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Filmmaker Interview: Lucrecia Martel

The following interview appeared in Time Out Chicago today. 

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When Lucrecia Martel’s Zama opens at the Gene Siskel Film Center this Friday, April 13, it represents the triumphant return of one of the world’s very best filmmakers after a nine-year absence. Martel, long a master of image and sound, takes a particularly provocative and elliptical approach to the story of the title character, an 18th century Spanish bureaucrat stationed in a small town in Argentina who is awaiting a transfer to Buenos Aires that never materializes. Zama’s frustration eventually leads him to spearhead a manhunt for a notorious bandit who may or may not exist. In what will almost certainly prove to be one of the highlights of the filmgoing year, the charismatic Martel will appear in person for Q&A sessions following screenings at the Siskel on Sunday, May 15 and Monday, May 16. I recently spoke to Martel about Zama in advance of her local appearance.

MGS: Your previous films all deal with race and class divisions. Did you see making a film about 18th century colonialism as a chance to examine the roots of social problems that still persist in Argentina today?

LM: Some of what you mentioned is inevitably in the background. I believe, however, that the roots of class issues and racial divisions are a direct consequence of the Europeans’ arrival. It was already there in the incursions in Africa and the wars against the Arab world. This film rather dives into the trap that is built, voluntarily and involuntarily, around the identity of a person.

MGS: In most films about colonialism, the protagonist is a heroic or at least a tragically flawed but still immensely important figure. Zama is fascinating in how it centers on a frustrated, low-level bureaucrat, a man of no real importance. Was this aspect of Zama’s character an appeal factor for you in adapting Antonio di Benedetto’s novel?

LM: Yes, that’s correct. In my previous films I also focus on characters a little displaced from history’s eye. History, because of the sources on which it is based, can rarely follow the trail of a character who hasn’t had a relevant function: a queen, a minister. Recently in Barcelona I searched insistently for information about the artisans who worked with Gaudi. I didn’t find anything at all despite the relevance of the work of the blacksmiths, mosaic workers, plasterers and carpenters in their concept. This problem is infinitely greater when it comes to History written to justify a process of robbery and killing. Decentralized and marginal history attract me more.

MGS: One similarity between Zama and The Headless Woman is a sense of increasing subjectivity. Both films become more dreamlike as the characters become increasingly psychologically disturbed. What interests you about showing the perceptions of this kind of character?

LM: Probably what attracts me most about cinema is the possibility of reflecting reality in an altered way. I think this is the most interesting mission of making films. Reflect reality with certain distortions that allow us to understand the subjective, arbitrary, and the constructed, in the reality that surrounds us, and we’re naturalized as if things couldn’t have been otherwise. Perverting perception is a fundamental step for those who have an interest in the political possibilities of cinema.

MGS: The sound design in your films is always amazing and Zama is no exception. This is apparent in the opening scene where natural sounds are heightened. Were you trying to convey a sense of how this alien landscape would sound to a foreigner?

LM: What a good question! Sound is the medium in which one submerges the public in order to allow them to transcend the image. Sound always has to transform us into foreigners, if possible into aliens, because it’s very difficult to see, in a culture where vision is domesticated daily and for centuries.

MGS: One gets the feeling you “find” your films during shooting. In the scene where Zama’s request for a transfer is denied, for instance, there is the absurd appearance of a llama. How does a moment like this happen? Is it in the script or does it happen organically on set?

LM: It was impossible for me to think of such an extravagance with the budget we were working with. The llama was there. It’s an iconic animal of my native province, and as the City of Lerma is mentioned in that scene, It seemed to me that the llama would contribute, add something. The llamas are very curious animals. Their gaze, as with any other animal, leaves us helpless, perplexed. To add something out of the script that works in a significative way, you have to be sure of what you are doing with your story.

MGS: There is more humor in Zama than your other films. The interactions between Zama and Luciano in particular struck me as hilarious. Would you ever consider making an official comedy?

LM: I hope that over the years the humor in my films will be better understood, the humor that is in absolutely every scene I’ve shot. For me, my films are comedies. That’s why I put those class B movie titles (e.g., The Swamp, The Holy Girl, The Headless Woman), to give a clue. But I haven’t had any luck, and they’ve put me on the shelf of the serious films.

MGS: I know you admire David Lynch. What did you think of Twin Peaks: The Return?

LM: The serial format is not quite my thing. I’ve seen only one chapter that a friend showed me. Very horrific and funny, quite his style. I admire David Lynch like every other director, because he is bold and that’s really appreciated. But for me, Paul Thomas Anderson goes further in exploring the lights and shadows of humanity. Sometimes I think that the entertainment industry has put David Lynch in the crazy artist box needed to believe in the freedom of expression.

For more information about the Chicago premiere of Zama, please visit the Siskel Center website.

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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Godard Mon Amour (Hazanavicius)
2. Happy Death Day (Landon)
3. Los Olvidados (Bunuel)
4. Golden Exits (Perry)
5. Cooley High (Schultz)
6. Breathless (Godard)
7. Failan (Song)
8. Zama (Martel)
9. Medium Cool (Wexler)
10. Some Like It Hot (Wilder)


Mercury in Retrograde / Rendezvous in Chicago News

I’m pleased to announce that Mercury in Retrograde recently won the Directors’ Choice Award for Best Feature at the 2018 Tallahassee Film Festival. It was a huge honor to receive this award at a fest whose esteemed directors are Steve Dollar and Chris Faupel and whose programming is so excellent that I eagerly watched six feature films and three shorts in two days while in attendance.
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More Mercury screenings – in both indie theaters and at festivals – have been lined up between now and October and will be announced shortly. The only one that can be revealed at present is a screening at the historic Wilmette Theatre in Chicago’s north shore suburbs on the evening of Wednesday, June 20. That screening will be followed by a Q&A with yours truly, producer Kevin Wright and producer/actor Shane Simmons. Tickets for that screening are on sale now.

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My next film, Rendezvous in Chicago, shoots in May. We are in the midst of raising the budget via the Seed & Spark crowdfunding website and are already more than 2/3 of the way towards achieving our goal! Check out the site here and note that we have some fantastic perks available. Please consider contributing whatever amount you can: a pledge of even $25 is enormously helpful!

 


Robert Greene’s BISBEE ’17

I reviewed Robert Greene’s Bisbee ’17 for Time Out Chicago. It screens this Saturday, April 7, at the Davis Theater as part of the Doc10 Film Festival (and will be followed by a Skype Q&A with Robert). Full capsule below:

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The Doc10 film festival, curated by Anthony Kaufman (also the programmer of the documentary section of the Chicago International Film Festival) has become, in just three short years, one of the best places to catch the local premieres of the world’s best non-fiction filmmaking. Since 2015, Doc10 has played host to the work of some of the giants of the documentary form, such as Albert Maysles, Barbara Kopple and Werner Herzog, as well as important movies by lesser-known filmmakers, such as last year’s harrowing Death in the Terminal by the Israeli directors Tali Shemesh and Asaf Sudry. This year’s lineup is as eclectic as ever but documentary enthusiasts should make it a point to see Bisbee ’17, which stands as the masterpiece to date by the enormously talented young director Robert Greene.

Fresh off its Sundance World Premiere, Bisbee ’17 tells the fascinating true story of a labor strike and the subsequent mass deportation of 1,200 striking workers (half of them Mexican or Eastern European immigrants) that occurred in the copper mining town of Bisbee, Arizona, just miles from the Mexico border, in 1917. No mere history lesson, Greene’s film marks the centenary of this tragic event by restaging the deportation using contemporary Bisbee denizens, many of whom descend from exactly the kind of characters they’re portraying. Performative subjects within a non-fiction context have been a constant in Greene’s work for years but Bisbee ’17 is particularly interesting in how it not only grows out of but becomes the flip side of his last movie, 2016’s controversial Kate Plays Christine. That film—cold, terrifying and brilliant—ended with its protagonist, the actress Kate Lyn Sheil, knowing seemingly less about the character she was playing (suicidal news anchor Christine Chubbuck) in a film-within-the-film, than when it began. The warmhearted Bisbee ’17, which ultimately centers on an immensely likable protagonist—a gay Hispanic man (Fernando Serrano) who appears to undergo a genuine political awakening alongside of his “character”—feels as though its provocative reenactment precipitates a profound reckoning, and ultimately understanding, for a good many of its subjects.

The Doc10 screenings take place at the Davis Theater between Thursday, April 5 and Sunday, April 8. Bisbee ’17 screens on Saturday, April 7 and is followed by a Skype Q&A with Greene. For more information, visit the Doc10 website.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Nowhere to Hide (Lee)
2. Savage Youth (Johnson)
3. One Bedroom (Sills-Evans)
4. Jamaica Man (Weatherly)
5. Our New President (Pozdorovkin)
6. Madeline’s Madeline (Decker)
7. Mercury in Retrograde (Smith)
8. Faces Places (Varda/J.R.)
9. J.S.A.: Joint Security Area (Park)
10. Breathless (Godard)


Maggie Scrantom’s ATOMS OF ASHES

The following review appeared at Time Out Chicago today. I hope everyone sees this wonderful short.
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Women of the Now, the female-centric video and event production company founded by local director Layne Marie Williams (An Atramentous Mind), celebrates its one year anniversary with a short-film showcase at the New 400 Theater this Sunday, April 25. There is plenty of exciting work included in the 3-hour lineup but writer/director Maggie Scrantom’s Atoms of Ashes deserves special mention.

Atoms of Ashes is a surprisingly confident, even masterfully made dramatic short, especially considering that Scrantom, an actress who has appeared on Chicago Med and Chicago P.D., has no directing credits yet listed on the Internet Movie Database. Written with Hilary Williams and June Thiele, Scran offers a poetic examination of one woman’s grief in the wake of having a miscarriage. Beginning with a shot of an ultrasound and continuing with scenes of a would-be mother (Siobhan Reddy-Best) imagining a future of quality time spent with a daughter who will never be born (Kara Grace Williams), this emotionally affecting, sci-fi-tinged mood piece combines powerful but wordless performances with an evocative score, quotes from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which appear onscreen as hand-written text, and startling visual effects involving the solar system, to conjure, not unlike Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life in miniature, a sense of the cosmic and the eternal. The result is an exhilarating journey through cycles of love, loss and rebirth that seems to encapsulate the entire universe in seven minutes.

More information about Women of the Now’s 2018 Anniversary Showcase can be found on the WOTN website.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
2. Bisbee ’17 (Greene)
3. The Lady Vanishes (Hitchcock)
4. Thou Wast Mild and Lovely (Decker)
5. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
6. The Lady from Shanghai (Welles)
7. Butter on the Latch (Decker)
8. Vladimir et Rosa (Godard/Gorin)
9. The Ice Harvest (Ramis)
10. Lotte in Italia (Godard/Gorin)


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