Cannes Film Festival

CANNES 2016 – a truly exciting line-up

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Cannes 2016 poster

My planned Cannes 2016 coverage so far (work in progress) includes:

-an interview with Jim JARMUSCH for Dazed & Confused.  The “enfant terrible”, or better said, “vraiment indépendent” of American independent cinema participates with 2 films, Paterson, in the Official Competition and Gimme Danger in the Midnight section;

-a story around Chloë Sevigny’s first (short) film as a director, Kittythat is screening during the closing night of Critics Week – for Dazed & Confused

-a full report on the state of VR technology, immersive storytelling and the latest VR projects to be presented in Cannes – for Dazed & Confused

-an article on Romanian cinema based on Cristi Puiu‘s SIERANEVADA and Cristian Mungiu‘s BACALAUREAT for Little White Lies

-several festival dispatches for VICE Romania with my favourite films at Cannes 2016


Bon festival à tous!

“Actors don’t interest me, I don’t make a film with an actor, it’s always the people that interest me.” An interview with Guillaume Nicloux at CANNES 2015

Guillaume Nicloux talks about his new film VALLEY OF LOVE that premiered in competition at CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2015

Knight: The last time we spoke was last year at Berlinale where you presented The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, one of my favourite films of 2014. Valley of Love is a completely different film, both in terms of subject matter and tone. If anything, it brings up some themes you drew on in La religieuse. I was wondering what attracted you to this story and how do you decide on the story you want to tell in general?

Nicloux: It’s a bit strange because I have the impression that I’m not choosing at all, I have the impression that it is being decided for me. Then I am free to accept what this triggers in me or not.  The sure thing is that my first visit to the Valley of Death had an enormous impact on me because I experienced something very powerful and very personal there, I saw my dead father appear in front of my eyes. This inspired me to write this story when I got back. And the events in my personal life influenced my conception of cinema. Starting with La religieuse I tried to achieve a more sincere intimacy by getting rid of some formats, […] certain “pretexts”: the conventions of the genre film, the intrigues of the film noir, of the political film, the black comedy – a very diverse universe but always filtered through an unconscious veil of censorship that prevented me from going straight to what I felt in my guts or in my heart that I should do. But I refuse to intellectualise my desires. This is what I do with my students at La Fémis, the film school where I’m teaching. I want to help them get access to a form of “cinema-writing” that is more automatic, less cerebral, in which we allow the moment to guide us towards something more profound that we cannot rationalise but that confronts us with something more violent or more intriguing because we don’t decide these moments. And this is what ends up in the film usually, things that are more profound and more intimate. With this film I tried to respond to this desire and change that I felt in me.

valleyoflove poster

Knight: I suppose on the level of form this translates into a desire to free yourself from the conventions of cinema and create a more liberated form of writing. 

Nicloux: It’s more about trying to have access to a form of intimacy that is more honest and perhaps more direct by getting rid of conventions that sometimes force me to lock my films in a kind of coldness or distance. In cinema I try to lie the best way I can, because this is what cinema is, telling the most sincere lies.

Knight: The theme of your new film is spirituality. Obviously the couple’s relationship takes centre stage but I had the impression that the subject you really wanted to tackle was spirituality.

Nicloux: Yes my experiences in Death Valley triggered a sort of meditation on spirituality. And also my film La Religieuse deals with the same subject but in a broader way, in a pantheistic way in which faith is not dependent on a monotheistic God. Faith is more about being connected with what is around us, a form of giving up control that allows us access to more profound things. These resonances can give birth to things that can touch us in a more powerful way. We accept to be more open if the timing is good or if we find ourselves in a place that facilitates this process. A desert is an ideal place in this sense. Also if you find yourself in the company of people whom you trust and who allow you to be yourself and be true to the story you’re telling, then you’re in for a beautiful and enriching experience.

Knight: You like mixing reality and fiction in your films. In The Kidnapping, you used the real -life persona of Michel Houellebecq and here you’re drawing on the he real-life personas  of Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu.

Nicloux:Yes, it’s in the same spirit of being more honest. The actors don’t interest me, I don’t make a film with an actor, it is the people that interest me. I made a film with Gérard Depardieu as man and Isabelle Huppert as woman. It is them that interest me. The characters belong to the script, they know their characters and internalised them. But when I shoot I’m interested in my actors as people. Making a film is about this troubling balance, this very fine and slippery boundary with a lot of interaction that creates an interesting experience where the viewer asks himself if what he is watching is the real life of the actors of whether it is the story they are acting out.  And how the actors are dealing with the intimacy they experienced 35 years ago.

valley of love 2

Knight: Does this mean that you “negotiated” the script with them?

Nicloux: Not at all, I’m not someone who likes to talk a lot. What I’m looking for is this silent communication where you don’t have to explain things, where you just trust your feelings. The moment you start explaining things you lose the spontaneity of interaction, you lose something magic. And the magic is exactly what you’re looking for when you make a film, you want to be surprised, maybe a little troubled by something that happens, situations that you couldn’t predict, to let yourself be carried away by chance events that maybe shake you a little bit.

Knight: In casting Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu, was your intention to reunite them on the big screen? The last time they appeared together was 35 years ago in Pialat’s film Loulou.

Nicloux:Not really because when I first thought of the film I thought of Ryan O’Neal for the lead role, he is a mythical figure among cinephiles. But gradually my heart opened more and I felt the need to have a stronger connection with the father of the film. And when I met Gérard, the choice was obvious, he became the very essence of the film, this connection that I needed to establish with Mosaic Canyon, with what happened in Death Valley, with my own father.

Knight: Isabelle Huppert has been in hundreds of films, 20 of which were actually presented here in Cannes. Why do you think she is the most popular French actress? And can you imagine this film without her?

Nicloux: She is the most popular actress of this generation. That’s because she is the most accomplished actress, she did a lot of theatre and she worked internationally. She has a very broad range, she can do comedy in France and drama in Argentina. She has this curiosity, this openness, this “bulimia” for discoveries. I’m incapable of imagining another film with someone else. The film is a thing of the past now, I’m already somewhere else. The only regret I have is to have met Gérard so late in life. For me meeting him was very important and I’ll do my best to work again with him in the future.

Translated from French by Dana Knight.

RAMS – Sheep Are Man’s Best Friends in this Riveting Oscar Contender from Iceland. CANNES 2015 INTERVIEW

Rams_film_posterRams is a 2015 Icelandic drama film directed by Grímur Hákonarson. It premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival where it won the top prize and is Iceland’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.

Rams is currently screening in LA as part of AVI FEST World Cinema Programme.

The following interview with director Grímur Hákonarson was part of a round table discussion at Cannes Film Festival 2015.

Knight: A few words about you as a filmmaker.

Hakonarson: I consider myself a Scandinavian filmmaker. I relate to directors like Roy Andersson and Aki Kaurismäki and Bent Hamer.

Your film brings to mind the Hungarian canine thriller “White God” that was last year’s winner. How difficult was it to work with animals, in this case sheep?


Icelandic filmmaker Grímur Hákonarson

Hakonarson: Sheep are special animals, especially in Iceland where they kept us alive for thousands of years. It was important to find the right sheep that looked good in the picture and were also mentally-stable and relaxed, not afraid of cameras…And I think we picked the right ones, we found them on a farm whose owner, a woman, is very close to her sheep, she talks to them. We had this really complicated snowstorm scene, 40 people shouting, very loud, a lot of noise, and the sheep were supposed to walk through the whole thing. I was really afraid, it was just one take but they did it perfectly.

Rams still

What inspired this story and how closely linked are you to the world of the story?

Hakonarson: My grandparents and my parents grew up on a farm and when I was a kid I grew up on a farm too so I’m familiar with this environment. I know a lot of farmers, I made some documentaries about farmers. I live in Reykjavik but I still spend a lot of time in the countryside.

There are many stories of brothers who don’t speak to each other but share the same land. Many Icelanders are independent, they don’t trust things that come from abroad without being necessarily racist. So I think these characters reflect a little bit that part of Iceland and the older generations …

Was it difficult to make the transition from documentaries to feature films?

Hakonarson: When I’m making a documentary I have a small crew, me and a DOP usually. Rams is a low-budget film if you compare it to other independent films in Europe but compared to documentaries it’s a big crew, you have to communicate with a lot of people, more pressure. Everything costs money, if you don’t make the day you lose money.

How did the writing process go and how did you manage to balance so well the drama with the undercurrents of humour?

Hakonarson: All my short films are dramas in essence but there’s always this dry or black humour. It comes naturally to me, even when I try to write a drama script it becomes funny somehow naturally. It’s in my character I think, I have a sense of humour and that shows in my films. But sometimes it’s a fine balance because you can’t be too funny. I was really careful when making the film because I made that mistake before, to make a film that people didn’t know what it was, they didn’t know what they were watching. Should they laugh or should they cry?

But that’s a great thing!

Hakonarson: Yes I think it’s a good thing too. I like films that have some humour. But I like to tell a serious story with a strong dramatic line, humanistic stories. And if you also manage to make people laugh, it’s great!

You constructed a very interesting, very “Icelandic”story based on a story device that is quite frequently used in Hollywood cinema: the idea of two opponents or enemies that are brought together by a common goal. Are you aware of this screenwriting device?

No, I’m not so conscious about these techniques or devices screenwriters use.

You’re not reading those screenwriting books…

No, definitely not. I mean you go to film school and you learn all the rules, you read these books, you probably internalise them. But a story is a story, it’s always the same build-up, it comes naturally. I’m conscious about that when I’m making a film, but if nothing happens in a film in the first 15 minutes it’s not good. To make a film about a guy reading a newspaper for an hour is not going to be good!

rams still 2What was your approach to character in this film?

Hakonarson: Gummi is the main character and the story is told from his point of view. But you can’t say that Kiddi is a supporting actor, he’s a main character as well in a way. It’s just that the audience only gets to know him more at the end. So I see Gummi as the main character and Kiddi as a second main character.

You’re very laconic in your storytelling, you don’t go into the characters’ back story too much…

Hakonarson: No. Although I did write a back-story for the characters. But in the film there’s just a hint, in one scene they talk about the land. That’s what started the conflict but the important thing is that they are very different, one brother is alcoholic, mentally-unstable and the other one is a perfectionist. The editing process was the most difficult part I think. We had only two months so we’d probably qualify for a world record in editing. We did the editing in a small village in Eastern Iceland, working 10-12 hours a day.

Rams team

Actor Sigurdur Sigurjonsson, director Grimur Hakonarson, cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen and actor Theodor Juliusson

How about the location, where in Iceland did you shoot the film?

Hakonarson: Location was not one of the most practical because it’s far away from Reykjavik, it’s in North Iceland. But I chose it because of the farms, they were perfectly located in a nice landscape, very isolated from civilisation, very close to the mountains and the sheep farming community. We rented a guesthouse that’s only open in the summer and we made it our base. There are only 50 people living in that community and many of them were hired as assistants. Someone took care of the dogs, another one of the sheep, someone else was like a strung man. Some of the farmers even acted in the film, the guy with the white beard, he’s an amateur actor. So we tried to get the community involved in the film. And it was also important for me to do that in order to make the film more authentic, to use real people who are farmers.

Is it true that the farming communities are slowly dying in Iceland?

Yes, sheep farming is in a bit of crisis today, the communities that lived off it used to be much bigger, in the 80s there was 3 times more sheep in Iceland. So characters like the ones in my film are slowly disappearing. And you hear all sorts of stories, there is a farmer in Iceland who is trying to get permission to be buried with his sheep on his land, he’s trying to get some lawyers to help him with that.

That’s another film, right there! What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

I grew up in Reykjavik and I started out as an actor, when I was a kid I was acting at the National Theatre. Then the VHS revolution came in 1992, I bought a camera and started to make films, I was 14 when I made my first short film. Then I stopped and went to study philosophy for 1 year.

What made you abandon film and take up philosophy?

I was afraid that filmmaking would be too difficult as a career, that i won’t be able to make a living from that. Not that you can make a living from philosophy! But there’s a lot of competition in film and I was a bit scared of going into it.

Did you find philosophy useful as a filmmaker?

Not at all, I found out that it wasn’t my thing, I’m trying to avoid all that BS! Sometimes you watch films about “real people” made in a realistic vein and you get the impression from the dialogue that the filmmaker has read a lot of books! I try to avoid that.

Could you name some films that really impressed you?

Kitchen Stories by Bent Hamer, a Norwegian film. The Straight Story by David Lynch. Also Nói the Albino, an Icelandic film by Dagur Kári. When someone asks me what is my favourite film or director, I never give the same answer. My film is different from Nói the Albino though, this one was thought as a comedy for Iceland, it didn’t travel a lot, it went to a few festivals but it was very well-received in Iceland. This film is more like my short films, but the film I wanted to make was a more personal film.

What are your future plans? Do you see yourself like Kormákur, going to America or Europe and making international productions or would you rather make films at home?

I don’t see myself making films abroad at the moment, maybe in Europe or Denmark. I’d prefer to make films in Iceland, even with little money. Sometimes you have to wait for a long time to get funding. And that would be the main reason for going to make films abroad, economic factors.

This Feel-Good Romanian Film From Corneliu Porumboiu is a Real Treat and Rare TREASURE! CANNES 2015 INTERVIEW

THE TREASURE, the latest film from Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu, zeroes in on a literal and figurative hunt for a buried treasure with comedic results. It premiered at Cannes Film Festival this year where Porumboiu was awarded The Un Certain Talent Prize.

The Treasure is screening at AFI FEST tonight. 

The Treasure poster

This interview was part of a round-table conversation at Cannes Film Festival in May 2015. 

Knight: So, a treasure hunt…That sounds like the ultimate Romanian fantasy!

Porumboiu: (laughing) Yes, and there are a lot of stories like that in Romania, the local legends about someone who buried a treasure. It’s linked to the idea of miracle and as an orthodox country we believe in that!

Knight: In making this movie, you initially started from a documentary idea.

Porumboiu: Yes, Adrian who is playing the supporting role in this film, he told me a story about someone his grandfather knew who buried a treasure and we went there with a small crew to find it! But we didn’t find anything! So I thought I should make a feature film and then I’ll find the treasure!


Director Corneliu Porumboiu

Knight: What was the filmmaking process like?

Porumboiu: It was very strange. When I shot the documentary, Corneliu, who is the metal-detector guy in the film, he did not do a very good job with the computer and we were all looking at him anxious but also bursting with laughter. I really had the feeling that we were all lost in that garden and that was the first push to make the movie. So when I wrote the script, I was obviously thinking of the mise-en-scène and how the second plan looks and all that […] but my utmost concern in this movie was the tone. Will I find the right tone for the characters? From the beginning I wanted to have this distance from the story. Because it was very easy to slip into caricature with this film, it’s not like my other films. I’m quite happy with what I’ve achieved. After shooting, I took out a lot of scenes, especially from the beginning. Because the beginning is so puzzling that some of the following scenes did not fit very well into the structure. In the garden where I shot many long scenes, I wanted them to have an internal reason for being like that. After that, in the editing room, you can cut them shorter. But when I’m shooting, I focus on the internal reason of the shot.

Was there also improvisation in the garden scene?

Yes, even if it was all clear from the documentary. We usually rehearse a bit based on the script, but then we change the scenes from take to take. For the last scene we had about 20 takes. and I changed the scenes a little bit from take to take.

All your films talk about the possibility or impossibility of representing reality…

All my stories are about real things that happen around me. And every time I start with the desire of making a “real movie”. But at the same time it’s a convention. So it’s a paradox that I’m living every time. I want to make something “real” but at the same time I know that by structuring it, I’m making something else.

Why is it important to work with elements of reality in your films? All the filmmakers I admire the most did that, the French New Wave filmmakers, the Italian neorealists.

I’m inspired by reality, if I come across a story that at one point is important for me, I have to to tell it in a certain way. It’s a subconscious process, it’s like I want to say that now. But I wanted this film to be like an adventure.

The-Treasure stillIs the main character like a modern Robin Hood?

Yes, there is a suggestion to that effect. But when I was writing the script, it was very important to me that he is forced to give the treasure to the the kids. In the script this scene was more violent, the kids are just grabbing things.

I wanted the character to be in a very fragile equilibrium, he is not happy with his career. As to the kids, in Romania we say all the time that we are the sacrificed generation, therefore we want our kids to lead better lives. There are a lot of people who put a lot of pressure on their kids. When I did the casting, I saw a lot of kids and they all had such a busy schedule, they would come in with their mother or baby-sitter who would say, “At 4pm we have swimming, then we have this”. They looked so tired!

How did the casting for the other characters go?

We have very good young actors. Even the actress who plays the shop assistant in the jewellery store in tho film, she is very good. Between the ages of 25-35, you have at least a dozen very good actresses, and different typologies. Unfortunately there aren’t too many parts for them in Romanian films. But there are a lot of young actresses, it’s crazy what is happening now. But if you go over 50 years of age, it’s more difficult.

Is Corneliu, the metal-detector guy, the same person as in the documentary?

Yes. Although I did a casting with professional actors for this role. I gave the the dvd of the documentary and I told them I’m interested in a certain type of body language, I wanted this character to be like an extension of the machine. And Corneliu showed them how to do it and I realised he was so good that I said to him, Corneliu, you do it! And he read the script and said yes I can do it, it’s easy because I just reply to them! And I think he wants to do more acting now, we changed his life trajectory!

He is an interesting character and he functions like a metaphor for cinema in a way: making an image of a reality you don’t see, a 3D image created in numbers and colours that you have to interpret.

Yes, and it’s like a joke, we have the same name, and I was thinking that he was like an alter-ego for me. At the beginning when he introduces himself, “I’m Corneliu”, it’s very funny. But the scene where they start to fight in the garden was very difficult to shoot. […] There is a certain type of invisible despair in the film. I also wanted to play with this cliché that they will kill each other, in order to build up tension. I wanted to give the impression that they were digging their own graves.

2015 is a good year for Romanian cinema. Radu Jude won the Silver Bear for Best Director with Aferim! at Berlinale. There are two Romanian movies in Un Certain Regard in Cannes, yours and Radu Muntean’s One Floor Below. Is it getting easier making films in Romania?

It’s the same in a way. What is good is that three years ago they started to have the contest for state funding twice a year. Cristi Puiu just finished shooting, Mungiu too, Mitulescu has a movie that will premiere at a film festival by the end of the year, Adrian Sitaru just finished a very good movie from what I’ve heard and he’s shooting another one. Serban Florin is also making a film. It’s looking good. I actually have another project I’m working on now.