Jostling for top position on my imaginary list of great living directors, with the likes of Bela Tarr, is the unique Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan. His latest film, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, which was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes last year, is finally to be released in the UK next month.
There’s a transcript of a good NBC interview with Geoff Andrew on the Giardian site (conducted in 2009 at the time of the release of his previous film, Three Monkeys). In it he talks about how he made the transition from photography to film:-
I don’t remember very well, but in those days, there were no video cameras, so the idea of film-making was very difficult. It was in the hands of only certain people. Like everybody I liked to watch movies but I think it was reading books about film-making that changed my life. It was reading Roman Polanski’s autobiography during military service that influenced me – his life in that book seemed very adventurous, starting from absolute zero in a Nazi camp up to Hollywood. And in that book, film-making seemed easy to me. So I began to read many books about cinema, including some technical books. One day I acted in a short film which was shot in 35mm and I saw all the stages of film-making; after it was done, I bought that camera. It was an Arriflex 2C, and it worked like a machine gun, very noisy. The most difficult thing is to start, and even after I bought the camera, I couldn’t make a film for 10 years. But after that I made a short film with this camera. First I started myself, as if shooting photographs. But then I couldn’t do focus pulling by myself, it was impossible, so I added an assistant in the middle of the film. And with two people, I made a short film. My family acted in it, and I think that was my most difficult film. After that, again with only two people, I made my first feature film. Of course the actors also helped us by carrying everything, and so I began to think it was possible to make a movie. After that, it was much easier.
I have always been attracted to NBC’s inspired but precise use of visuals as well as his sparse use of dialogue:-
I don’t try to make my characters silent. In the script, that scene had a lot of dialogue. But in the shoot, it’s the only place to understand whether what you wrote works or not. Always during a shoot, I try to find more balance in the situation, so I end up taking dialogue out here and there and finally there’s no dialogue. I feel the balance is reached at that point and I don’t know what to do about it. It just convinces me more like that, somehow. And of course, dialogue should be treated very carefully. I’ve investigated this a lot. I’ve recorded many conversations in order to understand the nature of it. It doesn’t follow a logical progression. Somebody says something, the other person says something entirely different; if you analyse it, you see it is that way. So dialogue, even if you use it, it shouldn’t be so logical and it shouldn’t carry much information about the film’s secrets or the meaning of the film. Dialogue, for me, only works if they talk nonsense, anything unrelated to the film. I like to do this as much as possible. I try to tell the meaning of the film without dialogue – with the situation, the gestures, and so on. This is my intention, but maybe I’m not successful.
He is also a director who has embraced digital technology:-
I think it has still more unknown potential to be able to express something deeper or hidden. So film seems like nonsense – why shoot on film any more? This film was shot using old digital technology and now it’s already even much better. Film is expensive and there are many disadvantages. For me, this is it. I’ll never go back to film for movie-making or photography. I think we should be open and use the advantages of this new technology to express our deeper emotions.
Nice to see that Ozu is clearly an influence:-
Ozu is my favourite director, actually. And yes, I don’t move the camera much – but I don’t know if that’s because of Ozu or because I’m a photographer. I jut don’t like to move the camera much, really, because it makes everyone more conscious about the camera. And the height of the camera is mostly decided for me, and I think for Ozu, by the vertical lines in the space. But more than that, the psychology of the character is important – if you shoot a person from above, it’s different from shooting them from below. I generally like to shoot at mouth level for a portrait. Especially in closeups, even 1cm is very important. That’s why you should never leave it to the cinematographer, because the cinematographer never knows how to connect it to the next shot; only the director knows the relationship between the next shot and the previous shot. So the director should carefully place the camera to ensure continuity of the psychology.
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is released in the UK on 16 March