Articles, English 1 comment on Beauty of Death – Tom Van Avermaet, Director of Death of a Shadow Interview

Beauty of Death – Tom Van Avermaet, Director of Death of a Shadow Interview

Death of a Shadow (2012) marks Tom Van Avermaet’s first professional short film (though he has made magnificent Droomtijd in 2006). This story of love and loss centers on a deceased World War I soldier (Matthias Schoenaerts) who has to collect shadows to regain a second chance at life and love. Death of a Shadow was nominated for Best Short Film, Live Action Academy Award. In this short interview done days before Oscar ceremony, Van Avermaet talked about his film and cinema.
Where did the idea of “Death of a Shadow” come from?
I’ve always loved to work with metaphysical concepts and beings, I find the figurative depictions of human concepts both fascinating and extremely interesting. At the inception of this new project, I decided I wanted to give my own take on one of these symbolic figures, namely that of ‘Death’. But my interpretation would not be that of the hooded, scythed figure in which form he’s most know in Europe. My death would be a collector, but one where the pieces of art he collected would actually be moments of death, moments of men and women dying. And this figure would interpret these ‘deaths’ as like an art critic would do paintings, finding their intricate estethic value in the way they were conceived.
But as film is a visual medium I had to find a way to actually give these moments a visually aspect. Given the fact that I’ve always loved the play of shadow and light and seeing as our shadows are more or less our reflection on the ‘real world’ of the light touching us, I felt it a good idea that this strange collector would actually collect shadows of moments of death. I then started thinking a little bit further, how would this ‘man’ actually get the works into his gallery? This led me to the idea of having people who died, people who’s shadow is actually in the gallery, be part of this system and let them barter a second chance at life for the amount of shadows equal to the number of days they had lived. This led me to the story of Nathan Rijckx within this world and the total story of the movie as it is today.
In Dreamtime (Droomtijd) and Death of a Shadow you use brown color vastly, can you elaborate on this?
I guess this comes from my love of contrast and my love to make my films have a certain dark feel, a certain depth and thickness of the colors in the movie. If these movies were paintings, they would be made with thick oil paints, the colors have to be heavy and rich, they have to express a certain mood and atmosphere and I guess the brownish/blackish tints are colors that come more natural to me in the past movies that I made.
Many filmmakers, who started from short film, then went to make feature films based on their short films. Do you plan to make “Death of a Shadow” as a feature film?
Orginally I had not planned to do this, as I felt the story of Nathan has been told in this movie and also, because I spent the past five years of my life (and even 6 if you count all the festival promotion and distribution) I felt (and still feel) that I’m ready for another worlds and other stories. But seeing as there seems to be genuine interest of people in seeing more of the world, I at least have to consider diving back in and seeing if there’s a feature film hidden in gallery of shadows somewhere. The story as it is would not be sufficient for a feature film, but that doesn’t mean the world and the general concept couldn’t handle one. But at the moment this would be more a project that I would develop for a later time (if I feel that there’s a feature story there) than my first feature film. But I’m not saying it could never happen.
Who are your favorite filmmakers? Who inspired you mostly?
There are a lot of inspiring filmmakers in the world and history of cinema, from the great silent film makers like Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, Carl Theodore Dreyer, to the inspiration to any visual filmmaker in the greatest director that probably ever lived in Stanley Kubrick. I have a great love for filmmakers who love the same visual style of fantastic tale-telling as me, be it people like Guillermo Del Toro, Terry Gilliam, Michel Gondry, Darren Aronofsky, Jean Pierre Jeunet,…. They use certain elements of storytelling that very much appeal to me as they use things I love as well, al though I of course have my own take on things that’s different from theirs.
How do you feel being nominated for Oscar? Have you seen any of the other nominated short films?
The films I make are quite surreal, but the fact that the film is now being nominated has really topped anything I could think of. Given the fact that the movie was so hard to even get made and took so long to get the proper funding, made the actual complement already a little victory. The fact that the film is now one of the five films in line for an oscar, is just amazing and something you can dream of, but never believe it will actually happen. This is one of those live changing moments for a filmmaker, win or lose, you’ll be forever be a little part of film history. I have only seen one of the other films but will discover them all very soon and from what I’ve heard and seen makes me very grateful to even be in the company of such strong works and artists. In my mind, even who wins the oscar in the end, we’re all a little bit winners already.
Your style reminds me of Jean-Pier Jounet, but your stories are more fantastical and somehow related to the German literature, Kafka and Goethe in your two shorts respectively, can you tell me more about your visual style and the influence of literature on your work?
I can understand the Jeunet reference as ,like stated previously, he has a great love of visual storytelling where art direction plays a great part in creating a world, a trait and love that I very much share. My tales are indeed a bit darker than his, more melancholic to some extent as well and the German expressionism both in art as in literature is a dark stream in which I like to wallow from time to time as well. Like both Kafka & Goethe, I very much like the metaphysical and surreal, the structures of a world and the sometimes bone crushing limits these worlds put my characters in. In Dreamtime the system of time dominates all, to an extent that emotions and dreaming have become a forbidden fruit ready to discover but dangerous in the eating, in Death of a shadow the main character uses the elements and confines of his “under’world to his own advantage, but discovers soon that perhaps even those powers have their dangers. And perhaps, sharing with those two writers is the longing for escape from the current situation the characters are trapped it, be it the dictatorship of the clock in ‘Dreamtime’ and the eternal longing towards life and love from the prison of death by the main character in ‘Death of a shadow’.
Can you talk about your next movie, you told me there are some ideas you like to work on for your next project?
I’m working on a couple of ideas, it’s hard to share them already as they’re very much in their early stages and they still need a lot of work, though I will share that memories and their bond to our lives will play a very important part in the idea in furthest one. I also hope to see if there are some of my favorite works in literature and other media available to adapt. I hope in other words to have a lot of irons in the fire so that I won’t have to wait five years again to do another project. But important with all of them will be that I can make the movies my own and that they can tell a story I want to tell, in a style I want to tell them.
How was working with a superstar like Mthias Schoenarts?
Working with an actor of such talent (and even working with my talented cast as whole) was a very fulfilling experience, as actors like Matthias, who have a great talent for understanding the physical nature of their craft and the effect a certain shot has on the way the actor has to perform, is a great bonus to any filmmaker. I could not have asked for a better front man, even though he’s playing a sort of character that might differ from his other power house performances, this only goes to show how multi-facetted he actually is. I feel he has a great future ahead and I hope I can only use his talents in coming projects as well, finding interesting challenges for him both as a person and the skilled actor that he is.
Each frame of your movie is like a painting, can we say Death of a Shadow is a painting about beauty of death?
As my stories are very visual and I’m a bit of the old school mentality that I want to tell the story as much with pictures as I can, I take great care in the style and composition of the shots, with the help of the very talented people at my disposal, like my director of photography Stijn Van Der Veken (and Nicolas Karakatsanis before him). Having people like that understand what you’re trying to achieve really helps you in making the movie you want, and as without those wonderful people your dreams and ideas stay just that in the end, they really are a great asset to me as a filmmaker.
The film itself can be looked at both a story on the beauty of death and the beauty of life and the combination of the two, where in dying a new beauty can be created in the lives of the living. There is great sadness in life and somewhat an escape from that if you don’t ‘have’ to live, but without that sadness (or the chance of it) real happiness would also be difficult to attain.
How much are you familiar with Iranian cinema? Is there any Iranian filmmaker or movie which you like?
I’m familiar with a couple of Iranian filmmakers, Abbas Kiarostami the closest because I’ve seen most of his oeuvre, but ‘A separation’ by Asghar Farhadi, last year’s oscar winner also was a very powerful meditation on the structure of Iranian society and how certain little things can have big effects on people’s lives. What I’ve always loved about Iranian cinema is the poetic realism, the beauty in the small things that make the poetic truth of the stories really chine to a new level. There are some very talented filmmakers in Iran and I hope to discover more of them in the future.

Articles, English

François Truffaut Lighting a Cigarette for Luis Buñuel

(this article was first published at MUBI Notebook on 28 October 2014)

François Truffaut was a big fan of Luis Buñuel films; he had always admired him as one of the greatest auteurs of cinema and in fact they managed to meet each other many times, starting in 1953. But before talking about their meetings, let’s see what Truffaut has said and written about Buñuel.

In his book The Films in My Life, Truffaut wrote: “Luis Buñuel is, perhaps, somewhere between Renoir and Bergman. One would gather that Buñuel finds mankind imbecilic but life diverting. All this he tells us very mildly, even a bit indirectly, but it’s there in the overall impression we get from his films.”1

Truffaut also met Buñuel in 1957 when he and Jacques Rivette were doing a series of interviews. In addition to that interview request letter, Truffaut wrote letters, or at least one, to him dated 1963 and closed it as follow:

“I have heard from Jeanne Moreau that your shoot is going very well and I greatly regret not being able to come and visit you. When you have finished, it would please me very much to have a chat with you and I am impatient to know how you feel about working with Jeanne, in view of the conversation we had several months ago on the terrace of a cafe at Saint-Philippe-du- Roule.”2

Truffaut met Buñuel many more times, even for casual talks. He wrote about one of these meetings on June 4, 1954 after watching Buñuel’s movie Robinson Crusoe.

“Doniol [Jacques Doniol-Valcroze] and I meet Buñuel in the Elisian ‘Select.’ A survey that I am carrying out on some film directors brings me to ask them the indiscreet question about never-to-be-proposed films since they are impossible to shoot. ‘I can say so,’ says Buñuel , ‘because I know that I will never be able to shoot it. It would be a rather realistic movie, but the characters would behave like insects: the heroine like a bee, the priest like a beetle, etc… it would be a film about instinct.’ To Doniol, who questions him about El, he declares: ‘We had a good time shooting El, we never stopped laughing.’ Comparable to Renoir’s words: ‘One has to have a good time while making movies; that is very important.’”3

On another occasion they met in 1966, when Buñuel was making Belle de Jour. Truffaut was completing Fahrenheit 451 when the brothers Robert and Raymond Hakim offered to finance his next film, provided he cast Catherine Deneuve in it. The actress was working with Luis Buñuel at the time on Belle de Jour, a Hakim production. Truffaut was invited to view some rushes and have a lunch with her. It is possible that Truffaut and Buñuel met at the time of watching the rushes since the two were friends. Truffaut was won over by Deneuve and they made Mississippi Mermaid in 1968.

The above photo was taken in 1969. In October and November 1969, Truffaut spent several weeks in Toledo, Spain, where Cathrine Deneuve was filming one of her best roles, Tristana, directed by Buñuel. Truffaut stayed at the El Marron Hotel, taking advantage of his vacation to work on the script for Bed and Boards. Truffaut and Deneuve had developed a love affair during that time and possible Truffaut frequented Tristina filming setting many times and chatted with Buñuel.

Truffaut wrote about this in The Films in My Life: “Once, when I had gone to Spain for a film premiere, I decided to go on to Toledo, where Buñuel was shooting Tristana. I knew he regretted not having brought along some cartons of filter Gitanes, which he prefers to Spanish tobacco, so I was doubly welcome on the set, where a particularly interesting scene was being blocked out.”

He interestingly wrote there that Buñuel was nervous doing a scene in which Tristana led a boy to her bedroom. “As I watched this scene being shot, I thought of an interview Buñuel had given me in 1953 , the first time I’d ever interviewed the film director. Replying to a question about whether he had ever imagined a film that would be impossible to make, he told me, ‘I’d answer no, but I can tell you about a film I dream about because I’ll never make it. It’s inspired by Fabre’s work. I would invent the same kind of characters as in my usual films, but they’d each possess the characteristics of certain insects. The heroine would act like a bee, the hero like a beetle, and so on. You see why the project is hopeless.’”4

In the picture, Truffaut is lighting a cigarette for Buñuel; it’s possible they then talked about women: another thing besides Deneuve that made them and their movies closer.

Works Cited:
1. Truffaut, François. The Films in My Life. Trans. Leonard Mayhem. New York: Simon and Shuster. 1978. 263.
2. Jacob, Gilles, Claude de Givary. Francois Truffaut: Letters. Trans. Gilbert Adair. London: faber and faber; 1990. 226.
3. Dixon, Wheeler. Early Film Criticism of Francois Truffaut. Indiana: Indiana University Press. 1993. 49.
4. Truffaut, François. The Films in My Life. Trans. Leonard Mayhem. New York: Simon and Shuster. 1978. 263.



Articles, English 1 comment on Gary Fernandez on The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant Cover

Gary Fernandez on The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant Cover

Gary Fernández (1980) is a Spanish graphic artist and illustrator based in Brooklyn, New York. He has designed Blu-ray and DVD cover for Criterion’s new release of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. In a range of media that includes illustration, sculpture, printmaking, textile, and animation, his work combines technology and craft. His work reflects his interest in contradictions such as abstraction and figuration, organic and geometric, modernism and folklore, the real, the surreal, the tragic, the comical, the magical, and the absurd. As a commercial artist, Fernández has worked with agencies such as McCann Erickson, Young and Rubicam, GREY, and BBDO, for clients such as Coca Cola, Microsoft, Honda, or Volkswagen, to name a few. His work has been published in numerous magazines and books worldwide. Fernández has exhibited his work worldwide in Shanghai (China), Marseille (France), Paris (France), Madrid (Spain), Perth (Australia), and Sydney (Australia). Among other things, he is currently working on a personal project that is mainly based on the subjects of fear and desire. You can read my exclusive interview with him here.

Hossein Edidizadeh: How did Criterion approach you? Did they choose the movie for you or you choose The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant?
They basically asked me if I would be interested in working in the cover of this film specific film.
• Why did you accept to design The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant?
After a quick research I instantly loved the characters and the story, and I felt I could contribute with something special to the film.
• Are you a big fan of Rainer Werner Fassbinder? What are your favorite movies?Actually, I hadn’t had the chance to watch any of his films before. So this has been a great way to get introduced to Fassbinder. For obvious reasons, my favorite of his films is The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant… I certainly have a strong attachment.
• How many times you watched the movie before designing the cover?
I watched the film a couple of times before starting to sketch, and specific scenes many times during the process. That helped me to shape the characters for the artwork.
• Did you use The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant as a source of inspiration?
Absolutely. I wanted to capture as much of the essence of the characters and their relationship as possible. So it was actually the only real source of inspiration for the artwork. 
• Was there any scene in the movie that inspired you for designing the cover?
I had several scenes in mind. There is actually one which could be the main source of inspiration and it is the one where Petra and Karin are talking sitting in bed the following day after they first met.
Nevertheless, the challenge was to do something else for the cover. Not a specific scene, but something that brings together all the drama of their characters and the set. Something more abstract, in some way, rather than descriptive. It wasn’t about portraying a scene, basically.
• How do you choose the colors for this specific design?
I prepared several color options based on the the set and among the options, this one was chosen by the Criterion team as the one that worked the best.
• Did you choose the fonts for the title?
No, I didn’t choose the fonts. It was the Criterion Collection design team and I think it matches perfectly.

• What is the reason of using grey shade for dominant color of this design?
The idea for the artwork was to get focused on the extreme relationship between Petra and Karin. I think using this color scheme helps focus on the two characters in the cover.

• What would you like the people who looks at this design to feel?
Whatever the idea for the cover was, the most important is that people feel connected to it and that it creates interest. If they don’t know the film, I would like them to feel curious about it. If they knew Fassbinder and this film, I hope they think the cover makes justice to this great film.

• While designing the cover, did you think about marketable nature of it, or you only think about it as an art?
I don’t have any conscious thoughts about marketing during the process. I work in a very intuitive way and my thoughts go to several other directions, related more with art, rather than the art of selling. I think more about the bodies, their attitude, the expression, the rhythm of the composition, the balance, and – the most important – the intensity of the work. Nevertheless, I guess my job, working in something visual, is to gain the attention of the people. But I don’t do it consciously.

• What was important for you when designing this cover?
My goal was to find an approach that compiles the essence of the relationship between Petra and Karin, without being obvious and easy.

• Are there any movies that you would like to design covers for?
Yes, there are several! But I will keep the secret… I’m a bit superstitious and I think that if I told you which ones, it would never happen… 

• I would like to know how were attracted to graphics and how you developed your own style.
As something natural, as a kid I used to draw, as a teenager I used to design posters for imaginary rock bands and packaging. Later on, I started designing T-Shirts and selling them while in college, and then I decided to make it my life. With all its ups and downs.

About style, well I think it is tricky because it is something that deprives you to develop all your capabilities to make something different. You are limited to a specific path to follow. So lately, I tend to think that I don’t have a specific style and I want to discover and experiment different approaches as much as possible. I prefer to think that wa,y so I feel freer to do whatever I want to do. However, even with this mindset, even when I’m working on something that at first sight I think it looks way off of my style, there are similarities and everything looks somehow connected. So, I guess style is like DNA. It is like your fingerprints. You develop it when you’re very young, and you continue working the same way, even if you develop more skills.


• You designs are a combination of abstract drawings and simplicity, how do you combine these two?
Compressing visual information in a limited amount of elements. The goal is to get something very intense in a quite organized composition. You can get lost in the details of those elements but, at first sight everything looks quite minimalistic and modern.

• You mostly use curves in your designs rather than straight lines, would you elaborate on this?
I cannot explain it. It is just the way I work and think… it gives me more visual possibilities. It gives me a great counterposition to a more minimal and clean composition.