Clara Jost, at the 2017 Berlinale
I had seen a week or so ago, that your mother would be showing her newest film in Berlin. I wondered if you would be going with her, and then saw you were in the cast. Yesterday I saw some reviews – which wandered as usual from saying “very good (if slow),” to saying “slow and boring and saying nothing.” Etc. Life in the film world, or arts world – or perhaps any world. Today I Googled for pictures – of you, of the film – and found them.
I haven’t seen you now for fifteen and a half years. For quite some time I had not even a picture to see – so completely had your mother blocked you off from the world. Then you had your Facebook, which let me see, for the first time in many years, an image of you. Curiously, when I Googled for pictures, on the same page was this one:
Back then, as you know, I “friended” you and that Facebook page promptly went off-line, I presume courtesy of Teresa. On the same Google page, along with the shots of you from the press at the Berlinale, was this image:
From Piccoli Miracoli (in progress)
The feelings I have, when I see these images – images of my own daughter, whom I raised virtually alone for 3 and a half years, and have been unable to see now for all these long years now – are deep and deeply wounding. It is a pain, though subdued by the passage of time, never to be healed. I am sure, in some way, it is the same for you, though with a considerable difference. I am now an older man, psychologically prepared to die. Many of my friends and collaborators have already gone, and at this juncture – soon to be 74 – it is wise to settle the scores of one’s life, to make an accounting and make peace with it. I have. You, instead, are a young woman, psychologically, like all young people, not really ready for what lies before you in what we hope is a long life, and in your case having to cope with a deep rupture inflicted upon you, by your mother, in your early childhood. I doubt as the scars, whatever they are, will ever leave you. I only hope you are able surmount them, and live a healthy and happy life despite them – a life enriched with love.
You are in Berlin now and I hope you are having a good time, never mind the shallow circus which is the film world. I lived in Berlin a handful of years, on and off, and have many friends there. It’s one of my favorite cities. Your mother came to visit me there – described in an earlier letter to you – long ago. I was once, long ago, a sort of festival favorite (not in Competition, but in the Forum section), since 1977 and have been there with 8 different films over the years. Though that was some time ago as – fickle as the arts world is – I seem to have fallen out of favor there, though in my view, and that of some others, my work is better than back then. I hope to return sometime soon to see friends, and perhaps to show newer work.
As I said in a previous letter, I will be posting a series of letters, written before your mother’s kidnapping of you on Nov 1, 2000, and then others written after. These are many and long, so I will do one or two at a time in my coming letters. I will start below.
Marcella and I will be going in a few days to Torino, for screenings of 5 films there at the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, and then to visit friends in Milano – including Tilde, who was in my first film, Portrait (1963), which will show in Torino. She and her husband will be coming for that! A treat for me.
Tilde Rebosio, in Portrait, 1963
I must start getting things ready for our trip – files of the films, tickets, clothes – so I’ll stop now.
I hope your time in Berlin was happy and full, and that on return to Lisboa you are able to get back to work – I see you are at the school for film and theater, and making short films with your colleagues. I am glad you are able to do what you want to do and I trust you are good at it.
Teu pai, jon
Subject: Before going to Norway
Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2000 09:40:41 +0200
From: Villaverde and Jost <email@example.com>
We leave in a few hours and will be back Monday afternoon. A few practical things first:
The Deutsche Bank account is probably almost empty – the last end of Sept accounting posted says there were 2.5 millioni left, and the rent taken out will drop it to almost nothing. This is more or less right on schedule. I am expecting a deposit from payment for my Rotterdam piece of 7 millioni, but it appears it hasn’t arrived yet. So can you please transfer whatever you wish, but at least a few millioni, from Lisboa. Do so immediately.
I think I got the bills paid, though maybe I missed one month (too late)on the electricity, but I guess they will let us know.
As I spent more or less the whole summer and autumn in Portugal, at your request, I ask you to make sure the following is done for me:
Have someone go to your mother’s house and in the storage room (not the basement one, unless they moved things, but the ex-bedroom of Manel’s) and get all the Digital Beta tapes they can find (there are ones of 40 and 60 minutes length, in boxes), and make sure they are all brought here when the production comes to Rome. If someone could go into the back of the under-the-stairway room and find the large oil painting thing I would like that too, but I think it would require emptying out the whole thing which I suppose no one would want to do. Likewise my tripod in Cabanas should come. I will contact the office to ask them to arrange that someone go get the tapes when traveling between Lisboa and Cabanas, but they will need you to organize with your mother letting in, etc.
I am going to tell Alessandro that Clara will not be available for the last scene until (a) the refund on the tickets has been made, and (b) her contract and payment has been made. I will send him the necessary information to do these things.
On your return I would appreciate it if you have the production secure you a hotel (Nuno can do so, or I can reserve a place). The apartment is now almost neat and tidy and I wish to keep it that way; I know you well enough to know that if you stay here even briefly it will promptly become a mess. Thank you, but no. Manuela says there is a nice one room apartment which the school has which may be empty when you return and you could get it. I will go see when I get back from Norway. It costs 1.6 millioni (though it will drop to 1.3 over time, too complicated to explain why here). It is on via della Scala, so quite nearby. If you think you will want it let me know and I will check it out and see when it is available. I doubt that you are going to find a “cheap” apartment in Trastevere. Maybe Testaccio or Monte Verde, but not around here. (Speaking of which, Tonino found himself a house and is buying it, somewhere out further from San Lorenzo side of town.)
Everyone I know here already has been informed that we are no longer living together, and why. Likewise my family. Given the overall situation it seems clear Clara should stay here with me. She likes her room and the house (she says so often), Lolly is down the street, etc., and she likes to be with me. I am happy to give all the time she needs and deserves, as I have the last years. As time goes on we will each have to each make compromises regarding work, where we live, and such things, to minimize the damage inflicted on Clara.
Regarding your let’s-make-it-like-fun-to-have-two apartments, i.e., be deceptive and dishonest with Clara, thank you, but I decline. It is your typical manipulative way of doing things but it antithetical to my sense of ethics. I lived in a family which did such things, and had a first hand view of it. I have observed also your family which also manages things in that way, and I can’t say I find it a pleasant sight. I think such things are far more damaging in the long run (look at yourself, for example) than being honest in the here and now present. Such deceits as you are proposing take two to tango, and you, Teresa, are by yourself on this one. She will in a gentle manner know the truth, plain and simple. It will be better for her in the long run; doing what you propose will merely lead her in the future to distrust you (which given your customary way of doing things, perhaps she should.)
On an immediate practical level I will be going to Madrid for three screenings leaving on November 1 or 2 (probably the latter) and returning on the 5th. I will be going to the ZKM on Nov 20 or 21 through Nov 29, back on the 30th. Sometime in December I will go briefly to Merano to work on the installation, and I will go to the ZKM again over the Christmas period for another week. Unsure on the dates. I can and am happy to take Clara for any of these periods, though I think it is better she go to school.
Anyway I must get packed. I will spare you my thoughts on your actions, except to say they are no surprise at all, and in fact were utterly predictable and telegraphed long ago.
I hope your shooting is going well. Please email me the telephone and fax number, and email of the production office as I failed to bring the papers with them listed and I need to contact them regarding Clara’s contract, refunds, and getting the Digital Beta tapes. So please send this information, take care of the bank thing, etc. I will send the telephone number or whatever in Bergen after I know it.
The view from our balcony in Ragusa
Amo-te, Clarinha !
We’re settled into Ragusa, into a daily pattern – though it depends on whether it is rainy – very much since we arrived, or sunny. If the latter I try to get out to walk the city, taking photographs and thinking. Marcella is busy editing the dance film I shot in Korea 4 years ago – to be titled Again and Again. I think there will be a very long version, maybe 3 or 5 hours long, for people interested in dance, Ahn Eun mee, or more generally in the creative process. And then we’ll do a shorter version – 60 to 90 minutes – for a more general audience.
I’ve been busy making Italian subtitles for 3 films to show, along with two others, towards the end of the month in Torino at the Museo Nazionale del Cinema. The subtitles are a very tedious kind of work, but needs to be done. 5 films, a small fraction of my work. We’ll go there for that and spend a week in northern Italy, visiting also near Milano where I will see the Rebosio family, where I stayed in 1963 and shot my very first film, a portrait of the then 12 year old daughter Matilde. Now she’s 66, with 3 children and a growing group of grandchildren. Thanks to Facebook we re-connected 4 years ago. Last time I was there I showed them that first film, and we’ll be showing it in Torino, and she and her husband will come for it.
Meantime working on other things from preparing to try to record my silly country-west/folk songs, to putting together a book of what I think might be poems, and once the weather warms up, returning to painting. And if all goes well try to shoot some kind of film here.
And to resume from the last letter, which described what happened in 2001, when I last, sadly, saw you.
After you were kidnapped in September of that year, the second time, illegally yet again, I began a two year process, which took almost all my time, of trying to secure your well-being. I wrote endless letters, dealt with the US Embassy in Lisboa, with the Portuguese press, with lawyers. I wrote the Procurador General of Portugal, the President, and all too many others. All, as it turned out, to no avail. In my next letter I will begin to print a handful of those letters which I wrote to Teresa in the autumn of 2000, just before she kidnapped you. And then, later I will do so with some (way too many to do all) of those I sent to the press and political authorities in Portugal in the following years.
I have saved all of these, as best I could in my itinerant life, and keep them on a DVD for you, for some time in the future – a record for you. It is not a happy record, as what it records was not. It is a part of the truth you should know, about your own life.
I assume you are in school – where, what I do not know – studying. I hope all is going well and you are happy. Of course, nothing would make me more happy than to hear from you and see you.
Teu pai, jon
Around the corner from our street.
We’re pretty much moved in here in Ragusa, a nice small apartment in the old city center. It reminds a little of Lisboa, and when we lived in the Alfama. Steep stairways, a cascade of cubist buildings clinging to the vertical terrain. Here there is a deep ravine which cuts the city in half, and another which isolates Ibla, the older more Baroque part of town, from Ragusa “superior.”
The city has been here for more or less 4,000 years – Sicle, then Greek, then Roman. It was, like Lisboa in 1755, destroyed by an earthquake in 1693, and then rebuilt at the height of the Baroque era. But it is of the local tufa, a creamy soft sandstone, and so the weather wears it down over the centuries. As the photographs show.
We expect to be here the next 6 months, though we have a trip next month to Torino for screenings – 5 films – and will see friends in Milano and elsewhere there in the north of Italy.
I hope you are well, and had a wonderful Christmas time and New Year. And I hope, of course, that I might see you this year.
Ibla, through an archway just down from where we’re living.
Amo-te, Clarinha !!
It’s that time of year, with families gathering and all the usual greetings and presents – things I have since I was quite young tried as politely as possible to avoid.
I hope your holidays are happy and pleasant, with friends and people you like to be with. I wish I could be there to share it with you.
Amo-te, Clarinha !
It is almost winter solstice, the light deeply slanted – even here in southern Sicily, as well as there in Lisboa. This year, for at least some Americans – many – the solstice is also “political” as we and the world try to figure out just what Mr Trump means and will mean (see these if interested). Not a happy time.
I send some pictures from the last weeks or so – from my walks on the beach, and looks around this area. We will move from the beach town, Caucana, late this week, and go to Marcella’s town, Matera, for the holidays. And then back to move for some months, probably 6, to Ragusa, a small but interesting city, perched on a river gorge.
I hope you are well and have a wonderful holiday season.
The backyard garden of a friend in marina di Ragusa, with outdoor cinema
Punta Secca from Caucana
Nature’s drawings in the sand, little philosophical reminders
Montalbano TV tourists in Punta Secca
Cemetery, S. Croce camerina
marina di Ragusa beach
Calligraphy in the sand
Amo-te, Clarinha !
Finally, as promised, a letter. As I said in my last notes, it has been difficult for me, emotionally, to sit down and write this. I have been looking at some of the emails and other papers of the time – a huge collection of them – and it only depresses me. I hope you understand.
Returning to Rome with me in early October, 2000, from Cabanas, considerably later than I (and you) had been promised, to be in your Montessori school at the start, you did resume school. Your mother having indicated when we left that she wished to separate and that she would return to Rome to live, and we’d have separate apartments and share our time with you. She did return at the very end of October, once she had shot almost all of her film. She was hostile on arrival, and I went, as she knew was planned, to do 3 days of screenings in Madrid. On November 1, she abducted you – kidnapped is the real word – from our home in Rome, and went into hiding for 2 weeks. In December I went to Lisboa to see you and be present for a first court hearing. While I had the alleged legal right to see you each day while there, your mother blocked this repeatedly. I saw you a few times, always in a very hostile environment. I left, and in January returned, with the same alleged rights, and was able to see you only three times.
In the period after, my lawyer in Lisboa, Constanza Maltez, did the legal work at hand. In August 2001, I was informed there would be a hearing in court for “temporary custody.” And so I went – again with the alleged legal right to see you everyday. Your mother, as she had previously, violated the terms of her custody, and blocked me from seeing you. At one point Vasco Pimental I believe it was, told me the address where you were staying, and I went to the apartment. You were not there, but Teresa was, and I was able, briefly, to enter. I found your room – after 6 months it was a mattress on the floor and some dirty sheets and a few of your toys. Teresa was much too busy working on her important film to be bothered with providing you a proper room. She chased me from the house.
If I recall properly during that August I saw you three times – once we went to a swimming pool, and the other time out to the aquarium in the World Fair grounds. Though you clearly still recognized me, you no longer spoke English, something I am certain your mother did to try to break any connection between us. It had been 7 months since you had last seen me, or spoken with me, solely owing to your mother’s actions. It was a bit difficult as your English was mostly lost – though bit by bit you remembered it. Also you clearly liked to be with me – as before you were kidnapped. Your mother transparently did not like this.
At the court hearing the formalities were done: Teresa’s lawyer said his bit, and confirmed the false claims of your mother; my lawyer did her talk, noting the perjuries your mother had committed – lies about where you had lived, how you had been raised, and so on. The judge, a man seemingly in his early 30’s listened, and at the conclusion ordered that your mother receive temporary custody. I broke into weeping in the court. The callous nature of the system – that it ruled on your life knowing nothing of you, of your life, and accepting the lies your mother gave them, all fell on me (and you) in that moment. The judge did though order that I’d be able to see you each day, which thus far on that visit, again, your mother had repeatedly tried to block.
A day was set, and I went to see you, by agreement with Teresa, in the Parque Infantile close by where you were living. I arrived in time, and some minutes later, your mother came, accompanied by a hard looking woman of her own age, presumably to be a witness. You were four years and some months old, and instead of walking or skipping along, you were wrapped around Teresa’s waist, clutching her like a monkey, in tears. Teresa said it was because you didn’t want to see me!
I do not know what your mother could have done to reduce you to such a state, but whatever it was, it was cruel and brutal. You had been terrorized, taught – as you had earlier in December been taught to say sexually suggestive things – to fear me, your father. But indeed you did remember me, and after some minutes, we ran and played in the park. Your mother and her friend sat and glowered at us. Owing to the language problem I called a Portuguese friend, someone you knew from our time in Largo de Outerinho, and she came at my request to help translate – though you were already beginning to recall some English. And after a while, you were happy, playing, and a distant person from the little brutalized girl your mother had brought to the park. I suggested we go to the Fiera, and you said yes, and as the terms of my visit were that I could go, alone, with you. Teresa resisted this, which required a telephone call to the lawyers and the Juvenile Authorities before she complied. We finally left.
I rented a car, and in your interests – seeing how your mother had been treating you – your mess of a bedroom, her constant violation of the terms of her custody – and whatever she had done to you before bringing you to the park, we left Portugal. My lawyer, previously, faced with the realities of the Portuguese Juvenile system, had told me that the best thing she could imagine was me calling to tell her I was in Rome, with you.
On our way we stopped overnight in Toledo, Spain, and then went on to Rome. In the entire time we spoke, slowly, and your English returned. And not once did you ever mention your mother.
It was the end of August, a time in which in Portugal and in Italy, when hardly anything can ever be done. We had been in Rome a handful of days, and you were quickly “at home” in your room, in the piazza’s and the playground we used to go to before you were kidnapped.
And then one night – around 3 or 4 am in the morning – lights flashed across our fourth floor apartment. I awoke, and saw some kind of police van, and a fire truck with ladders, down in the streets. They were coming to break into the apartment. It was the police, directed by Interpol. They did come in, entering and going to the room you were in, shining a flashlight directly in your face. Fortunately you were sleeping deeply and did not awake. I recall, too, that your aunt, Joanna, ran into the apartment screaming, though she was quickly escorted out by the police. I sat then with the police until morning, while your mother and someone who was beefy, some kind of body-guard “enforcer” waited on the street. Serge Treffaut was also there.
This all led to a hearing in the Italian juvenile court system, which said you should stay with me, but that Teresa would be able to see you some hours per day. I arranged with a photographer friend who had a studio for you to visit there with her. My friend, however, said Teresa was very hostile and caused many problems, so that ended in a day or two. In turn, again, the Italian juvenile court then placed you in Teresa’s custody, with a court order that Teresa remain in Rome until custody hearings would be set and done in Italy. I pleaded with them not to do this, and said if they did so, you would be kidnapped again within 24 hours. They said this couldn’t happen as she would be stopped at the border with you, though I pointed out that under the Schengen treaty there was no longer a border to stop at. They insisted otherwise, and indeed, you were gone in 24 hours, kidnapped by your mother for the second time, against a legal court order requiring her to remain, with you, in Italy. The juvenile authority who had done this later apologized to me for his error.
The last time I saw you was in the police station of Trastevere, sitting on your mother’s lap as she looked angrily at you, saying I know not what. You were crying. A phone call came from the juvenile court person saying the police should turn you over to Teresa. I have never seen you since. Nor spoken with you. It has been 15 years and 3 months.
I don’t “know” what has happened to you in those years, or how your mother has treated you. I can imagine – there is a considerable literature on people like your mother, and what they often do. It is not very nice, though often they succeed in their aims in alienating their child from the other parent. In real life I have known more than a few people, directly or indirectly, who had similar experiences – broken families, being taught by one parent that they should hate the other parent. The consequences are usually not so wonderful and in some instances I know of, the effect has been devastating.
I can also surmise from how your mother has willfully blocked you from any contact with me all these years – returning things sent to you, blocking your Facebook page, and myriad other things – that she has been very forceful in attempting to erase me from your life. And I doubt that this has been good for you, though I hope for your sake it has not been terribly damaging.
I will leave this letter to end here.
The winter solstice will be on us soon and with it the holiday season. I hope you have a wonderful holiday, and that the coming New Year is positive and joyful for you. And I hope we may see each other.
Amo-te, Clarinha !
Teu pai, jon
Amo-te, Clarinha !