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Monday, February 28, 2011

Interview: Monia Chokri (Heartbeats)

Posted by Melissa Silvestri on Feb 26, 2011
Source: Exclusive

Heartbeats, directed by Xavier Dolan, is a romantic drama from Montreal that concerns the close-knit friendship of Marie (Monia Chokri) and Francis (Dolan), a straight woman and a gay man who create their own hipster enclave of Spanish-language pop songs and vintage 1960s bohemian flair. But when they both develop a crush on their mutual friend Nick (Niels Schneider), their competitiveness threatens to tear their friendship apart. The Cannes Un Certain Regard selected (here's our coverage of premiere night) film stands apart for its gorgeous slow-motion segments where music tells the story and the screen is filled with vibrant colors, a la Almodovar. The film has a marked influence of both Godard films starring Anna Karina as his hipster muse and Wong Kar-Wai films with Tony Leung mourning the loss of a lover, and is truly splendid yet opens up that uncomfortable feeling of when one has projected their own fantasies onto a crush then faces reality. Released by IFC Films theatrically yesterday in New York and March 4th in Los Angeles, I did a phoner interview with the French Canadian actress who is now preparing for Dolan's third film.

Melissa Silvestri: How did you and Xavier meet?
Monia Chokri: We met a few years ago by a common friend. The guy plays his boyfriend in I Killed My Mother, his first feature. His name is Francois Arnaud, who is an actor who is very talented.

Silvestri: What attracted you to this script?
Chokri: Well, it was not about attraction. I was at the beginning of the process, so I knew where I was going with it. And also, to work with my two good friends, Xavier and Niels [Schneider], so the basis of the project was working together, editing the script, and filming. It was a really interesting way of seeing love, or our idea of love.

Silvestri: The film has been compared to Truffaut's Jules et Jim, in terms of romantic love triangles between friends and having a mutual crush. Would you agree or disagree?
Chokri: Yes, I really love that movie, actually. It’s a movie that you see when you’re 17 years old, and it’s a normal way of seeing typical Francophone culture.

Monia Chokri Interview

Silvestri: It had a way when watching that film that it felt very modern and fresh, not dated at all. I really enjoyed how in Heartbeats, the slow-motion musical moments were like music videos, and really brought a slow beauty to the film.
Chokri: We didn’t think of a music video when we were shooting the slow-motion musical segments. But we’ve grown up with videos, we’ve probably seen more videos. It’s something to see and affix to. For us, in my generation, it’s a way to think of editing in cinema right now. It’s such a natural way to film. So it’s a less stressing art for me, and it’s a big part of our narration, and a lot of great directors came out of music videos. You can see really great short movies in music videos too. When you think of Fever Ray, a band whose music is in the film – a big important aesthetic is the music video. So I think it’s a way that we see cinema now. It’s not a thing that we do on purpose, thinking in the music video way.

Silvestri: It was beautiful to watch, it expanded the film into a piece of art, between the first-person interviews about peoples’ failed relationships and the relationship between Marie and Francis as they both care for one another and compete over Nick. The music moments brought something colorful about the film.
Chokri: Yes. I believe that when you’re in love, or when you think you’re in love, there is this way of having this floating moment. Everything seems more beautiful and colorful and in slow-motion. Because we’ve grown up with those images of love, because of cinema. And I think it’s really important when you’re young. Most of the people who buy CDs or buy music are people from age 18 to 25, so music is a big part of youth. And every moment in your life, you can relate music to, to a relationship. And you can create this universe of color and music, and it’s part of love, too, in a way.

Monia Chokri Interview

Silvestri: Was the character of Marie a collaborative process between you, Xavier, and the costume department, or was it singularly from Xavier’s script?
Chokri: It was in the script. I mean, with her dresses, Xavier really wanted something 1950s/1960s, because from that, he wanted to mix contemporary references. Because love has no age. Even as generations change, love is the same. It was a way to attribute to older generations who felt the same way about love. So it was in the script first, and then when we started with the dresses and everything, Marie appeared. I was thinking that if you dress like that, you have a way to see the world, and show yourself to people.

Silvestri: I’m reminded of the scene when Marie and Francis enter a party, dressed as James Dean and Audrey Hepburn, and the party is very much a contemporary scene, with House of Pain’s “Jump Around” playing, and they clearly stick out as vintage heads amongst the modern youth.
Chokri: I actually really love that scene, because we don’t see them a lot with people. We forget that they are really odd, or really awkward [laughs]. And when they enter that party, you realize that they’re really weird. I mean, they arrive with presents, even though it’s not the birthday of Nick. They are really like that, really weird.

Silvestri: There is this competitiveness over Nick between Marie and Francis, when they don’t really know him very well. Like in the scene when they’re talking about their presents for him, and one-upping each other. Why do you feel they become so competitive over him, and jeopardizing their friendship?
Chokri: It’s a game of the movie. And the thing is that there is no competition, because Nick is not into either of them.

Silvestri: Yes, because in the end, he has completely different ideas about each of them than they had thought.
Chokri: Yes, of course. It’s the idea of the movie. It’s not about love, it’s about the idea that you have of someone, and the projection you can have on someone, and thinking that you’re in love with that kind of person.

Silvestri: Exactly, that kind of projection messes up one’s own view of a person. My last question is, what are you working on now?
Chokri: I’m starting my third movie with Xavier, Laurence Anyways. We are in preparation right now.

IFC Films releases Heartbeats in New York on the 25th of February and March 4th in Los Angeles

Monday, February 14, 2011

Interview: Iciar Bollain (Even the Rain)

Posted by Melissa Silvestri on Feb 14, 2011
Source: Exclusive

Actress and filmmaker Iciar Bollain has had a stellar career in her native Spain, directing powerful dramas such as Hi, are you alone? (1995) Flowers from Another World (1999), and her crowning opus, Te Doy Mis Ojos (2003), which won seven Goya awards including Best Picture.

She returns with Even the Rain, a drama about colonialism in both the past and present. Filmmakers (led by Gael Garcia Bernal and Luis Tosar) head with their crew to a small town in Bolivia to make a movie about the Spanish conquest of Americas. The indigenous townspeople are chosen as extras not only because they look right, but also because they can be used as cheap labor. While this unconscious brand of colonialism is taking place, protests based on the real-life Cochabamba protests in 2000, where the government privatized water, threaten to put the town and the filmmakers in serious danger, and the filmmakers question their own ethics of the story they’re trying to tell. The TIFF 2010 selected film is an emotionally wrought story with an uncomfortable truth, made the shortlist of this year’s Academy Awards as the Spanish entry for Best Foreign Language film, and was just nominated for a record 13 Goya awards. I spoke with Bollain in December.

Interview Iciar Bollain Even the Rain

Silvestri: How did you get the idea to blend the real-life Cochabamba protests with the story of the filmmaking crew?
Iciar Bollain: The idea comes from the script writer, Paul Laverty, who first wrote an entire period piece film. Then he decided to bring it to the present somehow, and update it, and he read about and researched this real struggle in Cochabamba in year 2000. To link such two distant events, he got the idea of a film crew, doing this period film in Cochabamba while the riots begun.

Silvestri: Sebastian (Bernal) maintains a sort of innocence as the director, believing that he is telling a great story, while his producer Costa (Tosar) has more of a cutthroat agenda. They both go through a deep evolution, learning more about humanity for Costa and reality for Sebastian. Tell me about those characters, and the character development that Paul Laverty, Bernal, and Tosar went through.
Bollain: I guess there is a cross journey, Costa goes in a direction and Sebastian in the opposite one. I found that very attractive about the script, the "moral" journeys of both and thought that was the spine that hold together those three stories the film unfold. I talked about it a lot with Tosar, because is his journey that actually carries us along the film, and we try to find the moments in which he does the changes, little moment of reflection, a look here, a silence there. With Bernal was finding the dramatic moments, like when he breaks down or making the decision of betraying Daniel. Spotting those actors the moments in which that journey was told and stress them.

Silvestri: Carlos Aduviri was very memorable as Daniel, a man who was a warrior in both the film within a film and the protests. Given that he only has two screen credits, I was wondering if he was a professional actor or found at an open call? He was found in an open call.
Bollain: There are not that many actors in Bolivia, and we couldn't find any with his profile, so we went on an open casting door by door... It was a long process, that took several months till finally Carlos happened to come. He did a number of auditions and we thought, as Gael in the film, he had an amazing face and presence. Working with him was basically helping him to go through the scenes, the lines, to communicate the character as written.

Interview Iciar Bollain Even the Rain

Silvestri: You had worked with Luis Tosar on your film Take My Eyes. He is probably Spain's most accomplished yet unknown actor. How did you perceive him prior to your first film with him, and has that perception changed?
Bollain: I met him even before Take My Eyes, he did his first film with me Flowers from Another World. He had just done television and it was his first film and he was already very deep, very profound and very true in his performance. Since then I have seen him gaining confidence and experience but never losing his truthfulness. I really believe Luis is the most extraordinary actor.

Silvestri: What was the financing like for this film? How were you able to get support to make the film?
Bollain: It was quite hard to find the finance. The budget is a bit bigger than what you can get within Spain, so producer Juan Gordon had to find it abroad, which with a Spanish-language film is never easy... I think the film looks more expensive than it really is!

Silvestri: Even the Rain had made the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. Not only is that a great accolade in addition to Te Doy Mis Ojos' seven Goya awards, but you are noted as the first female Spanish film director to be submitted in that category. Is it notable for you, or do you prefer not to be singled out as a woman?
Bollain: I'm always happy to see a woman breaking through since there is so few of us directing. I would really would like to see the day in which it is not an exception or a first time anymore, I would like to see many more films directed, written and produced by women. I think film talks about how life is and how we see it, so it makes all the sense to have every version of it, not just half of it!

Silvestri: What are you working on next?
Bollain: I'm about to do a film in Nepal, about a Spanish teacher [Vicky Sherpa] who went over in the early nineties and tried to teach there and create her own community project. It is inspired by a real woman.

Vitagraph Films releases Even the Rain in theatres this Friday.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Claude Bessy, Lignes d’Une Vie (Traces of a Life)

Posted by Melissa Silvestri on Feb 09, 2011
Source: Festival Coverage

This year marked the 39th anniversary of the Dance on Camera Film Festival, held in New York City's The Film Society of Lincoln Center with events spread out a little bit everywhere in the city.

Claude Bessy is considered one of France’s greatest ballerinas of the 20th century. With Bardot-like features and impossibly long legs, she brought a combination of sensuality and womanliness to the often strict world of classical ballet. But what made her an innovative artist was that she did not rest on her laurels with the Paris Opera Ballet, and expanded her repertoire, performing jazz pieces with Gene Kelly and experimenting in modern dance. She knew that versatility was of the utmost importance to a dancer, and in Claude Bessy, Lignes d’Une Vie (Traces of a Life), directed by dancer and choreographer Fabrice Herrault, her remarkable life from training as a child in ballet schools to mentoring future artists as director of the school is captured in beautiful archival footage.

Bessy, during the tumultuous years of WWII, studied diligently in the Paris Opera Ballet’s school, pushing her body and focus to one day became a danseuse etoile (prima ballerina). Ballet was all about perfection and repetition, yet she wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. Bessy got her wish in 1956, when she was promoted to danseuse etoile after years in the company in the corps de ballet. She carried within herself a vibrant sensual grace, not so much a cold removed quality that can be found with many a ballerina. Besides her central work with the Paris Opera Ballet, she danced with the American Ballet Company as a guest performer, and developed a friendship with Gene Kelly, who was eager to introduce his Hollywood audience to the greatest ballet dancers around, featuring her in his 1956 film Invitation to a Dance. Their jazz duets were smolderingly cool, just hinting at a deep intimacy (albeit platonic) between the two artists.

Even when Bessy was sidelined by a serious car accident that fractured her leg, she was able to heal miraculously and return to the stage in eight months in a triumphant return in Ravel’s Bolero, dancing opposite her partner Maurice Bejart.

Bessy danced with the ballet until 1972, before she became ballet master and head of the Paris Opera Ballet School, nurturing such ballet stars of tomorrow as Sylvia Guillem and Laurent Hilaire. Her teaching was strict with the children, to prepare them for adult careers, yet encouraged them to pursue jazz and modern dance, to expand their repertoire and become versatile artists. Bessy retired from the school in 2004.

The film is a gorgeous celebration of a truly one-of-a-kind artist, and Bessy, interviewed amongst her old haunts in the studio and theater, lovingly reminisces about the joys she had being a dancer. As an elderly woman, she still shines with a beautiful youthful glow and a delightful sense of humor.

Included with the screening of Claude Bessy, Lignes d’Une Vie at the Dance on Camera film festival is an excerpt of a film by Nicholas Ribowski entitled Les reflets de la danse (Reflections of the Dance) from 1979, where students in the Paris Opera Ballet School, including Guillem, Hilaire, and Elisabeth Maurin, practice with militaristic-like repetition at the barre, moving in perfect unison. The film is all in French with no subtitles, but it is not necessary, as the majority of the French is ballet instructions, with voiceovers from the children expressing their dreams for a future in ballet. It is the kind of hard work that children go through in order to be the best in their craft, and is truly admirable to watch.