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Ritesh Batra on Photograph


Daniel Schmidt and Gabriel Abrantes (Diamantino)
Wanuri Kahiu (Rafiki)
Jia Zhang-ke (Ash is Purest White)
Christian Petzoldt (Transit)
Richard E Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)
Toni Collette (Hereditary)
Glenn Close (The Wife)

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Entries in interview (225)


Interview: Ritesh Batra on 'Photograph' and why he makes movies about longing

by Murtada Elfadl

By his own admission Ritesh Batra makes movies about longing. Movies about people trying to connect. That was evident in The Lunchbox (2013), where two strangers meet and bond through a case of mistaken lunch deliveries. In Our Souls at Night (2017) two older neighbors - played by Jane Fonda and Robert Redford - try to fill their lonely nights by sleeping in the same bed, for companionship not sex.

In his latest film, Photograph, two strangers from different backgrounds also try to connect. He’s Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a struggling street photographer. She’s Sanya (Sanya Malhotra) a shy Accounting student. They meet when he takes her photo at the Gateway of India, the famous arch monument in Mumbai. Rafi is being pressured to marry by his grandmother so he convinces Sanya to pose as his fiancée during a family visit. The film tells more with the silences between the strangers than any words, Batra is able to let emotions rise quietly but clearly to the audience. We recently interviewed him in New York about why these themes keep attracting him. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity...

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Interview: Wanuri Kahiu on 'Rafiki,' her inspirations and becoming an activist

by Murtada Elfadl

Rafiki is the second feature film from Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu. It made its debut at last year’s Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section, to critical acclaim. Initially banned in Kenya for its positive portrayal of queer romance, Rafiki won a landmark supreme court case chipping away at Kenyan anti-LGBT legislation. It tells a sweet hopeful love story between two women Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), who meet and fall in love as they are waiting to hear the results of their university entrance exams. Set in Nairobi and bursting with the colorful street style and music of the city’s vibrant youth scene, Rafiki is tender, cheerful despite the challenges for acceptance that its characters face from their families and society at large. Accordng to the film's press notes, Rafiki means friend in Swahili, and often when Kenyans of the same sex are in a relationship, they forgo the ability to introduce their partners, lovers, mates, husbands or wives as they would like, and instead call them “rafiki”. 

We recently got a chance to speak with Kahiu about the film, the interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Murtada Elfadl: This film had quite a journey becoming a cause celebre because of the ban in Kenya. Did you anticipate that you’d become an activist...?

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Interview: Jia Zhang-Ke on 'Ash Is Purest White' and his collaboration with Zhao Tao

by Murtada Elfadl

Fan Liao, Zhao and Jia at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival

Ash Is Purest White, opening tomorrow in select theaters, is Jia Zhang-Ke’s latest film. It has his trademark immersive, decades spanning storytelling. This time it is also a blend of gangster film, romance, and social critique. Again it starts his muse and collaborator Zhao Tao, this time playing Qiao, a quick-witted resourceful woman who falls into a decades long epic entalegment with her mobster boyfriend Bin (Fan Liao) within the jianghu (criminal underworld) of post-industrial Datong. We called it "bold, epic and fully detailed in equal measures" in our review. While in New York last October for NYFF, we got a chance to talk with Jia about his film. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Murtada Elfadl: What ideas did you want to push forward with this film?

Jia Zhang-Ke: This film spans from 2001 to 2018 and within these 17 years I wanted to examine how Chinese people are living in this particular historic context. For this particular film, even though it has the same thread of my previous films of examining the transformation of society and its impact on interpersonal relationships among characters, this time I focused on the principles and values that people either uphold or give up during societal transformation. I created these two characters who are moving in opposing directions. Bin was a drifter at the beginning, then he decided to join the mainstream culture which is very much about power, money and fame whereas the female character Qiao takes the opposite route so we can see how diametrically they have changed...

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Interview: Christian Petzold on 'Transit', melodramas and the influence of Fassbinder and Ackerman

by Murtada Elfadl

Transit, opening this weekend in limited release, is the latest from the gifted German director Christian Petzold (Barbara, Phoenix). It is a haunting modern day adaptation of Anna Seghers 1942 novel "Transit Visa". The film stars Franz Rogowski (Happy End) and Paula Beer (Never Look Away, Frantz) as would-be lovers desperate to escape an occupied France. We got a chance to interview Petzold in January when he visited New York for a retrospective of his work by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. When we meet he informs us that he’s been up for more than 24 hours because of a flight delay, so he might struggle to find the words in English. But that's not what happens. There’s a translator but she only chimes in a couple of times in our half hour conversation. Perhaps delirious from no sleep, he’s in the mood to talk.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity...

Murtada Elfadl: How did you come to the decision to clash the contemporary setting with the period story. Can you talk about the choice for that dissonance?

CHRISTIAN PETZOLD: I started to write the script as a typical period picture, everything was set in 1942. I was with my son on a father / son journey through California and the writing was coming easy to me --  everything going well is not a good sign. My Mac notebook was destroyed by the sun when I left in the car. I didn't have any back ups. Actually I was relieved that everything was destroyed. Period pictures are mostly museum pictures as if you are going on a journey to old times, you get to see Sherlock Holmes or Keira Knightley in costume. I thought I’d have to cast Ben Kingsley in my movie...

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Interview: Screenwriter Deborah Davis on her 20 year passion project "The Favourite" 

by Nathaniel R

Deborah Davis, first time screenwriter, is up for an Oscar this weekendDeborah Davis recently took home the BAFTA for her work on the screenplay to Yorgos Lanthimos's stunning tragicomedy and Best Picture hopeful The Favourite. Though Lanthimos has previously co-written his own features this time was attached to a project already in progress. Davis and cowriter Tony McNamara than retooled the screenplay to match Lanthimos's vision. The results were magic, as has long since become obvious.

Before the hardware started arriving we hopped on a cross Atlantic phone call with Deborah Davis briefly. We couldn't find much info about her at the time and were reeling from the realization that the dearth of info came from the fact that The Favourite was her very first movie. As it turns out she became a screenwriter specifically to tell this story. And what a story it is.

Our interview, edited for length and clarity follows...

NATHANIEL: I'm still gobsmacked that this is a first screenplay!

DEBORAH DAVIS: That’s correct, yes. By training I'm a lawyer, but I’ve done quite a lot of journalism. I started to research The Favourite 20 years ago, and I was actually convinced that this story about women in power and the female triangle would make a wonderful film, so I went and learned how to write a script...

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Interview: Richard E Grant on lucky breaks, film diaries, and "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"

by Nathaniel R

Richard E Grant's timing was impeccable during my own journey into cinephilia. I was in the process of falling madly deeply in love with movies when he made his debut in the cult classic With Nail and I (1987) and as I became more invested in not just movie stars but the crucial contributions of character actors to rich movies, he was everyone in so many movies I loved: Henry & June (1990), L.A. Story (1991), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), The Age of Innocence (1993). I bought his first book "With Nails: The Film Diaries of Richard E Grant" in hardcover right when it was published and later bought it again in paperback. I bring up this chronological personal fandom so that'll you'll understand that I was surely as visibly thrilled to sit down with Richard E Grant as he has appeared to be for the entirety of this awards season. We're both giddy about the Oscar nomination for his incredible performance as the slippery but loveable Jack Hock in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

But we began by discussing the book. I'd read it too often to begin anywhere else...

[The interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

One of the funniest film books you'll ever read. A must-have for fans of 1990s cinemaNATHANIEL R: Do you still do film diaries or did you do it only for your book 'With Nails: The Film Diaries of Richard E Grant"?

RICHARD E GRANT: I've kept diaries since I was 11 years old, since I saw my mother shagging my father’s best friend on the front seat of a car, by accident. I tried religion, got no reply, couldn’t tell my friends, certainly couldn’t tell my parents what I’d seen, so I kept a diary to keep sane, and it has kept me relatively sane all these years. I was on the ill-fated  Ready to Wear (Prêt-à-Porter) movie for Robert Altman, and a newspaper in England asked me if I would write a diary, so I did, and they published it...

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