London Film Festival 2013 Preview – Part 1

Under the Skin
Under the Skin

BFI London Film Festival

9 – 20 October 2013

London, UK

LFF website

With this year’s 57th edition of the BFI London Film Festival just around the corner, Pamela Jahn, Mark Stafford, John Bleasdale and Pierre Kapitaniak preview some of the feature films screening in cinemas across London during the first week of the LFF, including Ari Folman’s bold, riveting and unmissable The Congress, Ivan Sen’s Australian western Mystery Road and Jia Zhangke’s angry, strikingly stylised A Touch of Sin, and J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, which features one of Robert Redford’s finest performances.

Check out Part2 of our LFF previews here and look out for more LFF coverage throughout the festival.

A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke, 2013)
Although director Jia Zhangke officially denied in interviews that his close relationship with Office Kitano was more than simply based on financial support for this production, A Touch of Sin feels like a ferocious piece of work very much in the same vein as the best films by the Japanese director and friend, albeit intensified by the social-political backdrop addressed here. Based on four real-life criminal cases (including a murder, suicide and a couple of killing sprees), Zhangke’s protagonists represent a cross section of contemporary Chinese society, from different areas of the country. Seen from that perspective, the film, which deservedly won Zhangke the award for Best Screenplay, is a sanguinary, tense investigation into the Chinese economic miracle and the brutalising effect it has on the lives of ordinary people at the bottom end of the ladder, who ultimately can’t help but vent their rage, rising up against authority, in a world not theirs. Likewise, on a visual level, A Touch of Sin is a powerful war of the senses, in the way the stylised violence seems gently aligned with the character’s innermost thoughts and emotions, enabling the audience to savour a similar cold adrenaline rush as those wuxia and Lady Vengeance-type characters on screen. PJ

Watch the trailer for A Touch of Sin:

Borgman (Alex van Warmerdam, 2013)
Alex van Warmerdam returns with Borgman, which masterfully plunges into the uncanny without ever fully acknowledging the supernatural dimension of the plot. Indeed, Camiel Borgman (played by Jan Bijvoet, recently seen in Alabama Munro) might well be the devil, as suggested by the Bible-like quotation opening the film: ‘And they descended upon earth to strengthen their ranks.’

The feeling of something otherworldly is introduced from the opening scene, in which two hunters, accompanied by a Catholic priest, hunt down Borgman and his followers, who are living in underground shelters in the forest (reminiscent of the Black Man in Warmerdam’s The Northerners). On the run from them, Borgman arrives at an upper-middle-class house asking for a bath and gets sorely beaten by the owner, while the wife takes pity and shelters him. From then on things go wrong, and we soon realise that Borgman is definitely more than just a tramp, as he turns into a literal night-mare, such as pictured by Henry Fuseli. Once again, in his very idiosyncratic style, Warmerdam combines social criticism of the bourgeoisie with mystical angst, leaving the audience to weave the threads of interpretation as they please. PK

Watch the trailer for Borgman:

The Congress (Ari Folman, 2013)
Opening this year’s Director’s Fortnight, Ari Folman’s follow up to his 2008 Cannes competition entry Waltz with Bashir is an idiosyncratic masterpiece, highly ambitious in its scale and complexity, and fuelled with dazzling animated beauty. In a daringly intimate performance, Robin Wright plays herself, an acclaimed actress just past her prime with a market value diminished to zero, her previous stardom being long buried in Hollywood history. When her agent, Al (Harvey Keitel), tells her she’s being given one last chance by her studio, Miramount, Robin reluctantly agrees to a meeting, unknowing what this final offer entails. The plan is to motion-capture Wright, to copy her body, feelings, memories, and gestures in order to create a digital alter ego that can easily be adjusted to fit into any blockbuster, TV show or commercial as required by the studio. As part of the deal that promises her both a generous pay-off and the guarantee of eternal youth on screen, the real Robin Wright must retire with no claim as to how her virtual self is being used in the future. At first, she refuses, but family constraints force her to reconsider.

So far, The Congress might appear as a vicious, darkly cynical take on the movie industry in the digital age and how Hollywood treats its ageing goddesses. What then happens, however, about 50 minutes into the film, is best seen first-hand. Loosely inspired by Stanislaw Lem’s The Futurological Congress, and again combining animation and live action to puzzling effect, Folman jumps forward 20 years to find the real Wright aged and out of business, while her alter ego has become one of the biggest action heroines on screen as ‘Rebel Robot Robin’. Invited to Miramount’s Futurological Congress, the actress must pass into a strange animated zone, which opens an entirely new, imaginary universe of its own, crowded with celebrity doubles who escape their daily misery through drug-induced hallucinations; it’s a place that visually blends the style of 1930s Betty Boop cartoons and the trippy aesthetic of Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World. At the same time, Folman slows down the action to plunge into something darker, deeper, more inventive and more existential than merely teasing the Hollywood system to the core. Soused in gorgeous imagery and surreal, intoxicated melancholy, the second half of The Congress meanders gracefully between philosophical, religious and ideological reflections on the human condition, yet despite minor flaws, never loses sight of its original premise. The film is a fiercely original, bold and riveting meditation on the future of the silver screen and the stars that make it shine. PJ

Mystery Road (Ivan Sen, 2013)
Ivan Sen’s fine, modern-dress Australian western impresses as much for what it doesn’t do as much as what it does. It’s unhurried, unprettified, and has a sparse soundtrack with minimal music; not everything is explained, and much is left unsaid. In other words it’s a genre film made for adults – remember them?

Aaron Pederson plays a man alone, an aboriginal copper, treated as the enemy by his own people, and hardly ‘one of the boys’ in the small police department he has recently returned to in outback Queensland. Tasked with a job nobody else wants – investigating the murder of a teenage aboriginal girl – he begins to uncover some murky business involving drugs and prostitution, in which his own force, and, more queasily, his own abandoned daughter, may be involved. Clearly headed into troubled waters, and with nobody to back him up, he begins to look more and more vulnerable under those wide-open skies…

The set-up is entirely conventional for any number of thrillers, but there are no Hollywood faces here, no extraneous action sequences, no master criminals either. The details of life in this harsh environment are well observed, and the atmosphere of menace is well sustained right up to the brilliantly delivered final confrontation. All the performances are pitched just right, with Hugo Weaving especially good value as the wayward and worrying leader of the drug squad (in terrifying double denim!). It looks great, too, especially the night sequences, where the land turns black, and the horizon is a riot of oranges and reds, with human figures picked out in sick green neon. Photography by Mr. Sen as well. Clever boy. Gold stars. MS

Watch the trailer for Mystery Road:

Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
Jonathan Glazer’s return to feature films after an almost decade-long absence, Under the Skin stars Scarlett Johansson as a predatory alien who prowls Glaswegian streets in a white transit van, searching for young men who will not be missed. Mixing arthouse visuals of mesmerizing abstraction with naturalistic (and occasionally incomprehensible) street scenes and occasional lurches into Lynchian horror, the film escapes the gravitational pull of its genre and the dubious slightness – and potential misogyny – of its storyline. As with Johansson’s victims, we are beguiled by the look of the film, its self-confessedly empty eroticism and its otherworldly perspective on mundane British life. Whereas the criminally underrated Birth riffed on Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Under the Skin ditches the lightweight satire of the Michael Faber source novel to absorb the influence of Nic Roeg – The Woman Who Fell to Earth if you will – and create a disturbing trip into the other. JB

Watch the trailer for Under the Skin:

Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (Denis Côté, 2013)
Canadian critic-turned-director Denis Côté’s eccentric Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (Vic et Flo ont vu un ours) starts off promisingly, but gradually loses momentum, as well as character depth, before an unexpectedly superb, if bitchy, ending. Pierrette Robitaille as Victoria, who has been discharged early from prison for a life sentence, and Romane Bohringer as Vic’s former cell mate and now lover, Florence, who has her own agenda for consistently soft-selling Vic’s mounting fear that she will eventually drop her, both give convincing performances as the outlaw couple trying to make a new start somewhere in the Canadian forest. But Côté doesn’t quite manage to keep the viewer interested in his deceptive directing choices and the film’s enigmatic atmosphere, so much so that one doesn’t really care anymore when the trap that has been carefully laid out eventually snaps shut. PJ

Watch the trailer for Vic + Flo Saw a Bear:

Pamela Jahn, Mark Stafford, John Bleasdale, Pierre Kapitaniak

The High Pitch of Strangeness: Ikarie XB-1

Ikarie XB 1_1
Ikarie XB-1

Deep in space, a derelict rocket from the year 1987 – centuries in the past – explodes into splinters of radioactive dust, destroyed by its own nuclear weapons. The pulsing electronic noise that had built-up towards the detonation abruptly stops, and for the first time in a long while we are left with total silence. Back on board the Ikarie, the modern spaceship that discovered this old ruin lost millions of miles from Earth, we see the stunned faces of the crew. In one cabin, two astronauts discuss the crimes of the twentieth century, its wars and its holocausts. One of them begins absentmindedly picking out a few chords on a grand piano, which has a peculiar wing-like double lid. ‘Honegger,’ he says, by way of explanation. ‘Also twentieth century.’

Those piano chords are from the introduction to Arthur Honegger’s dramatic psalm, ‘Le roi David’, from 1921. Composed by one of ‘Les Six’, the group of dynamic young composers who gathered around Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie, in its day ‘Le roi David’ was strikingly modern in its wild eclecticism, borrowing freely from jazz and gregorian chant, Bach and Stravinsky. But for all its lyrical beauty, amid the future sounds of Zdenĕk Liška’s score for Ikarie XB-1 (1963), directed by Jindrich Polák, it sounds positively antediluvian, like the dim ghost of a distant age.

Ikarie XB-1 is released on DVD, newly restored by Second Run, on 23 September 2013..

Born in the small Bohemian town of Smečno just short of a year after ‘Le roi David’ was first performed, Liška would work on many of the classics of the Czech new wave (Vĕra Chytilová’s Fruit of Paradise, Kădar and Klos’s The Shop on Main Street, Juraj Herz’s The Cremator) before embarking on a long and fruitful collaboration with Jan Švankmajer. When, after a long illness, Liška died in 1983, Švankmajer refused to work with any other composer and for a long time used only classical music in his films.

For Ikarie XB-1, he sets out his stall early, and the opening title music is little short of stunning. With a jerky melodic motif resembling one of Conlon Nancarrow’s player piano studies or a John Cage prepared piano sonata, albeit reconfigured for a bank of haywire oscillators, the piece mixes orchestral and electronic tones until they become almost completely indistinguishable. Turning usual practice on its head, it’s the live instruments that here produce the sound effects, while the electronics carry the tune.

This high pitch of strangeness is maintained throughout. The score ranges from dreamy impressionism to tense late romanticism, eerie drones to furious machine rhythms, and in one particularly odd scene in which the spaceship crew have their own dance party, even a sort of dissonant future mambo. With so many different moods and styles, it’s a soundtrack that was as modern and eclectic in 1963 as Honegger’s ‘Le roi David’ was in 1921. A heady stew of robot rhythms and whooshing frequencies, Ikarie XB-1 could be the missing sonic link between Forbidden Planet and Liquid Sky.

Robert Barry

When Score and Sound Design Become Indistinguishable

Carre blanc 2
Carré blanc

‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’

I distinctly recall the melody of that legendary folk ditty filtering through my head as I first staggered out of a cinema that had been showing Jean-Baptiste Léonetti’s debut feature film Carré blanc, a chilling, dystopian science-fiction thriller unveiled in the Vanguard series during the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. It seemed, at the time, and now even in retrospect, a perfectly reasonable piece of music to dance across my cerebellum – on loop, no less.

Read Greg Klymkiw’s review of Carré blanc here.

The classic song, first written in 1955 and slightly rewritten about 10 years later to include additional lyrics to comment specifically on the Vietnam War, is a piece imbued with both sentiment and the sadness of longing. It laments the loss of flowers; young girls, young boys, soldiers and graveyards – with the latter, of course, giving way to the flowers that appeared to have gone missing in the first place.

With apologies to Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson, the writers of the much-covered/adapted folk song, I recall my own added verse that asked the following question:

‘Where have all the people gone?’

It seemed something worth lamenting after seeing Léonetti’s film, which conjures up a world as bereft of people in a literal sense, as in the figurative, since ‘the people’ are either being interrogated or desperately going about their business in the fervent hope that they will not be interrogated.

Such is the world of Carré blanc, the tale of Philippe (Sami Bouajila) and Marie (Julie Gayet), a couple who grew up together in a state orphanage and who eventually married. They live in a stark, often silent corporate world bereft of any vibrant colour and emotion. Muzak constantly lulls the masses and is only punctuated by announcements occasionally calling for state-controlled procreation and, most curiously, promoting the game of croquet – the one and only state-sanctioned sport.

Philippe is a most valued lackey of the state. He is an interrogator-cum-indoctrinator and he’s very good at his job. In fact, with each passing day, he is getting better and better at it. Marie, on the other hand, is withdrawing deeper and deeper into a cocoon as the love she once felt for Philippe transforms into indifference. In this world, hatred, sadness or any manner of bitterness are luxuries. They’re tangible feelings that the rulers would never tolerate, and are punished with death.

The goal of the Brave New World that Léonetti presents appears to be little more than indifference, and as such it’s especially important to make note of the astounding score by Evgueni Galperine – one that has none of the sentiment of songs like the aforementioned Seeger folk song, nor is it like the horrendously bombastic ‘action’ scores so prevalent in contemporary science fiction films, with Michael Giacchino’s pounding notes in the J. J. Abrams reboots of Star Trek, or the wham-bam-in-your-face styling of Ryan Amon’s Elysium score and, lest we forget, any of John Williams’s sweeping orchestral noodlings in George Lucas’s Star Wars space operas.

Watch the trailer for Carré blanc:

If anything, Galperine successfully roots his music in a spare blend of electronic soundscape, eerie source music and very light orchestral background. In fact, it’s sometimes impossible to distinguish between score and sound design – something that was so integral to dystopian science fiction films of the 1970s, most notably, the creepy crawly work of Denny Zeitlin in Philip Kaufman’s immortal remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Both the Galperine score and the movie itself hark back to great 1970s’ science-fiction film classics, like The Terminal Man (Mike Hodges), Colossus: The Forbin Project (Joseph Sargent), A Boy and His Dog (L. Q. Jones) and THX 1138 (George Lucas), in addition to Kaufman’s terrific picture – when the genre was thankfully bereft of light sabres, Wookies and Jabba the Hut – when it was actually about something.

Galperine’s score, however, does not – in any way, shape or form – contribute to a retro quality. If anything, the film feels rooted firmly in a future not all that removed from our current existence. Every so often, Galperine will hit in an extended synth note, which will subtly blend into another and yet another and symbiotically blend with both the narrative and visuals to etch the emotional lives of the characters. This use of music to reflect emotion on screen rather than as a tool to yank emotion from the audience is completely and wholly modern. If there’s a connection between the scores of yore and Galperine’s work, it’s that it creates under- and overtones that are as universal as the 70s pictures.

The aforementioned Hodges, Sargent, Jones, Lucas and Kaufman pictures have not actually dated – certainly not in terms of the sophistication of the filmmaking and the fact that any single one of them feels as ‘modern’ as Carré blanc. In that sense, Léonetti’s film could easily have been made – as is – in the 1970s. Carré blanc shares a specific approach with past work to a genre that can, perhaps more than any other, effect true analysis and possibly even change, though there is nothing at all retro about the picture – no obvious post-modernist nods here. It is completely unto itself. Carré blanc is fresh, hip, vibrant and vital – certainly as much as the pictures noted above were and most importantly are.

A great deal of the picture’s success is, I think, owing to Galperine’s score. The electronic score proper, the pieces of music that feel like soundscape and, most evocatively, the horrendously, sickeningly and mind alteringly vapid Muzak that is constantly piped in through loudspeakers (reminiscent of the very thing that keeps A Boy and His Dog so universal) contribute to the all-important timeless quality of great science fiction in the cinema. I’m reminded of how Stanley Kubrick and Norman Jewison kept 2001 and Rollerball universal by using classical music. They used an aural underscore from the past to create timelessness. Galperine and the various composers of the 1970s sci-fi classics create electronic beds that are as contemporary as they are ‘futuristic’.

Galperine creates two important and subtle beds of music that recur throughout the film. One is a two-note hit (one low, one high – and occasionally, one high and one low) which, amid the other sounds and music layered underneath (or on top), creates a portent that reflects the emotional states of the characters. Even more evocative is the use of three notes signalling a lullaby either cut short or gone wrong, to reflect a long-lost childhood innocence, which, most importantly reflects long-lost innocence – period.

It’s this subtle and intelligent use of music that goes so far in assisting Léonetti in making what is easily the finest dystopian vision of the future to be etched upon celluloid since the 1970s. I’d go so far as to suggest that one could programme a film series entitled ‘Science Fiction of the 70s’ and just slip in Carré blanc, or, for that matter, a series entitled ‘Science Fiction: Contemporary Visions of Dystopia’ with the 1970s titles slipped in with Carré blanc, and audiences (most of them, frankly, and perhaps even sadly) would swallow it hook, line and sinker.

Thematically and/or emotionally, the thing that ties all of these films together is the notion of love being threatened by the state and/or a New World Order. God knows, in the case of Carré blanc, there can be little doubt that a romantic mood would indeed be at peril from the Muzak, along with monotone appeals from an announcer reminding the couples of the world that procreation is a privilege, not a right, but that some have indeed earned the right to procreate and as such, have a duty to do so.

Where, oh where, have all the flowers gone, indeed. Or, in the words of another timeless folk song from Zager and Evans: ‘In the year 2525, if Man is still alive…’

Greg Klymkiw

Film4 FrightFest 2013 – Part 2


Film4 FrightFest

22-26 August 2013

London, UK

FrightFest website

We follow up Part 1 of our Film4 FrightFest 2013 coverage with more reviews of some of the most notable films in this year’s line-up. Below, Evrim Ersoy looks back at his highlights from the programme.

Cheap Thrills (E. L. Katz, 2013)
One of the best films to grace the screen at Film4’s FrightFest, E.L. Katz’s debut feature is a heady concoction of morality tale and unrestrained thrill ride. Pat Healy plays Craig, a sometime-writer who’s down on his luck, working blue-collar jobs to make ends meet for his wife and kid. On the day he’s going to ask for a raise, Craig finds himself fired. Too depressed to head home, he stops off at a local bar only to run into Vince – a high school buddy who works as a collector for a loan shark. Before you know it, the two are having a drink, and it’s not long before they’re joined by a couple, Colin and Violet, who are out to celebrating her birthday.

How the story proceeds is half the fun in this unexpected, impossible-to-guess tale, which marries strong characters with plausible plot developments and creates its own odd, offbeat rhythm. As the stakes get raised further and further, the whole debacle becomes more and more difficult to watch – however, it is to the credit of the excellent script and brilliant direction that it’s almost impossible to tear your gaze away from the screen. Boasting perhaps the most brilliant final shot of any film this year, Cheap Thrills is an incredible opening gambit from a clearly talented and promising creative team. Do not miss it.

Watch the trailer for Cheap Thrills:

Dark Tourist (Suri Krishnamma, 2013)
Michael Cudlitz stars as Jim, the titular ‘dark tourist’ who spends his holidays visiting a serial killer’s locations, including the murder sites. However, Jim is much more than who he first seems, and as he gets closer to two women – one a waitress at the diner and the other a prostitute who occupies the room next door at his hotel – his dark nature is slowly and shockingly revealed. Suri Krishnamma’s exploration of one man’s tortured soul can be, by and large, considered a failure: although Michael Cudlitz gives a decent performance, the material itself is so weak and fractured that nothing can really save this mess of a movie.

Mistaking general stereotyping for character study, Dark Tourist goes through the clichés of every descent-into-hell study and comes up with even more hollow statements to make. Fitting every impulse neatly into black and white categories, the film is nothing more than a glorified TV movie, with perhaps some of the worst insights into human nature seen on film. All in all, there’s nothing new in the world of Hollywood’s understanding of the whys and hows of the creation of monsters – the answers are still simplistic and banal, even with the wealth of information and resources available.

Watch the trailer for Dark Tourist:

Odd Thomas (Stephen Sommers, 2013)
In the tradition of Hollywood thrillers of the 80s like The Burbs, Odd Thomas is a delightful, offbeat yet mainstream film that will be sure to please those looking for some old-school thrills. Anton Yelchin plays Odd Thomas, a short-order cook with the ability to see dead people, who uses his powers to bring killers and murderers to justice. Addison Timlin plays Stormy Llewellyn, while Willem Defoe is Chief Wyatt Porter, who knows about Odd’s powers, and helps to keep them hidden.

Stephen Sommers keeps the whole film lighter than a ball of marshmallow, while the set-pieces and special effects are impressive enough for a film clearly not made on a big budget. The central mystery is simple – for once it’s nice to see a thriller where there aren’t complicated layers after complicated layers – it’s a true Hollywood case of good guys vs. bad guys, and Odd Thomas is not a lesser film for it. Clearly trying to attract as wide an audience as possible, this is a breezy, fun-ride reminder of how good Hollywood mainstream can be when it chooses to. Delightful.

Watch the trailer for Odd Thomas:

The Last Days (David Pastor, &#192lex Pastor, 2013)
Taking the typical apocalypse scenario, but putting it through one of this year’s more unique reincarnations, The Last Days is a glossy, character-driven drama with some real heart.

The time is now. Humanity develops a severe form of agoraphobia overnight, with those daring to venture outside immediately dying. Everyone is stuck exactly where they were when the illness struck, with people trying vainly to access the subway tunnels to be able to travel. Marc is an office worker who is desperate to get back to his girlfriend, who he is sure is still alive. He finds himself teaming up with new colleague Enrique, a corporate downsizing expert. The two men form an uneasy alliance, which will see them confronting the very best and worst of human nature through a fallen Barcelona.

With a threat that is almost completely internal, The Last Days eschews the usual horror of the infected or zombies for something a bit more cerebral. While the descent into unruly behaviour apes those seen in other apocalyptic films, directors David and &#192lex Pastor keep the story moving quickly enough for the audience not to become irritated by these similarities. Terrific central performances from Quim Guterrez and Jose Coronado keep the audience rooting for these two everymen, who also seem to represent figures from Spain’s recent economic downturn. Only a divisive third act threatens to derail what has been an engaging series of set-pieces; however, the film is assured enough to let the audience determine the meaning of the final 20 minutes. All in all, it’s an admirable and terrific effort, definitely worth seeking out.

Watch the trailer for The Last Days:

V/H/S/2 (2013)
If the first film was a tentative but flawed attempt to breathe some life into the well-worn anthology format by combining nostalgic longing and creepy storytelling, this second instalment represents a coming-of-age of the most over-the-top kind: like the unruly brother who bursts in the door at the most importunate moment, V/H/S/2 is loud, brash and brilliant.

V/H/S/2 will be released in UK cinemas by Jade Films on 14 October.

Veering from the sublime to the outrageous, V/H/S/2 is a terrific combination of talent and ambition. Most of the stories are not only technically impressive, but also combine terrifying scares with laugh-out loud moments. Without spoiling any of the storylines, suffice it say that the four segments vary from alien abductions to strange cults, with eye transplants and zombies in between. Standout segments from Gareth Evans and Jason Eisener impress and astonish in equal measure, however, the talents of other directors (especially Adam Wingard’s tender Carpenter tribute) must not be ignored. V/H/S/2 is an engaging, brilliant sequel, which deserves a huge audience to enjoy it loud and big at the cinema – an almost perfect Saturday evening film.

Watch the trailer for V/H/S/2:

Snap (Youssef Delara, Victor Teran, 2013)
Although it seems far too lazy to define a film in terms of its music, there’s no other way of explaining Snap, a psychological thriller deeply settled within a dubstep rhythm.

At first glance, the story is familiar: Jim Whitman is a shy musician who spends most of his time alone at home. When he finds himself drawn to Wendy, a social worker, and Kevin (played by the brilliant Scott Bakula), it seems that he might be able to step outside his comfort zone for the first time. However, Jim’s inner demons are not willing to let go without a fight, and the scene is set for a distraught showdown.

None of the elements are new, but it’s what the film does with them that surprises. Snap treats the audience as equals, and rather than relying on unnecessary twists to make the narrative seem interesting, it focuses instead on the characters, slowly painting portraits of lonely, isolated and damaged people thrown around by the waves of life. Jake Hoffman excels as Jim Whitman, at once charming and yet sinister, while his battle with his own psyche might be one of the better portrayals on the screen for a long while. The sound design also deserves a mention, with the loud and disruptive soundtrack affecting the very nature of the film, with the abrupt jumps and the sudden cuts adding to the overall atmosphere. This is a very assured effort from two young directors and is well worth a watch.

Watch the trailer for Snap:

Evrim Ersoy

Film4 FrightFest 2013 – Part 1

We Are What We Are
We Are What We Are

Film4 FrightFest

22-26 August 2013

London, UK

FrightFest website

It was a welcome surprise to see so much diversity in the programme of this year’s Film4 FrightFest, which ranged from fun thrill ride You’re Next to sweet teen fantasy Odd Thomas, deeply affecting, horrific Spanish Civil War tale Painless to bleak serial killer study Dark Tourist, not to mention the great retrospective screenings, including the extraordinary, gut-wrenching tale of outback isolation and savagery Wake in Fright. Not everything was an unmitigated success, but there were enough ideas and oblique takes on horror tropes to keep things fresh and interesting throughout.

Dark Touch (Marina de Van, 2013)
Expectations were high for In My Skin director Marina de Van’s first English-language film. Set in Ireland, Dark Touch centres on Niamh, a troubled young girl who is terrified of the isolated countryside house where she lives with her parents and her baby brother, believing it’s alive and murderous. But even after she leaves the house following a terrible tragedy, she continues to be surrounded by violent manifestations. With clear echoes of Carrie, Dark Touch has moments of greatness, including a chilling inverted family dinner and a startlingly poetic scene of jaw-dropping horror, but its intense, resonant tale is marred by clunky dialogue and an occasionally clumsy script.

Dark Touch will be released on DVD in the UK on 13 October 2014 by Metrodome.

Watch the trailer for Dark Touch:

Big Bad Wolves (Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado, 2013)
Undoubtedly the richest and most accomplished film in the programme, Big Bad Wolves is the second feature by writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, and their follow-up to the excellent Rabies, the very first Israeli horror film, made in 2010. Keshales and Papushado continue their subtle exploration of their country’s mindset through the story of a suspected paedophile and murderer and the men who hunt him. Avoiding any heavy-handed allegories, the film examines a macho culture in which men think they can solve everything through violence; the complex intricacies of guilt and responsibility; and the troublingly easy role reversals between victim and persecutor. Opening with a beautiful, haunting credit sequence set to a gorgeous score, it mixes fairy tale and political subtext, black humour and disturbing subject matter with skill and assurance. An intelligent, thoughtful film that lingers long in the mind.

Big Bad Wolves will be released in UK cinemas on 6 December 2013 by Metrodome.

Watch the trailer for Big Bad Wolves:

Cannon Fodder (Eitan Gafny, 2013)
The third Israeli horror film in existence, although well-meaning, was only worth seeing as a foil to Big Bad Wolves, and as a crude representation of the exact same culture so shrewdly scrutinised in Keshales and Papushado’s film. The idea of a horror movie about an Israeli mission against Hezbollah sounded so promising. Alas, the script was dreary, the dialogue dire, the execution poor, and dumb, gun-toting heroism unquestioningly celebrated.

The Desert (Christopher Behl, 2013)
One of the great discoveries of the festival, this Argentine film was a brilliant demonstration that fresh takes on the zombie movie are possible – although maybe that’s because it is, arguably, not really one of them. After an unexplained catastrophe, Axel, Jonathan and Ana live locked up in an impenetrable house that they have armed and fortified. Completely isolated from the hostile world outside, they entirely rely on one another for physical and emotional survival. But the love that has developed between Jonathan and Ana leads to frustrations and tensions, and when Axel and Jonathan bring back a zombie to the house, their intensely close bond and the possibility of continuing their existence in this no man’s land are dangerously threatened. A wonderful, melancholy study of the poignant human need for sustained love, friendship and intimacy, and their impossibility.

Watch the trailer for The Desert:

The Borderlands (Elliot Goldner, 2013)
Rural Britain was a place of dread and mystery in two UK thrillers, The Borderlands and In Fear. Following two priests and a technology expert (the inimitable Ben Wheatley-favourite Robin Hill, star of Down Terrace), who are sent by the Vatican to an isolated country church to investigate reports of ‘miraculous’ activity, The Borderlands begins in starkly realistic mode before weaving an increasingly disquieting, creepy atmosphere around its characters. The unhinged local priest, the sinister villagers, a sickening incident outside the investigators’ house, an eerie walk through the fields at night, the supernatural manifestations, and the descent into the ancient church’s subterranean vaults, all unnervingly racked up the tension, sustained in no small part by a terrific sound design, before culminating in a startling, inventive, horrific ending.

In Fear will be released in UK cinemas on 15 November 2013 by Studiocanal.

In Fear (Jeremy Lovering, 2013)
Although it also effectively drew on moody British landscapes, In Fear was not as successful overall as its compatriot. On their way to a music festival, young couple Lucy and Tom plan to spend a romantic night at a countryside hotel. But misleading signs pointing in contradictory directions lead them in circles, and as night falls they seem unable to find their way back to the main road. Lost in an infernal maze in pitch-black darkness, they begin to believe that there is someone out there threatening them. Unbalanced by frustration, fear and paranoia, Tom and Lucy are pushed to their limits by the taunts of their invisible tormentor, and what they believe is their fight for survival. The two leads’ intense, raw performances, as well as Roly Porter and Daniel Pemberton‘s excellent soundtrack, contribute much to the atmosphere of terror. The cruel games theme, the chilly manipulation of the characters’ emotions that leads them to extreme behaviour, and the surreal set-up are all great, but the film feels too slight to sustain these, and requires a fair amount of the audience’s good will in order to work. Ultimately, the film is let down by an unsatisfactory ending that feels like a cop-out.

Watch the trailer for In Fear:

Haunter (Vincenzo Natali, 2013)
Young girls forced to face difficult situations appeared in three of this year’s films, starting with ghost story Haunter, the latest offering from Cube and Splice director Vincenzo Natali. Teenager Lisa is stuck in a temporal loop, forced to relive the same day over and over again with her family, her boredom compounded by the fact that her parents and little brother are blissfully unaware of their situation. Soon she discovers that she is not the only one caught in this plight. The idea is interesting and the plot nicely convoluted, but the film remains oddly uninvolving, possibly because its angle on the ghost story is not new.

We Are What We Are (Jim Mickle, 2013)
It was a pleasant surprise to find that the American remake of Jorge Michel Grau’s 2010 We Are What We Are is very different from the Mexican original, to the extent that it is less a remake than an entirely new film based on the same premise. Grau’s film was gritty and realistic, with a few staggeringly visceral, gruesome scenes. Through the portrait of a family of cannibals, it hinted at the brutality of survival among Mexico’s poorest, and observed the shifting family dynamics after the death of the father, mixing in intimations of incest and awakening homosexual desires.

Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are will be released in UK cinemas on 28 February 2014 by Entertainment One.

Jim Mickle’s version intelligently places the story within the context of American history, making the family’s cannibalism a twisted tradition going back to the hardships of their pioneer ancestors. And where in Grau’s film the men were in charge even though the women were by far the fiercest members of the family, here it is up to the delicate, pretty blond daughters to continue the tradition, under the oppressive control of their tyrannical father. Dreamy and sad, Mickle’s We Are What We Are exerts a spellbinding charm that is unfortunately broken by a jarring, unneeded, excessively grisly end.

Watch the trailer for We Are What We Are:

A couple of the shorts deserve a mention too. Dominic Brunt’s Shell Shocked set up a brilliant, tense face-off between a British and a German soldier in a bombed-out bunker. It is so rich with conflicting human emotions – wavering between fear, paranoia, careful camaraderie and survival instinct – that it doesn’t need the zombies that make a belated appearance.

Screening on the final morning of the festival, Can Evrenol’s BaskIn was an astounding assault on the senses – especially so early in the day. The film follows a team of Turkish policemen into a Satanist den, where macabre horror after macabre horror is uncovered. What makes the film so shockingly effective is the way it constantly disorientates the audience, with (what appeared to be) mutilated victims leading gory attacks and bags of body parts seemingly coming back to life, throwing both the policemen and the viewers into sweaty, panicked terror. Disturbing and nauseating in the best possible way.

Virginie Sélavy

James Smythe is Brundlefly

The Fly
The Fly (1986)

James Smythe was born in 1980 in London, and now lives in West Sussex. After gaining a PhD from Cardiff University, he’s gone on to teach creative writing and work as a writer and narrator on video games. He’s the author of The Machine (Blue Door/Harper Collins, £12.99) and The Explorer (Harper Voyager, £7.99) and his novels have been described as ‘an episode of Star Trek written by J. M. Coetze’. He is also re-reading Stephen King for The Guardian website. Eithne Farry

I am Brundlefly/Seth Brundle from Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986). Bzzzt.

David Cronenberg is a genius. I don’t use that word lightly, either. He’s been responsible for some of the greatest pieces of cinema ever made, and he’s done it all while carrying themes and ideas from film to film, always moving forward while constantly nodding backwards. The Fly is maybe my favourite of his (fighting it out with Dead Ringers). It’s based on a story of the same name by George Langelaan, and it’s… Bzzzzt.

Sorry. It’s one of those great sci-fi stories where the main character reaches too far, hubristically heading too deeply into a thing that they don’t understand, and the repercussions are enormous. In The Fly, that character is Dr. Seth Brundle. He’s got a teleportation device that he’s invented, meant to transfer the molecules of something from one portal to another.

There’s a rush of invention for him: as soon as it works on inanimate objects, he wants more. He tries animals, and he loses track of his own safety measures. And, all the while, he’s entering a relationship with Veronica, a journalist. He gets distracted, and drunk, and then… Bzzzzzzt.

Then he decides to teleport himself across the room, despite not knowing if it’ll be safe. A fly gets caught in the device with him, and he starts to change. He becomes Brundlefly. And so, welcome to me as a writer. I get caught up. I find things that are shiny and I try to explore those, and I probably dive in before I’m ready. (Some writers are methodical and take their time. Not me. Blast out a first draft, then worry about making it work. I’m eager, probably over-eager. I write too much, and I throw away and start again.) Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzt.

I’m pretty sure that a fly got trapped inside my keyboard at some point, and he’s what’s helping me write now. Typing words when I’m not looking. I’m not changing physically, maybe – grey hair? Do flies have grey hair? – but still. Sometimes I feel like I know what I’m doing when I write something. But sometimes? Sometimes I’m clinging to the walls, and I do not feel like myself at all.

More information on James Smythe can be found here.

Sensing through Sound: Sinoia Caves’ score for Beyond the Black Rainbow

Beyond the Black Rainbow1
Beyond the Black Rainbow

Format: Blu-ray (Region A/1) + DVD

Release date: 11 September 2012

Distributor: Magnolia

Director: Panos Cosmatos

Writer: Panos Cosmatos

Cast: Eva Bourne, Michael Rogers, Scott Hylands

Canada 2010

110 mins

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) is director Panos Cosmatos’s first feature: a psychedelic, sci-fi reverse vision of the future set in 1983 in the sinister Arboria complex, where inmates/customers are promised ‘a better happier you’. The film plays out as a dystopian set of power struggles between New-Age neuropsychologist Mercurio Arboria (Scott Hylands), his Frankenstein’s monster: Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers) and mute daughter Elena (Eva Bourne). Cosmatos says he wanted to create a ‘poisoned nostalgia’ that revelled in all the pleasure of a ‘Reagan-era fever dream inspired by hazy childhood memories of midnight movies and Saturday morning cartoons’. The film is an undeniable example of what music critic Simon Reynolds calls ‘retromania’, where producers of popular culture seem to have stopped in their tracks at 2000, and now make work that frantically cites and recycles music and films made between the 1960s and the 1990s. Beyond the Black Rainbow is seamless in its aesthetic rendition of a film produced in the 1980s.

A familiar cult film trope used by Cosmatos is an investment in sparse dialogue, where symbolic slack is taken up by set, art direction, sound design and score – think of any of Dario Argento’s work, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and AndreiTarkovsky’s Solaris (1972), just to scratch the surface. Here, I’d suggest, lies cult cinema’s ties with the language of experimental and poetic filmmaking. The Black Rainbow script would seem unassuming on the page, such are the restrained, polite exchanges between the characters. Yet, the sound and sets expose these as patter floating on the surface of a brooding and repressed animosity felt by the characters. As such, in Black Rainbow, the audience is invited to sense through sound, a form of sonar navigation.

Black Rainbow is a fan’s film and this is reflected in, to quote Reynolds, the ‘new old’ score. Composer Jeremy Schmidt, alias Sinoia Caves, uses original 1980s synths, such as the infamous Mellotron, used heavily in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a mesmerising instrument that allows the musician to use a keyboard to play sound samples recorded onto magnetic tape, with choruses, strings and flutes being among the most classic examples used to great effect by Brian Eno and Goblin keyboard player and horror film composer Claudio Simonetti. Schmidt admits to ‘setting’ his music in the period Cosmatos wanted to recreate, and his score is remindful of a spectrum of sources, from New Age electronica styles to Tangerine Dream’s demonic, bassy film soundtracks for Sorcerer (1977) and The Keep (1983), for example. Then it would be churlish not to mention the huge creative homage to John Carpenter’s malevolent minimal synths, as well as some of Wendy Carlos’s psychotic synth-string pieces for The Shining – Carlos being the under-credited or cited synth genius who also produced music for Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange and the original Tron. Notably, her ‘Clockwork (Bloody Elevators)’, used for The Shining’s 1980 trailer, was described in her own words: ‘The sounds are Rachel’s (Elkind) versatile vocals with percussive and brassy synthesizer lines, all quite melodramatic.’ I’m not sure why Schmidt’s extraordinary soundtrack for Black Rainbow has not been released yet, but it should be.

Beyond the Black Rainbow

A theme of submersion extends throughout the film. In a flashback to 1966, Barry Nyle is reborn after sinking beneath black, primordial goo in an impressive psychedelic scene where Yves Klein meets Altered States. After this baptism he begins to transform, and takes medication to sublimate his symptoms. Mecurio Arboria retreats from reality and numbs the pain of the past and the future with narcotics. Elena’s psi/chotic abilities are subdued by Nyle’s manipulation of an unnamed, psychic power source: a glowing pyramid situated in the geometric psychological boiler room for the Arboria institute. All the characters are repressing something. So, sound is used to give insight into what is left unsaid and kept hidden. The pyramid energy is given a sensorium: a low frequency, migraine pulsing, oscillating synth. This sonic ident exists in both the symbolic reality of the film – in that it merges with the musical score and the ‘story’ of the film, and it appears to be a real sound when we see Nyle turning the control dial to vary the strength of these ‘energy sculpting’ emissions. It’s this permeability between diegetic and non-diegetic sound in the film, and a well-crafted score, which enable a symbolic reading of the sounds as the unspoken inner life of the alien/ated selves of the characters.

The most poignant example of this, I think, is ‘Solace’ (as it is unofficially listed on YouTube), the stunning piece of music dubbed over some of the scenes featuring Elena. Here, choral layers, detuned reverberating synths and chords, which mainline melancholia, have their own charge – beyond the weight of references to Jean Michel Jarre, Harold Budd and Brian Eno. Notably, the theme of submersion creeps in on this track with a repeated note, remindful of the sonar ‘ping’ used for underwater sensing and measuring. With this sound, Schmidt samples an ubiquitous motif in sci-fi sound design and also suggests searching the void. The track as a whole echoes Elena’s sense of sadness for her familial loss and for her own deprivation, speaking for her while remaining ultimately unfathomable.

Nicola Woodham

Watch the trailer:

The Films of Atom Egoyan

The Adjuster
The Adjuster

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: Summer 2013

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Atom Egoyan

For more information on all films by Atom Egoyan released on Blu-ray + DVD in the UK visit the Artifical Eye website

One of contemporary cinema’s most distinctive auteur figures, Atom Egoyan’s work blends detachment and compassion to explore identity and alienation, familial and personal dysfunction, mildly intimidating bureaucratic figures and the wider spectrum of sexuality and sexual peccadilloes.

Born to Armenian refugees in Cairo but relocated at an early age to Victoria, British Columbia, Egoyan initially grew up consciously rejecting his own ethnicity in favour of assimilation into his adopted culture. It was this experience that would later come to exert a profound influence over his work and thinking. Feted at international film festivals, Egoyan remained very much a voice of the underground until The Sweet Hereafter (1997), an adaptation of the novel by Russell Banks that earned him two Academy Award nominations. Wider recognition followed but the director continued to plough his own independent furrow, balancing higher profile assignments including Where the Truth Lies (2005), starring Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon, with uniquely personal works such as Ararat (2002), an explicit examination of his Armenian ancestry, and the controversial Adoration (2008).

Egoyan, who has more recently come to explore other disciplines, including opera and installation pieces, has also completed video diary-type exercises with the relatively little seen Citadel (2003), a thematic and aesthetic companion piece to the earlier Calendar (1993), in which the director charts his wife’s emotional return to Lebanon. As one would expect with Egoyan, in the film nothing is what it seems.

Citadel is the sole film to have escaped Artificial Eye’s extensive reissuing of Egoyan’s entire catalogue, which runs from his debut feature Next of Kin (1984) up to and including The Sweet Hereafter. Calendar and the brilliantly unsettling The Adjuster (1991), in which emotions and relationships are totted up by an insurance adjuster and ascribed their worth, enjoyed brief theatrical outings, but save for the most ardent Egoyan admirer many of these films have remained written about but rarely seen in the UK. As a collection of work, what is most readily apparent is how they all interrelate. A natural technical progression aside, the films form a kind of esoteric jigsaw puzzle, in which a whole picture only clearly forms once all of the pieces have been assembled and locked together. This sense of connectivity is further enhanced by the recurrence of a regular repertory group of actors including Arsinée Khanjian, Don McKellar, David Hemblen, Maury Chaykin and Elias Koteas. Moreover, Egoyan has also formed tight-knit technical collaborations with editor Susan Shipton, cinematographer Paul Sarossy and composer Mychael Danna, all of whom feature on the director’s most recent feature, The Devil’s Knot (2013).

As well as frequently dealing with estrangement and isolation, and characters who are to some degree straining to recapture something that has been lost (a perished child, a relationship, a sense of innocence), Egoyan’s work is also marked, both visually and thematically, by a consistent exploration of the manner in which personal experience is mediated and manipulated by digital or video technology. In Family Viewing (1987), a son discovers that his father is taping over old family videos with new footage of him fucking. ‘He likes to record,’ comments another Egoyan regular, Gabrielle Rose. ‘And erase,’ responds the emotionally vulnerable son. ‘Mostly he likes to erase’.

I’ve known Egoyan since I first interviewed him for a film I was making about him and have been fortunate enough to maintain contact with him. I have written, and attempted to write, about the director’s formative features many times and it has long been my ambition to make his early features available in the UK. Now that they are, I thought it would be more interesting to have Egoyan’s own perspective and so I asked him to give his own reflection on these early works and what they mean to him. Below is his response.

“I never went to film school. My first attempt at making a film, a short called Howard in Particular (1979), was made when a campus drama society rejected a short play I had written. I was studying International Relations at the time, with vague hopes of becoming a diplomat. The moment my play was rejected, I made the very diplomatic move of finding a practical alternative. I went across the hall to the film club and found some other students who helped transform this short play into a movie.

From the moment I started making this short, I became aware that the film camera – in this case a spring-wound Bolex – could transform itself into an absent character watching the drama. The eyes of the camera became the eyes of an unseen presence observing the people and events it was recording. While this now seems like a rather obvious phenomenon, it struck me at the time as a revelation. It was like discovering electricity, or that the world wasn’t flat. I felt that I had created an entirely new artistic language. Again, I hadn’t gone to film school. There was no one there to tell me that I wasn’t inventing the wheel.

When I now reflect on this time in my late teens and early 20s, I’m thankful for this cinephilic ignorance. Believing that I was the first person to explore this uncharted territory gave me the motivation to carry on. If I was the first person to think of the camera as a character, then I had a duty to go further, to make this character of the camera go deep into my own experiences as an immigrant negotiating a new culture, and finding the route towards assimilation.

In this way, my first feature Next of Kin came into being. The first part of the film finds the camera on tripods and tracks, coolly recording the domestic events of its protagonist Peter Foster. We see Peter at home, in an airport, and – most significantly – at a clinic for family therapy. His therapy sessions with his parents are being recorded, with the idea that individual members of the family can watch these tapes later to discern and analyse their behaviour. One day, Peter is accidently given the tape of another family, and his life is transformed as he watches the therapist work with this troubled immigrant family.

At one point, the therapist suggests that Peter pretend that he is this family’s missing son. As he begins this impersonation, the video camera recording this session magically lifts off of its tripod and becomes handheld. I wanted the effect of seeing that the actual spirit of the missing son was suddenly released, and from there on everything in the film would become handheld as Peter – inspired by the therapist – finds a way of insinuating himself into this immigrant family.

As Peter records his experiences in a diary, I became aware of another important element in my early fascination with film. My characters were living in a time when they had the ability to record their feelings and – with ever-greater facility – share these feelings and transmit them to others. This obsession with technology and media as a way of both enhancing and perhaps trivialising our engagement with others (and with ourselves) became the subject of my next feature, Family Viewing and was further explored in Speaking Parts (1989).

Both of these films were obsessed with a culture of recording. While 8mm home movies had been around for decades, the advent of videotape made it possible to film domestic events cheaply. As a filmmaker, I was fascinated by the way the characters in the films could be faced with the same issues I was exploring as a filmmaker: concepts around recording and projecting behaviour. While these early features all explored different themes (family and identity, romantic love, the transmission of culture), they stimulate a common feeling in the viewer. In each of these films, one remains very aware of the act of watching a film. While the behaviour of the characters is at times ‘naturalistic’, there is a sense that everyone in these films is somehow aware that they are being watched.

While this gives these early features a deliberate sense of self-consciousness, it also affords a mordant sense of pleasure in recognising our own role as observers. The ‘family viewing’ is that private moment when relatives can spend final moments with a deceased beloved in a funeral home. At the same time, ‘family viewing’ is a label that discerns a film can be watched by all. This unexpected alchemy between intimacy and display is at the core of these particular works.”

Atom Egoyan’s interview first appeared in Curzon Magazine. Jason Wood is the director of programming at Curzon Cinemas and is involved in film acquisition for sister company Artificial Eye.

Jason Wood

The Great Beauty: Interview with Paolo Sorrentino

La grande bellezza1
The Great Beauty

Format: Cinema

Release date: 6 September 2013

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Writers: Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello

Cast: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli

Original title: La grande bellezza

Italy, France 2013

142 mins

Certain parallels aside (set in Rome, the passive journalist protagonist, the lavish life-style), The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza) is no simple remake of Fellini’s La dolce vita, although it might ask the same big existential question about the meaning of life in a city that, as it appears in Paolo Sorrentino’s film more than 50 years later, is as dazzling and captivating as ever.

An ageing art journalist, one-off bestselling author and tireless gigolo, Jep Gambardella (played by Sorrentino’s favourite and long-term collaborator Toni Servillo) knows many a secret and the entire high society in Rome, but can’t seem to make sense of his own extravagant life. At his 65th birthday party, his façade of irony and ignorance slowly begins to crumble as he bemoans the lack of ‘true’ beauty in his world of excess, luxury, endless spiel and easy women, and blatantly shares his disgust with his so-called friends and enemies, as much as with himself.

In keeping with the often excessive, ironic visual style Sorrentino introduced in his earlier films, such as Il Divo and The Consequences of Love, The Great Beauty makes for somewhat exhausting viewing, and might seem to some superfluous from the start and preposterous in the execution. But it’s also a beautiful film about loss, death and sacrifice, and about those special, unforgettable moments you share with others that make life worth living.

Pamela Jahn talked to Paolo Sorrentino at the 67th Cannes Film Festival in May 2013, where The Great Beauty premiered in competition.

Pamela Jahn: The Great Beauty has a very dreamy feel to it, but was is meant to be more a nightmare or a day dream?

Paolo Sorrentino: Luckily, or maybe unluckily, it’s reality. It’s a world which is reinvented and revisited through the tools that we have at our disposal but, still, it’s reality.

Much like your main protagonist Jep, you seem to be going through a journey yourself, trying to find out what beauty is.

Undoubtedly, this is true for my work. And I share quite a few things with Jep, especially a sort of disenchanted way of looking at life and searching for emotions. I think that the search for beauty and emotions triggers my desire to make movies, and to express myself in an artistic way.

You talked about reality. Sometimes it feels like these parties Jep strolls in and out of are full of human zombies. To what extent did you want to make a statement about a certain social class and the freedom money gives you to change the way you look?

I don’t seem to be able find any beauty in the transformation of bodies through surgery or Botox, but I didn’t want to make a statement or anything like that. It’s so easy to do nowadays because there is such an abuse of techniques in cosmetic surgery. Nonetheless, I’d like to understand this phenomenon, because behind it there is a lot of pain and sadness, the inability to accept your body and the flowing of time.

You have a long and interesting working relationship with Toni Servillo. Are you worried that one day you will call him to say that the next script is ready and he says ‘no, thanks’?

It’s actually happened once already. I offered him a script and he said no, and that script never turned into a film. I pay great attention to the reaction of actors and producers, and if they say no to something, that might be a warning sign that there is something fundamentally wrong with the script.

What do you see in Servillo that you don’t get from other actors?

He is, of course, a very good and talented actor, and able to give a surprising performance, but this is true also for many other actors. We are tied by a bond of friendship, so there is always the feeling of working with your family when we make a movie together. This is very important for me in terms of feeling supported when embarking on a project.

Another question that arises from your film is whether too much beauty can be paralysing?

Yes, definitely. I think when you are surrounded by too much beauty, as it can happen to you in Rome, all of a sudden you can find yourself feeling lost and unable to find words to express what you see and what you feel.

How do you overcome this fear?

Probably one option is the way Jep deals with it. He thinks that beauty can also be found in the worst things, beneath the surface, in anything that appears ugly from the outside. And because you are not immediately blinded by it, you might be able to describe it.

The city is a character in itself in your film. What kind of Rome did you want to portray and how much did you want to do distance yourself, or create an homage to, Fellini’s films, like La dolce vita and Roma?

In Fellini’s films there was a feeling of easiness and it was a sort of ‘golden age’. There was a void in those films too, but it was then based on excitement and enthusiasm, and the positive energy of looking to the future. Today, you have a void as a lack of that positive energy and a lack of meaning.

Do you think about art in a similar way?

No, I think artistic expression can always find a way in. The difference today lies in our ability to trace these artistic expressions and to find access to them, which is not always easy. Personally, I think that, despite any conceptual or intellectual artistic expression that I might be unable to appreciate, there are still art forms to be found that are connected to feelings and emotions, which are the art forms that I like. In my films, sometimes I use irony when I don’t agree with something, because irony is a great tool to criticise. And Jep does the same, but when he goes to the photo exhibition of the man who takes pictures of his own life every day, he is no longer ironic, because he is touched by what he sees and the feelings that these photographs evoke in him.

Your films are characterised by a very specific style of cinematography. Is it difficult for you to create this kind of look?

It would probably be much easier and more profitable to pay less attention to the visual aspect of the films, and I am often told that I am too excessive in what I do, but that’s the way I like it.

The film is called The Great Beauty but it’s also about death. Are these two things connected for you?

I wish I could find the connection, but so far, I’ve been unable to do so. I would like to find it, because it would be a solution and a great relief for some of the anxieties that we all feel towards death.

Most people also suffer from a feeling of anxiety about getting older, including Jep. How about yourself?

Absolutely. I’ve been afraid of getting old since I was 20, or even before then. When I was little – I must have been 6 or 7 years old – I asked my mother, ‘When do you die?’ She said, ‘When you are 100 years old’, and I started to cry because I thought there was so little time in between.

Is that anxiety something that pushes you to produce more films the older you get? Do you feel that pressure now more than perhaps ten years ago?

No, I don’t so much feel it with regards to my work. I remember something that a filmmaker, Antonio Capuano, once told me, and I thought it was very true. He said, ‘In cinema, or filmmaking, there are only four or five things that can be told’, and I deeply believe in this, so I am only making films about the things that I think I want to tell.

What are these five things for you?

I probably only have a couple to be honest. Five things might apply more to Fellini and Kurosawa and what they have been able to say with their films, not me, really.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Watch the trailer for The Great Beauty: