Seen at Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, Montreal (Canada) Format: Cinema Release date: 27 September 2017 (France) Distributor: Océan Films Distribution Director: Géla Babluani Writers: Géla Babluani Cast: George Babluani, Vincent Rottiers, Charlotte Van Bervesseles, Benoît Magimel
On the release of his tense new thriller, the French-Georgian director best known for 13 (Tzameti) talks about unlikely bungled burglaries, fragile criminals and the prisons we build for ourselves.
Over 10 years ago, French-Georgian director Géla Babluani made a memorable directorial debut with 13 (Tzameti), a stylised black and white tale of greed, desperation and dangerous games. He is back with a taut crime thriller that recombines the main ingredients of his debut, namely money and suicide, into a mature, tense study of human nature punctuated by flashes of absurdist dark humour. Set in the grim port city of Le Havre, the story revolves around three friends who break into a politician’s mansion to steal a suitcase full of money. But from the moment they enter the house, things go wildly off plan. As the characters are faced with a situation they could not have foreseen, each decision they make leads them inexorably down an increasingly perilous path.
Format: Cinema Director: Ryan Prows Writers: Ryan Prows, Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, Maxwell Michael Towson Cast: Nicki Micheaux, Ricardo Adam Zarate, Jon Oswald, Mark Burnham, Santana Dempsey
A highlight at this year’s Fantasia Festival, this fun, warm and brutal chronicle of LA’s underbelly comes to Horror Channel FrightFest on 28 August 2017.
The 2017 edition of the Fantasia Festival was rich in beautifully crafted, unusual gems, and Lowlife ranked high among them, deservedly drawing a warmly enthusiastic response from the Montreal crowd. Category-defying, genre-mixing and cliché-blasting, its intricate narrative follows the interconnected stories of a luchador, a pregnant drug addict, a motel owner with a past, an ex-con with an unfortunate facial tattoo, and a chicken shack organ-trafficker in the midst of LA. Fresh, funny, violent, sordid, unsentimental and heart-breaking, it tells about the brutality of life on the margins and redefines heroism with a light touch and a lot of soul.
Cast: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier
Lucile Hadžihalilovic explains how she created her oneiric exploration of birth and matter in an elusive, disquieting female world.
Evolution, Lucile Hadžihalilovic’s masterful follow-up to her 2004 debut Innocence revolves around a little boy living on an island peopled only by women and other young boys. After a disturbing discovery while swimming in the sea, the boy becomes suspicious of the women’s behaviour. He soon falls mysteriously ill and is sent to the hospital, where he is subjected to a no less mysterious treatment.
Virginie Sélavy met Lucile Hadžihalilovic at the London Film Festival in October 2015 where the director explained how she created her oneiric exploration of birth and matter in an elusive, disquieting female world.
Virginie Sélavy: You made Innocence 10 years ago. Why did it take you so long to make another film?
Lucile Hadžihalilovic: What took so long was the financing of the film. It wasn’t quick to write, and it went through many drafts, but that wasn’t the reason. It was really difficult for people to understand the project on paper. I thought it’d be easier, because unlike Innocence, Evolution is more narrative and more of a genre film. But even though it is connected to horror, science fiction and the fantastique, it’s not completely a genre film, it’s also an auteur film. People who finance auteur films in France are not used to dealing with the fantastique, it’s a little too close to exploitation and not serious enough for them maybe. The other problem, even if no one said it explicitly but it seems obvious to me, is the fact that it is about children who are subjected to unpleasant things, and on paper people could imagine things that were even more terrible than what I intended to show.
To straddle art and genre film is very difficult for filmmakers, and maybe especially for French filmmakers. A clear example of that was Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day.
That’s true, and when she made Trouble Every Day she had already made a number of films, she was a name. The theatrical release of Innocence was more successful in countries like Britain and the USA than it was in France. It wasn’t a big release but we got press and people understood the film. I think there is a cultural problem with what is imaginary, metaphorical, people don’t get it in France. I think that people here understand it better because there’s a literature and a cinema that are closer to it, and they don’t look down on the fantastique so much, as though it were only for children or teenagers.
What’s your relationship to horror?
I saw a lot of horror films when I was 20. When I started going to the cinema on my own around the age of 13, it was a time when there were a lot of Italian horror films coming out, Argento, etc. It was fascinating because at the same time they were very seductive, very beautiful, and at the same time rather horrible, and I didn’t understand that combination or the adult world they depicted very well. Until I was about 25 I watched a lot of those films and then I stopped. Now I’m not focused on horror film, but it was important to me at a certain age, and I think it’s something that remains with you. It seems natural to me to watch horror on the screen even though I’m easily scared in real life. It’s like a catharsis and it evokes a lot of things for me.
Despite the fact that nearly 10 years elapsed between the two projects, Innocence and Evolution are very close in terms of theme and atmosphere.
I’d started working on Evolution before Innocence but I wasn’t aware that they were so close. Obviously Evolution was about children again but I wanted to get away from Innocence in the sense that I wanted to make something more narrative, more within genre, whereas in Innocence that was more in the background, it was more abstract. But I didn’t think, ‘right now I’m going to make a film with boys’, rather I thought that for this story it wasn’t interesting if it was a little girl.
Yes, even though the story seems to be about a little boy, the film seems to really be about the feminine again, but from a different angle compared to Innocence.
Yes, it’s a feminine world once more, seen from a more disquieting, more threatening angle. But it’s also about a boy who is not separated from his mother, who is still in his mother’s belly and cannot come out, and what it would be like to give birth. It’s the nightmare of maternity or pregnancy, which is a girl’s anxiety. The relationship to society was also stronger in Innocence, the fact that it’s set in a school means that it’s about a certain form of education with specific aims. Evolution is a more intimate story of this child’s fears, rather than a reflection about society. In this sense, it is not a science fiction film and that’s why I wasn’t interested in saying who these women are exactly, and what the hospital is. It’s more the internal theatre of this child.
Evolution also features much more horrific imagery than Innocence, and the most shocking of all is the documentary footage on a Cesarean birth that you include.
Yes, I liked the idea of horror coming from reality, and that’s because a Cesarean is not a natural birth, it’s surgery, so it’s another abnormal way of depicting birth, another fear of it. Before making the film we had to look for those images and I had seen some videos, and they are really difficult to watch. I liked the idea that there would be some gore at some point in the story, you have to have some gory elements.
Evolution evokes a number of literary, cinematographic and mythical figures, Invasion of the Body Snatchers or the siren for instance. Did you deliberately want to evoke those figures?
Yes, absolutely. I think that we have this whole shared mythology, classical mythology but also science fiction literature, more recent things like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but also Philip K. Dick. Theodore Sturgeon, H.P. Lovecraft. Those references are now so much part of culture that I thought I had to be very careful not to say too much because it seemed so obvious. It’s better to guess.
Your film very much functions like a myth, it is built from very simple elements that recur throughout, the village, the red colour, the starfish.
I like to start with something very real, and for the mystery or the strangeness to come from very simple, familiar things. The image of a child playing with a starfish on a beach is incredibly familiar but if you look closely at the starfish you think, ‘what is this monster?’
You seem fascinated by organic matter, the starfish, the strange creature that the children bury, or the body of the women for instance.
The intention with the film was to explore the organic, because it’s this archaic thing that is part of us but at the same time is really odd. It can be disquieting as well as attractive. So we tried to have that throughout the film, to fabricate the film with it. It was upsetting to be forced to shoot on digital rather than celluloid, I thought it was such a shame not to be able to have the material of film. But we tried to work differently to create texture.
The village where you filmed looks dilapidated, the paint on the walls is chipped, everything looks a little decrepit.
It was to give it a reality, a patina. Locations were a key issue, including the interiors. It was out of the question to shoot in a clean setting, in a studio, regardless of what it would have cost, precisely to render the materiality of the walls. As the film is a little abstract, it had to have a very concrete aspect to counterbalance that, and for me that was the setting. That village was great because there’s the humidity from the sea, the saltpetre. It was used as a holiday place and people didn’t live there all year round so it wasn’t all freshly painted. We even added to the decrepitude, to avoid smooth white surfaces and have a sense of reality, of materiality, the sense of time that had passed.
Where did you shoot the film?
We shot in Lanzarote, and the hospital was near Barcelona, it’s an abandoned hospital that has been often used in Spanish horror cinema. It’s very big, and you have the structure, the operating theatres, the tiling, all of that is there, in a state of more or less disrepair, so we had something real to start from, but we could also paint things how we wanted.
Was it important for you to use those two places specifically?
Yes, I thought the most important thing was to find the locations. Early on in the project we found the village in the Canaries. I thought, ‘that’s incredible, it exists’, and it really helped me to think that the film was possible, that we wouldn’t have to create everything from scratch, that there was a very strong place that carried a lot of emotions and mythology. It was a little more difficult with the hospital because some of the ones we saw were too derelict, others were too new, and we had to find something in between.
How did you approach the sound?
I would have liked the sound editing to be done together with the image editing but because the film was a co-production, the sound was done in Spain and the image in France, so it ended up being more separated than I would have liked. We knew from the start that we’d have to create a lot of sounds because there wasn’t much dialogue. I wanted the sound to reflect the feelings of the child, and not to be realistic, but rather emotional, internal and oneiric. We worked in this way using natural sounds from the location such as the wind and the noise from the sea – which we had to rework because it’s difficult to record the sea, you have to recreate the waves one by one.
In the mixing I wanted to create something very specific and not use effects like the ones you have in horror films, to create tension using the sound but not through the usual means. I didn’t think I’d use so much music – there isn’t that much, but it’s quite a lot for me – but as we didn’t have sound when we were editing the editor asked for music, and it led me to use more than I had intended. I wanted something with an instrument that wouldn’t be recognizable, something a little strange. I heard pieces by Messiaen that used the Ondes Martenot and I thought that was exactly what was needed. I couldn’t get the Messiaen piece unfortunately but we were able to do something with the Ondes Martenot on some of the recurring tracks. They bring a certain melancholy, almost a human voice, and it instantly creates a particular atmosphere.
You’ve worked a lot on the sounds, textures and colours of the film, and like Innocence, Evolution is an intense sensory experience. Is that how you view cinema, as an immersive, sensory experience?
Absolutely, and I’d say that’s why you have to see the film in a cinema, it’s like dreaming awake, with other people, in the dark. That’s also why it was so difficult to explain the script even though we tried to describe it in an expressive manner, because it’s an emotional, even physical, experience, with sound and image, and so you have to go through it to understand it, for something to happen.
When you enter the shabbily glamorous Looking Glass cocktail bar on Hackney Road, there is no way of knowing that behind the huge gold-framed mirror next to the bar hides a door to a secret room. As twenty-odd people wait to be let in, sipping on inventive, albeit pricey cocktails, there is a simmering sense of anticipation. When we are finally invited to step behind the looking glass, each guest is given a cheerful welcome spank on the bum by the vivacious Messy La Freak.
This introduction into the dark screening room with its mismatched sofas and tattered vintage chairs is apt: the atmosphere at La Freak Smut Cinema, a midweek female-friendly porn film night run by two young mothers and self-described ‘sex geeks’, is joyfully naughty, risqué but relaxed. The good-natured audience is composed mostly of couples, a few single men, and pairs or groups of female friends.
Set to music throughout, the programme starts with cute animated shorts by Naked Love, and two classy films by Erika Lust about masturbatory bondage and a sexual encounter dreamed up by an obsessive lover, mingled with La Freak’s own compilation videos. As the evening progresses the material becomes heavier, with, among others, a Japanese gay animé that is typically both sentimental and rude, as well as the BDSM-orientated Discipline. The latter is an accomplished example of La Freak’s style: a striking juxtaposition of artistic, beautiful, enigmatic images and saucy, explicit, provocative material that feels fresh, surprising and arousing.
During the show, Missy La Freak and Messy La Freak keep bouncing around, a glass of wine in their hands, charmingly enthusiastic, open, approachable and willing to engage with their audience. The evening is a success: after the films, the room buzzes with collective exhilaration, and people linger on at the bar to chat animatedly. Missy and Messy beam: their job is done.
A week later, I met the cerebral, artistic-minded Missy and the boisterous, spirited Messy La Freak to talk about porn, art and feminism.
Virginie Sélavy: How did La Freak start?
Messy La Freak: I broke up with my long-time partner and I was experiencing a very high level of sex drive. I always had a fantasy of going into a sex cinema. I had that idea of putting on a fur coat, having a little cigarette outside, having a glass of red wine, watching some porn, not doing very much, and then going home and having a massive session. But that is not what happened at all. I turned up at this place on City Road that I’d looked up on the internet. There was a sign that said ‘Women go for free’… I went downstairs and it was the most revolting film ever, with a quite large lady covering herself in cream. I put myself in the back row and before I’d even counted to five every single man – I was obviously the only woman – in the entire room lunged at me like zombies! I ran out, it was ruined. A few weeks later I met Missy. And two years later we were sitting in her house drinking red wine and we were talking about porn.
Missy La Freak: We discussed the story and we talked about how London doesn’t have a sex cinema that women feel comfortable going to. That was the seed. The seed was that women should be able to go out, enjoy something sexual…
Messy: …in a non-threatening environment.
How did you find your current venue?
Missy: They found us. They contacted us on Twitter.
Messy: Our venue hunting has been a big nightmare.
Missy: You’d think London is very liberated. London is not liberated.
Messy: There’s such a taboo about porn. We’ve had lots of problems. Normal places won’t take us. They have to be slightly edgy or slightly underground.
Missy: Advertising was a problem too. For a year it was a truly underground event because we weren’t really listed. We tried flyering for the first night, but it’s difficult to flyer for a porn night. There have been points where we have considered quitting. We were thinking, is London ready for this?
Who comes to your nights?
Missy: In the beginning it was for women, but it’s open to all now. It’s for all sexualities, genders, backgrounds, ages. It’s for people who want a good time and a friendly atmosphere. The first night we chatted to people to get some feedback, and the group of people who were the most interested in La Freak were women in their 40s and 50s. They were so in touch with their sexuality, so ready for a night like La Freak. That was wonderful.
Messy: Normally about half of the room is heterosexual couples, and the other half is pairs and groups of ladies, a few straggler guys, and sometimes we’ve had straggler girls.
It felt geared towards women more than anything else, for instance Wank was all about female masturbation. And He-Man was great because it wasn’t just about sex, it was also about the beauty of the male body.
Missy: We are trying to have a more artistic view of sex. In the beginning, although we were trying to take it away from the mainstream view of sex, there was a lot of cock count, whereas now there’s more artistic erotica. We feel that it makes the real sex more powerful to have it cut up with more artistic films that tease you, that don’t show you everything. Wank was one of our first films, and it was when we were very much thinking about women. Our thought was, when you hear the word ‘wank’, everyone thinks of men, and men talk very openly about it. We wanted to discuss female wanking and celebrate it.
Messy: The reason why we’ve moved away from classifying ourselves as something not necessarily feminist, but female, geared towards women, is that it’s boxing yourself in. You alienate half of the demographic. We are feminists but, unfortunately for our species, there are a lot of women who are fearful of the word.
Missy: We found that the association with the term has put some people off. It’s unfortunate but we want the night to be open to everyone.
Muff felt like a celebration of pubic hair.
Missy: That was a direct ‘fuck you’ to mainstream porn where the muffs are removed so you can see more vagina.
Messy: A lot of men prefer pubic hair, so I think it is just for that reason – so you can see more.
Missy: It’s such a slippery slope, now you have porn stars having their bits lasered off, because once you can see more, then you need to create the perfect vagina. It’s pretty grim.
One of the films was a Japanese gay animé.
Missy: I love it, that’s the one that turns me on the most. The idea of showing animated stuff was really interesting to me. But I looked at hetero Japanese animé and it’s horrific!
Messy: It’s all rape.
Missy: It’s paedophilic. The men are very old and ugly, the girls are really young and pretty and they’re crying. I tried very hard to find something that wasn’t like that and I stumbled across this film. It’s actually made by women.
Missy: We’ve had some funny reactions to it, some men saying, ‘I will never watch anything like that again’. They’d rather have live action, watching an animated version in some way really flips them out. For the most part people like it.
Messy: The reason why La Freak is quite girl-heavy is because 90% of pornography focuses on the female body. And while as females we can appreciate the beauty of the female body, and it’d be completely absurd to not include it and celebrate it, the show has changed. That animé was the first thing that shifted it and became a celebration of the masculine form. From then we got a better balance.
You clearly spend a lot of time sifting through online porn to find the good stuff.
Missy: This was another reason for La Freak. We would go on the computer, try and watch porn, and what we were finding was quite unpleasant. You have to really look hard for something you’ll enjoy. So the other idea of La Freak was to find the gems, cut out the delving through, and say, we guarantee that it’ll all be good. It may not all be to your exact sexual taste, but it will be at the very least interesting. It won’t be what you see on Redtube.
Why do you think it’s important to watch those films collectively?
Messy: I think porn is one of the last taboos. I like doing slightly risqué things and that’s one of the reasons I enjoy it, because it’s naughty. And it seems even naughtier because it’s put on by women.
Missy: And that’s why there’s music and it’s fast-paced. We want to be laughing, greet everyone, dance, so everybody knows you can relax. You don’t have to feel weird or uncomfortable about being here.
Messy: That’s why we move around the room, it’s not to distract people, it’s to chill them out…
Why is the music so important to you?
Messy: There was a show where we changed the format for one night. We got rid of the music so it was just films and blackness. Just as an experiment to see whether people were coming for the vibe or for the films. And what we found was that without the songs the response was really rigid and British.
Missy: Awkward, serious, no one spoke.
Messy: If you watch soft-core 70s porn there is music.
Missy: I find it much more fun to watch. From the 80s onwards it’s silent, and it’s the same sex noises. He’s grunting like a silver-backed gorilla, she’s moaning, and every film is the same. I think there’s a lot of focus on how women are treated in that kind of porn, but I also think the men are given a very robotic role – it’s like a bizarre machine that keeps doing this motion. I think both parties get a raw deal.
What’s the future of La Freak?
Messy: We’ve had this guy audition for us, I got him round the other night. He’d waxed his moustache and put eyeliner on and he was wearing a corset, a top hat, a silver jockstrap, stockings, suspenders and kitten heels, and he looked really masculine, but really feminine too. It was amazing. So I sat down with a glass of wine, and he started monologuing. It was a very touching piece about sexuality and your inner freak, a poem about his sexual discovery, but it definitely had an edge of murderous hysteria. It wasn’t a joyful piece. It culminated with him pretending to shove a massive cucumber up his bum and then poo it out. His act wasn’t the right tone because La Freak is a celebration of sexuality, a liberation and a happiness, his is much more about how our inner freaks are slaves to homogenised sexuality. It’s interesting but it’s too dark. But we’re now going to join in and curate a show where he’ll be the MC for the evening. I think that will add a level of spectacle and professionalism.
Missy: We feel that having someone who is so confident and looks great would be a wonderful addition. We also want to have erotic artists come and showcase their paintings.
Messy: For the next show we’ve got an artist who does erotic drawings. We have big things planned.
Interview by Virginie Sélavy
La Freak’s next show is at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club on Thursday 7 August 2014, 8.30 – 11.30pm, £10 early bird £12 standard. For more information and events please visit La Freak on Facebook.
Cast: Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Gene Jones
After his slow-burn Satanic chiller The House of the Devil and offbeat romantic ghost story The Innkeepers, Ti West continues on his idiosyncratic path with a faux documentary investigating a religious cult in a far-off land remindful of the Peoples Temple’s Jonestown. Presenting itself as an ‘immersionist’ Vice piece, The Sacrament perfectly captures the mixture of reckless bravery and self-conscious ‘craziness’ that typifies the magazine through the characters of reporter Sam (AJ Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg). When photographer Patrick decides to visit his former junkie sister Caroline in the commune she has joined, they tag along to document the reunion. Although they are met by intimidating armed guards when their helicopter lands on the island, their initial interviews with commune members seem to paint an idyllic picture of life at Eden Parish. But after a bizarre on-stage interview with Father (Gene Jones), the charismatic cult leader, the surface begins to crack, and a far more sinister reality is revealed.
Virginie Sélavy talked to Ti West at the London Film Festival in October 2013 and asked him about making realistic horror, the Jonestown Massacre and the Vice style of journalism.
Virginie Sélavy: With The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, you have developed an oblique approach to the horror genre. You continue with this here, although this time you dispense with supernatural elements altogether. Why were you interested in making a realistic horror film this time?
Ti West: Mostly because this is my sixth feature and all of them have had supernatural elements, so I wanted to do something that was strictly realistic. It’s more horrific than any other movie I’ve made but whether it’s technically a horror movie I don’t know. I just wanted to do something different from the light-hearted romantic comedy ghost story that was The Innkeepers.
Why did you decide to present the film as a Vice faux documentary, as opposed to just a faux documentary?
I thought incorporating a real brand would add to the realism of the movie. When you leave the theatre and you see that brand out in the world it brings you back to the film. I’m hoping that it’s a confrontational movie that people talk about and think about.
Ahead of its UK release, The Sacrament opens in cinemas across Canada via VSC (Video Services Corp) and in the USA via Magnet Releasing on 6 June 2014.
[SPOILER ALERT] When Vice gave you permission to use their logo, did they know exactly what you were going to do? Did they put any conditions to its use?
Yes. In the original script the journalists died, and Vice didn’t want them to die, but I think it was a good idea to change that because it was too bleak anyway. In the original ending, the pilot of the helicopter didn’t get shot. The journalists got in, they made it out, but the pilot said ‘I got to do this for Father’ and crashed the helicopter, and that’s how it ended. But as we started shooting, and as it became less of a horror movie and more of a drama thriller, and because the social relevance started to resonate, because the violence that we’d filmed was very realistic and grim, the movie started to feel very heavy and bleak. And the idea of them escaping, then being killed, was too nihilistic. It wasn’t something that I wanted to say to the world. The tone of the movie was far more emotional and serious to have this cheesy ending, where it was like, and at the last second we got you with one more scare. It wasn’t about scares. It felt that while it was clever it didn’t add to what we were doing. So that, combined with the fact that Vice were saying, don’t kill us in the movie, were the reasons for changing the end.
Why did they not want to be killed in the film?
Just bad vibes. Also, in fairness to them, what they do is some of the most interesting, non-partisan video journalism right now. They go right at the heart of these places and they’re independent, they’re coming from their own Vice thing. They’re very smart, very educated and very prepared for what they do. So to have that ending to some degree would undercut what they do. People have this idea of them being hip, but they’re smarter than this. They don’t just show up in Egypt and pull a microphone. So I think it was a fair thing to do and ultimately it benefits the movie to not have them die. [END OF SPOILER]
When Father blames them for the violence that follows their arrival it’s obviously quite disingenuous, but do you think that the journalists bear some responsibility in what happens?
Yes, absolutely. I don’t think that’s specifically Vice. Part of the reason why I wanted to make a movie where the characters were from journalism is that there are all those blurred lines about the role of the media in those situations. Now, of course, Father is a psychopath, so you can’t really take what he says as fact. However, it’s true that when you look at people who are embedded in situations like Iraq or Egypt, they have this idea that they have to document whatever is happening. When it’s in another country it’s easy to say it’s not my problem. When it’s something that nobody knows about except the people who are there, I don’t know if it’s your problem or not, but no one else is going to do anything. And I think that’s where there’s this blurred line of what your role is. That’s why the characters are journalists, and not just the brother or the friend of the girl who is in the cult.
There is a real sense of tragedy in the film in the way the events unfold and the characters evolve, not just the journalists but the girl and Father too. How important was that sense of tragedy to you?
It was very important to me that the violence in the movie not be fun in the typical midnight horror movie where everybody is clapping. I wanted it to be very tragic and upsetting when the violence happens. And I wanted everyone in the movie to have their own goal that was very genuine. This movie, as are cults in general, Jonestown specifically, shows a very tragic situation, and it’s more complex than people understand. I hope people leave this movie a little shell-shocked, and that when there is horror in the movie you feel it as a realistic thing as opposed to some sort of escapism.
The music seems to follow the same trajectory as the evolution of the Vice journalists: you go from the urban cool of The Knife’s ‘Hearbeats’ as they travel to the island at the beginning, to something much more unobtrusive, sombre and disquieting. What was your approach to the music?
Yes, everything in the movie was supposed to slowly start decaying as it went on. It was my first time working with that composer, Tyler Bates, and it was great. All my movies have been with different composers so with each one I’ve tried something new for the first time. What was hard was that in something that is documentary-style like this, the movie fights the music unless it’s exactly right. We were trying to get the music that you would put in a documentary, and that would be a little sentimental, wearing emotions on its sleeve. But the most complicated, and the most important thing, was that we both felt that when all the horrific stuff starts happening, instead of having scary music we wanted to have tragic music and really bring out the emotional situation, which was a lot harder than it sounds.
The story is very close to what happened with the Peoples Temple in Jonestown.
Yes, I used that as a model because in American history it’s become part of pop culture. People vaguely know about it, but when you find out more, it’s one of the more intriguing and tragic things to have happened in American history in the 20th century. I’ve always been fascinated by it. So I used that as a model because I felt a lot of issues that made people join Peoples Temple in the 60s and 70s are still relevant today. I didn’t want to make something that was based too much on religion like Heaven’s Gate, where people thought they were going to get on an alien spacecraft and go off. That’s too far-fetched and it makes people think ‘cult’ and ‘crazy people’ immediately. What’s interesting about Peoples Temple and Jonestown, and what I tried to bring into this movie, is that they’re just regular people who have been misled and taken advantage of. And I think that’s what makes it all the more horrific and the more frightening.
Is it significant that a lot of the community members are black in the film?
To some degree yes. I wanted it to be a mixed group of people, half and half. This is also because I think that what Father is exploiting is issues with power and race, and people who feel disillusioned. And certainly in Peoples Temple’s Jonestown, the majority of the population was black. So it was keeping in line with that.
Gene Jones is amazing as Father. How did you find him?
I didn’t know who I was going to cast for this role and I was watching an episode of Louis CK’s show where Gene plays a pharmacist in one scene. It’s a very small scene but I thought that was the guy. The first scene we shot was the big interview scene. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We had 200 extras, it’s a 12-page dialogue scene, a massive undertaking. So I told him, let’s just try it, see what happens, then we’ll make a list of everything that goes wrong and we’ll make it right. Pretty much what’s in the movie is what happened on that first take. He came in, the crowd went crazy, he sat down, did a seventeen-minute take and didn’t drop one line. And all the reactions from the crowd – we didn’t tell them to do that, they just did it. It was one of those magical experiences where it all fell into place. It was also amazing to see all the extras react like that because they didn’t know what the movie was about. They were just there for that one scene, they didn’t know the whole story. But while it was great to see them all say ‘yes Father, yes Father’, on the other hand it was also terrifying because they were agreeing with everything he was saying. The idea of the movie was that everything he says should make sense. He’s not actually doing it but what he says sounds amazing. So they’re all responding in the way anyone would to a cult leader who’s promising them these great things. It was one of the most unique and exciting days I’ve ever had making movies.
What he says is mesmerising because you do find yourself agreeing with him despite knowing what he is.
Yes, and that’s one of the big theses of the movie. That’s what I wanted people to take away from the movie: these are not crazy cult people, these are people who were misled by someone who is very manipulative.
[SPOILER ALERT] He is manipulative but you also get the impression that he may believe in what he says.
That’s questionable. He certainly acts like he does. The same thing with Jim Jones in real life and this movie is that they all commit mass suicide by drinking the Kool-Aid except him and it makes you wonder – was he a coward? Did he really believe they were all going to heaven or did he not? To me that’s’ really interesting, this guy who stands there telling them one thing and does another. There are enough elements in the movie to say that he does believe what he’s saying, and enough to say that he doesn’t. Like Jim Jones, he keeps himself separate from his entire congregation and we’ll never know why, it’s something that will always remain ambiguous. Those are the things that make the story very complicated, and ultimately tragic and horrifying.
Original title: L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps
Cast: Klaus Tange, Jean-Michel Vovk, Sylvia Camarda, Sam Louwyck
Belgium, France, Luxembourg 2013
French directing duo Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have developed a style in which they take elements of the giallo and use them to compose intensely sensual cinematic experiences. They made their feature debut with Amer in 2009, a near-experimental exploration of a woman’s troubled psyche set in the south of France. Their follow-up, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, moves north to Brussels and into the obsessive mind of a man looking for his missing wife.
Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani talked to Virginie Sélavy at the London Film Festival in October 2013 and told her about using the language of giallo to give audiences a filmic orgasm.
Virginie Sélavy: How do you see the relationship of your films to giallo? Are they homage, distillation, artistic commentary?
Bruno Forzani: Definitely not homage. It’s more that we reinterpret and re-use the giallo language to tell our story.
Hélène Cattet: We use it as a tool, especially because there are strong iconographic elements whose meaning we can subvert, for instance, the figure of the assassin, which is a very striking, shocking figure. We change its meaning so it takes on a personal significance in our story.
You do the same thing with sound: you’ve used extracts from giallo films for your score. It must be difficult to re-use music that was originally composed for something specific in other films. How did you choose the tracks?
BF: Initially most of them were in the script.
HC: They inspired us as we were writing the script.
You mean that as you were writing the script you were thinking about those pieces of music?
BF: Yes, exactly. We want to use music 100% and give it all of its original power, not just compile a jukebox. So we have to find the right balance in relation to a modern film. A couple of the pieces didn’t work because they made the scenes too kitsch. One was the music for the inspector’s story at the beginning, and the other was for the opening credits. As the scene is cut all the time, it interrupted the rise of the melody and it ruined it.
Does the story inspire the music or is it the other way around?
HC: The music inspires the way a sequence develops. It gives us a rhythm, and ideas too. We listen to music as we write, and all of a sudden there’s one track that strikes us, so we play it again and again, and it inspires the rhythm.
BF: And images too.
What is the most remarkable music for you in the film?
BF: ‘Maddalena’. That’s the one when Dan goes inside the walls. It comes from the film Maddalena by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, about a priest who falls in love with a woman, and is lost between faith and passion and doesn’t know which to choose. I was very keen to have this music in the film because it’s representative of a period in Ennio Morricone’s career, and it works with the film’s themes, in relation to fantasy – we hear all these women sighing. There’s also the use of the organ that you find in the music he wrote for Westerns. For me it was the most important music. It was the hardest to get but we managed it in the end.
HC: For me it was the music from the opening credits that we didn’t keep! It was the very first piece we thought of for the film and it had inspired the first drafts. It was from Seven Blood-Stained Orchids. It created the atmosphere there was at the very beginning. We started writing in 2002 and the film was very different then. It was more like a whodunit, and through the years it turned more into a ‘who am I’. The whodunit aspect of Seven Blood-Stained Orchids was really present at first.
The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh also seems to be a major influence.
BF: Yes, completely. The sequence when Barbara explodes on the glass body is like the flashback in The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh. It’s a scene that really struck me and we tried to magnify it – not to redo it because there’s no point, but to be inspired by it as if we were dreaming it in a different way. And there’s also a note on the bunch of flowers, and it’s the note that Edwige Fenech receives in the film. Sergio Martino’s films are always about vice, fantasy and sado-masochism, so it fit the subject matter perfectly.
Amer, and your contribution to The ABCs of Death, O for Orgasm, even more so, were already concerned with pain and pleasure, and sex and death. What draws you to those themes?
BF: We see the films we make as an experience. We try to give our viewers a filmic orgasm. There is definitely that aspect, to give pleasure to people.
HC: It allows us to approach the story in a sensual, physical way, to play with very strong feelings of attraction and repulsion.
BF: They are two instincts, two impulses, and as we’re trying to do something sensorial, connecting those two impulses strengthens the audience’s involvement in our sensorial experimentation. And audiences are confronted with their own impulses, which they may reject – violence, desire – and that places them in a slightly ambiguous position. For me, a film is not like a motorway, it’s about getting a bit lost among primitive things. We try to play with that, embrace that side of things 100% and not have any moral judgement in there, just connect with the impulse, whether it’s fear or love.
You seem more interested in the sensory experience than in the narrative.
HC: It’s a little as in Amer. We use all of those filmic elements to tell the story. To tell it sensually first, but there is a meaning in the end. The story is told by what is experienced through the sounds and images. We try and convey the ambiguity of a character through stylistic effects. The split screen, for instance, may look nice, but it’s there to actually show something.
BF: We construct the film in two ways. The first is the sensorial way, which corresponds to the first viewing of the film: you experience the film physically, then it sinks in. We wrote the film so it could be seen several times and people would discover different layers each time. We’re very influenced by Satoshi Kon. There are several levels of interpretation in the way he writes, and each time you see one of his films you discover new things. We wrote our film in the same way. We were also strongly influenced by David Lynch when we were teenagers. The first time we saw his films, we didn’t understand them, but the experience of them was very strong. It was a very powerful world. And gradually his films have become clearer and clearer. It’s a similar principle.
There seems to be an intense concern with seeing inside of objects, buildings and bodies in the film.
BF: Yes, there is definitely something obsessive about it. We are obsessed with close-ups, with trying to be very close to the viewers and penetrating them. We want the film to penetrate people. In the sound, we worked a lot on the bass frequencies, because bass goes into you. This film is really obsessed with penetration!
HC: And with intrusion too. That was already the case in Amer.
It’s a very baroque film, with this fascination with surface illusions, with doubles, mirroring and artifice, and of course the luxuriance of motifs.
HC: Yes, completely. That’s how we saw it. We were very inspired by Art Nouveau, and as we live in Brussels there’s a lot of that. We really wanted to film inside those Art Nouveau houses, with all those lavish motifs that fit so well with the labyrinthine aspect that we wanted for the film. It inspired us, not only in the visual motifs, but in the space and the mise en scène too – you get really lost.
Architecture is very important in giallo, but you have really found your own architectural world here. I loved the idea that the building is alive.
BF: For us, the question was always, is the building the main character, or is the main character inside the building? Where is the inside, and where is the outside?
HC: We played with the idea that the building is like a Rubik’s Cube, and the walls move, everything moves, and in the character’s mind something is triggered.
How did you choose the locations for Amer and Strange Colour?
BF: It was very natural. Amer was shot where I grew up in the south of France, on the border with Italy. And we made this one where we met, in the city where we live. So in each case it came from something personal.
It looks like every single shot has been carefully composed, with the same obsessive mindset as your characters. Do you feel there is an obsessive quality to your filmmaking?
HC: That’s the way it was visually, but also sonically, and that was even worse because we had no sounds at all – we shoot without sound – so we had to recreate absolutely everything. So, for instance, things like breathing, things that audiences don’t even notice, but will notice if they’re not there.
How long did it take you to make the film?
BF: All in all, 11 years. We started writing in 2002.
HC: Then we started the preparatory work in 2010.
This film felt closer to O for Orgasm than Amer.
HC: We made O when we were waiting to find out if we’d be able to make Strange Colour. It had been a few years since we’d last shot something, so it was perfect to get back into things. We tested things for Strange Colour in O, things like the slow-motion ghost-camera, so maybe that’s why.
What influenced the title of the film specifically?
HC: It refers to the themes of the film, while being surreal. And it brings to mind The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body? (aka The Case of the Bloody Iris) and All the Colours of the Dark.
That’s another major reference in the film.
BF: Yes, we use the music from All the Colours of the Dark in the credits. There is a gorgeous nightmare scene in that film. And it’s about a woman who is bored, alone all day while her husband is at work, and our film is like the other side. She goes into this sect to discover pleasure because she has no pleasure with her husband, and our film is a little like…
HC:…the husband’s point de view!
BF: I hadn’t thought of that, but yes, exactly!
Have you thought about how you are going to develop the form you have created with Amer and Strange Colour in the future?
BF: I don’t know. After Amer there were people who said, ‘I don’t know what you can do after this, it can’t be renewed’. But then we made this. It’s the same themes, the same world, but it’s different. There is a third part, but we won’t do it straightaway. We’ll try and do something else in between. We’d like to do something that doesn’t come from us, because this film took so much energy, so much life. And then we’d like to go back to something personal to conclude Amer and Strange Colour.
Cast: Gordon Kennedy, Robin Hill, Aidan McArdle, Luke Neal
Rural Britain is a place of dread and mystery in Elliot Goldner’s debut feature The Borderlands. 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 film 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, supernatural manifestations, and the descent into the ancient church’s subterranean vaults, all unnervingly rack up the tension, sustained in no small part by terrific sound design, before culminating in a startling, inventive, horrific ending.
Producer Jennifer Handorf talked to Virginie Sélavy about the merits of filming in a bat-infested church and refraining from having a full-on Lovecraftian ending.
Virginie Sélavy: The film has a great sense of the moody, ominous British countryside in the tradition of The Wicker Man. There has been a resurgence of the British rural-horror genre in recent years, with Ben Wheatley’s films, and most recently In Fear. Did you consciously try to make the film fit this sub-genre?
Jennifer Handorf: No, we didn’t. And weirdly it was one of the only things that wasn’t prescriptive about the film. It was made with distribution in mind, in partnership with Metrodome. So they had things that they wanted us to include, like the found footage, the church, the Vatican – that was the brief. The rural element seemed to work for the story, but it wasn’t preconceived. And as we were developing the film, the local youths became more important. But we had lots of meetings where we said, ‘We don’t want them to be the creepy Wicker Man villagers’. So we were not even really aware that we were falling within that genre until after the fact, although we were conscious about many other things. Obviously we’ve got Rob Hill, who’s in Down Terrace, which is one of Ben Wheatley’s films, and he edited Kill List, so we were wary of coming off as copying anyone, but I think the film just naturally fell into that sub-genre.
How did you decide on the location?
Initially the director had thought about shooting at Brent Tor, which is down in Devon, on Dartmoor. But it’s tiny, it’s about the size of a shoebox, so it’s completely impractical to film in. So I was set with the task of looking at 15 to 20 churches that had the elements we needed, with a bell tower, that were on a hill, and were quite remote. When Elliot walked into West Ogwell Church in the south west, he said it was the only one that felt creepy – the other ones felt quite joyous. And I think there’s a very practical reason for that: there’s a native bat population living in the church. You not only get these strange noises of the bats fleeting around, but they also go to the bathroom wherever they are, so you get this sort of green mould all over the walls – it’s a bit gross, but I think that the strangeness and the colouration and the mouldiness and the sounds in the rafters – the life that was inherently in the building – is what made it that much scarier.
The Borderlands is released on DVD by Metrodome on 7 April 2014.
It feels like the church is a presence in itself in the film.
It really is. A lot of that is the sound design. Martin Pavey, who is Ben Wheatley’s sound designer, did it all, he’s an incredible artist. He added a lot of life to the church, with creaking rafters, and wind, adding things to make it a proper character in the film.
Were there any real creepy stories or legends about the church? What’s its history?
It was built in the 13th century, but the interesting thing we discovered is that it was likely built on a former druid site of worship, which is relevant in the film. The fact that it’s on a hill and that there are oak trees to the south is in keeping with their sites. And the church was built during the era when the druid sites were being taken over and their gods being done away with by Christianity. There were also some amazing folktales about nearby graveyards, like the possible origin story of The Hound of the Baskervilles. When this horrible local magistrate died they buried him in an above-ground mausoleum and they put iron bars around it so that he couldn’t get out. Supposedly if you go and say the right incantations on a full moon or something, his dogs will rise and chase you out of the graveyard. It actually burned down because some immature Satanists lit lots of candles and set fire to it in the 80s.
Found footage is a very popular sub-genre in horror at the moment. Were you wary of not re-treading ground? How did you approach it?
Absolutely. Strangely enough, it was one of the few things that was part of the brief initially, and when the film was finished, the sub-genre had become so passé that the distributor was begging us to distance ourselves from it in any way possible. So even at script stage, we were dead set on there being a firm justification for why the characters were filming, and how they were doing it. And that’s where the head-cams came from: they weren’t holding them, they were actually mounted to their heads. So they don’t drop them when they get scared. They’re not even aware of where they’re pointing the camera at sometimes, because it’s just their head movements. We even surveyed our friends and other film fanatics about what they hated the most in found footage, and a lot of the time we just got back: ‘Everything, why would you bother? It’s a dead genre.’ So it was exciting that people responded really well to our treatment. And, of course, in the edit it created a world of problems, because you don’t have a master shot, and cutting just on-head cameras can become quite difficult. While we were filming we were very aware of that, so we would make a character look somewhere so we could catch something on the camera. It was all very stringently planned, and very carefully considered throughout the process. If you put the work in and you’re really conscientious with the way you do things, it doesn’t have to be lazy, it doesn’t have to be a throwaway choice.
What do you think the technique brings to the film? How different would the story be if it’d been filmed as a conventional narrative?
Thematically, the idea of whether or not you can believe what you see, and the truth of the image, was a big thing. We realised in the process that it really suited the story, because if we’d filmed it straight, then if we showed you a string or a trick, you would think that it was shonky filmmaking, or you would think that it was obvious that we were showing you a trick. But if you do that with found footage the audience thinks, ‘Did I see a string, was that the movie or was that this guy faking it?’ All that stuff fits the genre better – the questioning of the image, the questioning of whether you can believe your eyes, really suited it thematically.
Watch the trailer:
There are a couple of particularly creepy, unsettling scenes, like the one where Father Deacon walks through the fields in the dark, and the scene in which some local youths gruesomely tease the priests.
I think the reason why those scenes work is because of what you can’t see. I’m a big believer in ‘Don’t show, imagine!’ You never properly see the youths until they get their comeuppance. And that really works because, in the light of day, they are these harmless kids, but at night, when you wonder who they are, what they are – and we keep them faceless until that point – your mind wanders to a very dark place if you allow it. And with Father Deacon walking around at night, again, he’s the character whose eyes are playing tricks on him, or he thinks his eyes are playing tricks on him. And I think we’re all used to that sensation of being somewhere dark, and suddenly the hairs on your neck stand up and you start to wonder, ‘What was that, what’s that sound, what’s that shape?’ and despite the fact that you know you’re alone, and you know there’s nothing sinister, your mind creates all these narratives. It’s also a lot about the sound design, because you’re informed by what you’re hearing, as you can’t see anything. So you can hear something but you can’t match it with what you’re seeing, and that’s very unsettling.
The relationship between Robin Hill’s jolly techie character Gray and Gordon Kennedy’s tormented priest Father Deacon is one of the great pleasures of the film.
It really is. The film wouldn’t be what it is without the chemistry that exists between those two. There are a lot of scenes that are straight improv from the two of them. When they’re looking at the map and picking out the different places, Gordon, who is a comedian, and has written comedy, is actually being forced to play the straight man by Rob, who won’t let him be serious for a minute. They’re a real treat.
One of the interesting things about the story is that it’s about priests who have a remarkable lack of faith in the miraculous, when you think that their whole belief system is based on just that.
Exactly. I come from a very religious part of America and I grew up surrounded by people who had tremendous faith, and for me it never made sense. But hearing those people talk about it as fact, they clearly get great comfort from it, it’s a big part of their lives. And then you look at the Catholic Church as an institution and you realise that not everybody within that institution has to have that absolute faith, as long as they act as faithful men – that’s all that really matters, a lot of it is politics. So it was really interesting to explore that. The character of Father Mark is meant to be by the book, he follows the rules, and then it’s revealed that he’s the one with the least amount of faith. And he makes this point: ‘Am I not a good man? Do I not follow the teachings of Jesus? Why do I have to believe in magic to be a good Christian?’ I found myself asking that a lot when I was a kid, and it was interesting to see it treated in the script. Then you have Father Deacon, who is someone who started off with a really strong faith, but through experiences in his life has learned that man’s inhumanity to man surpasses miracles. So he’s had it beaten out of him, where Father Mark never believed in it. It was a vital part of the film. Funnily enough, we’ve had a really bad reception from Italy because they think we’ve portrayed the Church as too nice, we haven’t made the priests sinister enough. So I’d quite like to see the Italian remake of this!
[SPOILER ALERT Stop reading if you don’t want to know anything at all about the ending.]
The ending is fantastic. Without revealing too much, what was the idea behind it?
Initially the ending was a lot more explicit, a lot more Lovecraftian. And it became one of those wonderful evolutions: because of the way you’re making a film there are restrictions put on you, and you can’t do what you initially intended, so you’ve got to come up with another solution. Keeping things a bit more subtle, having the guys just walk into it, showing that all they had to do was turn around and walk out, but they don’t, because they wanted that proof, because they needed to see it, and eventually they do, but the price they pay for that is obviously quite large.
As part of their current ‘Gothic’ season and regular Sonic Cinema strand, the BFI presented a night of Gothic-inspired sounds and images on 13 December 2013, curated by the artist and composer Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner. The evening opened with Chris Turner’s fashion film G(O)OD+(D)EVIL, which slickly plays with horror imagery, and features a dark ambient score by Scanner. This was followed by an astonishing musical show by Gazelle Twin, introduced by a disquieting short film featuring the performers in a supermarket. Wearing a wig and a blue hoodie, her face disguised by tights, Gazelle Twin was accompanied by two musicians in red hoodies providing the sounds and beats on laptops. They looked like strange faceless creatures in the semi-darkness, not unlike the demonic East End figures of Philip Ridley’s Heartless (2009); the creepy, haunting vocals, ghostly melodies, doom-laden bass lines and mesmeric, intricate beats created an intensely immersive, obsessive soundscape. After such a powerful performance, Anna and Maria von Hausswolff’s Trace the Spark was a bit of an anti-climax. A by-the-numbers experimental short film consisting of split-screen abstract imagery that repeated and mutated to a drony soundtrack, it was fairly unsurprising, and failed to make truly inventive or interesting connections between the sounds and the images.
Giving the event its name, Scanner then performed his take on Lachrimae, exploring the musical variations on the theme of tears, developed by 17th-century English musician John Dowland. The work is a collaboration between Scanner and Chris Turner, who provided the visuals: a black and white short film showing an attractive woman moving in slow motion. The film was as glossy and empty as an advert, but the music was captivating and hypnotic, and loosely in sync with the images. Starting with a beautiful melody punctuated by menacing bass lines and cascading percussive noises, it turned into lone piano notes contrasted with explosive sounds, underpinned by a quieter repetitive sequence full of whispers, before growing into higher-pitched sounds that evoked wrecked spaceships drifting through dark skies.
The final act, and the undeniable highlight of the night, was Carter Tutti (former Throbbing Gristle members Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti), who performed their score to an extract of F.W. Murnau’s Faust (1926). Murnau’s images remain dazzlingly magical, and Carter Tutti’s score matched them with remarkable precision and imagination, making it the finest instance of visual and sonic concordance of the night. The ominous drone and industrial noises incorporated sounds of explosions, a crowd, wind blowing, a heartbeat, all of which directly matched specific visual events, while evocative whispers and flowing water, weeping violins and dissonant cellos underscored the mood of the scenes. The seamless way in which one piece of music segued into the next was particularly impressive. It was a mighty, dense performance that uniquely brought out the brilliance of the film and left the audience staggering out into the light, stunned and amazed by the dark wonders they had just witnessed.
An intelligent, thoughtful film that lingers long in the mind, Big Bad Wolves is writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s follow-up to the excellent Rabies, which had the distinction of being the very first Israeli horror film. With their second feature, Keshales and Papushado continue their subtle exploration of their country’s mood 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, the film mixes fairy tale and political subtext, black humour and disturbing subject matter with skill and assurance.
Virginie Sélavy talked to Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado at Film4 FrightFest in August 2013, and discussed victims and victimisers, corrupt politicians, and taking revenge on your parents.
Virginie Sélavy: Big Bad Wolves seems much more ambitious than Rabies. Is it because you developed your filmmaking skills, or had more money or better production?
Navot Papushado: All of the above! Rabies was a shoe-string-budget, guerrilla kind of film. It was shot over 17 days using only available light in a forest, in one location, and a bunch of the crew were Aharon’s students. Aharon was a film a critic and a university lecturer. Still, we are very pleased with the result. For Big Bad Wolves we worked with the top people in the industry – we got the best cinematographer and the best production designer. We were much more prepared, and we had more shooting days. The budget was bigger, although still not big in terms of Israeli film. Rabies was in the middle of what we could achieve and what we wanted to achieve. Big Bad Wolves is the kind of film that we are aiming to do.
Rabies was described everywhere as the first Israeli horror film. Did that feel exciting or was it a lot of pressure?
Aharon Keshales: Both! The good thing is that you have the opportunity to become a pioneer, you’re building the path for future generations. The bad thing is that if you do a crappy job that’s the end for you and for the entire genre. If you don’t collect prizes and you don’t do well at the box office, that’s it, because Israel is a small industry and it doesn’t like to take big chances on new stuff. So it was a lot of pressure. But when we did Rabies we were these young people who didn’t think about this kind of stuff. We just wanted to make the first Israeli horror film and to have fun. When you ask us now, we’re a bit older so we know what that meant.
Horror films have always worked very well as allegories for social or political issues, which potentially makes it a rich genre for Israeli films. This is something you do in Big Bad Wolves, but very lightly and suggestively. It feels more like you tried to evoke the mindset and atmosphere of the country, rather than specific issues. Is that fair to say?
NP: Yes. We both feel that most Israeli cinema is very heavy-handed and deals with political subject matter in a way that feels like they’re trying to educate you about the wars of Israel, the conflict with the Palestinians, or the memory of the Holocaust, and it’s always so serious. And sometimes you think, I didn’t come here to be educated. We have no fun at the movies, we cry all the time – and we cry in reality too. And we thought, wouldn’t it be nice to give Israel the gift of entertaining cinema? So people would go to the cinema and forget real life and tragedy, even though we are talking about it. We tried to do this a little with Rabies because it’s a movie where Israelis kill other Israelis and the real killer goes to sleep, so you see the allegory in that film. But with Big Bad Wolves, we tried to look at the macho, male-dominated Israeli society, but not upfront. First of all, it’s a revenge comedy thriller, and once the tone of the movie has been set, you start to think about what you’re seeing. What you’re seeing is three guys who were in the army and all their instincts from that time just come to life when the girl’s life is in peril. So it’s not in your face, but it’s there. And I think you’re willing to get this kind of subtext more easily because it’s not in your face.
Watch the trailer for Rabies:
There is also the idea that despite their violence and belligerence those men are unable to protect their loved ones.
NP: I think that growing up as Jews in Israel we carry this weight, first of all for being Jewish – and we don’t need to go back far into the past, we can just go back to the Second World War and the Holocaust. The instinct for survival is very strong in our people and we brought this with us to Israel. We are a small country surrounded by Arab countries, some of which we were at war with, some of which we’re at peace with, and we have the Palestinians within us. So you grow up in an environment where there is war in the air, you absorb it, you develop this survival instinct which is so strong, and sometimes can lead you to do horrific stuff in the name of survival, in the name of our children. Sometimes these moral questions need to be raised. In the name of our kids, in the name of surviving, are we allowed to do certain things? We’ve never been in a war or a combat situation, but as teenagers in the 80s-90s we were walking the streets of Tel Aviv and buses were exploding. It’s a very strange environment to live in – life goes on, it’s a very complex situation. And a lot of the film is about us growing up in Israel, but it’s filtered through an entertaining film.
AK: There’s a strong debate about torture these days, and the film by Kathryn Bigelow put it out there. I think that when you’re talking about torture you have to ask yourself, is this violence justified? Even if it’s justified by the fact that they will tell you where Bin Laden is, did you just create another enemy inside the guy that you’ve just tortured, maybe for his entire life and that of his family? It’s like a big circle of blood. That’s how we see things. It started with Rabies and it’s evolved to be this idea of a circle of death, a big dance that you can never stop.
You also seem to lay some of the responsibility for what happens to the girl at her father’s feet – and he’s not the only character in that position. Do you think that ideas of guilt and responsibility are more complicated than just pointing the finger at one man?
NP: When we wrote the script the idea was that we were writing a revenge thriller that was upside down. You have the avengers and the suspected victimiser, but the suspected victimiser is also a victim, and we wanted to have that kind of flip in the film. You see a lot of revenge films that end with the triumph of the vindictive hero. But those films support this kind of behaviour – people who take the law into their own hands, who do horrific stuff. We didn’t want to make that kind of nihilistic movie. We wanted to do a Dirty Harry movie where Dirty Harry gets punished for his deeds – personally, not because someone he knows dies. Stick it to him. That’s what we tried to do with Big Bad Wolves.
AK: We had a few arguments with our producers about the moral questions we tried to raise at the end. They wanted a lighter ending, a slightly funny, uplifting final scene, even though everything that happens is terribly wrong. But we wanted to have a heavy, serious ending, because you can never foresee the consequences of violence, you never know when or why it ends. That was very important to us. With this subject matter it was important for us to infuse some more moral layers into the film.
Watch the trailer for Big Bad Wolves:
Both Big Bad Wolves and Rabies show the Israeli police in a very negative light, they are consistently brutal and abusive of their power. Are they really that bad?
AK: I think it has to do with authority, because when you want to do a movie that questions the patriarchal society – and Israel is still patriarchal – you have to deal with authority figures, so the best thing to do is to make fun of the military or the police. We decided to do this one with the police, but that doesn’t mean that in the next film we won’t make jokes about the army.
NP: There have been a few rumbles with the police in Israel lately. The police have not had a very good reputation in the last two years. At the time when Rabies came out there were huge protests on the streets of Israel, and the police reacted very violently.
AK: And it was a very peaceful protest, they were students, they weren’t doing anything, but the police turned violent in order to smash their spirits. But I don’t think it has to do directly with the police, I think the authorities in Israel are corrupt these days. You have prime ministers under suspicion, a president who is a rapist and is doing time in jail now. So when we wrote the script for Rabies we had this scene with the cop who’s molesting the girl, and the producer came over and said, ‘This kind of thing doesn’t happen in Israel,’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about? We have a president who’s just been tried for molesting women inside his chambers’. So I think we have a problem with authority figures, a lot of people are under investigation in the government.
NK: I think we can call ourselves a bit patriotic because we love Israel, but we don’t love the way that things are run over there. It’s a complex thing to say, because a lot of movies that come out of Israel only criticise the country in the way they treat Palestinians, and we’re saying that first of all we have to question ourselves. And the movie is also about that, because you have a corrupt policeman, a man who is a politician or a lawyer, very high up, and a teacher who is suspected of being a paedophile. So they’re all the authorities that we grow up with in life, and something really needs to change. But they should do more popcorn films in Israel, that’s the first thing we’d like to change.
There is also a strong fairy tale element in the story. Do you see the film as a dark fairy tale?
AK: Yes. We decided to take revenge on our parents, because they told us horrific stories before we went to sleep, and they were all about wolves, which are really paedophiles. That’s what we were told as children – stay away from the wolf, they will lure you in with candy. And we wanted to take revenge on our parents with a nice story before they go to sleep, and now my mother can’t sleep. That was the idea, to make a grown-up fairy tale, and that’s what’s happened, because every spectator who’s a father or a mother takes it much harder than young kids, who just like it because they see it as a violent genre movie.
In our final report from the 57th edition of the London Film Festival, we review some of our favourite titles from this year’s line up, along with one of very few disappointments.
Check out Part 1, 2, 3 and 4 of our 2013 LFF coverage.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Sion Sono, 2013)
After a couple of serious post-apocalyptic dramas made in reaction to the Fukushima disaster, Sion Sono returns with a gleeful, mischievously fun, candy-coloured comedic gore fest about wannabe cineastes hired by feuding yakuza to make a film. Humorously violent and deliriously excessive (as is to be expected from Sono) it features some striking scenes, from the yakuza boss’s white-clad young daughter sliding through a blood bath in their all-white living room, to the sexy, sassy, sadistic broken-glass kiss she gives a treacherous lover ten years later. The story takes a while to get to where it is obviously heading, but when it finally does, it does not disappoint: the verve with which limbs and heads are cut off and blood liberally spilt in the final showdown as the fanatic filmmakers continue to shoot is giddily, stupidly exhilarating. After the underlying darkness and complexities of Guilty of Romance, Cold Fish, Love Exposure and Suicide Club, this feels like a return to simpler pleasures and youthful brazenness, which may be due to the fact that the script was written 15 years ago.
Set up as a film within a film within a film, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is also a warm, exuberant love letter to cinema. It references Bruce Lee through a screaming, nunchaku-wielding action star wearing the iconic yellow jumpsuit, and comically pays homage to yakuza movies, more particularly Kinji Fukasaku’s. And amid all the madcap humour, there is a certain wistfulness about the death of 35mm, projectionists, old-school fights, Japanese culture, and the corrupting influence of money on cinema. Inventive, playful and thrill-packed, it is a vastly enjoyable slice of film-affirming fun. VS
Night Moves (Kelly Reichhardt, 2013)
Kelly Reichhardt’s latest is concerned with three eco-activists Josh, Dena and Harmon (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard) who have decided to go further than their documentary-making, organic vegetable-farming compadres and blow up a dam. As they plot to do so, their conflicting characters, backgrounds and motivations are revealed. The operation is a success, of a kind, but has unintended consequences Confident, ballsy Dena becomes an emotional wreck, sensitive, taciturn Josh grows more and more paranoid, and the conflicts become chasms. Reichhardt does good work in setting up her characters and then showing what their crime does to them. She is also is very smart and subtle about mileu and motivation, while the amateur eco-doc we see projected on a white sheet at Josh’s commune is spot on (and is actually shot by producer and horror auteur Larry Fessenden, fact fans!). As is the lame discussion afterwards.
Night Moves has its moments of well-achieved tension, but for me was a disappointment after Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff. There, her ‘less is more’ aesthetic paid off with absorbing, anxiety-inducing films that linger in the mind. Here… I don’t know, we spend an awful lot of the running time looking at Eisenberg’s anxious face, we get an awful lot of silence, and we get a Meek’s Cutoff-style finale that just sort of…ends. I needed more, for once, never feeling as involved as I did with her previous works. All in all, it’s a bit of an unthriller. MS
Watch the trailer for Night Moves:
The Double (Richard Ayoade, 2013)
Richard Ayoade’s second feature film is a very mannered affair, taking pace in its own transatlantic nocturnal bubble, where the architecture is utilitarian, charmless and shrouded in Lynchian gloom, the juke boxes play old Japanese pop tunes, and mobile phones are significant by their absence. Based on Dostoyevsky’s novel, it follows Simon (Jesse Eisenberg), an office drone whose life is a series of frustrations. Nobody notices him, his contributions are ignored, his transgressions are seized upon, and he can barely function when attempting to interact with fellow worker, and romantic obsession, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). So far so depressing, but then one day Simon’s exact double turns up at work, and immediately begins to climb the corporate ladder. This new version is confident and dynamic, a hit with the bosses and a wow with the ladies; he seems to be a better Simon than Simon could hope to be, and slowly begins to edge the original out of his own existence…
The Double eschews any kitchen-sink naturalism (the default setting for many British filmmakers) for a highly stylised, intricately planned and executed aesthetic. There’s more than a hint of Gilliam’s Brazil here, in its office politics and romantic frustration. Each scene is framed, timed and sound designed to create the maximum humiliation for Simon, and there’s a lot of physical comedy here at his expense (automatic doors particularly seem to have it in for him), while his plight is accentuated by staging that leaves him locked out and blocked off from where he wants to be. Also adding to the ‘movie movie’ experience is the casting, or, what I believe is known in the trade as ‘overcasting’: Ayoade has clearly called in a few favours to fill out his film, and as a result we have most of the actors from his first film Submarine turning up here, as well as a couple of his I.T. Crowd co-stars, and apparently everybody else with a resume he could get hold of. I’m in two minds about the effect of all this on the viewing experience. On one level it’s like another design element (I was reminded of John Water’s stated ambition to make a film where everybody who appears on screen is a celebrity of some kind, and the sets are deliberately fake). On the other hand, it is undeniably distracting to have familiar face after familiar face pop up in the tiniest roles (Chris Morris! Chris O’ Dowd! Paddy Considine! Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis, as a janitor, for christ’s sake!) regardless of the quality of their contribution (loved Tim Key’s turn as a heroically unconcerned care home worker, though). I fear that all this stylisation seals the viewer off from total engagement somewhat, and while it plays on common nightmares, it plays as someone else’s.
Whatever… this is bold, intelligent filmmaking. Eisenberg does great work as both unter-Simon and uber-Simon, suggesting two entirely different characters through body language and gesture, often acting against himself in scenes which must have been a technical nightmare. It gets interestingly dark and painful in places, I already want to see it again, and I await whatever Ayoade does next. MS
Watch the trailer for The Double:
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
Remember Alien‘s classic poster tag line ‘In space no one can hear you scream’? It would have also been the perfect fit for Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity which, arguably, is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and mesmerising films out in cinemas this year. That is, if you are willing to suspend your disbelief at the door and take the film at face value. And most likely, you will. Because from the moment you’ve put your 3D glasses on, Gravity embraces you with its awe-aspiring CGI heart and soul. ’Life in space is impossible’, we are told, along with a summary of plain facts: 372 miles above Earth’s surface, there is no air pressure, no oxygen, and no atmosphere to carry sound. And it’s that very sense of fatal, lonely isolation that Gravity radiates, with an instantly disarming charm and cinematic virtuosity.
Gravity is released in the UK on 8 November 2013 by Warner Bros.
Though essentially a two-hander, with George Clooney as the well-versed astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney being his usual smart, irresistibly charming self) and Sandra Bullock as the overly committed, new-to-space scientist Dr. Ryan Stone, who are caught in an accident while they are out in space repairing a satellite, this is really Bullock’s film. With their shuttle destroyed and all connection to Houston and soon to each other lost, she drifts through the scary, silent darkness of the universe, fighting her way from one space station to the next in the slowly dying hope that she might be able to return to Earth, all alone with her troubled soul on her mission to survive.
Taking the power of long, unbroken takes and seemingly limitless CGI imagery to a new dimension, Cuarón wisely alternates the settings between claustrophobic ship interiors and the boundless expanse of the cosmos, while never losing sight of the incredible beauty of Earth as seen from space, unashamedly putting it all in, from strikingly rendered scenes of sunrises to the northern lights from orbit. But while there is no denying that the film clearly underestimates audiences’ intelligence in terms of plot and character depth, everyone in for a unique cinematic ride against the backdrop of the abyss of outer space will have a fantastic time. PJ
Watch the trailer for Gravity :
The Sarnos: A Life in Dirty Movies (Witkor Eriksson, 2013)
Witkor Eriksson’s affectionate documentary looks at the life and work of Joe Sarno and his loyal wife (and costume designer) Peggy. Dubbed ‘the Ingmar Bergman of porn’ by John Waters, Sarno is responsible for some 75 features, but best known for the run of films he made from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s. Young Playthings, All the Sins of Sodom, Sin You Sinners, Sin in the Suburbs (do you sense a theme?), Inga, and many more, culminating in Confessions of a Young American Housewife, and Abigail Lesley is Back in Town. These were all self-penned works with a recognisable auteurist signature. ‘They were always about women’, notes Annie Sprinkle, and normally featured headstrong, not necessarily pleasant lead characters bringing about their own doom in oppressively bland contemporary America (or occasionally Sweden). Clearly atypical filth, they have gained a cult reputation over time, featuring in RE/Search’s original Incredibly Strange Films book, and now being screened and discussed at the BFI and other edifices of artistic respectability.
Not that this helps out Joe much, who is 88-years-old here, looking unfit, and a victim of bad contracts and shady deals, who doesn’t own or benefit from much of his substantial back catalogue. The Sarnos spend their life flitting between New York and Stockholm, clearly barely able to keep the wolf from the door. Eriksson follows them as Joe tries to get one last feature together, and investigates a life lived on the disreputable underside of the film industry. The film posits that the films Sarno wanted to make were rendered uncommercial by the arrival of hardcore porn, which effectively destroyed the grindhouse/drive-in ‘sexploitation’ genre. The raincoat brigade just wanted to watch people screw, and didn’t want to sit through his glum psychodramas, waiting for the sex scenes when they didn’t have to. The Sarnos also suggests that he didn’t want to have any part of the hardcore business after the failure of Abigail Lesley in 1975, largely glossing over the interim decades, but a quick glance at his IMDB page tells you that he carried on plugging away with explicit smut, and I wish the doc had asked him more about his (reluctant? regretful?) participation in these lesser works.
That bugbear aside, The Sarnos is fine stuff. It’s oddly delightful to watch this ageing couple having matter-of-fact conversations about absolute filth, while there is plenty of arcane and interesting detail to absorb, and the clips of his 1960s/70s output are tantalising. Joe and Peggy are complicated, charming people, and it’s a study of a long-term relationship as much as it is a treatise on a life in dirty movies. Be prepared to wipe away a tear. MS
Watch a clip from The Sarnos – A Life in Dirty Movies :
The Long Way Home (Aiphan Eşeli, 2013)
Set (and filmed) in East Anatolia, The Long Way Home takes place in 1915, just after the Battle of Sarikamish. A mother, her daughter and their guide, refugees from the conflict, are struggling over the snow-choked mountains when their horse gives up the ghost, and they find themselves struggling through the forbidding landscape, and the remains of war, on foot, passing thousands of frozen corpses to arrive at a burnt-out village not found on their map. Digging in to wait out the storm they find two surviving villagers, and then a couple of soldiers, but as the food runs low, what are they prepared to do to survive?
Aiphan Eşeli’s impressively confident first feature works first as a battle-against-the-elements tale of human persistence, then turns darker and more brutal as desperation sets in, only to turn again in a bit of a coup-de-cinema with a devastating final reel. Powerful, widescreen, intimate/epic stuff. MS
Watch the trailer for The Long Way Home :
The Kill Team (Dan Krauss, 2013)
A few years back, a platoon of US soldiers serving in Afghanistan made the news as ‘the kill team’, amid troubling stories about Afghans pointlessly killed and body parts kept as souvenirs. Dan Krauss’s documentary follows the defence team and parents of one of the accused, Adam Winfield, as he is prosecuted by the U. S. Army, interviewing two other platoon members, Stoner and Morlock, along the way. What emerges is a jaw-droppingly horrible account of apparent sociopaths given carte blanche to kill for fun. Winfield claims that he tried to blow the whistle on the Platoon’s actions, but was stymied by a system that didn’t want to hear it, and had to take part in one of the killings for fear of his own life. The others seem utterly unrepentant, and seem to have taken to indiscriminate murder partly because they had been trained to kill, not dig wells, and Afghanistan wasn’t what they felt had been advertised. ’It wasn’t like what they hyped it up to be, and that’s probably why, y’know, stuff happened…’
The Kill Team may focus too much on Winfield’s trial and not enough on the 5th Stryker Brigade, and it has the gaping hole of platoon leader Gibbs (who instigated the madness, denies everything, and wouldn’t take part) at its centre, but it still opens up a world of darkness to argue over long after its closing credits. Recommended. MS
New World (Park Hoon-jung, 2013)
This is the type of film that South Korean directors seem to do so superbly well: the dark action thriller with a conspiracy twist. Directed by Park Hoon-jung, New World is not nearly as disturbing, bleak and tortured as the incredibly twisted revenge story I Saw the Devil, which was written by Hoon-jung, but it is still a gripping, very well-executed example of the crime genre.
Undercover police officer Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae) is a mole who has worked his way up in the echelons of Goldmoon, a crime syndicate that the cops have spent years trying to crack. When Goldmoon’s chairman manages to evade a guilty verdict in court, only to be killed in a car accident, a bitter struggle for succession ensues. Ja-sung, who has become a lieutenant to the powerful and vicious Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-min), is desperate to get out, but finds himself manipulated into becoming an integral player in the power struggle by his handler, Chief Kang (the always fabulous Choi Min-sik).
Although it starts out fairly generic, New World gradually evolves into something much more compelling, adding in a series of twists, some foreseen, others completely surprising, that make the story increasingly complex and exciting to watch. With all the brutal back-stabbing going on between the police and criminals alike, there’s plenty of violence and gore on top of the more thought-out plot points. Needless to say that by the film’s powerful and dramatic conclusion, there are few men left standing. SC
Virginie Sélavy, Pamela Jahn, Mark Stafford, Sarah Cronin
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