Best Films Of 2013

kazetachinu1Every year brings with it the urge to seek to catalogue a best of list, to try to consider what films left the most powerful, defining effect. This effort is often futile, as in any case of making any decision there will be omissions and slights of films perhaps just as good as the ones included.  To me, it seems like the most one can expect of a best list is to try to consider which films float above the others in the crowded mind; what images remain. I offer this one in this vein, with a note of the many films still unseen, unconsidered (Gravity, Blue Is The Warmest Color, many more…) with the hope only of drawing attention to films which seem deserving to be seen, which have had true meaning. I list these in only the loosest order. Without further ado….

12 Years A Slave: Steve McQueen manages to make an unrelenting (and unrelentingly beautiful) film about the difficult subject of slavery. McQueen recognizes the complexity of evil and how it can arise among us, tackling the subject with a rare nuance and power.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet: This late career film from Alain Resnais was one of those films where I left the theater transported, fully in the world of the film. The film might seem at first to be something insignificant but becomes something almost magical (and surely one of the best films about performance) as we see the fusion of the performers with the play which they enact. A special film very much worth checking out.

The Great Beauty: In The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino manages to make  some of the most beautiful images and moments of any film this year: the girl crying as she angrily throws paint, the parties, the elephant suddenly appearing, the “performance artist”… So many moments, sometimes satirical yet always beautiful. The film manages to be at once a statement on the state of Italy, the line between sacred and profane and a lyrical depiction of the ways memory stays with and haunts us.

Frances Ha: This film is one of the most purely wondrous of the year. Gerwig’s performance contains just enough understatement to truly make the humor work. Noah Baumbach as well shoots the film with great skill and in addition to the great comedy, the film manages to be simply beautiful.  Made in the shadow of the French New Wave but moved to New York, it has a great energy yet feels carefully calculated: every scene thought out many times and made with great care achieving a work which holds up to many viewings.

Molly Maxwell: Quite under-seen, this film from my native Toronto manages to deal with a topic that could seem slightly overdone (that of the student and teacher affair) in a new and compelling way. The director Sara St. Onge makes the story above all about the coming of age of the girl–Molly Maxwell, not a sensationalistic story of the predatory teacher’s lechery, allowing her story a complexity and interest. As well, the film is quite funny. A cheering example of the state of Canadian film: full of excitement and originality.

Viola: This film, much like Frances Ha, is a great example of the effectiveness of less is more in the cinema. Pinero, as we discussed in my interview, manages to include a surprisingly complex structure in a short 60 minute film with no wasted time. Much as Frances runs through the city, Viola bikes and we get to see the city of Buenos Ares expanding from Shakespeare’s play to create something fascinating and new.

Bastards/Abuse Of Weakness (tie): These two films from Brelliet and Denis manage to be beautiful provocations. Not for the faint of heart in both cases, the films show two fearless filmmakers both at the height of their powers. Abuse Of Weakness may seem on the surface to be one of the most calm of Catherine Brelliet’s films yet in the end can be called no less shocking. Isabelle Huppert, in a brilliant performance, portrays a woman, based on Brelliet, who, after suffering a stroke, begins financing a con man losing much of her money in the process. The film is unrelenting in its confusion and unsympathetic characters. Why? the viewer may ask. The film doesn’t seem to answer but instead gives us another great portrait of the role of the performer. At the end of the film, Huppert says of her actions “I was myself but I was not myself.” Much as the woman in the film is Brelliet and is not, so it is of the performer. A wonderfully fascinating, aggravating film. Bastards as well sees Denis’ flirting with the dark side in an experiment in film noir. The film is compelling, unrelenting, sometimes shocking, and, yet, beautiful.

Before Midnight: My discussion of the film is here.

Stories We Tell: Sarah Polley’s brilliant film shouldn’t be on this list, it really shouldn’t. I saw it first at thanksgiving in Canada last year. Yet, I saw it again at Doc NYC and it continued to be one of my favorite films, growing deeper and more powerful on the second viewing. Polley manages to do new things with documentary: deeply exploring the different ways people perceive memory and if there is any way to bring them together. Fascinating.

The Wind Rises: This film, perhaps the last from Hayao Miyazaki, held me riveted. Miyazaki’s direction is truly revelatory in this almost classically epic and lush period melodrama. In the past few films from Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, it has slowly become clearer that Miyazaki, far from wishing to be Walt Disney, would like to be more in the vein of Max Ophuls. In both this film and the earlier From Up On Poppy Hill (for which Miyazaki wrote the script), there is a truly romantic and nostalgic quality which brings the viewer back to far older films. Far from pure fantasy, Miyazaki brings us back to a kind of filmmaking one would too soon mourn; that is a film with true sweep and beauty. Virtually every frame offers the viewer an astonishment, perhaps enhanced for me at the NYFF’s spectacular venue, Alice Tully Hall.  The animation is gorgeous, of course, but so are the precisely timed edits, the perfect placement of characters in frame, the astonishing use of light and shadow (particularly in a scene in which a man is suddenly attacked) and the raw emotion of the material. He makes wonderful yet sparing use of the effects of animation to allow us brief flights of fantasy, to believe, in one magical scene, that a paper plane can fly straight to one’s beloved. Miyazaki reminds us that he is a great filmmaker, period. He has become so skilled that he can make a film as cinematic and mature as any other filmmaker.  By going into the past, Miyazaki brings us a revelation.

DOC NYC: Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy

Michel Gondry’s animated interview with the cognitive scientist and linguist Noam Chomsky, Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy (premièring at DOC NYC this Thursday, November 17th), is almost as fascinating as a concept as it is as a film. Gondry uses the purely visual language of cinema and animation to show Chomsky’s ideas of language that often clash with the very idea of visualization on screen. Chomsky argues that to recognize a tree, a river and a deer is something other than the direct visual representation; he often uses examples from children’s books in which someone is transformed into another thing for example, a deer into a rock yet the reader instinctively recognizes that, despite seemingly being a rock, it is still a deer.

Where Gondry describes learning to recognize animals through seeing images in books, Chomsky says that there is something else than appearance that causes recognition in language. When we hear the word dog, it is not as one would think just an image of what looks like a dog that we see but some more abstract being which would remain no matter what form the dog took. Putting these arguments in the almost purely visual form of Gondry’s animation causes an interesting back and forth.

The first clear question about the film is can these rather abstract ideas of Chomsky be conveyed visually? Gondry often says in the film that his English is “not so good” and one can see in the film him trying to make Chomsky’s arguments accessible regardless of language. Chomsky seems a figure who would be directly opposed to this kind of treatment, saying that he does not go to the cinema and against the idea of representative imagery.

Nonetheless, there is a peculiar wonder to Gondry’s imagery, which shows us a clear image of Chomsky’s hyperactive mind, full of connections, obliterations and color. To represent the changing language of which Chomsky speaks, there are rapidly changing images in which lines connect the snowflakes of the speaking brain, lakes turn to highways and dogs into deer.  Toward the beginning of the film, Gondry shows himself animating the film saying that he chose this process to show the viewer that he had created the film and his role in creating the film. The choice to use animation can be said to further represent the idea of conversation. Gondry in animating Chomsky’s arguments can be said to be showing us his effort to understand and make sense of his ideas and inviting us to do the same.

Cinematic Dances In The Films Of Claire Denis

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about the difference between film and dance. I said, with a sudden conviction, that there was no difference. Both ultimately aim to show movement through space. This conviction came from having recently immersed myself in the work of the French director Claire Denis. Denis understands the full capabilities of cinema to fuse movement and music in film. For this quality, Denis’ work is almost entirely unique, even in the already diverse world of French cinema, and contains some of the most incredible moments of film from the decades in which she’s worked. Recently, Denis’s unique work has been given new opportunities for discovery, with her noir “Bastards” released and her films given a full retrospective at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. Brad Deane, who first saw her work at an earlier retrospective at the previous TIFF Cinematheque, curated the series. He said of discovering her films that “I went and saw her first two films the first night [of the earlier retrospective], ‘Chocolat’ and ‘Beau Travail’. ‘Beau Travail’ was the new film at the time and I was just blown away by them and I fell in love with her films. I watched everything in the retrospective and then every time she’s brought a film to the festival, of course it’s always my most anticipated film to see.”

Denis works with a consistent group of actors and musicians (the band Tindersticks) and returns to many themes consistently in her work. Yet Denis’s films show a rare level of variation, ranging across all types of genres from ‘vampire films’ to noir in her new film Bastards. Her most recent film according to Deane “reinforced more and more that it was actually a good time to do this retrospective [at TIFF]. It ties together a lot of the themes but in a different way than her other films.”  Despite this variation, Denis’s films pull you in and ask to be looked at alongside her other work. By seeing more of here work, one gets to see so many interesting connections and beautiful moments of cinematic movement.

One of my favorite moments in Denis’ films comes in “35 Shots Of Rum” (screening on Saturday, November 9th at 5:00 as part of the retrospective) when the main group of characters stop by a closed bar and are allowed in for shelter after their taxi breaks down on the way to a concert. They are allowed in and start to dance. When the father and daughter begin to dance the music abruptly shifts to the song “Night Shift.” Another man from their apartment walks up and takes the dance over from the father who smiles as he lets his daughter go, to let the other man take the “night shift.” The father also takes the hand of the waitress and they begin to dance. This sequence achieves something resembling transcendence; in what is otherwise a largely realist film, we enter for a moment a realm almost fantastical. The music, image and movement combine to achieve the release of daughter from father.

In “Bastards”, the most heightened moment comes not to uplift but to deeply trouble the audience. At the end of the film, Denis shows a security tape of crimes committed earlier in the film. Rather than showing the scene from a remove, she takes the grain of the digital security camera and with her cinematographer Agnes Godard makes the grain have the texture and beauty of film. She scores and cuts the scene to Tindersticks’s cover of “Put Your Love In Me.” In a choice which reminds of Makavejev’s “Sweet Movie” (on which Denis was assistant director), even though the action on screen is repulsive, she makes this scene as aesthetically gorgeous as any other scene in the film.

A few more moments: In “Nenette and Boni”, there is a wonderful sequence in which the Baker looks at his wife as “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys plays on the jukebox. He looks out at her with love, seeming foolishly hopeful, but she is slow to return his smile. Finally, she notices and smiles back. She quietly begins to move to the melody. In “Beau Travail,” there is the famous scene in which Denis Lavant dances to “The Rhythm Of The Night” in an empty disco after his character has seemingly chosen to end his life. The sequence is a wonderful setting free and release of his repressed emotion in the film. While Denis has only made one film completely focused on dancers (“Vers Mathilde” which screens tonight, Nov. 5, at 6:30), throughout all of her work she can be said to achieve a fusion of movement, music and cinema which comes together to become a true dance.

For those in Toronto, the retrospective Claire Denis: Objects Of Desire continues at The TIFF Bell Lightbox through November 10th. Bastards is now in release in theaters and on demand.

On The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jaques Demy’s musical film The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, cannot truly be considered as one.  The film unlike many musicals seems never to depart from reality. The realistic elements to be found beyond the film’s dream veneer are its overall use of direct dialogue and the way that the film’s lyricism isn’t strained. Indeed, if we get deeper into looking at the film, we realize that the first colorful appearance of the sets is besmirched with darker spots. For example, Roland Cassard, with his black suit, black hat and black car, brings seriousness and melancholy which contrasts with the youth and joy of Geneviève. It is also the black umbrellas that are the best sold among the very colorful articles, they are called “pépins noirs” which means “black sorrow.” After an argument with her daughter, Geneviève’s mother also answers to a stranger asking for the colors merchant that it is the shop next door as if she realized that life isn’t as colorful as it seems.

Demy once said that he “told Michel Legrand that I wanted to make a musical film. A film which wouldn’t borrow anything from the American musical, nor the French operetta.” Demy created this with The Umbrellas Of CherbourgThere is indeed no break as in traditional American musicals with the songs as the film’s dialogue is entirely sung.  We often say that it is a musical, but this is only partially true as it is closer to the style of the operetta.

As a self derision, one of Guy’s coworker in the beginning of the film says: “All these people who sing, you understand it hurts me! I prefer the movies … ” The music is also the element that determines the film staging and exposes simple but also darker themes. Among the musical themes of the film we find the war and the separation as, for example, in Geneviève’s song at the train station before Guy’s departure. Demy inserts the theme of the antics Greek tragedies with an allusion to Orpheus leaving Hell. There Orpheus is Guy, but he is going to Hell, as he is leaving for the Algerian war. This is also emphasized by Guy saying: “I walk away from you, do not look at me” and Geneviève to answer “I can’t.” Another element that departs from the American musicals is that the film closes on an utopian couple broken apart, yet somehow still together through the bound of a child that stands as the last memory of a lost love.

The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg is showing at Film Forum from Friday, October 18 – Thursday, October 24 in a new restoration as part of a Jaques Demy retrospective.

Pierrot Le Fou: Godard’s Underrated Classic

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The year was 2010.

I had only heard Jean-Luc Godard’s name, but had never seen his work.  That changed when I took a class called Introduction to the Aesthetics and History of Film taught by Malcolm Turvey.  Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou (1965) was screened to understand his style as a filmmaker.  At first, I only knew Godard’s name.  It was tied to an honorary Oscar that he was selected to receive, but declined in fear of backlash from his American fears for his assumed anti-Semitic beliefs.  Despite the drama behind the man, I was hooked. Pierrot Le Fou is a great example of how Godard combines elements of the classical narrative and art cinema.  While À Bout de souffle (1960) is Godard’s best known work for combining Hollywood style plot points with dead time and jump cuts, Pierrot Le Fou is much easier to view as an example of that blend.

Pierrot Le Fou is a caper film combined with hints of comedy, action thriller, documentary, and the classic 1950s musical.  The story centers around a bored Bourgeoisie man, Ferdinand, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, who decides to escape Paris and his family with his kids’ babysitter, Marianne (Anna Karenina).  Simple as it may sound, the film goes in several directions.  Ferdinand and Marianne fight like Laurel and Hardy, don’t think things through, fall in love, fall out of love, and while they may look like they have a common goal, they are really just self-centered inside. Belmondo and Karina have palpable chemistry, so much so I wish they were a real power couple (Karina was married to Godard at the time, however).  As contemporary caper films do, they are cast as young and beautiful people who decide to take on a life of crime.  It is like witnessing the power of Bradgelina on the red carpet.

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The environment of the film is stunning.  The use of saturated colors make the film’s world bright and fun against its dark backdrop.  Silliness erupts through moments of humor and song.  At one point, Marianne starts to randomly sing about her fate lines on her palms.  The song leads nowhere, but the tune is so catchy that it gets stuck in one’s head.  It is a paradise where all must fall, and the final scene is nothing but a blow to expectations and a parody of the Road Runner Looney Tunes cartoons.

I consider Pierrot Le Fou one of my top five favorite films.  Why?  It’s blend of genres, palpable chemistry, luscious beach landscapes, and memorable moments is a testament to what the cinema going experience should be.  It is a hallmark work which has inspired me both as a viewer and filmmaker in trying to blend classical Hollywood and styles particular to art and world cinema into one package.

Pierrot Le Fou is part of the Film Society’s series “NYFF 51 – Jean-Luc Godard: The Spirit of the Forms” that begins October 9th and ends October 31st.  For a complete schedule, click here.

An Interview With Marina Abramović

English: Marina Abramovic at the MoMA in 2010
English: Marina Abramovic at the MoMA in 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Marina Abramović’s work seems to offer viewers something entirely disparate from cinema, a feeling of fleeting presence with performances to happen only once and never again. Yet, Abramovic has, in the past several years, become increasingly interested in achieving some sort of record and preservation of performance art and durational work. There was a documentary released, Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present (2012), which is a quite beautiful work on its own terms capturing the experience of her already famous MOMA exhibit and the power of her work. Now, Abramović is opening The Marina Abramović Institute in Hudson, NY to preserve long durational work. Funds for the institute were being raised on Kickstarter with nine days left when I conducted the interview where Abramović was offering many rewards including a hug for every donor as part of an event called THE EMBRACE. She also included the chance to have a movie night. She has also shared a list of her top ten films on Indiewire. On this occasion, I had the chance to talk to Abramović via email about the relationship of performance and cinema.

-Gabriel Chazan

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What is a movie night with Marina Abramovic like?

When I lived in ex Yugoslavia, going to the movies was a ritual. After each movie, the friends would get together and discuss what we had seen. There was a certain beauty in those late nights which I miss and I would like to recreate today. Today, a movie night with Marina Abramovic would be recreating that feeling of closeness around something that I love to share with others.

How did you choose the films on your list and what makes a film compelling to you? 

It is very simple, each film on this list moved me in a certain way. Sometimes its the story, sometimes the actors, sometimes its the way the film is edited. But all of the films on this list had an emotional impact on me. That is why I chose to share them.

Are there any film performers/actors who have influenced your performances?

No. I appreciate, respect and admire actors, but my influences come from nature and indigenous cultures.

When working with Willem Dafoe on your opera, did you see differences in your processes?

Oh yes. We have radically different processes. But I was ready to learn from him and he was generous and patient with me and he explained to me what acting really means and how acting can become real. I never believed that acting could be as real as performance, but now I understand that it can.

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© OMA.

How do you plan to have cinema, film art and filmed performance play a role in M.A.I.? 

I am including all of these categories because they are immaterial in nature. And my institute is made for immaterial arts like opera, film, theatre, video, dance, music and performance. The only difference between us and other institutes is that all of these things have to be long-durational, 6 hours or more.
Do you think filming a performance is a good form of documentation?

Yes absolutely. Photography is not a good form of documentation because it is static and doesn’t include sound and movement.

Do you think there is a way to make a truly performance art film?

I don’t think that its possible because they are two different categories. If you do a performance and film it, you are left with documentation because performance is time based art and film is not.

You’ve tried forays into opera and theater. Have you ever considered making a film?

It is my long-time dream to make a film. It is a very big responsibility and an enormous infrastructure to deal with. I hope one day I will be able to realize that dream.

What do you find different or similar about the role of the spectator in performance and cinema? Is there a way to be an ‘active participant’ while watching a film as with performance art?

At the moment, this kind of similarity clearly doesn’t exist. But in the past there have been some attempts made unsuccessfully where the spectator can make choices that affect the outcome of the movie. So we hope in the future that this interactive aspect in the cinema will be more explored and will use better technology.

Do you find that filmed performances and interviews with artists, such as the documentary on you Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, can be a helpful tool to expose younger viewers to your artwork?

Yes. Anyone of my generation can be exposed to younger viewers through these forms of documentation. It is important for younger generations to see this in order to understand the history and the development of performance art.

With the M.A.I. Kickstarter, you are sending films showing how to practice the Abramovic method. How do you feel film is useful as a teaching tool for young performance artists?

The film can serve as a guide, but it is never enough. Eventually you have to get direct experience with the teacher.

What can filmmakers and actors draw from performance art?

A lot. They can learn about true reality and being present and vulnerable in front of a public without being protected by playing a character as they would in film or theatre.

What piece of advice would you have for young film artists?

My advice is not directed only to young film artists, it is for anyone looking to be an artist in any category. Follow your intuition no matter what. Don’t make big compromises. Do whatever you do 100 percent.

An Interview With Matías Piñeiro

Shortly after seeing Matías Piñeiro’s Viola at New Directors/New Films, I had the chance to have a conversation with him via Skype. At New Directors/New Films this year, he and Jazmin Lopez, who I also interviewed, showed an exciting moment for Argentinian film. Piñeiro is also one of several filmmakers working now to take on Shakespeare in new ways. His film seems almost a companion piece to the Taviani brothers’ film Caesar Must Die in conveying a Shakespeare play through the rehearsal process in a specifically different setting than England, this time Argentina. Yet where the Taviani’s try to show the full play in the closed prison, he hones in on one specific element, the female characters, and allows his characters a full range of locations all across Buenos Aires. Shakespeare’s words and stories, translated to Spanish, become wonderfully alive in Piñeiro’s film much like in the Taviani’s. Shakespeare can speak to us wherever we are from, Piñeiro shows us through his film. He takes us around all of Argentina through both rehearsal rooms and streets with the bike riding, DVD delivery girl Viola. Talking to Piñeiro, one gets the feeling of a filmmaker who has found a project he is committed to in these  re-interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays. Viola comes after Rosalinda, his film based on As You Like It. Piñeiro is currently working on another Shakespeare film to start shooting in Argentina soon. Also, as we discussed in the interview, Piñeiro uses cinematic structure in interesting and surprising ways.  One can look forward to seeing how Piñeiro will continue to change our ideas of what Shakespeare can be on film as well as how films themselves can be made in his future films.

For those based in New York, Viola as well as a retrospective of Piñeiro’s other work opens today at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center. -Gabriel Chazan

Gabriel Chazan: You use a lot of the same actors and crew for a lot of your films. I was curious if you see your film team as a sort of repertory company. 

Matías Piñeiro: I think of it but in a very informal way. It’s not that we get together and work like a conscious group but every time that I have an idea for a film, I know that I want to do it with them. Then each and everyone goes its way but then I do have a tendency to work with certain actors that I like. The characters come up to me from them somehow. The technical crew, it’s the people who I’ve known forever and we trust each other and we push to the same place somehow. So it’s kind of natural for me to go back to these people and as we work together I think we try to take the best out of each other. I think that’s why we keep on insisting on us. (laughs) So it comes natural but it’s not like we’re a company that goes together and has a name or something. No, it’s more fluid, it’s more random.

You mentioned using the same actors. Do you use their parts in the different films to play off each other?

Not exactly. But yes to this idea that they bring something to the character that is from them. I thought the character for them because of something that they had in them. But with what they have, I create fiction. Or maybe I put them at a race. For instance “now you’re not a very supportive girl so I will push you to do some physical things” because I know that from that something will come even if it’s a difficulty. I would like to see how it would be hard for you to be running all the time, for instance. Then the next film I can do the opposite. All the roles were written for these people and play with them somehow. Like doing variations with their possibilities as performers or as a body in front of the camera.

You mentioned as well in the Q and A that the film came out of directing an actual production of…was it just Twelfth Night or several Shakespeare pieces?

It was several pieces. It’s the same thing as the one in a scene in the film that they talk about that “we are doing this play, that it’s a mixture of five or seven plays.” Well, that was the play that I did with the girls. With the girls that you see in the dressing room and that was the starting point somehow to Viola. I did this play because I was called on to do it from The Public University Of Buenos Ares Cultural Center.

Had you already started the project of filming the Shakespeare plays at this point?

The Shakespeare series of films that started with Rosalinda was previous to the play. So somehow the people from the university called me to do the play, a play for the first time in my case because they’d seen that I’d been working with Shakespeare, with these actors and they saw that there was some kind of relationship between my cinema and theater so they called me because of the films and then I did another film and I’m planning to do another film based on one scene that we did in that play.

How did you find working in theater as a filmmaker? Did you  use different methods or find you were able to bring elements from your filmmaking into theater? 

When I was to do the play, I just didn’t try to do a cinematic thing. I just said “I’m interested in this text and these actresses. Let’s play with this and let’s do some theater. Let’s not try to bring cinema film world.” So I tried to be focused on how Shakespeare did his plays, his very simple staging, these actresses in front of the public. I decided to work on the text, this idea that the structures are so strong and the conflicts are somehow part of a code. That even though you take many different plays, you can always select one scene from Act One, one scene from Act Two, one scene from Act Three, Four and Five, from different plays and you can still see the thing flow. You can still follow the thing because it’s been so structured and it’s an architecture that can go through that. So that was my approach to the text and to see how this can still be played on without having this Shakespeare glass. Without the usual thing, trying to appropriate this text as if it were like our own.

Then film, there I thought I did it more maybe. In the play, I was interested in the actresses and the space and the theater experience. Then in the film, I did realize that shooting just the play, following the narrative of the play, it’s kind of boring and it’s a little bit stale to see. It’s Chicago somehow. I realized that I had to do something with that, put something on in terms of the plot and whatever. Then I said “okay, I’m interested in the text again so let’s do something with it” and I was having this idea of repetitions, of rehearsals and I said “okay, let’s work on the idea of repetition” so I decided that the girl would repeat the text many times in order to conquer this other girl and prove her theories of love (or whatever). So I said “let’s have a little bit of an artificial approach to this text that is so baroque at the same time” and I decided that a good way to see theater would be different from the experience that we have when we go to the theater. That means being very close up, to stay only focused on one thing and stay there.

So it’s very close and very staying in one place. I said “from there, we will go away from these superficial things of theater being shot, like this capsule, and we’ll be looking for something else apart from the actual doing of the play, the actual performance. I thought that being very close and waiting for things to come, catching those little moments of smiles and movements of the face and sparks in the eye. Trying to watch more that, shoot and find that in cinema and that would somehow take me away from theatricality in cinema.

I thought it was unusual that, as you were saying, you hone in on a very specific element of the play where a lot of cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare make it very large, that you choose that repetition. I don’t know if you saw The Taviani Brothers’ film Caesar Must Die but that film used a similar device of focusing on the rehearsals. 

Yeah, I did something like a month ago.

I thought it was really interesting with your film compared with that one. It’s a similar thing in some ways, the device of focusing on the rehearsals.. It’s a similar choice in that film of trying to bring Shakespeare to a different way of speaking, a different dialect, and that’s a really fascinating trend in adaptations of Shakespeare.

I like it because you see something else apart from the actual play. Then you see the play, you hear the text but at the same time you have other layers. I think that those layers are the one that keeps the thing a little bit alive, brings something else that has to do with the story of those guys, those men, the dialects, the appropriation of in Italian and all those are classes, things that sum up something new. At the same time, the film does not stick to the play in a way that would kill the film. It’s not that I’m against the usual adaptations but it’s true that sometimes you can find something more interesting if you have a determined approach. I think that this film, even though it’s pretty much the play, it’s not only the play that we’ve listened to and read so many times. It’s something else thanks to the text. It’s a nice dialogue.

And moving the space which you do that a lot in your film as well. Going past the theater to rehearsal rooms or to other places. Do you try to avoid filming in theaters? You start in a theatrical space but cut out of it to show the girl biking and kind of take the viewer away from the theatrical spaces. How do you locate it somewhere else?

One thing that I tried to avoid is the “as-if” motif, “let’s do [this] as if they would be doing the play, as if they were happy,” I hate that. It’s horrible to put extras watching a play that they’re not really watching and I know that everything in fiction is false but things can be a little less fake. When I wanted to shoot a scene from the play, I said “oh but it’s so boring to have people watching something that they’re not actually watching” because when you’re shoot a scene, they doing the scene for the sake of the frame. You’re shooting that scene where they’re talking and saying bad things. If you’re shooting that they’re watching a play, they’re not actually watching the play, they’re just posing for the film which I don’t like much. I decided all the time that I don’t want to fake it that way so I needed to move the theater and doing of the play somewhere else.

I knew that I needed to put one little moment so I focused on one little moment but then I knew that I had to move out from there. That’s why I liked rehearsals because rehearsals are much less “as-if”. Even though we will not do the play again for theater, the rehearsal was something that you can always do and always repeat and always be in rehearsal so that gave me a little bit more of air. It was more free, more possible, less of a fake, less of “as-if”. Then I tried to move it everywhere like into the car, into the bike… The idea of the bike has to do with that I knew I was having people watching faces for 25 minutes and this isn’t Shakespeare in a loop so let’s bring something different.

Do you do rehearsals for your films or just theater pieces?

No, I rehearse for film. I probably don’t rehearse as much but each film goes by and I realize that I’ve rehearsed less. But at the same time this film has all the energy of these four actresses who have been doing the play for five, six nights so it’s kind of tricky to measure up the time that we rehearsed this film because we did it for a long time with the play. I think that the play was somehow the preparation for the film. I truly felt that. That the play was not truly successful in a way but it was a good way for me to experience that which was very lovely. It’s very nice to be there every week putting on the show and seeing how things go wrong and how things go right. That’s very beautiful and makes cinema seem so stupid also, so superficial. Here you’re doing something every week, you’re doing something that will evaporate when its been said, if everything is wrong next time can be better. It’s very nice, theater. I really like theater.

But at the same time, my thing is cinema and I love cinema and I was working too on this film. Then, for the other films, I tried to rehearse as much as I can. A month at least or two months, depends the film, but in the end, as these are very small independent features, I do not have a lot of money to give to the actors so that they can be free to rehearse so it’s very hard to organize the schedule so we can all get together and rehearse. It’s always much less than I would prefer but I try to do it as much as I can.

You focus in Viola almost exclusively on the female characters, mostly entirely taking the male characters out other than some mentions. I was wondering if you could talk about why you chose this approach. 

I chose the female characters because, when I was reading the comedies, I realized that the characters that were more interesting were them. They are not that well known and also this idea of putting a little bit of light into those usual topics, for instance Shakespeare, but into one corner that hasn’t been very well lit was something that interested me. At the same time, I do have this great relationship with these actresses and, when I was reading Shakespeare, I said “oh my god! Maria can perfectly be Rosalinda so let’s do something with that.” So it’s those two things like knowing that those characters have a relationship with me today and that I have this group of actresses that are so good and so perfect for them, so suitable for these roles.

Shakespeare is huge and the plays are huge and have so much material that for my little films I thought the best thing I can do is just focus on something. There’s no need to put Malvolio, even though it’s a great character, or Feste. They’re awesome characters, it’s a pity that they’re not in but this film, this approach is not into them. I’m not in this need of putting everything. I prefer to leave them aside and maybe there will come a day when I or someone else will do the fools in Shakespeare in cinema, alone, but in my case, I din’t want to do an average. I just wanted to focus on something.

You start the film which this rehearsal which seems like it will be the film with the repetition and then you abruptly cut to the story being told. I haven’t seen this kind of structure used often, especially in such a short film. How do you structure your films?

I do like to play with structures so I just think how a story can be told in a way that… It’s not that I want to be super original but, yes, I want to try different movements, different forms so I tried this: let’s organize the film in two parts, let’s put two things that have nothing to do together and see what happens. I tried to mix these possibilities of cinematic gifts. I do know all about the plot points and I don’t care much about them and I think that’s the good thing about knowing all the little things from cinema, it’s to do something to move forward.

So, okay, we have a plot point but then we go somewhere else because we have seen those other films before where everything is said and everything is according to how it’s supposed to be done. That’s great, that’s why we have classical cinema and we can learn so much from it. But then I do have a need to move forward and try new things that may be surprising for myself so the idea of cutting the piece in two, the idea of Chinese boxes inside and out, I tried to fool around with trying to de-realize the world a little bit and trying to introduce some artificiality into the world. Using cinema in that sense. It’s much more about telling a tale instead of telling a story or trying to avoid this idea of cinema as a reflection of the world. I’m trying to produce something out from the world. So it has to do with a curiosity of mine in structures, playing with structures.

Speaking of that, what films most influenced you especially with that structure?

I like the films that take Shakespeare and are actually adaptations. Maybe they’re very far away from what I do. When you see the beginning of To Be Or Not To Be that it seems to be something else but then you see that it’s a play. [Ernst Lubitsch] works with that, with one character’s point of view produced in narrative. For example, Buñuel in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie also. There’s a little homage there [in Viola] when the girl says the address. The boy said ‘tre tre cinco, I don’t know what” and there you see the plaque and Buñuel does the same thing. That’s like foolish things and they’re not important but this idea of playing with structures.

Preston Sturges does the same thing of mixing film with reality or Hsiao-hsien Hou who also plays a lot with structures that I like. Some Renoir films like Elena And The Men or all of his films that are like structures but don’t seem so structured. At the same time, you know like two girls go with the other two boys and the other third girl goes with the other boy. Everything kind of gets together in a beautiful, artificial way in the end, all because of the love for structure or love of narrative. The love of the classics, somehow. All those things I put together. Even the Olivier films on Shakespeare I really like, Henry V especially. It’s very artificial. It begins as something else. It’s not the play, it’s the performance of the play. It develops into something else.  It’s very nice.

So all these people have been thinking about Shakespeare and thinking about how to tell a story, tell a tale and you take notes. When watching films, you can also learn things. You take note and see what happened, how they do this, how they do that and then you just try to apply it to your world, to your possibilities and try to work by yourself. It’s not that you try to copy. It’s more that you try to see how it’s been working out before you came.

You’re mostly based in New York but still do your films in Argentina. Do you find that you’re more connected to writing about Argentina through not being there? 

I’ve been here in New York for two years now and Viola I shot just before coming here. When I shot Viola, I was still in my Buenos Ares mood. Being here now, I don’t think there has been much difference. I’m planning to shoot in August the third Shakespearean film. I’m starting to write here. I’m kind of a lazy writer but do write, do think and I like doing these signs, drawing things. That has to do with structures because you can see them. I don’t know if you can write them. You see structures, I think that. I’m not conscious that being here now has informed me in an aesthetic way. I don’t know… Let’s see in the next film if there’s something very different. I don’t think it has.

I’m not nostalgic from Argentina, it’s not that I want to go back. I like it there, my friends are there, my crew is there. They’re part of the film as much as I am and I have a relationship that I don’t have with anybody here. I think that I will be able to shoot here the moment that I get aquatinted with people in a similar way as I am in Buenos Ares. That’s starting to happen. Suddenly I realized that ooh this guy can work on this, this guy can do this, this girl can help me here and we can do something but it will require some time. It will require me some time to be the filmmaker that I am and that’s thanks to the people [in Argentina]. So I’m not yet clear what has affected me or influenced me by living here. I will see once I’m doing the next film. We’ll see. Then we can talk about production things like getting the films seen, getting the films known like people meeting the films for the first times. Living here has helped me a lot in that sense. Putting the films out there.

Do you find there’s less of a way to get the films seen in Argentina? 

What happens is if you work in Argentina, there’s a film festival that’s great called BAFICI [Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema] so everyone comes there. Someone comes from France, someone comes from the states, someone comes from Australia and it’s always that same someone. The films are only shown to these two, three people from those countries. So, for instance, I wanted to go to a certain festival in Portugal but the guy who came to BAFICI was always the same one and maybe he didn’t like the films.

You know that the festivals also have these kind of ambassadors, one for African film who will will go to every African festival and see films for The New York Film Festival for instance. So you get these filters. When I moved here, I broke that filter. Even though my films were shown in BAFICI, people were nice to them and I’ve been around a little bit, moving made me meet people that I’ve not been meeting before because they were not coming down to Argentina. That was interesting because it opened up the scope. Also, the film was seen little by little by the Argentinian journalists and critics so I was not in the middle of the typical chaotic and crazy mire at the local film festival where everything is eaten so abruptly. Viola made connections to other people because I was here and not there. I didn’t get the same filters I had before. There was a difference in that sense.

If you had one piece of advice on filmmaking for those starting out, what would it be?

I come from a very particular place and I do my films in a particular way so my ideas are not applicable everywhere. I do think that the way that I did the films or that I got my films being done had to do with an idea of insisting and on truly believing that I want to do this and having a crew and people around that were truly part of the thing. I think that it’s nice to see that film is somehow a way of meeting people and putting people together. We’re so much director driven in our analysis of film that it’s nice to take a step down and think that the films are also possible because of the mixture of people. Something has to go right there, you have to think how that does work so that the film has the ideas that you want to convey. The atmosphere that is in the film when it’s being produced is not that different from the atmosphere and energy that the film has as an object already done. You have to concentrate on trying to maintain that energy that you want to put in the picture in the actual working with people in your films. It’s kind of abstract but you have to be conscious that the decisions that you do will somehow be shown in the film, in the actual final object. That does not just mean to correct the phrase of one actor or correct one pan, it’s just a spirit of the thing. I’m trying not to be a jackass. Try to think on film. People sometimes think too much on money, everything is money and you meet directors and all they are talking about is money. I work in a very small frame. I’m happy with that. I want to develop but I don’t want to develop big. I just want to be able to work on my storytelling and try to focus as much on that, on that writing kind of work than on the production and money kind of thing that some people go a little bit crazy. It’s long, it’s abstract and confused so that’s what I can provide. Confusion and a lot of words.