Posts Tagged ‘Almodovar’

Just off the back of its theatrical release in the United Arab Emirates (via MAD Solutions) and one of the most intriguing entries at the 2016 Dubai International Film Festival – and recipient of the festival’s Muhr Emirati award – is the stylish, taboo courting, arthouse melodrama Only Men Go To The Grave.

The debut feature of 30 year old Emirati director Abdulla Al Kaabi, who previously made a name for himself in 2010 with The Philosopher starring Jean Reno, Only Men Go To The Grave tells the story of a group of women trying to deal with the loss of their blind mother and a secret she kept from them. Set following the Iran-Iraq war, the film introduces us to an ensemble of bold, complex women; it is a film that recalls the radical cinema of Fassbinder & Almodovar and hints at great things to come from the director.

Independently produced over a 5 year span and shot in Iran, with a cast made up of Iranian and Iraqi actors, Only Men Go To The Grave is a film made of many bold decisions. As director Al Kaabi explained, the challenge of making his first feature pushed him to tackle themes that he initially felt uncomfortable exploring, as well as to shoot in a neighbouring country he thought he might never visit.

We spoke to Al Kaabi about making bold Arab films and finding peace through cinema.

There is something of Pedro Almodovar in the perspective of this film. How did you develop the story and what inspired the central character of a blind woman?

I came to learn later on that Pedro Almodovar draws inspiration from Douglas Sirk, who is a fantastic ‘mood film’ director. I love his movies very much. During the period when I came up with this story I was watching a lot of his movies, I got the DVD collection. I got really obsessed by him and that’s how my movie came together. I was just looking for that story: where would I find this story that would be very much inspired by his movies? I was on a flight coming back from Spain to Dubai and next to me was a blind lady and I could have sworn that that lady could see, because half way through the flight she woke up, grabbed the menu and looked at it and put it back and then when the flight landed she was blind again. So she stayed with me that woman and I started to think: why would she do that? And then slowly, slowly, I found myself having a story that I could work on and that’s how the idea of Only Men Go To The Grave came about. I knew I wanted to shoot it in Arabic. I just wanted to show powerful women and I love how Pedro Almodovar portrays his women; they are extremely powerful. Arab women, in my opinion and the way I see them, from my perspective, are powerful individuals too. That’s why we came to do that.

As an ensemble the characters are really strong. How did you go about casting them? I know you had Iranian and Iraqi actresses…

If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would be talking to you right now about a movie I shot in Iran – a feature film, my first and all of that – I would say you’re out of your mind. I didn’t think that would ever happen, let alone for me just to visit. But it came about because I thought I had the opportunity to do whatever I can with this movie. We can talk about financing later. This movie was self-financed, so I had the freedom to do whatever I want and I wanted to explore the Arabs over there in Iran. I have a lot of Iranian friends who are fantastic individuals, I love Iranian cinema very, very much; one of my greatest filmmakers and mentors that I was fortunate to meet was Abbas Kiarostami. So that’s how it came about. It’s a country that’s just an hour away, films are there to bring people together and despite of all the disagreements and all of the problems that we might have with the Persians, I believe my film echoes a beautiful message to the world which is that cinema only understands one language: it’s peace. It is bringing people together despite everything. Not only that we also had Iraqi actresses coming into Iran and shooting this film, so there was a lot of firsts in this movie I believe and I think that’s why it’s so talked about in the festival this year, in addition to the themes that we’re exploring.

The film looks at certain taboo issues and i’d be surprised to see issues such as transgender in many films. What was it like dealing with those themes? Did you have any limitations or were you completely open?

You know when I first started off I didn’t have much courage to explore these themes. They were there but they weren’t so bold and over the years, as it started to get harder for me to finance the movie and to get it on it’s feet I started to push the boundaries even more and more and more. By the time I was ready to shoot and had got the project green lit I had reached the point of no return, so I was sure I wanted to shoot these themes. I wanted to explore transgenderism, I wanted to explore gender identity in the Arab world and I wanted to explore alternative love in the Arab world. I wanted to expose these themes through the storytelling of an Arab filmmaker. So because today that’s the only thing that people want to watch: they want to watch something original. Nobody wants to watch a replica of a Hollywood movie, because they’re doing a great job themselves, why should we copy? So I think that’s the only thing that sells today. If you have an original, unique perspective I think this career is great for you and it’s my first feature you see and I wanted to create my own mood and universe and introduce myself to the film industry, that this is my style.

And in terms of the practicalities of doing that, this took 5 years, which is not a strange amount of time for a first feature, but it’s a long time. I’m wondering how that was broken down, so what kind of period did you shoot in? Or was it a long protracted shoot?

Well the script took almost two years and that I think – and i’m so glad I took two years to work on the script because it’s the foundation of my story – so that took a long time, I didn’t think it would take such a long time. And then after that I started to shop around the script and it was really hard for me. I think it was too daring and, not only with the themes it has, but also too daring with the plot. I had a protagonist who was dead and yet alone she was the hero of the film, so a lot of people didn’t get that and I thought why couldn’t we get that? In the end we screened it last night and I heard that most of the audience were completely gripped by the story until the end of the movie, so that’s a good sign. We were able to do that with such a bold, unique plot. So then I went into a period, honestly I can say I was very discouraged, depressed, so I completely gave up on the film for a period and shelved it and I was quite sad for a while until I met a producer, actually an art patron, who was very much in the art world, who had the means. He loved the script, he’s in the contemporary arts scene, his name is Farshad Mahoutforoush, he’s in the credits in the movie as a producer and he said “lets shoot it.” He had no experience in film and I think the universe gave me that.

How long was the actual shooting period?

We took a long time preparing for it, because as I shot it in Iran most of my actresses haven’t spoken Arabic. They were Arabs, but they haven’t spoken Arabic for a very long time, so we had to train them for a while to bring back their language. A lot of people yesterday were actually shocked that my actress didn’t speak Arabic because she speaks Arabic so well in the movie. Well you know I’m a perfectionist, I had to take twenty takes [laughs.]

Did you have to go phonetically?

No, no, she worked on her Arabic. She was actually speaking Arabic. I haven’t seen her for a year since we wrapped up and I think during this year she might have forgotten a bit [laughs.]

What are your plans for your next project after this?

Well my plans right now, i’m really focused and invested in this one. I need to get it distributed, it needs to be screened across the Middle East. In Europe I think it’s going to do big. I’ve also got the festivals going on. Probably I am going to be travelling a lot for another year. Hopefully during these travels I will pick up inspiration for a new script, but for the time being i’m really invested in this one.

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1) DRIVE (DIR. NICHOLAS WINDING REFN) – USA

Drive is a Hollywood film directed by a distinctly European director. Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn rethinks the Hollywood crime thriller with minimal dialogue, strong colour, offbeat casting and an idiosyncratic soundtrack. While embracing it’s influences Drive also subverts numerous cliches and Refn shows a remarkable talent for crafting scenes that are emotionally gripping and utterly tense.

2) ANIMAL KINGDOM (DIR. DAVID MICHOD) – AUSTRALIA

David Michod’s debut feature feels like the work of an accomplished Australian equivalent to Michael Mann. Animal Kingdom tells the story of a naive young man in the midst of a dangerous crime family and the havoc he causes them. With an impressive cast including Ben Mendelsohn and Jackie Weaver, Michod rarely puts a foot wrong, from the staging of each scene to his choice of music. Not only an extremely impressive debut, but a great Australian film.

3) INTO THE ABYSS (DIR. WERNER HERZOG) – GERMANY & CANADA

Werner Herzog has been working hard lately, with the release of Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Into The Abyss premiering at various festivals in 2011. Out of the two unique documentaries Into The Abyss hits the hardest, with some of the best interviews Herzog has ever conducted. Probing the subject of death row Herzog puts together a restrained, yet unmistakably Herzogian investigation, which places moral  questions centre stage.

4) THE SKIN I LIVE IN (DIR. PEDRO ALMODOVAR) – SPAIN

Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In is an intriguing, intelligently structured and stylish film that successfully pulls the rug from under the audience’s feet in a manner that is as entertaining as it is unsettling. Almodovar blends classic horror with the themes he is famous for and gains great performances from his cast. Antonio Banderas turns in a dark, well judged portrayl and Elena Anaya brilliantly gains the audiences empathy within an utterly bizarre scenario.

5) MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (DIR. WOODY ALLEN) – USA

Midnight In Paris sees Woody Allen at the top of his game. Owen Wilson plays a screenwriter (Gil), who aspires to become a novelist. He falls in love with Paris while on holiday with his fiancé (and her parents) and begins wandering the streets at night revelling in the city’s mythology. Upon meeting a number of unlikely personalities, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway and Salvador Dali among others, Gil becomes far removed from his normal life to wonderfully Allenesque effect.

6) TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (DIR. TOMAS ALFREDSON) – UK

Where Drive was an American production directed by a Dane, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a British one directed by a Swede. Tomas Alfredson brings a distinctly Scandinavian approach to this classic cold war story. Like his vampire film Let The Right One In, Tinker Tailor makes use of wide open spaces juxtaposed with dingy interiors to create an appropriate paranoia. Alfredson’s remarkable ensemble cast create numerous memorable performances, particularly Gary Oldman as George Smiley.

7) HUGO (DIR. MARTIN SCORSESE) – USA

An ode to cinema by Martin Scorsese, Hugo tells the tale of French film director George Meilies through the eyes of a young boy called Hugo Cabret. Directed with a youthful flare by Scorsese, we follow Hugo’s journey to fix an automaton left behind by his late father, which leads him to a discovery of Meilies forgotten cinema career. The story of a young man discovering cinema and it’s possibilities for the first time is clearly one close to Scorsese’s heart; that’s why Hugo is such a good film.

8) DREAMS OF A LIFE (DIR. CAROL MORLEY) – UK

Dreams of a Life and it’s central character Joyce Vincent captured the hearts and minds of cinema goers this Christmas. Joyce Vincent died in 2003 in her North London bedsit and went undiscovered for three years. She had been a popular, outgoing and successful young woman who became increasingly alienated in the years preceding her death. Director Carol Morley investigates the circumstances that lead to Joyce’s death and meets with friends, boyfriends, colleagues and others to paint a portrait (using excellently performed reconstructions and talking head interviews) of a woman who no one would expect society to leave behind.

9) SNOWTOWN (DIR. JUSTIN KURZEL) – AUSTRALIA

John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer is the subject of Snowtown. Directed by Justin Kurzel, with cinematography by Animal Kingdom DOP Adam Arkapaw, this film is a gruelling telling of a series of crimes orchestrated by Bunting between 1992 and 1999. The film’s graphic style is tough going even for hardened film viewers, but Daniel Henshall’s intelligent and rounded performance as Bunting demands the audience’s attention. Along with Animal Kingdom, Snowtown shows contemporary Australian cinema in a very good light.

10) PINA (DIR. WIM WENDERS) – GERMANY

Wim Wender’s tribute to the late Pina Bausch contains perhaps the best use of 3D seen in 2011. The film, made after Pina’s death, sees Wenders stage the choreographers work in a manner that complements her work effectively. The juxtaposition of Pina’s choreography and Wender’s choice of locations, camera work and music creates a kind of posthumous collaboration, which functions as both a moving tribute to and preservation of Pina’s remarkable style of choreography.

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Honorary mention:

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Dir. Mark Cousins) – UK

A remarkable television series for Channel 4 telling the history of film in Mark Cousins’ unique style.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-story-of-film-an-odyssey

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