Yorgos Lanthimos’ Alps at the Venice Film Festival

The art of acting has long been a part of Greece, dating back to the ancient Greek dramas. During the glory days of the Acropolis and the famed Herodes Atticus theatre, drama became a formalized and major part of Athenian culture and civic pride. But even with modern day odes to this era by directors like Woody Allen, long gone are the days of Mighty Aphrodite.

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is holding on to this legacy, offering an independent identity to the seemingly non-existent Greek dramas of today. Beginning his international fame with a curious feature film, Dogtooth, he managed to garner the attention of the Academy Awards. Lanthimos premiered his follow-up feature film, Alps, at the 2011 Venice Film Festival, taking home an award for Best Screenplay alongside co-screenwriter Efthimis Philippou.

Lanthimos has become recognized for his dark and bizarre storytelling. Alps, follows an underground group who offer their services to replace a loved one after they have passed away. These ‘specialists’ take on mannerisms of the deceased, wearing their clothes to bridge the gap of closure. The name of the group, Alps, is derived from the idea that no geographic formation could possibly replace the Alps, whereas the Alps could stand in for any other mountain range in the world.

“It’s hard to say where the idea of the film came from. We were toying with the idea of contacting the dead through letters and it developed into a plot about how people deal with grief,” explains the director.

Still, applause never produced a film. Even with the indie success of Dogtooth, the slide in the Greek economy this year made Alps more difficult to make. Lanthanum cut corners where he could avoid sacrificing the aesthetic and brilliant one-dimensional characters he has been celebrated for.

“I’ve made two films this way. I thought that the success of Dogtooth would make it easier for me to make a film, but it has proved to be the exact opposite,” he lamented after the Venice Film Festival. “Because of the financial situation in Greece, the little money we had for Dogtooth, we are no money at all this time. So we just had to make a very difficult choice to go ahead and make it in Greece with very little money from France, and our own money, and again with people working for free.”

The director gives credit to his producer Athina Rachel Tsangar who adopted a Field of Dreams ‘build it and they will come’ concept. “I was telling her, ‘Are you crazy? We don’t have the money.’ And she said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s going to happen, we are going to do it. Of course we will have to make compromises, but if we make the film, money will come,” he explains.

During the production money gradually rolled in to see film through to completion.

“I think if we were waiting for money it would never have arrived,” says the director. “Now the Greek Film Centre kind of is working again. So we will get some support from them, but you know it is afterwards. After the film is in Venice, in Toronto, and the BFI, whatever.”  The ‘whatever’ does include a U.S. release in the spring of 2012.

The film stars Aggeliki Papoulia as a nurse and Alps member who uses the idea of substitution to fill her own vacant life, as well as those suffering a loss. Papoulia who began working with the Greek virtuoso in Dogtooth, says the director has helped her out of a struggling theatre career in Greece.

“We don’t make any money still, despite the success of the film. And with this film it was harder,” explains the actress who was also credited as a co-producer for Alps, scouting three locations for the film.

Papoulia attended the Oscars earlier this year with Lanthimos for Dogtooth. “They gave us dresses to wear, but we had to give them back, one dress is like the cost of our whole production,” the actress jests.

So what’s the next step for the international heroes of Greek cinema? Well, for both director and actress, the grass is most definitely greener on the other side. For Lanthimos, that’s Los Angeles.

“After everything is done with Alps, I am looking to work on a film in the U.S., something international that I can use my own style to make,” says the director who recently got an agent in California and has been looking at scripts with producers for his next project. “I am open to the idea of making completely different films. I’ve been looking in England too, where things are more towards the creative side.”

For Papoulia, life is a little more uncertain, but she plans to leave Greece and move to New York when the buzz from Alps subsides. Agent uncertain, the actress isn’t shy to say she may join the league of actors and actresses searching for work in the Big Apple. “Greece is so small and there is no money, I want to go to the U.S.. Who knows, maybe I’ll have to waitress, we’ll see what happens.”

Enter the Void

Dazed speak to Paz de la Huerta and Nathan Brown, stars of Gaspar Noe's coruscating, drug-fuelled Tokyo nightmare

Originally published in Dazed & Confused

Enter the Void isn’t a film that just tortured its audience with horrifying imagery, but tortured its cast in the process. Gaspar Noe’s latest combines an array of vile scenes that were very nearly actually endured by its actors. This is beyond method acting, when they are crying, it’s likely the tears are real.

Noe started writing the script when he was just 17 with the intent of letting the audience know what it is like to take a truly far out drug trip. Weaving in and out of a psychedelic malaise, the camera follows a brother and sister who’s twisted methods of loving each other lead them naively into the darkness of the underground Japanese drug and sex scene. The film premiered its finished cut at the Sundance Film Festival after nearly a year of editing the three-hour mind warp. Dazed Digital was there to talk to Paz de la Huerta and Nathan Brown who play the sadistic sibling duo in Noe’s latest nightmare.

Dazed Digital: When did you two first see the film?
Paz de la Huerta:
Cannes. It wasn’t the finished version, but it was the first one shown.

DD: What did you think of the film when you saw it?
Nathan Brown:
It was hard to watch. I mean, it’s a really hard film to watch because it drags on. It is like pounding you with all these images, and you are like, 'Please fucking stop!' But you want to see what happens. And the fact that it’s so long makes it hard, it just keeps on going.
Paz de la Huerta:I was terrified. The moment they put the lights up, I was crying. And everyone just started clapping and it was so overwhelming. I was like, ‘They liked it?’ The more distance I have from the film, the more I love it.

DD: Is working with Gaspar something you fell into, or something you sought out?
Nathan Brown: I had known his work previously, but with a movie like this you have to fall into it. You can’t really go into it knowing what’s going to happen.
Paz de la Huerta: Well, I had seen Irreversible when I was 17 and it blew me away.  I was really affected by the rape scene with Monica Bellucci as I’m sure many were.  But I thought the movie was genius and it had a lot of emotion, and I found it quite sentimental actually. And so when I first met Gaspar I was over the moon. I was living in LA and I was 19-years-old and he came over to my house and videotaped me. We became friends and soon I had totally forgotten about the film, and kind of decided at that point that it wasn’t happening because he didn’t talk to me about it after that. But then one day he goes, 'Okay, are you ready? We are going to Tokyo in 10 days.' I kind of realised that he had been studying me all along.

DD: You characters are very innocent, especially Linda. Is it hard to take on a role like that and make it convincing?
Paz de la Huerta: Yeah, well in some ways I was a lot like Linda. I was really sad in Tokyo because I didn’t have any real friends. Gaspar and everyone were consumed by every aspect of the film. I felt really lonely and she felt lonely too. But I feel like I grew up after that experience too. People noticed it when I came back after four months. I learned to take better care of myself. One thing though, I was warned by an actress friend of mine before I went. Given the material of the film, she said, ‘Stay away from drugs and alcohol!’ I did while we were shooting because I was so emotionally open that had I taken any substance, I probably would have gone overboard.

DD: The film shows a part of Japan most people wouldn’t know about, and it seems like your characters are really unknowingly trapped into it. Did you know much about that scene beforehand?
Nathan Brown: No, but I think that is partially the reason why he set it there. So we could be lost and confused and sad. Because like Paz said, you are so lonely there. So the point of shooting it in that part of Tokyo was to be like, now you can fully be immersed in the confusion, loneliness and wandering.

DD: So did you take on these personas of your characters while you were in Japan at all?
Nathan Brown: The guy that I’m playing he isa crazy party child, so the research that I didn’t do at the beginning of the film, I just did it while I was there.
Paz de la Huerta: Yeah, I mean that was his role. Me, I felt like so fragile that I was afraid to go out, and when I did it never ended up a good night.

DD: Do you think you’ll go back to Japan anytime soon?

Paz de la Huerta: I would love too. And I would love to go there as a stronger woman, because I wasn’t strong, I was weak. I was fragile and that’s what the character was. But I learned a lot like, I guess the most interaction I had with the Japanese people was when I was learning how to strip.

DD: You took lessons for this film?

Paz de la Huerta: Yeah, they auditioned a bunch of girls and some had like huge tits and breast implants and fake tans. And then this girl comes on stage and she’s flat-chested and has a big ass, but she started to move and everyone was just blown away. And I was like, 'I want her to teach me how to move.' My right arm is kind of weak so pole dancing was a little difficult for me, but she did a lot of floor-dancing. Sexy floor-dancing.

DD: How was working on the post-production, with the film so visual and Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter doing the sound design?
Nathan Brown: I actually haven’t even seen the finished version of the film, so I don’t know how it turned out. But yeah, the post-production process was almost more intense than the acting process, because it would be months where I would be going back to Paris and we’d just be in sound studios all day long doing voiceovers. It was a huge amount of post-production.

DD: What is it like working with Gaspar?
Nathan Brown: He’s not interested in how you feel as an actor. He just wants to get his camera angle set up. There’s one scene where they stuck me in an incinerator and I was actually in there. They could have used a body double, but he was like, 'No, I want Nathan to be in the incinerator.' It was an entire day, 12 or 13 hours and I’m just going in and out and in and out. It really messes with your head. And he never once was like, 'Are you ok in there?' He almost forgets you are even there.
Paz de la Huerta: For me there was one point when we were in the morgue, and we were in a real morgue, and I don't kneo why it was taking so long to shoot.
Nathan: That was that scene. It was a real morgue, and we were both completely naked.
Paz de la Huerta: It smelt so bad, it smelt of death. He was naked lying there, and I felt so much compassion and pain for him. I screamed at Gaspar. I was like, 'Get him a fucking blanket it is freezing cold!'

DD: There are a lot of non-actors in the film, how was it working with them?

Nathan Brown: I think Paz felt that more than me. For me, it was something I couldn’t relate because it was my first film. But I think it was really getting to Paz. I could see it on set, especially with Mario.
Paz de la Huerta: Sometimes I felt like I had nothing to work off of. Cyril wasn’t an actor, but fuck, man, that guy has charisma oozing out of every pore of him. He could be the next Brando I think. And then you take someone like the guy who plays Mario, and I feel like I’m just talking to a wall. And it is like an emotional scene so, luckily I am an actress and I have tools and I can use substitution.

DD: So would you like to work on a film with Gaspar again?
Nathan Brown:
Well, apparently his next film is a porn. Like a real porn. But yeah, I’d love to.
Paz de la Huerta: Yeah, I definitely would. I mean listen. There are some really crappy directors out there. They are abusive, right. I walked off set of a Henry Jaglom film. Because I’m like, ‘Who the fuck do you think you are? Like you make crappy movies and you treat your cast like shit!' I don’t care if he sees this. And then you think about Hitchcock. Who didn’t really talk to his actors and maybe that felt cold, but he’s Hitchcock. And Gaspar, as far as I’m concerned can get away with anything he wants.

DD: Are you working on new films right now?

Paz de la Huerta: Yeah, I just worked with Martin Scorsese. Gaspar really admires Scorsese; Taxi Driver is his favourite film, so I was pretty psyched to tell him. But I also direct movies. I’ve also directed three shorts that I haven’t shown yet.
Nathan Brown: Right now I’m just doing auditions. It is all kind of wait and see until the movie comes out.

Getting Frank with Maggie Gyllenhaal

As Frank premieres at the Sundance Film Festival, we get get under the skin of Clara, his terrifying Theremin-playing bandmate, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Originally published in i-D Magazine

Long before there was Daft Punk, there was British musician Frank Sidebottom. But instead of a helmet he wore a giant papier-mâché head on stage. Frank, loosely based on Sidebottom's real life, has Michael Fassbender sporting the bizarre stage prop in the film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week. At least we're told it is Fassbender, his character infamously doesn't part with the giant cartoonish mask. The film weaves a story about a young wannabe musician, Jon, played by Domhnall Gleeson, who joins Fassbender's eccentric band. Riffing on things like the band's unpronounceable and very pretentious name Soronprfbs, the story takes a few unexpected turns while adding some light humor to this dim comedy. The film also delves into the issue of mental illness, which is present throughout the film. Clara, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, acts as Frank's guardian and terrifying Theremin-playing bandmate. We caught up with her to talk about her history with Sundance and why she was interested in this role.

What about Frank made you want to be a part of the film?
When I first read the script I didn't understand at all. And at first I said no. And then I called back a few weeks later and said can I do it. It's hard to understand the tone of it when you are reading it, but I knew there was something there. And it was great to be a part of it.

Frank and Clara have a very strange relationship, especially given that he never takes his fake head off. How would you describe their relationship?
For me it was best to pretend that Michael wasn't doing anything at all out of the ordinary with the head on, as if he didn't have his head on. Clara and Frank are supposed to be soul mates, and it's very difficult to be soul mates with someone with a fake head on. So it was best to ignore it.

How would you describe Clara?
I relate to Clara, she's just a complicated interesting woman. I think she's really angry, but misunderstood.

Your character plays that old school science fiction sound maker the Theremin, did you have to learn to play?
I did. My husband hooked me up with someone to teach me. It's really interesting to play.

You've been to Sundance previously with Donnie Darko and Secretary, how does this time compared to your previous experiences with Sundance?
It's such a great festival, I haven't been for a while. I credit Sundance to giving me my career. The most unusual and the most out there, those are the films that Sundance has picked up and supported. I'm not surprised this movie ended up here.

Ridley Scott Showcases Life in a Day at Sundance

Originally Published in i-D Magazine

24th July 2010. Where were you? 'Life in a Day' is the Sundance hit produced by Ridley Scott, compiled from 80,000 YouTube submissions.

Editor Joe Walker laughs off comparisons to Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, though he admits his life for the last year has been like reliving one day over and over. Life in a Day premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week, sourcing footage through YouTube which invited users to submit a short of their life on 24th July 2010 for inclusion in the documentary style feature. Produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Oscar-winner Kevin MacDonald, the request garnered an incredible 80,000 submissions from 192 countries, which had to be whittled down by Walker and his team into a 90-minute cohesive structure.

"I loved the comic material of silly men", explains Walker to his preferences of material coming in. Walker et al. set up a star system to sift through the 4500 hours of footage. Describing that which didn’t get used, he says, "I was surprised there were an awful lot of blokes taking shots of their girlfriends with a diffused lens in back-lit parks. It didn’t fit into the narrative." A submission titled 'Naked Korean Milk-spilling Organist', and one of a dead person on a gurney with something being pulled out of his throat, were among the most bizarre that quite sensibly didn’t make the cut.

And why make the film? Because they can. The entire team was quick to point out that this style of film making would have been impossible five years ago. The benevolent YouTube even flew out 26 of the directors used in the film for the premiere this week and the feature streamed on the channel at the same time as the cinema premiere. The film rights were purchased by National Geographic and it will hit silver screens on the footage’s one year anniversary.

Independent Dresser

Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno and the penny saving creations of an arts & crafts costumer.

It's an independent cocktail.  What you get when you combine an icon, a small budget and the promise of sex. The result, a 6-foot papier-mâché snail shell. 

It may not be the lace and satin that won Sofia Coppola an Oscar for Marie Antoinette, but the creative costuming behind Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno, and other like hers, make these independent film an art all their own.

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, known for its no holds barred cinema, these films take advantage of their stretched budget, limited crew and unique plotlines, to show their avant-garde edge in costuming.

Of this year's bizarre line-up, was Isabella Rossellini's pet project Green Porno. The first of three in a series of eight shots created by the Sundance channel, Rossellini makes her directorial mark, but also plays the role of actress, author and creative visionary behind the costumes. 

"The idea was to produce a new canvas. So we had to consider everything that would go into that," says Rossellini of the films design created for the web and play on portable devices. "we had to ask ourselves, "would it look any different?" We wanted it to look animated. So the colours are vivid." 

The nature of the film is to be quick, an attention grabbing while relaying its message. The three premiering subjects were dragonfly, spider, and bee.

"The mission of the Sundance is to be more and more and green. Always had a personal interest, so they did ask me." about how she initationly got involved in the project. "When we were deciding what the films would be about, they used the word flashy, so to me that meant sex." Rosselllini says about the final element signature to all of the films.

Rossellini, who is known to work on larger projects, acting in David Lynch's Blue Velvet, and posing as the face of Lancome for years, played a much more diverse role in the creation of this project. Designing the costumes she would wear during her performaces on screen was one role she got to dabble in.

"I draw my scripts. One page is "if were a fly..." I imagine myself as a puppet. I start by doing a little drawing of myself and then I go along with them." Say said of her perceived wardrobe concept. "I gave it to Rick Gilbert who is the set designer and Andy Buyers who would make the costumes. But I have to give them more credit than just my drawings."

Creating the costume, Rossellini and her team would to take into account the authenticity of a insect they were creating.

"Sometimes we discuss, many things they do. Are they segmented? Do they have one anus? How do they breathe and how we could realize it? One result was, we made two holes, and we had someone smoking cigarettes to simulate air," she explains.  

But in the tradition of independent film, finance is always an issue. 

"I always want to budget, so I said lets keep it paper. I also wanted the feeling of I could do that in my kitchen with my kids tomorrow," explains Rossellini.  

As for being the director. "In a sense no, for the world the director means you are the author. The next five I did, July Sharpe helped direct. Once I 'm in costume I can't see the monitor. I like to share, I can't do it all. So I am the author of green porno." 

 The series of eight shorts are touring film festivals and foreign countries, and more may be in the works if they are well received. "I'd like to do seas creatures, like Seahorse. Little animal that everyone knows and everyone is familiar with. But they may get another artist to help them too, nothings planned yet."

Not all independent films forego an actual costumer and and wardrobe team, but you can almost guarerentee that there team is smaller. In the case of Frozen River winner of the  Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at this years festival, the film was shot on a rippling budget on the boarder of New York and Vermont by first time feature director-writer Courtney Hunt. Hunt coraled professional costumer, and Vermont native Abby O'Sullivan to work in the film.  

"I grew up in the area so i knew what the costume would look like." says O'sullivan.

"A small film means, more responsibility.  The costume design is the creative. You have the vision.  Wardrobe, they it put all together," O'Sullivan explains from her explerience working on bigger budget films. "Normally as a consumer, on 20 million independent film, you'll have a supervisor, or ACD, an on set and people looking after continuity and a slew of interns. On Frozen River we had me and Martina(who is this) doing everything, so there was a lot of supervision that I had to take on."  

 Based in Brooklyn, New York, O'Sullivan  says she took the projects because it hit close to home. For  her the pay cut and extra work are worth it in the end when they have a piece of art she can stand by. She explains it isn't that less money means better films, but that they motivate its tightly knit cast and crew to flex that creative muscle to push the boundaries of film. 

"Once you've been through it, its something you really want to put your name too." Say's O'sulivan. 

With the same intent of a tight budget, another Sundance independent preiemere, russian directed Mermaid found another way to keep costs low.  the film used real clothing provided by the actors themselves.

"Our costuming was very personal. We were a close knit crew, all friends so some brought their own costumes," says Mermaid director Anna Melikyan noting that lead __ even provided her own dress worn throughout the film. 

In the end the imagery of Mermaid creates a whimsical magestiry  with a russin touch. The cosuming blends beautifully with the set and the comfort of the charicaters is perceived in this. It was the eprsonal touches that really made the film.

At Cannes, A Brothel Revisited

The soulful crooning of the Moody Blues together with the decadence of fin-de-siècle Paris may sound like a Sofia Coppola period piece. But no, this particular mash-up took place in a film shown this year at Cannes. L’Apollonide—Souvenirs de la Maison Close (House of Tolerance) is the modest yet gorgeous historical drama that defetishizes and humanizes its female subjects, the belle filles of Maison Close, a turn-of-the-century brothel.

The poignant portrait of an illicit community of women is depicted with heavy nudity but little sexuality. Along the way are graphic tales of the horrors of the whorehouse and others like it. The unconventional approach to featuring these ladies-of-the-night (and day) is precisely what makes them interesting. “In the film there are very few shots of men,” explains French director Bertrand Bonello of his vision. “I wanted to show the movie from the point of view of the girls, something you don’t really see in literature or paintings of the time. I found a lot of what’s known is what happened in these brothels between 8 pm to 4 am, so I wanted to show what happens from 11 am to 8 pm.“

A tremendous amount of research went into the film, which competed against (and lost to) Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. “I read a lot of history, articles, diaries, and did visual research. I saw paintings and looked at their postures. It was important to me to capture that in the film,” said Bonello, whose actresses have a girlish Lolita quality, an inexperience showing through their pinned curls and rouged lips.

The result is a visually lavish story that follows twelve girls of the enigmatic Maison Close. “While shooting I really had to pay attention to all of them," describes Bonello. "That was probably the hardest part, to make sure no one was overlooked, that each girl had her own story. Costumes were an important part of that. We put most of our money toward the corsets. Every girl had their own. They were the most beautiful creations. We tried to adapt each corset to each girl’s personality."

As far the jarring choice of music, Bonello says, “Half of the music I wrote myself and the other half is soul music from the ’60s. Something I noticed was this relationship between the kind of slavery you hear in that era of soul music to the lives of these girls. I thought it related well.”

The Tree of Life Makes Its Cannes World Premiere

Despite the buzz surrounding his film The Tree of Life, four years in the making and his most hotly anticipated release since 2005's The New World, Terrence Malick skipped the star-studded red carpet at its Cannes world premiere this week. But as the film's leading man Brad Pitt said in the director's defense at a press conference earlier, "Why should he be asked to sell his film after directing it."

The film is not your average blockbuster, which is likely the reason it garnered boos at Cannes (but consider previously booed films Antichrist and Marie Antoinette). Metaphysical in nature, the plot explores humankind's place in the grand scheme of things by focusing on a young boy (later in life played by Sean Penn) and his seemingly average family in 1950’s America. Throughout, the film touches on religion, the meaning of life and its beginning on earth. Complex to say the least, and not necessarily a bad thing for a feature competing for the festival's highly prestigious Palme d’Or prize, taking place later this week.

The film's co-producer, Bill Pohlad, has been unequivocal in his support of the film. Even if he wasn’t initially sure about working on it, he was persuaded after learning of Malick’s writing style. “I think it can be seen as a great piece of art and it won’t be the same thing to everybody,” say Pohlad, attempting to sum up the film, itself a summation of the story of the universe. “When creating a film sometimes you lose perspective.”