Discover directors of the future with Roffa Mon Amours monthly screenings. Watch our interview with Jihane Chouaib on her beautiful first feature film Go Home.
We kicked off our new project with the first feature film of Jihane Couaib. A film that offers an inside in (Lebanons) diaspora and shows the relationship people have with their modern-day homecountry, personal memories and past conflicts.
Every second Wednesday of the month the feature film of an emerging director is screened in different cinemas in The Netherlands. The film starts at the exact same time everywhere and is followed by a Q&A with the director. The Q&A is live-broadcasted in all participating cinemas as well as online. Questions can be asked sending a Whatsapp message to: 06 17 22 11 13
A slice-of-life dark comedy about Betty, a lonely female security guard working at a deteriorating strip mall. Isolated and friendless, a glimmer of hope appears when a charming bartender shows her kindness, leading to an unexpected sexual encounter.
Joyce grew up in Toronto where her helicopter parents wouldn’t let her go out a lot. But creativity often derives from boredom, and she learned how to open her world with stories on television and in books. When she grew up she wanted to do the same for other people and decided to go to film school at York University in Toronto.
[RMA] You must have felt relieved to go to film school. Freedom and creativity!
[JW] Yes, it was quite a creative environment… But there weren’t many women. And everyone loved Kevin Smith movies and that was all they wanted to make. I’m not sure if it’s the same in Europe, but in North America there is this kind of commercial complex that a lot of filmmakers want to aspire to. I feel like in Europe the education system is much more reverent to the craft and history of filmmaking.
[RMA] I like to believe so…
[JW] It is like Lars von Trier and his group and the Dogme 95 Manifesto compared to people who want to make mocumentaries with dick jokes.
RMA] How did the idea for Wexford Plaza develop?
[JW] I was getting sad because all the 50s, 60s strip malls were getting torn down. As a teenager I spend a lot of time hanging out in those places. Not doing anything. Just sitting at parking lots. They are replaced with big box stores. Lifeless, Walmart-like, cheap stores with 60% parking spaces.
I started writing alone at home and eventually turned to one of my old professors to read with me. She was literally the only person, but she liked the story a lot.
“Sometimes when you fail it is not because you didn’t try hard enough, but because the system is against you.”
[RMA] So Wexford Plaza is an ode to these shopping malls?
[JW] Yes, and to the people that were left behind in it. I found out, during a Christmas party where I always get together with old friends, that a lot of people who are in there 30’s now are still kind of stuck there.
I think I tried to say that sometimes when you fail it is not because you didn’t try hard enough, but because the system is against you. A lot of people at our age right now feel that.
[RMA] Do you think that is typical for North-America where people live with the pressure of The American Dream or do you believe Wexford Plaza could be set in any modern society?
[JW] I’m not experienced in living in Europe. But what you said about the pressure of The American Dream is exactly what this story is about. I’m not sure if that same kind of mentality exists in Western Europe. What do you think?
[RMA] I think everyone can relate to the loneliness Betty and Danny feel. Searching for love on dating apps, looking for attention posting selfies on social media.
And although we don’t really have that kind of plazas, we do have parking lots and as teenagers we like to hangout there.
[JW] I feel like that pressure also comes from the baby boomer generation, I guess our parents. They have the idea that everything is achievable, they just worked hard and things figured out. They were able to get a house. With us it’s different; it’s unaffordable. Capitalism drove up the prices so high, and this is the economic environment that the baby boomer generation left us with.
[RMA] Baby boomers could get loans anywhere. Our generation can’t even get a normal contract. I guess that makes you lose your confidence.
[JW] Yes, someone needs to say the system is rigged.
[RMA] Is there is hope for the Betty’s and Danny’s in this world?
[JW] I’m a romantic at heart. There is lightness in the character of Betty that keeps her going. Nothing gets her down. That tenacity hopefully will get her success in the future. But Danny… who is moody and at home caught up with himself….
[RMA] Betty is very likeable. I hope this is not offending, but I’d love to watch a Wexford Plaza TV show and follow the characters a little longer.
A tragedy happens in the factory of Maquinaria Panamericana. Her father-like boss Don Alejandro is found death in his office. With him dies the illusion that the company was doing fine; it was actually bankrupt.
Their future uncertain and tortured by grief the employees lock the gates to mourn and to look for a solution. It is going to be a long night…
Director Jaoquin del Passo studied at the national film school in Łódź. Upon returning to his home country Mexico he literally ran into the factory used in Maquinaria Panamericana located near the airport.
JP: It was the location that gave us the idea. I was working on another script but I thought this was a fantastic place. Every corner was beautiful, full of details of life. Everyone had left a unique mark. A desk chair had the shape of a butt printed in the fabric; or a strange picture above a desk. And although it might not seem like it: the story is very relatable to me personally. Selling machinery for construction was my family’s business. My grandfather founded Maquinaria Panamericana in the 50’s.
RMA: Is that where the old video material came from?
JP: Everything came from the family business, even the logos. We brought the company back to life. It went bankrupt in 1995. There was a huge crisis in Mexico. The peso crashed and so did many national companies. It was a big scandal because the bankers made a deal with the government and declared themselves bankrupt. Mexico is like a machine that does not work properly. It is a show pony or a concept of a machine that makes a lot of noise but doesn’t get things done. To me a broken machine is an analogy of Mexico today.
As a kid I spent so much time in warehouses and it all felt so familiar that I instantly let go of the other script. This was in October and we shot the film in May.
“To me a broken machine is an analogy of Mexico today.”
RMA: Not the average 6 years I hear most of the time.
JP: Making your first feature is like a breaking-point. I’ve seen so many of my friends waiting and fighting. I thought: if I don’t do it now I will never make a film. That’s my personality.
RMA: You wrote your script together with Lucy Pawlak.
JP: Yes, she is a British artist. We studied cinematography together in Poland. I had very little time to make the film and I felt she would be perfect to help me. She’s really hard working; a great motivation. Making a film about Mexico I thought it’d be interesting to write with someone who had never been there and who thought outside the box.
RMA: What is the sweet guitar song Ignacio keeps listening to?
JP: When we explored the warehouse – me and Lucy- we found a small apartment inside the factory. It was all dusty and abandoned but the closet still had some shoes and suits inside. In that room I found a box full of tapes with romantic bolero music from the 50’s and 60’s. I went down to talk to one of the warehouse managers – who was also one of the actors – and he told me the story of Don Pedro, the owner of the factory. He moved inside the warehouse after being kicked out of his family home. Which was quite an eccentric thing to do. He was a rich man – his company at that time was doing very well – and he chose to live next to all the dusty tools, the window looking out on one of the most ugly avenues of Mexico City. The workers built a very strong relationship with him. It was like being inside his house. They could smell the food he was cooking. That was a beautiful motive in the film; how the owner became the father of his employees. They still have his picture on their desks. Nothing fanatic; he just treated everyone as part of the machinery family. I realized that doesn’t exist anymore in this world. Family companies are disappearing; the work floor has become impersonal. You are not supposed to bring your life there and if they want to kick you out it only takes a minute to erase you.
So to come back to you question. I went back to the apartment and stole that box of tapes and while writing the script we listened to those tapes none stop and after we got so tired of it. The closest music to Bolero is actually Spanish Guitar, so we time traveled back to the 17th century to get this song.
A drunk passenger causes an accident were a young motorcyclist ends up under the taxi of driver Lao Shi. The passenger disappears and Lao Shi decides to do the unexpected in modern, self-absorbed China. He drives the victim to the nearest hospital and saves his life. Something he shouldn’t have done. Leaving the crime scène prematurely he ends up in a bureaucratic fight with insurances companies and the police.
Johny Ma’s neo-realistic thriller certainly has the most brutal ending of all films screened at Roffa Mon Amour this year. The young director immigrated from China to Canada when he was just ten years old and studied film at Columbia University in New York. His first feature script was initially set in Detroit but he rewrote the script to fit it in present-day China.
“Lao Shi is an Asian story, but the heart of the film is about human beings; it could have taken place anywhere.”
RMA: You have two names: Johnny and Nan. Which one do you prefer?
JM: [Laughs] Most people know me by Johnny. Ma Nan is my Chinese name.
RMA: It still means you have two names. I watched Mountains May Depart the other day and I realized Chinese people often take western names.
JM: Yes, it’s definitely a thing. I think a lot of immigrants deal with identity issues, especially if you are young. You take on a western name to fit in with the other kids.
RMA: Why did your family move to Canada?
JMN: After the Xiamen Square incident Canada offered asylums. My mother didn’t want to come to Canada, but her relatives sort of convinced her to take a look. She went and at the very last day she applied for a visa. My father and me knew that was the plan.
RMA: We are screening your first feature film, but you once worked for a financial consulting firm in Shanghai.
JM: I got so bored with the finance world. Wherever you are; it is all the same. There is a lot of smart people, but the job is easy. True: you make good money, but you end up drinking a lot, partying too much and feeling like there is no purpose in life.
RMA: What does Lao Shi refer to?
JM: The writing of Lao Shi is translated in old stone, but as Chinese spoken words often have a double meaning Lao Shi also means naïve or too honest. I modeled the character of Lao Shi after the ideal man as described in the Confucius. That man doesn’t exist anymore. People told me he was unrealistic; too ‘lao shi’.
“I modeled the character of Lao Shi after the ideal man as described in the Confucius. That man doesn’t exist anymore.”
RMA: I thought the other characters were unrealistic at times; too careless.
JM: It’s funny you say that, because they were all modeled after real people. 90% of the people played themselves. Only the wife and the taxi driver captain were fictional. They both show – in a different way – self-preservation in modern society. This is how people are nowadays. Lao Shi’s actions were the ones where people would say: “I’d never do that!” whereas the actions of others seemed realistic.
RMA: The script was originally set in Detroit?
JM: I find that China and America these days are similar in terms of the way people think. That’s why I thought about Detroit at first.Every country has a different relationship to this modern society carelessness. In Europe now you have the refugee issue. It confronts people with who they are. They might say they are good and they help others, but now is the time to actually show that; there are many people that need help now.
RMA: How does social cinema of directors such as Jia Zhangke and Wang Bing influence your work?
JM: To be honest I have never seen a Wang Bing film, but I love Jia Zhangke. The title Lao Shi was also a homage to his first feature film, Xiao Hu. He is just so good. How can a filmmaker be so distinct in his style? A Touch of Sin; I thought it was crazy! Only after living in China I realized the film came out of frustration and a need to survive in this society. I pitched Lao Shi as a crime story, because that was the only way to make the film. Maybe Jia Zhangke would have made A Touch of Sin in his documentary style if he weren’t faced with all the problems of censorship.
RMA: Do you believe as a director it is your duty to show the world what society is like?
JM: I believe the story should not only be good, but that it also needs to have value for our society. If it passes that test, I ask myself: am I going to put my friend and myself in this project for another five years? Is it worth hurting for? So many films are made; it’s hard to know sometimes.
RMA: So it could be a love story too?
JM: Totally! The story I did for Sundance was in fact about marriage. It was about three generations dealing with marriage and love.
RMA: [Laughs] Somehow this sounds sociocritical …
JM: Well, yes it was. I’m 33 years old now and my parents want me to get married but I don’t see the point of marriage. It’s a business transaction. Writing a story about marriage was for me maybe a way to try and find an answer to that question. That’s a love story I guess?
And it is personal. Finding the answer really means something to me. But also, I feel like marriage and happiness in modern society is a big question now. I wanted to add my sense to it. The new 30 years old are wondering if they even want to be like their parents.
RMA: Don’t you think society is becoming really momentary? That our generation finds it hard to commit to something?
JM: Yes. I’m scared to make this film. It’s a big theme.
RMA: Last question: who is Noah?
JM: Uh… I keep that a secret.
One of the hottest hits at the Sundance Festival 2015 and the Imagine Festival 2016 was Robert Eggers’ debut The Witch; a unique historical horror film. It’s the story of a Puritan family in New England, around 1630, who have a series of highly unpleasant experiences with the title character.
For Roffa Mon Amour Schokkend Nieuws reporter Julius Koetsier talked to director Eggers about history, filmmaking and feminism.
SN: You put a lot of research into making The Witch as historically accurate as possible. The characters even speak early modern English. Why was accuracy so important to you?
RE: I was trying to understand what the witch, in the early modern period, was. To really understand why that archetype has survived. The witch is no longer scary to us, yet innocent people were executed when they were accused of being witches. What was all the fuss about? In order for the film to be scary, we really needed to be transported back ot the seventeenth century. So without meticulous research, and without being grounded in this world, it wouldn’t be believable.
SN: Weren’t you afraid that the archaic language would be an obstacle for the audience?
RE:I was not, although that was one of the big problems with getting the film financed. The language is supposed to be transportive and help you understand how these people actually thought and expressed themselves.
A lot of the dialogue is taken from seventeenth century sources, like prayer books and court records. The scene where Catherine, the mother, is relating the dream she had about the Lord, actually began as a dream that a man had. We got it out of a Puritan minister’s journal.
SN: The Witch has a very unique tone. Were you influenced by any specific horror films?
RE: Not many. I think that my cinematic influences are clear, sometimes so clear that it’s embarrassing. The movie reeks of The Shining in a way that I find a little bit sickening. But I also think a lot of times, it would not have worked without that.
SN: Were those conscious references, or would you come up with a scene and then realise it’s a lot like The Shining?
RE: The latter. The episode with the sexy young witch was actually a recurring dream I had. But someone did an article with a side by side shot breakdown of my scene and the scene from The Shining with the woman in the bathroom, and it was pretty uncanny.
SN: You use a lot of natural lighting.
RE: I don’t like very stylized lighting. Why would I be bringing loads of lights out to the forest and overlight something? What’s great about color film for me is the subtlety of tone you can get. I wanted to create this twilight, nightmarish world. Also, they only had candle light back then, so why not just light a scene with that if we can?
“We haven’t really escaped the shadows of the past.”
SN: How would you say your witch came to be in New England?
RE: Do you know about the lost colony of Roanoke, in what is now North Carolina? The costume designer and I made up a far fetched story about her origins, coming from there, living with native people and finding her way through the woods. Of course that’s ludicrous and stupid and should never be talked about. But without some kind of ridiculous story like that, how the hell did she end up there?
SN: Would you care to elaborate on the feminist themes of the film?
RE: When you start talking about witches, you start talking about feminism. There’s no way to avoid it. The psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz, one of Carl Jung’s finest disciples, talks about the idea that in the Middle Ages, the church had no room for a goddesses, but the need for them was so strong that it will constellate, and you get things like chivalry, courtly love and the cult of Virgin Mary. The society discovers that real women aren’t being perfect goddesses, and you get dark feminine archetypes, leading to the age of burning witches. We haven’t really escaped the shadows of the past.
Going to school and learning about witch-hunts as a child, I understood it to be a conspiracy. I came away with the feeling that powerful men were consciously threatened by female power, so they called these women witches to shut them up and hang them. But in fact, the misogyny was so powerful, that they actually believed these women were fairy-tale witches. Which is pretty horrifying.
The Romanian Elena becomes a surrogate mother to Danish couple Kasper and Louisa who live a remote life without technology far away from the big city. As soon as Elena gets pregnant she starts feeling sick. Something evil is growing inside of her destroying everyone surrounding it.
Director Ali Abbasi has Iranian roots but has been living in Denmark for the past decade. Before getting into filmmaking he studied architecture, a decision he made to please his parents and feed his hunger to be creative. It wasn’t really his thing.
“Architecture is so complicated and compromising. Most of the time you just cater to the rich.”
His first feature film Shelley is a character driven, sociocritical horror story that left us astonished at the Berlin Film Festival.
AA: An open-air festival with headphones: great solution for terrible acoustics!
RMA: Plus with a headphone you are kind of in your own bubble.
AA: So… it could also be a great virtual reality experience?
RMA: [Laughs] I hadn’t thought of that. Do you like to toy with new media?
AA: I’m not a technological geek, but I do believe it’s going to be huge. What seems unrealistic in movies could be so different in virtual reality. You feel a different connection with your body. I don’t want to be a pioneer, but I’d like to make a horror movie in virtual reality. I think the two genres that could work are horror and porn. Both focusing on banal bodily experiences; you’ll either get really scared or horny.
MA: Do you have a special interest in these bodily genres?
AA: Not really. After making Shelley I’ve been watching more horror movies than I did before.
RMA: I was curious about it. Shelley starts as a more character driven film but becomes a horror.
AA: Exactly. People like to say Shelley is horror because it gives them something to hold on to. It is like an attraction in an attraction park. When you know that you are going to fall, you are prepared for it. People like to be prepared.
RMA: When I interviewed Lucile Hadžihalilović on her film Evolution she told me she needed internal logic and she created a complete backstory in order to do so.
AA: I don’t want to say I don’t care about the story – I absolutely do – but I don’t care about the plot too much. Making Shelley I knew very well what the substance was, but how the plot evolved I didn’t care so much. Evil is not a creature with yellow eyes. You cannot find it outside humans; only within us. It is a social thing.
RMA: Social? Like evil is born out of interaction?
“If it weren’t for humankind evil would not exist. “
AA: Animals are not evil.If it weren’t for humankind evil would not exist. Cinematically there are many options to express that, but I’d always exclude the option to say nature is evil. You can have an open mind and say there might be another form of consciousness, but does evil have anything to do with religion of culture? I think I know enough about the world to say no.
RMA: A lot of evil does seem to derive from woman. In your film too.
AA: [haha] Yes, all women are evil.
AA: Well… It is not about having a theory of evil coming from women. It is more about what I am interested in. When I developed the script I was interested in surrogate motherhood. And then it developed into a story of two women. I was interested in their relationship.
In the editing proses my editor told me there weren’t enough scenes with Casper. And I was like – yes, because I’m more interested in these girls. She has me add more scenes.
RMA: So it could have been men as well?
AA: It involves around giving birth which is a women thing. Now at least. [haha] My son was born a week after I finished shooting.
RMA: Could the mother of your son even watch the film?
AA: Once she called me around 1am and she said she was having some pains. And I was still shooting on location – three hours away – so I told her to relax and to call me if it would get any worse. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was sitting on my bed and waiting for her to call. It was the one time in my life that I was thinking: what if I actually fucked up something? What if I have disturbed some bad energies? It was only for 5 seconds. Then I went back to normal. I recommend you to have a kid.
RMA: I have a dog; it’s enough for now.
In one of the few scenes where Casper appears he says he is not ready to have a baby. Was that your scene or the idea of the editor?
AA: No, that scene had been there from the beginning.
AA: But the editor was right about Kasper. You know I’m very bad at telling jokes. I forget to set up the story; I simply tell the joke. And because I never give enough information no-one ever laughs. The set up can be simple and banal, but you really need it. I had been with my characters for four years so I forgot how important that banal information is to the audience.
A car passes by; a teenage girl gets in on the passenger side. She’s bored and plays with her phone next to the driver. Is he her father? No, he is a customer bringing her to a ‘love hotel’ where she must grant his wildest erotic fantasies. Secretly she sends messages to her cool friend Vicky, who she asks to come and save her. Together they will teach the dirty bastard a lesson. If Vicky arrives on time…
Prabda Yoon’s first feature film is a revenge film. Revenging young girls and the dirty men that want them, as a metaphor for Thai society. The director went to art school in New York and ended up living in the United States for more than 11 years. In 1997 he went back to Thailand where he established himself as a fiction writer.
RMA: You spent a long time abroad, why did you decide to go back to Thailand?
PY: In Thailand there is obligatory military service; I had to go back. But after I stayed in Thailand I started to write.
RMA: Scenarios as well?
PY: First only novels, short stories: fiction. But at a certain point I was approached to write a scenario for Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. The film was called Last Life in the Universe. It was received quite well internationally. Later I worked on another screenplay with him. That was the closest I came to filmmaking.
Two years ago another director approached me because he wanted to turn one of my novels into a film. I told him that I preferred to write an original script, because I thought none of my novels were written to be made into a film. So I made a synopsis and that was Motel Mist. I sent it to him but he said he didn’t like it and choose a novel anyway.
In Thailand, the creative industries are pretty closely linked, so I knew a lot of people in the film industry. I sent the script to my friend, who is my DOP and who was living in NY. She sent it to some producers and then it all went very fast. I didn’t really mean to be fully involved in making the film, but since I had the opportunity I was like: well, I’m halfway through my life and I always wanted to try this.
RMA: What was tougher: military service or making your first feature film.
PY: [Laughing] No, it was a very happy time for me. It was busy, but it was great. Maybe it was also because I accidentally made this film. It was easy for me to make decisions. I was like: ok, let’s just do this!
“I didn’t really mean to be fully involved in making the film, but since I had the opportunity I was like: well, I’m halfway through my life and I always wanted to try this.”
RMA: Why did you want to write about a love hotel?
PY: I always wanted to do something with the love hotels in Thailand. I find them intriguing in terms of Architecture and also in purpose. Why do they exist? We are we embarrassed to talk about them in everyday life, but it exists. These hotels have been here forever and obviously; they are still in business. To me it represents how the Thai society functions. There is a set of rules on the surface that everybody sees and follows and there is also something underneath, which is more twisted and absurd.
Also, I’m fascinated by events taking place simultaneously in different rooms. In general I’m just interested in hotels.
RMA: How about the surreal and absurd parts: do you often play with elements that go beyond human comprehension?
PY: I like abstraction. But as a form of art, I would not consider my film as surreal. It has elements of surrealism because it fits the context, which is alien beings, mysterious things happening, things you can’t comprehend. It has some autobiographical element to it, because when I was younger I was obsessed with UFO’s and aliens. I’d sit in front of a window waiting impatiently for them to come.
RMA: How do people deal with perversion towards schoolgirls?
PY: It happens in Thailand. Young girls offer themselves to older man for cash so they can buy stuff. They do it by themselves; it is not forced prostitution. In the story I wanted to show the strength of the girls friendship. They revenge their third friend who was hurt. And the man… He is a typical middle class man who is supposed to be a good family man, but he’s in a love hotel.
RMA: Here is a small musical present for everyone who loved the film.
Opening with 11-year old Nicolas diving deep into the ocean Évolution has us experience both excitement and anxiety. For a moment we envy the boys childhood, being so close to nature. Even more when we follow him into the picturesque coastal village where the houses are white and where we meet his mother, serene and beautiful. A bit too serene maybe.
Nicolas mother does not understand his panic about a discovery he made while diving. Continuing her daily maternal duties, she stoically feeds him a black pasta that seems to come from parts of the ocean we fear most. The more we see of her; the more alienesque she becomes. Especially when she forces him to drink some undefinable ‘medicine’ before he goes to sleep every night.
But Nicolas is the kind of kid that sees trough the delusion. He manages to skip his medicine one night and follows his mother to the coast. That is where everything becomes even more disturbing….
Our relationship with mother ocean is as complicated as passionate and director Lucile Hadzihalilovic has understood that very well. We spoke with her at IFFR this year. She was as calm and mysterious as the mothers of Évolution, carefully choosing her words. Luckily she was also warm and kind as every human should be.
RMA: First of all, how did you get into filmmaking?
LH: As many directors it all started with a love for film. And I really enjoy going to a cinema and having a collective experience in this dark place.
I grew up in Morocco. It was so different from Paris. I didn’t know much about the existence of a film school, so after high school I started an arts study at the university in Paris. I soon realized I wanted to do something more creative and I got to understand that I could go to a film school. I went to La Femis. It wasn’t called Femis at that time, but it was the same school. We learned how to make films and we made a short film each year.
It was a different time. You didn’t specify to become an editor or a writer. Everyone did everything. It was great.
“Everything is important if you make a film but to me editing is where the film becomes a solid story. You can reinvent your film while editing.”
RMA: If you would have to do it again, what department would you…
LH: Editing! It is the best way to approach filmmaking. Everything is important if you make a film but to me editing is where the film becomes a solid story. It is crucial. You can reinvent your film while editing.
After school I started to work as an assistant editor and I created a film company with my boyfriend [Ed. Gaspar Noé]. It wasn’t a production company; we weren’t interested in producing commercial projects. We just wanted to learn to make short films and we produced them by ourselves.
I made a 15-minute film called La Bouche de Jeanne Pierre. He made two films and eventually even a feature film. By working on each others films we learned a lot.
My first feature film, Innocence, I made with another producer. It was too much work to be both the director and the producer. It was hard to let go. If you produce your own film you can control everything, but at the same time it is a lot of work. I was too fragile to do it.
RMA: Many directors have partners who produce their films, because it is so personal.
LH: Exactly. Your partner is the only person you can ask anything to. It is great to have a producer who is as involved in the making of the film as you are yourself.
RMA: Where does the story of Évolution come from?
LH: I think this film comes from my childhood. It’s feelings, emotions. I wasn’t so aware of that while writing this story, but since I have been answering these question about my film I came to understand it probably largely comes from my childhood.
When I was 10 years old I had my appendicitis removed. The procedure went fine and wasn’t traumatic at all, but it was the first time to be in a hospital and I was very impressed.
RMA: Did growing up in Casablanca influence the film?
LH: Yeah, that definitely played part. It was a small city by the sea. The presence of the nature and the ocean was quite strong, so different from Paris.
RMA: You must have been quite alien living there as an expat. I’ve been in Morocco once and I remember the small white houses and the winding streets clearly. Since you told me you grew up there I keep picturing you in that village, far away from the city sounds.
LH: It was a situation like that. You have European people in a country that isn’t theirs. That’s true, I never thought of that. I wasn’t blond or red haired like the characters in my film, but….
You know, there were many Europeans in Casablanca. I went to a French school, but apart that there were more foreign children compared to a normal school, I didn’t feel like I grew up without being with Moroccan children. Honestly, I didn’t feel different from them. The difference was much more visible in terms of social class.
RMA: How does your love for art influence your work?
LH: I like to look at paintings to show the mood I want to have. For Évolution that were painters such as Max Ernst and Dali.There is a reference, which is Giorgio de Chirico, the Italian painter. Almost every artists must have painted the seaside at least once, so it was inspiring to create the mood.
The film had to have the logic of a dream. The deeper we go into a dream or a nightmare, the more mysterious it becomes.
RMA: Like the mysterie of a bellybutton? That is like a holy, intimate place.
LH: Yes, therefore I wanted to have a starfish on the belly. I thought that was a most nightmarish image.
RMA: It was! So you had this idea, probably a mood, along with images of painting. But did you have any fixed story line or plot yet?
LH: In the very beginning it was indeed more a situation: a mother bringing her son to a hospital to get him to have a child. From that point I needed someone to help me structure the story. That is what I did with Alante. [ed: Alanté Kavaïté, Sangaile] The story needed to have internal logic. How did this world work? What was possible? Even if you don’t use all the elements of a story you still need to make a solid backstory.
“Even if you don’t use all the elements of a story you still need to make a solid backstory.”
RMA: Right. And eventually you choose a very classic narrative.
What was it like to work with Alanté? We screened her film Sangaile at our rooftop cinema last year! It was very rainy, but a wonderful night.
LH: Are you thát rooftop cinema?! She told me about it, she really enjoyed it.
In the beginning Alanté was one of a few readers. She would give some feedback and I could see that she got the idea very well. Her comments were very useful. At a certain point I was getting lost and I really needed someone to work with me. We’d spend a few hours together and we made plot lines together. It was very difficult sometimes. She could reconstruct the whole story; she is really good at constructing. We worked very close together for a few months.
Text: Charlotte van Zanten
Already in 2011 Boi Neon, or Neon Bull, was presented at Cinemart. It was Gabriel Mascaros first feature film script, but he eventually debuted with Ventos de Augusto in 2014.
“I felt the need to make something. Ventos de Augusto was a small film with a simple story line that was much easier to realize than Boi Neon. I decided to do it without budget and I did a lot of work myself like the cinematography and some acting. Boi Neon was a complex project: I needed time.”
Not that much time, because merely a year after his debut came out Boi Neon premiered in Venice. The award-winning film has since then been travelling most of the major festivals and the name Garbiel Mascaro has been written down on every talent-to-watch list.
Iremar works at the Vaquejadas, a traditional rodeo in the north east of Brazil where two men on horseback try bring down a bull by grabbing its tail. It’s dusty and back-breaking work, but Iremar is a natural ‘Vaqueiro’ feeding, prepping and taking care of the bulls.
Home is the truck used to transport the animals from show to show which he shares with his co-workers; Galega, an exotic dancer, truck driver and mother to her spirited and cheeky daughter Cacá, and Zé, his rotund compadre in the bull pen. Together they form a makeshift but close-knit family.
I meet Gabriel Mascaro in a very crowded Doelen. I think I am what people call a bit starstruck because I absolutely love his work and I soon realize it is kind of hard to talk or to say something smart. No problem of course because it is not about me, but about Gabriel Mascaro and his incredible, beautiful film: Boi Neon.
RMA: You are from Recife, the Brazilian capital of art house film. How did you get into filmmaking?
GM: I had the chance to work as a trainee for Brazilian director Marcello Gomez. [Cinema, Aspirins e Vultures, 2005] His film premiered in Cannes, so it was very special. Many people in Recife from my generation who are now working in the film industry were involved in this project. We discovered film by working.
Nowadays I use many different tools to make different kinds of art, such as visual installations, documentaries and photography. I was very happy to make a feature film, but I am just as happy when I work on a simple visual installation or do a photography project.
“I was very happy to make a feature film, but I am just as happy when I work on a simple visual installation or do a photography project.”
RMA: I see. That’s why the cinematography of August Winds was such a delight.
GM: Thank you. It was a big challenge to not do the cinematography on Neon Bull. But at the same time it was important to have time to give attention to the actors. Their parts were very demanding. There was a lot of tension in the script and there are many sex scenes. I had to be confident as a director to take them along with me.
As for the DOP, I wanted to work with someone from Uruguay, but she couldn’t do it and recommended me to work with Diego García. After he did my film, he went to Thailand to work on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new film Cementary of Splendour.
RMA: Another rising star.
GM: Yes, he is really talented. And young: only 35 years old. I was so lucky to have him before Apichatpong! [Laughing] He would have never come back to me. His latest project is Carlos Reygadas new film. No, he is probably not coming back to Brazil.
RMA: How did the idea of Boi Neon develop?
GM: I grew up, and still live, in the North-East of Brazil, which a very poor region. The land is dry and problematic; there are a lot of social conflicts. In the past ten years the country and region have been going trough a socio-economic and cultural transgression. Therefore, I wanted to make a film where people do not want to leave the place where they live, but they want to change the way they live in order to achieve their aspirations. I wanted to make a film where people are travelling, but instead of travelling away from a place, they travel circular. They live a nomadic life in an area they feel affection for. They are dreaming of doing something special, like being a fashion designer or owning a horse. Each character has its one odd, different, special and mostly sincere dream. These are also ambiguous dreams, because our body houses both vileness and pleasure. The film is about the dualism of our existence. Our day to day live is full of it.
While I was doing research for the film, I in fact met a cowboy who was besides working backstage at the Vaquejada also working at a textile factory. People often work different jobs and double shifts in order to survive. I was fascinated by the way he ritualized the cleaning of the bulls tails and then, a few hours later, would be sitting at a sewing machine for his second shift. This was the starting point for creating a fictional character who accumulates roles that combine force and delicacy, bravura and sensitivity, violence and endearment. Same for Galega who is an erotic dancer, but also a truck driver. Or the perfume seller, who also works as a guard for the factory. We all have multiple lives and I wanted to expand the notions of our identity and gender. The film does not judge anyone as the characters do not judge each other. The film only creates certain expectations, but these expectations are not fulfilled, because there is no actual plot.
“This was the starting point for creating a fictional character who accumulates roles that combine force and delicacy, bravura and sensitivity, violence and endearment.”
RMA: What does the relationship between humans and animals mean for you?
GM: In history humankind has always portrayed animals in art. I tried to find an esthetic and symmetric way to look at humans and animals instead of a hierarchical one. I didn’t want to animalize the humans nor humanize the animals. But I asked myself: how can we look at bodies in an honest way and how can we find connections. That’s why there is for example a scene where they massage the horse.
RMA: And that is why Galega dresses up like a horse when she is dancing?
GM: Yes, these are all ways to have you see beyond the narrative and the rational ways of thinking.
RMA: I have never seen such an erotic scene with a pregnant woman. No, the sex scene with the pregnant woman was probably one of the most erotic scenes I’ve ever seen.
[Laughing] Do you want to say something about that?
GM: Some people have asked me if the actress accidently got pregnant: she didn’t. I casted a woman who had to be pregnant around eight months by the time we would shoot the film. It is a real pregnancy.
In the North-East of Brazil the macho life is very present and associated with the ‘cowboy’ life. At some point in the film we create the expectation that Iremar is gay.
RMA: Until he makes love with the ultimate symbol of femininity?
GM: In Hamburg a film critic said the film could be a queer film, because the scene does not prove nor support masculinity. It is something completely new.
Iremar does not even ask about her pregnancy and the normalization of this taboo creates friction. We tend to associate a pregnant woman with purity. A pregnant woman is untouchable. But in the film we experience that she too desires pleasure.
What takes away the taboo is the fact that the scene is long. If you would have just seen a fragment and we had cut to the next scene, it would have been shocking. But now we forget about the taboo because while we watch them we start to feel the same pleasure as the actors.
“If you would have just seen a fragment and we had cut to the next scene, it would have been shocking.”
RMA: Are you working on a new feature film? And will this new project also focus on rural, rough Brazil?
GM: Not necessarily. I’m very interested in contemporary society and human contradictions. You should see my website! I’ve made an installation called: My Free Time and it involves people from all over the world.
In March and April I’m going to participate in an artist in residency program in the US. Until that time I won’t be doing a lot of script writing. I like to do more than film and I want to start the residency fresh.
Neon Bull will be released in Dutch cinema’s around June.
Interview: Charlotte van Zanten
The newest generation of Colombian filmmakers is no longer interested in shocking its audience with the horrors taking place in their country.
Tired of blood and violence they instead focus on depicting what happens outside of the frame. Without the use of much dialogue they take us along capitals, villages and the impassible jungle. We experience the country and its politics from the perspectives of confused paramilitaries, fleeing women or lost adolescents.
Felipe Guerrero feature debut Oscuro Animal has some striking similarities with Jorge Forero’s film Violencia another impressive Colombian feature debut I watched in Berlin last year. It made me even more curious to talk to him about his film, which was in the Tiger Competition of IFFR this year and has party been supported by Hubert Bals Fund.
Oscuro Animal tells the story of three women, forced to flee their homes in a war-torn region of Colombia. Each journey, marked by terror, takes her on a trek from the depths of the jungle to the outskirts of Bogotá, where each must gather the strength needed to start a new life.
I meet Felipe in the Doelen where we talk about his film and his nowadays life. Although he lives outside of Colombia, he is still deeply involved with his country.
RMA: First of all: how did you get in filmmaking?
FG: Oscuro Animal is my first feature film. I come from experimental documentary, like essay films. Both of my films [Paraiso (2006), Corta (2012)] were shown at IFFR. I went to Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, the national film school of Rome, where I studied editing. I’ve been working as an editor for years.
RMA: Did you leave Colombia to study in Rome?
FG: Yes, 20 years ago now. I spend 10 years in Italy and now I’ve been living in Argentina for 10 years.
RMA: I’m counting, because it means you are actually much older than you look!
FG: [laughing] I’m forty.
RMA: Why did you make this film?
FG: I wrote the script fourteen years ago. I won a residence in Madrid where I made the first version but I never did anything with it until six years ago.
RMA: How come you let go of the script for so long?
FG: I don’t know…. I just started working on one of the essays and I was so busy. And after that film I made a more of less similar, experimental documentary. But then I suddenly really felt the urge to make a fiction film.
RMA: What was it like to reread a script you had been working on 15 years before?
FG: Yeah, I was impressed! [Laughing] It needed a re-write, but it was good.
RMA: Not that your work wasn’t authentic, but have you seen Jorge Furero’s film Violencia? There are some similarities…
FG: I know the film; the producers are friends of mine. I was really surprised when it came out, but actually I thought it was great.
RMA: For me it made watching your film more special. I had seen a similar story with men; you gave ma a feminine perspective.
FG: When I started to do my film, I had some difficulties on how Colombian cinema represents violence. Generally it’s depicted superficial and extremely realistic. For me that is a problem. Ok, the superficial part is personal; it is the other directors point of view. But when you transform reality into images, I believe you can be more symbolic and abstract. You don’t always have to represent ‘the real’. It is the same everywhere. I prefer to make something more abstract and surpass the rules. The costumes of the military are for example a new representation of that reality.
RMA: Maybe people don’t experience violence as literally as it is often portrayed in cinema?
FG: Yes. And I worked on the film knowing that the audience already knows too much about the war. There is nothing more to say about it, they know everything about extreme violence. Therefore I prefer to work with reverberation. We only see what happens ‘outside of the frame’.
RMA: So you don’t want to be the kind of director that ‘shocks’ it’s audience?
FG: No, I prefer to work with tension. But the tension is in the sound and landscapes.
“When you transform reality into images, I believe you can be more symbolic and abstract. You don’t always have to represent ‘the real’.”</h2?
RMA: Why did you decide to work with only female perspectives?
FG: When 15 years ago I was toying with the idea of making this film the conflict in Colombia was extremely bloody. I read many human rights reports and met some victims of which the majority were women. Women are so fragile, but at the same time so strong. I believe they are somehow better in overcoming war than men because of their powerful resistance against it.
RMA: Silent resistance?
FG: [Hahaha] Maybe… O I heard too many stories. The reality is absolutely terrible.
RMA: I’m sorry. I’ve seen some of the shocking films that were made too…
FG: Yes, it’s really terrible. But I believe I am from a new generation of Colombian filmmakers that tries to work with the war and violence on a different level. Same as Jorge Forero.
RMA: But you are not living there anymore…
FG: Yes, many of us live outside Colombia. But we are in touch with each other. And because I work as an editor for the Colombian film industry I’m in touch with most of them. Colombia is always a subject in my work. Probably because the issues are so big and because I am very related to the country and its political situation. Making Oscuro Animal was like a catharsis. I hope some day I’ll make a film about adolescence in Buenos Aires. [Hahaha]
“I hope some day I’ll make a film about adolescence in Buenos Aires.”
RMA: So the next feature film is also going to be set in Colombia?
FG: First of all, my next film is going to be very simple. Oscuro Animal was so demanding. I would like to do a light, simple production.
RMA: Set in one house instead of the jungle?
FG: [hahaha] yeah, that’s going to be it. Currently I’m working on a small new project. It’s a correspondence documentary I’m working on with two other Colombian directors. We all have been living outside of the Colombia since many years but who make films on our home country. We have been exchanging video letters for the past two years.
RMA: Sounds great. How did that happen?
FG: We share a similar history. All three of us left Colombia almost 20 years ago. We have started a live in a new country, we have married women that are not from Colombia, we have become fathers of half Colombian sons and we all made three films. We enjoy seeing each other a lot so we became friends. We talk about cinema and about being separated from Colombia. In March we go to Cartagena film festival, in the Caribbean. All of our most recent films are selected so we will be there together. It is going to be the first time for us to be together the three of us. It is going to be great.
From the bowels of Vesuvius, Pulcinella, a foolish servant, is sent to present-day Campania to grant the last wish of Tommaso, guardian of the Royal Palace of Carditello.
He must rescue a young buffalo called Sarchiapone. Pulcinella takes the buffalo towards the north. The two servants, man and beast, embark upon a long journey throughout a lost and beautiful Italy.
Bella e Perduta is a touching, surreal fairy tale showing our complex relation with nature. The film premiered at Locarno last summer where it won the Special Mention Ecumenical Prize. The film was screened at IFFR and has been selected for New Directors/New Films.
It’s Saturday morning, 11am and I meet director Pietro Marcello, script writer Maurizio Braucci and actor Sergio Vitolo in the Doelen for a chat. The three grew up around Naples, Italy and have been friends since a long time. Pietro and Maurizio have been working together before and Sergio, although not a professional actor, plays the role of Pulcinella.
“I studied to become a painter, but I wasn’t as good in painting as I was in film.”
RMA: De landscapes were almost like paintings.
PM: I studied to become a painter, but I wasn’t as good in painting as I was in film.
RMA: I thought you could have had a technical background, because last night during the Q&A you seemed very certain about working analogue instead of digital.
PM: I just prefer to shoot with film, but it’s not a dogma.
RMA: An expensive hobby?
PM: Yes, that’s true, but I cut in the production costs; there is always a way.
RMA: How did you discover the Royal Palace of Carditello?
PM: The idea was to make a trip in Italy. I wanted to document the countryside; the place where I grew up. During this trip we met Tommaso, the guardian of the palace and we decided to focus on him. But after two months he died.
RMA: Wow, your main character passed away? That’s very unfortunate.
PM: Very, it was very sad. We continued our story with only the buffalo who was once again an orphan. Tomasso saved a lot of animals. In our modern industry there is no use for buffalos that do not give milk. In the past they worked on the land, but the industry took over their tasks. And they are to expensive to raise for the meat industry. A cow needs only six months to grow up, but a buffalo needs two or even three years.
MB: Tomosso was well known in the area and the symbol of the countryside. He embodies that honest farmer fighting to secure the land from toxic waste. Fighting against the government.
RMA: And pro camorra? I could hear people scream camorra.
MB: Yes, that’s right. The people are pro mafia because they feel protected by the mafia. They are the local, tribal power.
RMA: And after Tomasso died you decided to write a fiction scenario?
PM: The idea was to make a fairytale. Our starting point was Tomasso, who was living in this abandoned palace and took care of animals. After he passed away, the buffalo became an important character and we also developed the character of Pulcinella, who was to guide the orphan buffalo. It was hard to decide on whether or not to use the figure of Pulcinella. In Italy he is a cliché and abroad people might not be able to understand who he is. Plus our Pulcinella is not a clown, he is a tragic figure.
What do you think? Was it clear for you?
RMA: Yes, it was. And because your film is not a feature film in the traditional sense I like your choice to use an archetype.
“It was hard to decide on whether we should or should not use the figure of Pulcinella. In Italy he is a cliché and abroad people might not be able to understand who he is.”
MB: The question is: what is an independent film? Independent film is something you don’t want to control from the beginning until the end. Industrial film is script driven. Our film is independent. The process was dialectical; he [Pietro] also produced the film himself.
RMA: You produced the film yourself?
PM: Yes. The editing was very important. To make the story continues, we had to sit next to the editor.
MB: We let the story guide us. While we were filming, we discovered it. That is independent film.
PM: It was also because our script was incomplete. There is always a transition. The written scenario can be a great read, but it might not work on film. I always have many doubts on the scripts. It can be complicated to find the right dialogues.
RMA: It was your first time to toy with fiction. Are you planning on making another feature film?
PM: I’m not interested in making purely fiction. I would like to continue making different cinema. Experiment. Find new ways. Making a traditional feature film to me seems really boring. But I still need to understand what direction I will go.
MB: Don’t you think cinema is changing?
RMA: Yes, I very much believe cinema is changing. Directors are clearly exploring the boundaries between fiction and reality.
“I’m not interested in making purely fiction. I would like to continue making different cinema.”
PM: Most of all I want to continue to make films about my country.
RMA: So, where does your patriotism come from? I wanted to ask you that because yesterday during the Q&A you also mentioned ‘your country’ a few times.
PM: [Laughing] No, it’s not like that. I just mean I love the countryside. The land. Maybe because that is where I was born. No, Italian people is another story.
RMA: [Laughing] I’m glad we cleared that out.
MB: We just love tomato’s, onions; we love our soil.
RMA: And animals?
PM: He does! [pointing at Maurizio] He is the vegetarian side.
RMA: He is my friend.
MB: I love animals. Veganism is the future. Last night we spoke about the fact that’s nowadays conflict is between capitalism and nature.
RMA: Do you think that conflict will be solved in 50 years?
PM: I think in the future people will leave the urban area. It is in fact a complicated place to live; men will eventually move back to the countryside. The urban area might become a place populated by immigrants.
MB: All current conflicts, worldwide, were ultimately caused by our greed for fossil fuels. People are escaping political decease, war and poverty. All is linked to nature and environment.
Can you imagine, this place used to be the Roman Imperium, before Rome was build. This is where all agricultural technic was born. It is a volcanic area, a very fertile area. And this land is being destroyed by men. It is absurd, but at the same time it is also human nature to be self-destructive.
PM: When Pulcinella removes the mask he is freed, because he has become a real person. And only a real person, who is participating in this society, is able to change that society. But when he loses his mask, he does not have the ability to talk to the buffalo anymore. He loses his innocence.
RMA: Last question: where is the buffalo now? Is he still alive?
PM: He is very fine. He is a grown-up now and this spring it will be his first time to breed. We look after him; he is our buffalo. And he is famous. People go to visit him.
Interview: Charlotte van Zanten
Nina Gantz was born in Amsterdam and grew up in Rotterdam. She went to art academy. St. Joost in Breda before completing her master in Directing Animation at the prestigious National Film and Television School near London. This year she met with some of the biggest animation studios in the world. She went to LA to visit Pixar and DreamWorks, but judging from her authentic graduation project Edmond, she is not giving up her artistic freedom for just a big commercial studio.
Edmonds impulse to love and be close to others is strong—maybe too strong. As he stands by a lake contemplating his options, he leaps back in time reflecting on his defining moments in search of the origin of his desires.
Edmond has been selected for numerous of big film festivals, won a BIFA and is nominated for a BAFTA.
“Luckily the award ceremony [BAFTA] is February 14th. Normally it takes place a week earlier; I would have had to miss IFFR while I’m so looking forward to going to Rotterdam. I love IFFR.”
Nina is in her home in London when we Skype-interview her. Webcams are switched on and behind her we see a closet full of funny puppets. She shows us a big pair of teeth she made and explains she used to have all of her animation puppets in there but after a leakage she moved most of them to another room. “It’s the trophy closet now”, she says laughing as she points at her BIFA award. “Awards can get wet, puppets can’t!”
“Awards can get wet, puppets can’t!”
Nina is preparing her trip to Sundance when Skype-interview her. Her film has been selected for the short section.
“I think I’ve been home for about two weeks the past year”, she says. “It’s very hectic!”
We ask her if she will be able to watch some films at Sundance, but she is afraid she has too many appointments already. She explains she doesn’t know how to deal with all these people who’d like to meet with her. She feels new in the industry and clearly she is not the kind of person taking business opportunities to network herself to the top. She is authentic and choses her own path.
NG: I have made such a terrible mistake last night!
RMA: What happened?
NG: Something really bad. I received another email from someone who wanted to meet me at Sundance. So I send a message to my producer: ‘Do I really have to see all these freakin people?’ I pressed ‘send’ and then realised that this person had the same name as my producer, so I had send the mail to her accidently.
RMA: [Laughing] O no!
NG: I asked my roommates like, “Is it bad? How bad is this?” And they all replied, “It’s bad.” I immediately sent another email to say there was a mix up and that I would LOVE to meet! Obviously she never responded.
RMA: But you can do that as an artist, right? Be a bit rebellious. People love that. Don’t worry about it.
NG: They can laugh about it in the Netherlands maybe, but not in America…
RMA: Where did you get the idea for Edmond?
NG: I wanted to make something about someone who literally travels back into their own past I actually got the idea during a set design workshop. I had to make a set and come up with a story for it. Every time the character stepped into another room, he went back in time.
RMA: Your woollen puppets are really beautiful.
NG: I wanted to use wool because the story is sometimes so violent. By using a soft material I wanted to slightly mute the senses. The story literally becomes softer and easier to digest.
I had never made an animation puppet before, so I asked my drawing teacher who also has a studio with her sisters [studio FOK] to help me. We arranged a workshop and I guided the group to make armatures while they taught me how to felt a puppet. I was very happy with their help because I needed thirty-five characters, which was the most number of puppets ever to be used in an animation film at the film school.
“By using a soft material I wanted to slightly mute the senses. The story literally becomes softer and easier to digest.”
RMA: For a few years you worked as an assistant illustrator. Did you always know you wanted to work in film?
NG: I went to the art academy in Breda, where you learn very well how to develop yourself as an artist, but you don’t learn how to work in the film industry. After the art academy I wanted to go to a film school and get more experience as a director, however I had an opportunity to work on a feature film so postponed my plans for a year. During this time I developed an interest in stop-motion.
RMA: What was it like to study at one of the worlds’ best film schools?
NG: Only eight people per year are selected, so the selection procedure is extremely tough.
They gave us a week of exercises to test our creativity, capacity for dealing with critique and your leadership. At the end of the week you pitch your ideas in front to a group of teachers and professionals….nerve racking.
My English was not good at all. I mean, we all speak a little in the Netherlands, but once you have to describe something and you are really nervous… That’s a different kettle of fish!
Anyway, I got through the selection, but then I heard Ari [Deelder] was going to make her first feature film, she wanted me do do the animations for it. They said that if I wanted to make the film I had to do the selection again next year. It was a tough decision, but I chose to make the film with Ari. She is my best friend, and you don’t walk out on your best friends first feature film. Besides, the opportunity to work on a feature and be head of animation was too good to turn down.
A year later I got a letter from the film school in which they said I could come without doing the selection.
RMA: Wow! See, it’s good to be a rebel.
NG: Because it’s a masters degree everyone in this school already has some experience. Everyone is extremely ambitious. Obviously everyone also has a huge debt after doing this film school: it’s crazy expensive. So you really want to make the best of your time there.
It was amazing to work with so many likeminded people. I had the most wonderful two years. I’m not even sure if the school is that good, but the students I worked with were one by one insanely talented.
RMA: Would you still like to work with all of them?
NG: Yes, they were a great team and I would love to work with them again in the future. Sometimes producers want to work with their own team, so it could be hard to keep everybody together.
“I’m not even sure if the school is that good, but the students I worked with were one by one insanely talented.”,
NG: It was my first stop-motion film, so I had a lot to learn. Almost everyday something went wrong. What topped the chaos was probably the time the studio flooded. A lot of the sets were damaged and we had to rebuild it all. Not ideal.
Animation takes a lot of work. If I would have only relied on the help from school, I wouldn’t have been able to finish this ambitious project. I had an incredible team at school, but I needed all the help I could get. My family and friends: everyone had to help. That’s why my credits are so long. Sometimes friends came to visit me, which must have been quite disappointing. First of all they found out that my school wasn’t actually in London but in Beaconsfield, a hamlet outside town. Then I’d say: so were not going to London, but how would you like to felt a puppet?
RMA [Laughing] isn’t it complicated to felt a doll?
NG: No, felting is really easy. Except for Edmond, because I had to make his face in different sizes and the faces all had to look the same. Normally you’d use a mold, but I didn’t have one.
Before I would start animating, I acted out all the scenes. Many of the scenes I did myself, but also my mother [red: actress Loes Luca] did some of them. She and Peter Blok acted out the scene on the couch out for example.
RMA: Do you have that on video? That must be great material.
NG: It will be used for the making of Edmond! If I can find the tape, because I lost it….
RMA: What director would you like to work with?
NG: Michel Gondry. I once spoke with him at IFFR. He was really high! [Laughing] But he asked what I did and I told him I worked as an animator. He said he loved animation and I said, ‘Yes I know. If you ever need help: here is my number.’ But he refused and gave me his contact details instead. So I have his email-address in my phone but I’m afraid to mail. I’d also love to work with Roy Andersson and Wes Anderson.
RMA: Wes Anderson is making a stop motion as we speak!
NG: Yeah, about dogs in Japan. A year ago Ari told me we had to make a stop-motion film about dogs and I was like, yeah, sure if you come with an idea… Too late. [Laughing]
I’ve never idolized someone. The people I mentioned are my inspiration. I hardly watch any animations myself. Honestly, I’m difficult to impress!
“…some beautiful animations often stay within the festival circuit and the big audiences only get to see the films made by big production houses, so a festival like IFFR you can discover all sorts of hidden gems.”
RMA: What type of animations do you not like?
NG: There are few animated feature films that really blow me away. Some shorts, I find, are often really impressive. When I was young, I used to love big studio productions but the current output seems quite predictable.
RMA: Do you think animation is an underrated discipline within the film industry?
NG: I’m not sure if I’m the person to say something smart about that. I feel very much appreciated for my work all the time. But I guess some beautiful animations often stay within the festival circuit and the big audiences only get to see the films made by big production houses, so a festival like IFFR you can discover all sorts of hidden gems.
Interview: Charlotte van Zanten & Lisa Smith
Tanna was the first film to be announced by International Film Festival Rotterdam this year. We watched the film at London Film Festival and had a really nice chat with directors Martin Butler and Bentley Dean.
RMA: You have mostly been working on projects with a journalistic imprint, was it your intention to make a work of fiction?
M: It was definitely a plan to make a feature film. Bentley went to live on the island for a few months. For personal reasons, to give his kids an experience before school age in Melbourne. The whole trip was premised on the idea that we would make a feature film while he was there with his family.
We didn’t have any funding at that stage. For the main shooting period we had to rely on our own money. It was only later we managed to get some money from Screen Australia.
“It would have been a terrible pitch. “We want to make a fiction film, but uh… we never made one before. And we want to use actors, who have never acted before. In fact, they have never even seen a film before. O and we don’t know what the storyline is. Give us some money.””
RMA: They must have been very interested in your film.
B: Eventually everybody was. It would have been a terrible pitch though. [Acting] “We want to make a fiction film, but uh… we never made one before. And we want to use actors, who have never acted before. In fact, they have never even seen a film before. O and we don’t know what the storyline is. Give us some money.”
B: But once we could show them something, it became interesting for them.
RMA: And before that time you just worked together?
B: It started as an ultra small outfit. When we work together, Martin does sound and I do film. Another main collaborator on the film was actually my partner who had never done anything with film before. I don’t think the film could have been made if we hadn’t been such a low file operation. We could be very flexible and really work together with the local community. We could actually spend the time that we needed with them and later during shooting.
I heard the average of making a film is seven years. We have made this in two years. We produced the film together as well. And we did self-distribution along with a guy who has a one-man distribution company. We wanted to do it this way. It’s becoming so difficult in Australia to get your film on screen, especially for a descend amount of time. So we preferred to take responsibly ourselves.
M: Have you seen the film, Charlotte?`
RMA: Of course!
M: So, you have seen the village. We lived in the middle of that village. What you see on the screen is the real life. Even the dialogues are!
B: When we first arrived we were told that the people of Yakel had actually never seen a film. So we showed them Rolf de Heers Ten Canoes. -A fine Dutch man living in Australia actually- His film was similarly made, working close with indigenous people. And we thought showing this film was probably the best possibly way to explain what we wanted to do. We wanted to work with the community and build this thing together. So they gathered and watched the film on a laptop. And they loved it so much they said: so can we start tomorrow?
RMA: Your story is based on a true event that took place in 1987. Do people still live the same way?
B: The main town of the island is like a two-hour walk, which makes it even more extraordinary. They are completely aware of the outside world. But they have made this very conscious decision to live the way of their ancestors.
RMA: They choose to live without electricity?
M: They do. The chief gave us a hut, in fact his own hut, to live in. And we put solar panels on top of it where we charged our batteries and our computers. At a certain point we felt we needed our editor to come over to start working on the film, so we added more solar panels. Another hut was build where he could work. Difficult conditions: volcanic dusts, kids running in and out. But it was great. And the villagers got to see the process of making the film.
“He came to us and said: “We know you and Martin came here with your idea to make a film with your equipment and stuff, but we just want to inform you that we consider this our film.””
RMA: Have they all watched the film?
B: We wanted them to see the film before anyone else in the world. The date we planned on doing that was in April of this year. But then a little thing called Cyclone Pam happened, the most severe cyclone in memory of Vanuata. A lot of people were killed on the island, fortunately no one of the village. But all of their huts were knocked down. By the time we got trough to them, we proposed to postpone the screening, but they insisted we’d come.
It was really confronting when we got there. So many things visible in the film were devastated by the cyclone. Like houses, crops and trees. They had already started to rebuild the village and their lives and they were dedicated to watch the film.
So we improvised a cinema. We put together some sheets strung them up in one of the remaining banyan trees; brought a projector; arranged a sound system and gave them their very first cinematic experience. It was magical. All of the tribes from around the hills gathered and they watched themselves. In their own language, watching their own story. Lots of laughter. They sung along with the songs. They were so emotionally engaged with the characters, the lovers. The older people would comment during the film and say things like: “they should have…”
And the next morning they gave us the best review ever. -And we had quite some great reviews actually-, but this one was by the chief of the village. He came to us and said: ‘We know you and Martin came here with your idea to make a film with your equipment and stuff, but we just want to inform you that we consider this our film.’
RMA: How did you get into this love story?
M: When Bentley and I went over to Vanuatu together for the first time, to talk to the community about possibilities to make a film with them, we traveled around the island to join a meeting. It was a very serious meeting about an arranged marriage. Whole villages had come and were talking in groups. They’d stand up and make their speeches. There was anger, lots of emotions. It looked like it would come to blow at some point. And this meeting was about whether a couple that had fallen in love could stay together because she had been promised, in an arranged marriage, to another tribe. In this case it was resolved. The couple could stay together; the tribe had to provided another women at a later date. What struck us was how essential and important this was. And when we asked them about it later, we were told about the story of the lovers.
B: We came to Tanna open-minded. The first two months we just talked a lot. Every day we just chatted about absolutely everything. Daily live, their creation myths, intimate details. It was only after months that we kept coming back to that story of the lovers that changed the complete course of their culture.
So we started to write. I’d write something, send it to Martin, he’d make some adjustments, and I’d go up to the village and say: what do you think about this? It wasn’t much of a script. More like an outline. That was in the 4th month of our stay and we proposed rehearsing it. They had never acted; likewise, we had never made a fiction film before. We thought that we would get them used to the camera, and that would get used to the camera. For filming, I didn’t know what to expect. Was it going to be more formal tripod or hand held?
The first scene we did, was the scene with Chief Charly. He has just heard the song of peace from Spirit Mother Yahul [ed: the Yakel name for the active volcano.] and he gathers the village to inform them. It was a difficult, subtle scene.
It took me maybe ten seconds to realize: no, this has to be handheld. And I just whipped the camera off the legs and started filming them as they acted. That scene, the one in the film, was that very first rehearsal.
“Since the actors were all non-professional we thought that a script wasn’t particularly necessary.”
M: In terms of making a film, the script, or the absence of a script was interesting. Since the actors were all non-professional we thought that a script wasn’t particularly necessary. It also meant that on each day film, we would have a long discussion about what we wanted to achieve and how to do that. We would say: Charly, where would you walk? What would you do? How would you behave?
RMA: So directing was like: what would you do or say…
RMA: So, who said that? Does one of you speak their language?
B: Yeah, we haven’t spoken about him yet, but actually the key of the film was our translator JJ. He was our cultural director. He lived in the village and was educated up to high school level. He was with us every single day.
Sometimes there was a bit of a conflict between the tribes; sometimes he would come up with lines while we were filming. And we would be filming and had to say like: ‘what… what?’ And he would explain what he did, and it would be brilliant.
M: He is extraordinary. He understood so well what we wanted to achieve with the film.
RMA: Were the lovers in love with each other?
B: You mean in real life?
RMA: Yeah, since everyone in the film kind of played himself or herself.
B: The lovers weren’t part of that. First, we casted Dain. That was easy. Pretty much because he was the best-looking guy of the village and everyone in the village agreed on that. The female lover was a lot more difficult to find. But Martin, I let you take over this story. I was blind at that time.
M: We started the casting process with the people of Yakel. But none of the girls would look us in the eye when we tried to have them communicate with us. They looked down, because they were very shy.
It was really out of question to have the lovers look at each other and touch each other. That was just not done. We asked them to stand next to Dain and look at him in a loving way, but they’d stand two meters apart from each other both looking down.
So we went down to the coast, to find a non-tribal person. The hard part there was that these people would have to dress traditionally and they weren’t prepared to do that. Things started to look very tough.
In the village where Wawa is from, part of the people wear traditional clothing and part wear, you know, t-shirts and trousers. Bentley was really blind at that time. He had a severe viral conjunctivitis at couldn’t see at all. But we started talking with Wawa and she was beautiful. Moreover, she looked us in the eyes. She was our Wawa.
B: But it was still very difficult to get them to behave like lovers. It is really incredibly taboo to show physical affection in public. Eventually the chief intervened and told Dain he had to do it. That gave him license to do things that were not normal in his society. By the end of the film I think he was quite comfortable lying on a beach having his nipples squeezed by the ravishing Marie Wawa.
RMA: Are you making something new?
B: It is a great creative collaboration and great friendship. And I believe we have the same attitude towards filmmaking. We pursue a rich life. A life full of fun with meaningful experiences and film enables us to do that. I’m not the kind of filmmaker that was born with a camera in his hand and says: ‘I just had to make film’. I’m like Martin. I’m just looking for a way to pay the rent and maintain an eclectic interest in the world.
“I’m like Martin. I’m just looking for a way to pay the rent and maintain an eclectic interest in the world.”
RMA: Final question: what did you learn spending time with the people of Yakel?
B: Overall what I learned was simple stuff. We don’t value enough the strength of neighbors. A strong community makes strong individuals. Learn the forest values; work with a bow and arrow. We were worried about our kids. We thought they’d fall of a cliff. Once you are there you see how much people care for each other.
M: Humanity, work-out, stability, interfamily, community relations. The simplest life. You don’t need the modern world to run a happy life.
B: I realized life would be ok if everything goes wrong. I was constantly living with this cloud of pessimism and now I feel optimism.
M: I loved to wake up there. Chickens and pigs. A splash of water in your face as a morning shower.
It rarely happens to us, leaving a cinema before the end of the film. But during Berlinale 2015 our film schedule was so tight that we had to leave Chorus 20 minutes before the end to catch another film. It’s not that Chorus was a bad film, but we felt relieved when we closed the cinema doors behind us. Taken away from the devastating lives of Christophe and Irène who – after ten years of unsolved misery were confronted with the awful truth about what happened to their 8 year old son. The film reveals their pain and sadness after they lost their child who was taken by a pedophile and never returned home.
The question raises: do we want to know what happened? And if so, why would we want to know what happened? At this point we approach a major dispute in the essential of cinema. Before we mentioned that cinema is a wonderful medium that has the incredible power to take you to another world where you have never been, to make to feel what didn’t really happen to you, and to make you explore situations that exists far from your daily life. Cinema enriched your knowledge of the world, it creates awareness.
On the streets in Berlin Charlotte and I had a discussion why the director would make such a film. It was hard to find a reason why, which is weird because it’s not that we close our eyes from severe topics. The amount of pleasant versus unpleasant films should be about the same in the history of film. For our film program we always search for a balance between funny and emotional stories. But why is pedophili a subject we somehow couldn’t deal with? Was is too uncomforable to sit and watch how lonely and terrible Christophe and Irene felt? I was ashamed for them, because of what happened to them; a confusing feeling that I couldn’t stand.
To be honest I was surprised that Chorus was released in the Dutch cinemas, taken the past news about child abuse in churches and nursery. Yet, I had to see the end of the film. For me it felt as an unsolved project as well: what happened to Christophe and Irène? I felt miserable in Berlin after being confronted with the offenders confession. But, months later I didn’t feel so bad as then. Chorus is about unbearable pain and loss, but also about the power of memories, deep relations and independent development. Time doesn’t heal a wound, Irène mentioned in the film. She refuses to put aside what happened, she hates the meaning of mourning. You can’t look away from the past, you can’t look away from what’s happening in our world.
The subject of this blog shouldn’t be about censure. We did something wrong here: we walked away in the middle of a film. The uneasy scenes made me develop a premature opinion. Therefore, the message is: always watch the end of a film before you make statement about it.
One of the finest films we’ve seen at London Film Festival was Babai, the first feature film of Kosovo-born director Visar Morina. Visar is in Vienna when we talk to him. His girlfriend lives there; he has to visit her from time to time he adds jokingly. He asks how London was and if the sound was loud enough. ‘It’s never loud enough’, he explains. ‘It has to be loud!’‘Pretty loud’, we reassure him
Babai tells the story of Nori, a ten-year old kid who, together with his father Gesim, sells cigarettes in the streets of Kosovo. It’s the early 90’s, somewhat before the conflict with Serbia and life is tuff.
Because his mother recently ran away, they live-in with Gesims older, dominate brother Adem and his family. The small house is packed and there is little privacy. With Adems oldest son due to marry, the small room Nori and Gesim use will soon be taken.
In Babai we experience the world from the eyes of Nori. From the child’s point of view we walk the streets of Kosovo, meet his incompetent father and watch adults’ discussing serious matters. And same as Nori, we only hear fragments of their conversations. We see troubled faces, frustration and sadness. Clear is that something is about to happen, but what exactly is hard to understand. Political tension, the economic situation, the lack of space and privacy or simply all of these elements combined.
Gesim manages to escape Kosovo and try his luck in Germany. Nori, already left by his mother, is determined to find back his father. He steels the wedding money his uncle saved and, competent as he is, buys himself a partnership with Valentina, a cold blooded friend of the family who wants to go to Germany as well. Together they make a long dangerous journey.
RMA: You were born in Kosovo and currently live in Germany. How do you relate to the characters in your film?
VM: Many people think the film is very personal. It is, but it is not in the sense of the characters and storyline. I was born in Kosovo and I left when I was 15 years old. I came to Germany as a refuge, but in a much nicer way than Nori. Also my family situation is very different. I have my brothers and parents.
It was however important for me to tell a story that was close to me. It took me eight years to finish this film. That’s a really long time. You face many obstacles, so you need have to have a strong connection with your subject.
The time in which Babai is set was a tuff time. Politically it was all very complex. Many film have been made about this period and I watched them as a child. Films with partisans, terribly nationalistic. There was one guy who killed hundred fascists with a very small gun. So even in a political context it was important to me to make a personal story.
RMA: Was the political point of view also important to you considering the refuge issue?
VM: Honestly I don’t know how to deal with that now. I mean, the media has put a spotlight on it but there have been refugees ever since there are human beings in this world. I’m not sure if it’s really helping the film because it’s changing the interpretation.
“In my story the father is a system of values. Gisem has killed himself as a father. That is the subject of the film. Not refugees. I would have made a complete different film. I mean completely.”
For me, from the beginning it was very important to expose the father/son relationship. I have a brother in Kosovo and he has two kids whom I have a very strong connection with. When one of them was 3 years old I went to visit them. It had been a year since I had seen them, but the child responded crazy happy to see me. While he was three years old! He hadn’t seen me for a third of his life. I mean, for me that would have been for over ten years. And I realized he was just copying his father. This is how children learn to understand the world: trough the eyes and trough the feelings of their parents. It is very much based on trust. And therefore my question became: what would happen if this trust does not exist anymore?
“In my story the father is a system of values. Gisem has killed himself as a father. That is the subject of the film. Not refugees. I would have made a complete different film. I mean completely.”
RMA: But don’t you think the fact that you didn’t make ‘a refuge film’ makes your film much more valuable? It gives us a sincere view on the matter and that’s very refreshing now. The film is not about refugees; it’s about human beings.
VM: You know, I had a really, really weird experience coming back from Gent Film Festival. I was in a bus going to Dusseldorf and there was a guy sitting next to me, with his son. When we made a stop he asked me: ‘Is this Germany?’ And we were in Holland. It was the exáct same line as I have in the film. When Nori asks if they are in Germany and the man answers: ‘No, we are in Switzerland’.
And after we arrived in Dusseldorf he asked me about a city I never ever heard of. So I asked him to show me the written name and it turned out they came from Iraq and had no clue where they were. They just had a ticket from Iraq to this city I never heard of. I took them to the train station and I helped them to find the platform, which is in fact quite complicated, but I tried to explain. It was…. It was… They were so grateful. Like I… I don’t know. And this story is not even an answer to your question.
RMA: It was actually and amazing answer to my question.
“Really if I were to shoot on water again, I need to have like millions. I mean seriously: just for the water scenes.”
RMA: What was it like to make a first feature film?
VM: Honestly when I think back I realize I didn’t know what I was getting in to. I was still a student when I wrote the scenario. But all those water scenes, they were like hell. [Sighs deeply] Really if I were to shoot on water again, I need to have like millions. I mean seriously: just for the water scenes.
RMA: To heat it?
VM: Yes! Exactly. And it’s also a huge problem just to light it.
But the most difficult thing was to get the project started and to find the right production company. I made an awful decision with a company in the beginning. That was horrible. You are writing, researching, and investing time and money. I was completely broke. And this is a low budget film, but in Kosovo it is the biggest production ever done. Which tells a lot about the industry there: I was afraid everything would go wrong. But eventually it all turned out very well. I was very happy with the creative crew: they helped me a lot.
RMA: How did you find Nori?
VM: The auditions took 5 months. I did a lot of rehearsals during the auditions: it helped me to find the right way to communicate with the actors and to practice the shooting. We had to film on so many locations, spread over Europe, daytime and nighttime. You only have limited time when you are filming, so it was great to be prepared.
We knew finding Nori would be very hard. People who red the script had difficulties imagining where you could possibly find a kid like Nori. It is a tuff role. He is in each scene; it’s violent and wild. From the beginning it was clear that the film would basically depend on him and on how good he would be.
“People who red the script had difficulties imagining where you could possibly find a kid like Nori. It is a tuff role. He is in each scene; it’s violent and wild. From the beginning it was clear that the film would basically depend on him.”
In Kosovo it’s still common to have children selling cigarettes on the streets. I did many auditions with those kids. We also made a television commercial in which we asked parents to make a video of their child and send it to us. And we went from school tot school. The first day we met 172 kids. We interviewed all of them. I’m a very strong smoker; I didn’t even smoke one cigarette. Afterwards it felt like someone had been hitting our head for like hours. If you do auditions with children, you have to be really nice to them and careful. You can’t talk to one kid longer than to another kid because you might make the other kids feel bad.
And then we found him. And I was like almost in love with him. In the beginning he was very shy and not talkative at all. He couldn’t be approached like normal kids. My actors even got scared of him! I took some days off with him and the father [red. actor Astrit Kabashi] so we could get to know each other.
He is doing very well now. You know he’s in a Hollywood production, Zookeepers Wife, playing next to Jessica Chastain.
RMA: Are you working on a new film? You must be busy travelling to festivals now.
VM: I just got back from Gent where I only left the hotel room to visit my own screenings. I locked myself up to work on my new script. It feels kind of empty all those festivals. The work is done, everything is done and at some point you ask yourself: what the fuck are you doing? You don’t get to see the city, most conversations are nice but small talk, you forget them literally while you are talking. So I’m trying not to visit any festivals anymore.
“It feels kind of empty all those festivals. The work is done, everything is done and at some point you ask yourself: what the fuck are you doing?”
RMA: Sad news for the festivals…
VM: Do you know Ulrich Köhler? He is a great German filmmaker. He made Sleeping Sickness that won best director. [ed. Silver Bear, Berlinale 2011]. He said to me: “After I made my first film, I had the feeling film festivals are just here to keep filmmakers away from making films.”
RMA: Will your next film be set in Kosovo again?
VM: No. I would love to make another film in Kosovo but not this one. This one is going to take place in just one small city and all I need is a company and a house.
VM: But it’s a big company and a big house! [Laughing] Only compared to the project I just did it will be must easier to realize.
RMA: Your film is very realistic. You are not hiding anything nor exaggerating anything. It is never sentimental. Do you believe as a director or as an artist it is your duty to give a realistic impression of the world?
VM: Wow! [Laughing]
RMA: Is that a hard question?
VM: No, it’s just that I have been thinking about this a lot lately. What inspired me to making films wasn’t realistic at all. I love abstract work and I started my career working in the theaters as an assistant director.
I think the most important thing to me is that I believe in what I am writing and in what I am seeing. It has to make sense to me. In a deeper way. When I write down a scene and I read it back it has to come to me as if it is honest.That is the most important rule to me. When I’m rehearing with the actors I have to see they are sincere. Sometimes I watch a film and I ask myself: whom do they want to convince? They do not even seem to believe in what they do themselves.
“I’m very much into physical cinema. Cinema in the here and now. If people sweat they sweat, if they love, they love, if they eat, they eat.”
I need to have the feeling that what I write and make matters for the characters. I’m dealing with humanity. That doesn’t mean it has to be realistic. My next project is about nightmares. I’m stretching the boundaries.
VM: I’m very much into physical cinema. Cinema in the here and now. If people sweat they sweat, if they love, they love, if they eat, they eat.
RMA: That would be realism?
VM: Yes. But I love The Master. This film was on one hand very concrete and on the other hand very abstract. That’s something I’m looking for. And have you seen The Headless Women?
RMA: [both] No.
VM: That’s a very interesting film of a female director from Argentina. [ed. Lucrecia Martel] This film has very interesting shots. They start very concrete and that change into something abstract. This is what I’m trying to achieve.
RMA: We will watch it!
VM: Please do. It got never released here.
RMA: It happens all the time.
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) tells the story of a French woman and a Japanese man who, both happily married, have a one-night romance in Hiroshima.
She, their names are never revealed, has come to Japan to play on a film about peace. He is an architect whose wife is out of town. They meet the day before her return to France. Locked up in a hotel room they make love and talk about Hiroshima.
It is a banal tale that happens everywhere in the world, a thousand times a day. But the city is the one place where it’s hardest to imagine. It’s Hiroshima, 1957, barely twelve years after the bombing.
As the film opens we see two naked bodies, the bodies of him and her. Untouched, glooming, sensual, entwined. Him and her in a bed. They talk about Hiroshima. She talks; he listens or contradicts her.
HE: You saw nothing in Hiroshima.
SHE: I saw everything. Everything. The Hospital for instance,
I saw it. I’m sure I did. There is a hospital in Hiroshima. How
could I help seeing it?
HE: you did not see the hospital in Hiroshima. You saw
nothing in Hiroshima
Their bodies make place for the hospital. We see different bodies. This time dead bodies, mutilated, coated with ashes and dust; a metaphor for time and place. We see the city burning. This the other Hiroshima.
In Hiroshima every gesture, word or encounter takes on a meaning that transcends its literal meaning. A love story set in Hiroshima is a different love story. Incorporating the horror of the past in a love affair that is so wonderful and special is more credible than if it had occurred anywhere else in the world. In Hiroshima love, horror, memory’s and hope have a different meaning.
At first director Alain Resnais wanted to make a short documentary about August 6, 1945. He spent a few months working on the script, but eventually got stuck and realised the story lend itself more for a feature film. He involved Magritte Duras at that time already an acclaimed novelist, not to forget enfant terrible, who wrote the scenario within two months working closely with the director.
The film garnered international acclaim upon its release in 1959. It received the Fipresci International Critics Award and an Oscar nomination for Best Scenario. Moreover the film changed the cinematic culture and became a pioneer of the French New Wave. With its mixture of reality and fantasy, documentary images and fictional flashbacks Alain Resnais created a non-linear fragmented storyline formally only known in literature, making the film truly the love child of a filmmaker and novelist.
As a literature student, putting literature on a pedestal far above cinema, Hiroshima Mon Amour taught me how stupid I had been. The film opened a world of cinema I had known nothing about. A type of film where strong dialogues still exist; a type of film where characters, just as in novels, stay with you forever; a type or film that questions continuously but never forces an answer. A credible, infinite love story: how many of them have you seen?
There are few films I can watch over and over again and Hiroshima Mon Amour is and will always be one of them. And I will always end up with the same ambivalent feeling. Hoping they will never meet again, hoping they will please meet again.
Due to working on his third film script Carlos Vermut is hidden somewhere in the mountains of Japan. Even his agent has no clue where he is exactly. And even if he did: Carlos is not to be disturbed. Unfortunate, but understandable: the director of Magical Girl is one of the most original minds in this world and original minds need some alone-time to stay that way.
Carlos Vermut gained his reputation as a cult-hero after debuting with Diamond Flash in 2011, a film he made with an impressively low budget of €20.000. He uploaded the film on the VOD platform filmin.es and within a week it reached thousands of views. Magical Girl is his second feature film and won all the top awards at the San Sebastian Film Festival last year.
Alicia, a terminally ill twelve-year old, dreams of wearing an outrageously expensive designer dress from her favourite Japanese anime figure: Magical Girl Yukiko. Her father Luis, an unemployed literature teacher, blinded with grief, wants to do everything to make his daughter’s last wish come true. In desperate need for money he decides to rob a jewellery store, but just as he wants to throw a rock trough the window, Bárbara, who lives above the store, pukes over him from her balcony.
Bárbara is a mentally unstable and also beautiful. She is married to a successful psychiatrist who controls her with medication. After a big fight he walks out on her and she tries to commit suicide, but is unsuccessful.
Bárbara invites Louis to her house where he, still overwhelmed, washes away the vomit. Surprised by the luxurious apartment, Louis sees his chance, seduces the confused Bárbara and turns to extortion.
With the tragic events, pitch-black humor, sexual motives and chain of blackmail: this moody, dark film has all the ingredients to be a classic film noir. Showing us the eternal conflict of the human soul struggling against its enemies.
But Magical Girl is much more than that. It’s a delicate story in which complicated human interactions form key points to the plot line. I assume the film therefore is sometimes referred to not only as film noir, but also as Korean genre film. Known for exposing moral complexity, Korean cinema often studies the relationship between casualties, responsibly, guilt and justice. Think of the vengeance-trilogy of Park Chan-Wook or films such as Kim Ki-Duk’s Pieta or 3-Iron.
Magical Girl, in her own special way, does something similar. As the story continues calmly, more and more people get mixed up until the brutal climax.
Director Carlos Vermut expresses in his director statement
“Characters make certain decisions, and the characters grow the way they do because the story puts them in that situation. Therefore, they are inseparable.”
Film noir, Korean genre film, Japanese anime: we rarely find films as unique as Magical Girl. And even though the director wasn’t available to explain why he needed to make this film and how the Spanish crisis influenced this film: you just have to come and see it.
Saturday July 25th we screen I Swear I’ll Leave This Town, the second feature film of Daniel Aragão. Daniel is from Recife, Brazil. Besides being a filmmaker, he’s an avid record collector of ‘everything that is good’. He knows where to find vinyl in every city he visits.
I Swear I’ll Leave This Town premiered at Rio Film Festival where Bianca Joy Porte, who plays the role a young disturbed woman in corrupted city Recife, won the Best Actress Award.
“How did you get into filmmaking? Is there a film school in Recife?”
No there is not. I started working as the assistant director of Marcelo Gomes when he was doing his project Cinema, Asperinas e Urubas. The project completely changed the cinematic culture in Recife. The crew became very close. We started making short films to practice. That was my film school. Before I shot my first feature film, I made over twenty shorts.
“Your film is about a schizophrenic young woman in a corrupt environment. Is it a personal story?”
I had an uncle, who was schizophrenic. Growing up my mom showed me how that traumatised her. For the character of Joli I used her feminine emotions. But I used the story of my uncle, what his life had been like.
I wanted to work with a strong female character, like I did in my first film. I love to watch beautiful women on the screen. It moves me. Actresses like Bette Davis and Natasja Kinski have influenced me a lot. Those 70’s beauties. I love Italian directors. There characters are usually very strong.
“Do you enjoy exploiting the female sexuality?”
[laughing] Yes, I can’t say I’m not doing that. I’m using their sexuality and beauty cinematographically. I feel a lot of admiration towards women, but at the same time you could say I’m using them. I want people to watch the film because they feel attracted to the women. When I was really young I watched Cat People, over and over again. Watching Natasja Kinski naked I started to discover more about myself.
“In your film power structures are often exposed. As a director, what was it like to direct the strong female character you created?”
It was very stressful at times. We [Daniel and actress Bianca Joy Porte, ed] became involved in a relationship when we started working on the film. I often had to override my emotions to be a good director.
When you are in the beginning of a relationship you’re usually quite permissive. You easily say things are ‘alright’, even if they’re not. You put aside your ego. I did that until we started working. Then I was radically different. I couldn’t make concessions.
Bianca was against directing. And I wanted her to feel that even more. There is the scene where she is cleaning the floor naked. I told her: ‘I want you to crawl like a dog in front of the camera.’ And she was like: ‘why would I do that?’ She gave me arguments explaining why it didn’t make sense. I told her she was right, but I send her back to growl like a dog. She was really angry.
“So, you could say you were using your power as an director to make her angry?”
No! It wasn’t like that. Every time I directed her she would reply: why? Bianca is a rebel! When I asked something, there was always resistance. I used it to make her angrier and therefor act even better. The characters in a way became part of our relationship. She became a bit more of Joli and I acted a little bit like her father.
“Do you think the relationship between you two influenced the film?”
In the end the film has a sexual vibe, but it feels natural. Maybe it feels that way because we were in a relationship. Even the violent scenes became sexual, but never in an ugly way. It was passionate: the film and her. I was so excited. There was always something new, a bridge to cross.
“Did you work with a fixed scenario?”
Yes, because I really wanted to rely on the script. During rehearsals we changed a lot, but while shooting there wasn’t a lot of improvisation. All the sequences were in the same order. There were some scene’s that needed more space, but I could do that in the editing.
A lot of filmmakers I like have a connection with theater. Like Samuel Fuller. Samuel Fuller worked as a journalist and wrote a lot of theater. He made a very nice sequel for a tabloid. Pulp fiction, nothing serious but I like it a lot.
Sunday July 26th we screen the sensible coming-of-age film The Summer of Sangailé. Two girls, one introverted, fascinated by stunt planes but crippled by a fear of heights, the other one full of fantasy, creative and living her life to the fullest meet in a lakeside holiday village.
Art-loving Alanté Kavaiïté is from Lithuania, but has been living in France for twenty-three years. She debuted with the film Ecoute Les Tempes in 2006. With The Summer of Sangailé, her second feature film, she won the Best Director Award at Sundance last year.
RMA: Sangailé and Auste are complete opposites. As a teenager, were you more like Sangailé or like Auste?
AK: The characters are exaggerated. I guess like most people I am somewhere in the middle. I wanted to play up the contrasts, which can be found in many elements in the film, like in the aesthetics and sound. Using two girls created a certain symmetry, but Auste is a mirror reflection of Sangailé: an inversion.
RMA: Don’t teenagers often have outspoken, ’exaggerated’ personalities?
AK: Yes, you are right. The life of a teenager is much sharper. It is the reason why I focused on sensation and sensuality much more than on dialogue.
You make me think [laughing]. I’m definitely in the middle today, but to be honest in my teenage years I think I was more like Sangailé.
RMA: You have been living in France for years. Why did you decide to go back to your home country for your second film?
AK: Money wise it would have been much easier to shoot the film in France. Many people said I should: the story is universal. I just thought it would be impossible. When you work with emotions, you take elements out of your own life. Even if the film is not autobiographical, you really have to be able to emphasise.
“It is a shame that it’s still necessary to have to label a film and call it a ‘gay’ film, but as long as the gay community is disadvantaged I’m very much willing to fight for them.”
RMA: What was it like to work with young actresses Julija Steponaityte and Aiste Dirziute?
AK: I was so happy with them. They embodied exactly what I had in mind. Both were older than the characters in the original story, but that brought something new and unexpected. During the shoots they were free to change the dialogues and adopt them to what felt natural. I hadn’t lived in Lithuanian for years; some of the words I had written were old-fashioned.
In the first script the parents played a big part. Working with Julija and Aiste I realised teenagers of their age don’t care about their parents the way younger teenagers do. It was a low budget film, so there was room to improvise. We always had to improvise: there were catastrophes every day. It was such a thrill. Especially with the airplanes. You know, they were so expensive!
Thursday July 23rd we screen The Boss, Anatomy of a Crime. Director Sebastian Schindel was already a documentary maker when he read the non-fiction novel about the case of Hermogenes. He was deeply impressed and contacted the writer, the lawyer who defended the ‘real’ Hermegones, to discussed possibilities of turning the event into a film. The film premiered in Busan where it won the prestigious audience award. Ever since the film has won many prizes including four more audience awards. Also in home country Argentina the film was a box office smash.
“The writer and lawyer must have been so pleased about the success of this film.”
He helped me a lot while I worked on the script. Unfortunately he passed away three years ago. You know, the real story actually took place in Buenos Aires thirty years ago. I decided to place the story in our current time.
I think modern slavery nowadays is an even bigger problem than thirty years ago. In the Argentina newspapers you read about it every week: forced labour, sexual exploitation or child labour. It is a universal problem. Yesterday, I was at Seattle airport and I was surrounded by pamphlets: if you see people under suspicious circumstances, please give notice.
“Modern slavery is something that intrigued you?”
Structures of power intrigue me. It doesn’t only happen between the boss and employee. You can find it in any relationship. There is always someone who has power over the other one, even in a couple. Not to forget within the criminal system. You will not end up in jail if you have enough money, because you can afford a good lawyer. In Argentina the jails are full of poor criminals, while the rich and real ones walk away free.
“The Argentinian film industry is known for producing great crime films such as The Secret in their Eyes and Nine Queens. Have these films influenced you?”
Yes, of course. I think about the audience all the time. Criminal films work very well here at the box office. Yes, you can laugh about that, but I think that’s very important.
You can tell a story in many different ways: as a social drama, a thriller or as a crime film. I chose to make a crime film, because I knew I would be closer to the audience that way. If I had done some art house film, only festival programmers would have liked it.
“Didn’t you want Ricardo Darín?”
[Laughing] Of course, you always dream about it: the international star of Argentina! But I think he has commitments with other directors for the next ten years. Everybody wants him.
But you know Joaquin Furriel [playing Hermogenes ed] is a famous TV actor in Argentina. He is very popular and considered a sex symbol. In most shows he plays the handsome man, but in this film he’s an illiterate boy from the countryside. It was a wonderful experience for me, for him, but also for the audience.
“Have you also been able to find the ‘real’ Hermogenes?”
He past away. As I told you the case was thirty years ago and he was much older than the character in the film. I went to look for him, which was quite an adventure. When I finally found his house, I had the opportunity to speak with one of his sons. The real story is even worse than the film. It’s much more violent. I decided to make it easier for the audience to digest. In reality he lived in the butcher shop for 17 years. Not only with his wife but also with his two kids.
“We have spoken about modern slavery as one of the important subjects of your film, but how about the modern day meat industry?”
Because I come from a documentarian background, research is very important to me. The story happened thirty years ago, I had to go inside the modern meat industry. I’ve seen ugly and disturbing things in many butcher shops. I don’t want to say it happens everywhere, but it definitely happens.
All butchers use small quantities of bleach for their meat. Not gallons, but it is used. Also a butcher that is charming is something that hasn’t changed. Most of the clients are female and seductive.
A modern trick is sulphite. Butchers have to get a permit to use a small quantity of sulphite for the meat. But of course no one has it and they probably don’t use small quantities either.
“On the day of the screening of your film we do a veggy day. Do you still eat meat yourself?”
Yes of course. I’m from Argentina. But I do recommend you to be a smart consumer.
Friday July 24th we screen Sunrise, the psychedelic second feature film of Partho Sen-Gupta. Patho grew up in Mumbai, where he started working in the Bollywood studio’s at the age of sixteen. He received a scholarship to study at the prestigious film school La Fémis. Ever since, he has been living all around the world. In April Sunrise won the prestigious The Black Tulip Award at Imagine Film Festival. We interviewed Patho about the making of his second feature film, his struggles and ideals.
This interview is a collaboration between Roffa Mon Amour and film magazine Schokkend Nieuws
“Could you explain why it took you ten years to make your second film?”
Almost immediately after ‘Let the Wind Blow’ (2004) came out, I wrote a scenario for a second feature film, but I had trouble getting the funding.
The problem with art-house cinema today is that the production process has become very industrial. While normally a lot happens on set. There is no room for experimentation anymore. There are many norms, also for scripts. If a script doesn’t fit those norms, you have a lot of difficulties getting it produced. My scripts don’t have a lot of dialogue. Despite my descriptions they never have the ninety or hundred pages it requires. At some times I would increase the font size, but it never worked.
With Sunrise I got into the Locarno Film Festival – Open Doors co-production and from that moment the ball started rolling.
“You studied in Paris and lived abroad since then. How come did you still want to make a film about a social issue in India?”
I never lost contact with my home country. And the story has a very personal angle to it. When I was a young boy I was playing with my friends and some people tried to kidnap me. Naturally they did not succeed, but the story stayed with me for a long time.
When my daughter was born I started researching about the missing children and I found a lot of very disturbing information. The amount of children disappearing not only in India but also in the rest of the world is insane. After drugs human trafficking is the second biggest business in the world.
“You seem to believe that a story can create a certain awareness, but at the same time, you stay away from the classic storylines.”
I wanted to go away from the normal narrative: because the Indian cop story has been told many, many times before. The film is much more about the psychological scope of a human being. As human beings we have an inherent need for justice. So what happens in a situation when a child goes missing and you know that you are never going to find it again? It is the most horrible thing that can happen to a parent and a child. Is the human mind capable of finding the justice it seeks?
I also dealt with the idea of masculinity. The story is set in a very traditional Indian background. The wife is passive. She’s expressive about her pain; she is passive in her suffering. She expects her husband Joshi to do something about it.
He as the man feels castrated because he knows he can’t do anything about it. So he constructs a delirium, a kind of fantasy, in which he becomes the hero he is expected to be. I believe our dreams are a projection of what we would like to see. Joshi’s fantasies change according to his needs. Some of them seem real; some seem fake and some even entirely illusionary. He cannot sit down and cry because he is affected by his vision on masculinity. And our whole society is shaped by the structures of masculinity and femininity. For me this is a very important aspect. It is after all, a structure of power.
“Your visual style is quite hypnotic, even bordering on magic. We were reminded of Gaspar Noë or David Lynch. Was their work an inspiration? Can you tell us something about your influences?”
I suffer from a condition called Sleep Paralysis, which makes me experience terrifying but very realistic dreams. After years of trying to find a cure, I accepted it as a part of my psyche. Now, I can control these dreams and even try to explore them instead of being scared of them. I think that, in part, Sunrise and the protagonist Joshi are born from those experiences.
Lynch is definitely a great inspiration for me. I think I was mesmerized by ‘Twin Peaks’ when I first saw it on pirated VHS cassettes in the ‘90s in Mumbai. I was only used to seeing films with a linear and realistic narrative, and when I saw Lynch, it reminded me of the skewed and disjointed narratives that I saw in my nightmares. Somehow it reassured me that one could make sense of it despite the non-linear and unreal aspect. Gaspar Noé and Winding Refn’s films also have the same mesmeric quality that I admire. I can watch their films again and again and always ‘see’ something more as if they have an invisible deeper meaning hidden under the superficial aesthetic exterior. The protagonists and the situations look real but there is something existentially unreal about them. Their gaze is deep and distant and they suffer silently in their destinies. Joshi in Sunrise suffers too, and all that we see may not be real. But I also have influences from filmmakers like Dreyer, Lang and Welles. I’m also a very avid graphic novel reader and love European artists like Milo Manara, Jodorowsky etc.
“How do you see yourself in the context of India filmmakers? Do you have an connection to India’s horror-films of the eighties genre do you feel kinship to more recent filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap or Qaushiq Mukherjee, who both border between arthouse cinema and genre-cinema?”
“I do not see myself as part of any national identity. I was born, raised and started working in cinema in India but then I studied film direction and lived for more than two decades mainly in France and then in the UK and now in Australia. Due to my wandering nature, nations find it difficult to include me in their cinematographic histories and thus I don’t feel any kinship with them.”
The Indian horror cinema of the ‘80s was a very small and insignificant part of its cinematographic history. Growing up in Mumbai in the ‘80s, mainstream cinema (Bollywood) had a hegemonic control over the screens. But I was an avid film club goer. I watched great films by great filmmakers from the world over at ‘houses of culture’ of the competing cold-war powers. They all felt that they should impress their cultural propaganda upon us. I was also watching and working with a lot of ‘New wave’ Indian filmmakers like Saeed Mirza, Ketan Mehta and Sudhir Mishra. I think that genre cinema is an integral aspect of art-house cinema because it is more daring in cinematic exploration. I think it takes more risks about the subjects it treats, the narration, the acting, the lighting or the use of sound. It is not just an aesthetic or plastic choice.
“Tell me something about the amazing sound design.”
It was always the plan to create a hypnotic soundscape. The images were already there, but we needed to get into Joshi’s head. I wanted to create the universe he was in. There had to be a constant going away and coming back: a balance between real and the imaginary.
I worked with Eryck Abbecassis, who is a noise artist, and with Nicolas Becker, who did the sound design. It was quite complicated, because they way I’m explaining it to you; I was explaining it to them as well. We had quite a few disagreements. Ken Yasumoto, who is Caspar Noe’s sound designer and who is really good, was the supervising sound editor. He brought in the rain and he had some great ideas. And then there was another man, Gurwal Coïc-Gallas, who also came up with some great ideas…
“Sunrise paints a harsh, grim picture of India’s reality. How was the film received in India?”
Very badly I think. India is a proud and young nation that does not like any criticism. The Indian press collectively ignored the film during the screenings at the Mumbai Film Festival earlier this year. We are trying to get a suitable censor certificate and hope the board will allow the film to be seen by a large demographic and that it can cause some discussion about the terrible situation of missing children.
Why do we watch film? It is a fundamental question that constantly occupies your mind when you organize a film festival. An even better question would be: why do we think that you should see our unique selection of films?
Film has the extraordinary power to take you to a world that would otherwise remain unexplored. It increases your awareness of reality and it expands your ability to feel what you otherwise would not feel, to see what would have otherwise remained hidden, and to make you consider what you would not have thought before. Using the knowledge and experience you already possess, a film simultaneously helps you to reflect on your past experiences and lets you discover new ones. Films are a celebration, a warm embrace, a bitter fight, and an endless quest. And what is remarkable, is that you were there watching all of it unfold.
I can go on and on about this, for example how different films draw your attention to political, societal, emotional, relational, historical and futuristic issues. Instead of giving you a one-sided opinion on my fascination of the medium, I want you to think of your first memory of an art house film.
I will start and tell you about mine. Lilya 4-ever from Lucas Moodyson (2002). My parents had seen the film on IFFR and then it was shown later on television. I was 14, it was Sunday, and I had nothing to do. Lilya 4-ever is an intense and miserable story about a beautiful young girl that grows up in a doomed and backward village in Estonia. It is no surprise that she falls in love with a boy that takes control of her life and keeps her in Sweden to work as a prostitute. I was perhaps a bit too young and impressionable when I viewed the film as it made a huge of an impact on me. I realized: if Lilya’s life would have been mine, then I would have probably made the same choices. Within 1.5 hours I cared more for Lilya than I did about my peers at school. I wished she could have become my friend so that I could take her into my home and get her life back on track. I did not want anything to do anymore with men and I decided not to fall in love with any man ever. My fictive bond with Leyla eventually watered down, but I still realize that girls like Lilya are out there and I cannot undo the haunting impression the film left on me. I was confronted with a terrible situation, but the way this filmmaker showed it to me was also inspiring.
I believe that everyone reading this should have a connection to film like I do: a feeling of identification, and the repulsion or desire to be someone else. Film does not always have to be politically engaged nor does it have to be socially relevant or have educational value. Film pulls you out of your ordinary life and its habits of mind. How you choose that to happen and to what extent does not matter to me as long as you let yourself experience the medium before you. Believe me, it will be an enriching experience.
The power of film is the reason why we are organizing Roffa Mon Amour for the third time. There are so many good films being made every year, and our goal is to offer a stage for as many unique films as we can. That is why we invite you to join us to Roffa Mon Amour from July 22 until July 26: to let you get inspired by the five best new films in cinema this year.