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IXth Congress of the WAP • 14-18 april 2014 • Paris • Palais des Congrès • www.wapol.org

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Mariana Otero
An encounter between the director of a psychoanalytically oriented institution and a cinematographer
A Welcome Eventuality

By Bernard Seynhaeve

No stepping back from the real
Mariana OteroLife is made up of good and bad encounters. Of course there is chance, but there is also contingency. Why is it that with some people there is an encounter and with others not? It's that contingency has to do with the decision of being, of choice, unfathomable. It implies not stepping back from the real.

Ever since I've been director of the Courtil, I've refused that the children be filmed and that journalists be allowed within the institution. With Alexander Stevens, we never wanted the children to be shown. That was his position; it was also mine. You don't come to the Courtil to look.

Three years ago, I met Mariana Otero, a serendipitous contingency. It was Anne Paschetta who introduced us. After producing Histoire d'un secret and Entre nos mains, Mariana Otero wanted to make a film about madness. She was looking for an institution that cared for people with mental health pathologies. She had visited some, but had not found what she was looking for. She had met alot of adults who were very much guided by their own phantasies. Love thy neighbor.

Anne Pasquetta, who knew the Courtil, suggested that Mariana Otero meet me. Contingency. I was reticent, opposed even, out of principle, that someone introduce a camera into our institution. I didn't know Mariana. Mariana Otero did not come to convonce me. That was not her question. And that's what disarmed me and affected my reserve. Mariana didn't understand. She was here to try and do just that. She came with her question. She wanted to understand what makes up the human, what's missing. She came with a hole in her knowledge. She came with a supposition of knowledge. Of course she had a project, but she hadn't come to look.

Faced with this insistance, I myself was called to try and explain. Mariana came back to the Courtil on a number of occasions. And for long hours we exchanged. She realized that for us, each child, one by one, that we welcomed here, was an enigma. She understood that, even though we knew things, maybe even lots of things, each child here was a question for us. That we start from a blank page was new to her. To start with a slate clean of all we knew, to create a space in which each one, the child and the carer, were invited to invent; all that was unheard of for Mariana.

These meetings with her fell within a strange discourse, unheard of, a discourse that orbited around a hole in knowledge, a discourse on the real. To not step back from the real was one of the conditions for something new spring forth. This was the discourse she encountered.

Mariana OteroThe writing of a poem
As for us, at the Courtil, we had to confront/tackle this XXIst century, that imposes the media and the object gaze. Psychoanalysis was being abused, flouted, and mistreated. It was time we let society know what we do. This was our wager. I entrusted Mariana with the keys to the institution. She could move about as she wished there. We had confidence in her.

Mariana Otero fit into the institution just like all those who work at the Courtil did. She took a whole year doing what's known as location scouting. And we continued talking for long periods. Then she began filming. Alone, with no audio engineer. She knocked together a camera that she would wear on her belly so that her gaze not be hidden. She recorded 180 hours of rushes and still didn't know if she would be able to do something with them. Nothing was decided in advance.

Out of that, she extracted a film of one hour and fifty minutes . Starting with a blank page, and without knowing, she wrote a poem.


In reach of the real
I wondered why this film touched me and why it so touched all those who watched it. My answer is that Mariana Otero managed to grasp something of the children's real during the many months she lived with them. She came so close as to translate it in this work. But not only that. She executed the amazing feat of bringing out what makes the fabric of intimacy, the flaw, that which constitutes what is most human in humankind.

But something else is remarkable. It's that in so doing, she put to the act what each one, both child and carer, was invited to produce in the space opened by the discourse of psychoanalysis applied to therapeutics: to extract bits of the real with which each of us has to deal. In this respect, Mariana Otero, as her film demonstrates, became a carer in the same way as everyone else who works at the Courtil does. The children made that space for her. They invested in her, they made use of her, as the film shows.

Mariana OteroOnce the film was produced, Mariana Otero confided to me that she had understood something of what the Lacanian unconscious, the real unconscious, could be . What her film shows is that the subjects she lived with all this time managed to invent, to create, a solution that allowed them to fit inside the world by using their symptom, by leaning on it. But that's exactly what Mariana does with her film. And it's what everyone who works at the Courtuil is invited to do in this creative space that the Courtil is. That's what the Lacanian unconscious is. A serendipitous contingency.


see the video interview conducted by Mariana Otero and Marlène Bernard Seynhaeve Belilos

Click on image to watch the video
(to pause, click again)

Mariana Otero

Translation: Julia Richards