Category Archive: Film
  1. Lisa Hurwitz: “I think nostalgia gets a bad rap.”

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    “The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.” – Milan Kundera

    The Automat, which premiered at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival is emerging director Lisa Hurwitz’s debut film and details probably the first truly ‘fast food’ dining experience of its kind in the US. Founded by Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart in 1888, Automats became popular and iconic for millions of New Yorkers and Philadelphians for more than a century. The technology of an Automat was quite something for the time, in the sheer simplicity, mostly; the customer would put nickels into slots and little windows opened to reveal the customer’s pick, be it a slice of pie, macaroni and cheese, or a Salisbury steak. And a franchise is born. 

    Lisa spent eight years interviewing dozens of celebrities and former employees and visiting far-flung places where collectors hoard the surviving remnants of the once spectacular Automat restaurantsOne of the most distinctive voices in the documentary is that of legendary comedy filmmaker Mel Brooks. Lisa nailed a meeting with Mel which led to a chain of other celebrities who agreed to be interviewed, like Carl Reiner, who breakfasted there before going to the studio, Ruth Bader Ginsburg who did her homework there after school and former US Secretary of State Colin Powell who went there regularly with his family. 

    Felten Ink caught up with Lisa Hurwitz to discuss the making of her first feature documentary, what grabbed her interest in the first place and the simple art of signing (in the UK we say ‘blagging’) high profiles up to one’s first major project.

     

    The Automat was your first move into directing. How did you find the process and did your experience of it give you a taste for more?

     

    I was able to take the production of the film at my own pace and fit it in during my spare time over the course of 8 years. At that particular point in my life that was just right. That certainly gave me a taste for making a high-quality film and I’m planning to continue on this path.

     

    Why did it take so long and did you ever consider abandoning at any point? 

     

    The film was happening in my spare time and took a long time because I was working while making the film. It took a long time because my editors I wanted to work with had waiting lists. It’s a good thing it took a long time because we would not have had that cast if it was completed quickly. It also took an extra year because I sat on the film the first year of Covid since I wanted to be in theaters. No, I never considered giving up to my recollection. I loved the project and just chipped away at it little by little.

     

     

    What kind of background did you have up until becoming a first-time director?

     

    I was a first-time director while I was doing other things. I worked in the non-profit arts for a cinema, for film festivals, for a performing arts center. I also worked at a public relations agency.

     

    What interested you about the Automat?

     

    I was eating in my university cafeteria and volunteering at the local 1920s movie palace as a 35mm film projectionist. I was a bit obsessed with cooking, with the New York Times food section, with Martha Stewart. When I heard about the automat in my school library I wanted to know more and was researching the topic for fun. At a certain point I decided I wanted to create a film about it. I started researching cafeterias and discovered a PhD dissertation by Alec Shuldiner entitled “Trapped Behind the Automat: Technological Systems and the American Restaurant, 1902-1991.”  I was curious about Alex’s strong emotional attachment to the material, reflective of the nostalgia that I’d later find when interviewing people who had frequented the Automat.  By 2013, I had the same passion for Horn and Hardart that others had felt, and began the project. 

     

    What lessons did you learn working on a project like this for the first time?

     

    I learned lot of important lessons but mainly to dream big and to believe in myself.

     

    Some of the people interviewed are huge profiles, some ‘stars’, some influential in politics. How did you go about making the decision on who you wanted? 

     

    That wasn’t easy. At some point there was an overhaul of the cut and all at once a bunch of people disappeared from the film. It was a puzzle, figuring out who went together, who could carry an entire section or be a presence throughout the entire film.

     

    I adore Mel Brooks. How did you get him involved and eventually get him to create the films theme song “(There Was Nothing Like The Coffee) At the Automat”) ?

     

    When I was volunteering at the movie theater during university and ultimately employed there for some years, a guest Carl Gottlieb came through the theater for a screening of a film he wrote Jaws 3D. Carl offered to tell Mel about the film and then Carl told me Mel said to email his assistant, and it all came together fast. The song was a request of mine that was made later after I built a little of a rapport with him.

     

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Colin Powell – I read that you used an interesting technique to get both parties to agree? 

     

    You read correctly. Neither interview was fully secured and I played them against each other in a way to confirm both of them. Each party presumably liked that the other one was in the movie, and I think that sealed the deal. And I flew to DC and we filmed each of them one day after the other. It’s powerful to say “I’m going to be in DC anyways to interview Ruth Bader Ginsburg” and “I’m going to be in DC anyways to interview Colin Powell”.

     

    What can you tell me about your next big project, a romantic comedy set in Italy? Any actors you want involved?

     

    I do have a wish list of both American and Italian actors. I’m at the stage now of getting the script to a draft 2 that I feel is ready to show these people.

     

    I understand you grew up in Los Angeles. What brought you to New York?

     

    Actress Audrey Hepburn photographed in New York City as part of a multi-day photo shoot for Esquire magazine, 1951.

    I moved to Washington state when I was 18 and was there for a decade before moving to NYC. It felt like a natural progression. I loved New York, I wanted to give it a go.

     

     What type of things have been inspiring you lately and what attracted you to film?

     

    My female friendships. My teeny Manhattan studio apartment. The awards race, I do like a challenge! I had a few high school teachers that were into film. But mainly I’d say when I found that gem of a theater in my college town and decided to get involved there.

     

    How would you describe yourself as a filmmaker, now that you are one? 

     

    I’ve been one for a long time, sometimes I say it’s like a made 2 films for the amount of experience I feel I got on this one and the duration. At this particular time I’d say as a filmmaker I’m into crowd-pleasing, making smiles, marketability, strategy, and making stuff that’s both entertaining and good for people.

     

    The Automat seems like a nostalgic piece of work. What’s your opinion on nostalgia and what does it mean to you?

     

    That’s just what we were going for. I think nostalgia gets a bad rap. It can also be self-care. In the case of our film it’s also very poignant and shows how our memories can mean something greater than even what we knew, we can even learn from them. I’m a very warm and fuzzy person. I spend a lot of time thinking about my own memories. I’m probably in the 99th percentile for 32-year-old nostalgics if that is even a word.

     

    Lisa Hurwitz, thank you. 

    Watch The Automat on Amazon Prime video 

    Follow Lisa Hurwitz on Instagram 

    http://automatmovie.com/

  2. Gaspar Noe: “I feel that I’m more serene with these two concepts we call life and death.”

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    Gaspar Noe is a dangerously provocative and mind-bending filmmaker who has the ability to combine almost every element of what makes truly great cinema. In his own words, he’s already made many films that have, “scared people, turned them on, or made them laugh.”

    I would also add that he’s also managed to bore us, or maybe just I, to tears (his 3-D porno ‘Love’), induce horrifying and at times euphoric anxiety (‘Climax’), make most of us switch off at notable and world-famous rape scenes (‘Irreversable’) and in his first and one of my favorite film of his, (I Stand Alone), create an extreme and brilliantly nihilistic tale where even he himself appears to recommend that viewers watch at their own discretion. 

    With his new film ‘Vortex’, Noe evolves further. He suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2019 and published images of his time in hospital on his Instagram profile – which I initially thought of as a hoax, such is his (apparent) dark sense of humour. The result of recent trauma is  ‘Vortex’, a film about an aging couple in decline which stars legendary horror director Dario Argento in the main role of a man dealing with dementia.  Here, Gaspar Noe discusses themes of ‘Vortex’, where it came from, and his own sense of decline. 

     

     

    Mr Noe, what was the origin of Vortex? 

     

    I’ve been wanting to make a film with elderly people for several years. With my grandparents, then with my mother, I realized that old age involves very complex survival issues. It generates overwhelming situations in which those who have protected you most revert in turn to their childhood. So I imagined a film with an extremely simple narrative, with one person in a state of mental deterioration losing the use of language, and her grandson who has not yet mastered it, as two extremes of this brief experience that is human life. 

     

    I would say that it’s your least provocative, least violent film to date. Fair comment?

     

    That’s not for me to judge. While it’s my first feature film for all audiences, I’m also told that – due to the very common situation it describes, which most people are or will become familiar with – it’s the toughest. I’ve already made films that scared people, turned them on, or made them laugh. This time I wanted to make a film that made them cry as hard as I could cry, in life as at the cinema. Tears really do have a sedative effect when they come into contact with the membranes of the eyelids, which makes them one of the most pleasurable substances there is. Also, this isn’t the first time that I’ve filmed with the greatest love people older than me: it was the case with Philippe Nahon with whom I made Carne and I Stand Alone. But this time, Vortex is really inspired by recent experiences in my life, and all those ultra-brilliant loved ones whose powers of thought I saw decay and then die before my eyes. The film probably refers to the emptiness that surrounds us and in which we float. I’ve also been told that it recalls Enter the Void in the sense that its subject is the great emptiness that is life and not death. 

     

    Perhaps it’s also your most radical, desperate film? 

     

    Maybe, in any case not very Manichean. It’s just the story of a genetically programmed disintegration when the whole house of cards collapses. As we wrote for the Cannes Film Festival synopsis: Life is a short party that will soon be forgotten. 

     

    Did you write this film following your sudden brain hemorrhage? 

     

    No, not at all. I’d already thought about the subject for this film long before. On the other hand, with this stroke, from which there was very little chance that I would emerge alive or unscathed, I was catapulted onto the dark side of the moon. While I was on morphine for three weeks, I thought about my death and its consequences for all those around me, the mess I would have left behind. That’s death: the objects of a life you leave to others and that disappear in a garbage truck as quickly as memories that rot along with the brain. In any case, since the hand of destiny gave me some joyful extra time, I feel that I’m more serene with these two concepts we call life and death. In addition, the convalescence that was imposed on me, followed by this fabulous collective experience of confinement linked to a virus, allowed me to spend months discovering the greatest melodramas of Mizoguchi, Naruse and the unjustly forgotten Kinoshita, whose melancholy, cruelty and aesthetic inventiveness reminded me what truly great cinema could be. 

     

    Was it a commando shoot? 

     

    I wrote a 10-page text, that grew to 14 pages when I expanded the bodies of the characters to deposit it at the CNC (laughs). Canal + committed and I got the ‘avance sur recettes’ (advance on receipts) for the first time. I shot in April, over 25 days, and finished on May 8th. I had an editing room on set and, since we didn’t have very long shooting days, I started editing right away, in the evenings, on weekends. It was very fast, especially the post-production before Cannes, but I love speed. It worked well for Fassbinder, it worked well for all the great Japanese directors in the 60s. Why do slowly what you can do quickly? 

     

    When did you have the idea for the split-screen? 

     

    The story of the film is very commonplace, it’s just something that happens quite naturally for people aged 80 and over that their children must manage. And these situations are so heavy day-to-day that most of those over 50 carry them like individual curses that they’re almost ashamed to talk about. For the form, I envisaged something almost documentary, without written dialogue, and on a single set, as realistic as possible. The only aesthetic position I took was to film some scenes in split-screen to emphasize the shared loneliness of this couple, but I hadn’t planned to do so over the entire duration of the film. The first week I only shot a few sequences with two cameras, but in the editing room I realized that when one of the characters left the frame, leaving us alone with the other, I really wanted to continue to see what he or she was doing at the same time. Reality is the sum of the perceptions of those who make it. And since there’s nothing more boring in cinema than this artificial tv movie language that almost everyone uses I thought, as long as we’re making something as contrived as a film, why not have fun with the split-screen? So I timed the shots and filmed the missing parts to complete the sequences. The process then imposed itself from the second week of filming. It feels like we’re following two tunnels that evolve in parallel but never meet, two characters irrevocably separated by their paths in life and by the image. The camera language was a bit complex, and, as usual, I hadn’t made storyboards. It requires a good spatial logic and I was constantly solving a mental Rubik’s cube. Once again, I slept very badly at night. 

     

    And your actors? 

     

    My three actors were the most beautiful RollsRoyces of improvisation that I could have dreamt of. But by working with Françoise and Dario, given my admiration for them, I put myself under a lot of pressure, joyful and constructive as it was. I didn’t want to screw up, to do a lazy directing job in front of a master of the image like Dario Argento, nor dare to miss a single performance by anyone with Françoise in the film. I’ve idolized Françoise since discovering her in The Mother and the Whore, even though Jean Eustache’s use of ultra-precisely written dialogues is the exact opposite of what I try to do. When Dario agreed to act in the film, I had less than a fortnight to find his son. I thumbtacked photos of Françoise and Dario on a wall and asked myself who could be physically credible as their child. Then I thought of Alex Lutz. I’d seen Guy by chance and was blown away by his performance. I stuck his photo next to his parents’ and it worked perfectly. We met, and he was available. And when he told me he had himself directed Guy from a 10-page screenplay, I figured we were well suited! 

     

    With this more ‘grown-up’ film, you may even risk getting good reviews. 

     

    Most great films are massacred when they’re released, and the worst ones are venerated…So I don’t care. To paraphrase Pasolini, what we do is more important than what we say. Vortex might be more ‘adult’ than my other films. But, I Stand Alone and my short SIDA aside, I feel as if I’ve only really made films about teenagers for teenagers. Today, at 57, perhaps I’m finally entering adulthood a little. I am getting into an unkown world.

     

    Thank you.

     

    Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

  3. Lea Seydoux: “Like many actors, I have a lot of instinct, but I’m also scared, even if I often feel comfortable on a set.”

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    Lea Seydoux follows in a long line of sulky, petted lip and iconic French actresses, of which there are quite a few – I would argue that she’s already up there with the likes of Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche. Seydoux is a famed art-house actress (The Lobster, Blue is The Warmest Colour)  with a penchant for staring in blockbusters (James Bond).  Here, we discuss her new movie Deception, ‘a profession of faith’ based on the eponymous Philip Roth novel, and her latest collaboration with the brilliant and prolific director Arnaud Desplechin. 

     

     

    The softness of your voice in Deception is striking, almost hypnotic, from the opening scene where you are facing the camera. Was it a given from the start? 

     

    I have had few such a talkative roles in my career, moreover with such demanding text. Here the words had to be expressed incisively and quickly. We surely all have several voices according to different periods and situations in life. My voice in Oh Mercy! was clearly different from the one I have in Deception. In this film it is closer to mine in life. 

     

    You all seem to have an erotic relationship with the text in this film… 

     

    This comes from Arnaud, who has a very close relationship with literature. I think that words, language, literature are essentially erotic. I am convinced that creation in general has a close relationship with eros. It’s a libidinal transformation. And this is the case in Deception. Throughout his films Arnaud narrates feelings supported by the text.

     

     

    It is also a sensual film, as close as possible to faces and bodies. Did you feel enveloped by the camera and the light? 

     

    I wasn’t exactly aware of the work the camera was doing while I was acting, but I loved working with the DP, Yorick Le Saux, who brought so much energy. There was such a special energy on this shoot. When you work with Arnaud, you want to espouse his cause. The actors he directs are thrilled on set. At his side, we feel transcended. He manages, with great youthfulness, to infuse a childlike excitement on set. His enthusiasm is contagious. He has fire in him and manages to communicate it to you. It’s as if he was handing us the torch. Then it’s up to us to seize it and make it blaze. Under his gaze we want to give the best. Arnaud inspires me enormously. In addition, he has the gift of choosing subjects that fascinate me. 

     

    Can you say more? 

     

    I like the way he talks about feelings. I especially like his viewpoint, his subjectivity. At his side, I feel I’m learning as much about cinema as about life, one not being distinct from the other. Thanks to him I have understood that one thing always goes with its opposite. That is why he doesn’t blame his characters, even those whose behaviour is reprehensible. He is always looking for their humanity. This was at the very heart of Oh Mercy! And it’s also the case in Deception. We can discuss the fact that adultery is immoral, but Arnaud films the love between my character and Philip. He always manages to make humanity triumph. His films never moralize; feelings always prevail, which gives dignity to the characters. I think that’s wonderful.

     

    What was your feeling when you read Arnaud Desplechin and Julie Peyr’s screenplay?

     

    I had the feeling of understanding the film immediately. And it was the same thing on set: when Arnaud gave me directions, I knew instantly what he wanted, it was evident… Sometimes it only takes one sentence in a screenplay for you to understand the whole film, a sentence around which the film revolves. In this case, it’s the final sentence, when my character says to Philip: “Because it was so tender…. unless I was mistaken.” He tells her no, she wasn’t mistaken. The whole film is in these two sentences, there’s no misunderstanding, tenderness did exist between the two of them. This sentence is related to the beginning of the film, where she asks him if he feels the same way she does. There are often misunderstandings in love. Here, both of them agree at the end: they did understand each other. By the end of the script, I was in tears! And I was in the same state when I played that scene. Our world cruelly lacks tenderness. Yet tenderness has to do with giving, with generosity. It’s overwhelming. And there are many such scenes in the film. 

     

    Were you familiar with Philip Roth’s world before shooting this adaptation? 

     

    I discovered it thanks to Arnaud. Roth is both vulgar and poetic. It seems to me that paradox runs through his oeuvre. This is probably why he is so fascinating to so many. 

     

     

     

     

     Did you work differently with Arnaud Desplechin on this film than on the one before? 

     

    I was almost more intimidated on Deception than on Oh Mercy! It seems to me that it was the opposite for Arnaud. I thought he was more confident on this one. 

     

    We perceive you as a tightrope walker in this film, constantly between two states, often overwhelmed by emotion… 

     

    I played this woman as if she was on the edge of a precipice and that’s how I felt on set. I was very shy during this shoot. I was so exposed… My character offers herself: this woman is in love. You feel very vulnerable when you’re in love. Because you want to be loved in return, you expect something. So I felt very fragile. My smiles are a way of masking my distress and emotion. Playing a lover is daunting. 

     

    What did you tell yourself about your character, who has no first name? Did you secretly give her a name? 

     

    In the screenplay she’s referred to as “The Lover”. It’s as if the characters were conscious of being characters… Because apart from Philip and Rosalie, no one is named in the story. Philip is like a sun around which everyone orbits. My character is neglected by her husband. We sense a great loneliness in her. She is a woman who doesn’t work, she’s financially dependent on her husband and therefore not free. “Without income you don’t have dignity,” she says. This sentence summarizes her situation, her state. I see her as an imprisoned woman. Her lover is her escape. 

     

    Did her sophisticated look, her meticulous outfits, her stylish hair help you find the core of her character? 

     

    I blended with this character quite naturally. I could dress like her in life. I wear some of my clothes in the film and bought some of the costumes after the shoot! The costume designer, Jürgen Doering, who has worked for Saint-Laurent, has beautiful taste. I loved wearing the clothes in the film, I felt very at ease in them. They are both chic and comfortable. 

     

    What kind of acting partner is Denis Podalydès? 

     

    He is firstly a man with whom I absolutely love to have conversations in between takes. We got on very well. He is as inspiring as Arnaud can be, and like him knows how to open up new perspectives. He’s also attentive, caring, strong. He is a theatre actor, his feet on the ground, he’s earthy. This was precious to me, as I was playing a febrile character. 

     

    Did Arnaud Desplechin direct you together? 

     

    He gave each of us different indications. Arnaud is great actor’s director, the greatest perhaps. Being directed by him is an immense pleasure. He is as intelligent as he is sensitive. 

     

    Denis Podalydès says he had the feeling that you were always one step ahead of him… 

     

    Is it because I never know what I’m going to do before the camera starts rolling? It can be destabilizing for my partners. I can go through peaks and abysses, which no one is aware of but me. I feel like a wild animal, one that hasn’t allowed itself to be tamed and which, emotionally speaking, has no reference point. Like many actors, I have a lot of instinct, but I’m also scared, even if I often feel comfortable on a set… although sometimes not. So I too am one thing and it’s opposite! 

    Were you inspired by the sets, the 80s accessories? 

     

    The sets are sensual and vibrant. I liked their “French charm”, while the action is set in England. Arnaud embodies French elegance! 

     

    Did this experience trigger some inner change in you? 

     

    I feel as if this was my first role as a woman and that I am in synch with my age, with my own life. I wouldn’t have been able to play this part five years ago. My experience in life nourished me for this film.

  4. Julia Ducournau: “I wanted light to spring from the shadows…”

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    Julia Ducournau first gained attention as writer/ director in 2011 when her short film ‘Junior’ was selected at the critics’ week in Cannes. The film would also win the Audience Award at the Festival Premiers Plans in Angers. She first came to my attention in 2016 with the release of ‘Raw’, a brilliantly witty yet horrifying (especially for vegetarians) twist on the flesh-eating horror genre which reportedly had some fainting in the cinema aisles. So it goes. The film would go on to win a host of awards at various international film festivals (Sundance, Sitges, Toronto) and her latest and second feature, ‘Titane’ recently won the Palm d’Or at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Here, in a shorter interview than I’d like, Ducournau discusses her latest film, it’s relationship with ‘Raw’, and divulges some insight into her methodology. 

     

    Ms Ducournau, can you tell me about the writing in Titane and how it took shape?

     

    I sensed I was facing a very complex puzzle, with dense matter that I clearly needed to simplify. But I had to be careful or I’d risk losing the existential scope I was aiming for. It was a real balancing act. To give TITANE its definitive shape, I honed in on the character of Vincent [Vincent Lindon] and his fantasy: this idea that through a lie, you can bring love and humanity to life. I wanted to make a film that initially may seem unlovable because of its violence, but then we grow deeply attached to the characters, and ultimately we receive the film as a love story. Or rather, a story about the birth of love because here, everything is a question of election.

     

    Can you talk about the post title sequence where we’re introduced to Agathe Rousselle (Alexia) as an adult?

     

    That sequence is there to impose a certain vision – not my vision – of Alexia, or more accurately, who others want her to be. This vision idealizes her, forcefully iconizes and sexualizes her, makes her obey a whole series of clichés. I see it as a decoy: we’re exploring a surface layer that hints at the ocean we’re about to plunge into, where we’ll discover a femininity with very blurry contours. I wanted this sequence to be both extremely organic and totally disconnected from reality. The Alexia presented to us here does not align with the truth of the character. 

     

     

     

    What was the casting process like for the part of Alexia?

     

    I knew right away she’d have to be an unknown face. As she goes through her mutations I didn’t want people thinking they’re watching the transformation of a physically familiar actress. I mention above a ‘femininity with blurry contours’. I needed an unknown to embody that. Someone the audience couldn’t project any expectations onto. Someone they could watch transform as the story plays out without being conscious of the artifice. So I went straight to non-professional young women. I had a certain androgynous physique in mind, one that could endure the various transformational states that playout for the camera. I wanted a face that would change with the angle of the shot. A face that could make us believe anything. So the casting was both vast and precise. I knew there’d be a lot of work for whoever I chose. Not so much rehearsing lines (Alexia is practically mute) but in the acting itself. I’d have to go digging for something inside her, push her to places she wasn’t used to going, and obviously that takes time. When I saw Agathe [Rousselle] for the first time at a casting session, she really stood out. She had the right physique and a fascinating face, but also a presence. She commanded the screen, and that’s exactly what I wanted. 

     

    What about Vincent Lindon’s character? 

     

    For the character of Vincent it was far simpler: I wrote the role for Vincent Lindon. We’ve known each other for a long time. I wanted to film him and show him to everyone the way I see him. His character required a range of emotions that, in my eyes, only he is capable of: at once scary and vulnerable, childlike and dark, deeply human yet monstrous… especially with that impressive hulk of a body. In preparation for the role he did serious weightlifting for a year. I wanted him beefy like an ox, reminding us of Harvey Keitel’s massiveness in Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. We got along beautifully during the shoot and I’m very proud of that. Vincent trusted me. He accepted the idea of surrendering to the character without necessarily holding all the keys to my cinema. He was exceptionally generous in what he gave to the role and to me. I think I got something from him that he himself was looking for at this stage in his career. I came along at the right time, if you will. 

     

    Can you say how you achieved the many special effects in TITANE?

     

    The biggest challenge by far were the prosthetics Agathe [Rousselle] had to wear. She spent long, laborious hours in makeup every day, which was exhausting for her and stressful for us, as every little touchup obviously takes time. The prosthetics were a central part of our daily schedules. It’s funny, because I’ve been using them since Junior and every time I say to myself, ‘Never again, too much hassle!’ Then I go right back and do it again on the next film! (laughter) But the thing is, for actors, prosthetics are true companions in the acting process. And they’re so organic on screen. 

     

    And you again teamed up with Rubens Impens who worked on RAW. What did brief did you provide for this film?

     

    I often used the word ‘malfunction’ to evoke the film’s transformations. ‘Derailment’ too, because the story is peppered with machines and metal. Ruben and I worked hand in hand. We did the shot list together, the lighting chart together, we were practically joined at the hip on set… We started by figuring out what machinery we’d need on the film, because we shared frustration from not having played on that more in RAW. And we discussed how to do something graphic without losing the characters in the process. When it comes to lighting, I work a lot within a cold/hot dichotomy. TITANE is concerned with metal and fire, so the cold/ hot relationship had to be ever-present. Ruben and I wanted to take a deep dive into contrast. We were constantly flirting with the limit, the limit being the cartoon: one step further and we could fall into cartoonish. We had to stay in the reality of the film. Push the shadow/light envelope as far as we could, without getting lost in an ultra-stylization that would suck the blood out of the characters and the action. We focused more on pictorial references than film references, the paintings of Caravaggio in particular. I also showed Ruben Summer Night by Winslow Homer and THE EMPIRE OF LIGHT series by René Magritte to give him an idea of what I was looking for in the contrasts. I wanted light to spring from the shadows in the same way emotion gushes after an initial shock. I also wanted lots of colors, to break with the darkness of the story and avoid an impression of inescapable sordidness. For the many nude scenes, which I wanted as non-sexualized as possible, I tried to use lighting to reinvent the skin each time. Our work with color made it possible to bring new textures, meanings, and emotions to the skin itself. 

     

    Another thing which struck me is the music. Where you again work with Jim Williams, what spec did you give him?

     

    I asked him to use percussions and bells. And I insisted on the bells. Why? Because I absolutely wanted to incorporate metal into the score. I wanted music that sounded metallic while still being melodic. As with RAW, I wanted a memorable recurring theme that would vary according to my characters’ trajectories. TITANE goes from animal to impulsive to sacred. To help us feel that progression, the music must also fluctuate, hybridize, transform. We go from percussion to bells to electric guitar and sometimes everything combined. Then voices come in, bringing a liturgical dimension to the film. I asked Jim [Williams] to work on creating a momentum towards the sacred. His music also needed to be like bursts of light in the shadows. 

     

    Julia Docournau, thank you.

    And thank you to Wild Bunch International. 

     

     

     

  5. Abdel Bendaher: “I tend to observe a lot and am careful to not be noticed”

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    Samir Guesmi’s directorial feature debut is described as being a ‘rites of passage’ in which a father and son will slowly grow to know and understand each other when ‘botched robbery’ and the need to satisfy older friends offer no end of conflict. Newcomer Abdel Bendaher plays Ibrahim, a youth hell-bent on finding himself and others at the same time. Here, Abdel Bendaher answers some questions about the role itself, working with director Samir Guesmi and finding his own feet in when dipping his toes into the world of filmmaking. 

     

    Abdel, How did you end up being a part of this project? 

     

    It was a bit of an eventful Sunday for me and my friends: we went to watch a friend – totally outclassed by older players – play a football match. At half time we dropped our ball near the spot where Samir Guesmi was. I felt he was staring at me. With his motorcycle helmet in hand and big as he is, we thought he was a cop! He introduced himself, and explained he was a director and actor. We didn’t believe him. He had to show us his Wikipedia page with a photo before we took him seriously. Then he asked if he could film us. Weeks went by and Christel Baras, the casting director, contacted me. I did a test with her first, then more casting sessions. I gave myself completely each time, because I felt the pressure mounting and I wanted to believe in this. When I found out I’d got the part I was really happy! 

     

    What was your relationship with cinema before this experience?

     

     I only went to the cinema to watch American blockbusters. But with my best friend we often fantasied about making a film about our friendship and the bullshit we used to come up with together. Now I’ve started to watch French cult films, I’m opening myself up to cinema and it fascinates me. 

     

    Do you remember your reaction when you read the script of IBRAHIM 

    I remember feeling it was really alive. I was immersed and I believed in everything I was reading. I quickly identified with Ibrahim, who is a high school student like me. He’s shy and reserved too. It was easy to project myself into this role. I liked the friendship between Ibrahim and Achilles as I much as his relationship with his father and the connection he develops with Louisa.

     

    What did you tell yourself about Ibrahim? The truth? 

     

    Nothing! I told myself I was going to play Ibrahim as I am. I understood that’s why I had been chosen, that I should stay as close to who I am in life to play the role of Ibrahim. I just thought he was an unlucky boy, not a victim. He wants to do things right and avoid problems, but his mate Achilles involves him in his bullshit and exerts a big influence on him. I also think he and his father love each other very much, but don’t dare tell each other. Ibrahim is a very observant character… Like me! I tend to observe a lot and am careful to not be noticed. I’m a champion at looking away if someone I’m looking at turns his head towards me. So I had no trouble finding the right attitude for Ibrahim, and Samir helped me a lot too. He guided my gaze, sometimes even during scenes. 

     

    How did Samir direct you, in other respects? 

     

    He told me to not act, to be natural. The fact that he himself is an actor helped me. During the first weeks we shot the scenes in Ibrahim’s and his father’s apartment. They were complicated scenes, because their relationship is complicated. The first days, Samir didn’t want to talk to me. He had warned me that the beginning of the shoot would be tough, and he piled the pressure on me. That’s how I felt about it anyhow, and it did help me to find the right emotions for the film. At first I concentrated on my character; I was in my corner and repeated the lines to myself, I was hunched up, like Ibrahim. I quickly felt I was the character. Bit by bit I understood this was Samir’s strategy, but I didn’t hold it against him. All the more so since at the end of the first week he came to talk to me and explained why he had talked to me so little at first. Little by little I started to feel more at ease with everyone. 

     

    Did you manage to forget the camera?

     

    Only after several days. I got used to it gradually. I also had to get used to the crew, I was a bit overwhelmed by all these people around me. What helped me was being invited to participate in the location scouting. I got to know some technicians and quickly felt accepted. But on set, I was intimidated. It was really intense, and I felt there was no room for mistakes. I didn’t know that films were made like that. I thought you shot in front of a green screen with dialogues written on cards! Those first days were crazy – hallucinated the first few days: no comparison! 

     

    How did you find your character physically? Did the wardrobe help… the chapka hat for example?

     

    Yes, even if at the beginning I thought that the shoes I had to wear were lousy! These must have dated from the time of Louis XVI, these trainers! I swear to God! I wore a chapka hat, a coat, had a green bag… At first when we shot the scenes at the high school, with kids around us who hadn’t necessarily understood we were shooting a film, I was a little ashamed in these ugly clothes! But it allowed me to feel like Ibrahim. The chapka hat physically defines his character. He wears it all the time, he’s attached to it. When Ibrahim takes it off the people who look at him feel they are discovering a new face. 

     

    Did you see Samir’s short film, C’EST DIMANCHE! before the shoot? 

     

    This short film helped me. It doesn’t describe the same father-son relationship but it gave me clues. 

     

    How did you work with the other actors? 

     

    They were all older than me and had experience on films. They acted like big brothers and sisters to me. They helped me a lot and made me feel at ease, by rehearsing my lines with me between takes, for example. 

     

    Were you able to leave this role easily? How did you emerge from this first film experience? 

     

    When I went back to school after filming, I was shyer than before, as if Ibrahim had rubbed off on me. But that changed quickly, particularly when I was back with my friends. It’s funny, because at the beginning, I was in a hurry for this shoot to be over with. But at the end, I was sad and wanted to start again as soon as possible. I really want to carry on acting. I know how lucky I was to have met Samir. I’ve always loved the idea of trusting my destiny. Samir arrived at the right time: I had bad grades in third grade, I wasn’t sure which way to head. This film has changed everything for me. I’m like a new person, in a way, thanks to this film. It is also the first step towards the professional world. When I finished the shoot, I was a bit proud of myself, without having become big-headed. Just proud to have taken on a challenge and to have been able to play a part in a beautiful film.

    With thanks to the lovely people at Wild Bunch.