Park Chan-wook with Lim Su-jeong and Rain

Format: Cinema

Release date: 4 April 2008

Venues: ICA, London and key cities

Distributor: Tartan

Director: Park Chan-wook

Writers: Jeong Seo-Gyeong, Park Chan-wook

Original title: Saibogujiman kwenchana

Cast: Lim Su-jeong, Rain

South Korea 2006

105 minutes

Park Chan-wook has followed up his brooding revenge trilogy with a whimsical, pastel-hued romantic fantasy set in a psychiatric hospital. But fear not, although graceful and tender, I’m a Cyborg is sharply stylised and odd enough to avoid sentimentality. Young-goon is a young girl who thinks she’s a cyborg and is institutionalised after she electrocutes herself in an attempt to ‘recharge her batteries’. At the hospital, she is befriended by Il-sun, a young man who suffers from a rather special kind of kleptomania – believing he can steal things like memories, politeness and ping pong skills. I’m a Cyborg may feel like a gentle interlude between Park Chan-wook’s weightier offerings, but it is as wildly imaginative as the director’s previous work, mixing futurism, manga influences and a love story in a fresh way. I’m a Cyborg premiered in the UK at the Korean Film Festival in November and on that occasion Park Chan-wook told us more about the ideas behind the film and gave us a tantalising insight into his next project.

Virginie Sélavy: After Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, I’m a Cyborg is much lighter and almost violence-free. Did you feel you needed a break from the serious tone of those movies ?

Park Chan-wook: It’s been a very long journey, I spent five years making the trilogy and I also directed a short film for Three, Monster [a collection of three Asian horror shorts, the other two directed by Fruit Chan and Takashi Miike]. All of them have been very dark and serious and I did feel like I needed to get away from that. With the trilogy the vengeance was the end of the journey, and that ended with I’m a Cyborg. It felt right to finish with I’m a Cyborg; it was the end of an era for me.

VS: It’s interesting that you should see I’m a Cyborg as the end of the trilogy because although it’s very different in tone from the other films, it deals with the same themes. In all three films revenge was always linked to love. Here it’s just a different balance between the two – I’m a Cyborg is more about love than vengeance.

PCW: I conceived the revenge series as three films plus I’m a Cyborg, and it may look like they were made by completely different directors, but I do believe that there is a common theme throughout. Fantasy has become more and more important to me in later works. My films are becoming more feminine, there’s more hope. The themes of love and hope have definitely become more prominent towards the end of these four works. I started with Mr Vengeance, which was very dark and serious and as you go towards the end of the cycle it becomes lighter and more fantastical, and love becomes more important.

VS: I’m a Cyborg is a very sweet film, and it might come as a surprise to some fans of your previous work, but I think that that sweetness was already present in the character of Ryu in Mr Vengeance and in the Geum-ja character in Lady Vengeance.

PCW: I have a daughter so the theme of bringing up a child, bringing up a daughter in particular, has really influenced me in Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance, and also in I’m a Cyborg. The image of a dad bringing up a child is becoming more important in my work. But there isn’t much of a sweet element in the current project that I’m working on. After I’m a Cyborg I wanted to get back to a more serious tone. But I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

VS: There is a nod to your previous films when Young-goon has violent revenge fantasies in which she becomes a killing machine and guns down all the doctors and nurses. Why did you include these scenes in what is otherwise a very gentle film?

PCW: I believe that this particular scene is not as violent as it seems. The audience already knows that it’s not reality, that it’s a fantastical scene. No matter how many people die it’s not as frightening as it would be if it were set in reality. I believe the scene was needed because Yung-goon is very angry at the adults in general and however sweet she seems she is still really furious. The movie doesn’t have a happy ending because her anger is not concluded. It’s like when young children are angry at their parents and they say, ‘mum, I want you to die’. It’s a very childish anger but it’s terrifying all the same. It’s that kind of anger that I wanted to put in that fantastical violent scene.

VS: In Oldboy you explore the idea of revenge as a positive emotion in the sense that it gives the two central characters this incredible will to live. There is a similar idea here, although of course in a lighter way, as Young-goon’s murderous fantasies are what keeps her going – in fact, right to the very end, when she thinks her purpose is to bring about the end of the world.

PCW: It comes from the idea of the ‘purpose of existence’. That phrase is repeated throughout the film. It’s not a phrase that you hear in normal conversation, it’s more philosophical. Teenagers are always asking that question and I believe that it’s completely natural that people should wonder that. Then comes the question, ‘why should I live?’, this longing to know your purpose in life. The reason why Yung-goon becomes the way she is is because she wants an answer to that question so badly. Then she realises that machines have very strict operating instructions and a very obvious purpose, which is something that she envies, completely misjudging the situation. And she realises that food also comes into it: she has to eat to exist so in the end the only reason for existence is to exist, there’s nothing more and nothing less. Her murderous fantasy of revenge fits into that rather than it being the reason for her existence. At the end of the film she believes that she’s found her purpose and it is to become a nuclear weapon and to blow up the world. That is a very fantastical idea, not only because it’s not realistic, but also because the probability of her getting enough power from lightning to become a bomb is very low. The way in which she looks at the purpose of her existence is very different from the way her friend Il-sun sees it.

VS: You said earlier that you were interested in moving more and more towards a fantastical kind of world. But at the same time the girl is a real girl, she’s not a cyborg, that’s all in her head. While you were writing the script did you think at any point that maybe she should be a real cyborg?

PCW: At the very beginning I thought of using a cyborg in the shape of a young girl, but first I realised that it would cost too much (laughs) and then there are already lots of similar films in Japan, so it wouldn’t have been anything new or fresh. At the beginning my idea was to make a movie about a psychiatric hospital so I decided to combine the two, psychiatric hospital plus cyborg. That’s when I came to the idea of a girl who thinks she’s a cyborg, but the reason why I made it a girl has nothing to do with sexuality. The most important thing for me was that the character should have a child-like quality, that she should be almost like a little girl.

VS: Did you find it easier or more difficult to deal with love compared to the violent emotions you’ve depicted in your revenge trilogy?

PCW: Telling a love story is definitely a lot more difficult than dealing with dark, serious material because when I film a dark story I know exactly what kind of thing I’m looking for, what expressions, scenes, imagery. With love, it’s very difficult to make it look real and not like a soap opera or one of those cheesy movies that there are too many of. You see it so often and it seems so fake and so false that when you see a young couple kissing in a film you don’t feel anything, you just think, ‘oh it looks pretty’ or ‘it looks fun’. Those kinds of images are too common. In Korea there’s an expression that says that it’s really embarrassing to watch a couple kissing on screen, so that was the most difficult scene for me to film. I filmed it but I had to scrap it all and start again. Now I’m very happy with the result, I’m sure that it’s the weirdest kiss there’s ever been in any romantic comedy and I’m very happy with that.

VS: You said your next project, which I believe is called Evil Live, will be a return to darker material. Can you tell me more?

PCW: It’s not called Evil Live actually, I’ve decided to change the title, and the English title hasn’t been chosen yet. The reason why I decided not to call it Evil Live is because it sounded a bit too much like a horror film, and although it is about vampires, it’s very difficult to specify what kind of genre it’s going to fall into because it’s more about a love triangle and being unfaithful. It will star Song Kang-ho, who was the dad in Mr Vengeance. He’s a vampire who falls in love with a married woman and murders the woman’s husband…

VS: Vampires and a love triangle, it sounds great! (laughs)


Dante 01


30 April – 4 May 2008

Venue: Apollo Cinema

Festival website

A couple of years ago I took a friend to see a film at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival and on the way out he casually said to one of the organisers that he was enjoying the convention… This brought the swift rebuke, ‘this is not a convention, it’s a festival!’ I can understand the confusion. In many respects it’s never been easier to be a sci-fi fan in this country. Doctor Who is the second most popular show on British television and in America, Battlestar Galactica gets plaudits from highbrow magazines and newspapers alike. Before either of these shows were revived, it was considered embarrassing to admit you were a fan of the old versions (except as some kind of ironic appreciation of retro TV) and it would have been immediately assumed that you were a 30-something, anorak-wearing social misfit who still lived with their parents. If you were a fan – and I use the word in italics to suggest that the word itself came with negative connotations and the baggage of stereotype – then to find out more about your niche interest, you might go to conventions to meet other fans. There, you could exchange over-priced merchandise, buy fanzines and audio tapes based on your favourite shows and pay £15 for the signature of a D-list actor who once played a Klingon 20 years ago.

Nowadays, these kinds of conventions still exist and yes, you may find stereotypical fans at Sci-Fi London but since science fiction has become more socially acceptable, the festival also attracts casual consumers of sci-fi who want to see something more underground or ‘art-house’ than what TV and big-budget cinema have to offer. Now in its 7th year, SFL has been held in the centre of the city since its conception – and not in some warehouse in Outer London, as might be expected. Like the bigger, more generalist London Film Festival, SFL brings us films that may never get released in regular cinemas or even on DVD in this country. At the last few festivals, I’ve seen some of the best genre films of recent years – Subject Two, 1 point 0, Robot Stories, The Great Yokai War – some of the worst – The Fall of the Louse of Usher (sic) and Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth – and some of the most overrated – Primer – but this is the way with all specialist film festivals, be it the Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, the German Film Festival, etc. While it would be great if (art-house) cinemas had weekly slots for unseen sci-fi, gay or German films on a regular basis so you wouldn’t have to cram a year’s worth of a certain genre into a long weekend, this is the current state of affairs, so we should celebrate what we have.

This year’s Sci-Fi London has already announced two premieres that justify the existence of the festival alone. First there’s Dante 01 by Marc Caro, co-director of Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. When Jean Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro went their separate ways after The City, Jeunet continued to make successful films on his own such as Amelie, while Caro became an art director on the likes of Vidoc, a genre classic that deserved more attention than it got on its release seven years ago. Not much information has been released on Dante 01 yet, but since Vidoc’s ‘steam-punk’ look, which made nineteenth-century Paris look like a living oil painting through the use of evocative CGI, I’ve been looking forward to Caro’s follow-up. What’s more, Dante 01 mixes the prison genre with sci-fi and fantasy elements, so I hope that it will continue the tradition of such great films as Cube, Prison, Fortress and Maléfique.

The other exciting premiere this year is La Antena, an intriguing, silent, monochrome Argentine movie that occupies the middle ground between the films of Guy Maddin and Guillermo Del Toro. Plot-wise, it reworks Orwellian themes of cultural domination, brain-washing by TV and state symbols of oppression into an expressionistic fairy tale. La Antena was the first film to be shown as both the opening and closing film of the Rotterdam Film Festival this year and comes with a raft of awards. Following the success of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage, this will hopefully continue the Latin American fantasy renaissance that flowered in literature half a century ago and now seems to have come to fruition in cinema as well.

Like its horror counterpart Frightfest, SFL also does all-night screenings (something that the BFI IMAX has started to copy over the last year), and these have previously included animé and black and white British sci-fi films. This year as ever, there’s a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 all-night screening, which combines improv comedy with screenings of ‘turkeys’ from the last fifty years. It’s events like these and the ‘talkeoke’ sessions in previous years that have kept a bit of the convention flavour going in the festival, even if the organisers are at pains to suggest otherwise.

There are still many old-school fans in attendance but SFL also attracts cooler fashionistas looking for alternative programming. By having a variety of events that range from highbrow to lowbrow – encompassing the Douglas Adams Memorial Debate, the Arthur C. Clarke Awards and a little bit of cosplay – the festival tries to be all things to all (sci-fi) men and it almost always succeeds. That said, I miss the days when some of the films were shown at Curzon Soho and some at the Other/Metro Cinema and worry that by being hosted at the Apollo West End it has gone for a venue that is slightly intimidating and overpriced for both sci-fi and art-house fans. But the friendly atmosphere, free gifts and celebrity guests (such as last year’s John Landis and Stuart Gordon) make up for this a great deal and I can’t think of a better way to spend the May bank holiday.

Alex Fitch


Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud

Format: Cinema

Release date: 25 April 2008

Distributor Optimum

Director: Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud

Writers: Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud

France 2007

95 mins

Marjane Satrapi’s adaptation of her own Persepolis graphic novels deservedly won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes festival. Although the film is a necessarily stripped-down version of the two volumes, which respectively describe her childhood in Teheran and her exile as a teenager in Austria, the film version retains all the elements that made them so successful: the mix of Satrapi’s personal story with her country’s history, the wryly humorous look at the absurdity of political power games, the penetrating observation of both Iranian and European societies and the powerful contrast between simple animation and the complex, difficult events it depicts. Full of life and irreverent spirit, this is a film that is simply impossible to dislike. The same can be said of Satrapi herself, who proved to be a wonderfully entertaining interviewee when we caught up with her during last year’s London Film Festival.

Virginie Sélavy: The film is an adaptation of the two Persepolis books, and this works very well as they are really two sides of the same story: they are complementary both in terms of your personal history and in the contrast between Western and Muslim cultures.

Marjane Satrapi: I didn’t want to make a movie with a sequel, Persepolis I, like there’s Rocky I, Rocky II… Actually, I liked Rocky I, not so much Rocky II, sequels are always bad… It was also very important to do both together because it’s the story of one person’s life. The linchpin of the story is the exile. The book starts in 1978 and it stops in 1994. It’s a nostalgic point of view, it’s the point of view of someone who goes into the airport and who cannot go back, and she re-evaluates her whole life.

VS: Why did you choose this nostalgic viewpoint for the film instead of following the same linear structure as in the books?

MS: Because at the time I was writing the script I was extremely nostalgic. At that point in my life the fact that I didn’t go back to Iran really started to weigh on me. Of course, if I made the movie today it would be a different movie because now I’m not nostalgic anymore. And also, the flashback structure shows that I’ve distanced myself even more from the story than in the book, in which I’d already taken some distance, in order to be able to laugh at myself.

VS: Your life has been shaped by momentous political events, and it seems to be inseparable from the history of your country, which makes your autobiography much more interesting than most people’s!

MS: But I don’t like the word ‘autobiography’ for my own work because it’s not really an ‘autobiography’. It’s a book that you write because you have problems with your family and friends and you don’t know how to tell them, so you write a book and you take your revenge. I didn’t want to make some kind of political or historical or sociological statement because I’m not a politician, a historian or a sociologist. I am one person who was born in a certain place and in a certain time. It’s a very personal point of view and I think that is also why it has become universal; because the only point of view that can eventually become universal is of course one person’s point of view. This is my French side, this is my very individualistic side. (laughs)

VS: It’s a very interesting perspective, especially in these times, when the Western world and the Muslim world have become completely polarised, partly due to the politicians’ simplifications. Your viewpoint is very interesting because it’s that of the outsider, both in the Western world and in the Muslim world.

MS: When I was a child I always had doubts about people who believed in astrology. You know, is it possible to believe that there are twelve groups of human beings? Now it’s not even twelve groups, it’s two groups, the Muslims and the Christians, West and East. If you’re French does it mean that you love all French people and you understand all of them? What common points do I share with a fanatic of my country? None. What common points does an American liberal share with George Bush? None. What common points does a fanatic of my country share with George Bush? A lot. So it’s not a question of where you come from. It simplifies everything and it just shows that the basis for the war is bullshit. There is only one division in the world, that between the fanatics and the rest of the people. Fanatics are absolutely everywhere. And the way they think is the same everywhere. The reason why they’re more powerful than the rest of us is that they push emotional buttons. They use people’s emotions to lead them into the streets. What you or I try to do is ask questions, so you’re asking people to think, to use their logic; and of course the process is much longer and it doesn’t have the immediate effect that emotions have. That’s why you see them much more than you see us but there are many more of us. We, the people who are not fanatics, have to be united because whether they wear a bow tie or a beard, these people are very dangerous for the whole of humanity.

VS: In the second part of the book you said you felt you didn’t belong anywhere when you went back to Iran. You’ve lived in France for many years now, so do you still have that feeling of not belonging anywhere?

MS: I belong to nowhere and I belong to everywhere at the same time. It’s a very convenient situation because if you give me a hotel room anywhere in the world, and I have a comfortable room with a bath tub – a shower is not enough – I feel at home completely. But at the same time, no matter what happens, you have a relationship with the place where you were born that you don’t have with any other place. It’s kind of a genetic memory, something like that, it’s there and it can never change. I always say that if I was a man, I would say that Iran is my mother and France is my wife. My mother can be hysterical, she can blackmail me emotionally, whatever, she’s my mother and I cannot pretend otherwise. My wife, on the other hand, I enjoy living with her very much but I can cheat on her, I can leave her, I can have a baby with another woman… (laughs) At the same time, I am very French. For the Iranians, I am very French and for the French I am very Iranian. (laughs)

VS: What did you hope to achieve when you started writing Persepolis?

MS: The only thing I wanted was for people to ask themselves questions. Whenever they talk about it on the radio they just talk about fanatics. But these people that they’re scared of, these people that are reduced to abstract notions, these people that we know nothing about, aren’t they really like us? And if they are, then we have to rethink our whole position. That’s all. As an artist, you have to remain humble as to what changes you can make in the world. Marilyn Manson said something very interesting about turning kids into Satanists, he said that if music could change anything, the whole of the world should be love because 99% of songs are about love. So it can’t change much. But we try.

VS: The medium of the comic book may seem a strange choice for a story that is about very complex political issues, as traditionally it’s not associated with being able to explore those issues in depth. Why did you choose that medium?

MS: I read Maus by Art Spiegelman and I understood that it was a medium like any other. Traditionally, it’s not used in that way because most kids stop drawing at the age of 7 so for 99% of people drawing belongs to childhood. Plus at school you learn very early on to interpret what poets and authors say but you never study what painters and illustrators mean. We don’t know how to judge, we don’t have the tools for it so we are scared of talking about the drawing. For that reason I do understand that people may think that comics are odd but it’s a medium like any other and it has lots and lots of possibilities. Especially since people think that it’s a limited medium, you can just go for it, you can do a lot of different things. And the use of the image, the frame and the sequencing gives you a freedom that I don’t have when I write. When I want to describe a feeling I need a drawing. I don’t need pages and pages and pages.

VS: Visually it’s very cute but at the same time you talk about very dark subject matter and the contrast is very powerful.

MS: It should be. If it all went in the same direction it would become redundant. I used to be a complete psycho and that’s why I decided I had to dress like a bourgeois because if I dressed in a way that reflected how much of a psycho I was I wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere! (laughs)

VS: Was it a conscious decision to draw it in that particular style?

MS: Absolutely. Especially because in a comic the drawings are part of the narration, it’s not just an illustration of the text. I had a lot of text, the story was very complicated so I couldn’t have a very complicated drawing because it would have been too much. I had to purify the style of the drawing as much as possible.

VS: Were you influenced by the work of other graphic novelists when you started drawing?

MS: Not so much because I don’t come from a culture of comics. I started reading comics only after I wrote mine. At the same time, saying that I don’t have any influences would be too pretentious and not true, but they don’t particularly come from comics, they come from Matisse’s paintings, they come from Flaubert, from music, from cinema, from a lot of different things. So of course I’m the result of whatever I have experienced, whatever I have lost, whatever I have seen, but not particularly of comics.

VS: Why did you decide to turn the comic books into a film?

MS: It’s the worst idea in the world. (laughs) I didn’t decide to do it but I was in a situation where I could make a movie. Suddenly we had the right to play with this big toy, a movie, even though we didn’t know how to play with it. And we just said yes without knowing what we’d do. It was like diving into the water with Vincent [Paronnaud, co-director of Persepolis] and once we were in the water, we were like, now we have to learn how to swim. Now I really like the result so I could invent 1200 good reasons for doing it but even though I’m happy I did it, it was not a good idea.

VS: Were there any particular difficulties involved in adapting the comic books to film?

MS: Yes, the most difficult thing was the family scenes. They are absolutely useless but without them you don’t have a movie because it’d just become a patchwork of very hectic moments. You actually need these useless moments to cement the whole story. When the whole family is in the living room and they’re doing nothing, we had to think about how to make it attractive, how to make sure that it wouldn’t become boring, change the angle of the camera to make it more dynamic, things like that.

VS: Visually there is a difference between the comic books and the film and it seems that you were able to use some effects, like charcoal backgrounds and lighting, to give a more sinister atmosphere to the darker scenes.

MS: We kept the characters in black and white, the way they were in the comics. But you cannot make a whole movie simply in black and white because either you make people blind or you provoke an epileptic crisis, it’s unbearable. (laughs) So we had to find a way, we had to change a lot, it was necessary.

VS: It introduces an element of nuance in the black and white.

MS: Absolutely. It’s not possible otherwise, it would be like the Danish dogmatism, and we’re not here to make people pay – not only people have paid for their tickets, but if they have to throw up when the movie is finished this is not the point.

VS: And obviously because it’s two books condensed into one film, and you couldn’t make a five-hour film, you had to…

MS: …but if it was another time and my name was Erich von Stroheim I would have made an 8-hour movie. But nowadays nobody wants to pay for that. And nobody wants to watch it. I’m a very obsessive type of person, I love to watch 8-hour movies.

VS: It must have been very difficult for you to limit what could go into the film and to decide which scenes to get rid of.

MS: You have to go straight to the essential things, you can’t just joke around and take time to say things. You have to be efficient. It’s also extremely exciting to work this way because you have to think about ways of doing this.

VS: One of my favourite scenes in the book is the one where your character goes to visit her childhood friend Kia after the war and he’s in a wheelchair, he’s been horribly injured and he tells her a really tasteless joke; and Marjane doesn’t know whether to laugh or not, but then she realises that you just have to laugh when things are this bad. I thought it was a brilliant scene but in the film it’s truncated.

MS: Yeah, we tried to put it in but it was impossible. The problem in cinema is that you have to stick to one storyline. For example, Gangs of New York is a very bad movie because there’s a love story and there’s a reward story and all the different gangs; it goes in many directions and in the end it doesn’t work because you’re like, what is the story? On the other hand, you have Jean-Jacques Annaud, who made The Name of the Rose. Of course, the book by Umberto Ecco is much more about the philosophy and the whole history of the Church in the Middle-Ages. Annaud was extremely intelligent in that he put that in the background and he made the film as a detective story and the movie works perfectly because it doesn’t go in all directions. So we made the whole movie around the idea of exile, and we didn’t have the possibility to tell all the stories. This way, people will also have to buy the book if they want to read the jokes! (laughs)

VS: Why did you decide to write it in French rather than Persian?

MS: I had to write it in French, because I was writing it for the French. This book was my answer to the world, you know, things are really not the way you think. And you see it in the structure of the book, I give too many explanations, what is this, and what is the New Year, etc. If I had written the book for the Iranians, I wouldn’t need to explain all that because they know it. We talk the way we think. So in order to be able to think about how others would consider my story I had to think in their language, not in mine. So that’s the philosophical side of it. And I have always studied in French school. Writing in French is easier for me, especially as the spoken and written Persian are very different. There are a few Persian writers who know how to deal with that perfectly but I don’t, because I’ve always written in French. And I love the French language too, I’ve always loved it.

VS: Finally, there’s one part of your story that seems completely at odds with what we see of your personality in the rest of the book – it’s the bit where you become an aerobics instructor. What happened?

MS: I was stupid, I don’t know what happened! That is called a historical mistake. (laughs) I don’t understand it either. I have photos, you know. I’m dressed in pink and purple, with a hair band. I’m like, what was I thinking? (laughs) I don’t have any explanation either. I’m very surprised by myself too. (laughs)


RFK in crowd

Photo © Evan Freed

RFK Must Die: The Assassination of Robert Kennedy

Director: Shane O’Sullivan

Showing at the East End Film Festival

Date: Wed 23 April, 6:15pm

Venue: Stratford Picture House

Director: Shane O’Sullivan

The East End Film Festival runs 17-24 April

Festival website

On May 18, 1968, 24-year-old Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan sat in his room in Pasadena and wrote repeatedly in his notebook, ‘R.F.K. must die – RFK must be killed Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated… before June 5 ’68’.

JFK’s younger brother was running for President on an anti-war ticket, the great white hope of poor black communities torn apart by rioting in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination six weeks earlier.

On June 4th, Bobby Kennedy won the all-important California Democratic primary and looked set to challenge Nixon for the White House. After a rousing victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, shots rang out in a kitchen pantry. Witnesses saw Sirhan firing his gun several feet in front of Kennedy and he was convicted as the lone assassin. But according to the autopsy, the fatal shot was fired from an inch behind Kennedy’s right ear, suggesting a second gunman was involved.

My new feature documentary, RFK Must Die, explores the controversies surrounding Kennedy’s death. How could Sirhan have fired the fatal shot if he was several feet in front of Kennedy? Who was the girl in the polka-dot dress seen with Sirhan in the pantry who later fled down a fire escape, exclaiming, ‘We shot him! We shot him!’ And why has Sirhan never been able to remember the shooting?

At first, these struck me as intriguing ingredients for a screenplay but during my research, I discovered new video footage of three alleged CIA operatives at the hotel that night – men who had previously worked together on plots to assassinate Castro. I pitched BBC Newsnight and they commissioned a twelve-minute film to find out why these men were at the Ambassador Hotel that night.

So began a long and very odd journey as a first-time investigator into sixties conspiracy. The Newsnight piece and a Guardian article led to a US distribution deal for a feature documentary and a book to be published on the fortieth anniversary of the assassination in June.

At the heart of the mystery is Sirhan himself. At 5’2″, he trained to be a jockey but a bad fall from a horse left him on the dole and increasingly disillusioned. He got into mysticism and started hypnotising himself in his room, practising ‘automatic writing’ – repeatedly writing down his goals, to help make them come true. But what led him to write ‘RFK must die RFK must die’?

Since the early fifties, the CIA had been trying to create a hypnotically-programmed assassin, a real-life Manchurian Candidate who could be trained to kill with no conscious memory of being programmed. Dr. Herbert Spiegel, America’s leading expert on hypnosis, believes this is what happened to Sirhan.

Today, Sirhan is still in the same California prison as Charles Manson. He told me he feels trapped in a Kafkaesque world, imprisoned for a crime he doesn’t remember. Now, a new audio recording of the gunshots has emerged. Sirhan’s gun held eight bullets but audio experts have concluded there are thirteen shots on the tape, suggesting Sirhan may well have been a decoy for the real assassin.

Shane O’Sullivan

RFK Must Die screens in the East End Film Festival on April 23 and is released on May 16. Who Killed Bobby? The Unsolved Murder of Robert F. Kennedy will be published in June.


Midnight Movies poster

Event: Midnight Movies launch night

Date: 29 February 2008

Location: Curzon Soho

Showing: Society (1989)

A midnight movie is not just a film shown at midnight. Bridget Jones’ Diary shown at midnight would not be a midnight movie. Neither would a midnight screening of Time Regained – not unless the crowd were told to speak in French and to bash a teaspoon against a teacup when a compere gave the cue.

From its origins in 1950s America, the midnight movie slot has always been given over to low-budget, horror and trash. Top scores if the film is all three. Rather like the graveyard shift on radio, the midnight movie slot is meant for the niche or risqué stuff admired by nighthawks, insomniacs and the downright crazy.

The midnight movie concept was dead by the mid-80s. Until then late-night movie-goers had been able to feast on the horrors and delights of films such as Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo and John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, going back time and time again for more. But things changed when the big studios saw the midnight screenings as an effective marketing tool and tried to reverse the bottom-up creation of cult films by releasing their movies at midnight in the hope of attracting an audience as loyal as the fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for example.

Rocky is perhaps the most famous and persistent example of the midnight movie, its fans still meeting at cinemas the world over to watch a midnight screening and act out scenes from the film. Their crude and irreverent heckling of the characters in the film often reaches anarchic proportions and, as any visitor to a Rocky event can tell you, makes for a damn good night.

It is this spirit of fun and spontaneity that inspired the folk at Curzon Soho to bring back the midnight movie. But rather than show just the old classics, the events team hope to screen all kinds of films that reflect the spirit of the midnight movie. ‘We wanted to put on a night that people wandering around Soho after a few drinks could come to and enjoy. The first two screenings are of US films but we want to move away from just that and start showing European films, for example, which still have that gritty, grimy feel to them’, said Simon Howarth of Curzon.

Their first offering, Society, hit the right spot. Gory, dark and camp in equal measure, the film’s 1980s styling and casting of Baywatch goodie-goodie Billy Warlock lend it an added veneer of trash. By most people’s standards it is not a good movie and at any other screening could be justifiedly panned. But it is just right for the midnight slot, which turns its shortcomings into merits.

As a prelude to the screening the Curzon’s main bar area was given over to a party complete with free beer (well, one free beer per head) and hosts and hostesses dressed up like zombies. The dark 80s tunes, such as the theme from Twin Peaks, provided a suitable soundtrack to the revelling of cinema-goers who had been able to leisurely make their way to the Curzon and who were enjoying meeting and greeting other midnight film buffs.

With bums on cinema seats, author of The Cult Film Reader and director of the Cult Film Archive Xavier Mendik introduced the screening, explaining how Society showed the ruptures in the Reaganesque Conservatism of the 1980s in the US. It was interesting and informed but it was not quite the right time for that kind of talk. The crowd was loose and ready to heckle. They were obviously discerning film fans, and would have been interested in what Xavier had to say if it had been earlier that day or when the hangover subsided the next. But having him speak then was a bit like casting Laurence Olivier in a Carry On film. There were a few guilt-riddled heckles and some whoops and cheers but a quirkier, cheekier kind of compere would have been better suited to the mood of the audience. Statuesque and matronesque glamster Dolly Rocket of the Flash Monkey burlesque club came to mind as an ideal candidate. Or Vampira.

But compere queries aside, the return of Midnight Movies captured the spirit of the original phenomenon. It has obviously struck a chord with Londoners who were so eager to reserve for the next event (a screening of the Grindhouse Double Bill in its full glory) that an extra screening has been announced. Now we just have to sit back and wait for Odeon and Cineworld to announce that they are doing the same.

Lisa Williams




8-16 February 2008

This year, the true beauties of the Berlinale film festival remained on the margins: in the final days of the cine-marathon, a cinema far away from the buzzing festival centre presented a late-matinee screening of Wakamatsu Koji’s stunning exploitation classic Ecstasy of the Angels (Teshi no kokotsu), a visually stunning head-on collision of explicit violence, political revolt and soft-core porn. Part of a mini-tribute to Wakamatsu’s work – whose latest film United Red Army premiered this year in the International Forum section – this early feature tells the story of a left-wing terrorist faction planning an all-out attack on Tokyo. Despite all the kinky sex and ferocious brutality, Wakamatsu’s main concern is to explore the sacrifice and self-destruction that the revolutionary process requires from the young radicals, and to observe how they ultimately turn against each other instead of combining their forces to fight the odious system.

United Red Army, which I’d seen only a few days before, then almost felt like a remake of Ecstasy, which he made in 1972. In his new film, Wakamatsu sets out to reveal the full history of the militant student movement that rocked Japan during the 1960s in a challenging three-hour docu-fiction drama, staged as a chamber play in the group’s mountain hide-out. Perhaps the most remarkable characteristic of both films is an oddly engaging energy and a genuinely disturbing quality, which was absent from most of the works presented in the three main festival sections. That said, leaving the blatantly commercial and rather underwhelming films in the Official Competition aside, there were some welcome surprises in the other two main sections – Forum and Panorama.

Only vaguely related to the festival overall music focus was the wonderfully refreshing Russian feature Mermaid (Rusalka) by Anna Melykian. A freely adapted, near-surreal version of Antonin Dvorák’s eponymous opera, the film follows the bizarre life of an idealistic girl from childhood to maturity. While the tone is at times perplexingly downbeat, the film radiates a wonderful, bitter-sweet and light-hearted spirit that opened this year’s Panorama with a ray of light. Two fairly impressive documentaries offered musical experiences of different sorts: Steven Sebring’s rewarding Patti Smith: Dream of Life and the way more off-centre Heavy Metal In Baghdad, a touching portrait of an Iraq heavy metal band after the fall of Saddam Hussein, whose members struggle with the impossibility of living peacefully as long-haired head-bangers in a war-torn country.

Moving into low-budget, queer territory, the weirdest and undoubtedly most indigestible film was Bruce LaBruce’s latest provocation Otto; or Up with Dead People, which follows a depressed gay zombie through the streets and dark rooms of Berlin. Screened in London as part of this year’s Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, the film mixes horror, hard-core porn, silent film and documentary into a mercilessly sensationalist shocker. Queer activist Rosa von Praunheim’s new documentary Dead Gay Men and Living Lesbians (Tote Schwule – Lebende Lesben) was disappointingly dilute, and didn’t live up to its promising title. Quite different from Olaf de Fleur Johannesson’s debut The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela, which sounded like a semi-improvised fairy tale about a Filipino ‘lady boy’ who meets her sleazy porn chatroom boss for a hanky-panky weekend in Paris, but turned out to be a charming first feature, once the faux documentary style had established a vivid, convincing world.

Although there was no readily identifiable new trend at this year’s festival, a loose group of films by Asian women directors all refreshingly focused on quotidian inconsequence. Kumazaka Izuru’s wonderful life-affirming feature Asyl (Asyl – Park and Love Hotel) – which deservedly won the Best First Feature Award – centres on the bizarre life of a middle-aged woman who runs an unusual love hotel in Tokyo, with a beautiful little park on its rooftop which is open to the public. Deliberately sullen and rather dark in tone, the film paints a complex portrait of the landlady and of three other women who rent rooms at the hotel, carefully revealing how their defiant spirit collides with false pretences and loneliness.

Equally remarkable for its acute attention to detail, Naoko Ogigami’s Glasses (Megane) was primarily a wonderfully detoxifying treat. Set on a nearly untouched island, the film takes time to explore the almost excessively relaxed insular mentality, and Ogigami skilfully handles the slow pace by filling her script with just the right amount of deadpan humour and ineffable sensuous delight. Both films share a heartfelt desire to step back from big themes and melodrama to look for new ways to uncover meaning in the transitional ebb and flow of everyday lives. Likewise, two multi-character features from Taiwan, Zero Chou’s Drifting Flowers (Piao Lang Qing Chun) and Singing Chen’s God Man Dog, presented elegant, episodical views of everyday life and love steeped in social realism and artistically shaped in a poetic narrative.

Among the vast quantity of new titles, these were the films that afforded the greatest pleasures. A few glorious works from the archives provided extra thrills: Peter Geyer’s Jesus Christ Savior (Jesus Christus Erlí¶ser) is the long-lost filmed record of an incredible theatrical monologue by Klaus Kinski, held in 1971, which turned into an aggressive altercation with the hostile audience. Elsewhere, Charles Burnett’s re-released 1983 My Brother’s Wedding authoritatively demonstrated what truly independent filmmaking really looks like. Cut down by Burnett himself to 81 impressively rich, deftly choreographed and toughly funny minutes, it was a wonderful, startling discovery that alone would have made the trip to Berlin worthwhile.

Pamela Jahn


The Last Mistress

The Last Mistress

Format: Cinema

Release date: 11 April 2008

Venue: Curzon Mayfair, Renoir (London) and key cities

Distributor: Artifical Eye

Director: Catherine Breillat

Based on: the novel by Jules-Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly

Original title: Une vieille maîtresse

Cast: Asia Argento, Fu’ad Ait Aattou, Roxane Mesquida, Claude Sarraute

France/Italy 2007

104 mins

A confrontational filmmaker, Catherine Breillat has often been unfairly and violently reviled simply for taking a brutally honest look at sexuality. Her past work, including Romance (1999), Fat Girl (A ma soeur!, 2001) and Anatomy of Hell (Anatomie de l’enfer, 2004) always offers a provocative, radical questioning of traditional views of female sexuality. Her latest, The Last Mistress (Une vieille maîtresse), is somewhat of a departure. Adapted from a novel by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, it is Breillat’s first costume drama and has an unashamedly romantic tone. It centres on the impossibly handsome Ryno de Marigny, a dissolute dandy striving to disentangle himself from a passionate ten-year relationship with his earthly Spanish mistress Vellini, in order to be allowed to marry the rich and pretty Hermangarde. We were able to talk to Catherine Breillat at last year’s London Film Festival, where she told us about dandies and femmes fatales, her fraught relationship with the French press and how her new film differs from her previous work. Fully recovered from the stroke she suffered before she started shooting the film, she was as sharp and lively an interviewee as ever.

Virginie Sélavy: The Last Mistress is your first costume drama – how did you approach it?

Catherine Breillat: First of all, I fell in love with the novel. I think that if I’d lived in his century I would obviously have been Barbey d’Aurevilly.

VS: Why obviously?

CB: Because he was a dandy, and because his work was censored.

VS: Is that something you identify with?

CB: Yes, and it’s clear that in the film I identified with the role of Ryno.

VS: Ryno rather than any of the female characters?

CB: Absolutely.

VS: Why?

CB: It’s an autobiographical book, Barbey d’Aurevilly is Ryno de Marigny. I’ve always dressed as a dandy, I’ve always liked androgyny, and I wanted to film a boy who would have the beauty of a girl.

VS: This is something that recurs throughout your work. In Anatomy of Hell, Rocco Siffredi has a position that is almost feminine.

CB: He was very criticised for that in France! They asked him, ‘why did you let Catherine Breillat boss you around?’ In France, he’s a star, but as a stud who reinforces men’s idea of pure masculinity. So the fact that he let me feminise him… He replied, ‘because I like to be dominated by Catherine Breillat’. Rocco likes porn films and Pasolini. He loves cinema and he’s much more intelligent than people think.

VS: You offer a very blunt, honest, adult reflection on sexuality, so it’s strange that it seems to disturb so many critics.

CB: French critics are not so bad now. Although with Anatomy of Hell, one of them wrote a piece in a French paper that was presented as the announcement of my death. It was over two pages and the title said, ‘To Be Done With Catherine Breillat’. It was very violent.

VS: I don’t think that the critics would have been so shocked and would have reacted so virulently if it’d been the work of a male filmmaker. Do you think that it is the fact that you are a woman that disturbs people so much?

CB: Yes, definitely. In painting terms, I’m not Marie Laurencin, I’m Soutine or Bacon. And that’s what’s unbearable to them. Marie Laurencin is an esteemed painter but she paints pretty things. I find beauty in violence and brutality, and that doesn’t fit with the image of a woman. Claire Denis is another filmmaker who doesn’t mince her words, who is more brutal than a man. But she came after me, so she was lucky! At the same time too much aggressiveness prompts other people to defend you passionately. That’s why I don’t want to say that all critics badmouth me. Some of them do, like the one who wrote the death announcement piece. I met him after I’d had the stroke. He was coming out of my producer’s office where he’d done an interview for another film. I said, ‘ah, it’s you? All I do is make films! Why do you need to express so much hate, like a criminal, like a murderer?’ And as I was still half-paralysed, I said, ‘you see, I’m still alive! And I’ll still be around to piss you off! I’ll survive you!’ He was livid!


But in reality, I’m also very arrogant. In the film, the Vicomte de Prony says, ‘what I like in Monsieur de Marigny is that if he ever becomes Minister, he will make a point of being unpopular’. And I think I’ve always been like this. I’ve always provoked what I’m complaining about now, so in reality I’m not complaining about it. I need opposition to construct myself against.

VS: The tone of The Last Mistress is very different from that of your previous films, it’s a lot less belligerent. It seems that you’re not trying to break taboos so much in this film.

CB: But I’ve never wanted to break taboos, I simply want to go through them. Taboos are like initiatory doors. So it’s quite the opposite, I like to create taboos, to know where they are. I do like to go beyond the limits. That’s what I see as my work.

VS: In one of the reviews of The Last Mistress, a journalist said that it’s a feminist revision of the myth of the femme fatale. Is that how you see it?

CB: Everything was in the book, including the conversations between the Contesse d’Artelles et the Marquise de Flers, when they analyse how you have to manipulate a man, which are indeed very feminist. I knew that people would say I’d written this but it’s in the book, it was written by Barbey d’Aurevilly. However, I have explored the myth of the femme fatale. Vellini is the femme fatale, she’s a ‘flamenco’ character, she comes from Seville, but I approached her through the vamps of the 30s and 40s, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth; and also Brigitte Bardot in Et Dieu créa la femme, she has that singular sexual freedom, the freedom to provoke desire knowingly, which caused a scandal when the book came out, and later when Bardot made the film.

VS: Was it difficult to deal with that type of character? Were you worried that it might fall into a Carmen type of cliché?

CB: But what is fiction, if not a series of clichés in which people see themselves? We all live the same lives and if we can still read very old books it’s because they have fixed fictional types in which we can recognise ourselves. It’s not a convention, it’s a type of reference to oneself. The commonplace is precisely the place in which everyone recognises themselves. I’ve worked a lot on the commonplace. People have said that Virgin [36 fillette, 1988] was full of clichés, of things that people already knew. But that’s not true, it was about what people never show.

VS: Why did you choose Asia Argento for the role of Vellini?

CB: I thought that the flamenco character had to be a rock’n’roll character in our times. She had to have a very sexual, provocative side, but also be very androgynous. Rock’n’roll women are both feminine and masculine. They are aggressively sexual, like Bardot in Et Dieu créa la femme, and at the same time, unlike Bardot, who was really a woman, they are masculine, like Marlene Dietrich, smoking cigarettes dressed in a suit. In Barbey d’Aurevilly’s novel, Vellini smokes the cigar.

VS: For this film you’ve also worked again with Roxanne Mesquida for the third time. Do you like working with actors that you already know?

CB: No, with actors I have invented! It’s not just that I know them, I made them! It is true that I’ve made three films with Roxanne. As soon as she entered the casting room for Fat Girl, I said to my assistant, ‘you see her, she’s mine, you can stop the casting’. With Fu’ad [Ait Aattou] it was the same thing. He wasn’t an actor. He was sitting at the terrace of a café and when he got up I pointed at him and said to my assistant, ‘this is Ryno de Marigny, that’s exactly it’. I wanted my assistant to run after him and ask for his phone number because I thought we would never be able to find him again! But Fu’ad came straight towards me, maybe because I had so obviously pointed at him, and said he’s seen Romance and really liked it and he gave me his phone number. But he didn’t do it in a subservient way, he did it with this magnificent pride that he has.

VS: You have described Anatomy of Hell as ‘the end of a necessary cycle’.

CB: Yes, I had to take it to the end, I couldn’t have made The Last Mistress, which is essentially a crowd-pleaser, if I hadn’t done Anatomy, which was the worst film I could make.

VS: Why that idea of a necessary cycle?

CB: Because films are necessary to my life. If I didn’t make films I wouldn’t live. I’m only alive when I make films, when I write or when I talk about cinema. When I stop doing that, I feel like an invalid. My daily life is terrible. Daily life is not real life; real life is cinema, literature, and running around the world talking about my films.

VS: What did Anatomy of Hell represent for you personally?

CB: Daring to do what I hadn’t dared to do in Romance, which is to show the reality of the sexual organ. In Romance, the character talks about her face and about her vulva while looking at herself in the mirror, and the mirror should have been between her legs, instead of reflecting the pubic triangle, which is now completely accepted and politically correct. It was the sexual organ that repulses and horrifies that I wanted to film. And I didn’t do it because I was a coward and it was that cowardice that I had to transgress. So I made Anatomy of Hell for that reason. I filmed a hairy horrifying/horrified vulva, like the face of the Medusa. It was not about a real sexual organ, but about this world-wide fantasy of the vulva as a horrifying thing.

VS: Did your stroke have any influence on The Last Mistress?

CB: None at all. What changed in relation to my previous films was that I finally understood that the power of a filmmaker is very abstract. Now I know how to control a film without giving orders. I don’t think I could have kept control of the set designers, the costume designers, etc, before, but with this I made the film exactly the way I wanted. I often had half of the set removed because it was just too busy and you couldn’t see the essential anymore. Apart from that, the only thing that my stroke changed is that the insurers don’t want to insure me anymore!

VS: Do you think that The Last Mistress opens a new cycle?

CB: No, I only referred to a cycle that ended with Anatomy so that people who are scared of my films would understand that this one is less esoteric and more watchable. Usually, my films do well until the 6pm screening, then at 8pm attendance dives and while all the other films generally do better at the weekend, mine crash. So I wanted to say that this film was different from the others, where people were scared to go with their family or their wives, that this film could be seen in a respectable fashion… it’s for all audiences! (laughs)

VS: The tone in The Last Mistress is definitely much softer than in your previous films.

CB: Of course, since it’s a very romantic novel. So it seems softer, but it’s still a film made by me, so it’s not that soft. To get out of the enclosed drama that is my specialty I needed the help of a novelist who can build a work as an orchestral piece. What I do is chamber music – pardon the pun – and The Last Mistress is an orchestral piece.


Alex and Her Arse Truck

‘In the bedroom of the Kurt Cobain-obsessed protagonist from my first short film Rocco Paris there are posters on the wall of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Bob Marley and Sean Conway.’
Sean Conway

He’s been described variously as ‘the UK’s coolest filmmaker’ (Giuseppe Andrews, actor) and ‘a fucking genius’ (Rankin, photographer and co-founder of Dazed and Confused). Writer/director Sean Conway (and self-confessed frustrated rock star) is undoubtedly doing something right. But with a drama to be screened on Channel 4, enough feature script ideas on the boil to last him his career, a multimedia collaboration funded by onedotzero, and a novella being published, Sean isn’t about to lie back in self-satisfaction.

Sean has been making a name for himself since his award-winning short Rocco Paris made strange bedfellows of poignancy and cool. Since then, he’s proven himself with shorts Rabbit Stories (2006), and Alex and Her Arse Truck (2007). Sean aims to make films that, in his own words, leave people thinking, ‘Wow! I’ve been in another universe!’, and he sees himself as having the capabilities of directing the next Harry Potter film just as much as LA alt-porn: the binding factor being his possession of an ‘agitation of the mind’ (a phrase coined by Werner Herzog).

Rabbit Stories depicts the world of Fenton, a young man with schizophrenia. The fractured visual style complements a brilliant and similarly fractured script. The constant argument between sound and vision is a driving force in communicating Fenton’s state of mind. Unfortunately, we never reach Fenton’s inner core, despite being offered several ‘Thought Insertions’ in which Fenton’s sexual identity and propensity to violence are hinted at. This is slightly disappointing, as is the positing of Fenton as a Christ-like figure: a slightly tired concept that contrasts with an otherwise highly original film.

Sean’s latest, Alex and her Arse Truck, is a vast leap in many ways from Rabbit Stories. Funded by Film Four and the UK Film Council, part of the Cinema Extreme scheme, it revolves around a couple of idealistic hedonists, Alex and Baby Shoes, and their encounters with panties-sniffing perverts, dancing drug dealers and a car park full of cheerleaders. Sean’s use of light is visionary, but there are too many potentially interesting psychological concepts that end up in a music video style extravaganza. The ever-present music will most definitely date the film, but hopefully in the way of a good tattoo – it might not suit in ten years but it makes a statement about the film here and now. Several moments display stunning directorial vision. The decision to have Alex mouth her first line of dialogue, for example, is infinitely more powerful than if she had screamed it.

Each of Sean’s films are very Gen Y, expressing a constant need to be made whole and the notion that the future will be brighter if you just hang on a little longer… As Baby Shoes puts it: ‘It’s like my balls are going to explode but my heart can’t breathe’.

In Rabbit Stories, Fenton believes that he is piloting a plane flying overhead with his plastic remote control. It’s a fitting analogy for Sean’s work as a filmmaker: with such an ambitious mind at the helm, the possibilities that may take flight are boundless.

Siouxzi Mernagh