“Asking others to think for us means the death of civilization.” – László Nemes
In 2015, Hungarian director László Neme took us to the shadowy barracks of Auschwitz with his incredible debut Son of Saul. His new work Sunset, another lesson in history, brings us back in time even further: to sun drenched Austria-Hungary beginning of the 20th century.
We follow Irisz Leiter, a young woman who – after spending her childhood in a foster home in Vienna – returns to Budapest. She wants to work for the leading millinery shop her parents founded before they died in a mysterious fire. The family business still operates under the name ‘Leiter’ and although a shrewd businessman now runs it, Irisz wants to be part of it.
Soon Irisz leans she used to have a brother, but who he is and where he resides is shrouded in mystery and darkness. She starts She starts searching for him, but every question she asks is answered in riddles, and every door she opens is slammed in her face just as quickly. The soft, dusty sunlight and the refinement and opulence of the extravagant hats and the clientele of the millinery are overshadowed by the ominous atmosphere of a state on the verge of collapsing.
Actress Juli Jakob, who also had a part in Son of Saul, auditioned for the part of Irisz Leiter together with thousands of other girls. “The Bela Tarr school of casting”, says Nemes, who started his carreer as Tarrs director assistant. We talk with him during IFFR . “You go out and see everyone possible. And sometimes you come back. Not because you realize there is nothing better, but because you realize that the person has always been there.”
And how! Jakab has a face in which light and dark reflect. Her character is a metaphor for the turbulence of Europe on the eve of the First World War. Nemes: “A part you can’t play, only embody.”
[RMA] Your presented Sunset to the audience as a film about “the suicide of Europe”. What is the parallel between Sunset’s Europe and nowadays Europe?
[László] If you use the words “suicide of Europe” you immediately feel that it has to do something with todays atmosphere. Working on this project – before Son of Saul – I was drawn to go back in time, to the birth of the 20th century. I wanted to make a film about a young woman at the turn of this century. Her destiny was mirroring the fate of Europe because I couldn’t understand committed suicide at that time. I really could not understand Europe. Why did they destroy themselves at the high of their civilization with two world wars? That was the departure. I tried to emerge myself in the very highly sophisticated, refined world of the early 20th century that had so much of a promise, and so many illusions. Yet, I could feel that there was something at work inside of that civilisation, to bring itself to destruction.
I think forces of optimism and the forces illusion and the propensity to build within civilization might be inseparable from the desire to undo it. And in a way this film is about this desire to destroy in the same opulent manner what we are building. And in a way that moment in history was something I could feel distinctively and organically linked to the atmosphere that we are in now.
[RMA] The hats in the film are incredible. What do they represent?
[László] The hats are the paragon of sophistication and craftsmanship, and you find the sophistication in the small details. They were all personalized. The hats symbolized the many codes that existed in that particular society and what illusions. I wanted to dive into that and find out what was behind.
[RMA] Why did you choose to focus on a young woman? In Son of Saul it was a man.
[László] I wanted to play with masculine and feminine essences. I know it’s very trendy to turn woman against man nowadays, but I really am interested in a humanistic approach. These essenses mingle; the are not separated. You could argue that this is a story about a doppelgänger.
[László] Well, I don’t want to create a great revelation, but if you read it from that point of view it ads an interesting layer.
[RMA] I just really did my best to understand Sunset.
[László] It takes time with Sunset. It’s not that kind of film. You need 10 days. Or a month. You have to infuse it.
” I think forces of optimism and the forces illusion and the propensity to build within civilization might be inseparable from the desire to undo it.”
[RMA] I thought it was your intention to not have me understand everything. Same as Saul we follow Irisz from close. I was Irisz. And she had so many questions and none of them were answered. It was a nightmare!
[László] Some were! But you are right, the confusion was part of the adventure. Irizs can’t understand the world she is thrown into. Her past, her situation and herself. You get lost in the labyrinth together with her and there is no piece of information that will give you an epiphany. It’s more in the unconscious part of the film. You have to submerge in the depth of the movie and maybe later, a month or years later, something will get out of it.
The subjective experience of life is not really conveyed in cinema. In real life, it is impossible to have am complete overview of everything. In my work, you share space and time with the one character. That’s why there are for example no top shots. I wanted to use other channels.
[RMA] Channels like the audio, which seems out of balance at times?
[László] Absolutely, and this is an aspect that for lots of filmmakers is qualified in such a conservative manner! Under the influence of television we abuse the audience to be extremely save. You are not hearing any overlapping in dialogues and by have mixing the sound the maker clearly choses the priorities. It is different in Sunset. You are emerged in a world. You have to be inside her.
[RMA] You don’t sound very hopeful about cinema.
[László] We are in an age of panic. Cinema has evolved from brave and open and taking risks with its audience, to something extremely conservative. Cinema has become a producer driven business. It has disguised itself as an authors business, which is the greatest scam of all. This civilization pretends to be free but underneath there is a tremendous tension. Conformism. It’s the biggest paradox. We live in an age that says everything is possible, but in fact everything is narrowing down. People communicate about the diversity and the democratization of cinema, but I think it’s just an excuse to make bad films.
I want to go back to essence of the cinema of 50 years ago. Interrogate the language of cinema and push the audience out of its comfort zone. Anotonioni, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa: they were masters who never took something for granted. They had their own path to take the audience on. That is completely lacking nowadays. I think cinema should defend itself by reclaiming the right to challenge the audience.
[RMA] What would you like to tell film lovers?
[László] I would say you have to be free in the broadest sense of the word. Don’t rely on preconceptions. This world has predefined us, especially when social media constantly tries to replace our brains with computers. Don’t go on Internet. I feel the attraction every day; it’s like a bad drug. It goes into our brain speaking to us, but individual experience should define our lives.
[RMA] So should they go to the movies by themselves?
[László] Yes, I think so. There is a tremendous metaphysical fear and the refusal of death in society. It is because we are pushing away all experiences that could be meaningful and valuable. Everything meaningful and valuable takes time and energy and thought. Refusing thought and asking others to think for us is the death of civilization.
[RMA] You have two phones in front of you.
[László] Yeah… Three even. And I hate myself for it.
For Cineville we had the opportunity to interview László Nemes during IFFR on his second feature film Sunset. Read the Dutch version of this conversation on their website. Sunset is now in Dutch Cinemas. Check Cineville to find out where!
Interview by: Charlotte van Zanten
Tonight IFFR opens its 48th festival with Dirty God(2019) by Sacha Polack. Apart from this film, we’d like to share some tips for the festival this year. With over 500 titles, it can be difficult to decide.
First of all: don’t go to the Lime Light section if you are a frequent cinema visitor. The films in this section will be released in cinemas so you will have another chance.
On the website of IFFR you can read some of our tips. Here you’ll find even more films we think you should go see. We haven’t seen the films we mention yet, but we have watched previous work, read or heard about them. Keep following us if you like to know what we thought about them!
- Long Day’s Journey into Night by Bi Gan
Kaili Blues was the first feature film of director Bi Gan and up until today we can recall its gorgeous visuals. Reason enough to be exited and curious about his second feature film.
Long Day’s Journey into Night came out in Cannes and supposedly made a deep impression – that 59 minute 3D long take everyone was talking about. There were also lots of rumours about a misleading marketing campaign. The film broke box office records on its opening day after marketing suggested it was a romcom rather than a challenging drama. Also, it has nothing to do with Eugene O’Neills theater play. Looking forward!
- Rafiki by Wanuri Kahiu
When the trailer of Rafiki was released we already knew: this will be a Roffa Mon Amour film. Colourful, amazing music, rebellious, energetic and above all: lots of love.
- Nuestro Tiempo by Carlos Reygadas
The work of Carlos Reygadas is mesmerizing but also ruthless. He is that kind of director that evokes strong emotions: people praise him to heaven or hate him. Think about the likes of Lars von Trier or Gaspar Noé and you know what we mean. Reygadas is a brilliant director and we love his work. You can also find us at the mastertalk on Monday January 28th.
- Black Mother by Khalik Allah
We heard lots about this artistic documentary on Jamaica, a country we know so little about yet feel very attracted to. Supposedly Black Mother shows us the countries mystical side but also its darkness. The visuals, even its stills, look already poetic.
- Knife + Heart by Yann Gonzales
Just as his first feature film les Rencontres d’Apres Minuit, Knife + Heart is probably not for everyone. But if you enjoy pretentious French directors, 70’s porn, M83, Vanessa Paradis and De Palma like thrillers you’ll sure enjoy this one. We can’t wait!
- Mastertalk Mica Levi
Remember the haunting scores of Jonathan Glazers Under The Skin and Pablo Larrains Jackie? That was Mica Levi: one of nowadays most talented composers. She is in Rotterdam with her sister Francesca to talk about scoring films. As we are collectors of soundtracks, we would love to hear her talk about her work.
- Koko-di Koko-da by Johannes Nyholm
The second feature film of Johannes Nyhold, who debuted with The Giant in 2016. The Giant was visually stunning and had a rare authentic voice. Koko-di Koko-da is a psychological horror film set in a nightmarish landscape and if it has any of the visual beauty and authenticity of its predecessor plus a bit more story line we think it is going to be amazing.
There are many more films we are looking forward to watch such as: Ash is the Purest White, The Day I Lost My Shadow, High Life, Manta Ray, Core of the World, White Noise, BNK48: Girls Don’t Cry and No More Reality Whereabouts.
When people draw up their lofty pantheons of the eternally great directors, Brian De Palma (born 1940, now 77) frequently disappears early in the cull. Of course, he has his fervent fans all over the world – more visibly and vocally now in the Internet age, with their numerous, extravagant, idolatory websites. And there has always been a steady trickle of intensely detailed analyses from a more microscopic perspective (1). But when push comes to shove, few are likely to rate De Palma alongside names like Carl Dreyer, Roberto Rossellini, Orson Welles or Jean Renoir.
What is this resistance to valuing De Palma? Partly, it is a matter of the kind of films he makes: not exactly humanist – and humanism remains, despite all protestations to the contrary, the supreme criterion for the majority of moviegoers, professional or otherwise: films centred on three dimensional, richly personalised characters, or themes in the traditional literary or theatrical sense (love, death, struggle, hope …). And, despite his own claim that he moved a little more toward “character-driven” stories at the time of Casualties of War (1989) and Carlito’s Way (1993), De Palma, it seems, is forever fated to be included in the legion of filmmakers deemed variously cold, mechanical, calculating, even “cruel and indifferent” (as David Thomson called him) – turning people into puppets or ciphers for his formalistic games. And when those games involve the spectacular depiction of sex and/or violence, as is frequently the case, we are faced with a decidedly impure cinema.
The filmmaker himself sees the matter entirely differently – and he has expressed himself on this point many times, in numerous interviews and in the feature documentary De Palma (Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow, 2015). For him, by contrast, what he creates is pure cinema – exploiting to the hilt what it is that cinema, and cinema alone, can do, engineer and create: movement, spectacle, action, intrigue, suspense, catastrophe … a constant, finely balanced dance between the opposing energies of chaos and control.
However, there is one clear and present danger in attending too closely to De Palma’s interviews and other public statements. He is one of the many filmmakers who do not really enjoy speaking or theorising about their own work. De Palma has reluctantly crafted a ‘persona’ for the public – a well-rehearsed story to tell about himself and his life that he unfailingly repeats, without variation, from one platform to the next. Finally (and this is again true of many directors, as well as artists in general), this story is more a mask than a confession. As any psychoanalyst could tell you, the tale that is confidently repeated verbatim the moment that a patient hits the couch is a defense mechanism rather than a genuine self-exploration. In De Palma’s personal case, the public biography both highlights and obscures something essential about his trajectory as a cinematic creator.
Brian De Palma is a product of the 1960s – of its counter-cultural currents, and its political upheavals. The two, interconnected films that first brought him a measure of public attention – Greetings (1968) and Hi, Mom! (1970), both starring a young Robert De Niro in his pre-Martin Scorsese phase – embodied the director’s stated dream: “If I could be the American Godard, that would be great”(2). They are low-budget, anarchic, scattershot, semi-improvised films that “act out”, in comical-grotesque terms, the various obsessions, anxieties and liberations of those years as De Palma experienced and reflected them. Some version of Women’s Liberation jostles with paranoiac fears over vast government conspiracies and cover-ups; the sudden intermixing of white and black cultures on home turf intersects with the war in Vietnam.
At the same time, the 1960s were, for the USA and other Western countries, a period when mass media exploded – and seemed to truly mediate and distort all lived experience, whether through the TV window of the nightly news, or the big screen fantasies of Hollywood movie entertainment. De Palma’s earliest shorts reflect his wide-eyed immersion in both popular and art cinema traditions (Woton’s Wake, 1962); his commissioned documentaries explore new “modes of vision” in technology and art (The Responsive Eye, 1966); and his collaboration with avant-garde theatre guru Richard Schechner’s The Performance Group in Dionysus in 69 (1970) captured – across a split-screen – the heady dream to “break on through to the other side” of all inhibiting social codes and conventions, even to the point of shattering and fleeing the screen-spectacle itself.
None of these formative experiences in 1960s counterculture ever entirely leave De Palma, even at the most seemingly “mainstream” moments of his career, such as Mission: Impossible (1996). Some of the actors from his earliest efforts keep popping up, such as De Niro and especially the ultra-stylised William Finley (1940-2012). Experimenting with “expanded vision” (for instance, with split or multiple screens) remains an enduring passion. The confrontational politics do not disappear, either, as Redacted (2007), his fierce anti-war pamphlet for the Internet age, proves. Even the dream of ultimately “breaking out” of society’s status quo returns – now in cosmic or apocalyptic terms – in respectively, Mission to Mars (2000) and Snake Eyes (1998), which was originally to conclude with a giant tidal wave washing the whole mess of Atlantic City down the drain.De Palma’s oft-repeated account of his wild 1960s ride, however, concludes with a nasty sting in the tale. At the time of Greetings or Hi, Mom!, he appeared on a television talk show. As he recalls it, he took the opportunity to extoll the virtues of personal freedom and political revolution. But at a certain point, the host politely interrupted – in order to cut an advertisement selling some banal consumer product. It was a primal scene of disillusionment in the Life of Brian: he had been swallowed up by the dominant capitalistic, media system; he had become just another entertaining diversion, a sideshow in the carnival of America’s self-propagation. So many of his films – from Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972), on which he lost creative control, to Redacted and beyond, will re-tell some version, duly transposed, of this “formative experience” that bred life-long wariness and cynicism in him. Qualities of character that (as, for example, producer Art Linson’s affectionate portrait of the director in A Pound of Flesh makes clear) have no doubt helped him navigate the regularly treacherous waters of commercial filmmaking. (more…)
It is hardly surprising that the graceful film Live Cargo reminds us of on-screen poetry. While shooting his first feature-film, director Logan Sandler spent his evenings before going to sleep reading the collection of poems from Soleil Cou Coupé, by Aime Césaire.
Shot in black and white, Sandler’s new film vaguely reminded us of the sensual film Soy Cuba by Michail Kalatozov. However, Live Cargo has its own unique voice. The film tells the story of Nadine and Lewis who, in a state of mourning, retreat to the small island in the Bahamas where Nadine spent most of her childhood. Through incredible cinematography and an emotional storyline, Live Cargo offers an insight into life in the Bahamas like we have never seen before.
Similar to his protagonist Nadine, Sandler spent most summers and winters of his teenage years in the Bahamas. His memories formed a solid foundation for his extraordinary first feature film.
RMA: Watching your film, I wondered how important other art forms are to you.
Logan: I came to film as a realization that my love for other art forms could be put together in a sense with cinema. I love photography and I love poetry. From Rimbaud to the lyrics of Jim Morrison.
RMA: You could almost say that Live Cargo is a film with two different storylines. One is the story of Nadine and Lewis. Their story is emotional but also sensual and moody. Is there any particular poem you referred to?
Logan: While I was on set I would always return to poetry. Before I went to sleep, I would read a collection of poems called Soleil Cou Coupé by Aimé Césaire. The title of the collection translates to Solar Throat Slashed. Césaire is a brilliant author, who was born on the island of Martinique. His work often touches upon colonialism in The Caribbean. He’s very original and surreal. I don’t know if there is a direct reference but in an abstract sense this collection was alive within me.
When I wrote the script with the film’s co-writer,Thymaya Payne, we had one book in the writing room that we would refer to. That was The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Interestingly enough, we went to the island Bimini for location scouting. It was there that we learned he had lived there for a few years. His time on the island inspired many of his most famous pieces. Immediately after leaving the island we reached out to Dree Hemingway, his granddaughter, for the roll of Nadine. It felt meant to be. Coincidence? Maybe not, but there was some type of greater force at play. It kind of came to us.
RMA: How did the script develop?
Logan: Thymaya Payne was my mentor at the American Film Institute. We were talking one day and I started telling him about this idea for a movie, set in the Caribbean, specifically the Bahamas, where my family has a house. He was very intrigued. About three months later, we went down there to write. We already wrote an outline in L.A., which we threw away as soon as we set foot on the island. It didn’t feel authentic to the place. It’s difficult to write something for The Caribbean when you are not there. We wanted to listen to the island and to its people. I think we made the first draft of the script in nine days. It came out rather quickly.
RMA: In another story we get to know some of the local inhabitants of the island: island authority Roy, young Myron and corrupt Doughboy. They have delicate power-relationships. Would you consider The Bahamas like a miniature world, or do the islands have their own unwritten rules?
Logan: There is a line in the film by the police officer when he is speaking to Roy, that comes to mind. He compares the out-islands to the Wild Wild West. I’ve heard that comparison from many locals during my time spent in the Bahamas. It definitely has a lawless atmosphere. The Bahamas are also often referred to as the cowboy islands. There isn’t much police on the smaller islands. And with that, some of those islands also have a history of trafficking.
Being in the Bahamas for so long, you begin to see different sides. On one side, it is a place for reflection. For the visitors and for the locals too. There are not many distractions and we are not constantly on our cellphones and on Wi-Fi. But the island is more than that. What intrigued me about the Bahamas, is that these islands have a reputation to many that there is only happiness and vacation time, which is not true. Like any place, there is more to the islands than meets the eye. Although, we do end the film with a sense of hope. I guess, in order to find the light we have to go through darkness.
RMA: Like a hurricane?
Logan: The storm was needed for the film. If you want to tell the story of the tropics, you must include the volatile weather. I love storms. It’s works great as a physical force, but also as a metaphor with many different meanings.
Interview by: Charlotte van Zanten
Elias is that kind of unpretentious character that everyone likes. He works as an assistant-designer in a factory in São Paulo. While the employees work long and hard during the daytime, after nightfall they seek solace in drinking and nocturnal adventures. Elias doesn’t find happiness in his job, but in friendships with his co-workers. While the temperatures start rising and summer is underway the factory workers find the pressure getting higher and so is their need to release!
Intrigued by the power of pleasure as catharsis director and anthropologist Marcelo Ceatano dived into the lives of factory workers in the locomotive of Brazil’s economy: São Paulo. It resulted in a colorful film that celebrates life in a way only the Brazilians can: surrounded with friends, music, food and drinks while singing, talking, dancing and making out. A heartwarming social drama that closes the difference between black and white, poor and rich, man and woman, gay, straight and transsexual.
With this first feature film, Caetano joins the latest cinematic movement in Brazil in which characters are human and modest, and where borders have faded.
[RMA] How did you get into filmmaking?
[Marcelo] As an anthropology student, I programmed for a cine-club. Once we invited the director whose film we screened, Kiko Goifman, and I asked him for a job. I was alone in São Paulo with little money.
I worked as an assistant-director and started shooting short films. The film that opened the door to fiction was Tattoo by Hilton Lacerda. It was the biggest production I worked on until that moment.
Most of my work comes from Rio de Janeiro or from Recife even though I live in São Paulo. I don’t identify a lot with cinema from São Paulo; it is too academic. There is only one director that I like a lot and that is Anna Muyleart. She is my closest link to São Paulo cinema.
[RMA] Why do you still live in São Paulo?
[Marcelo] There is a saying in Brazil: “Either you go to São Paulo or you go to São Pedro.” São Pedro is the Spanish name of Saint Peter, keeper of the gates to heaven. I’m attracted to the energy of the city. Relationships are intense because you don’t know whether you are going to stay for one or ten years. It’s a big capitalistic city where people are constantly on the move. That temporary energy is incredible.
Besides, São Paulo has a lot of culture to offer. There is great theater and, in fact, I like to go to the theater rather than to the movies.
On the other hand, I also know it is perverse. “Without São Paulo Brazil would not even have an economy,” they say. The film is like a reaction to that. If you live in a city that is built on labor, pleasure has a different function. It’s like a catharsis.
The working class of São Paulo has a few options after work. Go to church and pray; go to the soccer station and get crazy; go to shopping mall and spend money, or just get very drunk. But you need that release. Your body and mind are domesticated and in a repetitive mode. If you join people who get out of factories and go out with them, you’ll be saddened and at the same time amazed by how much they drink.
[RMA] You are not part of this working class. Where did you find inspiration?
[Marcelo] There is a YouTube channel called Viral Films where people upload after-work videos. It’s an incredible production showing how catharsis is registered on film. People are drunk, singing and dancing on the streets.
Some of the scenes in Corpo Elétrico are inspired by these videos, At a certain point, it was trending for straight guys that had gotten drunk at a soccer game to wear their shorts as a dress.. All these vulgar video’s interested me a lot.
[RMA] When I spoke to Gabriel Mascaro he said that one of the major themes in Neon Bull was showing that people are ambiguous beings by nature.
[Marcelo] Gabriel is a straight guy who has a different place in the gender discussion. He is sensitive, not a chauvinist masochist like the rest of them. I think he looks at these masculine males and imagines their other side.
In my case it’s different. There is no scandal in being feminine, whereas in Gabriel’s world it is. But we are discussing the same things.
[RMA] Your film shows a society with no social hierarchy. Is São Paulo going to be that city in the future?
[Marcelo] It is a dream of solidarity, but it is not impossible. My group of friends is this diverse but for now it is fantastical. Gabriel said this very well, he said that we are inventing an image of society and it is our power as fiction writers to do that. It is a way to resist the current situation. We show something that is distant and absurd as an actual possibility.
I do believe the margins of society are much more tolerant and integrated. There is an outcast solidarity that is rare in any other part of society. If you go to a favela, you’ll find that most leaders of the communities are old women, transgender people and transvestites.
Interview by: Charlotte van Zanten
In the first edition of Roffa Mon Amour we screened La Playa DC, a Colombian film that offers insight into the subculture of immigrant teenagers with a passion for braiding and shaving their hair into true pieces of art. Director Juan Andres Aragao’s second feature-film doesn’t move away from this subject. In this film, three immigrant teenagers grow up in a complex environment. Contrary to the protagonists of La Playa DC, the young immigrants in X500 live thousands of kilometers apart from each other. However, they all have to deal with similar difficulties of adjusting to their new environments.
David, a young farmer, moves to Mexico City to find work and has a hard time getting used to the violence of the city. By dyeing his hair blue and shaping it into a mohawk, he finds his place in the punk scene of the city. In the coastal regions of Colombia, teenager Alex’ dreams come true when he gets the opportunity to immigrate to America. However, when he finds his little brother is being seduced to join a group of local gangsters, he is forced to choose between his own fortune and that of his family. The third character is Maria, a young Filipina girl, who is forced to move from Manila to live with her grandmother in Quebec after her mother dies. She has a hard time adjusting to her new environment, until she befriends a group of rebellious Filipino teenagers.
[RMA] I can’t believe it was five years ago since we spoke for the very first time.
[Juan] Yes! time passes fast, doesn’t it?
[RMA] But you must have grown older after such an ambitious project! I remember from La Playa DC that you did a lot of field research.
[Juan] [Laughing] Yes, and same as La Playa DC, I started this project spending time in the spaces where I wanted to shoot the film. I spoke with many people. I observed the streets, the places they went to work and to party. This is important to me because it helps me to develop strong characters. They are the ones that dictate the story and decide what is going to happen.
[RMA] It must have been different from the boys in La Playa DC, to infiltrate into a Filipina girls’ life for X500, though.
[Juan] Yes, it was definitely a challenge to try and feel her experience. But this is what I love about making films. To plunge into a different reality and to get to know people that are so different from me but, at the same time, share a lot.
[RMA] When I interviewed you about La Playa DC, you said you wanted to make a film about what it means to be a teenager in a hostile environment. For X500 you stayed on the same subject.
[Juan] What interests me a lot as a director is human transformation. Being a teenager and an immigrant are both elements that make this transformation very strong. With X500, I wanted to take this universal subject of transformation and make it interact for a very urban and sometimes violent environment.
[RMA] In La Playa DC, you portrayed a subculture where physical appearances, mainly hair, were very important. In X500, you explore subcultures with a focus on very typical physical appearances once more.
[Juan] When you are a teenager, a transformation often starts from the exterior. In X500 I explore three different alternatives of this transformation. In some stories, the transformation becomes deeper because, at some point, the physical appearance embodies how the character feels and helps the character to find a place inside the community. In other stories, the transformations do not connect with who the characters are.
[RMA] It seems that the new generation of filmmakers from Colombia likes to play with triptych story structures: often only with the threat of violence, but little actual bloodshed. (Violencia (2015) by Jorge Forero, Oscuro Animal(2016) by Felipe Guerrero).
[Juan] Like you mentioned, I show people in a complex and violent environment but I don’t want them to be in a hopeless space. I want to show how they resist because I believe that hope comes from people reinventing themselves in order to go forward.
In my research I found some difficulty to infiltrate subcultures, such as the punk scene in Mexico, because the kids are in hostile places and therefore suspicious by nature. It took me weeks to break the ice and gain their trust. But this is my favorite way to work. It can bring such a light and a level of detail to the acting that you wouldn’t have if you work with professional actors.
[RMA] This production clearly had a much bigger budget than La Playa DC. You must have had a proper script to show the producers. Did you use any of it after doing research?
[Juan] I had a very strong script but while shooting we left it aside. I wanted to give freedom to the actors to portray the scenes in their own way. They didn’t have to learn lines. In fact, none of them even read the script! But it did its job to finance the project.
[RMA] You are interested in people physically reinventing themselves. Did you ever reinvent yourself?
[Juan] Yes, actually I did! I was a punker for a period in my life. And no, I don’t have any photos of that period.
Interview by: Charlotte van Zanten
Child pornography disguised as a cautionary documentary. Exploitative. Gross. These are just a few of the angry and outraged reactions to Kids after the film came out in 1995. The opposition praised the film for its raw and forthright energy, and its breathtaking images that show the beauty and tragedy of the lost youth of New York. One thing is for sure: Kids was the most notorious film of the nineties and left its mark on generations of youths.
Like many film productions, Kids started off almost as an anthropological research. Larry Clark – already an acclaimed photographer, known for his unpolished portraits of teenagers doing drugs and having casual sex in suburban America – wanted to make something on the skate scene of New York. He taught himself how to skate at the age of 50 and spent two years in Washington Square Park getting to know the skaters.
There is an online video where one of them, Leo Fitzpatrick, who plays protagonist Tully, explains how Larry would hang around taking photos, and that there were a lot of rumours about “what the hell he was doing there, because it’s pretty strange for a guy his age to be hanging out with young skateboarders.”
However, they slowly got used to him and Larry always knew it would be Leo who would star in his first feature film, once he would have come up with storyline.
It was the summer of ’92, the middle of the HIV epidemic, and the number of aids-related deaths was rising every year. Condoms were given out to children randomly on the streets and in high schools. In the same video, Larry talks about meeting a 15 year-old skater who said “using condoms is for fucking virgins.” Over the summer, Larry noticed him bring at least three very young girls to the park.
That is how the shocking storyline of Kids was born: what if a girl has sex for the very first time with a guy who likes virgins and he gives her HIV?
As awful as the story of Kids is, as big of a New York dream the film was for its crew of amateurs. After having this revelation for the storyline, Larry called Harmony Korine, who he had recently met on the street, and who had handed him a VHS copy of a film he made. Harmony was 19-years-old at that time, and would always carry around some of his films in a backpack, in case he would run into someone famous. On the back he had written the phone-number of his grandma, where he lived. Harmony had never written a script before, but he let Larry read a 30-minute draft of an assignment that he had just done for school.
The rest is history. When Kids came out, it catapulted Harmony, Larry and the complete young and non-professional cast into fame. Chloë Sevigny, Korine’s childhood friend who played the role of Jenny, became a countercultural icon and the ultimate it-girl of the nineties.
If you are worried about what it must have been like on the set of Kids, don’t be. Harmony, as well as Leo, confirmed making Kids was like the greatest summer holiday ever.
On a fictional island nation called Besco, newly-elected president Danielle Richard organizes a confidential meeting with the Canadian government. The island is going through an economically challenged period and her aim is to renegotiate old mining agreements. Pays tells the story of three women handling and balancing their careers and personal life. We are confronted with the struggles and doubts of President Danielle, of Felix, a young and idealistic Canadian parliament member, and of Emily, an American mediator.
The ambitious second feature-film of director Chloe Robichaud is not only a psychological portrait, it is also a political drama, reminding us of the Danish political television drama Borgen. Businesslike political negotiations become endless discussions about environment vs. exploitation and employment opportunities vs. power relationships. Robichaud tops this with the large dose of sexism that women everywhere can still find themselves confronted with on a daily basis. It is not surprising that this film is considered very recognizable for half of the world’s population, yet also truly eye-opening to some.
[RMA] How did you get into filmmaking?
[Chloé] I always knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. My dad had a lot of films and I used to watch many of them. Even as a teenager, I started writing small scripts. I studied cinema in university and after that I went to a private school for six months, that was specialized in directing. When I got out of school I started working on my first feature film Sarah Prefers to Run. So here I am now.
[RMA] Your first feature film went to Cannes. What was it easier to make a second film after that?
[Chloé] In terms of funding it was easier, because Sarah Prefers to Run did well in the box-office in Québec. But Pays was much harder to write. There were more characters and it involved politics.
[RMA] Do you have a specific interest in politics or did you chose this subject because it is a man’s world and you wanted to write about that?
[Chloé] In university I did a lot of complementary classes in politics. I have always been interested in social issues. But, for sure, it’s a man’s world so it was the perfect set-up to talk about all those issues that women are facing.
[RMA] How did you research your characters? It must be difficult to empathize with a white alpha male.
[Chloé] [Laughing] Yes, it was. And I wanted the political scenes to feel as realistic as possible. So I met with many politicians, mediators and press attachés.
But to build the women characters, I would say it was mostly my imagination, because I could relate to what my characters were facing.
[RMA] There were some classic sexist situations in Pays and, for a moment, I imagined you had a list of events you were confronted with in your own life and you used all of it.
[Chloé] [Laughing] I didn’t have a list, but unconsciously I had many situations in my head that I wanted to bring to the light.
The funny thing is that, when I gave the script to some male politicians, they said: You know, it’s really more sexist than this, you should go deeper.” It gave me legitimacy.
[RMA] Your film has been called ‘feminist’ and ‘female-centric’. This might also cause certain people to avoid watching it.
[Chloé] The fact that I have three female characters raises questions, whereas if a man would have three male characters no one would even take notice. There is a lot of sexism, even in the film industry. In interviews I always have to talk about the fact that I am a ‘female director’. But being confronted with these issues myself is also a reason for me to keep on making films. I want to raise questions.
[RMA] Besides beautiful, your actors also look intelligent.
[Chloé] I’m glad you think they look intelligent because that was one of the main criteria for the casting. They have a great interior life. I wanted three women that had different personalities but who, at the same time, shared a similar inner sensibility. You can feel that they relate to each other because of that.
RMA: I was very impressed with Felix’ [Nathalie Doummar] singing.
Chloé: In the script she was supposed to do hip-hop and ‘be funny’. But a few weeks before shooting she invited me to an event she organized to raise money for Syrian refugees. Here she suddenly started singing. The song was by Anne Sylvestre and it was so beautiful that I asked her to sing that instead. We did it in one take.
[RMA] The film says it is based on true events.
[Chloé] It is more a way of saying that, although we watch fiction, we are still watching reality because women are confronted with situations comparable to the characters in Pays all the time.
But there are also other issues the film refers to. There is a mining industry in Quebec and we let companies take our resources. The film is also criticizing the attitude of Canadian mining industries in Argentina and Chili.
Interview by: Charlotte van Zanten
Some of the starting points of Martijn Maria Smits’ second feature film Waldstille were a country song by Bill Callahan; Drover, and the concept of a man on a crusade trying to free himself from the past. It’s quite a burden. Driving back home drunk, high and agitated from a carnival celebration, protagonist Ben causes a car accident that kills his girlfriend and mother of their daughter Cindy. Ben goes to jail and when he is released years later, he finds he has lost everything, including custody of Cindy. Living in the small village of Waldstille it seems impossible to start over again.
[RMA] How did you get into filmmaking?
[Martijn] I wanted to be an artist, a writer or a painter. But my Dutch was really bad and so were my drawings. My older brother was great at drawing and he won many competitions. Compared to him, it was clear that I wasn’t good at anything. My parents sent me to many different schools, but I was kicked out all the time. It was quite miserable.
At last they sent me off to Antwerp, to study photography. My father is a photographer and he works for the criminal investment department, so they thought that I would at least be able to join the police after. But after the first years I switched to audio-visual studies and that’s how it all started.
[RMA] Waldstille was shot in Prinsenbeek, the small village where you grew up. What was it like to go back?
[Martijn] It was very strange. My two older brothers and I were notorious in the village. Some people reacted very strong to my return, while some, whom I thought would respond strong, didn’t.
My neighbours, for example, were strictly religious Catholics. As a child, I would sometimes be on the rooftop sunbathing and smoking pot, and they would be in the garden with the whole church-community giving me dirty looks. Their children weren’t allowed to hang out with me. They were very surprised to find out that I hadn’t become a criminal. I shot part of my film in their house.
[RMA] Sounds like good source of inspiration for the film.
[Martijn] Yes. It was also revenge for the time that the whole village was against me and everyone forbade their children to go out with me. This was a way for me to get back at them, because all of their children have now become low-life rednecks.
[RMA] So the village was important for the development of the story.
[Martijn] The story was actually set in a big city at first. But in a city it is much easier to hide, whereas in a village you can’t: it’s a community. As soon as you show the heart of a village or simply a church, you can feel that vibe.
“I sat down with the cinematographer and we spoke about all the spectacular scenes we would use in the teaser of the film: a broken man walking out of a prison; the car-accident et cetera. I said: let’s cut out all those scenes.”
[RMA] We describe your film as a countryside drama, but thinking back I realise that the amount of drama is very limited.
[Martijn] Have you seen Whiplash? There is an incredible car accident in that film. In the script we had a similar accident, but it was outrageously expensive to realize and it would mean I had to do a lot concessions.
I sat down with Frank van der Eeden, the cinematographer, and we spoke about all the spectacular scenes we would use in the teaser of the film: a broken man walking out of a prison; the car-accident et cetera. I said: let’s cut out all those scenes. We already know them from all the other films anyway. It became our drive to get rid of expensive scenes that we have seen too often.
[RMA] [Laughing] Ok, sounds like smart filmmaking.
So if the village wasn’t important for the plot, it must have been the character of Ben, the man who has done something incredibly stupid and has to live with that burden and feeling of guilt.
[Martijn] Before Waldstille, I sent another project to the Dutch Film Fund that got rejected. At that time, The Netherlands was in the middle of the [economic] crisis and there were intense debates on whether artistic films actually had to be made at all. That night I decided to write a commercial synopsis. A Western about a man who goes back to his village and isn’t welcome anymore. You can feel there is a dark past behind him, but you don’t know what has happened.
[RMA] You seem very resilient. In one film you have revenged your childhood village and the Dutch Film Fund.
[Martijn] [Laughing] I would read synopses of films that were featured in the Filmkrant to come to understand what people wanted. And I used a classic story structure, like a status-quo, and then I destroy it. Normally, I make films about people who are already destroyed and then the film is about how this slowly results in an emotional outburst.
[RMA] You currently live in Palazzolo Acreide, a very small village on Sicily. Isn’t the vibe there similar to Prinsenbeek?
[Martijn] When we just arrived here, I spent some time alone and everyone soon loved me. When my wife got back, I introduced her to some of my new friends and she got into some heated discussion with one of them. It was then that I realized it is that same kind of feeling. As easy as you are loved by a small community, you are probably also despised.
Interview by: Charlotte van Zanten
Aiman is a 28-year-old Malay correctional officer is recently transferred to Singapore’s top prison. When he is asked, on his first day of work, why he’s chosen this profession, his answer is perfectly Christian and clear: He wants to help those who want to change. However, the real reason has everything to do with his family’s history, which is gradually revealed.
Analyzing the psyche of the executioner Apprentice offers an inside on the Death Penalty that is not preachy, but instead provides a different point of entry into the discussion. Choosing physical scars over violence and introspection over aggression Bunfeng delivers a prison film that is horrendous and shocking.
[RMA] Did you always know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
[Junfeng] I wanted to be a filmmaker since I was 15! I loved the idea of make-belief, that films can take the audience into a different world, and give people a perspective they otherwise wouldn’t see. Since 15, I’ve wanted to be in filmmaking, but I first started doing art direction and production design when I first went to film school.
[RMA] How did you get the idea for the story?
[Junfeng] I wanted to explore the point of view of an executioner. But instead of looking at someone who is already doing the job, I thought the moral and ethical dilemmas of someone who is about to take on the job would be more interesting to look at. I’m against the death penalty, but I hold the unpopular view where I come from. I felt that a film that is not preachy, but provides a different point of entry into the discussion about the death penalty would be helpful.
[RMA] Why did you name the film Apprentice? It makes sense, because it is about a young man learning a profession, but it is obviously a very shocking profession.
[Junfeng] Because the film is very much about Aiman “learning the ropes” from Rahim. And through that learning, they develop a father-son type of relationship, which pulls Aiman into a deeper dilemma.
[RMA] How did you research the character of Aiman? Have you spoken with executioners?
[Junfeng] Yes, I interviewed a couple of retired executioners and tried to understand where they stood on the issue and how they felt doing their jobs. I also spoke with religious counselors who had walked with inmates on their final walks, and families whose breadwinners had been executed, to understand the kinds of traumas that they might have been through. It was a fascinating journey. The first prison that I got to visit was actually an abandoned prison in Australia called Maitland Gaol. It is now a prison museum. It ended up being one of our filming locations because we couldn’t find locations in Singapore or Southeast Asia that were suitable or available for filming.
[RMA] Do you believe as a filmmaker it is your responsibility to raise awareness?
[Junfeng] I wouldn’t call it a responsibly. I happen to care about issues that concern human rights and I find a lot of compelling human stories that come from these issues. I believe through films and storytelling, an issue no longer remains just an issue, but a human experience – so it’s not just cerebral or intellectual, but emotional and psychological as well. And that helps people understand things they otherwise wouldn’t understand.
Interview by: Charlotte van Zanten
Situated in the crumbling ruins of Athens’ 2004 Olympic Village, a group of teenagers idles away their youth. Their energy is turbulent while they carry out self-destructive games and rituals.
We follow Dimitris, one of the older, tall and stronger-looking kids. We meet his alcoholic mum, we walk around the scrappy marble factory where he has a job, we watch him tenderly petting his pit-bull, which he rents out for money as a stud, and we see him having rough sex with his girlfriend Anna.
Park portrays the dystopian story of a lost generation in contemporary Greece, reminding us of masterpieces such as Kids by Larry Clark, Gummo by Harmony Korine, and Pixote by Hector Babenco. A must see, if only for the incredible shots of the bleached concrete remains of the Olympic Village.
RMA: How did you get into filmmaking?
Sofia: I studied to become an electrical engineer. Even though cinema was my passion, I didn’t have confidence that it could be my profession. After watching a retro-perspective of Luis Buñuel I wanted to give it a try. He was so crazy and his directing was so free. I started studying in the afternoon and working as an assistant director.
My work as an assistant director taught me a lot. I knew what I was going to face when I wanted to make a feature film. Sometimes I wished I could have been a little more naive, because knowing everything is not always good!
RMA: How important was the location of the film, a deserted Olympic Village, for the story?
Sofia: From the beginning, the main idea of Park was ‘a group of kids in an deserted place’. Kids are full of life and energy and I wanted to see what would happen if I would put them in a dead space with no exit. I knew it would become violent and sad.
Later someone told me about the Olympic Village and how, after the games of 2004, the government decided to give the apartments to poor families for little rent. The games were partly to blame for the collapse of the economy. Therefore, using this location became an almost cynical comment to the pride of Greece. Greece tends to constantly look back instead of focusing on the future. The Olympic Games were invented here and people wanted them to come back to their birthplace. I wanted to show the elements that define Greece.
RMA: Just like the tourist resort?
Sofia: I thought it would be interesting if the kids would try to escape their reality and would end up trapped in another reality, similar to theirs. A tourist resort is just another micro-cosmos with aggression, sadness and conflicted emotions.
RMA: I was actually surprised to find out Park was made by a female director. What was it like to portrait aggressive teenage boys?
Sofia: [Laughing] Yes, well, these explosions of energy and aggression could only be boys. The main characters were professional actors, but the kids were living in and around the Olympic Village. I spent a lot of time with them to establish their trust. They could be really intense and I had to be stronger. They never read the script. I didn’t want them to feel as if they had to deliver something. I’d simply describe the situation to them and give them some choreography.
Sometimes they added new details. There is a scene where Dimitris and another guy start fighting. I told them what to expect: “These guys fight and the dog is there too and he’ll start barking and become aggressive.”
One of the kids responded by falling down on his knees and imitating the dog. I was amazed because this was a scene where I wanted to show how the kids become animals and he gave me this! So I told him to keep doing that. He said he didn’t want to, but I told him he had to become a dog now.
RMA: It still looks natural, although he obviously had to repeat this a few times.
Sofia: [Laughing] A lot of times! He had pads on his knees. He did it twenty or thirty times.
RMA: The body is very important in the film.
Sofia: The energy of the film had to be physical. The bodies define the kids. Some are strong, some are weak and some are handicapped or physically hurt. Anna’s character is a great metaphor. She used to be an athlete, but now she is disabled. Her legs are full of scars: she is like a ruin. Like the Olympic Village; it used to be strong but now it’s destroyed.
RMA: As for the character of Dimitris, I thought about Baldwin’s quote: “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”
Sofia: That was the build-up of this character, with as a climax the hotel room, where Jens, the German tourist, gives him a little food, a drink, and some space to talk. It means nothing, but to Dimitris it does. When Jens says he has to leave, I knew it was going to be painful and that it would make Dimitris really aggressive.
Interview by: Charlotte van Zanten
“The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”
This quote by James Baldwin has been a source of inspiration for Mali-born director Daouda Coulibaly. Literature is his passion because books have the power to challenge and change people from inside out. With Wùlu, Coulibaly has managed to do exactly the same. This truly intoxicating thriller, which has been compared to Scarface by renowned film critics, questions your perspectives in a way that only novels can.
Ladji, an ambitious, 20 year-old bus driver, works hard to keep his sister away from prostitution. Familiar with the ins & outs of trafficking, he begins transporting large amounts of Marijuana and cocaine from Mali to Senegal and Timbuktu, to provide on the demands of Al-Qaeda. Ladji is extremely successful and earns more money than he ever thought possible, but he soon realizes he has to pay an even higher price.
[RMA] You studied at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, a university that has little to do with filmmaking.
[Daouda] I studied economics. I thought I was happy in what I was doing until something happened in my life that made me doubt that. I moved to cinema and started as a location manager. I later learned how to edit and after that I tried my hand as a director by making my first short film. Because of this short, I met some people from Focus Features who had seen it and did a program about Africa called Africa First.
[RMA] Is filmmaking about getting to know people?
[Daouda] It is a lot about networking. With Focus Features I made another short film that travelled to many festivals. I got to know a lot of people and after that I started thinking of making my first feature film.
But I did not have formal education. And I don’t have a lot of film references. To me filmmaking is more about what I have to say.
[RMA] Judging from your film, I thought you had a background in scriptwriting.
[Daouda] I like writing the most. Maybe my inspiration is more in literature. I’m interested in organized crime and James Baldwin, for example. He was the one who wrote that the most dangerous creation is the man who has nothing to lose. Amongst criminals there are a lot who feel that way.
And then there was what we, in Mali, call “The Air Cocaine Affair”. A plane crashed with potentially 5 to 10 tons of cocaine inside. No one found it, of course, which is how we came to understand how big the phenomenon was.
[RMA] What is your relationship with Mali?
[Daouda] I grew up in France but I have always been going back and forth. I was going to Guinea, Mali and Senegal. I made my two short films there. Somehow, to me, filmmaking has always been connected to Africa. Maybe because I live in France and I know how little people know of Africa. They think there are no big cities and it’s only savanna.
Through filmmaking, I try to propose something new. It’s not just misery and disease. There are people with dreams, just like in Europe.
For Wùlu I lived in Mali for four years to do research and talk to people who were connected to the drug industry. I was completely emerged.
[RMA] I understood you shot most of the film in Senegal?
[Daouda] One week in Mali and six weeks in Senegal. It was supposed to be the other way around until there was an attack in Bamako in March. It became too dangerous and therefore we relocated all the interior scenes to Senegal.
[RMA] You film is about Ladji but at the same time it also touches on politics, crosses borders and visits Al Qaeda. Wùlu could have easily been over two hours.
[Daouda] I wanted to focus on the character. Ladji is the film and I thought ninety minutes would be enough to explain him. I do hope the film gets people interested in Mali and research some politics. I also hope they understand the consequences of drug abuse in the West. This industry does not only influence my life but also yours. Africa is not another planet. It is part of the world.
[RMA] Another character with remarkable development is Ladji’s sister Aminata [singer and model Inna Modja], who is introduced to us as a prostitute but ends up buying art and designer cloth and speaking only French.
[Daouda] The more money, the more education, the more people speak French. Aminata’s character has been criticized a lot but to me she symbolizes freedom. She easily adapts to her new life and she does whatever she wants. She enjoys her wealth but is she to blame? She is much smarter and stronger than most of us.
I thought it was interesting that it is not Ladji killing people that shocks an audience but a woman who sells her body for money.
[RMA] I read actor Habib Dembélé was a candidate for the presidential elections in Mali.
[Daouda] [Laughing] I forgot about that! But it’s true. He was not serious though, just provoking the system.
Interview by: Charlotte van Zanten
“Because horrible situations are easier to digest when you wrap them up in pastels.”
This is how Director Eduardo Casanova’s answers questions from the audience after its Berlinale screening. And just another reason for us to screen his highly original, taboo-breaking feature film Pieles. No matter how horrible the character’s situation is at times, the incredible art direction, energetic soundtrack and centred cinematography give Pieles a hopeful touch like a Wes Anderson film.
In Pieles we follow the lives of different characters that all have something in common in a way. They are deformed or as our society would view them: freaks. There is a pregnant dwarf, a woman without eyes and a girl with an unfortunate butt-face. They live and love on the fragile edges of a society that only knows how to include people who meet certain beauty standards. Inside the safety of their homes, the characters have to learn how to give meaning to their lives on their own terms.
[RMA] A hot topic during Cannes Film Festival this year: the influence of Netflix on the industry. Your film also premiered worldwide on this platform.
[Eduardo] I believe modern and intelligent festivals understand that the platforms to watch films on are changing. It would be absurd if festivals would refuse films because they are screened on other channels. I have been lucky. Even though my film is screened on Netflix worldwide, I still win prizes. Cinema is changing and distributors, directors and festivals adjust to it.
[RMA] Pieles is about a group of deformed characters. Some of them have a realistic handicap, whereas others have something uncommon or even absurd.
[Eduardo] A few handicaps were complicated to show physically. A person with an anus in his face does not exist, but it was metaphor for a young woman who cannot talk or who is not thought of as beautiful. It seemed better to express this by creating a character that goes beyond reality. The anus is also a metaphor for the amount of shit we talk.
[RMA] There is also a boy who wants to become a mermaid. Have you ever met someone who wants to become a mermaid?
[Eduardo] There is a huge movement on YouTube of people who wear mermaid tales and identify with mermaids. Did you know that? It’s amazing because these people really want to live like mermaids. I understand their desire because we live in a horrible, dull world, that is full of boring stuff. To them, being a mermaid is a way to escape reality.
The mermaid character suffers from a bodily disorder. He is not able to acknowledge his own legs. It is comparable to trans-sexuality, where a man cannot acknowledge his penis or a woman her breasts and vagina. I thought it would be interesting to mix this disorder with someone’s wish to become a fantasy creature. What was most important to communicate through this character is that we don’t have power over our own body. It is not ours.
[RMA] The fat lady in your film is real. Was it hard for her to play her part?
[Eduardo] She was very valuable for me. I felt uncomfortable to tell her: now you have to undress and take a shit, but she, and all of the other actors actually, were really cooperative. She said yes to almost everything I asked. Maybe because there is another layer in Pieles and the actors understood what I wanted to say and why I wanted to do that.
It is complicated to talk about the feminism discourse when the actors are all young, skinny and gorgeous. Also the bigger lady would have to be nude in front of the camera. If she would not be able to do this, it would feel phony to talk about emancipation.
[RMA] The picture-perfect art direction conflicts with the deformed characters.
Eduardo: Consider it a beautiful casing. When you offer something to an audience that is only horrible, the audience will reject it. But when you wrap it up in something beautiful, such as the colour pink, the audience will notice it and it will be a pleasure to watch. This is the only way of bringing a message without it being rejected.
Not only in Pieles, but in all of my work I apply this method. When situations are horrible, you wrap them up in pastels and they become easier to digest. This way, I can talk about horrible and painful issues.
The colour pink has different connotations. You talk about pink when you talk about women, about something naive, or about homosexuality. I consider pink to be just a colour. A colour that is great to use in spaces that conflict with it.
[RMA] Like your instagram, which is completely in pink?
[Eduardo] Yes, Pink with horrible things.
[RMA] How has Pieles been received by the audience?
[Eduardo] Watching a film is an experience, isn’t it? Especially when one watches a film in the cinema. If you watch Pieles on the big screen, it does something to you. Some people don’t want to watch anymore; some people laugh about it. But Pieles is the kind of film that makes you feel like you are experiencing something. Comparable to a roller-coaster. In the beginning you don’t want to get in, because you know what is going to happen. Once you are inside, you feel extreme fear and you wish you hadn’t gotten on. But once you get out you are overwhelmed with a sense of liberation. Adrenaline! I think Pieles is like a roller-coaster.
Interview by: Charlotte van Zanten
“Stupid tree. Stupid rock. Stupid concrete. Stupid people. Stupid sky. Everything stupid.”
With this mantra, the 13-year old Dayveon opens the film while biking through the forgotten gangster town of Wrightsville, Arkansas. After having lost his brother to a dubious gang fight, all that remains of Dayveon’s brother is his airbrushed portrait, his Facebook profile, and a loaded handgun. At times, Dayveon takes the weapon out of it’s shoebox and stares at it in admiration. All the rest is just stupid. He finds solace for his sadness by joining his brother’s gang but he is soon sucked into a world he wasn’t ready for.
Dayveon’s story might seem similar to that of other films but Abbassi’s aesthetic choices are rather rare in the contemporary American film industry. Dayveon is as much a poetic coming-of-age story as it is a social study of gangster rituals and power relations within a small and remote town. The enchanting soundtrack was composed by Abbasi himself, demonstrating that he is not only a talented filmmaker but also a gifted musician.
[RMA] What came first: music or cinema?
[Amman] Music is my first love, my passion. Right behind me you see the piano where I wrote the music for the film. While composing, I was thinking about certain characters and this motif came out. I like to make movies that feel like music.
My brother and I watched a lot of movies when we were younger. He is a painter and I am a musician and we also made movies together. He is very close to me. He wasn’t officially involved in the movie, but he was in terms of giving feedback.
I didn’t go to film school; I don’t like to play by the rules. I went to a school in Arkansas but I ended up leaving early because I started working for some documentarians, who took me to New York. I made my own narrative short films on the side . David Gordon Green saw one of my shorts and I started working for him. That was very helpful; I learned a tremendous amount. When I was ready to make my own film I went home.
[RMA] Who is Dayveon?
[Amman] Dayveon is a young boy who is at an interesting place in his life right now. He is 13 years old and he is growing up in a small town called Wrightsville, Arkansas. From the movie you can see that Wrightsville feels like a forgotten town. There are not many places for work and the cops don’t really patrol it. This isolated town houses a gang that draws upon Dayveon.
Dayveon is vulnerable because he just lost his older brother. Because of that, he starts to see a sense of brotherhood in the gang. It’s a story of community, of coming-of-age and it offers a unique perspective on gangs.
[RMA] Funny, I thought his friend Brayden was more like a brother to him than The Bloods. Dayveon lost his brother due to something the gang was involved in. I’m sorry for psycho-analysing your film but from what I understood, the only way for Dayveon to have some control over the death of his brother was to infiltrate the gang and become a part of it. If you can’t beat them, join them.
[Amman] When I was writing the story I often talked to kids who were involved in gangs. You are right. A lot of times, a past tragedy impels them to join a gang. They feel it gives them the power to protect. I also believe the function of a gang is different in a forgotten place like Wrightsville. A gang has a strong sense of community.
[RMA] How did you end up in this community? You are clearly not part of it.
[Amman] Wrightsville is twenty minutes away from Little Rock, where I am now. Gangs have always been notorious here; everyone knows about them. There was a documentary made in the early 90’s about gangs in Little Rock. What I wanted to focus in on, was the social acceptance of gangs and the human element of it.
[RMA] The chemistry between Dayveon and Brayden seems very real.
[Amman] It was great. They met because of this project and we spent so much time together, they developed a real friendship. You could see that on screen. In fact, there was a third character in the script but the chemistry started to feel stiff, so I decided to lose that character and preserve that natural chemistry.
Interview by: Charlotte van Zanten