Interview with Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos

Here’s an interview I did for the website Sound Screen.

Yorgos Lanthimos’s film Dogtooth is a startlingly distinctive and darkly comic film about demented authoritarian parents who keep their grown-up children  locked up in the house, and continually lie to them to shield them from the outside world.  Amongst other awards it won the Un Certain Regard prize at 2009’s Cannes and is courting a lot of praise and attention from critics. Here the director discusses his film in-depth and also talks about the state of the Greek film industry and the irritation of being compared to contemporaries like Michael Haneke.

Where there any real-life events that influenced you to tell this story of Dogtooth?

No not really it just started from an idea you know about the future of families. And what if in the future there were no more  families and things like that. I then had the idea of these parents that really [could have] happened at any time, that they would really wanna keep their family together forever.  And have them think that their doing the best for their children  and raise them far away from the rest of the world but of course that wouldn’t really work. So it just came from that and the real stories we heard later while we were rehearsing, you know we heard about the Austrian [the Josef Fritzl case] story, it was very different from what we were trying to do, it was very dark you know with having dungeons and having children with the daughter. I wanted to do something much more brighter and beautiful in contradiction to what effect this situation would have on the children, and to show that these parents have the best intentions in mind although it doesn’t really work that way.

What I noticed about the film was that it is quite a dark film but there’s also a lot of humour in it, for instance when they tell their kids that their grandfather is Frank Sinatra, when we see the parents making love and they’re wearing headphones listening to music. There’s all these comical moments and I was just wondering if the humour was an important aspect of the film for you?

Yeah it was very important to me but I guess it always is in the things that I do. But I feel that especially in such a story and such a situation you can get into much more deeper and true things approaching it also with a humorous side of things. Because if you get too dramatic and too melodramatic about things or just violent, you just force people to think certain things instead of allowing them to think themselves and to be engaged in different ways. But if you can walk a line between all these things; tragedy and violence but humour as-well and have them laugh at situations, then it’s easier for people to realise what’s going on and to be involved and to be more open about thinking [about] all these situations.

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Interview with UK film director Si Wall-Part One

Si Wall founded Purple Frog Productions, directed the award-winning short Marbella Nights   (2009) and the documentary Nestinari: The Dancers of Fire on Bulgarian ritual fire-dancing. He is currently working on his first feature film Drinking Chocolate about a homeless man who befriends a newly homeless and damaged young girl, as well as Resistance a biopic about Czech Resistance fighter Vera Laska. A film which as a script by American screenwriter Caitlin McCarthy has already won numerous awards. Here the director talks about how he became a filmmaker, his influences, and the challenges and triumphs of filming in Bulgaria with a non-English speaking crew and creating a film from scratch in 24 hours.

What made you decide to be a filmmaker in the first  place as I read that you studied law before that?

Yeah I have done law and I’ve had a business before and everything’s fine. But I just think there just comes a time when it’s just not about making money and it’s just not about fitting into that part of the world .  And there a couple of people that when I was in my family were great storytellers, I think that’s where I really get it from. My godfather as well as being an actor he was also a comedian, so I think I kinda got it from them a little bit, well I hope so.  I don’t think I’m as funny as him but that’s probably where.

Was he quite  a famous comedian then?

No he was a warm-up man for Frankie Howerd and he was his regular warm-up man when Frankie Howerd was just starting to get famous around the late fifties and early sixties. And whenever my mum and dad was working and I was off school I used to go my godfather who helped raise me and he was just really charismatic, old-fashioned comedian. So that’s where I got it from, well I hope so, I’ve got no-one else to blame it on.

Was there any directors or films that you saw that really inspired you?

It changes every time I see a good film and think ‘wow, that’s brilliant.’ At the moment I’ve just been to a thing at the ICA and listened to Suzanne Bier [Director of Things We Lost In The Fire and the original Brothers] talk and I think she’s an absolutely outstanding storyteller. But she’s not up there yet with Ridley Scott and all those but in my opinion she’s equally good and probably, in my opinion, one of the outstanding filmmakers doing it today. And I like that thing that she has-and we’re going to try and do the same with Drinking Chocolate-where you bring an audience into someone-else’s world, and it’s all accurate and it’s real life and I think she does that incredibly well.

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Late Autumn (Akibiyori) (1960), Dir. Yasujiro Ozu


Yôko Tsukasa as the sensitive and defiant Ayako Miwa.

Rating: 9/10

Showing as part of the Ozu retrospective at the BFI, I was intrigued to see more of his work having consantly heard what a legendary director he is and feeling like I hadn’t given him his due when I first saw Tokyo Story for my uni film course (as I have said earlier I had just found out that I was meant to give in work tomorrow which I thought wasn’t due for ages so wasn’t in the best of moods). I wanted to see his work again and see what all the fuss was about.

It turns out this Ozu film was much funnier than I was expecting having had the impression that his films were slow and serious (which reminds me of when I saw The Seventh Seal and realised that Bergman does have a sense of humour despite his reputation). They are indeed slow and one unused to his style may need to watch his films a number of times to get used to it.  The actors, particularly the women, also tend to maintain quite a polite and ever-smiling demeanour which can be frustrating to some expecting a full-display of emotions but it reflects Japanese etiquette and the reserved nature of the Japanese. Also unlike mainstream Western editing techniques which favours fast-paced editing and shot/reverse shots, Ozu’s style favours reflective shots held for longer than is normally expected and instead of a lot of  shot/ reverse shots he frames the actors individually like portraits. The camera is often placed unusually low reflecting character’s positions on the traditional tatami mats.

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