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Directors (For Sama)
Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
Ritesh Batra (Photograph)
Schmidt & Abrantes (Diamantino)
Jia Zhang-ke (Ash is Purest White)

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Entries in Murtada's Interviews (16)


Interview: Lulu Wang on 'The Farewell' and why it's important to declare she's American

by Murtada Elfadl

When I meet Lulu Wang at the A24 offices in Manhattan, she looks really cool despite the hot weather and despite the fact that she has “not been part of the world since January because I've just been traveling.” Perhaps it’s the effect of Headspace, the meditation app she uses. “It has all of these five or ten minute meditations. I listen to in the car ride between going to screenings. It just helps me breathe.

January was when her second feature film as a writer and director, The Farewell, premiered at Sundance to ecstatic reviews, including one from this writer. Since then Wang has been flying around the world as the film played at many other film festivals. Wang has drawn on her own family’s history to tell a warm, funny and poignant tale about a young Queens artist, Billi (played by Awkwafina), and the tender relationship she has with her grandmother, whom she calls Nai Nai or "grandma" in Mandarin, and who lives in Changchun, China. When Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) receives a terminal cancer diagnosis, the family decides to hide the news from her and instead concocts a scheme to marry off a cousin, so that they have an excuse to gather around the grandmother one more time before she goes. This lie doesn’t sit well with Billi and the film shows us the friction and love as the family grapples with this. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

 Murtada Elfadl: There were reports last week that you turned down a big payday from a streamer and chose to go with a theatrical release. Why is that important to you?  

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Interview: 'Diamantino' directors on queer influences, genre twists, and Pekingese puppies

by Murtada Elfadl

The balancing of many different tones differentiates Diamantino, which just opened in theaters after a hit run at Cannes last year. It's a satire, an allegory, a rom-com and a fantasy -- all of those things in one yet it all jells. Co-directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt kept all these different balls in the air. The story is absolutely bonkers. Let’s see if we can get it straight with the help of the official synopsis: 

Portuguese soccer hunk Diamantino (Carloto Cotta, Tabu) blows it in the World Cup finals, he goes from superstar to laughing stock overnight. His sheltered worldview is further shattered after learning about the European refugee crisis and he resolves to make amends by adopting an African refugee – only to find that his new “son” is actually an undercover lesbian tax auditor investigating him on the suspicion of corruption. From there, Diamantino gets swept up in a gonzo comic odyssey involving cigarette-smoking evil twins, Secret Service skullduggery, mad science genetic modification, and a right-wing anti-EU conspiracy.

This doesn’t even include the fluffy giant Pekingese puppies that make the best co-stars. Critics, including this writer, have been in love since the film premiered at Cannes last year winning the Critics' Week Grand Prize. We recently had the chance to speak to the co-directors in New York. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity...

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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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