I weren't looking at moments of film, but what they represented. It was only half-way through the edit that I realized how strong it was, with Zizek dressed up in a priest's robe but still able to deliver these ideas that weren't impacted by having put him in this position. In an ambiguous way, it means that he's not himself, as he's always dressed up as other characters - but he's always still himself. It provides comic release, the ridiculousness of it. He's got a great sense of how to communicate with the audience.
Were you concerned that Pervert's Guide might prove too challenging to viewers unfamiliar with psychoanalysis and post-Lacanian theory?
SF: I' m quite optimistic that everybody is ready to engage in complex thinking. That they want to surf the symbolic landscape - that's what religion does. That's why you have young jihadis, because that's their opportunity to do that: to feel and explore the myth of origins, to construct them. It's very rich and necessary. For me, psychoanalysis is the most proper contemporary way to approach our being in the world. It's a gift, that thinking develops to this point!
Is there a particular point Zizek makes that struck you as personally?
SF: Yeah, the injunction of enjoyment. He says that psychoanalysis is one of the few places where you're allowed to be unhappy. Why? In the film, the non-existence of "The Big Other " is a huge winding moment, which comes at you like a stake in the heart - its when Zizek unpacks this idea that there's no one to listen to your story, that we are alone.
Do you support Zizek's refusal to reduce the 2009 London rioters to "objects of circumstances" as there was there also a "margin of free will" involved?
SF: I love that point because its so powerful and engaged. All these ideas are applicable to everybody. I remember when I was doing the research on the riots, there was a young black boy from Peckham who said, "Well, I come from this place, but I don't need to do that. I'm not doing that." And he had the same set of circumstances. It's a much more generous and positive way to approach how people can develop in the world.
What is it like working with a larger-than-life persona like Zizek?
SF: Ultimately, the most gratifying aspect was that he was my puppet. It was a kind of fun, back-and-forth abusive game we had. He'd insult me then say: "Just tell me what to do!" The domination was fun for me, as well as the great humour of the relationship. He likes to talk a lot to fill the space, so you have to be quite quick to catch him and ask him to explain himself. But you can ask him about anything, and he'll give you fascinating read-outs on the topic. He's very honest.
Do you implicitly agree with everything Zizek says in Pervert's Guide?
SF: I don't think I'd be making the film if I didn't love the ideas. Within the process of making it, I asked myself a lot of questions, and what I didn't agree with, I just didn't put in.
How have film festival viewers reacted to your film?
SF: People were really hungry for it, especially younger people. Though there was quite a range of ages that appreciated the opportunity to explore the role of ideology in their everyday lives.
When can we expect from you next?
SF: Zizek and I want to complete the film trilogy, to cement the core of his thinking. I've also just finished a film on Liu Xiaodong playing at the Lisson Gallery in London, and am still working on a documentary about Grace Jones.
All photos courtesy of Picturehouse Cinema.