Germany 09

Germany 09

Format: Cinema

Date: 2 December 2009

Venues: Curzon Soho, London

Screening as part of the 12th Festival of German Films, 27 November-3 December 2009

Directors: Fatih Akin, Wolfgang Becker, Sylke Enders, Dominik Graf, Martin Gressmann, Christoph Hochhäusler, Romuald Karmakar, Nicolette Krebitz, Dani Levy, Angela Schanelec, Hans Steinbichler, Isabelle Stever, Tom Tykwer, Hans Weingartner

Original title: Deutschland 09 – 13 kurze Filme zur Lage der Nation

Germany 2009

151 mins

12th Festival of German Films website

The idea behind Germany 09 is intriguing. In 1978, the core members of the New German Cinema joined forces to respond to the shocking events related to RAF terrorism and the social atmosphere of the time in the gripping omnibus film Germany in Autumn (Deutschland im Herbst). Thirty years later, a number of the country’s current leading filmmakers have set out on a new collaborative venture to take the pulse of the nation and put across their perception of Germany today. Working in a free-spirited manner similar to their predecessors’ regarding the format and content of the films, the participating directors, gathered together by filmmaker and co-initiator Tom Tykwer, find themselves confronted with a different challenge: without a controversial issue like the Baader-Meinhof terror of the 70s to comment on, they must present their views of a country that, at least on the surface, appears to be in fairly healthy shape compared to many of its European counterparts. Consequently, the result is patchy, yet engaging in its own right. The blend of satire, documentary, fictional dramatic vignettes and essayistic episodes is just as boldly diverse in terms of the themes explored, and the 13 shorts range from straightforward political statements such as Fatih Akin’s Being Murat Kurnaz to Christoph Hochhäusler’s lingering, surreal sci-fi parable Séance and, most remarkably, Romuald Karmakar’s weird but strangely charming documentary Ramses, about a disillusioned Iranian sex bar owner in Berlin who takes a trip down memory lane.

Germany 09 is screening as part of the Festival of German Films at the Curzon Soho on December 2. Electric Sheep’s Pamela Jahn took part in a round table with Tom Tykwer and Fatih Akin at the Berlinale in February where the film had its world premiere.

Question: What was your intention in creating a filmic retrospective of the ‘state of the nation’ at this particular time?

Tom Tykwer: I think the point is that you look from the inside. If you go abroad, people will say things like, ‘what’s your problem? Germany is doing fine, why do you complain?’ and by comparison this is probably true. But if you live here, you realise that there is something happening in the country, that it feels like we are in transition, and of course these are things that are bothering us. If we take ourselves seriously as artists with some sort of political perspective, it’s natural that we relate to the place where we grew up and now live in. Germany is the place that feeds our stories, so I was trying to get a group of people together who wanted to analyse this in more detail. And it was also very important to me to do this in the form of short films because of the kind of spotlight effect it has, and because I believe it also reflects on where our ideas for major projects derive from.

Q: Tom, your short film is about a sales manager who spends most of his week flying around the world on business. Is the film connected to the way you see yourself in Germany?

TT: I think there is some of my personal experience in it, but most of all I realised that now that everybody uses cheap flights, and you can get on a plane and fly anywhere anytime you want, you really have to put some substantial effort into experiencing difference and also into experiencing ‘home’. And to me this is scary, and it’s that feeling that I wanted to explore a bit more in the film.

Q: The perspective of the film as a whole seems much more global, rather than specifically concerned with a German subject…

TT: I don’t think you can generalise it like this. To me Ulrike Meinhof, for example, is particularly German; the Murat Kurnaz subject is extremely German; or take Dany Levy’s film, made by a Jew who lives in Berlin and who has all these experiences and the paranoia that are particularly Jewish in Germany. So if you investigate the whole film in all its details, I think it is very ‘German’. But, at the same time – and my film might be the most representative of this – it is a Germany in this so-called new world, which has become a place that is much more uniform than it was 30 years ago.

Q: Fatih, why did you choose the case of Murat Kurnaz as your contribution to the project?

Fatih Akin: After Tom called me and told me about the project, I didn’t have an idea right away. It took me quite a while because I was in the middle of shooting Soul Kitchen and I completely dismissed the scale of the project, to be honest – there was even a point where I wanted to get out of it because I was too busy. Eventually I discovered the biography of Murat Kurnaz, and a production company that had just bought the rights to the story asked me if I would direct it, although I didn’t accept the offer at first. But when I read the book, I got so angry and disillusioned, especially about the fact that the German government decided at that time to leave him in Guantánamo, I just felt I had to react to that in some way. Germany has this very clean and correct image, but if you look a bit deeper and scratch the surface, you see these things. It was also very personal for me, because Kurnaz has the same background as me, he is German-Turkish, he was born in Bremen and I was born in Hamburg, and I simply felt that what happened to him could have happened to me too. There was this deep identification with the subject.

Q: Is there a collective argument or atmosphere that underlies all episodes?

TT: I see it more as a gesture, a gesture that is related to the main subject. It’s not hysterical, it’s not in panic, but it’s doubtful and it’s cautious, and it’s very perceptive of what’s going on. There is a certain attentiveness about everyone involved with our country, and I think that is the general attitude that underlies the individual films.

Q: What kind of impact has an omnibus film like this for you as filmmakers?

TT: I think the power of a project like this is that, if people who are actually in the middle of doing other things, shooting or working on their major projects, if all these directors make an effort and collaborate, the result can be quite amazing. Fatih, for example, did something that is very unusual for him, very structured, and very disciplined, with an abstract, yet fascinating idea behind it. Sometimes the circumstances make the style, and in this case it had this very lucky outcome. And I love the energy that the film has.

Q: Fatih, you mentioned how busy you were when Tom asked you to participate in Germany 09. Why didn’t you say ‘no’, why did you want to be part of it?

FA: One of the reasons why I agreed to take part in this project was that I always complain about the lack of dialogue between German filmmakers. And I say that although I am the one who usually runs away from all that, but it was a great experience. At the beginning, when we had the first meetings with the other directors, I had a terrible feeling, I suddenly thought it was like school. But even if, in the end, we actually didn’t talk so much with each other while shooting our films, within the making process on the whole there was a sort of dialogue I was involved in like everybody else in the group, no matter how busy we were. And it was beautiful to see that there is a dialogue, that it is possible. I got really inspired by this.

Redland: Interview with Asiel Norton, Magdalena Zyzak and Lucy Adden


Director: Asiel Norton

Writers: Asiel Norton, Magdalena Zyzak

Cast: Mark Aaron, Lucy Adden, Sean Thomas, Bernadette Murray, Kathan Fors, Toben Seymour

USA 2009

105 mns

Film website

Screened at the 17th Raindance Film Festival

Date: 30 September-11 October 2009

Venue: Apollo Cinema, London

Raindance website

A claustrophobic tale of family relationships in the wilds of Depression-era America, Redland is an astonishing debut, the result of a collaboration between American director Asiel Norton and Polish writer-producer Magdalena Zyzak. After a rapturous reception at the Raindance Film Festival, Eleanor McKeown met up with Norton, Zyzak and lead British actress Lucy Adden to discuss their experiences shooting such an intense piece of cinema.

Eleanor McKeown: The film has an incredibly accomplished feel to it but none of you had ever worked on a full-length feature before. How did the project come about and what inspired you to make the film?

Asiel Norton: I grew up being a film junkie and always wanted to make movies. My childhood was very similar to the film itself – I was born in a cabin up on a mountain. It was a very, very rustic upbringing with no television, but my parents were into movies and we would drive to a small university town about 45 minutes away to watch old, classic films. I used to make little movies when I was a teenager and also did a lot of acting so I felt like I had a natural ability to edit and an intuitive understanding of acting. What I really wanted to know was how to make a good visual. I decided to study at photography school in order to learn that, and afterwards I attended film school.

Magdalena Zyzak: My background was mainly in directing but I’m also a fiction writer and I’m currently working on my first novel. Some of the stories in the film came from my own background and experiences in Poland, but I think our idea was to create something more universal.

EM: But the film is also specifically American, being set in Redland during the Great Depression.

AN: The original inspiration for the film came from a single vision I had of a guy wearing a hat, with the rim of his hat shading his face, and shooting his rifle. His attire was Great Depression-era clothing. The idea for the whole film came to me as that image. I don’t know if I saw the film as American. Some people see it as an avant-garde Western and it was certainly influenced a lot by American Gothic literature, like Faulkner, but we were also influenced by world cinema. Some of my favourite directors are European, like Bergman and Tarkovsky. When you’re making a film, so many things influence you, it’s not always easy to define them. I think everything that you absorb in your life is there. The film had a lot to do with my own background and my family. For me, it was a combination of my own life, creative influences, and lots of philosophical and spiritual influences too.

EM: The film’s narrative takes its structure from the literary tradition of the ‘holy fool’. The child-like character of Mary-Ann, who is the daughter of the family, is pivotal in creating change and driving the action. Lucy, how did you prepare for such an important and intense role?

Lucy Adden: I didn’t know all the background to the holy fool tradition – I think if I had, it might have been harder to play! I was just thinking about her for myself. I thought of her as a child-like character. She obviously has this depth and wisdom to her but she’s not really aware of it. I tried to play her very simply. She doesn’t really know much about the world or anything going on outside of her own little sphere. When I read the first page of script, it just hit something in me. I don’t know if it was the way it was written or the part, but it just tapped into something. Magdalena, Asiel and I were obviously on the same wavelength.

MZ: It’s odd because when we were auditioning, Lucy arrived with this floral dress on and this long, long hair. We thought she was just perfect! We had originally been thinking of a different type of person to play the part, someone more earthy.

LA: And then I came in, like a little forest elf! (laughs)

AN: Yes, I had imagined someone more like an earth mother type but, when we found Lucy, we realised we wanted the character to be more of an otherworldly spirit. These things work out. With filmmaking, you always have to think about what will work better because things are changing all the time. A lot of the time, you’re hoping for and setting up the conditions for the ‘happy accident’.

EM: Did any other characters change through the casting process?

AN: The character of Charlie Mills [Mary-Ann’s lover and father of her aborted child] changed quite a bit too. We hired a different actor originally, who was more comedic. Because the film was very visual, we had extensive camera tests and kept using Toben Seymour, the second unit director, because he was always around. I’d be watching the shots and thinking, ‘Oh my god, Toben’s so fucking handsome!’ I ended up auditioning him and we switched actors!

MZ: During the shoot, Toben was always in character, always in costume. He would jump in front of the camera and improvise while he was shooting footage. Even when you’d talk to him on set, he’d always be talking to you as Charlie.

AN: Yes, even for ages after the shoot ended, he kept wearing the costume! We’d meet up with him in a bar and he’d be wearing the costume (laughs)! Actually, Toben and TK Borderick [who wrote the original music for the film] created a bluegrass country band based on the character… Toben would perform as Charlie Mills!

EM: The physicality of the film makes it at times extremely uncomfortable to watch. In particular, there is a very lengthy death scene, which is incredibly claustrophobic. Did you want to create a particular reaction in the audience?

AN: One of the main reasons for that scene was because I wanted to show that dying isn’t easy. Although I wasn’t thinking of this at the time, it’s like how Alfred Hitchcock dragged out the murder scene in Torn Curtain because he wanted to show that killing someone is hard. I did the same thing with this. While we were writing the script, my dad was dying of cancer and he died before we shot the film. It was a very brutal death and took forever. Most films take one quick shot for a character to die – I didn’t want to do that. Some people said the death scene was too long but I would never, never cut it. I wanted to make it longer. I think even if my hero Stanley Kubrick had come back from the grave and told me to cut it, I still wouldn’t have done it!

EM: Towards the end of the film, an incestuous relationship develops in the family. The handling of this storyline is unusual in so far that the sex appears to be consensual. It caused quite a strong reaction at the Raindance Q&A session. What were your intentions with this?

AN: Well, when you make a film, you want to hit people – you want to hit them intellectually, you want to hit them viscerally and, at the highest point, you want to him them spiritually. Basically, you want to hit them on every level but hitting them viscerally is very important. We weren’t aiming to shock but there’s a natural tendency to create conflict in order to create something dramatic. I think that storyline came not from me, but from the story itself.

MZ: We never planned to write about incest, it just organically happened.

LA: To me, it felt like a natural part of the family’s fight for survival.

AN: Yes, life was running out within the family so it had to find a way. In that sense it’s not something shocking, it’s just how life is. The film is about life as a powerful force. This particular bit of the story was the final stage of that.

EM: There has been a lot of critical praise for the look and feel of the film, which is extremely unique. How did you go about creating this effect?

AN: The way we shot was very free. We’d think, ‘oh that’s a great tree! Let’s improvise a scene around it’. People don’t really tend to shoot movies like that! Everyone working on this film loved movies and because we kept the enthusiasm going, it became this really creative process. As a director, I’m very demanding and I love all aspects of filmmaking. I’m hands on with everything. It can drive people crazy! When we worked on the sound, I would sit in with the sound guy, David Bartlett, and pick the creak of a door opening, and that’s not normal at all. He’d worked with all these big directors, like Tarantino, but he’d never experienced that before! David said if he’d chosen a door sound and just played it to me, I would probably have accepted it, but I told him, ‘That’s why I’m here – I want to choose that door sound!’

Interview by Eleanor McKeown

Read Eleanor McKeown’s article on Redland in the winter 09 issue of Electric Sheep, which looks at what makes a cinematic outlaw: read about the misdeeds of low-life gangsters, gentlemen thieves, deadly females, modern terrorists, cop killers and vigilantes, bikers and banned filmmakers. Also in this issue: interview with John Hillcoat about his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the art of Polish posters according to Andrzej Klimowski, Andrew Cartmel discusses The Prisoner and noir comic strips!

Interview with Sachi Hamano

Title: Lily Festival

Director: Sachi Hamano

Writer: Kuninori Yamazaki

Cast: Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Mickey Curtis, Utae Shoji, Kazuko Shirakawa, Sanae Nakahara, Chisako Hara, Hisako Ôkata, Sachiko Meguro

Japan 2001

Screened at the 17th Raindance Film Festival

Part of a Raindance strand on Japanese Women Directors

Date: 30 September-11 October 2009

Venue: Apollo Cinema, London

Raindance website

A pioneering filmmaker in Japan, Sachi Hamano was the first woman to become a pink film (Japanese softcore porn) director without having been an actress first. In the 60s, only male graduates could become directors in Japan, so pink film was Hamano’s way into filmmaking. She got her start working as an assistant director at Wakamatsu Productions before founding her own production company. A prolific director, she claims to have directed over 300 pink films and has also made a handful of non-pink films since 1998. She visited the UK to present her non-pink film Lily Festival (2001) at the Raindance Film Festival in October 2009, as part of a strand devoted to Japanese women directors. A witty, funny and cheeky meditation on old age, love and sex, Lily Festival is set in a retirement home inhabited exclusively by women whose desires are rekindled when a charming 75-year-old man moves in. Virginie Sélavy had the pleasure of talking to Sachi Hamano about porn and feminism during the Raindance Festival. The interpreter was Sayaka Smith.

Virginie Sélavy: What made you want to become a director?

Sachi Hamano: I love movies and I watched so many films while I was in high school. That was the time of the nouvelle vague, and in European films women were depicted in red coats and high heels and they were very cool-looking ladies, whereas in the Japanese films of the time the women only played domestic roles and epitomised the good wife, a Virgin Mary sort of figure, or the lovely daughter. It was a male-dominated world and the women were always serving the men. That was the way women were seen in Japan, and that was reflected in Japanese cinema. And I was thinking, why is it always like that? And I realised that there were only men directors in Japan, that’s why you only had a male point of view. That’s why women were always like slaves, and that’s why I really wanted to make films from a woman’s point of view.

VS: It must have been difficult with this sort of feminist perspective to work in the pink film industry, where women are treated as sex objects. How did you cope with that? Did you feel you managed to give a female perspective to the pink films you directed?

SH: It was really hard. In pink film, the woman is a sex object, but if you look at it from another perspective, pink film doesn’t exist without a woman, who reveals her sexuality to a man. That’s what the industry relies on, so I could use that as an advantage. Japanese films are normally male-dominated, like the yakuza movies – that’s a very masculine type of film, and it’s very representative of mainstream Japanese cinema. But in pink film, you can actually put the woman in front, the woman is the star. A pink film is all about fulfilling the distorted desires of men, so the sexuality is only perceived from the male point of view; so for instance, if a woman has been raped, she has to appear like she’s having a good time straight after, and obviously that’s not the reality. Male directors always use the same line when they shoot a rape scene – the male character always says something like this at the end: ‘Oh you hated it before, but five minutes later you’re having a good time.’ So I decided that I really wanted to turn that around, so that women would not be sex objects for men.

VS: These pink films are not easily available here but I’ve read about your Greedy Housewives films (2003) in Jasper Sharp’s Behind the Pink Curtain. From the description in the book, these films seem to shift the focus more on what women want sexually – they seem to present hyper-sexual women who are in charge.

SH: Yes, that’s the idea. Normally, women open their legs for men because men ask them to do it, but women have their own desire to open their legs. So my films are the other way around.

VS: Are your pink films as important to you personally as your non-pink films?

SH: I need to do pink film in order to make money. As a managing director of the production company, I have many employees to pay. At the same time, it’s difficult for young people to develop in the Japanese film industry, so I use pink film to nurture and foster new talent. I really like both, I can’t say which one is better because I think I can express myself in the pink movies as well as in the normal movies, so it really doesn’t matter which genre I’m working in. I never feel embarrassed about making pink movies. Pink film uses women to sell movies, and some people criticise female directors for making pink films, but I do like making them. If men directors make a pink movie, it’s always a male fantasy. But what I really want to do is punch that male fantasy and do something new and radical to change the perception of women’s sexuality.

In the 80s, Japanese women’s consciousness changed as Adult Video [hardcore pornography] emerged. It’s completely different from pink film. Around that time, in pink film, there were many actresses who were very reluctant to show any flesh. They had to take their clothes off because it was pink film, but they didn’t want to do it. In Adult Video, the women were a bit different, they were willing to take their clothes off, they were not shy, they were saying, ‘why not, we’ve got great bodies’, and they wanted to show them off. Their attitude was, ‘why can’t I be excited about myself, not by the men’, and that showed the power of women. That made the industry change a little bit. And those girls gave me a lot of confidence and the power to shoot what I wanted to shoot in the pink film industry, and from then on it felt like it was going to be a women-dominated world, girl power (laughs)! That’s what I wanted to see in my movies and I could do it with those girls.

VS: Is there one pink film that you’re particularly proud of?

SH: I’ve made 300 (laughs). I’m often asked this question and my answer is always that the latest one is my favourite, because not just the pink film industry, but the culture as a whole is changing all the time.

VS: You changed your name from Sachiko to Sachi to make it sound less feminine – did you feel that you had to act like a man to be able to direct films?

SH: I didn’t want to change it, I wanted to call myself Sachiko. It was actually a compromise. There were no female directors in pink film, so I was told to change my name completely from Sachiko to a man’s name. At that time, if men saw a woman director’s name on the poster of a pink movie, they were not going to get excited. They would go, ‘woman director, I’m not going to watch it’. That was the sort of attitude. That’s why they wanted me to change my name completely, but I wanted people to know that my films were made by a woman. So we compromised. Sachiko is definitely a woman’s name, but if you take ‘ko’ out, it could be the name of a man or a woman.

The other thing is that I was only 21 when I made my first pink film. A female, 21 year-old director was not going to sound very convincing to the customers of pink theatres. That’s why it had to be Sachi, and not Sachiko. At the time, you didn’t have lots of sexual experience at 21, and it was really difficult to make a pink film. So I used my cat! I opened her legs – I didn’t do anything to her, but I used her to study poses (laughs). There was sexual harassment as well. The male actors were older than me. They wore a robe before shooting, and they would call me over as if to talk to me, and they would open the robe and show themselves to me, and I would get embarrassed. That happened so many times, that’s the way it was.

VS: Does it mean you had to learn to be very tough and dismissive, sort of like ‘I’m not impressed’?

SH: (laughs) Yeah, it was exactly like that!

VS: What was it like working for Kôji Wakamatsu’s company?

SH: I never worked as an assistant on his movies, so I don’t really know him as a director. I think what he wants to create with his movies is completely the opposite of what I want to create, because he’s really masculine and his films are always made from a very male point of view. Wakamatsu Productions is a very male, macho place. In his pink films, he treats women as objects of male desire, something I’m very critical of. I don’t agree with the way he films women – it always involves raping and sometimes killing women. But I have a lot of respect for him. He’s wanted to make United Red Army (2007) since the 70s, so I respect that he’s achieved what he really wanted to achieve.

VS: Your break into directing came with Masao Adachi’s Sex Play (1969), which was produced by Wakamatsu Productions, is that right?

SH: Sex Play was the first movie on which I was assistant director. There was a funny episode during the shooting. Because I’m a woman, I didn’t have a place for myself. I couldn’t sleep in the men’s room, so I normally slept in the main actress’s room. One night, I was sleeping in the corner of her room, and the main actor came in and they started having sex. In front of me. I asked them to stop because we had to start early in the morning and I really wanted to sleep (laughs). But they didn’t, so I went up to Adachi’s room and complained, but he told me off, and said it was my fault. I’m not sure what he meant. He said, ‘they’re allowed to do it, they’re free to do anything they like’. I got upset, and I told Adachi that if he thought it was my fault, I’d move to another studio, and I left the company that day. But we were in the middle of nowhere. It was past midnight. It took me 12 hours to walk back from the location to Wakamatsu Productions offices in Tokyo. I told Wakamatsu what had happened. I asked him, is it my fault? Wakamatsu said, whatever the reason, you’re the assistant director and you left the location and that’s your fault. So I was told off by him too. That’s the reason I left Wakamatsu Productions. People always say I came from Wakamatsu Productions, but I only worked there for six months, and I didn’t really like it. It was a way of climbing up the ladder. But sometimes I still argue with male pink film directors, and they all know what happened with Wakamatsu Productions, so they always laugh – they say, ‘you will never change!’

VS: In 1998, you made your first non-pink film, In Search of a Lost Writer: Wandering the World of the Seventh Sense, based on the life and work of the writer Midori Osaki. Why did you choose to make a film about her?

SH: I’d been making pink films for the last 30 years. In 1997, at the Tokyo International Women’s Film Festival, somebody said that the woman director who had made the most films in Japanese film history was Kinuyo Tanaka, who made six films. Nobody mentioned my name because pink film doesn’t count. I was really shocked that they didn’t even know about me. Up until then, I really enjoyed shooting pink films, but I realised that if I kept making only pink movies, nobody would ever know about me, and I couldn’t actually call myself a woman director. That’s why I had to make at least one normal movie.

VS: Why choose that particular subject?

SH: I was looking for a theme. Kuninori Yamazaki, the script-writer of Lily Festival, is a huge fan of Midori Osaki, so he introduced me to her and I read the novel, Wandering the World of the Seventh Sense. I was surprised because it was written in the 1930s, but it’s so fresh and new. The Cricket Girl is my favourite work and I made it into a film too (in 2007). It’s about the Scottish poet William Sharp, who creates another poet in his imagination, so there’s a doppelgänger effect and it’s astonishingly moving. But in 1997, nobody in Japan knew who Midori Osaki was. The reason she was unknown was that a critic was holding her novel in his personal collection, so it hadn’t been published before. He wrote that Midori Osaki retired as a writer when she was 34 and went back to the Tottori Prefecture, and that she had a horrible, miserable life. He made other people believe this perception of her life. Reading her novels, I didn’t feel like she hated her life or that she was miserable. She had something new to tell, and the way in which she writes is completely radical. She died when she was 72 so when I went to Tottori, I found people who’d known her and I interviewed them, and found out that it was a completely different story. She retired from writing because around that time, before the war, any writer had to be a nationalist writer and had to write propaganda, but she refused to do that, she was an anarchist. She didn’t want to praise Japan during the war – that’s why she decided to stop writing. Therefore to reclaim Osaki’s life was like reclaiming my life, because Osaki is an unknown writer and I’m an unknown director. I’ve made lots of films but no one knows about them, and no one knew about Osaki’s work, so there was a really strong link between us. And I wanted to show that her life wasn’t a tragedy.

VS: In Search of a Lost Writer was financed in a very unusual way through donations, mostly from women throughout Japan, and it was screened independently by women in Japan. It seems that this film and Lily Festival have led to the development of a sort of alternative network for financing and distributing films.

SH: That’s right, the Tottori Prefecture and people in Tokyo gathered the finance for the Midori Osaki movie. Twelve thousand people in Japan donated money to create this movie. That wasn’t enough, obviously, but we also got government subsidies. I couldn’t show Lily Festival anywhere in Japan, no one would release it, but the people who were supporting me and women’s centres found funding to screen it themselves.

VS: Why do you think your films are so important to Japanese women?

SH: I think Lily Festival is liberating. In Japan, women are not supposed to talk about anything to do with sex in public, and I really wanted to get rid of that notion. I think it’s completely natural for old women to want to have sex and love somebody, but they couldn’t talk about it before. So by showing them this movie, I’m telling old people that they can talk about sex and still enjoy it. Japan is still a male-dominated world so the body of the woman has to be young and beautiful. If a woman over the age of 60 talks about sex or love, people will think that she’s gone mad.

VS: Is there still a taboo about female sexuality, or is it more about old women’s sexuality?

SH: The sexuality of post-menopausal women is particularly taboo in Japan. Everybody thinks that sex is about reproduction, so if you can’t have babies, you shouldn’t have any desires. That’s how the Japanese think. But it’s not just about old women, old men have the same problems. When Lily Festival was shown in France, this French gentleman of about 70 came up to me after the screening and he started crying. He explained that he was crying because he could no longer get a hard-on, but watching the film he realised that you can still enjoy sex with a soft penis, so he was very grateful and it gave him a little bit more hope. I think that Japanese men should be like this French man, they should accept that a soft penis is OK. But in Japan they still think that strong men have very hard penises, hard cock equals hard man, and they can’t accept that it doesn’t actually make you a hard man. They need to change so they can live a more fun life. That’s why old Japanese men are so miserable (laughs).

Interview by Virginie Sélavy

Read Eleanor McKoeown’s interview with Momoko Ando, also conducted during the Raindance Festival in October 09.

Interview with Apichatpong Weerasethakul


Still from Primitive by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Abandon Normal Devices

23-27 September 2009

Various venues, Liverpool

AND website

The Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul has received acclaim for such dreamlike films as Blissfully Yours (2002), Tropical Malady (2004) and Syndromes and a Century (2006), quietly haunting explorations of time and space that have won the adoration of critics and art-house aficionados. This success has not been entirely without setbacks; the Thai censorship board tried to ban the award-winning Syndromes and a Century, resulting in a very limited release in Bangkok with the offending content blacked out, while Weerasethakul’s plans to shoot a logistically ambitious science fiction project in Canada in 2008 fell through due to funding issues. However, these problems did not deter the director from embarking on Primitive, a multi-platform video installation concerning a turbulent chapter in Thailand’s political history that was commissioned by the Haus der Kunst Museum (Munich) in collaboration with FACT (Liverpool) and Animate Projects (London). Primitive premiered at the recent Abandon Normal Devices festival, while Weerasethakul has also contributed some notes about his work to date to James Quandt’s recently published Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a critical appreciation that features essays by Tony Rayns, Mark Cousins and Tilda Swinton. John Berra met with Weerasethakul during AND for an enlightening interview that explores the origins of the Primitive installation, his difficult dealings with the Thai censorship board, and his long-gestating ‘dream project’ Utopia.

John Berra:Your video installation work is more politicised than your feature films, is that because of the freedom afforded by this particular format following your dispute with the Thai censorship board regarding Syndromes and Century?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Primitive stems from many issues; I spent a year fighting and trying to make sense of the system, because it had not affected me before. It’s a very fascist system, but we cannot do much about it; new censorship laws have been passed, partly because of our movement [the Free Thai Cinema Movement], but it is still full of bureaucracy. I was thinking about how I live in Thailand. I started making lists of what I could not do, and what I could not say. There were a lot of lists. At the same time, I was reading books about the extinction of species and animals, so there was a link between rare species being hunted, and minorities and immigrants; immigrants in Thailand have been pushed to the margins and are disappearing. I was very interested in the disappearance of memories, and the other source was a book that was given to me by a monk called A Man Who Can Recall His Past Life, which is about a man who can remember hundreds of years. It’s supposed to be a true story. So I shelved an American project that I had been working on, and decided to make a film in Thailand about this issue of extinction. I’m not a political person. I’m not comfortable with expressing direct feelings through film, so I try to find my own approach. I talked to my producers but the process of gathering funding is getting harder each year for this kind of film. During the time of Syndromes and a Century, I also produced some artworks for galleries, photographs and videos, so we decided to try other forms of expression, and we found support from Liverpool, London and Munich.

JB: Primitive concerns the history of the border town Nabua, which became a ‘red zone’ in the 1960s when the Thai government targeted the local community as communist sympathisers. How did you settle on this subject, and is there a lot of recorded information about what occurred in Nabua?

AW: There are reports of what happened but they are not focused on individual or collective experience of what happened afterwards, or what happened to their psychology, how they were traumatised. The villagers are not really the focus of the reports. I travelled from my home town, where the monk gave me the book, and I did not know what I wanted until I went through this village, and I felt a connection, because the village has a very troubled history, which some villagers try to forget. When I interviewed them, a lot of them told shocking stories about how the military treated them, and there was no apology from the government until now. Primitive reflects Thai society now, because we recently had a military coup, and also during the making of this piece. It is a sad thing that we really have no voice. So I decided to spend time in this village. I was fascinated by the teenagers, who are farmers, and just hang around. When they harvest and grow the rice, they have nothing to do, like teenagers all over the world. I wanted to work with them and make a portrait.

JB: You worked with non-professional actors on this project. Your work is deliberately structured, how do you manage to get performances that fit into your vision?

AW: For this installation, I operated in a different mode, because these are not professional actors, they are farmers, so it was more of a collaborative project. I didn’t know what I wanted, so I just filmed every day. With feature films, there is a process of getting to know each other, so I like to make sure the actors have their own personality in the film, but at the same time I am very in control so that they serve the storyline and the mood. The important point is to be with them; it’s not just about coming to the set and improvising. It’s about spending time together, having meals together, and we would do that before shooting. I did not have first-hand experience of the history of the village, so it would have been difficult to work with the elders. The teenagers are more like me. We share some world views and listen to some of the same music.

JB: The notion of parallel worlds is inherent in your work, with dual story strands and different incarnations of certain characters. Does this stem from your own Buddhist beliefs?

AW: It’s more to do with legends; the world I grew up in was full of legends. I wouldn’t say I believe in them, but I am fascinated by them in a romantic way and also in a scientific way. Legend links together the circular relationship between humans, animals and plants. I went to China a few years ago, and I was told about a plant that, in one season, will turn into an animal and then, in another season, will turn back into a plant, and this can apply to our own span of being. I read texts about reincarnation and the mind, how the mind can travel, and I think there is a scientific link with the impermanence of things; they are moving all the time and they have particles inside that are not solid.

JB: Syndromes and a Century encountered censorship difficulties in Thailand for scenes that seem innocuous to Western audiences; a monk playing a guitar, a doctor drinking whisky, doctors kissing. To what extent does the power of the censorship board affect the Thai film industry?

AW: At the censorship board meeting, I was surrounded by 11 people, and it was surreal because I was brought in and attacked. They asked, ‘why did you have to show the monk like that?’ or ‘why did you have to show the doctor drinking whisky?’ In Thailand, there are always monks around, and I like to show monks outside the temple, playing soccer or playing guitar. This is very typical in Thailand, but it is not accepted in movies. A film scholar in Thailand commented that I should stop making films. This was shocking to me and I have become more protective of my work. The system we have is ridiculous; there is a scene in a Thai horror movie called Sick Nurses where the sign of the hospital falls down and kills someone. But the sign was a red cross, so the censorship board said that this was not acceptable and they had to digitally change the cross to the number four. The censorship board has a lot of power because they do not accept video, they only accept a real print, and it is very expensive for the studio to make digital alterations.

JB: How does the studio system function in Thailand?

AW: There are four or five major studios, but they operate more like a family business. If they have a plan for three movies, and the first one comes out and flops, they may not make the second; it is not very stable. I like a director called Yuthlert Sippakak, who directed Killer Tattoo. He makes maybe two films per year. We planned to work together, but he is too prolific and I cannot keep up with him. He is financed by the Thai studios and his movies do well.

JB: How do you feel about the work of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, a more transnational Thai filmmaker who directed Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves in collaboration with a Japanese star (Tadanobu Asano) and an Australian cinematographer (Christopher Doyle)?

AW: Pen-Ek is a friend of mine; his background is in commercials, but he is one of the few directors who tried to break away from mainstream Thai cinema, which is populated by nonsense. I have mixed feelings about his work, because it is both national and international. He has a very good sense of humour and I really liked his early films Monrak Transistor and Sixty-Nine because his personality showed through.

JB: Can you reveal some details about Utopia, which I believe is your ‘dream project’?

AW: It’s a science fiction film. I started working on it many years ago, after Tropical Malady. It’s a big movie and it’s based on my experiences of studying in the United States. I want to have the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek in the department store Macys, but broken down, and have the store surrounded by a snow-covered landscape. I want to work with the original science fiction actors, who are now in their 50s or 60s, and have them play scientists in this landscape who discover this broken-down Enterprise ship. There is a parallel narrative about a monster that is the product of these humans. The whole movie is about my memories of the science fiction movies that I grew up with.

JB: Music plays an important role in your movies, although it is used sparingly; in Syndromes and a Century, there is a discussion about pop music between the monk and his dentist, and people exercise to a loud dance track in a public park. Does the music in your films have personal significance in terms of memory?

AW: The music in my movies refers to the time of the shooting, the music that we would listen to on the set, in the moment. I’m not a huge fan of music. I don’t like noise. It’s more an appreciation of a particular time. I don’t like to have music on when I am sitting reading a book. Strangely, after I made Mysterious Object at Noon, I stopped listening to CDs. Syndromes and a Century was the first movie where I used a score, but I had a hard time adding the score because I don’t like telling the audience how to feel.

JB: Your films are very much open to interpretation. How do you respond to the various meanings that audiences and critics find in your work?

AW: It’s interesting because it shows that the movie has a life of its own. I like to hear what people have to say about my work, but when I have to answer their questions, I really struggle to find the right vocabulary to communicate what I do because a movie cannot simply be explained by words. It’s very difficult.

JB: It becomes my difficulty when I write about your movies.

AW: I would like to apologise, I feel sorry for you. (laughs)

Interview by John Berra

Short Cuts: Max Hattler


Max Hattler is refuting my observation that he’d like to transcend gravity. ‘Animation has become a sub-category of film, but I think film is a sub-category of animation.’ The intent in his work, he states, is not a matter of escaping the rules of physics, as in cartoons, but has more affinities with the beginnings of the cinematic form itself – origins he is keen to reclaim: ‘I don’t really like animation. People go in for the wrong reasons – because they like cartoons. I like abstraction and graphic design. I like early animation. Artists like Hans Richter and Oskar Fischinger saw it as an extension of painting. Celluloid was a way of making paintings move, and that was the beginning of film. Then came narrative and Hollywood and telling stories with people in them. Now, animation is dominated by Disney and funny stuff – why do we have to live with that?’

If this talk of history seems irregular for such an avowed innovator, the confrontational stance does not. Hattler’s breakthrough film, his Royal College of Art graduation short film Collision, literally burst onto the scene in 2005, with a whirl of flags and a deft political kick. To date, Collision has notched up 209 international screenings, winning a clutch of awards and establishing Hattler as one of a wave of design-savvy digital moving image wunderkinds that include David OReilly and (sometime Hattler collaborator) Robert Seidel.

I speak to Hattler on the eve of his trip to the Fredrikstad Animation Festival in Norway where he will serve as a jury member, and perform a new live set with Japanese artist Noriko Okaku, cryptically titled /\/\/\. A curly-haired dynamo, Hattler is a regular presence on the festival circuit, his films constantly touring evocatively monikered events such as Optica, Cream, Exground and Encounters. Most recently, his short film Aanaatt has received special mention ‘for the art form’ at the No-Festival of Video Art and Animation in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

His latest work, Spin, is produced and distributed by edgy Parisian outfit Auteur de Minuit and extends the concerns of Collision. ‘With the mediatisation of war, you have embedded journalists, and it’s twisted. War is constructed as a narrative for news entertainment,’ Hattler explains. ‘Collision has a very specific take on conflict. It’s sexy and seductive and pretty to look at. It draws you in and halfway through you see horrible things.’

The development of Spin has led to Hattler researching political parades and mass rallies, alongside kaleidoscopic Hollywood dance routines: ‘I’ve been looking at work by Leni Riefenstahl, and the escapist vision of Busby Berkeley. I’ve also been considering Fordism and the division of labour, where individuals create a bigger pattern. I’m interested in the human as ornament. What happens when you replicate a figure a million times?’

With this correlation of dance troupes and military troops, Spin presents a constantly self-replenishing supply of plastic toy soldiers, whose uniform movements shift from dizzying eye-candy patterns into increasingly threatening displays, all to a soundtrack of 1940s big band music. This symbiosis of geometry and bodies is an emerging tendency in Hattler’s work, including currently touring live AV set Oh Yes, another collaboration with Noriko Okaku, featuring a YouTube-infected array of Olympian athletes and roller coasters. Contrasting with the painstaking and time-consuming nature of his film work, the live audiovisual performances offer a sense of catharsis: ‘It’s definitely a relief. An ad-hoc, random, uncontrollable adrenalin-based thing.’

Spin revels in its toys’ plastic shininess, mixing 2-D After Effects wizardry and 3-D scans, extending Hattler’s technical vocabulary and involving a small team of animators. While he regularly collaborates with other artists and musicians, Hattler confirms that his next work will be a solo piece: ‘It’s a luxury to get other people involved, but now I’m excited at just being able to tinker.’

Kate Taylor

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling’s Film Jukebox

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling is a loud art-rock duo from Boston that creates spy-themed music. Their first project is recording 17 songs, each inspired by an episode of the original The Prisoner series. They found it hard to narrow down their film list to 10, as they love many directors and endless B-movies, but they tried to pick films that well represented the genres that they most often enjoy. Despite the fact that they’ve seen hundreds of spy films (including every James Bond film) no spy movies made the cut! They arranged their choices chronologically. To find out more about Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, visit their website.

1- The Big Sleep (1946)
In addition to being unbelievably clever and quotable, this is the quintessential film noir, and the most famous pairing of Bogart, the archetypal hard-boiled hero, and Bacall, the sassy and untamable woman. It’s smoky and stylish, and the plot is wonderfully complex. The filmmakers even managed to sneak taboo subtexts about pornography and homosexuality past the censors.

2- Rope (1948)
We are very big Hitchcock fans and it was very difficult to pick a single film to represent the unsurpassed master of film tension. The tagline from Rope – ‘It begins with a shriek…it ends with a shot.’ – was our original band name and remains the title of our blog. The Grand Guignol Rope, a film version of the play based on the true story of child murderers Leopold and Loeb, implicitly explores the dynamics of a homosexual pair obsessed with transcending morality à la Nietzsche’s Ãœbermensch via the commission of a perfect crime.

3- Harvey (1950)
Jimmy Stewart is very heart-warming as a happy-go-lucky, head-in-the-clouds fellow whose best friend Harvey is a pooka – a six-foot, eight-inch, bunny-like creature. The movie makes us want to invite everyone we meet to dinner.

4- High Noon (1952)
The theme from High Noon was the source of the Prisoner episode entitled ‘Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling’, which in turn we chose as our band moniker. While technically a Western, the real-time film is a wonderful essay on honour, moral obligation, fear, and the unstoppable march of time towards the
inevitable confrontation with death.

5- Barbarella (1968)
The absolute best blend of sci-fi camp and 60s sexual revolution. The movie’s characters traipse around the galaxy carrying bizarre props through imaginative settings with absolutely brilliant sound design. It contains carnivorous dolls, a musical instrument that produces deadly orgasms, a blind angel, and a death ray. When preparing for our photo shoot, Sophia gave the make-up artist a photo of Jane Fonda as Barbarella for reference.

6- Vanishing Point (1971)
This subtle car-chase film delicately unravels an allegorical race of individuality and rebellion against inevitable capture and integration. Many of the same themes in Vanishing Point (and High Noon) are also present in The Prisoner and have inspired our songs.

7- Deathrace 2000 (1975)
Arguably the best of the Roger Corman classics – a difficult title to win in our view. Deathrace is an early role for Sly Stallone, one of Sophia’s favourites, and features David Carradine in peak form as the horribly deformed hero Frankenstein. The film focuses on society’s fascination with real death and destruction and serves as a commentary against reality television, years before it even became a… reality.

8- Boy and his Dog (1975)
This B-movie starring Don Johnson makes this list because it has the best, most unexpected ending in any movie ever. We get unlimited joy from just telling people the plot of this film: Don Johnson trots around a post-apocalyptic world telepathically communicating with his dog, whose primary purpose is to sniff out
women. Don is tricked by one of his dog-sighted conquests into entering an underground world that is a recreation of Topeka, Kansas.

9- City of Lost Children (1995)
This French film is perhaps the finest steam-punk story ever told. The dark world is crafted in the perfect combination of black and green to be timeless, and the oddball characters are right out of a circus sideshow. It is the perfect combination of sci-fi, fantasy, and surrealism with a wonderfully simple, but layered plot.

10- Primer (2004)
This mega-brainy, sci-fi, time-travel movie was made on a tiny budget and still manages to be the best sci-fi film in a long, long time. Wonderfully dense and complex, it is absolutely impossible to unravel in a single viewing – or really even 10 viewings. Slow and delicately paced, but really worth the attention.

Read Alex Fitch and Andrew Cartmel’s discussion of The Prisoner in the winter 09 issue of Electric Sheep, which looks at what makes a cinematic outlaw: read about the misdeeds of low-life gangsters, gentlemen thieves, deadly females, modern terrorists, cop killers and vigilantes, bikers and banned filmmakers. Also in this issue: interview with John Hillcoat about his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the art of Polish posters according to Andrzej Klimowski and noir comic strips! And look out for our special Prisoner podcast coming soon!

Mother: Interview with Bong Joon-ho


Format: Cinema

Screening on: 14 November 2009

Venue: BFI Southbank, London

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Writers: Park Eun-kyo, Park Wun-kyo, Bong Joon-ho

Original title: Madeo

Cast: Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin

South Korea, 2009

128 mins

Part of Bong Joon-ho retrospective, 2-14 November 2009

Korean Film Festival

1-18 November 2009

Barbican + BFI Southbank (London), Manchester Cornerhouse, Nottingham Broadway

Korean Film Festival website

A dark tale about a mother who will go to extreme lengths to save her son, and a stunning blend of bewildering intensity, daring artistry and storytelling magic, Bong Joon-ho’s Mother was one of the highlights at the London Film Festival in October. Gladly, it is now already back on the big screen in the UK as part of this year’s London Korean Film Festival, playing at the BFI, which is hosting a retrospective of Bong’s small but remarkable oeuvre so far. Mother features a striking central performance from Korean TV actress Kim Hye-ja as the vigilant mother whose 28-year-old son, a shy and mentally impaired young man, finds himself framed for murder. Although there is no real evidence against him, the police are eager to close the case, and his mother has no alternative but to get involved to prove his innocence. But how far will a mother go to save her son? And how did one of South Korea’s most promising young filmmakers, who recently smashed Korean box office records with monster movie The Host (2006) approach such a topic?

Pamela Jahn had the pleasure to take part in a round table interview of Bong Joon-ho at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival in May, where Mother had its world premiere in the non-competitive Un Certain Regard section.

Q: You’ve been working on this film for almost five years, yet it seems fuelled with burning passion from beginning to end.

A: Yes, I had the general idea for the story even before The Host and I wrote a first synopsis in early 2004. That was also when I first met the main actress, Kim Hye-ja. And the fact that we could finally work together as director and actress was an unbelievable experience for me. So even while I was working on The Host and on the episode I contributed to Tokyo! (2008), in the back of my head I was already working on Mother too.

Q: When did you make the decision to cast Kim Hye-ja in the lead role?

A: It was not like the usual procedure where after writing the script I start looking for an actress who might fit the role. It’s this actress who really inspired me and got me to write the story in the first place. She is not very well known abroad, but in Korea she is an almost mythical actress, like the ‘mother of the nation’, and I had been a fan of hers since I was little. The first time I met Hye-ja it was a little surreal actually, she was almost like a dreamer. She was completely different from what I had seen on TV. So in reaction to this I wanted to show her in a role that is completely the opposite of her TV appearances and express her personality from a different point of view, looking at the hysteria and madness that lie beneath the surface of her great gentleness and warmth.

Q: How much influence did Kim Hye-ja have in the development of her character in the film?

A: I met her on a regular basis while writing the script, often several times a month, and I took some pictures that helped me a lot writing the story and developing her role.

Q:Did you also have Won Bin in mind for the role of the son while working on the story?

A: No, it was only after I finished the script that I started looking for an actor to play the son. For this character I wanted someone who would fit with her, but also someone who could make her completely mad, and Won Bin turned out to be the perfect match.

Q:In both its tone and narrative structure, Mother is very different from the films you directed before, like Memories of Murder (2003) or The Host. Why this shift in direction?

A: In Memories of Murder I wanted to represent Korean society in the 80s when it was under military dictatorship, and I liked the fact that I was dealing with a number of different themes like the family and the system, and I was exposing Korean society and the military regime by looking into the serial killings. But I got a bit tired of what was mainly a stylistic exercise and a general denunciation. So in Mother I wanted to tell a story that could be seen almost as if through a magnifying glass where the light is so concentrated that it can burn paper. I wanted to find the essence of the story. So the relationship between mother and son is the focus, and every element in the story, from the murder in the village to some other minor incidents, is there to explore this relationship in its entirety. But if you look at the film on the whole, it is not just about motherhood and their relationship, it also hints at something greater again.

Q: Did you feel a lot of pressure while making the film given that it was your follow-up feature to The Host, which was the biggest box office hit in Korean film history?

A: To be honest, I am a little bit uncomfortable with that, and I really hope that there will be a Korean movie coming up soon to break the record. But it didn’t bother me while I was making Mother because I started working on the project way before The Host came out in Korea, so I could maintain the tone that I had intended for this film in the first place.

Q: Mother is very distinctive in style, especially in the way attention is paid to colour and locations, but there are also these wonderful moments when the mother somehow becomes isolated from the background. What was the main focus in terms of the aesthetics of the film?

A: I wanted to put the character in an extreme situation and find out how she would react. That was the most important thing for me, so everything had to fully focus on the mother character, including the style and look of the film but also the music. We had some wild discussions with the art director about the clothes that she wears and what colour could best describe her character and her thoughts. I think that the opening scene shows this very well – her madness and the feeling that she is completely out of this world. She is wearing these weird purple clothes and she is hiding her hand in her pocket. Then we hear the sound of her cutting herbs and we see blood on her finger… so, basically, it’s all in there: the fate, the tragedy and the madness. These are the main elements I tried to express in that first scene, but they also stand for the film as a whole.

Q: How is your relationship to your own mother? Did she serve as an inspiration here?

A: Well, she didn’t kill anybody [laughs]. Actually, she hasn’t seen the movie yet, and I am very excited but also a little bit worried because she also has a tendency to obsession. I mean, I am 40 years old and she is still constantly worried about me. So, yes, in some way my mother also inspired me in making the film I guess, but not primarily. And don’t tell her I said that.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

53rd London Film Festival Round Up

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno


14-29 October 2009

LFF website

As always, the London Film Festival acted as an advance preview for some of the big releases coming out in the next few months – including Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, John Hillcoat’s The Road and Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control. We will have full-length reviews of those films on their release, so here we have to chosen to concentrate on the surprises and unknown pleasures of this year’s festival.


Following his success with monster movie The Host, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho returns to less commercial territory in his fourth and possibly best film to date, pouring his genre-defying talent into a dazzling psychological thriller that is both a disturbing family drama and witty detective story of sorts. Mother features a striking central performance from Korean TV actress Kim Hye-ja as the vigilant mother who will stop at nothing to protect her grown-up, mentally impaired son. When the emotionally fragile Do-joon is accused of murdering a high school girl and lazy policemen squeeze a questionable confession out of him just so they can close the case, the feisty widow sets out to prove his innocence, investigating the mysterious crime herself. Pushing past the bounds of conventional film noir, Bong elegantly wraps his superbly twisted narrative in stylistically assured, smartly composed scenes while creating an atmosphere that is somewhat ironic and wonderfully sinister at the same time. A festival favourite worldwide. PAMELA JAHN

Showing as part of the Bong Joon-ho retrospective at the BFI Southbank, London, on November 14.


Blending the acute paranoia of the best dystopian science fiction with the noir futurism of Blade Runner and Dark City, Metropia is a brilliant little gem. In a permanently dark Europe where life is mostly confined to the underground and cycling has become an extreme sport, an everyman named Roger starts following a beautiful and inevitably mysterious blonde woman who may be able to explain why he’s started hearing voices. The stunning, innovative animation creates a richly detailed world that is both fascinatingly strange and disturbingly familiar. VIRGINIE SÉLAVY


Winner of the audience award at the SXSW festival, 45365 is a surprising discovery. A low-key but moving documentary, it weaves together the storylines of the inhabitants of Sidney, Ohio – from the high school kids on the all-important football team to the police in their patrol cars, the judge running for re-election and the local troublemaker and his damaged mother. Created by local filmmakers Bill and Turner Ross, the result is a subtle, intimate look at both the highs and lows of life in a small town. The film’s cinéma vérité aesthetic is brilliantly rendered; refreshingly, the young brothers reject the traditional narrative voice-overs and talking heads that so many documentaries rely on, instead letting the often lyrical visuals speak for themselves. It’s a tender, loving, and utterly captivating film. SARAH CRONIN

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

When I saw an ad for this last year, I was mystified. Now I’ve seen it, I still am, in a good way. How Werner Herzog ended up helming a kind of remake of Ferarra’s film, starring Nicholas Cage I don’t know, and don’t really want to. I prefer to think of it as a product from an alternate universe where Herzog does this kind of thing all the time. What you need to know: it’s a blast, and funny as hell, with Ferrrara’s gritty tortured Catholicism tossed in favour of wilful absurdity and a plethora of lizards. Cage is terrific, with a lopsided gait and a crackpipe laugh, torturing grannies and shaking down football stars, screaming one quotable line after another. I watched the whole thing grinning like a loon. It’s every cop show cliché reflected in a hall of mirrors – wholly indecent fun. MARK STAFFORD

Dogtooth (Kynodontas)

The well-deserved recipient of the Un Certain Regard prize at this year’s Cannes festival, Giorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth is an inventive and riveting film that blurs the line between the real and the utterly grotesque and is infused with a science fiction feel. The story (the less you know, the better) takes place almost entirely within the confines of a spacious family house, inhabited by a married couple and their three grown-up children, who have never set foot outside and are confined to the ludicrous universe created by their parents’ cruel games and peculiar educational methods. Opting for fixed, meticulously framed shots and a dazzling, yet unhurried visual style, Lanthimos gradually reveals the details of this twisted, self-enclosed world while crafting a consistently troubling atmosphere of hilarious otherworldliness and lurking evil. Full of amazing twists, dark, silly humour and irreverent spirit, Dogtooth is an obscure mini-marvel not to be missed. PAMELA JAHN

Planned UK release.

44 Inch Chest

Colin (Ray Winstone), is lying, drunk as a lord, on the floor of his trashed house, listening to Nilsson’s ‘Without You’, on repeat. His wife (Joanne Whalley) has revealed that she loves someone else and he isn’t taking it well. His crew of dodgy old geezers (John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Dillane, Ian McShane) decide something must be done, so they kidnap the young loverboy and arrange for Colin to administer justice. Malcolm Venville’s 44 Inch Chest has much going for it, a great cast on cracking form, crisp photography, a meaty script by the writers of Sexy Beast, a bravura cinematic opening, and… and I really wish it didn’t all feel like an unsuccessfully retooled stage play, mainly confined to a single room, full of unreal speechifying, and with an unsatisfying conclusion to boot. Still, just hearing these actors delivering this biblically profane dialogue is a pleasure, and the thing gets pretty damned trippy and intense as we go further into Colin’s fractured mind. MARK STAFFORD

UK theatrical release: 22 January 2010.

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (L’Enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot)

The long-lost raw footage of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s unfinished 1964 big-budget psycho-thriller L’Enfer is still intriguing and dazzling to look at, infused with swirling lights and blue-lipped, cigarette-puffing fantasy temptresses. A real shame, however, that although director Serge Bromberg has managed to speak to quite a few members of the original crew, this behind-the-scenes investigation has so little to say about the reasons behind Clouzot’s failure to complete the film. PAMELA JAHN

UK theatrical release: 6 November 2009.

Paper Heart

If you can put up with that whole lo-fi home-made cutesy indie scene (Demetri Martin, check, Gondryesque cardboard puppet sequences, check, naïve acoustic pop songs, check) More to the point, if you can put up with whiny-voiced scrunch-faced munchkin Charlyne Yi, then the neat central conceit of director Nicholas Jasenovic making a documentary about the search for true love destroying any hope of true love occurring by swamping a budding potential romance with his desire to film fake love clichés (kooky montages, walks on the beach, trips to Paris) will work for you. And a whole series of games with reality and illusion will open up. I can appreciate it’s a stretch. Aside from the ‘fake’ romance with Michael Cera (check) stuff, the ‘real’ documentary throws up some singular characters and amusing stories. Up to you. MARK STAFFORD

UK theatrical release: 6 November 2009.

Hollis Frampton: Hapax Legomena

The LFF offered a rare chance to see Hollis Frampton’s Hapax Legomena series of seven films in its entirety. A central figure of American avant-garde cinema of the 60s and 70s, Frampton was a supremely sharp film theorist and a witty, cerebral filmmaker. Together with Zorns Lemma, Hapax Legomena is Frampton’s most well-known work. The first film, (nostalgia), from 1971, is one of his most accessible and pleasurable, presenting a series of photographs that are burned as a narrator recounts memories and anecdotes relating to each image. The twist is that the photographs and the narration are out of sync, allowing the film to explore the relationship between image and sound as well as the nature of memory. The following six films take as their point of departure a similarly formal set-up to investigate image, space, perception, consciousness and ultimately, life. VIRGINIE SÉLAVY


The one-line sell for this claustrophobic little war movie runs ‘Das Boot in a tank’, and for once that’s pretty damn accurate. Based on writer-director Samuel Maoz’s experiences, it’s about the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon (as seen in Waltz with Bashir), and we the audience are trapped with four ill-prepared and uneasy crew inside an armoured box dripping with sweat, muck, dog ends and soup croutons (don’t ask). We only know what they know, which is precious little, only see what they can see through their sights, and apart from the opening and closing shots of the film, we are very much inside the tank for the tight 92-minute running time. Tempers fray and victims mount, unwelcome guests are received and everything falls apart. It’s heavy-handed in places, and a little clichéd, but it feels authentic: grimy, stinky, delirious and chaotic. It works. MARK STAFFORD

Bluebeard (Barbe Bleue)

After a disappointing venture into romantic costume drama in her previous film, The Last Mistress, Catherine Breillat returns to the festival this year with a gentler and more personal work than before – a younger sister herself, she focuses on sibling rivalry. Originally scripted and produced for French television, Bluebeard is a subtly suggestive retelling of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale about an ugly and extremely wealthy lord whose wives disappear after a year under mysterious circumstances until he falls for the much younger Marie-Catherine who agrees to marry him in order to escape the shadow of her beautiful, talented older sister. What makes this understated, low-budget film a pure pleasure is the bold, teasing dialogue between the two sisters in the film’s framing plot, set in modern time, in which Catherine, the younger girl, thoroughly enjoys terrifying her older sister Anne by reading her the infamous tale from a book in the attic. Playfully grim and increasingly disturbing, with a wonderfully cruel narrative that hints at the fiercely, sexually provocative spirit of Breillat’s previous work, Bluebeard slowly inveigles you before hitting you hard. PAMELA JAHN

Planned UK release.

Samson and Delilah

In a decidedly Third World aboriginal community in central Australia, we watch gas huffing ne’er-do-well Samson and dutiful Delilah start an awkward, almost wordless teenage relationship. Warwick Thornton’s fine film sets up a world out of repeating daily rhythms and rituals (a chugging ska band, ants, solvent abuse, an unanswered telephone, taking wheelchair-bound Nana to the health clinic), and then upsets it to devastating effect. Our young couple go on the run and end up on the streets of a nameless suburban sprawl, where bad things happen. Samson and Delilah is visually accomplished, funny and moving, putting the audience through tension, fear, and despair before delivering a moment of sweet heart-tugging release. And then it carries on for another half an hour. Ah well. MARK STAFFORD


If it hadn’t been for Antichrist, Filipino director Brillante Mendoza’s second feature Kinatay might well have been the most controversial Cannes entry this year. To a large extent filmed in real time and adopting a detached, observational style, Kinatay depicts the kidnapping, rape, murder and dismemberment of a drug-addicted stripper as seen through the eyes of a participating police academy student. This is certainly not a film for everyone, but it is a bewildering and uncompromising screen experience that explores very murky moral territory. PAMELA JAHN

We Live in Public: Interview with Ondi Timoner

We Live in Public

Format: Cinema

Release date: 13 November 2009

Venues: Greenwich Picturehouse, Odeon Panton St, Ritzy (London) and key cities

Distributor: Dogwoof

Director: Ondi Timoner

USA 2009

90 mins

What do you do next, once you’ve won a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival? Well, if you’re Ondi Timoner, you make another documentary and you win the Grand Jury Prize again (making you the only individual to have won the gong twice!). The first of those two films, Dig! (2004), charted the mixed fortunes of two bands, Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. While she was making it, Timoner was also working on her latest award-winner, We Live in Public, a documentary shot over many years about the antics of Joshua Harris.

You probably won’t have heard of Harris, but some believe he predicted the future of the internet, not just by creating one of the first live streaming web channels,, but also by conducting experiments on exactly what people would be willing to sign away for their five minutes of fame. One such experiment featured in the film was set in an underground New York ‘bunker’, where more than 100 people agreed to live in the month leading up to the millennium. The bunker was packed with cameras that followed every move made by the dwellers, who were also subjected to regular humiliating interrogations. Electric Sheep‘s Toby Weidmann met Ondi Timoner to find out more…

Toby Weidmann: How did you first meet Joshua Harris?

Ondi Timoner: I had worked at for a little while on the Cherry Bomb show, just to pick up some extra cash while I was making Dig!. My initial impression was that he was something of a buffoon, that he was a businessman trying to buy his way into the art world. I certainly didn’t know whether he was a visionary or not – time is required to prove that. He didn’t sit around making verbal predictions either – he didn’t know what he was doing himself. But I did think he was somebody who spent his money in very extraordinary ways and I appreciated that. He affected people’s lives in that way – he was out buying bunkers in the middle of Manhattan when other people were buying houses, and that’s cool. But I didn’t know what to think of Josh…

TW: Did you have any inkling at the start how the story would pan out?

OT: I follow my subjects like I followed those ‘choose your own adventure’ books as a kid. That’s how I live my life. I have a gut feeling about certain things at certain times and so far I have been lucky enough to be picked for the gig…

TW: You are part of this story though, because you were there in the bunker, weren’t you?

OT: Yeah. Josh called me and asked whether I wanted to document cultural history. I said: ‘Always, but what do you have in mind?’ He said: ‘I can’t really tell you that, I can’t articulate that because I don’t actually know. It’s kind of unfolding, but I’ll provide you with whatever resources you need to do the job right.’ So I walk over there and they have these men moving all this metal into the building, which they were using to build the ‘pods’. Inside, there’s a guy hanging surveillance cameras from the ceiling. I asked what he was doing and he said he was putting 110 cameras in this place. And right there, I was like, ‘I’m in’. The first thing I did was to get a multiplex system so we could put all the cameras through one machine, allowing us to record the cool images, from the living pods you see in the film to the four ‘walkie’ cameras I had going, so we could ‘walkie’ out what was going on in different spaces in different rooms. We used this system as the eyes of the place. That was crucial but we still had no idea what it was all about.

TW: The film nearly wasn’t made when Harris pulled the plug on it after you edited a rough cut of the bunker material in 2000. How did it get back on track?

OT: After we won at Sundance for Dig! in 2004, I got an email from Josh asking if I was interested in finishing the film, and I really wasn’t because by then it was less relevant. But he wrote to me a few months later, and he said he would give me 50% ownership and full creative control. I thought that was a pretty good deal, and I also felt it was an opportunity to finish what I’d started – especially with no end date attached to the project. So I caught up with those who were in the bunker, and with New York post-9/11. But I still didn’t know what the film was about until I saw Facebook and read my first status update. Then I realised the bunker could be a metaphor for the internet. The only thing I was having a hard time with was the neo-fascistic elements of the bunker, because the internet doesn’t feel that way – it doesn’t feel like you’re under interrogation, it feels like you can be yourself. Then I realised that that part of the metaphor was crucial because Josh was testing the limits of how much people would be willing to give up to be a part of this. They would answer 500 questions, they would submit to these interrogations, and that became like the terms and conditions that you just accept on the internet. You never read them. Facebook owns all our content. As Josh says in the film, ‘everything is free except your image – that we own’.

TW: Are you a fan of the internet?

OT: Yeah, sure, but as powerful as it is for good, we’re paying a price. I think we’re only just becoming aware of that now. The film is definitely a dark vision of it, but it’s important to present the dark side. For a lot of people the film serves as a wake-up call. It’s a shock and it provokes all sorts of reactions. I wouldn’t have told Josh Harris’s story if it wasn’t a metaphor for all of us. There are incredible aspects that the internet brings to our lives, but our identity and our relationships are changing, and a lot of it is more superficial because we can communicate with 500 times the number of people at one time, and we can’t possibly communicate as deeply. Are your Facebook friends your friends? I don’t know, maybe you should go have coffee with them and find out. I really dislike that term – ‘Facebook friend’ – and I think it is dangerous to call them that. If that’s what friendships have become, then we have a problem.

TW: It’s being released theatrically and on DVD, but will it also be available for download? Given the subject matter, it seems well suited…

OT: It is going to be available to download, but it has to be available for the Oscars and they are old school [ie, it needs to be released theatrically first]. We feel it’s an important film, but maybe it’s a little edgy for them… We’ll see. We’re at least going to give it a shot. Dig! was disqualified from the Oscars because it went on TV too early, so we can’t put the film on the internet until then. But it should be a huge stunt when it does happen and it will be exciting to see how it does. There is a potential for We Live in Public to blaze a trail.

TW: What are you planning on making next?

OT: The story of Robert Mapplethorpe as a narrative. It’s perfect for me, right? I’ve met the Mapplethorpe Estate and I have the exclusive rights. Eliza Dushku, the actress, and I are producing it. It’s about him and his relationship with Patti Smith and about how he acted as a cultural lightning rod, pushing the boundaries of art, even beyond his death. I’m really excited about it. It’s called The Perfect Moment. I’m also engaged to make a documentary called Cool It, about the controversial environmentalist Bjørn Lomborg. He wrote a book called Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming about global warming and economics and what we need to prioritise. It’s more of a political documentary and very different from the other films I’ve made.

Interview by Toby Weidmann

Kakera: Interview with Momoko Ando

Momoko Ando

Director: Momoko Ando

Based on the manga by: Erica Sakurazawa

Cast: Hikari Mitsushima, Eriko Nakamura

Japan 2008

Screened at the 17th Raindance Film Festival

Part of a Raindance strand on Japanese Women Directors

Date: 30 September-11 October 2009

Venue: Apollo Cinema, London

Raindance website

Kakera – A Piece of Our Lives is an effervescent debut from first-time Japanese film director Momoko Ando. An exploration of sexuality and youth, the film follows the intense relationship between two girls as they partly fumble – and partly hurtle – towards adulthood. Meeting Ando in a Soho coffee bar during the Raindance Film Festival proved a similarly madcap and engaging experience for Electric Sheep‘s Eleanor McKeown. Punctuated by cigarette breaks with her mother and Ando’s views on the sex drive of the elderly (apparently it’s better news for the fairer sex…), the discussion of Kakera was long and lively, and the director gave a passionate explanation of the film’s ideas and aesthetics.

Eleanor McKeown: One of the best things about Kakera is how you capture the intensity of the relationship between the two young girls – how did you prepare the actresses for that?

Momoko Ando: The interesting thing is that the girls who play Haru (Hikari Mitsushima) and Riko (Eriko Nakamura) are completely opposite characters in real life! Riko, for example, is really slow and really sweet. I wanted to do that kind of casting because I think girls have both sides inside themselves, both really shy and outgoing. I thought if I could bring out the actresses’ deep characters, it would probably be stronger than using how they already are in real life. I tried to ignore Hikari completely and make her really depressed and lost throughout the whole process. She got really angry and shouted at me, but that’s exactly what I was waiting for. Haru is supposed to be someone who doesn’t know what to do in her life.

EMK: Halfway through the film the character of Haru starts to gain confidence…

MA: That last shot of Hikari looking through the window at the birds during the blackout, that’s what she’s really like! I told her, you’ve already got that energy, but in the future, you will probably have to play characters like Haru, so you can’t let all your energy out all of the time, or people will think you can only do that kind of acting.

EMK: The film comes from a comic book by Erica Sakurazawa. How much of the book did you change to make it into a film?

MA: It’s a really simple story. I changed probably 80% of it. The characters had really nice dialogue and things they wanted to say in the comic book so I picked that up. I struggled quite a lot to make it more interesting because the comic book doesn’t really explain what the characters are like or their background at all. Riko isn’t a prosthetic artist, for instance. There are just two girls, a middle-aged woman and the boyfriend. So the characters are there but you don’t understand what they are.

EMK: How did the author feel about her book being made into a film?

MA: Well, the comic book is quite old. She wrote it 10 years ago, and it’s not very long, so she was quite open about it being made into a film. We got on very well, I explained to her how I felt about the comic and she felt very comfortable, I think.

EMK: The film is very intense but there’s also a certain amount of distance when dealing with the central relationship. How close did you feel to the material and characters?

MA: I was drawing on painful stuff from my past when I was writing the script and directing the film. I was definitely engaged with the whole thing, but at the same time I didn’t want to make it too deeply connected because life’s sometimes not like that. At that age, you’re probably not connected that much with life and reality because you’re too young to understand people and how deeply they feel things. I wanted to create that weird, surreal mood of youth.

EMK: The film has a really strong visual identity, especially for a debut feature. How did you plan the aesthetic?

MA: The look was really important to me. As it was my first feature film and I was only 26, I thought it would be more interesting if I worked with a cameraman who was older, probably like my dad’s age [Ando is the daughter of actor and director Eiji Okuda] – someone who makes films in a proper, old-fashioned Japanese style. If I’d worked with a young cinematographer who feels exactly the same as me, that would be more common. I decided to work with this cinematographer who’s worked on many 70s and 80s low-budget movies. He’d never worked with young film directors, especially not female filmmakers… We both thought that would be a cool plan. That’s probably why the film looks quite traditional.

EMK: You studied at the Slade College of Art in London before moving into filmmaking full-time – how do you think that influenced your visual sense?

MA: It’s something that’s quite difficult to explain, like describing a smell! You’d have to say it’s like a rose but if you don’t know what a rose is, it’s quite difficult to know what the smell is! I never really felt connected to Japanese culture. I always felt like I stood out, not always in a good way. It’s probably the same in any country but I felt more confident when I came to England, I just felt so comfortable… Also, I liked punk music.

EMK: How did you work on the soundtrack?

MA: Well, I was a crazy, huge fan of the Smashing Pumpkins when I was living in London and I happened to meet James Iha. It just worked out perfectly because what I wanted for the film was something similar to what I used to listen to when I was a teenager and James wrote the music! I knew he would write really beautiful music. It’s never depressing, always really touching and beautiful. James worked with the drumbeats first. We decided what sort of tempo we wanted for the movie and that’s why it feels like it’s all connected, always with the same beat.

EMK: How did you write the script? Did you write it as a linear story? Did you work on the dialogue first or visuals?

MA: It was definitely much more visual. I’m writing the script for my next project at the moment [which follows a female home-help drawn into becoming a prostitute for elderly gentlemen] and it’s completely original. You might think I’m weird, but I remember my dreams when I wake up and I just write all those things down. I always have bits of weird stuff in my notebook. Then I start to read it back because I kind of forget what I’ve written. And I think, ‘Oh, this is quite interesting stuff I’m writing!’ Then I decide on the concept for the next movie, what I really want to do in the film, and I start picking stuff, adding, omitting… like in cooking!

EMK: Do you think of Kakera as a woman’s film? How consciously did you decide that you wanted to treat gender? Did you have something specific to say?

MA: Yes, of course! I always dreamt of becoming a filmmaker who was quite masculine and was able to make movies like the Coen brothers – very manly – but I just found that impossible because I’m a woman and the way I think is female. Once I’d decided to make a very female film, I had so much to say. I was so conscious of gender. I had one positive message – it really doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, it’s more important how you live your life as a human being. In Japan especially, I think young girls and boys aren’t really conscious of who they are or what they are like… I was just so frustrated looking at these people: I believe you should think about how you should live your life as a good person. It’s not about being a good woman or good man.

EMK: What are your plans for the future?

MA: I’m going to be promoting Kakera because it’s going to be opening in Japan in Spring 2010. I’m halfway through my next script so when I finish it I’ll start looking for funding. Kakera is only my first film and I think that if you can’t keep making films you’re not really a director. I hope I can carry on making films. That would be amazing!

Interview by Eleanor McKeown