An Interview with Director Desiree Akhavan

words Jason Ward

29th June 2015

The release of Desiree Akhavan's debut feature Appropriate Behaviour earlier this year heralded an impressive new film-making talent. As well as being the film's writer and director, Desiree plays its protagonist Shirin, a confident-but-floundering newly single woman attempting to move on from her former girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson).

Between flashbacks that trace Shirin and Maxine's ill-fated romance, Desiree excels at detailing the minutiae of life after a relationship: the efforts to redefine one's identity, the abortive attempts at online dating, the fleeting melancholy of realising that an ex is wearing clothes that you haven't seen before, their life carrying on without you. In a film distinguished by its emotional honesty as well as its humour and wit, one of Appropriate Behaviour's most perceptive observations is the idea that heartbreak exists as background radiation in modern dating: to varying degrees, everyone's trying to get over somebody.   

Ahead of its release on DVD, we spoke to Desiree about making the film.

Appropriate Behaviour starts and ends with Shirin on a train. In superficial terms not much has changed in her life but there's a clear emotional shift. How did you approach the journey she goes through?

When you study screenwriting you're given all these books that tell you there has to be an inciting incident, a villain, a hero, an act one. I remember reading them made me want to gouge my eyes out. It was incredibly boring. I thought if this is what screenwriting is then I'm not a screenwriter. I loved writing plays, and I loved writing scenes and building relationships through character, so that's how I started: I wrote scenes between Shirin and Maxine. I built that relationship and the film was about examining it. Once I finished the first draft I shared it with my producer Cecilia Frugiuele and she said it was good but she wanted to know who this woman is, who is her family, what's her job. She thought I should pull from my own life. That's when it became a journey of how this girl changes without really changing. There are so many films that deal with coming of age and young people in Brooklyn, but I wanted to make something that was so specific to the way I see the world that no-one else would be able to lay claim to it. That's all film is: telling the same story over and over again through a different lens.

Throughout the film there are flashbacks to Shirin and Maxine's relationship but they're non-chronological. Were you trying to replicate how Shirin's mind works?

It was about following a train of thought and what triggers a memory. When you have a breakup it's like being haunted by a ghost. You're in a moment with someone new and just the way their hand moves or the song that comes on or the food you're eating brings you back to a specific memory. You have this ex relationship on your shoulder, constantly reminding you: “Remember when you were happy? Remember when you were loved?”

Are the flashbacks subjective then? Even when they're in love Maxine seems a little aggressive to Shirin. Is that just her personality?

I always thought they were accurate but also Shirin is inspired by me and I'm an asshole. Who knows? The whole film is a flashback of mine. I say it's not autobiographical but at the same time I play the lead, so in a way it's all indulgent to one point of view. I tried to be as diplomatic as possible and to make it feel like that was the truth of what had happened, but if you get the sense that Maxine is a one-sided character then I haven't done my job well and we'll just say Shirin's bad memory at fault.

If the film isn't strictly autobiographical, do you see it as a heightening of reality?

It is, because of a few factors. One is that my life isn't interesting for a 90-minute narrative. It's not convenient enough. I wanted to draw parallels between characters and shape scenes to create a little arc in each scenario. The elements of my life are there but then characters and details had to change to suit the narrative and the story I wanted to tell. Also I rely heavily on my collaborators. I get so much credit because it's my face on screen, but my producer Cecilia is my work partner and had her hand in sculpting the script, while on set my cinematographer was a collaborator in how each scene played out and the same thing happened later with my editor. It's not just mine, so it would be insanely self-indulgent and false for me to say that this is a diary entry, because then it would be their diary entry too. I think the only way to make very personal work that is also universal and speaks to people who don't share your history is to rely heavily on others, because they add their perspective. They can tell you if you're going off the deep end or to go further. It's really necessary and it's a great joy.

What's it like to write, direct and star in a film all at the same time? Even with collaborators, that must be complicated logistically?

Well I'm a power hungry bitch so it works out really well that I get to wear all those pants. Also Cecilia had her eyes on the monitor the whole time. I didn't have time to watch playback so we were just moving forward; with other people's performances I knew exactly what I wanted, but there were a couple of instances when I looked at her and asked if I had it. One moment that sticks out in my head is the threesome scene. I watched one playback and it looked very graphic. I took her aside and said “This is too gratuitous, I've made a huge mistake, I'm going to pull back in the next take,” and she said to trust her and not pull back. I'm really glad I did because that's how we got what we have.

Your depiction of sex is interesting: it's not trying to titillate but it's casually graphic in the way that real sex is casually graphic. People have brought up Annie Hall when discussing Appropriate Behaviour but it's hard to imagine that sort of sexual honesty in comedic films of that era.

I think people are shooting sex differently now than they did before. There was a lot of dishonesty in the sex I saw when I was younger, but then films were very different in a pre-internet world. Now we have such a different dialogue – kids are coming out earlier, our relationship to porn is different – there's a frankness now and that's reflected in movies.

Sex in films never really got messy.

Or it was all awkward. The characters have a bad date and then bad sex and everything is terrible, but in reality sometimes things weave in and out of being pleasurable. That's the worst: when you hold on to the nostalgia for a moment you had two hours ago, hoping that the person will go back to your first impression of them. That happens quite often and I don't see it depicted in movies. Films lied to me about sex, and everything I learned about sex until a certain age I'd learned from watching a movie. It wasn't a conversation I had with my parents or something I could find out on my own. When I finally started dating I realised I'd been fed fairytale lies about simultaneous orgasms and never-ending love.

Appropriate Behaviour is now available on DVD.

The east end film festival

As festivals go, the East End Film Festival is one of the shaggier. The problem is, it finds itself caught between two stools: it’s both a festival celebrating East London filmmaking and a film festival that happens to be based in East London.

The programme is dotted with things that have only a notional connection to the East London area, such as its gala screening of the documentary The Libertines - There Are No Innocent Bystanders.

There are also seemingly random events, such as a screening of Taxi Driver “presented” by Adrian Utley from Portishead, or a screening of the director’s cut of Ken Russell’s The Devils.

Either would be a treat to go and see, but what’s the connection? Perhaps the randomness of it all is meant to reflect the idiosyncratic nature of the East End, but it’s hard to not flick through the festival programme and wish there was a bit more shape.

What separates a film festival from being a collection of interesting films to being something truly special, is a sense of there being a curatorial impulse - the idea that the screened films can illuminate things about each other by their presence together.

This doesn’t mean that the festival isn’t filled with worthwhile films and events, but I can’t imagine someone seeing a programmed afternoon by Guillemotsduring the Camden Crawl feeling inclined to check out the strong Romanian strand in the Festival’s European section, or vice versa.

You could do either and still have a great time, of course, but you might not feel like you’re a part of something. Sometimes that’s enough, if you see a good film. But perhaps a great film festival is one where you see a bad one and that’s still okay.

An interview with director ben wheatley

After four decades of abortive attempts, J.G. Ballard's dystopic 1975 novel High Rise has finally made it to cinemas. Set in a near future that happens to be the 1970s,  the film depicts a luxury tower block as it becomes isolated and descends into savage factionalism. Amid a cast of morally ambiguous residents, the film's nominal protagonist is Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), a pragmatic survivor who is able to navigate intricate class loyalties and unafraid to eat dogs when he needs to.

One of the main reasons that Ballard has proved resistant to cinematic adaptation is that his formally inventive prose is so idiosyncratic that it requires an equally distinctive film-maker to successfully translate it. In the case of High-Rise, it required two: director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump, the husband and wife team behind Sightseers, Kill List and A Field in England, who are among Britain's most promising and ambitiously imaginative film-makers. Ahead of High-Rise's release, we spoke to Ben about his work on the film and having faith in his own voice.

High-Rise is often deliberately disorientating. How did you strive to get the tone?

It's kind of a taste thing and it's also intuition, how you make it all balance out. There was a lot of watching the movie again and again. During the six months that we cut the film, it was assembled within two months and the rest of the time we watched it every day, editing for thirteen, fourteen hours at a time. Every little change rippled up the whole movie, so we couldn't really alter anything without watching it all. That's a bastard on something that's two hours long, but it was the only way. We created the tone frame by frame across the whole running time.

It must be difficult to get critical distance at that point. When you've been working on a movie for years and you're watching it every day, how do you know what's right for it?

Because that's the job, you know? There are ways of working where you throw yourself at the mercy of groups of people and surrender your authorship, but I can't imagine ever working like that. There's two of us editing it, Amy and I, and she's written it as well, so there's enough oversight that that wouldn't happened. Amy is particularly ferocious when it comes to cutting. She'll strip it down and strip it down until it's as hard as a diamond. And then when we're happy with it ourselves, that's when we stop.

On a film like High-Rise everyone can have an opinion on what they'd change, but that doesn't necessarily make the film better, it just makes it different. We wanted to make sure that the translation of our taste and our decisions to the screen was as unfettered as possible. Where things go wrong is if you start taking on other people's ideas: even if in the moment they might be right, by the time you get to the end your film is slightly fucked because it doesn't have a proper viewpoint. It needs one voice, for better or for worse. We stand by ours, and it might not be to everybody's taste but that's just tough. If you feel too afraid and try to double guess what the audience are going to want then you've already lost. You've got to assume that the audience is within you. What you're doing as a creator is producing stuff that you want to see and then making the assumption that others will feel the same way.

The residents of the tower block all have very different objectives, so are we supposed to identify with certain people and not others? How much sympathy do you wish for the audience to have for the characters?

I'd like to think that I'm even-handed. That's important, as part of the emotional realism of a film is that the director isn't short-changing the characters and setting them up to fail. Audiences can detect that really quickly, and life isn't like that because everyone has shades of grey. One character commits an awful act later in the film, but at the same time he's a human being and though he does despicable, terrible things it doesn't necessarily mean that everything he's ever done is despicable and terrible. It's very safe to imagine that people who do bad things are evil, and I don't think that's true.

Other than the change in mediums, the most significant difference is perhaps that book takes place in the 1970s, while the film is set there. What interested you about that?

That's true, but then the book is also a predictive fiction to the near future. It was written in about 1974, so it's predicting somewhere between 1978 and 1983. We made the decision to not do the same and set it in our near future because too much of the technology would break the central core of the book. Social media totally destroys the idea of being able to hide away in a tower block somewhere going crazy because everyone would know about it.

We thought it was a look from our perspective of being born in the 1970s, knowing that our parents would have been like these characters, around the same age. At this point we're in the far future ahead of the story looking back, so we have an insight into what happens after its events. It's almost like we're reaching back from the future to join the book, and from that position is where the film exists.

High-Rise is in cinemas now. Images: Optimum Screenings.

Film review: Shame

Carey Mulligans greatest strength as an actress is that shes good at looking. This talent first announced itself in An Education; some of that films loveliest moments occur when Mulligan looks out at rooms filled with dancing and music and life, wordlessly conveying the nervous enchantment of a child entering an adult world for the first time.

Mulligan is one of the most empathetic actresses working today, with the power to make the audience understand the depth and root of her emotions and to make them feel those emotions at the same time.


More recently Mulligan has put her innate looking-at-things skill to use in Drive, where she and Ryan Gosling develop a thrilling, utterly believable attraction whilst doing little more than just looking at each other. Without the need for snappy dialogue or laboured music cues, the film perfectly captures what it’s like to meet someone who makes you giddy just from the sight of them, someone whom you just can’t stop looking at. Their courtship gives a strange sort of validation for the ultraviolence that follows, providing it with context and motivation.

Mulligan has a further opportunity to look meaningfully in Shame, the Steve McQueen-directed sex addiction drama in which she co-stars with Michael Fassbender. As the bruised-but-merry Sissy, her significant looks are employed to depict the sadness which stems from her fraught, transgressive relationship with her brother Brandon (Fassbender). Their maladjusted relationship is the core of the film and defines them both; expressing itself through Sissy’s self-harm and Brandon’s unquenchable need for sex.


It seems strange to focus on Mulligan‘s role, excellent as she is in it, when Fassbender appears in every scene of the film and gives such a bold, mesmeric performance (as long as he continues to have such good taste in projects, he will surely become one of the key actors of his generation).

The connection to Mulligan’s looks of developing emotions is relevant, however, as Brandon in Shame uses those same looks for more malign purposes. In an early scene of the film he makes eye contact with a woman on the subway, sharing flirtatious glances. Like Mulligan in Drive he just can’t look away, but here it’s a trick: one of the many subtle ways in which he gets women interested in him. She thinks that he’s making some fleeting yet deep connection, when he’s really trying to position her into giving him what he wants.


Shame is less a film about having a sex addiction than it is about having that addiction whilst looking like Michael Fassbender and having the intelligence to manipulate situations for your own benefit. It’s a study of a man who wants something constantly and has the ability to obtain it, again and again, and again and again and again, until there’s nothing of him left but his need.

Shame is being screened as part of the 55th BFI London Film Festival. Find out more information on the film here.

18/10/2011film review: we need to talk about kevinjason wardfilm review: we need to talk about kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin is Lynne Ramsay’s third feature film. She made her debut with Ratcatcher in 1999, which she followed up with Morvern Callar in 2002, and now in 2011 We Need to Talk About Kevin is being released. That’s nine years between her second and third films. It seems like quite a while.

To make an unfair comparison, Woody Allen made nine films during that same period. To make an even more unfair comparison, the Beatles were together for nine years and managed to record 12 albums, 13 EPs and star in four films. Between 2002 and 2011 Ramsay has made one 112-minute feature, which works out at about a minute per month. The obvious question to ask is, well, what was she doing during all that time?


The story behind the answer is a torturous one. Years spent working on an adaptation of The Lovely Bones were for nothing when the book became a big success and the project was taken from her to be given to Peter Jackson. After recovering and slowly adapting We Need to Talk About Kevin, the production’s funding fell through, requiring a complete rewrite. Over nine years setback after setback beset Ramsay, and the result is nearly a decade lost to the making of a single film.


Film Review: A Dangerous Method

It’s difficult to make something last. This is especially true with cinema, where the eddies and tides of progress are felt more keenly. A great song will sound as good when heard decades later by a new audience, but films aren’t as lucky. They have a tendency to age poorly. Some of this is down to aesthetics, which strands them in the years they were shot (a gripping drama from the late 80s is rendered ridiculous because everyone has massive hair).

More damaging to a film’s continued relevance are sea changes in acting, particularly in regards to naturalism. Unlike theatre, where a play can be imagined anew by subsequent companies of actors and directors, a film is stuck forever with the acting styles that were prevalent at the time. Performances that garnered critical and popular acclaim in the past seem too stagey by today’s standards. And there’s no line where it stops – there’s nothing to say that films made today aren’t going to seem somehow off to the audiences that follow.

The reason this is all relevant to A Dangerous Method is that the entire film hinges on its three central performances, and one of those performances is absolutely mental.

Adapted from Christopher Hampton’s stage play, A Dangerous Method is about the complicated relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), focusing on Jung’s treatment of a troubled young girl, Sabine Spielrein (Keira Knightley), and their later affair. While Mortensen and Fassbender are typically excellent, giving subtle, restrained performances, Knightley is on another plain altogether.

Throughout her career Knightley’s acting abilities has received criticism by some, but her work in A Dangerous Method is nothing if not bold. It’s a performance that’s impossible to ignore: she yells, she moans, she quivers her lips and juts out her teeth. She pounds food into mush and cackles through her throat and pulls at her skin. For much of the film Sabine is madness personified; her repulsion and shame and desire are indistinguishable and all-consuming. Regardless of whether you enjoy the performance or not, there’s something undeniably remarkable about it.

That doesn’t mean that her acting in the film is good necessarily – it’s remarkable in the strictest sense of the word. The performance is so big that it wouldn’t really be possible to discuss the film and not mention it. Whether it actually works or not is subjective; some of the most celebrated performances of cinema’s history are also the largest (significantly, they’re also the ones that receive awards). Regarding the quality of such performances, it comes down to whether you believe that accomplished acting is something that draws attention to itself or not. Even if there’s realism to be found in playing someone with such serious mental problems, Knightley is still very clearly acting. While it’s possible to appreciate the effort that’s going into the performance, that isn’t the same as inhabiting a role.


Do we want actors to inhabit roles and disappear, or do we want to see them act? There’s an argument to be made for both positions. It depends on the film, and the work of the entire cast. An outsized performance amidst more subdued ones can completely tonally unmoor a film. And yet, this unbalance can also be a deliberate decision: this seems to be the case with A Dangerous Method, where Sabine is an unpredictable, chaotic force amongst the film’s more repressed characters. As an actor, where better to express that than in the body, as Knightley does, shaking all over and trying to tear herself apart?

A Dangerous Method was screened at the 55th BFI London Film Festival. Read more of oh comelys coverage of the festival here.

Film Review: The Future

At its heart, Miranda July’s first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know, is endlessly hopeful. It’s a film about how difficult it is to connect with others, but how doing so can be a transformative, defining experience. It’s about the first time someone takes their hand in yours. As such, watching it is an uplifting, gorgeous experience: the sort of film you could watch again and again. In comparison, July’s second film, The Future, is the sort of film one might never want to see a second time.

That’s not a criticism. If MAYAEWK (to use an awkward acronym) is about the tentative first steps of a relationship, then The Future takes place sometime beyond that. The Future is about a relationship that no longer works, a relationship that due to its comfortableness and length has been taken for granted and as such has wilted with neglect. July shows how this begins, with the death of small kindnesses, the turning inward of oneself, and the creative ennui that stasis can provoke. It’s an everyday experience but no less horrible for it, and one that everyone encounters eventually. In its own way The Future is more wrenching than any kitchen sink drama because it’s about the horror of how the most lovely thing in your life can wither before your eyes, and then disappear, and then life just continues as if it was never there at all.

It might seem strange to describe The Future as wrenching considering that its narrator is a cat, or that it contains a sequence in which an old tee-shirt slowly crawls back to its owner, or in which a girl buries herself in her back garden. These whimsical touches may distance some from the film, and it’s a shame because these surreal moments never exist purely for the sake of quirkiness alone. Instead they work as metaphors for the emotional states of the characters, showing a fragile openness that’s easy to overlook or laugh away.

There’s a deep sadness to all of Miranda July’s work that’s sorely underrated: as an author and filmmaker she’s painfully honest about how lonely you can feel when you’re with another person. Do you stay in your comfortable, threadbare relationship or risk the strangeness and terror of something new? At a certain point one has to try and forget about how twee the idea of a cat narrator is (and it is so very, very twee), and instead place a bit of trust in what July is trying to accomplish. If you do that then you’ll find a reflection of yourself, or at least the version of you that wakes up at three in the morning and can’t drift off again, troubled because the person lying next to you became a stranger while you slept.

The Future is being screened as part of the 55th BFI London Film Festival. Find out more information on the film here.

Film review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin is Lynne Ramsay’s third feature film. She made her debut with Ratcatcher in 1999, which she followed up with Morvern Callar in 2002, and now in 2011 We Need to Talk About Kevin is being released. That’s nine years between her second and third films. It seems like quite a while.

To make an unfair comparison, Woody Allen made nine films during that same period. To make an even more unfair comparison, the Beatles were together for nine years and managed to record 12 albums, 13 EPs and star in four films. Between 2002 and 2011 Ramsay has made one 112-minute feature, which works out at about a minute per month. The obvious question to ask is, well, what was she doing during all that time?


The story behind the answer is a torturous one. Years spent working on an adaptation of The Lovely Bones were for nothing when the book became a big success and the project was taken from her to be given to Peter Jackson. After recovering and slowly adapting We Need to Talk About Kevin, the production’s funding fell through, requiring a complete rewrite. Over nine years setback after setback beset Ramsay, and the result is nearly a decade lost to the making of a single film.


Was it worth it? Perhaps. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a stunning work: an intimate character study that vividly captures the painful repetitions of memory. For its use of colour and textures alone it should be recommended, never mind its performances and compelling narrative. But is that enough for nine years of a person’s life?

It seems a tragedy that through misfortune and a lack of support that a filmmaker as talented as Lynne Ramsay had to slog through molasses in order to make one film. Unfortunately Ramsay’s troubles are not uncommon, and whilst she’s an extreme example, it’s a depressingly frequent occurrence for U.K. filmmakers with unique visions to be hampered in such a way. The most creative years of many filmmakers’ working lives are lost endlessly waiting for money. The bodies of work they end up creating are impressive but woefully small.


Unless you happen to be the head of a sizeable film funding body, sadly there’s not a great deal the average cinemagoer can do about the situation. Except, of course, by expressing support by actually going to see films like We Need to Talk About Kevin. It’s unlikely that the film will unseat Johnny English Reborn from the top of the Box Office when it’s released tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a big enough hit for Ramsay to continue to make such striking, moving films. Here’s hoping the next one arrives before food comes in pill form and we’re all wearing silver jumpsuits.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is being screened as part of the 55th BFI London Film Festival, and is on general release UK wide.

All photos: BBC Films and Kevin production © 2010 photo Nicole Rivelli

Welcome to the 55th BFI london film festival

If the BFI London Film Festival has a problem, it’s that it gives you too much of a good thing.

The Festival is absolutely massive, and seems to get bigger every year: a two-week monolith comprised of over 300 features and shorts, as well as masterclasses, events and special programmes. Any of its individual strands could be a completely solid film festival in its own right, so where to begin? You could easily spend the next fortnight attending as many things as possible and still barely scratch the surface.


Photo: Robert Fenzs The Sole of the Foot about people who are denied a home.

And yet, the LFF’s sheer breadth of content is its strongest quality. What could be overwhelming is in its own way inspiring: it’s impossible to thumb through the programme and not be inundated with films you’ve been looking forward to, directors you’ve heard good things about, premises that sound intriguing, and classic films you’ve always wanted to see in a cinema.

It encourages a certain boldness. Even if you end up mostly watching the Autumn’s big prestige films (almost exclusively in one of the smaller screens at the Leicester Square Vue, alas), there’s still that temptation to take a few stabs in the dark and seize the opportunity to be challenged by something. The Festival’s bulk means that watching some small cinematic gem feels even more special somehow, like you’ve discovered something.

Photo: Director Miranda July will be giving a film masterclass. © Photographer / Designer Todd Cole

With such a range on offer, it’s impossible to talk about the Festival’s highlights without getting into personal tastes: the best advice is to get a copy of the programme and make sure it ends up well-thumbed. Also, to attend any of the screen talks or masterclasses if possible: this year’s guests include Michael Winterbottom, Abi Morgan, Miranda July and Alexander Payne, all of whom are articulate, interesting, and maddeningly talented.

We’re going to be covering the Festival throughout the next two weeks so look out for future posts with impressions of films seen as well as the occasional interview and other splendid things.

Film Review: The Artist

Expectations are dangerous. There can be little more damaging to how much you enjoy a film than actually hearing about its quality before you see it. To be told that a film is terrible before viewing is to plant seeds of doubt, even for the most level-headed of cinemagoers. The same works in reverse, too: if you hear that a film is amazing then at best it will only be able to meet that expectation. At worst, it will provoke a negative reaction against a film that has committed the crime of being merely very good. Hype can only bring disappointment.

Call this the King’s Speech theory. An enjoyable, if not especially remarkable film, the experience of watching The King’s Speech for latecomers must have been soured by the attendant hype and its long road to the Oscars. Instead of being pleasantly surprised by an entertaining, well-made film, they may have wondered just what the fuss was all about.

The journey of a film from surprise hit to awards season darling to critical backlash is a depressingly familiar one. It’s a journey that’s possible to glimpse in the future of The Artist. One of the most purely enjoyable films to show at this year’s London Film Festival, The Artist is a valentine to the silent era of Hollywood. A story about a film star (Jean Dujardin) who suddenly becomes undesirable in the age of talkies, it’s a funny, warm, beautifully crafted film. Despite being black-and-white and virtually dialogue-free, The Artist is so shamelessly entertaining that a wide audience seems assured. It’s the sort of film that has the chance to be a sleeper word-of-mouth hit along the lines of something like Amelie, and yet that’s also the problem.


Sometimes when something reaches a certain level of success a natural instinct is to rebel against it, and it’s easy to see how one might start to feel that way about The Artist months down the line when your grandmother has gone to see it and you keep hearing it mentioned in checkout queues. The film isn’t perfect, mostly due a second act that drags out longer than it should, and as such it wouldn’t be difficult to be disappointed by too much hype, rather than enjoying it on its own merits. If anything, the Festival was the perfect time to appreciate it, when there were suggestions of something special but not the weight of expectation that is likely to come.

Of course, nothing is certain and perhaps the film won’t click with the public in the way that it promises to. That would be a shame. The Artist is a film whose only goal is to please its audience, and it’s very good at doing this. Joyfulness is an underrated quality, and perhaps eventual oversaturation is a small price to pay in order to obtain some of it.

The Artist is being screened as part of the 55th BFI London Film Festival. Find out more information on the film here.

Film review: Coriolanus

Coriolanus is a serious film. An adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-performed plays, it’s the directorial debut of noted thespian and boy wizard-scourge Ralph Fiennes.

Set in a contemporary Balkan-like state, the film deals with issues of authority, fascism, and democratic rule, whilst containing lots of shouting from Fiennes and harrowing battle scenes courtesy of Barry Ackroyd, cinematographer of The Hurt Locker. Alongside Fiennes as the eponymous General, the cast features a rafter of excellent actors from Vanessa Redgrave to Brian Cox. Everything about the film suggests a heavy-going, rewarding cinema-going experience. That is, until you get about half an hour in and Jon Snow shows up.

In a small role Snow plays the Messenger, who in the film is re-imagined as a Jon Snow-like news anchor. His appearance brings appreciative laughs from the audience, but its incongruity must take them out of the film at the same time. Instead of reflecting on the scene and its place in the narrative, it’s difficult to do anything but wonder what on Earth is Jon Snow doing speaking iambic pentameter. It just seems so awfully silly in a film that is trying to be anything but.

Snows cameo, aside from causing much head-scratching, illuminates one of the more pressing questions in modern cinema: why do filmmakers insist on using actual news presenters in the middle of their fictional films? If everyone else in a film is an actor, why not the newscaster too? It’s hard to think of any comparable real-life figures that are represented in the same way.


One possible answer for this trend is the inexplicable blind spot that filmmakers seem to have in creating newscasters who seem real and that can convey the natural sense of authority that’s required of them. So often a fictional newscaster will feel slightly off in ways that are difficult to articulate. The language of television news is so ingrained on our unconscious that the slightest deviation announces itself loudly, and the audience is reminded that they’re watching a film.


In light of that, the logic of using real presenters seems understandable: they appear genuine to the audience because they are, and additionally there’s the novelty of seeing a familiar face appear in the middle of the film. While that’s true, and may work in the case something light-hearted, the approach completely out of place when it comes to a film like Coriolanus, one that is very serious indeed and is attempting to ask big questions.

The problem is that having real people play themselves in the middle of a fictional film detracts from the believability of that film. It’s possible for Ralph Fiennes to play Coriolanus and for us to accept him in that role, but if Jon Snow is inhabiting Jon Snow in the same film then all it does is remind the person watching that he has a whole life outside of the film’s fictional construct, one of actual news presenting and not wearing poppies and all of his other activities.


Photo: Coriolanus director, Ralph Fiennes. Samir Hussein © 2011 Getty Images

And yet, Coriolanus is Fiennes’ first film, so perhaps he should be granted some leniency. Directing a film is hard enough without having to star in it at the same time, all shouty and covered in blood. Perhaps the sight of Jon Snow and his colourful socks was all that got him through the days. Like Coriolanus sparing the Rome that banished him, one must learn to forgive.

Coriolanus is being screened as part of the 55th BFI London Film Festival. Find out more information on screenings here

A chat with Gregg Araki about his new film, Kaboom

Ever since his 1992 debut The Living End, director Gregg Araki has been responsible for some of the most transgressive, bold and just plain silly films to have come from the indie world. In 2004 he reached an unprecedented level of critical acclaim for Mysterious Skin, a mature, devastating adaptation of Scott Heims novel about a gay hustler dealing with the memories of his childhood sexual abuse. Araki follow-up was the Citizen Kane of stoner movies Smiley Face, underrated and unreleased in the UK, and is now back with Kaboom.

Candy-coloured and lurid, Kaboom is about impossibly good-looking college students who find themselves in embroiled in a convoluted conspiracy that just about distracts them from their revolving door sex lives. Its like Araki wrote the film whilst snorting a bin liner full of sugar as Twin Peaks played on loop in the background. Maybe its awful, but somehow thats okay. Its bloody ridiculous but is about as fun as Mysterious Skin was soul-destroying.

Kaboom opens in cinemas this weekend, but we spoke to Araki when he visited the UK for the films premiere at the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.

You wrote Kaboom after making two films that came from other peoples source material. Would you say its a personal film to you?

Kaboom is so near and dear to my heart. Of all my movies its probably the most autobiographical one Ive ever done, which sounds weird because its such a crazy movie, but its very much based on my own experience, stuff I did when I was 20 years old and an undergraduate in Film School. I went to USC Santa Barbara which the college in the film is based on and my best friend was an art student like Stella. Thats why there are so many scenes in coffee shops because during that period of my life there were always big adventures and afterwards youd go to the coffee shop and talk about what just happened and how you felt about it.

Was it a conscious choice to make something that was more your own?

Its not like I feel like Mysterious Skin or Smiley Face are any less mine than Kaboom, because when youre working from other peoples material youre dealing with what attracts you to that material. For Mysterious Skin my mindset and sensibility is so aligned to Scott Haim. We have a similar sense of the world and so it was a natural fit for me. I brought to that film everything I could bring to it from my own experience but ultimately everything about the story and those characters was his. Its like an adopted child. I love Smiley Face and Mysterious Skin and Im so proud of both of them, but theres a difference between something that comes purely from your imagination and something that doesnt. Theres more responsibility I think.

The events of Kaboom are very dark, but it never feels that way - its like a confection. I dont mean that in a bad way.

No, I think thats very appropriate. Its interesting because I originally envisioned Kaboom as being this very dark apocalyptic epic but theres a playfulness and a sort of joyfulness about it. Despite its darkness theres a sense of fun. The world of Kaboom is so stylised and comic-book that you feel anything can happen. That was what we set out to make - the thing I dislike about 99.9% of movies is that I always know where theyre going to go before they get there.

It must have been freeing once youd decided that the film wouldnt be entirely grounded by what could happen in the real world.

I remember when we were shooting it the cast and the crew and everybody would be just like Oh, were going to Kaboomworld now. It was like its own little world and thats certainly meant to be the experience of watching it. It takes you to another place thats more stylised and colourful and everybodys beautiful and everybodys having sex. Its a utopian, dystopian world.