Transcript from post screening Q&A with Luciano Pérez Savoy, director of M-1, at Slow Film Festival 2019. This Q&A was led by Graeme Cole.
GC: On the surface this is a very simple film but the juxtaposition of these very simple elements creates a very comprehensive, dense, film. There is a shot in the movie of the main character being passed a very silly looking table knife and the camera follows the knife as the guy takes it and then clumsily drops it on the floor. I think this shot is very important to the language of the film. It seems very artificial in a Bressonian way but on the other hand there’s something about the banality of this kitchen knife that feels almost too real. And I think this speaks a lot about the actor in general, he treads the line between someone who is incredibly compelling because he’s so real, but he also punctures the suspension of disbelief. Can you talk a bit about how you cast him and how you worked with him?
LUCIANO: I never though of it like that, because maybe it just happened like that. It makes a lot of sense what you’re saying though. I think what interested me about him was this outer layer, which makes you unsure of who this guy is, and most of the time he would seem pretty mechanical in his acting and movement. But also I had this feeling that he was an incredibly smart person and I discovered that through the shooting process itself. Because I didn’t know him before starting the project. We just met and we didn’t have many conversations about what we were going to do, we just thought about how we would frame him and look at his face. I wanted to find out what it would be like to make a film with him, his face and his personality. The whole idea for the film started by knowing him from a distance. He was obviously different from other drug dealers, more shy and reserved.
GC: So he’s really in the business?
LUCIANO: He was, yes. When we were doing the film he was also already out of that life, so it was really interesting that he had some distance from what he was doing before. Also I had a period of distance from these locations and this nightlife too – so that was good.
GC: That’s interesting, because we’ve spoken a little bit this weekend about the gaze. And there’s a real sense of this gaze. The main character is in some ways a character, but he’s also a conduit for the viewer to experience this world. He’s on the margins, and there’s this big scene at the end with these people who are older versions of him, and they’re living on the margins as well. So how much did you want to use the character to explore the world, and how much did you create a world to frame this character?
LUCIANO: From the beginning the whole structure of the film was determined by the places he was going to go to, so in a way we were seeing the nightlife through him, but this question of the gaze and how everything was constructed in the real location, it’s about the eye of the witness. And I think that’s why it seems so simple, because we look at him looking at something and then we see what he’s looking at. That’s the key to the whole language of the film, the gaze. And I also thought this gaze of the witness is what we as spectators do when we look at a film, we are invisible witnesses. It’s good to experiment with that. What does it mean to look at the world through one person’s point of view?
GC: Towards the end of the film it is acknowledged that the camera and crew are part of the ecosystem, even if it is a fictional film. I loved that. Does anyone have any questions?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Why did you choose The Quiet Man?
LUCIANO: When I was thinking about making M-1 I was watching a lot of John Ford films, I don’t know why. And right at the moment when I was thinking about this situation of him dealing in the cinema I saw this beautiful film by Ford and this specific sequence, this scene of the house, I think it marked, or highlighted, the language I would use for the film. How to explore action and suspense and time and movement, and the whole montage. It inspired me. So I thought it would be nice for him to go to the cinema and see this film which is so far away from his reality, and far away from what people are actually like in reality. This type of cinema is also not possible to make anymore. So it’s far away in time.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Could you talk about your own relationship with Sarajevo? The film touches upon these things but I’d like to hear more from you.
LUCIANO: For three years it was difficult to think of making a film there because you’re afraid of falling into this outsider, tourist interpretation of reality, and trying to make a comment about a reality that is not yours. It’s really difficult to understand. So I decided that maybe the best thing to do is to start from my own experience of the city which was through the nightlife, and the people and the locations of that nightlife. And just to start there instead of trying to build some idea of the city. It was just my experience of the city.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Can you tell us a little bit about the construction of that final scene and how you worked with the people in the café?
LUCIANO: That was obviously the only scene that was not constructed. But I wanted the character to end up in this place because I found it one day and I spent some days there observing and it made sense for him to arrive at this place with an older generation. And as you saw, it was a really small space so we had to bring only a small amount of equipment. Really it was just a case of putting the camera in the corner and making some connections with the people, and waiting for a long time. Because people there are changing all the time. There are some regulars but there is an endless flow of characters coming in and out so you have to be there a long time so that they grow accustomed to you and are OK with you filming. It was the only scene that I shot myself, you can tell because of the horrible camera movement, but I couldn’t cut out that horrible camera movement because I sensed that they were beginning to perform and beginning to want to share something and to want to say something to whoever would see this thing. So in the editing I decided not to cut it out because it was their gift to us. Maybe it felt a bit too long or too heavy but I couldn’t touch it, it was a thing I had to keep.
GC: Did you shoot that scene before the rest of production or afterwards?
LUCIANO: No, this was in the middle of the shoot.
GC: This film is constructed around these six musical numbers, almost as if it’s a musical so it’s kind of a gift that these people spontaneously started to sing.
LUCIANO: I did think it would happen, because they always start singing.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: It seems to me that something very special happened at that moment because there was an element of tremendous, heavy sadness amongst these people who had clearly gone through the war, they’ve never got over it but they’ve got older. And suddenly you could really see these people, and it was quite magical the way they began to sing, and as they did they grew and they had a dignity which hadn’t been apparent before. And that was very, very exciting. When you wondered whether it was too long, oh god it wasn’t. What a good thing you kept it. Surely that’s part of what you do, you magic that moment and when you see it you grab it because you know it’s special. It was very, very special. It made a wonderful ending to your film.
LUCIANO: That’s the whole point, the dignity, I cannot say anything else. Thank you.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I had a question, and Graeme touched upon it. I wanted to ask about the use of music in your film. I really enjoyed the spontaneous a cappella, folk tradition of singing, I don’t know whether she was Roma the woman who broke out into song at the end or whether there was another musical tradition being brought to the table, and then of course the Scarlatti, the headphones, that technological component – what role did music have in the making of this film?
LUCIANO: Before, when I was thinking of the film, I thought I didn’t want to have music at all. But it just started appearing. And every piece has a personal reason for being in the film. The piece at the beginning, she sang it once and I just loved how she was singing it so I decided we should start the film like that. And the tradition of singing is so strong in Sarajevo because they do it all the time, from their hearts, and you can’t imagine when you arrive there that someone would suddenly start singing their heart out, but they do. And they’re really good singers. I really like that part at the end when they say ‘let us show them that we’re not sad’. There’s this heaviness and sadness at the end, but through the music they can release something or elevate themselves for just a bit.
GC: This film is quite a slice of life in a Bela Tarr kind of way. The actual event in the film is a possible murder, or maybe it’s just someone being beaten up. But this drama, the meat of the story, is pushed to the side. How did you decide, and at what point did you decide, where you would start watching life and when you would stop?
LUCIANO: We thought we might as well just start at the start of his work day, or work night, and end at the end of that night. And finish when he has a coffee and we see him more relaxed. In terms of the construction of the story and the situations it was just a mixture of experiences and memories from those places, and trying to figure out some chronology that takes him from one place to another. Most of the time it was just a case of constructing a really simple situation and then letting them act around that situation. Those people in the toilet who have been there all their lives, they know the situation better than me. It was just a case of creating the frame and then letting them do their thing. I also didn’t understand what they were saying during the shooting. At the end of each take I would ask them how they felt about it and they would give themselves their own feedback, like this doesn’t feel right or in reality we have to do it more like this, or we need more slang. It was there own process.
GC: Your partner is also the leading lady in your film, how did you come to cast her and how did it work?
LUCIANO: Yes, she is also my wife. We met in the nightlife, so it made sense to put her in the film. Because she has lived through that for a long time. So she knew this world better than me. And she’s not only acting she was also doing the casting. I would say ‘so remember this thing that happened, and that there was this guy who was kinda like this…’ and she would think of someone who fit the type. It was really important for her to be involved.
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