Many people believe that artists are the only ones capable of misleading us in the virtues. Plato did well by throwing them out of his Republic. Who needs them to build a world order? Art is something of disorder, although its value and expression have been misplaced in the same way that our wills and desires have also been misplaced in our capitalist and globalized world.
Perhaps for that historical place, to make a living out of art is considered a risk. Mainly those who choose literature. That is a self-devoted activity, lonely and silent. An effort of inventing and reinventing oneself because there are few choices: to win a war or be killed in the field. Some choose to win.
Fernando Bonassi knows which wars are possible to win and in which fields they are. He is a writer making his living out of the several possible fields of work that the present cultural-industry market displays. Even in Brazil. Art. Hard work. An astonished writer that works in the wars around him.
Profession: Writer. Vocation: Writer. Passion: Literature.
At age 45, this writer, born in Mooca (SĂŁo Paulo), has become one of the most interesting names in the present Brazilian Literature. A writer who works freely with several media: movies, television, theatre, fictional literature, journalistic chronicle.
We met Fernando Bonassi during the season of his play “O incrĂvel menino da fotografia” in the Cultural Center of Caixa Economica Federal in Rio de Janeiro in December 2007. We talked about literature, sex, television, movies, love, pains, theatre, family and some other disordered worlds – while he showed a kind of shining in his eyes that see everything despite being hidden by narrow eyeglasses.
When transcribing this interview I tried to maintain, at my best, the pleasure of a meeting. And that choice - to keep the coolness of a moment - perhaps may teach others something that I have learned with him: to believe in the art of winning wars to build new landscapes.
Do you make a living only as a writer?
Yes, I think I belong to the first generation of Brazilian writers that can do that. I am 45. I think Brazilian literature is cowardly because writers are diplomats or belong to public working staffs. Many of them have promiscuous relations with the State. I find that this absence of courage has also to do with that. But I recognize that I am part of a generation of Brazilian writers that for the first time has the opportunities that the cultural industry displays. And when I say that, I donÂ´t mean I live from book selling, but from my fiction writing: lectures, plays, scripts, press, conferences.
How have you organised this career to make
a living out of that?
A group of Italian reactionaries of my family taught me some important things, one is: to do something in your life that you can make a living out of and be happy. I have been raised in a working class family, so I have always imagined myself doing something that could pay my bills. The idea of Education was nothing in my family. I was the first person in my family to enroll a university course. So I have always written knowing I would have to negotiate. I find that itÂ´s possible to write a script to Globo Films and mantain some of my authorial characteristics, not always. I have left some projects, stayed in others.But I have always prepared myself to produce my art to that cultural industry. And consider literature as work.
Without any shame?
The shame is not in professional relations. I am not going to write for reactionary people. ItÂ´s not possible to do a personal thing writing for TV but in the press it is possible. In the Folha de SĂŁo Paulo newspaper I wrote a column that was a short story and I have never been censored for that.
But I mean that artists usually feel ashamed
to “sell” their work.
That is an illness, a bourgeois idea of those who have family inheritance. I shall pay my bills.. I am not going to write for the Right, but,for example, I wrote the script of "Cazuza – o tempo nĂŁo pĂˇra" that is not good enough to be a good film, it is bad, but we fight for it to be barely a mediocrity. If we left it in the hands of the Globo Films, it would have become a total mediocrity. The film is junk, as everything that Globo has always made. It is a fictional model totally biased. I find that the soap-opera playwrights should be prosecuted. When somebody writes for 40 years soap operas that tell women that the only solution for their lives is marriage and the only thing that men must follow is money, that becomes a social value. It is the same as the Goebbels technique, repeat the lie until they believe it.
ItÂ´s incredible that we canÂ´t see today in soap operas a family with black actors as any ordinary family, for example.
But the problem is not that, it is the way to tell the story. It is the kind of story that is being told. The problem is about format, not content. ItÂ´s not enough to substitute a blond to a black cast. ItÂ´s not possible to work for Globo and do whatever we want. And I donÂ´t want that for me. But I say that to you because for the first time my generation has working choices outside that company. The cultural industry has been increased a lot and those closed powers are more and more threatened.
DonÂ´t you think that the TV works of Luiz Fernando de Carvalho have been breaking that a little?
ItÂ´s not enough to paste cellophane on a piece of iron.
And that is the TV playwrighting model that is being reproduced by all the other TV companies.
But people are going to repeat that until it fails because nobody likes to change.
So is it possible to make a living out of literature exclusively?
Yes! There is work. Writing literature is something very sophisticated.
And not so many people are doing that properly.
I donÂ´t know. There are a lot of people doing that and there is work. One should work! I wake up every day at 8 am and I work until 6 pm. Sometimes I write pretty things, sometimes a piece of shit, sometimes I have contracts, sometimes I donÂ´t. Even when I have no work by contract I am always writing something.
Your relation to theatre is much more intense
than to the movies.
Sure, movies are to earn money.
So why do you have a Degree in Cinema? What did you want to find in this kind of Education?
I saw an Alan Resnais film, "Hiroshima mon amour" with a script by Marguerite Duras. I saw that and I thought: that is impossible to be done in literature. I really had the impression of another language. Then I started studies in Cinema because I wanted to provoke that kind of uncomfortable feeling. When I saw that film, I wanted to do that, to have that language within reach. But during the course I found out that it was an illusion because it is very difficult to be done. A small Brazilian film costs 500 thousand dollars, and it is hell to get this amount here. Nobody trusts nobody. There is no financing for a budget like that. And I wish I could do that totally on my own as I do when I write books. Literature is an exercise for free men and women. A writer has no boss, you do whatever you want. And that freedom decreases according to the production budget. Theatre is very free but not so much as literature, cinema can be very free but never as theatre is. That has to do with the resources involved in the capitalist world. Specially in Brazil, filmmaking is a very closed environment, few people manage that, the conservative ones. It is a naive cinema, without provocative issues. If you see Argentinean or Mexican cinema, countries near ours, they are doing better things. IÂ´ve worked for twelve productions. I have good credits, but I do not feel part of any of them besides "Os Matadores”—that was my first script.
Not even "Carandiru"?
No. I got money for the "Carandiru" script. The director was well known, the book was a famous one, I got a ride. I did reasonable work. The importance of the film was guaranteed before my presence there.
Have you ever studied theatre?
Never formally. When I got interested in reading, I started to educate myself. I read the Russians, the Germans, Shakespeare. I attended the final exams of a drama course at USP. At the end of the drama course they stage a play straightly, Becket, Pinter. I saw them to know the plays because I was lazy to read plays. You should have a knowledge that a theatre-goer does not have. I decided to go to the theatre before reading plays. I found theatre very interesting because it showed a thing that we cannot have in literature, the physical thing of acting and the exchange with the audience. Because it is very lonely to write literature. I bought ten books of theatre plays. And I studied them, how the text was organised, how ideas were presented, since it has no description, and I started writing following that. My first play - Um cĂ©u de estrelas – was not staged at first, it has become a film.
Did you see your play “Ovo Frito” in Rio de Janeiro?
Yes and I loved the Moacir ChavesÂ´direction.
That was the first and only here in Rio.
No, here we performed "Woyzeck", with Matheus Nachtergaele. And "Apocalypse 1.11", that I did the playwriting, and it didnÂ´t go well here.
But "Ovo Frito" was the only play of yours performed in Rio de Janeiro that was not produced in SĂŁo Paulo. How did it arrive here?
Oh, sure, you are right! Roberto Alvim, a playwright here in Rio called 10 writers for a playwrights’ meeting. Then I wrote the play and sent it to Roberto who showed it to the director who showed it to the actress. It was a group that was organised without me. I didnÂ´t know any of them.
Do you feel comfortable when working with a play you have written?
I do not believe in the function of the director in theatre. That is important to say. I think that a director is not necessary. HeÂ´s not important. The necessity of a director has resulted in more and more mediocre actors who do the worse things because they do not have self confidence. I donÂ´t believe that.
So how do you work with your own plays?
I sit down along with some intelligent guys and say: how are we going to do that, folks? I have written thinking about this and that.
And thinking of you, do you write for a specific actor?
No, no. I wrote O incrĂvel menino da fotografia for another actor. I met Eucir (de Souza) afterwards and I found that he was a better actor than the one I was planning to give the part to. I gave Eucir the play. We read and began to make decisions. It is not a work in the classical sense. I was sure that the boy (of the play “O incrĂvel menino da fotografia”) would move, smoke a cigarette, rise and eat an apple. In the first rehearsal the body instructor, Eucir, and the stage engineer said – "but if he is in a photograph why is he going to move?"
Of course! He has to stand still! And every movement would happen in a determined space. I tell the actor what I did and what I thought when writing and how I imagine the character on stage. For me, it is not important what I see, that comes afterwards, for me itÂ´s important what is being said, the song of what is being said. I want to say what that boy is saying but I donÂ´t know how he is going to be in that setting. In the play, I describe a setting that is not a photo, it is the setting of a photo. It was the art director that had the idea of transforming the scenary into a photo and that has improved the play a lot because we were doing it on a little table and when you see it on the ground it’s dull.It would also have worked if we had followed that direction.
So in theatre you negotiate well with all collaborations.
I write under order. I usually write a story for the papers with contract, deadlines, and a determined payment. This kind of relation is negotiation. I am hired to write scripts that I do not want to write. I am paid to develop other peopleÂ´s ideas. The only thing that I do not know is how to do what the actor does. I donÂ´t want that, I feel ashamed, I donÂ´t understand why someone stays on a stage repeating the same thing the whole evening... (laughs)
...that he did not write.
Yeah. That he did not write, even being a good text, when itÂ´s not a bad text and the guy has to do it because itÂ´s a job! That is not for me. So everything that the actor gives me is always a surprise. What you call negotiation is because I do not do what he does.I know EucirÂ´s face, his intelligence and his potential for physical inventions. So we have an array of things to investigate that can happen with a boy that is closed in a picture. And during two months with money to pay our rent we can explore that. It is possible to create many things out of what is apparently nothing, that is a person in a picture. I rarely rehearsed alone with Eucir. Everybody was there, musician, assistants, light designers. So we play with our imagination, the same way you do with your son and I do with my daughter. It is the same thing, with small differences.
You published a book called “O amor Ă© uma dor feliz”. Is love really a happy pain? Why?
Because it hurts to grow up. Ask your son. One day he is not going to help you anymore, he will try to kill you and that is going to hurt you both because itÂ´s not easy. Love is the only thing in our modern life that is in peopleÂ´s hands and they have the obligation to do it their own way. Love without being under the submission of work, time or space. People do not love, do not have loving relationships because they do not want to or are cowards. The good love is important. My house was terrible. My mother cooked the Sunday lunch and said: "It is gnocchi". My father: "It is gnocchi". My brother: "It is gnocchi". I: "It is gnocchi". And we ate the gnocchi in silence, bored. They got divorced and we are all happy today. It was necessary for us to be extinguished as a family to work as individuals. This is the way we are very happy today, we do not see or speak to each other.
But is there a different fate for all the families that want to be happy?
Yes, in a certain moment. My daughter is three and says she loves me and wants to marry me. Now it is the time for that. The only wisdom is: to live each thing on its own time. I also have no illusions regarding that.
In an interview for the site, Cranik, you said that getting to know Carandiru was a new cultural experience, "a kind of sad and desolated world that has always inspired me". Is it always a sad and desolated world that inspires you?
Yes, sadness. There is a French photographer, Robert Doisneau who said: "The places where people have suffered are more noble than those where they amuse themselves". ThatÂ´s it. There are two kinds of writers: when the fight is over, those who go out with the winner, to take drugs and fuck five women at a party, and there are others who feel attracted by the misfortune, by the sorrow and go to see the loser. ThatÂ´s what creates a more interesting book. When someone is in a bad situation, there is less shame in showing who he really is. Wealth is a golden mask, culture is a golden mask, theatre is a golden mask.
You have already said that "theatre is the happy place where I find an organised group to drive crazy together". So how do you maintain that insanity, after all theatre is an art of difficult production. What is your experience in that sense?
IÂ´ve learned with cinema production that to make good films with a small budget we have to concentrate dramatically in few places in small periods of time. My first novel has become the film "Um cĂ©u de estrelas" by Tata Amaral. It is the story of a kidnapping that happens in a house, and that story at first was a play. The good thing about writing a solo play is that you have a play for theatre, a great story to publish in a book and it can also be adapt for movies. I try to write in that crossing of languages. A play can be a novel a film with a small organisation of the contents. I have always searched for that. In theatre, the insanity is to share with six people, but we study, plan and work. Insanity should not be a waste of time and excess. We had great commitment and I control everything. I am very careful with public money. We have the Miriam Muniz prize, by Funarte, afterwards Sesc bought some shows. Now the Caixa Cultural is supporting us in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. We will tour in SĂŁo Paulo in 2008 supported by the SĂŁo Paulo state government.
And "O incrĂvel menino na fotografia" is going to be a film or a novel?
I donÂ´t think so, maybe. We have already another play but we want to maintain that in the repertoire while we do others.
You released a book about sex,”As melhores vibraĂ§Ăµes” . It is a collection of your stories to the “Macho” column (Folha de SĂŁo Paulo newspaper) that you wrote according to readers' doubts and questions about sex. In one of those I found: "Thou shall not kill old feelings of love. You know, the world goes round and ex-love affairs can knock on your door again". Is that a clear chauvinist behaviour or a reality?
Did I write that?!
It is one of the topics of the “DecĂˇlogo do Macho”.
I have never written for men. Read again.
"Thou shall not kill old feelings of love. You know, the world goes round and ex-love affairs can knock on your door again".
DonÂ´t you think that for yourself, somehow?
Yes. (uncertain) but were you writing for a man weren’t you?
No, it is the opposite. When they called me to write this column I said I liked women pretty much to speak about them in a negative sense.
But was the column supposed to talk about women in a negative sense?
No. But which is the chauvinist behavior? The column was very chauvinist until I started writing. I said I would write from a heterossexual point of view. For me, men and women are equal, they should take responsibility for everything equally. Xico SĂˇ, who writes very well, was writing before me but I wouldn’t do what he does. I like fucking. I am not going to destroy the object of my love.(laughs) That is certainly an item for a chauvinist but for a modern chauvinist.
Ok, youÂ´ve saved yourself.
Why have I read so many books in my life?! For something that should be important . (laughs)
And how was the readers' feedback?
I received more emails from women and my column had more gay readers than the gay column. I used to get around 70 emails daily, I chose one to answer and to the other ones I sent a standard answer: “Have you already tried to talk about that with your partner?” People do not talk, do not speak what they want or not. I talk to my wife.
And they talked to you.
Yeah. I said: "You have to tell that to the guy, not to me. The problem is yours if you donÂ´t tell your partner.”
Do you think they have changed after your advice?
I donÂ´t know. If they havenÂ´t, I feel sorry. Because the only way to be happy is being clear. I donÂ´t know any other way.
Is there a special writer for you?
Yes, I feel I am morally educated by Henry Miller. He said that to write you should have to know yourself first. If you are a coward, write about your cowardness. ItÂ´s not necessary to be courageous like Hemingway, to live one adventure in life to write about and in the end put a bullet through the head. Live your life, know yourself, cheer the fullness of your sexual and creative life, fuck a lot – that he spoke clearly – if you are afraid of fucking, write about that because it is also important. Camus, for example, everything that I know about politics I have learned with him.
Thank you so much, Fernando, for this meeting.
I thank you too.
O incrĂvel menino da fotografia is also Daniela Garcia (scenography, costume and art direction), Davi de Brito (light designer), Eucir de Souza (acting), Marcelo Pellegrini (photography), Marlene Salgado (production manager) and Vivien Buckup (body instructor).
Fernando BonassiÂ´s Opera Omnia (so far!)
O amor em chamas
100 histĂłrias colhidas na rua
As melhores vibraĂ§Ăµes
ViolĂŞncia e PaixĂŁo
A boca no mundo
O menino que se trancou na geladeira
O amor Ă© uma dor feliz
Um cĂ©u de estrelas
O cĂ©u e o fundo do mar
DiĂˇrio da Guerra de SĂŁo Paulo
Uma carta para Deus
Vida da gente
A incrĂvel histĂłria de Naldinho/um bandidĂŁo ou um anjinho?
DeclaraĂ§ĂŁo universal do moleque invocado.
Por um beijo
Entre vida e morte - Casos de polĂcia
O pequeno fascista
As coisas ruins da nossa cabeĂ§a
Preso entre ferragens
Um cĂ©u de estrelas
Eu nĂŁo sou cachorro
Preso entre ferragens
SĂŁo Paulo Ă© uma festa
TrĂŞs cigarros e uma lasanha
Pequeno sonho em vermelho
A menina que chorava que nem louca
O incrĂvel menino da fotografia
Os Matadores (directed by Beto Brant)
Translated by Andrea Carvalho Stark.
Additional translation from Portuguese to English by Marcos Valois.