Saint Clair Cemin, Psyche is a multi-awarded 2020 art-documentary directed by Svetlana Cemin. Svetlana Cemin is a writer, director, producer, and the founder of 610FILM, a Brooklyn-based art-house film production company. She is keen to create experimental art films as well as documentaries and feature films about artists and their work in general.
The documentary is a tender yet intense sojourn inside the celebrated Brazilian sculptor, Saint Clair Cemin’s mind as he embarks on his journey of artistic creation. It is filmed over a period of five years, in four countries and depicts an intimate portrait of Saint Clair Cemin as well as reflecting the process of creating his marble masterpiece, Psyche, a boat.
The film benefits from a very strong in medias res opening where Saint Clair is reading a book on a train, symbolizing the journey, focusing mostly on his eyes and hands as the means of artistic creation. The scene is accompanied by some exquisite music and followed by scenes of snow-covered trees moving quickly as the train proceeds with its journey. This engaging opening sets the stage for what is to come and the themes to be explored.
Dreams and the unconscious play important roles both throughout the film and in the process of making the boat. As Cemin himself declares the idea of making Psyche came to his mind in a dream. In Jungian psychology dreams are seen as the attempts of the psyche to communicate important things to us, and Svetlana Cemin expresses in a 2021 interview with Universal Cinema Magazine that she has “used the symbolism of dreams in order to delve deeper into the scenes and develop the actions.” Some of the strongest symbols she has brilliantly used to reinforce the theme are the personification of Psyche and Eros who guide and help Saint Clair to access his unconscious in his New York studio as he gets ready to start working and is talking about his conception of the unconscious and its functions. They simultaneously open the doors to a small room with piles of different stuff and two masked figures who, upon the opening of the door, start playing music, and thus begins the journey. These masked figures accompany the artist along his journey as the voices of his unconscious.
After making the first sketches and replicas in his studio, he goes to a Chinese quarry in order to select the right marble block to craft the boat, Psyche.
Svetlana Cemin’s representation of China is also noteworthy and distinct. Rather than announcing their arrival to China with the stereotypical shots of the Great Wall that embody a sense of confinement, she introduces China with references to Leshan (Giant Buddha), religious ceremonies, and spectacular scenes of nature which exude an air of mysticism and spirituality. In Beijing the camera also takes the viewers, who are already familiar with Cemin’s works through the scenes from the studio, to a show of the newly opened Museum of art and let them get a more comprehensive grasp of the artist’s art works that are informed by art history and world cultures.
The film also artistically encompasses Cemin’s (the artist) reflections on the process of art making and the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious in an artist’s mind. Some of these reflections are conveyed through his observations about Sara, his daughter, who is striving to expand her creative potentials particularly under pressure. Besides illuminating how art is created, these observations indirectly define the formation of an artist, too, and shed light on the nature of the journey the artist is on.
This journey resembles the journey of a hero at times that includes a series of adventures the hero must go through in order to become a true hero and return home victorious. The course of such a journey also includes a death/rebirth stage and the hero enjoys some form of supernatural aid. The death/rebirth stage is represented by the return of the artist to his motherland, Brazil, his reunion with the four elements there, and his reconnection with the “soul of the place” and a dream. In the dream the figure of a pieced together mummy-like body the artist was depicted busy with creating at the beginning of the film, goes through what seems to be some kind of passage rite. The spiritual aid is provided by his visionary dreams.
As the crafting of the boat is accomplished, the film moves towards its magnificent close. Psyche is transported to and unveiled in Cleveland majestically and the film culminates with a festival where the artist is celebrated as his journey has ended and Psyche and Eros rest in peace in their marble sanctuary.
At the beginning of his journey of soul searching and crafting this search into Psyche, Saint Claire says people are not interested to know how things are made. The film contradicts his idea by following him for five years and showing in the most interesting and thought-provoking way how the marble boat is made. Awe-inspiring nature shots, proper choice of music, dream symbolism and shots of Saint Claire Cemin’s art works along with his deep reflections on how art is made contribute enormously to the main theme of the film, the search for the soul. Plus, mingling the conscious daily activities of the artist with what is constantly going on in his unconscious mind gives a vivid picture of the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious in the mind of the artist.
Saint Claire Cemin, Psyche is very impactful and leaves you pondering and reflecting for days.