Latest Features

Franz Rogowski on Playing a Ghost in ‘Transit,’ Disorienting the Audience, and Terrence Malick’s ‘Radegund’

Written by Murtada Elfadl, March 9, 2019 at 12:52 pm 

In Christian Petzold’s Transit, Franz Rogowski plays a hollowed-out European refugee who has escaped from two concentration camps. He assumes the identity of a dead novelist as he tries to escape to safety through Marseilles in 1942. Rogowski’s posture and sunken eyes, aided by makeup and Petzold’s distinct lighting, give us the impression of a man withered in a world of crisis. It’s a quiet performance yet it fills the screen with grandeur, thanks to the physicality and commitment of the actor. In a New York Times feature, Petzold called him “a great actor who is able to balance sadness and confidence, coldness and empathy like a dancer.” Before Transit, Rogowski was seen in Victoria (2015) and played Isabelle Huppert’s son in Michael Haneke’s Happy End (2017).

On a recent visit to New York to promote Transit, we got the chance to interview the actor. He is mild in manner and quiet in voice, yet maintained intensity as he passionately spoke about Transit, how he chooses projects, and when Terrence Malick’s Radegund might come out.

The Film Stage: Were you fan of Petzold’s ’s work before Transit came your way?

Franz Rogowski: I was aware of his work. My parents had all his movies. He was my father’s favorite German director. I was curious to meet him but also very nervous somehow. When we met, we smoked a packet of cigarettes and talked for more than an hour and agreed that we have to do this movie.

You got along immediately. How was it on set with him?

He’s a guy that likes to prepare with deep and profound research. He gives you a lot of references. He’s like a walking encyclopedia of cinema, kinda freaky actually. It was very inspiring. And at least once a week we would have a cinema evening: we would all sit down on a roof terrace and watch a movie, usually one of his favorite movies. All of these movies had something to do with the work we were doing.

What were some of the films that you watched?

Casablanca was one. To be honest I remember moments from the movies but I don’t really remember the names. I’m really bad with names.

Your character is a cipher with unclear allegiances. We are never sure of his motives. How did you prepare to play that?

I told Christian in the beginning I can’t play a refugee or pretend to know how refugees really feel. I grew up in the 1990s in West Germany; there was no border, no war. I was in a safe environment. It would be wrong to pretend that I know how a refugee feels. Christian agreed; the character we created is based on the novel. The great thing about him is that he’s a drifter. He doesn’t leave a home or lose a job, a girlfriend or a boyfriend. He has no roots. How did I prepare? We talked about these things and how we wanted to create a character that is a bit like a ghost, like a figure lost in time.

How do you play a ghost? Is there something physical that you do?

You gotta look deep inside. We all have a ghost inside. [Laughs.] Then you to tickle it to come out. The thing about being in a good movie is that the actor doesn’t do it on their own. It’s the script, it’s how Christian combined figures from the novel born in 1930s and puts them in today’s Marseilles, a city on the edge of Europe dealing with immigration. This already creates a ghost situation where this character has lost his own time. I tried not to comment too much on the fact that the character is a refugee. I tried to play a person and not a refugee. I didn’t try to play a ghost, but I tried to be in the zone being there, staying there, wanting to flee, coming from somewhere, wanting to leave, loving this woman but at the same time not really needing her and that creates a certain feeling of being lost in time and space. Maybe ghost-like.

What did you think of juxtaposing the contemporary setting with the period story? How did that dissonance affect your performance?

That was the reason I wanted to do the movie. Christian’s work and the idea for this new movie was what convinced me. It inspired me and I think it inspired him too. To play this old character in today’s Marseilles. But it was so hot in Marseilles, 40 Celsius, how do you say in Fahrenheit?

90 degrees probably.

Like really hot, that was tough.

It makes the film different and gives it this topicality to current events but it also would have confused the audience. Did you think about that or talk about it with Petzold?

I think we liked confusing the audience. It’s good to be a bit confused and then to start thinking.

It disorients the audience like the character.

Yes, everyone has their personal moment of discovery. When they see a skyscraper or a mobile phone. For me it was when they are at the house by the harbor with Marie and her doctor boyfriend and you see a skyscraper in the window. It was so weird but at the same time it was okay. It’s a little bit scary because it could all happen today.

It is happening.

Yes, it is happening. People were trying to escape Europe then and now they are immigrating there.

You’ve made this movie a while ago. At the time you’ve made choices on set but didn’t actually see how they looked. Were you surprised by the final film?

I was surprised by the combination of these fruity Mediterranean colors and a voiceover that was rather dry and down to earth, almost like reading a manual. I think it was the first layout that they used, recorded with an iPhone. It was not meant to be the final version. I’m surprised they chose it. There is this music motif that keeps coming back, the composer arranged it with 20 musicians. Christian chose the first layout which is very fragile. I was surprised and touched by that decision.

What do you look for in choosing a project; the director, the part, or the story?

It’s a combination of the three. I’m looking for parts that I can embody and want to embody, within stories that inspire me. That’s what I try to do. I try to read and meet people to understand their vision and see if it could be me or if it should be me. I spend more time reading scripts and thinking about stories than acting.

I understand that you were a dancer and have a thriving career in the theater. Do you prefer theater or film?

I don’t have a preference. I don’t have favorite things. There are different realities and different contexts. I want to grow and interact with people and have different experiences. I come from the stage, from performing arts, from contemporary dance, but for right now making movies is the most important.

English-language cinema or Hollywood can expand your distribution footprint. Are you interested in making movies here?

It could happen, it may not happen. Honestly, if I get a script for the next Marvel movie I would read it like any other script and see if I like it or not. I’m very thankful that our movies are seen in the United States. People saw Victoria and Happy End came here. I love being in  New York, the culture of moviemaking comes from the United States. In the beginning, it was propaganda. It’s still propaganda but there’s some amazing stuff and there are some American directors that of course I’d love to work with, not because they are American but because they make incredible movies.

Like who?

Harmony Korine. Good Time by the Safdie brothers is great. Tarantino is great. Lost in Translation, I love Sofia Coppola’s work.

I read that you choreographed your karaoke scene in Happy Ending. Is it true and how did you do it?

I tried to. I dd it with a friend of mine. But when Michael saw it, he became a choreographer and did it himself. It is the material from the original video. It is a karaoke bar and Pierre is not a dancer so it makes sense that he’d get his moves from the original Chandelier music video. The drunken interpretation of someone who has seen the video a couple of times and prepared a little bit at home. I have to admit it was Michael’s choreography though.

You are in Terrence Malick’s Radegund. What can you tell us about it?

No one knows what it is going to be. It has been two and a half years since production. I’m not sure. It might finish tomorrow, it might take another two years of post-production. No one knows. He doesn’t feel the pressure. I think he works with several editors who make different versions. He’s a director who creates spaces rather than produces scenes; his editing style is like that. A bit like music. He needs the time that he needs.  

To end, can you tell us a story from the set of Transit?

There was one day when we had a very good day filming. I bought myself a bottle of wine and went to the harbor. I found a good spot, opened the bottle, and started drinking the wine. In the distance, there were some guys doing acrobatic tricks. I got really fascinated by them. Then a terrible thing happened, their dog died in the water. A pitbull. It was a big drama, they took him out. They tried to resuscitate him. It was horrible but I couldn’t do anything since I was on the other side. In the end, the owner left crying and carrying his dog. I was in shock. I needed to smoke a cigarette. Then I found out my cigarettes are gone, my money is gone, my bag is gone. Everything is gone. This dog dying scene turned out to be the best theater piece I ever saw in my life. They probably just put a dead dog in the water, got everyone’s attention and stole their stuff. I found myself that night in the embassy and at the police station without papers, without identification. I was in the same situation as Georg. The movie became reality.

Transit is now in theaters.

‘Greta’ Director Neil Jordan on Finding the Truth in Psychological Thrills and the Importance of a Female-Led Cast

Written by Joshua Encinias, March 8, 2019 at 9:30 am 

Over half-a-decade after his vampire drama ByzantiumNeil Jordan returns to filmmaking with the psychological thriller Greta. In his six-year absence, he created TV series The Borgias, but the prospect of directing Isabelle Huppert as Greta was too good to pass up. The part was redesigned so Greta would become a sophisticated older woman who used her worldliness as means of seduction. Chloë Grace Moretz plays Frances, Greta’s newest victim, and Maika Monroe plays Frances’s roommate Erica who doesn’t trust Greta from the start.

We interviewed Jordan about Huppert’s truthful and therefore believable performance as Greta, working with cinematographer Seamus McGarvey to create an intimate and claustrophobic palette for the story, and how a dream sequence helped him decide this should be his next film.

The Film Stage: At the beginning of the film you think Greta’s a lonely widow, and her tone and demeanor make her appear trustworthy. Even as she dips into madness later in the film, Greta has this refined elegance, which makes it funny when she dances around Stephen Rea’s body.

Neil Jordan: Isabelle didn’t tell any lies in any aspect of her performance. Look at what she did in the first encounter, when she’s drinking coffee and playing the piano. All of the little nightmares are implicit in that one scene. She plays it very sweetly and realistically, but as an actress, everything that Greta becomes is implicit in that scene and that’s how brilliant Isabelle is. It was important that the character be believable. I didn’t write the script myself; I rewrote the script and if you start with a simple encounter over a returned handbag and want to end up with somebody bound to a bed in a hidden room, you have to make that journey. You have to make it believable in a psychological way and that was very important to me and was very important to Isabelle as well. The refinements with which she attracts Frances at the beginning of the movie are still there toward the end. I mean, all she wants is a daughter who she can teach to make those damn Hungarian cookies. [Laughs.]

Frances is looking for a mother figure and Greta is looking to be a mother figure. It’s not overtly sexual, but the whole mother/daughter aspect is interesting because in gay culture, if you’re in a relationship with an older man, there’s this idea that he’s a “daddy.” People don’t come to that conclusion right away when they see younger women in relationship with older women, even though the psychosexual dynamics are similar. If this were a movie about an older man and younger man, right away people would say the older man is gay.

It’s kind of more interesting to explore motherhood than fatherhood in a way, because father figures are very familiar and very explored but perhaps mother figures not as much. I would say motherhood is a great maelstrom of psychosexual problems and issues. I thought that was at the heart of this movie in some way.

What attracted me to the movie was that it was two women. It wasn’t for the obvious reasons, not as a calling card for feminism. The character of Greta was much more terrifying because she was a woman. Had it been like an Anthony Hopkins figure, the sexual dimension would have been so obvious and so immediate that I would probably leave the theater. The fact that it’s this refined woman that wears the same clothes Nancy Pelosi wears is both more ambiguous and slightly more believable and actually more terrifying. I didn’t want to make it overtly sexual; it would have been very simple to go that route, but I thought the neuroses and psychosis were more interesting if they were trying to fill this great hole we call motherhood. I thought it was more terrifying to tell a story about someone who says, “You promised to be my friend.” It’s more spooky and has all the sexual undertones.

Looking at cinematographer Seamus McGarvey’s work in the last 10 years, he works with large palettes and locations. Greta creates a more intimate and claustrophobia image than we’re used to seeing from him he’s creating.

I’ve known Seamus for many years and we never managed to work together. We tried once or twice. I asked Seamus to do Byzantium, but he got double booked so I ended up doing it with Sean Bobbitt, who was equally great. But he was happily available to do it this movie, which was brilliant. The first thing that dictates what a cinematographer does is what the film is about, and in this case it was about the alienation of the big city. It started out with quite a large palette until it shrank and shrank and shrank and ended up in a box. We looked at several movies together, we looked at Repulsion, we discussed quite a few silent movies, palettes and looked at photographs.

Seamus has an incredibly lively brain and passionate about delivering the image we spoke about. It would be quite marvelous actually. We had some conversation but, shooting that piano and shooting inside the piano, doing technically difficult shots in a very old-fashioned way. When we came to shoot those shots, Seamus already got these really telescopic lenses to get inside the box and we had to get inside with Chloe and inside the piano with the hammers hitting the keys. We also had a great operator, Alastair Rae. Seamus recommended Alastair become a part of this team. Seamus’s commitment to the fact that we were making a film that starts naturalistic and gradually becomes more shadowed and the light and shade becomes much harsher. He stuck with that rigorously and delivered it.

When Greta is looking at Frances’ Facebook, a musical cue gives tells the audience something is up. How do you toe the line between directing the audience with music and surprising them simply by letting the story unfold?

I think surprises are becoming increasingly difficult in the movies, aren’t they? I didn’t want to tell a lie in this film in the development of the characters and all that. I didn’t want the filmmakers to be ahead of the audience and I didn’t want to be lying to the audience. It’s a very simple thing to do really. I felt it was important to let the audience share in the journey. We don’t know the full extent of the horrors Greta can unleash. We see a little when Greta pretends to not know how to use the phone, which everybody’s mother does at some stage. But then we see her scrolling through Facebook. You know there is many more depths and dimensions to this woman than she is presenting to Frances.

When Frances is drugged and taken to Greta’s home, she has two dreams. Both times the audience thinks they’re back in reality, and both times they’re dreams. But it’s interesting because her dreams are about real things that happened to her and I found it quite disorienting.

That was in the original script. There were two things that attracted me to the original script. One was the little hook of the handbags, and the other was the double dream. I mean, we’ve all gotten drunk and said the wrong thing and woken up and said, “Ah I hope I dreamt that. I hope I didn’t say that wrong thing.” It’s a very familiar experience to me. Now, that was presented very cleverly in the script. But I didn’t want to present them as Dali-esque dreams with wobbly camerawork. I wanted to present them as actual facts. Frances wakes up in a box and wakes up with horrible feeling that she was drugged, and sure enough she has. I thought it was a very clever narrative device.

Greta is now in theaters.

Mia Hansen-Løve on ‘Maya,’ Michael Mann, Eroticism Through Distance, and ‘Bergman Island’

Written by Nick Newman, March 6, 2019 at 12:29 pm 

Mia Hansen-Løve’s Maya marks a gemstone in this year’s Rendezvous with French Cinema. Though her latest film is still without release in the U.S., the writer-director’s reputation is so set amongst American cinephiles that it could hardly be another way: each marks a cause-celebre-of-sorts with a crowd who’ve come to expect complex, carefully delineated emotional wavelengths and rigorous-but-unobtrustive visual style. Maya has much of that, but a more severe focus on trauma, physical danger, and its slow drive through the (otherwise beautiful) Indian countryside has, for many, make it a tad more difficult to adore.

Hansen-Løve is nevertheless clear-headed in elaborating on her choices and psychological path through Maya. To interview her–and, I hope, to read this interview–is to experience an expansion of her cinema’s emotional current. And, of course, I had to ask about Michael Mann.

The Film Stage: When we last talked, you said something that caught fire with many people I know — all of your films are your version of Michael Mann’s Heat.

Mia Hansen-Løve: Did I say that?

Because it’s “a film about melancholy, about action, and it’s action vs. melancholy and self-destruction — action becoming self-destruction.” Potentially a stupid question, but I do have to wonder if there are any ways Heat and Maya could be seen as kindred spirits.

Heat is just part of me so I don’t have to think about it. [Laughs] It’s just there. I usually don’t think of a film when I write a film of mine; I would rather try to escape. If I do think of a film, it would be more something annoying to me, because I try to find my own grammar and language since my very first film. I try to make my films without being stuck in references. But Heat is certainly there as part of my world. There is a special emotion for me connected to Heat that, I guess, will always be following me. But maybe it doesn’t have to do with the film itself; maybe it has to do with the age I had when I saw it. I was 16, I think, and there was some connection between me–some, how do you say it, “caught fire”?

It got people’s attention.

Heat did that to me when I was 16. I think it had to do with becoming myself at this point. I was in the middle of this process and Heat, somehow, surprisingly enough–because it comes from a faraway place–all it was dealing with made a very strong impression that would go on for years. Fortunately, it’s not like I’m obsessed with Heat to the point where I’m making my films like that; I think it would be really bad. But this determination, this kind of melancholy, this way of being constrained and renouncing love–he falls in love but doesn’t want this to happen because it doesn’t work with his own vocation, his destiny–my film is really about that: vocation, the need for action. Even if you think you’re going to stop it, you’ll still go back there. And it’s not because it’s inspired by Heat; it’s because it’s part of me that Heat meant so much to me. Because I think I have that in myself: these kinds of obsessions, being divided between one love and one passion. It structured me, somehow. I think that’s why Heat really blew my mind.

Well, you are flexing some new muscles here. One is the presence of physical danger: there’s a chase sequence that culminates with a blade being drawn, to say nothing of its character being a former hostage. Does that require a new mindset, something distinct to draw upon to make your film dramatically feasible?

There was not, like, a decision from me to put that in the script; it just happened to be there. I think it has to do with the story itself. The story led me to write this, and the character. I think it may also have to do with Roman Kolinka himself: I think Roman would have been great in a film by Jean-Pierre Melville. Roman, to me, is some kind of Bressonian Alain Delon–that’s the way I see him. He’s very restrained. He’s very charismatic and handsome but, at the same time, he has this innocence and unawareness that non-professionals have. There is something about his presence that reminds me a lot of the actors of Melville–a director who I love and could connect with Michael Mann’s Heat, too. It’s not like the films I do at all, but I have this attraction for the cinema of Melville and dark movies, action movies–like Michael Mann’s first feature, Thief. It’s also part of my world as a filmmaker.

It contributes to a sexual tension running through Maya, and I love how its, let’s say, solution is passionate but distant. You’re expecting something to happen, yet its occurrence is still a surprise. Talk to me about the framing of that sequence.

I think it has to do with my own language–the way I look at things in general, not only a love scene. My trying to escape certain conventions and how those kinds of scenes are usually filmed. Maybe what I think would have been a more conventional way of filming it would have been to be more handheld and follow the gestures very closely and make more shots, maybe make it more edited. There are only two shots, I think–one outside and one inside; maybe three, but not more–and it’s very simple, a little bit restrained. This distance, on the one hand, has to do with formal choices of mine–my own grammar as a director–but somehow it also has to do with eroticism: for me, there is something erotic about that. I guess each director has his own perception or definition of eroticism, but somehow I find it more erotic that way than if I was trying to make it more obviously erotic–you know, underlining everything.

The opening shot exemplifies much of this. Is it a real hotel room?

It is.

Is that selected for aesthetic reasons, or are you working with what you can and then adapting? And if it’s the latter, how do you, in fact, adapt?

So it was shot in Jordania, and it was shot there… yes, I had a very precise idea of what I wanted, and I looked for a place that was according to my idea. But then, of course, it never… I don’t shoot in-studio, so if I wanted it to be exactly how I imagined, then I also had to adapt at the end. But I enjoy this idea. I think I enjoy dealing with both: having a preconceived idea–sometimes not so precise, but most of the time very precise–and looking for the place that actually fits with your idea. Then you can find the best place that fits, approximately–it’s always approximate–and then you have to reinvent or change something to fit to this new place. While you do this you actually get to, maybe, an even more interesting level. This difference of what you had imagined and the fact you had to adapt actually leads you to another place that is even more interesting, I think.

What I mean is that, even in this scene, yes, I was looking for a place where I could film him on the mirror and leave the camera outside. On the first shot I’m outside. He’s in the mirror. We see him naked, but he’s at a distance. To me, this scene was very important because it had to be very frontal, straightforward–we see him naked, we follow, there are no words, but we understand what he is doing; it’s a very simple, everyday action, but I had to film it in a straight, frontal way. At the same time, keeping this distance was very important to me because he’s just been relieved. The first thing hostages do when getting freed is being offered by secret services to take a shower. So it’s basically the first time they have a moment to find themselves and their intimacy again. I would have found it in bad taste, an intrusion, to be in the shower or bathroom with him. It’s almost like a little manifesto for the film to say, “That’s where I am. I look at him frontally, but I don’t go inside with him.” You know what I mean?


So that was a way for me to define what’s going to be in my point-of-view for the whole story afterwards.

You don’t often have nudity in your films, at least for a protagonist. Do you think seeing them in that intimate, quite literally naked state could change an audience’s relationship?

He’s nude and, at the same time… what the film really is about is this guy finding himself. Which means, also, finding his body again. Yes, he’s naked, but it’s a wounded body and a wounded mind, and we will realize that very soon. So he’s naked but, at the same time, he’s a ghost–not really himself anymore. It’s not because he’s naked that it’s not really him, but it’s the presence, this wounded body. I insist because I think it’s the distance that respects his intimacy somehow, and what the film is about is getting closer to him as he’s getting back himself. You know what I mean?

I’m impressed by the presence of a hostage psychologist or your explanation of how and why he’s in this hotel; those are not typical dramatic linchpins. How much do you research these components, and how do findings shape what’s eventually onscreen?

I would say there was two moments: the moment where I did the minimum of research in order to write. Otherwise I would have been handicapped to write, but I did as few as possible because I didn’t want it to affect too much my writing or perception of the character, and then I had written the entire film. Once I had written it, I documented more and met two war reporters. Both were young, which was interesting. One had never been a hostage, and one had been for four months. That’s his experience that really inspired the story the most, even though we don’t know much about it–but I knew. Even if it’s not in the film, it’s important for me that I knew.

I also had a psychiatrist who works with former hostages and people who have been traumatized during terrorist attacks. So I had two of these guys reading the scenes. I would rather do the first draft and prefer to be ignorant–know enough to write, but not too much, because I’m not doing a documentary on PTSD. That’s not the point. I start with a very common situation–PTSD–but it leads me somewhere else, to the unknown, and I want to keep my freedom. It’s two different moments.

Things to Come was set in 2010 to match then-ongoing student strikes, which makes sense. But Maya begins in December of 2012, and I couldn’t grasp why this has a specific period attached to it.

That’s when all the guys were taking hostages. It’s the beginning of the war, when they were not yet aware of how dangerous it was–they knew, but not how much. That’s when there were a lot of war reporters taken hostage. Of course, you still have somebody who went down, but a lot of journalists stopped going there, the papers would stop sending them there, or they would make sure that couldn’t happen. In the beginning, there were a lot of stories like that. I wanted to be very precise about the story, and I got, again, inspired by this war reporter who was a hostage at that time. It wasn’t going to be the same thing if it was in 2015 or 2016. Also, I like putting my film in some specific moment–it’s like a diary of my filmmaking.

Excepting, maybe, Father of My Children, all of your films are in some past tense.

Usually it’s in “recent past,” is the thing. [Laughs] I know a lot of directors try to avoid references to the time when the film happened to make them more timeless or universal, but for me it’s the reverse; maybe it’s because I don’t have a diary. My films are my ways to deal with my own life, even if it can be very indirect or secretive. But I like that they will all have a precise date. Some people will just write in their diary, “5th of March, I did this-or-that.” It’s the same–except I make a film itself.

You’re soon to finish shooting Bergman Island.

I shot half of it, and I’ll shoot the second half in June.

Do you think the process of quickly going from this film to that could affect it? Or even taking time to do press and focus, however briefly, on Maya again?

I think the films certainly speak to each other–at least because they were both shot outside of my home. I mean, far away from home, my country. Even if Sweden is closer to Paris than India, in a way they are as far from my place. And they were both attempts to escape something. [Laughs] So I think they have a lot in common, but they are extremely different, so there was something a little schizophrenic–which I enjoyed, partly, I think, in this thing of going back-and-forth between Sweden and India in the last three years. I felt a little bit crazy doing that, but I think I kind of enjoyed this craziness.

Maya screens at Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema on March 6 & 7.

‘Giant Little Ones’ Director Keith Behrman on Defying Labels and Finding Authenticity in Adolescence

Written by Jared Mobarak, March 2, 2019 at 9:17 am 

One of my favorite things about going to the Toronto International Film Festival is finding the time to see the smaller movies that aren’t on everyone’s must-see lists. While the gamble sometimes turns out to be a dud, the risk is easily justified when you’re able to discover a work as genuinely memorable as Keith Behrman’s Giant Little Ones in the process.

A film about adolescence that isn’t afraid to delve into sexuality’s ever-broadening landscape of experimentation and fluidity with still violent repercussions, this story of two best friends falling prey to the social implications of such puts toxic masculinity in the spotlight. Behrman looks at the herd culture of kids desperate to conform to some archaic ideal before then bullying those who don’t in order to uphold their sense of superiority. And while he focuses mostly upon a boy who’s bearing the brunt of that backlash, there are also many authentic examples of the internal struggle the bullies endure as they rip themselves apart at the seams.

We talk with writer-director Keith Behrman about his return to the big screen after spending the fifteen years since his debut in the world television and outside the industry entirely. It’s a project that itself took a few years to develop, but the time and effort proves well worth the wait.

The Film Stage: To start I thought we could talk about the cast a bit. I had seen Kat Candler’s Hellion a few years back and really enjoyed it, so seeing Josh Wiggins’ name on the cast list was a big reason I put Giant Little Ones on my TIFF schedule. How did his casting come about?

Keith Behrman: So the producer of Giant Little Ones, Allison Black — when we were in the early stages fine-tuning the script, she saw a picture of Josh around the time Hellion was coming out. She just thought he looked really amazing and intriguing and was taken by [his performance] as many people were. So she just made a little note.

When she started to produce another film that her husband Nathan Morlando shot called Mean Dreams, they used Josh because we weren’t quite ready to go yet and they had a great experience with him. He was wonderful and she strongly urged me to see him for this film. I had a phone conversation with him and then we met him and offered him the role.

Was it a similar process getting Taylor Hickson and Darren Mann onboard or was that through auditioning?

Yeah. For them we did auditions. We auditioned everybody else — besides, of course, Maria Bello and Kyle MacLachlan.

We auditioned out in Vancouver and LA and Toronto and were really taken by Darren and Taylor’s taped auditions that they sent us. Once we saw them in-person and did some work with them they [rose] really high on our list of people to consider for those roles. We went back and auditioned other people to make sure we saw everyone we needed to see, but they really stood out for us. They really wanted the roles and they really worked hard and felt connected to the work.

The other actors were all found in Toronto — the younger actors. Taylor and Darren come from Vancouver.

Did you then send Kyle and Maria scripts? Were you looking at them early in the process?

We cast Maria earlier in the process. I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but she was — Allison has representation at UTA [United Talent Agency] and Maria had just moved to UTA, so we got a script to her. She told us she read it in one sitting, which is not usual, and was so taken by it. She got ahold of us the next day and we had a conversation because she was wanted to be involved. She came onboard early and championed the film — it’s a parallel to her own life in regards to exploring her sexuality, falling in love with a woman, and considering herself to be fluid in that regard. We didn’t know that at the time actually until after we talked to her.

With Kyle a similar thing happened. He had just moved to UTA — he changed agents. And again we sent him the script and I called him and had a really great conversation. We agreed it would be amazing to work together.

So they both jumped on that way.

Going back to Josh’s character Franky, you really kind of throw the kitchen sink at him with themes ranging from consent to sexuality to abuse to toxic masculinity. The way you present it all works so naturally, but did you ever worry it might have been too much?

I think I never worried about that. I thought as long as we had a really strong center of a character that really anchored things with a sense of heart and being — which Josh obviously pulled off real well. I thought as long as that was really well anchored, almost anything could happen.

It started out as being about two guys and their friendship and the loss of their friendship. That was really the anchor, the initial sort of kernel. That then expanded into being an exploration of sexuality.

The father having come out to decide to live with a man [arrived] maybe halfway through the writing process — initially he was just an absentee father. So it all kind of evolved in an organic way. We didn’t have all those ideas in the beginning to have to try and juggle them. It just evolved that way. It sort of all became harmonious.

It really does all come across naturally. There are so many looks and expressions early on that set-up the drama to come. I found it really interesting to watch a second time because it almost seemed even more affecting knowing the secrets before they’re revealed. Everything is set-up visually and emotionally so well.

Allison and I talked a lot in the early stages about wanting this film to feel like a really good pop song. It seems familiar — you’re like, “Okay. It looks and kind of feels familiar.” It’s enjoyable and feels kind of easy — it’s not really challenging in the beginning. And then when it’s over you’re like, “Holy smokes. There was something going on there that I didn’t realize.” That’s what we were going for.

Definitely that first, I don’t know, twenty or so minutes up until the night of the birthday felt like it really — we really worked in the edit to make that as tight and trim as possible so it really just flew past. Up until that moment it was something we were consciously trying to do.

And there’s a lot of ambiguity in play — I’m sure you’re hearing that word a lot on this press tour — with the love and sex overlap and the decision to not label these men. Was that always an intention? Did you have earlier drafts where things were maybe more spelled out?

No, it was always that. Right from the beginning I really wanted to tell a story that defied labels. Labels are obviously important for people at some point in their life. People who are different and have always felt that difference can go, “Okay, well I’m this.” “I’m gay” or “I’m bi” or whatever. I think that would be a future leap for that person.

I think it’s also true that we can be very limited by labels — labels that we put on each other or that people put on us. Labels like all words are indicators of something, but they can also become sort of prisons. I really wanted to make a film that somehow bypassed that and somehow showed another experience where it was okay to not have things really defined.

Franky’s whole journey really is one that goes from being pretty whole to then being fragmented and then to again achieving wholeness. At the end when he’s riding his bike, he’s overcome a lot. But also I think a part of his joy and wellbeing is the fact that he’s whole again. Labels can end up fragmenting us. So it was always our intention to create something that moved towards that wholeness of being.

So much is happening to him in such a short period of time too, but it never feels false. I had heard that you did some script testing with high school teenagers. Did that help to bolster this authenticity?

To be honest, not too much changed. I guess I have a knack for writing dialogue. People often ask how I represent these young people in a way that feels authentic — I don’t know. I’m just able to do that.

I did in the early stages — even before I started writing the script, when I had some idea of what the story was going to be about. I knew it was going to be about two friends who have an unexpected sexual encounter and was still writing notes about all that. So I did go to a high school and talk to just find out what would happen in a school these days [when something like that happens]? You know? How were they treating sexuality and people who were out?

Like even the one character on the swim team [Carson MacCormac’s Michael] who’s open and harassed before standing up to the bully like, “What are you going to do about it?” I didn’t know. I had no idea how that would happen — how it would play out on a high school swim team or any sports team. So I went to a high school and talked to the teachers and learned from them a bit.

And then once the script was done, I did show it to a bunch of high school kids. They gave me a few little notes. Sometimes they’d say, “Oh this word would be used instead of that word.” You know? But really for the most part they just said that it seemed true. It wasn’t a huge thing to try and accommodate their reality — I think it was pretty spot-on in the early stages. It was more actually being relieved that they were telling me that what I was writing made sense to them. That was obviously very important. I didn’t want to make what people looked at and said, “Oh this is so antiquated and written by a guy who’s way older than us.” Fortunately that wasn’t the case.

And that works for the drama and also the humor. You can’t come away from watching the movie and not think about the scene between Franky and Mouse — the penis scene. It’s like this moment of broad humor, but it’s really rooted in the heart of their friendship.

I’m glad you feel that way. Mouse was one of my favorite characters to write. It was such a pleasure to write that character. I love her and love her in the film [Niamh Wilson is the actress].

That scene — it was definitely one that people were kind of confused by in the early stages when they were reading drafts. People weren’t sure it would work and questioned whether it should be in the film, but I really felt like you were saying. I think it’s really funny too because it’s an interesting turn of the tables. But you’re right. I thought it always really needed to be a reflection of their love and friendship. That he would do that for her and the fact that she would be comfortable asking. It’s a pretty special sign of love.

The film is really about love and the expressions of it between various characters. We’re always looking at this sort of gem of love from various angles.

Yeah. There’s the sex and violence throughout the film, but to me that hug at the end between Franky and Tash is the real cathartic release. It’s rooted in so much history. Her trauma — you foreshadow it nicely and speak about it a couple times, but Taylor Hickson’s performance is so good that you don’t need to elaborate on it more than that.

I think Taylor did a great job. She really embodied that and conveyed so much. I think also, you know, we’ve all seen enough stories that people can piece together pretty quickly what’s going on there. I like that kind of storytelling. I like watching those kinds of stories. People often express gratitude from being given that much room to piece things together themselves and not be spoon-fed things.

Shortly after TIFF there was an interesting article in Seventh Row where Alex Heeney went through and counted the number of reviews the Canadian films screening there received. It showed a huge discrepancy when compared with the bigger titles that played. Did you see that? Do you think the festival can do anything to combat it?

It’s probably a combination of many things, but I think it’s really just that it’s such a huge festival that’s tied into the industry and the market. There’s such an orientation there around the US market and so much business happens. I think it’s easy to get lost for any film that’s smaller or not standing out in a huge way. There are all those celebrities there that people naturally focus on.

I don’t know what they can really do about that. You can’t make people pay attention. You can’t force people to write three Canadian reviews before you get to write on something else. There’s nothing you can do about that.

There have always been a lot of people trying so many ways to somehow shift the balance, but I think all we can do is do our best to make really specific and particular and accomplished and meaningful work that touches people in a profound way. And if we do that then we will be seen and heard in some meaningful way somewhere.

I know it’s been a few years since your first film [2003’s Flower & Garnet]. Do you have anything ready to follow-up this one now or are you just taking things as they go?

No. I’ve got lots of things I want to do actually. When I decided to start writing the script I wasn’t sure if I would make another film because I was doing other things in my life. I had to go through a process of really finding a good reason to spend years to make a film and I did come to that conclusion.

So now that I’m back doing it and really enjoying it and committed to doing it and have good reasons to do it, I have several projects I’m working on. I have a TV series I’m writing and developing and I have a couple features that are in various stages of drafts and waiting for me to get back to them. So I hope to get more material out in the next little while.

Giant Little Ones is now in limited New York City release with a scheduled expansion into Los Angeles and select cities nationwide on March 8th.

Chiwetel Ejiofor Talks First-Time Directing, Finding the Right Frame, and Pacing a Narrative

Written by Jordan Raup, March 1, 2019 at 1:52 pm 

Over two decades since he was cast in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad off an audition given while he was attending the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and only nineteen years old, Chiwetel Ejiofor has worked with several master filmmakers, earned an Oscar nod, and now directed a feature film. Arriving on Netflix today, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind tells the true story of William Kamkwamba, a young boy in Malawi who saved his family and his village by building a wind turbine using bits and parts from a nearby scrapyard.

The Film Stage spoke with Ejiofor about directing and acting simultaneously, how to decide what part of a true story to focus on, and what he hopes to focus on in the future.

The Film Stage: On this one you are acting and directing. That’s a lot, especially given that it’s your feature directorial debut. How do you approach logistically?

Chiwetel Ejiofor: Well, it’s sort of complicated. You have to just dive in. It was something I was definitely thinking about beforehand and concerned about. Like how was I actually going to do this on the day… you’re trying to capture everything in terms of what you’re trying to shoot. But you’re also trying to give a performance. I got a piece of advice, which somebody told me, which was basically to make sure you take the time to look out for your character as well. Don’t succumb to the pressures of directing. If you need another [take], take another one. Even if you’re supposed to be on the next location and you’re running behind and it’s going to go into overtime, you know? All of those other directorial thoughts that can be part of the filmmaking process. Asking of yourself what you would ask of any director you work with: to have the space to pursue the character. It’s really trying to take off the director’s hat and put on the actor’s hat and occupy that space.

A big standout is the cinematography. You worked with the great Dick Pope on this. How did you end up getting involved with him and how did you collaborate on these beautiful shots?

We just spent a lot of time in pre-production walking through absolutely everything. We had very, very detailed shot lists, Dick and I. And long conversations about the look and the feel of the film. And how we were going to capture this emotional internal quality, as well as this kind of… big lives nature of the people there. I felt that this story was a story about people who had very big lives. Big, epic lives. And representing that cinematically was very crucial. As well as the beauty of the place (Wimbe, Malawi). A lot of it was communication. Going around to all of the locations and going through, very specifically, all of the shots. Which meant we could move very quickly on the day.

It also allowed me to stay in character as well. We knew where we were moving the camera so we could move quite fluidly from set-up to set-up. All of those things having been worked out before in and a very specific, full pre-production period was really what Dick was brilliant at, as well as dealing with all of the logistical issues we were facing and absorbing that and me not having. So he was a brilliant collaborator as well as an extraordinary cinematographer.

The movie is very accurate to the real story of William Kamkwamba. To the point where the actual moment of William building the device comes rather late in the picture. From a screenwriting standpoint, it’s a bold choice. But the benefit is a strong middle section that builds tension between your character, the father, and William the son. Was there ever a temptation to adjust the story to the wind turbine a bit sooner?

I suppose the truth is that I was totally fascinated by the family dynamics and how they could be related on screen. The story is talking about the macro problem, which is obviously this famine, this pending danger, this bad harvest but equally at a secondary and a, sort of, tertiary level all of these other stories are coming through. About the dynamics of the family. About how they are interacting with each other and the personal dynamics. And how the relationship between the generational pitch is becoming more and more fraught. It’s happening almost without us knowing it’s happening until it’s come to the point where it’s got to bubble over. How it takes over the rest of the story.

So playing with that layering of narrative was a way for me to try and explore different ways of pacing the film. And hopefully surprising the audience with different avenues, ways into storytelling, which isn’t necessarily how you traditional tell stories, especially in the second act. But it definitely felt like this story–because it’s a Russian doll in a way–has that sense of a macro and then you start to bury deeper into the family unit and then there is this very central unit of father and son… it felt like there was a way to tell that story and keep a pacing to those stories so that the tension could operate at a larger level but also the relationships could ripen as the story developed.

So you’ve directed your first feature, is the next one already in your mind or is it back to acting for a while?

Well, no. I think it’s going to be hopefully a real strong combination of that. Of films I write and direct and then films I act in. That is definitely the goal. Let’s see how it all shakes out. It was a challenging experience but such a rewarding experience over a long period of time. And falling deeply in love with the story and the characters and the nature of William Kamkwamba and what he did. It allowed me to sit with it for so long. I feel very spoiled in a way that I had such a long process in pre-production and I could really invest, going back and forth from Malawi and spending all of that time and having this rich, artistic journey with this film.

Last question, you gave us three great villain performances in the mid-2000s: Four Brothers, Serenity and Children of Men. Do you miss playing the villain? I know I miss seeing you as the villain though I’m happy seeing you do all this other stuff!

Oh yeah, the bad guys!

Is there ever an urge to go back to that world, just for kicks?

Always. There’s always an urge to go back into that phase. It’s fun to step into that world. To step into that mindset. I’m always on the lookout, so you never know. Watch this space.

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind is now streaming on Netflix.

Isabelle Huppert on Playing a Psychopath for the First Time, Flipping Tables, and Her Favorite Films of 2018

Written by Joshua Encinias, February 28, 2019 at 8:42 am 

You’ve seen Isabelle Huppert play a character who sliced her genitals in Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, but as the actress explains it, in that film and others she wasn’t playing psychopaths, but women pushed to the of desire and their limits. In Neil Jordan’s new film GretaHuppert plays a mysterious Parisian expat in New York City. Chloë Grace Moretz plays Frances, who moved to the city after the loss of her mother. When Frances finds a lost bag on the subway, she falls under Greta’s spell in this fairytale-esque thriller.

Huppert spoke to The Film Stage about Greta’s hidden motives, her favorite movies of 2018, the #MeToo movement, and Frankie, her upcoming film by Ira Sachs.

The Film Stage: The Oscars were last night. What was your favorite movie last year?

Isabelle Huppert: I had many favorite movies last year. I loved RomaI loved The Favourite. I also love movies that were not in competition. I loved Wildlife. I loved Paul Dano’s movie. I thought it was great.

Greta is one of the first times you’re playing an actual psychopath, as opposed to the disturbed characters you often play.

Exactly. I’m happy to hear you say that. I keep hearing, “She’s like the monsters you’ve played before.” But she’s very different, this time she is a monster. I’ve never played monsters before.

It’s interesting because she’s poised. She dances when she kills. She’s such an interesting combination of being in control but doing these really horrible things. Who is Greta?

That’s the way she has to be, because it’s not about trying to explain things or trying to understand her. It’s supposed to be taken like a fairytale and in a fairytale it’s the bad and the good and you just have fact. And you just push people to think about what it means to be good and be bad and how evil grows in someone’s soul and that’s it. It’s quite enough, actually. It gives a lot of work to people’s imagination, I think.

The movie gives this sense that Greta’s like this because her daughter is missing. Do you think that’s the whole story or is there more to it?

Well, it’s possible because you can also imagine that it’s completely invented. At some point you can imagine the daughter has probably existed. But it’s just to create a possible background around her. She’s also shown like a very lonely person and this loneliness is very important. Because being so lonely, she creates all the fiction in her life, which unfortunately isn’t fiction because she does what she does. I think it’s interesting when you see the bags in the cupboard because she’s done this so many times before, it’s horrible. All of that is given to add to the mystery because you can’t take it as the main reason she does what she does. The movie does not tell you that she had this major conflict with her daughter that finally brought her to become that monster. It’s one element among others. You don’t know exactly; she keeps her mystery to herself right until the end. What is for sure is there is this morbid attraction and bond she kept with childhood. I was really struck, and it’s not always the case when I make movies, when I saw the apartment in the movie where we were going to shoot. I thought the design was really inspiring, it looked a bit timeless, you don’t know exactly in what time she lives. But when you discover the room where she keeps her victims I thought that was really telling. It’s all these little teddy bears and dolls everywhere, like a frozen image from the past. Like the time has been frozen since the 19th century and it’s really terrifying, I think.

The room is where she keeps her victims, but it also seems like a place inside of her psyche.

Absolutely. It’s a metaphorical place, where she keeps her victims but it’s a metaphor of where she’s locked in herself. She remains in that mental imaginary space from the past, from her childhood. All of a sudden it makes it seem very universal in a way. You always deal with who you were, in your past. That’s what life is about, you know? The whole journey of your life is about dealing with that dimension of your life. I think it makes the film really telling and universal. It’s not trying to excuse her or make you understand–no, it’s trying to reflect what it means to be a human being.

Will you talk about working with Chloë Grace Moretz?

That was really lovely, only with someone like her who you could really create something with, you can achieve these journeys and it was really possible with Chloë. First of all, she has a very healthy distance to what she does, which every actor should have distance from the material and she’s smart enough to keep the distance. She’s very collaborative and very funny. We had a lot of fun. We laughed a lot which is nice.

In the restaurant scene, when you flip the table, it’s frightening. But when you performing these kind of scenes do you feel the kind of tension that the audience feels, or is it different because you’re creating that moment?

To be honest, it’s very often the cause when you make movies, whether it’s this moment or the scene when I dance, you never anticipate people’s reactions. Let’s take the scene at the restaurant. I had no idea it was going to strike people the way it does. When I did it I just flipped the table and that was it because it’s in the script. I never expected that scene to become almost iconic. For me, it was scene thing among others. But I just needed a little bit of strength to lift the table to make it go where it went.

I interviewed Neil Jordan and he gave me this great quote and I want to read it to you and get your response: ”Motherhood is a great maelstrom of psychosexual problems and issues, and I thought that was at the heart of Greta in some way.”

It could be, for sure. It’s interesting because I’m on stage right now and I just started previews of this play called The Mother at the Atlantic Theatre in New York. It’s funny because the more I’m doing interviews, the more I find more ties between the two projects. They both deal with this almost poisoned feeling of what motherhood in the worst places can lead you to. In The Mother, it leads her to insanity, where she kills herself. In the case of Greta, it’s another kind of insanity which is killing other people. It’s why it’s so universal. You have this in Madea, you have this in Hamlet, in so many great writings and paintings you have this subject. Fair enough, it’s where we come from and it’s our main bond. Hopefully you meet a man or a woman and create some new bonds, but it’s the first one you have to deal with all your life.

Just before the #MeToo movement started, you were in Elle, which you described as a post-feminist movie. With the thrust of ideas from second and third wave feminism roaring back into public consciousness, what are your thoughts on the movement?

I think it’s a major thing that happened. I still don’t know if it’s going to really modify, deeply, the relationships between men and women, as sometimes I wish it should. It already did change most extreme aspects of all of this, which is sexual harassment. Now when it comes to really modify the basic relationships between men and women, I wish it could, but I have to say sometimes I still feel occasions to admit that it doesn’t. Sometimes in the way men behave, I don’t think the lesson is learned. I think it’s going to take a long time, but, maybe it’s on a good path, I hope.

What was it like working with Ira Sachs on Frankie?

I loved it. He is such a wonderful director. Ever since I saw Love is Strange, I think he is just a really interesting director. I was really happy we had this collaboration together in Portugal. Ira Sachs is really searching for a truth about people, and maybe it’s something I didn’t do so many times before. Even if you are as true as possible in a scene, it’s always a character, whether it’s murder like I did in Gretabut here, given the story, and given the way Ira Sachs shows characters in his movies, he’s really about finding the evident truth of people.

Greta opens on March 1.

Béla Tarr on Restoring ‘Sátántangó,’ the Perfect Film School, and Completing His Filmography

Written by Rory O'Connor, February 27, 2019 at 2:04 pm 

Eight years on from announcing his retirement from filmmaking following the release of The Turin Horse, Hungarian maestro Béla Tarr is keeping busy. In 2013 he opened a film school in Sarajevo and ran it for three years. In 2017 he contributed a multi-room video-art installation to the EYE film museum in Amsterdam. This year sees the opening of a new experimental theatrical work in Vienna as well as the release of a 4K restoration of his 1994 opus Sátántangó.

Tarr attended the Berlin Film Festival earlier this month for the first public screening of that 432-minute epic’s new iteration. The event took place in the Delphi theatre in Charlottenberg, the very same cinema where it had its German premiere a quarter-century ago. We caught a moment with him, in-between smoke breaks, just across the road in the Savoy hotel. His mood was terse, fraught, a little gloomy. One wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Film Stage: When was the last time you watched Sátántangó through?

Béla Tarr: Last month. Because I was sitting in a film lab and I watched it take-by-take and I did the grading.

Do you think there is a significance to it being released again in this moment? The images it contains of people on the move, leaving their homes, seem particularly resonant.

I think yes. It’s never late or never early. And you know, during these 25 years, this film is somehow still alive. People are still going to see it. The new generation is coming and watching.

You know, this movie is talking about the human being. And if it is still capable of saying something about the human condition, or conditions of life, or just about the reactions and emotions and relationships, it is still valid.

There is a universality.

This stuff is universal. It’s not temporary shit. It survived the times and it’s still true now.

I wanted to ask about your film school.

My film school is closed. It was four years of my life in Sarajevo and it was a wonderful experience. We had young people from Japan, Korea, Singapore, India, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, the States, and Iceland. One guy from the Faroe Islands. Poland, Spain, France, Portugal. It was really a bunch of young filmmakers and we were working all the time. And I said all the time, “No education, just liberation.”

And my goal was to make you free and to give you the chance to be yourself. You find your own way, how you can articulate how you see life, and you can react in your own way. And you have to find your personal style, your way of thinking, and your point of view. That was my goal.

Was it your decision to close it?

No no no, it wasn’t. It was part of a private university and the private university has a goal for benefit. And the last half-year was a kind of hell for me, because to go every day to the director, who is asking me “where is our profit,” because of course my young people weren’t capable of paying the tuition and we wanted to shoot all the time. By the end they decided I had to leave. Plus, you know, even if we were registered as a kind of faculty of this university, I had trouble all the time with the curriculum and these kinds of stupid things because it was based on the workshops and personal work.

With the workshops I invited some friends, like Apichatpong, like Carlos Reygadas, Pedro Costa, Guy Maddin, Gus Van Sant, a lot of guys came. Tilda Swinton, Juliette Binoche, and Gael García Bernal—because I invited actors too, not only filmmakers. I invited philosophers. Because you had to see how big the planet is and how we are different and how our power is in our differences and this was the goal. And how can I write in the curriculum today: “Apichatpong will go with them to the forest for meditation”?

And fuck! Gael García Bernal created a football team and they were playing with the Sarajevo street kids and, fuck, they lost all the time. The street kids were way better than my fucked-up filmmakers.

No surprises there.

But how can you write this in the curriculum? You have to learn the life and then you are transforming yourself and sharing with the people. This is the real filmmaking. To learn it, to learn “filmmaking,” is stupid. But to learn the life, it’s reasonable, because afterwards the way of the filming will find you. It’s true. That’s why my school was a little different than the other schools. That’s why I had some trouble. But in the end it was wonderful because those guys made some really good stuff. They’re appearing slowly in the world.

Anything we might have seen?

Yeah, it was last year that three of my guys had movies here, in the Berlinale, in the official program. I like to work with young people and they like to work with me and that’s nice.

Your old assistant László Nemes is doing very well. Have you seen Sunset?

I haven’t seen Sunset. You know, I’ve done 35 years of this fucking film shit. I just want to protect them, not to do any stupid things. They can take risks and they have to be brave. This is the main issue. I want to be with brave people. The other people are very boring for me. I hate the conformists.

Do you still watch a lot of movies?

Less and less. Of course I am watching some of my friends when they do something new.

You mentioned that Gus Van Sant was one of the visitors to your school. Some people say his use of long takes was directly influenced by your work.

Yes, he came to Sarajevo three times. Long takes… you can do it, everybody can do it. It’s not a big deal.

They’ve become quite ubiquitous now; I’m just interested in what you think about it.

I don’t like to speak about my colleagues’ work. Because we are different. He’s doing it his own way. We have a different cultural background, different social background, we have different history. I cannot measure his work to my way, because it’s so stupid. Primitive. You are a very stupid person if you say this is good or this is bad. It’s up to you. I’m not sure if you are right but you have a right to do this. That’s why I never do.

I saw your installation in the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam a couple of years back. It was incredibly moving. Would you be interested in doing more of this kind of work?

Yes, I loved this very much and it was a big joy to do. Now I’ve just started a project in Vienna for the Wiener Festwochen. There is a cultural festival with theaters, music, dance. I will do a kind of performance which is a mixture of the theatre, installation, motion picture, plus live music. It’s a kind of, I don’t know what, but I’m preparing now and will start work on it. We have only six performances, six days. Just in Vienna in mid-June.

Is there a theme?

I don’t want to say anything yet. First I want to do, then afterwards I don’t care, but before not. Because in this case, why am I even doing it?

Do you ever feel an itch to make movies again?

No. I am doing a lot of things. I’m not bored and I’m not retired and I still want to go ahead. I think, after The Turin Horse, I cannot say anything. It was about the death of everything. The work is complete. Done.

Do you think cinema still has the same cultural significance?

Until the human being stops existing, I think yes.

Regardless of the format?

Go and shoot something with your phone and find your own way and that’s all. Who cares? Fuck off this shitty film industry. Fuck all those guys. Fuck off the market. Because now you have a different way and the technology is different. Everything is different. You don’t need money now to do the perfect movie. Let’s say “perfect motion picture.” For me, this digital stuff is not the film. It is a motion picture, but different. You can express yourself. You can express your emotions. You can say everything.

You were involved with the Sarajevo Film Festival for a while. Is that something you would consider returning to?

I was doing a lot of things for them. I was president of the jury, I got a lifetime achievement award, they had my tribute. I was living there so of course I had a strong connection with the people, but I don’t know. For me, the festivals are less and less important because I’m out of this business. I’ve been to all the festivals in my life and to go somewhere and meet the same people all the time and talk about the same topics all the time. It’s somehow getting boring.

And answer the same questions from people like me.

[Laughs] Yeah, yeah, yeah… and you know what? When you get older and older, the subjects are getting more and more simple and, by the end, you’re just talking about your medicines and your blood pressure.

Do you still like to discuss your films?

Not much anymore. Not much.

Mica Levi on Psychedelic Compositions, Jackie O’s Style, and the Textures of ‘Monos’

Written by Rory O'Connor, February 22, 2019 at 4:02 pm 

With her landmark scores for Under The Skin and Jackie, Mica Levi has quickly made a name for herself as one of the most significant cinematic composers of the 21st century thus far. Good luck telling her that.

Colombian filmmaker Alejandro Landes’ new work Monos is the latest to receive the composer’s Midas touch, opening to raves in Sundance in January and, just last week, at the 69th Berlinale. We met the inconceivably humble artist in the German capital, over a plate of edamame, to discuss Jackie Kennedy’s style, sound-tracking psychedelics, and the EDM roots of her score for Monos.

The Film Stage: Each of the films that you’ve done has been so distinctive. I was wondering what draws you to a particular project, and especially to Monos?

Mica Levi: Well, actually I saw a cut of it and I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t, like, have a synopsis. I just watched it and I thought it was really good and I really liked the spirit of the film and I liked all the characters and I guess I thought it was really good without music. So I started making some and it seemed quite natural, cause I was excited about the film.

Is that how you usually work: that you would get a copy and work from the finished cut?

I’ve had different experiences each time but for me that’s really helpful, although you can get quite a strong sense from a script about how the film’s going to go. Obviously, when you see the images and the pictures it’s more instinctive–for me, anyway.

You once said that the challenge of scoring Jackie was that you were essentially sound-tracking grief. I wonder if there was something equitable to that with regards to Monos.

It’s funny with Jackie, because the story has started to mean a bit more to me as time’s gone on. How much she went through was really difficult. Really the way I got music together for that wasn’t about her grief, it was about her taste. I started writing music before I’d really seem that much of the film. Because she’s a really distinct character and it’s a very specific time period. I was trying to make music that I thought she’d be into, that she would enjoy in her state of mind. She was quite kind of out of her face all the time. She was taking a lot of prescription drugs, she was drinking a lot, to get through this bizarre situation she was in which was also traumatic.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is, in a way the music was written just based on her taste, not to do with her story of grief but more like what music would she put on. And Monos was more thematic and also bare resources. It’s pretty minimal. They had minimal resources out there. They’ve got different textures: there’s plastic, there’s metal, and then you’ve got like natural resources. There’s a big clash of materials going on in there: electronics, no electronics. Building a fire but then having a video camera.

The textures of the forest itself.

Yeah, it’s all kind of like a mash of different things and I guess the music’s kind of reflective of that. Very minimal, you got like high pitch whistles and low drum rumbles. The whistle is one of the most basic airwave sounds you can get because it’s like passing through a pipe like that [makes a sound wave with her finger] so like shouting down a tunnel.

And then there are these rises that are derived from a lot of EDM music. All kinds of music have big rises in them before drops happen. And that’s kind of the adrenaline. For me that was representing the kind of endless adrenaline you get when you’re a teenager.

Whenever I hear drum rolls like that in a war film I immediately think of Kurosawa. Are there any filmmakers that influence you? 

No doubt. I don’t look to film for inspiration directly because it doesn’t feel very good to do it. It’s not very fun. I’ve definitely heard Timpani rolls in films before. If I really think about it–and I realize because it’s a minor third–that Timpani roll is inspired by Rothko’s Chapel. I didn’t intentionally do that but then I recognize that I’ve drawn a connection to that. It’s much more enjoyable to look to other music or other things for inspiration. If you look at other films it’s just the wrong place to look. I don’t know how to say it. You’ve got to go to the source, you’ve got to try and find the source of the feelings that you’re getting. That’s why I go to dance music that is made to be really adrenaline-fueled as opposed to a really adrenaline-fueled scene in a film.

Like Jackie, the kids in Monos are off there heads in a way, too. Especially in this incredible mushroom sequence.

Yeah, they’re dancing without music. So instead of having the full music really there, I kind of just got into the rises on their own. I’ve been using it in other music I’ve been making for a couple of years now, to create those peaks and troughs and stuff. But on their own they’re different… but anyway, I’m rambling.

It’s such a tactile piece of music; you really get the character’s heightened sense of touch.

That’s it! I mean it’s quite easy to go into a hallucinogenic drug scene and make everything all blurry when sometimes that’s not always the effect with certain kinds of drugs. It felt more trippy to do these little fairy farts.

So Jackie was this total success, you went to the Oscars and so on. I was wondering if you received a lot of offers after all that?

Yeah, I guess so. I don’t know. I mean, I guess I’m a particular kind of something. There are so many people writing music, there are so many films.

Could it be that your style is so distinctive?

It’s one of those things. I like to get involved a bit later on in the film. Some want you to be there earlier and I don’t want to commit to that, so I don’t know. I’m learning as I go.

You were still quite young when you did Under The Skin. How did Jonathan Glazer approach you for that?

He’d heard a record that we’d done. It was basically a project with a contemporary orchestra. That was an album that we’d made in 2010 and it was based on the most psychedelic kind of style of music that I could think of at the time, which was “chopped and screwed” music so we called it ‘Chopped & Screwed’ and he’d heard that. It was inspired by the technique of slowing things down and speeding things up. It’s a way of distorting reality with harshening sounds.

It’s like very psychedelic because of that but also it’s quite a modern technique because it’s something that’s only been possible recently, to warp things like that, time warping… so anyway we did that, he heard that. I think he liked it and also they had quite small resources as well so I’m sure there was a lot of luck. I mean, I was very lucky. They wanted someone who’d not done it before as well. These were all the things they said, I don’t know though. [Laughs.]

When it premiered in Venice, Ryuichi Sakamoto was on the jury. Did you get to meet him?

I didn’t get to meet him then, but what an amazing composer! I did meet him recently because he did a gig in London and a group I’m in called Curl supported him so I met him then.

Pablo Larraín was also on the jury that year. Was that how Jackie all started?

I think so yeah. Must have been.

Did you talk to him at the time?

I didn’t know there was a jury.

So the film festival world was a whole new thing?

Yeah, I didn’t even know the red carpet was the whole of the floor. It’s not just a little strip, it takes you from one end to the other end.

How does it compare to the music festival world?

It’s a different headspace. When you go see music you kind of let go of your mind entirely, hopefully.

More substances involved?

Well, yeah. Although not exclusively. [Scans the room and laughs.]

Monos screened at the Berlin International Film Festival and will be released by NEON.

Kamasi Washington on Creating a Visual Companion to ‘Heaven and Earth’ with His Sundance Premiere ‘As Told To G/D Thyself’

Written by Dan Mecca, February 18, 2019 at 11:25 am 

On the festival circuit, one section that often goes overlooked is the short films that are presented, sometimes in their own, curated block and sometimes at the top of a programmed feature. It is a tragic product of the fast-paced, over-saturated environment that is film journalism. So when one catches some attention, it’s a welcome moment.

This year at Sundance Film Festival, a creative collective calling themselves The Ummah Chroma premiered a short film entitled As Told To G/D ThyselfIt’s a piece of art inspired and built from the music of jazz master Kamasi Washington’s recent album Heaven and Earth. Washington is part of The Ummah Chroma, along with editor Marc Thomas, cinematographer Bradford Young, director Terence Nance, and producer/director Jenn Nkiru. Together, this quintet directs an engaging short that explores multiple visual mediums (animation, live action in color and black-and-white) accompanied by re-arranged audio from the aforementioned album. The throughline of the short concerns each person’s relationship to God, or god, or G/D. What does your faith (or lack thereof) mean to you?

The Film Stage spoke with Kamasi Washington and Marc Thomas at Sundance, talking through these themes, the process of marrying music with visuals and the universal truths that can come from experimental cinema.

The Film Stage: I watched the short a couple of times and find it really interesting. My first question would be how does the group form? The Ummah Chroma? How does that come together?

Kamasi Washington: Well, so, when I was making the album (Heaven and Earth) even as I was recording it felt really visual. Even though I was recording with musicians, a lot of the time I was using more visual references than musical ones. And so, with that, I was really planning to do something–to have an expressive visual representation of the music.

And this is while you’re recording the album?

KW: Yeah. And I had already met Brad[ford Young], and we just vibed. I loved his work. And I was looking for a reason to do something with him. So I hit him up and told him that I was working on the new album, sent him some of the music, and he was on board. He and I started having conversations… just about the music, what it meant, and about what we wanted to create visually to represent those same feelings and emotions. In those conversations, he brought up the other members of the group. I was already familiar with Terence’s work and had actually met with him and we had talked about maybe doing something together. Brad introduced me to Jenn [Nkiru] and Marc [Thomas]. It was kind of one of those things where as we figured out what we wanted to do we would think of people who could help us do that.

So basically you were looking to work with these people to make this thing that you’re thinking of visually, and then the team forms to some degree. Is there an initial nugget for what becomes the short, creatively?

KW: We had a lot of conversations about the music and what it meant.  The first person to have a concept of something to do was Jenn actually. And Jenn kind of created her visual components first. We wanted to have some momentum going into it so we got the funding we had from Young Turks and we put that into Jenn and Jenn kind of set the tone for where we were going to go with it. And then we started talking more about what we were going to do with the rest of the film. Terence was the one who was able to cultivate all of these talks and ideas into something that was like a story. Or a treatment.

Did you have a traditional script going into filming?

KW: There was talking about the ideas. That turned into a thing that was pretty loose. And then Terence came in and turned that loose thing into something that we could really see. Read it and go like, “Oh, we can make a shooting plan.” Plan shots and scout locations. And then we shot it and that was different. Then we gave it to Marc and it became something different again…which actually had been closer to what we were talking about [at the start]. It was weird. It kind of went through this journey of like… we had a plan for something and then when we made it, it became closer to the album…

Now that the short is done and out, how does it play to you in comparison to the album? Like a visual companion?

KW: Yeah, it’s almost like a brother to the album… [all the music] you hear in the movie is from the album but a lot of it is repurposed. So I took the strings from this song, the bass from this one, songs that are overlapping.

Marc, you were overseeing the post process, then. Can you talk about that a bit?

Marc Thomas: Yes, I was the editor. But Terence also. I also tend to do a lot of sound [mixing]. I have a music background as well so…

KW: [Marc] was with us, with me and Russ Elevado, when we were repurposing the music…

MT: Right, right.

There’s a lot happening in this short where you’ll have moments that feel very personal. But on a macro level it’s this piece about how we relate to the stuff we believe in–the praying at the end feels like a nice period at the end of a sentence that helped me as a viewer go, “Okay, I see what we’re talking about here.” Does that get discovered in the edit? You capture the moments and then place them where it feels right in the edit?

MT: This very much felt to me like a collage. So the pieces start coming together and you start playing and asking, “Hey, what does this mean with these pieces next to each? and, wow, what does this mean?” Obviously that’s always the case in the edit but also we’re working with music that was both inspiring and fulfilling a role where there’s this kind of cycle that’s happening. We had shots that were also being repurposed, to give a third meaning that we had not really thought about. We started to try and paint with emotion and with what felt strong. We were able to move away from the more narrative approach and create a feeling and a punctuation and movement. That’s something that you really can’t anticipate until we were the lab, you know? [Laughs]

KW: Because the genesis came from an album that is mostly instrumental. We hear an instrumental record and there’s a feeling in it like, you listen to an album and everyone gets something different but everyone also gets something that’s the same… and I think this process was the same thing. Each one of us had a different relationship to it and what it is. So for me there is a kind of story. I wasn’t there [when they were editing]. I knew they had a connection to the music and if I’m in there when they’re doing that it’s going to make it a little more mirrored to the music?

You want to let them do their thing.

KW: I knew that they felt that core that I felt. And once we put music to it we felt like “Oh, this is that complete, two pieces of a whole.” Like I said before, the treatment, the story, all of those things were bending and changing at every stage but the feeling you got from it was constant. We all wanted it to feel like a piece that, each person that saw it could create within it. That’s part of the energy of it and that’s definitely within the energy in instrumental jazz music, improvisational music. There is not one way. But there is a way. [Laughs]

When we’re in the forest scene [in the short], those designs, those wardrobe designs, and character designs, do they come from a specific religious reference of some sort? Is it totally original?

KW & MT: That was Jenn!

KW: So we talked and then I sent [Jenn] the music and then like two or three weeks later her head was just going. So she created those [designs] from the feeling the music had. As a musician, emotions and feelings are not as elusive as some people think they are. I can see a feeling. And I think that she heard the music and saw the feeling. And then as we do the project the feelings take on personalities. That’s why the character [in the forest] that you see in red, we call him God.

Sure, well that comes through watching it.

KW: I don’t know that she always intended that to be that but it’s the same thing. It’s like, “What is D-minor?” It means something different depending on what you’re doing with it.

I suppose the way that scene and character is introduced he feels like an omniscient force of some kind…

MT: A significant part of that is the music playing behind that. If you were to have that shot on a completely different kind of track again it might take on a totally different kind of meaning. He’s still a very regal figure but I think that was part of what was an interesting process of discovery.

Right, traditionally you would film something and then approach a composer to make the music to match the visuals. Here it’s kind simultaneous almost, it seems?

KW: Well, it’s a give and take. You have the music and then you say, “Okay, I’m going to create something to go with this.” It’s almost like twin brothers but one came out the womb first. As they grow up they affect one another.

As Told To G/D Thyself premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Follow our festival coverage here.

Christophe Honoré and Vincent Lacoste on ‘Sorry Angel’ and Responding to a New Wave of Homophobia

Written by Joshua Encinias, February 14, 2019 at 3:28 pm 

“I mostly read dead writers,” Arthur says. Jacques teases back, “You won’t need to wait long.” The many types of relationships, friendships, and the ways the two transform are explored in Christophe Honoré’s new film Sorry Angel. In this scene, the two lovers discourse as if they were student and teacher, weaving multiple aspects of their relationship: their age difference, common interests, and Jacques’ known status as H.I.V. positive into two lines of dialogue.

We spoke with filmmaker Honoré and one of his lead actors, Vincent Lacoste at the 56th New York Film Festival. Honoré discusses Sorry Angel’s aesthetic manifesto and the new wave of international homophobia that influenced him to tell this story now. Lacoste discusses his character Arthur’s relationship with Nadine (Adèle Wismes), his lover prior to Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps) and the idea Honoré presents that Arthur, Jacques and Mathieu (Denis Podalydès) are the same character but at different stages of life.

The Film Stage: Many shades of the color blue show up in the film. Will you talk about your color palette?

Christophe Honoré: The blue is first and foremost the result of a financial constraint. The story takes place in the 1990s and it demanded a period look, but we were working with a relatively tight budget so I had to find ideas to deal with this. There was something in my memories about France in the 1990s. Streets in the cities were lit by mercury bulbs so they gave off blue light. Today lighting of cities in France is very different. We have sodium bulbs which have an orange light. My director of photography and I talked about how we could have blue light in the film. We decided to move the blue into the sets and costumes. I don’t mean to say this pretentiously, but we came up with this aesthetic manifesto, which was to make a summer film in winter.

Will you talk about Arthur’s relationship with Nadine?

Vincent Lacoste: He likes Nadine and it was a relationship he liked, but he is someone who is discovering his sexuality and he’s discovered it’s not his sexuality. No matter how much he might like her she’s not the present for him. It’s not right to say she’s a pastime for him now–it’s that the relationship is over. It’s something that’s transformed into a friendship.

And will you talk about Jacques’s relationship with Mathieu?

Honoré: Is the reason you’re asking such similar questions back to back that you think they’re similar or the same type of relationships?

Jacques and Mathieu’s friendly intimacy seems worn, like they used to be in a relationship, so yes.

Honoré: It’s certain that something that was very important to me in the film is that while the main story is a love and sex story between Jacques and Arthur, it was also very important there were satellite stories that are stories of friendship. So we have the friendship between Jacques and Mathieu, Arthur and Nadine, but also the friendship between Arthur and the mother of his child. Or Arthur and his fellow students. Friendship was an essential theme of this film.

At your New York Film Festival Q&A Christophe said that Jacques, Mathieu, and Arthur are almost like the same character but at different stages of their life. I would love to hear Vincent’s perspective on it.

Lacoste: It’s not something I thought about on the shoot. It wasn’t something I could play. It was more of the realm of what was unsaid on the shoot. Of course these three characters do have a lot in common but for me each character is different. I think it’s more of an idea Christophe has of the film rather than the reality of the film. From a concrete point of view, I don’t think Arthur will be like Mathieu one day.

You’ve been making movies for two decades. Why did you choose to tell the story now?

Honoré: In the 1990s I was a student. I am older now and there’s a temptation for filmmakers or writers who are approaching fifty to turn to the past and youth. I think this is a usual theme or habit of artists nearing fifty. It’s also true that cinema offers this possibility of achieving time regained, of returning to a certain time. Cinema can give us this illusion that the past returns. This is something I’d never done in my earlier films. In this case I felt the temptation to do it. It’s also true that in France, but Europe in a more general way, you see what’s going on in Poland, Russia and Chechnya, I have the impression there’s a very brutal expression of a new homophobia. I thought it was important as a gay filmmaker to propose this film today.

Sorry Angel opens on February 15 at NYC’s Quad Cinema and will expand in the coming weeks.