Format: Cinema

Date: 24 July 2009

Venues: Chelsea Cinema, Cineworld Haymarket, Curzon Soho, Renoir (London) + key cities

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

Denmark 2009

109 mins

Lars von Trier’s latest film Antichrist has already generated a vast amount of controversy, and it is so bewildering on so many levels that two of our writers had to take on the task of reviewing it. Virginie Sélavy interviewed the director over the phone and was impressed by his openness, his good-natured efforts to give thoughtful answers to her questions, and yes, his sense of humour.

Virginie Sélavy:You’ve described Antichrist as ‘the most important film of your entire career’. Why is that?

Lars von Trier: There are several reasons. First it was a tool to get out of the depression that I had while I was writing it, so it was a kind of life saver in that sense. Then it links back to some of the themes and images from when I first started making films.

VS: You have said before that the film is based on material from your youth, why did you decide to go back to your past?

LVT: It’s unanswerable. I can’t tell you why I choose stuff, it’s really something I don’t analyse. The only thing I can say is that a film has to demand to be made, I don’t have a plan of what films I’m going to make. The only thing that I know now is that I’m not too crazy about doing things again that I’ve been into before.

VS: What sort of material from your youth did you use for the film? Was it specific ideas or images?

LVT: Yes, you could say that. But also it was this kind of immature Strindbergian idea about women coming out of the Earth to consume you. I have this very perverted relationship to Strindberg. I love him very much, but maybe that’s because I also had a lot of problems with women (laughs), and I thought that Strindberg was also actually a very funny man. So maybe, I don’t know, maybe I’m even more immature now than I was… I just felt like looking back at some of the stuff. My answers are not so good, I’m sorry. I’m trying!

VS: Do you feel there is a sense of humour in Antichrist?

LVT: Well, I know that there is a sense of humour, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can see this film as humoristic. I would say that the way I work is based on humour, because my life is full of humour, but sometimes it comes out as very melodramatic, very serious, but I think the source for the whole thing is the same.

VS: Antichist starts as a film that is ostensibly about grief, but in fact it turns out to be more about fear, and confronting your fears, is that fair to say?

LVT: That’s fair to say, yes.

VS: Was it about you confronting your own fears too?

LVT: Yes. The cognitive therapy that takes place in the film is a form of therapy that I have used for some time, and it has to do with confronting your fears. I would say that especially the part of the film that has to do with therapy is humoristic because people who know about this form of therapy would know that he (Willem Dafoe’s character) is more than a fool.

VS: Why is that?

LVT: He’s doing all the wrong things.

VS: Because he’s too controlling?

LVT: Because he’s just not a very good therapist.

VS: Do you feel he brings about his wife’s violent reaction? Is he partly responsible for what happens at the end?

LVT: Oh yes. One of the things that got me thinking during therapy is that they say that fear is only thoughts, and nothing will happen because thoughts will never be real. And my thesis, or joke, in this film, is that they really do become real.

VS: You said in a previous interview that ‘female sexuality is frightening’. Is that the kind of fear that you personally confronted through the film?

LVT:Yeah, but if it was only that, I think I could cope (laughs). I think it’s more complicated. Basically you’re afraid of chaos, and lack of control and death, that’s the basis of everything.

VS: So why did you say that?

LVT: I think female sexuality is frightening even to the female.

VS: (pause)

LVT: (laughs) I’m not talking about you!

VS: Mmmh, yes, I don’t think I’m frightened! (laughs)

LVT: But as a little boy, when you find out that your penis can become erect, that’s extremely frightening. I’m sure there must be some parallel thing for girls. I’m talking about a female sexuality that doesn’t come out in sexuality itself but comes out in a lot of other forms. But yeah, maybe I’m wrong… I’m frightened of almost everything in life, so…

VS: There seems to be the idea in the film that evil comes from women’s sexuality…

LVT: I think that’s a little excessive… No, I don’t think so. I think that sexuality is the part of human beings that is closest to nature. And nature is dangerous somehow, yes, if you put nature against civilisation, nature is definitely a threat.

VS: And you feel that women are closer to nature than men?

LVT: (laughs) You know, the reason I make films is so that I don’t have to answer questions like that! Yes, maybe somehow I feel that, but not in a negative way.

VS: The vision of nature in the film is very dark, it’s full of death. Is that how you feel about nature, that nature is chaos and death?

LVT: No, the whole thing came from an experiment that was done a long time ago. People were asked to pick their favourite spot in the whole world, where they would not be afraid at all, and the response was a lake in the forest, with deer and all that – I’m sure you have the same kind of romantic picture in England – and that was the place where everybody would like to go and relax. And then I saw a film about the original forest of Europe, and what is characteristic about this very romantic forest, is that it’s where the maximum of pain and suffering and struggle occurs, because a lot of species want to live in this place and they all fight and die all the time. So I just found it very interesting that the place that we would all find to be extremely calming is actually the place where there’s the most struggle and pain going on.

VS: In the film, the characters talk about nature as ‘Satan’s Church’.

LVT: Yes, at a certain point, the characters start talking without my interference.

VS: You mean that wasn’t in the script, it was improvised?

LVT: No, it was in the script, but when you write a script, suddenly things like that come out, and you keep them there. But it’s also connected to the idea that if a god had planned to create a place like this where everyone is longing for life and 99% of everything is dying, then it couldn’t be a god. I thought it was such a satanic idea, the whole nature thing. And also that it’s a god that invents human beings and then tells them that they’re going to die, it’s not a very nice god.

VS: Is that where the title comes from?

LVT: Yes.

VS: You link this idea of this satanic nature to witches and witch-hunts. How do you see the connection? Why did you put the witches at the centre of the film?

LVT: The whole film also has to do with the sexes. And again, to call on Strindberg, there is this eternal fight between the sexes and I thought it was interesting that it has to do with sexuality. I know it’s not a very modern idea but it always fascinated me when I was younger. I don’t believe in witches. I think that’s quite important to say. And I don’t believe that women are more evil than men or anything like that (laughs). But I think that the concepts are interesting. And somehow it’s not politically correct but I think that it’s interesting now and then not to be. The film had to make a turn that went from nature, as in out in the woods, to the nature of men, and we had to turn to some mythology about the evil of women, and we found it in the traditional, primitive view of witches.

VS: There are elements in the film that seem to come from horror. Do you see Antichrist as a horror film?

LVT: No, I would say that I made a film called Dancer in the Dark, and that was maybe not a musical, and it’s the same thing here. I aim for a genre but I will never hit it spot on. It’s on purpose because I try to make this film mine in a way that will make it not a genre film.

VS: Is that your attitude to genre in general?

LVT: I’m really fascinated by it and the good thing about horror films is that they actually allow you to use a lot of strange images that a more naturalistic film wouldn’t allow.

VS: How do you feel about the reactions that the film got in Cannes?

LVT: I only heard about them. If you asked me how a film should be received, I would definitely love that there should be some booing and some applause.

VS: Have you read some of the criticism directed at you?

LVT: It was quite interesting that there was some criticism directed at me because at Cannes, which is a film festival, there should be criticism of the film, but towards me, I think it’s a little bit too much.

VS: Do you feel the criticism got a bit too personal?

LVT: Oh yes, very, from some journalists I got things like ‘justify yourself’, stuff like that. I react against that, of course. I don’t need to justify myself, I just show you a film, and if you don’t like it, it’s fine.

VS: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe give fantastic performances. How did it go with them?

LVT: It went extremely well. They were so nice, and so dedicated to the film. I was in a very poor mental state and I had to have all the collaboration that I could get, and I really got it. There was a lot of technical stuff that I couldn’t really take care of very well because of this depression, but the actors really helped me. And it’s very important for me to have actors who will help and not fight me, because then I can’t really work.

VS: They seemed to understand what you were trying to do with the film.

LVT: Yes, and I’m very happy about the prize that Charlotte got, she really deserves it. And I don’t know if they understood it more than I did (laughs).

VS: It must have been a very difficult role for her because she exposes herself so much, and I don’t mean just physically.

LVT: I agree. But I didn’t experience any problems whatsoever, on the contrary. For example we were talking about the speed of the masturbation in the scene in the forest and I said, ‘much faster’, just being stupid. And she did, and afterwards she said, ‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t do it faster because physically it was not possible’ (laughs). I thought that was very good. That’s the kind of actor you want!

Interview by Virginie Sélavy

Read our double review of Antichrist here.


Alex Descas and Claire Denis

Format: Cinema

Release date: 10 July 2009

Venues: Apollo, Cine Lumiere, Curzon Soho, Renoir (London) and key cities

Distributor: New Wave Films

Director: Claire Denis

Writers: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau

Original title: 35 Rhums

Cast: Alex Descas, Mati Diop, Nicole Dogue, Gregoire Colin

France/Germany 2008

100 mins

After her challenging, mysterious last feature The Intruder (2004) and a short foray into documentary with Vers Mathilde (2005), Claire Denis returns with a softly stirring tale of family ties that has its origins in her own childhood memories. 35 Shots of Rum explores the shifting relationship between Lionel (Denis regular Alex Descas), a Parisian train conductor, and his adoring daughter Joséphine (Mari Diop), who he has been raising alone. Although Joséphine is already a student and old enough to leave home, they still live together in a grey, suburban apartment building, next to two neighbours who have become friends (and silent admirers) over the years. Noticeably linear in its narrative, delicate and graceful, 35 Shots of Rum may seem at odds with Denis’s bolder, edgier previous works such as Beau Travail (1999) and Trouble Every Day (2002). Yet, the tone may be milder, but it is sharply observed, beautifully constructed and eccentric enough to avoid sentimentality. Sophie Moran talked to the director on the occasion of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where 35 Shots of Rum had its UK premiere.

Sophie Moran: Your new film feels much quieter and seems to be your most personal work so far…

Claire Denis: Yes, maybe. Actually, it is inspired by the story of my mother and my grandfather. He came to France from Brazil, and he got married to a French nurse. But she died when my mother was still a baby, so my grandfather raised her on his own. It’s a story I knew and kept thinking about since I was a kid. But in a way, it’s a story belonging to my mother that she never shared with us.

SM: How did you approach these personal memories and develop them into your film?

CD:Once I made the decision to do the film, it was not very difficult, because when we were living in Africa, my mother would receive a letter per day from my grandfather written on this very fine, thin Airmail paper, and she would reply to him every day. This way they shared every detail of life even at this distance, and these letters still exist. But my mother also told us so many stories about her childhood. She felt free not having a mother, and she felt like she was never obliged to do things little girls are obliged to do… and we envied her for this. We thought she had a marvellous life. When my grandfather died, I was only 12 years old myself, but I realised my mother was still his girl, not a little girl, but his girl. She did not belong to my father or to us – she was his. Of course, my grandfather was always very distanced in any sort of physical expression of love, but their relationship was so deep. My mother is 85 years old now and my father is also still alive, but there is always this picture of my grandfather near her table and I know, even if the picture is very small, it is there. In a way, they lived the life of a couple for 20 years.

SM: In your film it seems that there is a certain ambiguity in the relationship between father and daughter as it is so close and intense.

CD: Do you think? Not for me… it’s not an ambiguity. In the beginning for example, I introduce the characters, not telling the audience what their link is, but it’s not ambiguous to me. When I started thinking about this first scene, it was important for me to describe people who have been together for a long time, therefore with a ritual, with habits. And in the end when the script was finished I said to Jean-Pol (Fargeau), my co-writer, knowing that Alex (Descas) was going to be the father, I said ‘it’s strange, but they are really like a couple’, and that’s why at the end of this scene she says, ‘Merci papa’. But it’s normal, I guess… and Alex and Mati have a way to embrace and to touch that is not ambiguous.

SM: The rice cooker Joséphine gets for herself and also from her father that evening seems to have its own very special meaning in this setting?

CD: It is two things, on the one hand it is there to really qualify my homage to Ozu, because he made a film called Late Spring that tells the same story, and it’s a film I like a lot. And on the other hand, in a way it was a sign to say that she’s not ready to go, she still thinks that they can improve the apartment. She doesn’t think it’s time to move.

SM: The scene in the bar, when the four main characters – father, daughter and the two neighbours – are stuck because their car broke down and they all dance together to ‘Nightshift’ by the Commodores, this scene seems to be the emotional heart of the film, but it also signifies a turning point.

CD: Yeah, I mean the father makes that decision, when he is dancing with his daughter. He holds her in his arms like a father, not like a lover, and then when Noé comes in it suddenly changes, things are changing. The father organised it in a way, but he is also suffering at the same time. And when he’s dancing with the woman from the bar, he’s also doing that to remind Gabrielle and his daughter that he’s a man and he has sacrificed a lot of things for her, and he is taking his freedom. He also needs that move.

SM: Do you see this as the central motif in the film, the wish to keep things as they are and the fear that comes with it that things might change too much, too fast?

CD: Definitely, that’s also why I chose the train-driving job, because I thought in a train, time is passing, everything is constantly changing, changing, changing… And I think deeply in myself I feel how much I would like everything to stay still sometimes and not to change.

SM: Trouble Every Day was probably your most extreme film. Did you feel it was a turning point? Did you want to do something very different after that film?

CD: Actually no, I think it was a weird thing that happened. A few years before I made a short film in New York with Vincent Gallo, and James Schamus, the American producer, was there and he asked me, ‘Why don’t you make a gore movie?’, and I said, ‘No, no, no, I’m not able to do that’, but he said ‘You should try’. And it was like that sort of thing that I had in mind all the time and somehow it became Trouble Every Day. Maybe if I’m honest I’m not able to joke about gore, and if I try that it’s going to be really painful. In a way I felt I had to make that film, it was very important for me.

SM: Josephine is studying economics and political science and we once see her in class; there’s also a scene where she gets caught in a student protest because they are about to close the faculty for anthropology at the university where she studies. Both scenes stand out in the otherwise very intimate atmosphere of the film. Why was it so important for you to include these scenes in the film?

CD: I knew it would be a little bit different, but I thought if she is studying in that particular university where they actually really closed anthropology because they thought that for young people from the estates it is better to learn a good job and not to study anthropology, then it matters. It’s superfluous when you’re white and in a good university but in Saint-Denis it’s a question you can raise every day, because it’s true that people are not treated so well there.

SM: Is the ethnicity of the characters important to the film?

CD: I think it was important to see that, to be black in this university doesn’t mean that you’re only there to learn so you get a good job, you also want to understand. So many times I was told ‘Oh, but this is gone, the debt’ and ‘Frantz Fanon is out of fashion’ and so on, and I said, ‘Fine, I don’t care’. For me it was still very important. And at that time nobody knew that Barack Obama was going to be elected and then, last year, when I had finished the film, I was invited to Haward and MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] during the election and every student was quoting Frantz Fanon, it was so much fun. When it comes to humiliation, I think we always forget that we – white people – are often still not very serious with these kinds of questions. I kept the speech that Obama gave before the election because he speaks so well about racism and humiliation.

SM: You’re currently about to finish your new film called White Material, starring Isabelle Huppert…

CD: Yes, I hope it’s going to be finished for Toronto. But please don’t make me say something about it. I don’t like to talk about things that are not yet completed… you’ll see.

Interview by Sophie Moran




30 April-2 May 2009

Odeon Covent Garden, Curzon Soho, London

Cine-Excess website


27-31 August 2009

Empire Cinema, London

FrightFest website

During the Cine-Excess cult film festival in May, Italian film director Dario Argento was in London to introduce screenings of Suspiria and Dawn of the Dead. Alex Fitch caught up with him to talk about his career, from writing Once upon a Time in the West to directing Mother of Tears, released on DVD last year. Argento’s newest film Giallo, named after the Italian term for pulp mystery novels, premiered in the UK at the Edinburgh Film Festival on June 25 and will screen at London’s Film4 FrightFest on August 29.

Alex Fitch: You’ve been making movies now for 40 years, primarily in the horror genre and thanks to directors like you, Michele Soavi, Mario Bava and his son and others, Italy has a reputation for making some of the finest horror films in the world. What do you think it is about Italy and the Italian temperament that lends itself so well to horror?

Dario Argento: I think it is fundamentally because we have a Catholic culture: sin is important! Also, at the same time, we revolt against this, which is very particular to the Italian culture. But I’m not only, like Bava, a horror film director, I also make thrillers and giallo.

AF:Giallo uses a lot of tropes of horror, though – the fear of bloodletting, ‘cat scares’ when something unexpected happens and the audience jump out of their seats… What would you say your influences were as a director? You are obviously strongly influenced by Hitchcock, something you acknowledged in your film Do you Like Hitchcock?, but other than him, what other directors impressed you?

DA: Before I became a film director I was a critic, and over many years I saw a thousand films and wrote reviews about them. A big influence, someone I admired especially, was Antonioni, and also Ingmar Bergman. The French New Wave was very important for me because it broke away and changed everything… Of course Fellini as well, plus Luis Buñuel and the surrealists’ films.

AF: Actually, I was going to ask about Buñuel and the surrealists, as there seems to be a surrealist aspect in your work – the camera angles, the lighting, the cutting: it doesn’t adhere to a conventional narrative, it’s a more impressionistic sort of filmmaking.

DA: Yes. Impressionistic films are very important to me. I remember when I was in the famous film museum in Munich – it’s very important, one of the biggest in the world – and they were having a retrospective of my films. Every morning, I would go down to the basement where they had a small room where you could watch films and I watched impressionistic films, very rare films that almost nobody had seen. I spent wonderful days there! I also saw expressionist films – The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, which was the only colour-tinted copy from the Murnau institute. The colour was marvellous and unique to this copy as it was coloured by hand at the time. It was like a treasure and I was so proud to see these films. I also discovered something like Nosferatu, which had marvellous use of angels. It was all very inventive and not ‘real’ – they didn’t shoot these films on the street or on location, they invented everything!

AF: I’m glad that you mentioned Caligari and Nosferatu as they are part of a small number of films that are like moving paintings, and it’s something you approached in films like Suspiria, which is as much about the colour and the visual experience as anything else.

DA: Yes. In that film I also have some homages to Escher and to Kokoschka. I wrote in the screenplay: ‘We see a book on Escher, a poster by Kokoschka…’. There are some messages I put inside the film so people can easily understand what inspired me for the film.

AF: I watched your most recent film Mother of Tears, which completes the ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy. A lot of people had been waiting for that, since Suspiria and Inferno. Did you feel a lot of pressure from your fans as they’d been waiting nearly 30 years for you to make this movie?

DA: Yes and no. I didn’t hear about the pressure, because when I made the second film of the trilogy, I found it boring to do the same things, I wanted to make another thriller like Tenebre and then I forgot about it. But some years ago I saw Suspiria again – I don’t watch my films, when they’re finished they disappear for me! I was in the United States at a screening of my films in a university and for the first time, I stayed to see Suspiria, and I liked it and thought maybe I’ll do some more sequels.

AF: One of your collaborators, Luigi Cozzi, had made an unofficial third movie called The Black Cat in 1989, so obviously there was a lot of feeling for those films over the years.

DA: He’d worked with me as my assistant and The Black Cat was also a homage to Edgar Allan Poe. We made two films between us. George Romero and I also wanted to do a homage to ‘the master’, to the author whose themes of suffering were too much for the mind, whose stories of terror had people die like animals. George wanted to make ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ and I, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’. But when I finished writing I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this’, and he felt the same. So he did ‘The Facts in the Case of Mr Valdemar’, which importantly is the only tale of Poe’s that contains something like a zombie! And for me, it was ‘The Black Cat’ because in my house I have a black cat and I watch him carefully and know his movements are pretty…

AF: The dialogue between Italian cinema and American cinema is interesting – for example when Italy started making Westerns in the 1960s, they improved on what America had been doing and also took some of the American stars along with them. In the same way, some of the work you’ve done has inspired directors like John Carpenter, and as you mentioned, you’ve worked with George Romero and so on. What do you think of this dialogue?

DA: Yes, it’s very important for both countries. I know lots of American directors and I’m friends with them. I like strong direction that’s not for children, I don’t like children’s films, I like films for adults that are strong and deep and profound. Of course, John Carpenter is a great friend of mine… I also like mannerist directors like Quentin Tarrantino – I love mannerism, it’s interesting!

AF: I suppose the ultimate combination of Italian and American filmmaking came when you re-edited and rescored Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Was the point of the re-editing to give the film a more Italian sensibility?

DA: No, the problem was much more complicated… It’s a very long story! George sent me the rough cut to make some suggestions and the film was completed in Italy, but our censor said, ‘No! Cut it!’ and the film was forbidden. So I said to George, ‘I must cut something, because they forbid the release of the film’ and he said, ‘It’s OK, cut it, we need the money because we’re strangled financially!’. In the past the power of the censor was really strong, now it’s different, but at the time in Italy we had the Christian Democrats in the government; it was terrible, it was unbelievable. So, I had to cut something… I presented the film in France and they forbid it too! I cut something again, like in Italy, but again it’s forbidden! In France there’s a law – if it’s forbidden twice, it’s forbidden forever! So I had the idea to change the title to Zombie, it’s simple, but they said no because they understood what I was doing. I waited four years… After four years, I’m watching television and I see the change of government, the new government is socialist – much more open, much freer, especially for culture – and I call George and say, “Maybe now is a good moment’. So I present the film with this different title and I put the things I cut back in. It was good to see the film after those four years and George was happy!

AF: I suppose throughout your career you’ve had those battles with the censors; at least on DVD these days you can have uncut versions of your films…

DA: Now the censor is not so strong, even in England! At that time it was terrible. I remember when I made my film Tenebre, Thatcher was in and they even censored the poster. Unbelievable! It showed a female stretched out with a cut throat and in England…

AF: …they put a sash over it!

DA: Yes. Unbelievable! They also cut the poster in Germany. It was a terrible moment but times are much better now.

AF: Another important aspect of your films are the scores. When it came to scoring your movies and collaborating with your own rock group Goblin, was it something you approached on a film by film basis or do you see certain themes running through your work musically?

DA: I’ve worked with many, many musicians: Ennio Morricone on many films – beautiful work – also Pino Donaggio, another great, great composer, and Brian Eno on Opera – it was a very good score. With Morricone, sometimes we like to do the music before shooting. I go to his house, he composes and plays in my presence and if it’s good, we do the film and he finishes the score. With Pino Donaggio, it’s the same thing. With Goblin or with Claudio Simonetti, it’s different. For Profundo Rosso (Deep Red), we meet in my house nearly every night and they introduce me to the work of the day and it inspires me to do the next scene. It was very important. For Suspiria we collaborated on the music – it was good to do it before shooting. Also on The Card Player it was just Claudio Simonetti doing electronic music, which was very interesting. I remember, he came in at the end of each day to show me how the music is going. It’s a great adventure the music in that film; not so well known by everybody.

AF: Certainly with a film like Suspiria it seems like the score influences the editing as well…

DA: Editing is different. For Suspiria, we had a problem: we wanted to shoot with the look of old Technicolor but the printers we used were no good! They were too sensitive, they’re used to 500 ISO, and we like to use the old film stock, 40 ISO, which is good for deep contrast and strong colours, but it needs much light. It was also difficult to find. We found only a few hundred metres of it, in one laboratory, so we could shoot only very few takes…

AF:…because the film stock was so rare?

DA: Yes, it took a lot of preparation, so we’d shoot two or three takes and then finish, because we’d have no other prints. When the film was finished, the edit was very easy because we shot very short lengths of film. We shot for 14 weeks but only printed a few hundred metres.

AF: Before you started directing, you were a screenwriter. Did you have aspirations to be a director? Your first film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, is a stunning debut and you had a very strong style right from the start.

DA: No, when I was a writer, I was so happy to be a writer, because it’s wonderful to be alone in a room with your dreams and your fantasies. I think it was the best job of my life. But then, one day someone asked me, ‘What is this film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage? Why don’t you do the film yourself?’ and I started to think, maybe, yes. But I don’t like being on the set with too many people, there’s too much talking, speaking with the actors, speaking with the producer, speaking with everybody! My god, this is the phase I don’t like, but it’s my job now.

AF: The new film you’ve just finished, which is just called Giallo, wasn’t a film that you wrote, it was written for you. Was it some kind of homage to your earlier work on the part of the screenwriters?

DA: Yes, the film is finished but it’s not screening yet. It was made with good actors, Adrien Brody, Emmanuelle Seigner – she’s a beautiful and wonderful French actress. That was a good experience, but the American producers were not so easy to work with.

AF: You’d think that since you have such a long and distinguished career they’d let you get on with making the movie, but I suppose you always have to work with the people funding the movie and hope that your vision will come through.

DA: Yes, but I’m usually my own producer which is easier for me when I do a film. I write, I prepare, I make it and then I do the post-production. Everything is in my hands. This is the first time I worked with American producers. It’s not so great to work with American producers because they’re supposed to be the owners of the film – they suggest things, then they want to cut this… I suffered a lot! Never in my life have I suffered like this…

AF: So, will you be following it with a more personal, more Italian movie that gives you more freedom to do what you want?

DA: My next movie? I don’t know. I’ve no idea. With Giallo, it was like some mountain. Yes, it would be better…

Interview by Alex Fitch

Dario Argento’s Sleepless (2001) is released by Arrow Video on June 29. Giallo screens at Film4 FrightFest on August 29.


Beautiful Kate


3-14 June 20089

Sydney, Australia

Festival website

This year’s Sydney International Film Festival programme included both a focus on women directors from the 60s and 70s (‘Girls 24/7’) and a significant number of new features written or directed by women. It was an attempt by festival director Claire Stewart to highlight female-driven stories, and to emphasise that the cliché of the glass ceiling is still relevant today for female storytellers in the film industry. Miranda Otto (festival jury member and actress) and Australian film icon Rachel Ward agreed resoundingly that a special effort to focus on women directors is a timely reminder that in an increasingly competitive industry (due largely to dwindling budgets) female storytellers need to fight harder to get their stories heard. They also agreed that this is felt perhaps to a slightly lesser extent in Australia, blessed as it is with ‘leading lights’ such as Gillian Armstrong.

Ward’s accomplished first feature as a director, Beautiful Kate, made its world premiere this year in the Official Competition section of the Sydney Film Festival. It screened within a programme of some very strong films helmed by female filmmakers, the highlights being Catherine Breillat’s latest offering Bluebeard, Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7(1962), V?ra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966), Lynn Shelton’s Humpday, Maren Ade’s Everyone Else, and Lone Scherfig’s An Education. Less compelling works included Rebecca Miller’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee and Sophie Barthe’s Cold Souls. Significantly, these arguably weaker works are probably those with the largest budgets and the biggest stars.

Breillat’s Bluebeard is undoubtedly a feminist film, with its social commentary on what it means for women to survive financially without a male provider, in the structure of a sobering fairy tale. On the other hand, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee could be described as an anti-feminist chick flick: the emotionally weak protagonist is shown as incapable of taking control of her life until forced to, when her wealthy sugar-daddy dies.

Beautiful Kate, Humpday and Everyone Else are films that, on the one hand, remain true to the ‘expectations’ of female-driven stories in the sense that they are emotionally rich, narratively loose, introspective and modestly budgeted works; less expectedly, they are stories with strong male characters at their hearts. Beautiful Kate reveals an outback family’s past tragedies in flashbacks through the troubled eyes of Ned (Ben Mendelsohn), who has returned to the family farm after 20 years to say goodbye to his dying father. Humpday follows the often hilarious story of two straight male friends with completely divergent lives who decide to make a porn film together, learning about camaraderie and their own masculinity in the process. Everyone Else focuses predominantly on the boyfriend’s perspective on a troubled young relationship, as he is struggles with class and career issues that threaten his feelings for his free-spirited girlfriend.

There were also some introspective personal stories directed by men in this year’s programme, the main highlight being Last Ride, starring Hugo Weaving, directed by first-time Australian feature director Glendyn Ivan. Ivan explained that the tale of young boy Chook, who is taken on a dangerous road trip by his criminal father, is, emotionally speaking, ‘his story’, one that he simultaneously relates to as both a son and a father. Interestingly, this harrowing, emotionally charged and low-budget work has all the qualities traditionally associated with female-directed films.

It was an admirable move for the Sydney Film Festival to focus so heavily on women filmmakers. But for things to change drastically for female storytellers, it seems it will take an alteration in both audience expectations and the number of women in decision-making positions within film festivals and funding bodies. But ultimately, as Rachel Ward points out: ‘Women really only have themselves to blame for this glass ceiling – there’s not enough women who feel as if they have a right to tell their stories or to helm a picture themselves. More women need to get out there and tell their own stories.’

Siouxzi Mernagh


Cowboy (Boys on Film 2)


25 March-8 April 20089

On tour (UK): 18 May-30 September 2009

LLGFF website

DVD collection: Boys on Film 2 – In Too Deep

Release date: 17 August 2009

Distributor: Peccadillo Pictures

The LLGFF is currently on tour around the UK with a selection of 10 films showing at cinemas around the British Isles from Poole to Inverness, Norwich to the Welsh town of Mold between the beginning of July and the end of September. Curated by the British Film Institute, the main festival in London in March/April and the touring programme aim to show the best gay and lesbian films from around the world. I and two (straight) female writers from Electric Sheep watched a selection of the films being screened at the LLGFF, appreciated some and were left nonplussed by many.

Gay cinema appears to be in a state of flux at the moment. Crossover hits such as Mysterious Skin (2004) and Brokeback Mountain (2005) have shown that mainstream audiences will watch gay-themed films, and yet a large section of gay cinema panders to a loyal audience that seems to have low expectations, satisfied simply by gay and lesbian representation on screen. Obviously the LLGFF doesn’t represent all gay filmmaking; for a start, I noticed the absence of Cthulu (2007), an underrated gay horror film that toured both gay and horror festivals in the US throughout 2007. I was also surprised that the LLGFF didn’t host the premiere of Little Ashes, a film that came out in UK cinemas four weeks after the end of the festival and extrapolates the homoerotic potential of the friendship between Federico García Lorca and Salvador Dalí. It’s a film that had massive crossover appeal due to the presence of heartthrob of the moment Robert Pattinson as one of the leads. However, the publicity for the film was both coy and leading regarding the onscreen coupling of the two characters, suggesting that the distribution company didn’t want the film to appear designed for a gay audience, and was not sure who to market the film for, except perhaps the greying Merchant-Ivory crowd. As a result, the film snuck in and out of cinemas without attracting any of the hysterical tweenagers who fainted at the sight of Pattinson when he was out and about promoting Twilight.

The LLGFF’s selection of the gay and lesbian films made over the last year shows a lack of imagination on many counts and too many films are simply re-treading familiar ground. This isn’t just a problem in lesbian and gay festivals, but affects all festivals that only show one type of film. Horror/’cult’ film festivals also often show a great deal of poor movies, as it is difficult to find enough outstanding recent works to fill the programme of a whole festival. We would have a healthier cinema in general if there were more examples of those ‘specialised’ kinds of movies scattered throughout the year on screens (and not just those affiliated with the BFI). Unfortunately, in the current economic climate, a lack of faith in audiences and dwindling advertising budgets means much horror and gay filmmaking is relegated to festivals only.

Myself and Virginie Sélavy went to the opening film of the LLGFF – Dolls (Pusinky, Czech Republic, 2007) – and enjoyed its mix of teenage high spirits, sex, drunken carousing and adolescent trauma faced with the prospect of unpredictable lives to come. Dolls follows in the footsteps of populist teen soaps such as Skins, but by mixing the drama with an Eastern European road movie, manages to make the material seem fresh. That said, it’s an unlikely film to open a lesbian and gay film festival as the lesbian aspect of the drama is a very minor part of the plot, and ironically, when realised in a grimy toilet that seems more like a gay male fantasy than a female one, is one of the least convincing parts of the film. I’m not saying there should be a sliding scale of ‘gayness’ to justify inclusion in a LGB festival, but the fact that the opening film of the festival is barely gay at all is perhaps reflective of the lack of engaging gay films released over the last year.

Elsewhere, Virginie and Pamela Jahn were unimpressed with Ghosted, the latest film by German experimental filmmaker Monika Treut or with Bandaged, a lesbian update of Eyes without a Face, which promised much but delivered little. I saw Chris and Don – A Love Story, a documentary about the life of Christopher Isherwood as told through the eyes of his partner Don Bachardy, which was earnest and portentous but, barring some kitsch animated sequences, wasn’t nearly as riveting as the film you might expect about the writer of ‘The Berlin Stories’ (filmed as Cabaret) and Frankenstein: The True Story. I also saw Dream Boy, an adaptation of the novel by Jim Grimsley, which is not unlike a teen version of Brokeback Mountain: two boys in a god-fearing rural community fall in love, each having to contend respectively with an abusive father and a rapist/murderer friend. Dream Boy is certainly a watchable film and the two young leads are constantly engaging, but too much screen time is taken up by longing looks, while the director seems unable to let a single scene go by without relentless music filling the air, and a semi-hysterical performance by blues singer Rickie Lee Jones as the mother of one of the boys threatens to unbalance the whole film.

As for up and coming filmmakers who might populate future LLGFFs, one of the shorts that showed at this year’s festival, Bramadero (Mexico, 2008), is also included in Peccadillo Pictures’ collection Boys on Film 2 – In Too Deep. PP are one of the major suppliers of films to the LLGFF and one of the biggest gay and lesbian labels in the UK, so one would hope Boys on Film represents the best gay shorts from around the world. Indeed, the nine short films included in volume 2 have been shown at festivals from Brooklyn to Cardiff, Istanbul to Gothenburg, and include three festival winners among their number. Generally, the quality of the shorts in the collection is quite high, although inevitably like all collections, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

The aforementioned Bramadero is a silent, erotic physical theatre piece bordering on pornography. A more cynical reviewer might suggest it only made it into festivals and collections like these to give audiences some bona fide on-screen penetration, which so many other shorts only allude to. However, as the woeful 9 Songs – Michael Winterbottom’s only unwatchable film – demonstrates, sex is only interesting when it accompanies a plot, no matter how realistic the performance or attractive the performers. But elsewhere in the collection, there is a successful balance between plot, intrigue and eroticism. Cowboy, like Cthulu, mixes the desire of a city visitor for simple country boys with the horrific dénouement of classic horror films like Straw Dogs and Children of the Corn, and it’s both refreshing and disturbing to see this genre given a gay twist. Weekend in the Countryside is a Gallic version of the same, giving the typical French thriller scenario of a visitor to a house in the countryside a homoerotic angle. Lucky Blue, although bogged down by longueurs, and The Island, show the range of quality gay short filmmaking, one being a charming and typically Swedish – reminiscent of early Lukas Moodysson – tale of adolescent romance and the other an amusing CGI-augmented monologue about turning homophobia on its head in a utopian fantasy.

The other four films that round out the collection unfortunately disappoint for a variety of reasons. Kali Ma, which deals with an Indian mother’s revenge on her son’s homophobic bully/object of desire, is spirited but let down by amateurish filmmaking. Love Bite would make an excellent pre-credits sequence to an unmade longer movie but as it is, comes across as a mean-spirited sketch that’s escaped from a BBC3 comedy show. Futures & Derivatives starts well, as a law firm hires a mysterious, brightly coloured Powerpoint expert to create a presentation for a client, but the fantastic dénouement probably only makes sense in the director and editor’s heads, while the tedious Australian comedy Working it Out, about desire and jealousy in an all-male gym, was probably funny on paper but is not in execution. Overall though, since half of the films entertain, titillate and, being short and low-budget, achieve more than the sum of their parts it’s a collection worth seeking out. That said, in both the cases of PP and LLGFF, less is definitely more, and both might do well to think of whittling down their selections of films to offer only the absolute best of gay cinema.

Alex Fitch


Alan Vega (Tender Prey)

Format: CD + DVD

Release date: 2009

Distributor: Mute

Directors: Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard

Titles: From Her to Eternity; The Firstborn Is Dead; Kicking against the Pricks; Your Funeral, My Trial; Tender Prey

Radio Mania: An Abandoned Work is showing in the BFI Southbank Gallery until 11 July 2009.

To mark the re-release of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ entire back catalogue, the band commissioned artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard to make short films to accompany the albums. Each film consists of interviews with people who worked on the recordings, music journalists, fellow musicians and fans, edited into a structured monologue. From Her to Eternity, The Firstborn Is Dead, Kicking against the Pricks and Your Funeral, My Trial were released in March 2009. Next up is Tender Prey, which was screened at a special event at the BFI on June 17, followed by a Q&A with Forsyth, Pollard and Nick Cave. Virginie Sélavy talked to the filmmakers about the ideas behind the films and their connection to their art work and their installation Radio Mania: An Abandoned Work, currently showing in the BFI Southbank Gallery. For more information on Nick Cave’s re-released albums, please visit the Mute website.

Virginie Sélavy: How did the project come about?

Iain Forsyth: We met Nick (Cave) through doing a little bit of work for Dig, Lazarus, Dig!. Nick asked us if we would do the videos for that album, and whether we could do something in a slightly different way to the way music videos normally get done because he got a bit bored with spending an awful lot of money on those big-budget promo videos, which then never get really shown anymore. So we did four videos for the album with the budget that was set aside for one video.

Jane Pollard: The whole thing came about from that first meeting and from Nick and Warren (Ellis)’s idea that we might be able to approach video making in a different way as the landscape for music videos and what they mean for a band’s album campaign is changing very quickly. We started with this little set of one-minute clips for YouTube, which were really good fun to do and were real ice-breakers in the project. But we also started talking about the reissue collection. Mute wanted to have some sort of video content for each of the albums and Nick said, ‘What would you do? The last thing I want is a standard music documentary’. We told him about this way of working that we’ve been using in our art work, this kind of head-and-shoulders, straight-to-camera, very engaged, very conversational, kind of stitched monologue way of working. So we did a test shoot with about five of our friends who were Bad Seeds fans. We didn’t know if it would work. Most of the work that we make is about a much more abstract sense of what music means to people, so it’s more unusual and surprising and vague, and we weren’t sure whether we could tie it down this particularly, but it worked really well. We showed this five-minute example film to Nick and Warren and they said go for it. I think their fears were that it would seem too self-congratulatory, they didn’t want anything that seemed like they were giving themselves a big pat on the back. People are incredibly passionate about Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds so we have hours and hours of footage of people simply saying, ‘they’re the best band in the world!’

VS: How did you select the people that you interviewed?

IF: It rippled out in a way. We started with what was closest to us, people that we knew were big fans. We spoke to the band and they pointed us towards people who worked on the records, they gave us a starting point, and we asked those people who we should be talking to, so that rolled out and out and became this absurdly long list of probably about 500 people in the end.

JP: It’s like a chain letter. We wrote an invitation letter and it was really anybody who had any connection, it could be one song or it could be with a whole album, it didn’t matter to us as long as there was this passionate connection. And for some people, it was because they’d worked with the band so it’d become part of their story as well. Then we put out a call to fans as well, we did that through the forums, using a web page. We got thousands of responses and we were looking for the way in which someone presented themselves in writing to get a sense of whether they would be able to tell their story in an interesting way.

IF: I think also that one of the unique things about the band is that they’ve been to so many corners of the world over the years that almost everywhere you go there’s a pocket of people connected to them in some way – people who knew Nick when he was living in Brazil, people who hung out with the Birthday Party in Australia, people who were in Berlin when Nick was there and were in bands that played with the Bad Seeds. It’s like a weird sort of social network. There’s a lot of really weird connections.

JP: We’re always looking for those kinds of connections. When we’re telling a story in this way, in this abstract, disjointed kind of monologue, it feels to us like a single head, rather than the 40 heads that it actually is, a single voice that is actually a bit schizophrenic.

VS: That really comes across in the Tender Prey film. The way you edited the interviews together makes it feel like all the people talking are having a dialogue with one other, and that there’s one thread of thought that runs through the interview. Was that one of your rules in constructing the films?

JP: Yes, absolutely. It’s a kind of device and structure that we’ve used in our art work before so we’re quite well practised at working with a lot of material. We had at least 40 minutes per person, so we had to go through it all to pick the bits that we liked. It’s quite an intense experience because you have to immerse yourself in all of the footage so that you begin to hear those conversations coming out. When we started making work like this in 2001, we thought it was about finding people saying the same thing. But when you edit it together, people saying the same thing is really dull. What’s much more powerful is when it is about people almost finishing each other’s sentences and taking a point or a word and spinning it off in another direction. So sometimes all we’re doing is listening for the repetition of a particular word or a phrase, like a lot of people would use the word ‘cave’ but as a verb. They would say, ‘it feels like the music is caving in on you’, and suddenly you can go from that to ‘Cave does this and this in his music’, and you’re able to tie stuff together through onomatopoeic and poetic structures.

VS: You’ve had an interest in contemporary music throughout your work. You have recreated musical performances with A Rock’n’Roll Suicide (David Bowie) and File Under Sacred Music (The Cramps). What is it that interests you in creating artworks around music?

JP: I think that our work has always used music as a kind of catalyst, as a device to lead to other things. The reason why we use music is that we think the relationship between the artist and the audience in music is a far more appealing one than the one between the artist or artwork and the viewer in art. That seems quite an odd relationship, it’s often quite distant. But in music, and certainly in the music that we love, that relationship is central to everything. And when we were art students we had this really naive passion about wanting to try and make art that operated in that way. So without becoming musicians or being in a band, without having to deal with what we see as the limitations of that discipline, we decided that we wanted to bring with us in some way the spirit or the attitude or the potential that music has in relation to its audience and the way that the audience takes and owns music and uses it in its life.

IF: We met doing our BA at Goldsmiths in the early 90s and at that time a lot of the work that students were making was quite heavily conceptual. It was just after the Damien Hirst/Frieze generation and a lot of those artists were successful at that time and the students that we were studying with were making work that on the surface we found really uninspiring. But they could talk a good talk. They could talk all day about how the work related to Derrida or another French philosopher. But we were just left very cold. So we’d be going to see our fellow students’ work and being really bored and then going to a gig and being blown away by this most visceral live experience, and there was something about that connection that we wanted to try and emulate in some way.

JP: It was also about understanding that it’s too easy to believe that that connection is about the authentic moment, that somehow that’s more original and more real than the kind of constructed or inauthentic object. It’s not, we all know that bands go out and do the same performance night in, night out, that it is constructed, that it is rehearsed. But there is still something in the way it presents itself that creates an emotional connection with you. Our artwork, at that time, from the mid- to late 90s, looked at that sort of contradiction, and played with it. So we looked at staging gigs in galleries. The thing that interested us the most was the idea of reconstituting something, and the most extreme example of this was the piece we did where we incredibly accurately re-enacted the last ever Ziggy Stardust show from 1973. We did a stitch for stitch, word for word representation, we put together a band, we rehearsed them endlessly. It was about this enormous human endeavour with the absolute understanding that it was going to fail, that we couldn’t transport you back to 1973, that it couldn’t be perfect, that it was going to fall down in so many ways. But there’s something about this kind of endeavour, its earnestness, its craftsmanship in some ways that we hoped would have an immediate and powerful emotional effect on the audience, that it would be like oscillating between this understanding of it being fake, but real, because it’s here, it’s happening, and it’s connecting to you in the moment, and understanding that there’s something nostalgic in it. It was an embarrassing work to make, because it’s also tied up with things like tribute bands.

IP: It was pretty uncool… (laughs)

VS: You’re now exploring similar ideas in your new piece, Radio Mania: An Abandoned Work, which is currently showing in the BFI Gallery. Do you feel your interest has shifted from music to film or is it just a way to explore similar ideas in a different medium?

JP: I think part of it is about wanting to reach more people. By using moving image, it can exist in real time for a long time, rather than in the moment for one night.

VS: What was the idea behind Radio Mania?

JP: It comes in a direct line from the very first bit of work we did with moving image, which was the Cramps piece, where instead of recreating a gig, we attempted to remake a bootleg video, like a video document of that gig. With this piece, we wanted to place the audience right inside a moving image environment. Iain had read about Laurens Hammond, the guy who invented the Hammond organ, who had invented this amazing Teleview 3D system in 1922, which lasted for 24 days in a New York cinema and then was completely ripped out and never seen again. We get really interested in this sort of edge science, weird things that people are doing, whether it’s trying to contact the dead or trying to make a transmitter or a receiver that is able to hear sounds from 100 years ago, whatever it is, we love that sense of pointless endeavour. And it was through looking at this Teleview system that we stumbled onto The Man from Mars in the BFI archive, which was the film that was commissioned to show off the system to everybody, and was the second 3D feature that was made…

IF: …which I think was also appealing, the idea of it being the second ever feature in 3D. It’s such a beautifully tragic thing: that would really annoy you, because I think the first was only literally a couple of months earlier, so it wasn’t like there was a huge gap, so there must have been a point where they thought they were on the verge of delivering the first ever 3D feature, and to be the second must be a little bit frustrating.

JP: And the film has within it stories of pointless endeavours, like the guy who’s trying to contact Mars through the radio, and the notion of the dream used to allow a whole set of events to happen and then you find out that it was just a dream. It had so much of this in it that we got excited about this theme of the film, and it gave us the device we needed to be able to stage this immersive moving image environment.

Interview by Virginie Sélavy