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Reality Never Stops — By Ankur Pathak
Argentinian filmmaker Lucrecia Martel on the power of language and reality.
Martel is undoubtedly the best-known filmmaker of the Argentinian New Wave, with films like The Swamp, The Holy Girl and more recently, The Headless Woman, all of which have been lauded at festivals worldwide.
Martel reveals a unique challenge that she faces as a filmmaker in Argentina: "What I find extremely dangerous today is the growing hegemony of the English language in Argentina's cinematic culture. Some producers have told me to make a film in English because it is more commercially viable. What they don't understand is that language drives the character — it is an important tool of expression and the finer nuances like the body-language, the subtle interactions and the entire perception will be lost if my characters start speaking English."
Does that imply she is never going to make a Hollywood film? "No. It doesn't mean that I am against Hollywood. I admire some of their directors and if the right opportunity presents itself, I may even make a film in English, but my first love lies in Argentina."
When asked what aspects of real life find their way into her films, Martel says, "Quite a lot of psychopathic aspects keep popping up in my work. But reality never stops inspiring me. It is the everyday interactions between people I know that I find exciting. Every single day we are telling stories to each other, and these are about real people and real incidents." This, Martel says, is also the reason why she generally leaves her films open-ended. "Reality never stops, and I feel film functions similarly. Nobody knows everything about life. This is why films should be left open to multiple interpretations. If there is a solid ending, it won't remain in the viewer's memory. A film should reflect reality within the realm of fiction. It should not look like a roller-coaster made by an engineer."
Matthew Libatique, renowned for his cinematography in Black Swan, in an interview about how digital technology has effected filmmaking.
In a filmmaking world that's becoming increasingly digital, Matthew Libatique longs for the old ways. The 2010 Academy Award nominee for Best Cinematography admits that he tries really hard to emulate the look of celluloid every time he works with digital. "I am half-joking when I say this: I like digital as long as it doesn't look like digital. It's inexplicable what you're missing in digital. In film, you have these layers of emotion. In digital, you only have a flat field of pixels."
For Libatique, film is not mere chemicals. "It is a medium packed with countless human sensations. When you use film and look at the images, you could see variations in every frame. In digital, every frame is exactly the same."
It was the experience of making Noah, Darren Aronofsky's feature to be released in 2014, that made Libatique realize how digital technology has effected the film industry. "We shot the film on 35mm, but there are very few labs in the world that could process it. This is where digital has really taken over: in the lab and in post-production", said the cinematographer. "Ten years ago, we chose labs based on the people who worked there and how they process the film. You have options because every lab renders differently. Now, we have fewer choices to finish on film."
Libatique sees an advantage in digital technology for trying out new approaches. "One thing, perhaps the only thing, I like about digital is that it's like a lens test. I could pop any lens on a digital camera and see how it turns out. In a commercial I made recently, I experimented with older lenses."
Experimentation is important for Libatique – as it opens up new perspectives that are vital to his work. "Darren [Aronofsky] used to call me a method cinematographer. When I'm working, I try to mimic the main character; I try to become him or her. It happened in Black Swan with Natalie Portman, it happened in PI with the Max Cohen character. It happened on many occasions in Everything Is Illuminated with Elijah Wood. It didn't happen in Iron Man, naturally. It's such a large-scale film, it's not personal. As a filmmaker, I prefer the personal, because it allows me to focus. It's not that I don't find value in films like Iron Man. I do. Making sprawling spectacle requires a different kind of focus, a different kind of skill set."
Soderbergh's latest is a tightly knit postmodern thriller.
Ever since discovering digital filmmaking (and, ironically, after announcing his retirement), Steven Soderbergh seems to have been reborn. Making a film a year (if not more), the eclectic director has fully embraced technological advancements that allow for faster and better workflow. Working as director, cinematographer and often, also as editor, Soderbergh makes filmmaking look easy.
Set in the cutthroat world of pharmaceuticals, Side Effects is an incredibly twisty, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Its structural intricacies and character dynamics are as fluid as the chemicals of the brain on narcotics. Yet the plot is almost incidental; the film is a cocktail of power-hunger and manipulation, in which Jude Law, Rooney Mara (both excellent), Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones navigate a greedy world. If The Girlfriend Experience and Magic Mike were about making ends meet, this latest film closes the director's loose post-collapse trilogy, packaging a bleak outlook within the requirements and conventions of the postmodern-thriller.
Under its conventional allure, Side Effects reveals an experimental spirit. Quite literally painting with pixels, Soderbergh uses the techniques of digital cinematography to evoke the sickly, the paranoid, and the oppressive; photographing his actors in shallow depth of field, freely color-coding — yellows, reds, greys — and making striking, impressionistic use of halos and bokeh. A pattern of alienated faces and buildings emerges and the film, as a result, becomes a unique experience — its images admittedly overshadowing plot and performance.
As many have pointed out, the film is, amusingly, Soderbergh's excuse to pay homage to grandmaster Alfred Hitchcock. Overall, Side Effects is an intelligently crafted, accessible and sinuous film for those unafraid to embrace new aesthetics while getting wrapped up in a good old conspiracy thriller.
The master sound designer and film editor Walter Murch reveals the secrets of good sound.
The Mantis Shrimp is perhaps one image that Campus participants did not expect to see when learning about sound and storytelling from Walter Murch. However, it is this luminous crustacean's superior vision that illustrates Murch's essential consideration: the paradox of film sound. Human vision has a limited octave range of between 400 and 800 nm, yet human hearing ranges massively from 25 to 25600 Hz. Although sound is often the forgotten element in filmmaking, it is in fact the most powerful.
To coincide with the unveiling of the new Sound Studio at the Berlin Talent Campus, Murch exposed and accentuated the role of sound to the new generation of filmmakers. Taking the audience through his work, which included defining the mind set of Michael Corleone in The Godfather, rendering jungle warfare with 5.1 surround sound in Apocalypse Now and telling the story of a professional sound recordist in The Conversation, Murch described the necessity of working "sound into the fabric of the film."
The essential element that Murch highlighted was sound's reliance on causality. Yet, causality should be interpreted in multiple ways. Firstly there is the literal idea of causality, which involves using audio to accompany what we see. The second relates to Murch's idea that "cinema is a theatre of thought." Using the example of Apocalypse Now, he showed how Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) wanted to escape his Saigon hotel room to the Vietnamese jungle with the contrapuntal sound of helicopters, animals and insects.
And yet for all his expertise in sound, Murch also expressed his true love of silence in cinema referencing Fritz Lang's M and Orson Welles' Touch Of Evil. Suggesting that a fear of silence comes from being separated from our mothers (as we gain our hearing while still in the womb), he highlighted the strong dramatic potential of depriving our strong sense of hearing.
Murch proved to the Talents what a pleasure he is to listen to. His keen interest in the science of sound, aptitude for metaphors (film sound without dialogue is "like a moonless night" which lets you focus on the stars) and humor made for a presentation that was as insightful as it was entertaining.
Holly Hunter graced the Campus with her reflections on her impressive acting career.
Since her first major role in the Coen brothers' Raising Arizona (1987), Holly Hunter has worked with filmmakers such as David Cronenberg, Jane Campion, James Brooks and Sydney Pollack. Her long acting career was the focus of the master class "Taking the Lead" at this year's Berlinale Talent Campus.
"I don't give advice. I can only share my experience", said Hunter, who stars in Jane Campion's Top Of The Lake, featured in this year's Berlinale Special. She explained how important energy and tempo are to an actor in developing a relationship with the filmmakers and the cast. She added that self-confidence about one's own body should be a cornerstone for every actor, though she admits that she has never been free from the fear that strikes at the moment when she is called on to represent a character in front of the camera. "I started in theatre, so in my first film, I didn't know anything about the cameras".
Hunter has managed to vary her roles among different genres, a tactic that has enabled her to express different parts of her personality. "The acting profession is fairly brutal", she observes. With striking candor, she admitted that she sometimes has to take roles just for the money, but she also listens when her heart and soul call. "On some occasions I have felt that the role had to be played by me. I was convinced."
Legendary avant-garde playwright and theatre director Richard Foreman returns to filmmaking with the astounding Once Every Day.
If we look at a face long enough does it get more or less familiar? Do we come closer to reality by keeping it at a distance? In what layer of the image does the truth reside? What urges us to color every face with a story? These are the questions that emerge from the intriguing experimental film Once Every Day, screening in Berlinale's Forum Expanded program. This film marks legendary avant-garde playwright and theatre director Richard Foreman's return to filmmaking after a thirty-five year pause.
Foreman, who is the founder and artistic director of the famous Ontological-Hysteric Theatre, worked with stage actors to weave together a series of close-ups and repetitive gestures. He not only wrote and directed, but also edited the film — using images of the actor's faces and bodies to compose visual music. Meaning arises through his editing; repetition and freeze frames give their faces an almost metaphysical aura. By being forced to look at the same image over and over again, the audience begins to think about what is not being shown and what lies hidden behind these faces and actions.
Once Every Day is a mirror through which to reconsider our own behavioral patterns, as well as those of other people. Foreman is interested in deconstructing these patterns, because he wants to reestablish a more truthful relation to reality and other people. Throughout the film, two sentences are repeatedly heard on the soundtrack, sometimes he uses the whole sentence, sometimes just a few words: "The world in which I'm always right" is juxtaposed with the other key statement: "The world in which to have an original idea may not be the best choice available." These phrases work as bookends to summarize his intentions. By bringing together these conflicting notions with the images in the film, Foreman comes close to the truth, however transient, of the faces and bodies we have been watching on the screen.
Israeli director Tom Shovel talks about the relationship between film and viewer and the filmmaker's means of controlling it.
Israeli director and Campus alumnus Tom Shoval's debut feature Youth, which features in this year's Berlinale Panorama, tells the story of twin brothers whose family is in financial distress. When one brother enrolls in the army and gets a rifle, they get the idea to use it to solve their money issues. Yet after kidnapping a rich girl for ransom, they realize that crime is hardly the easy way out. In the Q&A session that followed the screening of the film at the Campus, the director was asked about the social implications of the film and repeatedly eluded the questions, saying, "Well, you know, it's all connected…" It is indeed all connected, and beautifully so — the social undertones of the brothers' illegal enterprise are well defined – but the film works as an exceptional genre picture.
In a later interview, when asked to expand on the relationship between film and viewer, Shoval said that he doesn't think a lot about the social commentary vs. entertainment dichotomy. "It all ends up in emotion. I don't try to criticize or make people too happy about things; I want them to be engaged." And this is where genre becomes useful: "As a storyteller, you have to learn how to manipulate the audience. In the genre, you have a code. In a realist film, there's a lot of environment that you have to create." Shoval's interest in genre is especially palpable in the abducted girl's electrifying relationship with her kidnappers: "For me, there was a triangle — there were two kidnappers, and they were brothers. She tries to break this bond and for a minute or two in the film you really believe that she can do that."
Shoval gets personal when he talks about his characters. When developing the film, he tried to imagine what he would have done in their situation. Without passing judgment, the film frequently shifts tone and sometimes gets into murky moral territory. Shoval clearly shows a gift for making genre films, "In Israel, the most common genre is the war film. But the younger audience is more welcoming and aware of different types of movies." As for his future plans, he's trying to stay loyal to himself, but that partly depends on chance: "I'm like the brothers in my film. I act on instinct."