SYNOPSIS: When young loner Anna is hired as the gestational surrogate for Matt, a single man in his 40s who wants a child, the two strangers come to realize this unexpected relationship will quickly challenge their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love.
Baradar opens with two brothers engaging in typical brotherly antics as they carry a raft through the streets of Istanbul. The bright colors and playful music cultivate a warm image, one that immediately evaporates as we realize this flimsy raft is meant to carry the elder Mohammed (Danosh Sharifi) across the sea and into Greece. He won’t risk bringing his younger brother, Alí (Nawid Sharifi, Danosh’s younger brother), along, and instead will attempt this crossing alone, even though he cannot swim, hoping to find that mystical better life and come back to provide for his brother.
Director Beppe Tufarulo based this harrowing tale off Alí Ehsani’s autobiography Stanotte Guardiamo le Stelle (Let’s Look At the Stars Tonight), and in Danosh and Nawid Sharifi, found two non-actors whose story mirrored Alí’s, as Danosh and Nawid travelled from Afghanistan to Italy to reunite with their older brother after the death of their parents. Despite their lack of acting experience, Danosh and Nawid turn in fine performances, selling their brotherly bond with ease (helped in no small part, I’m sure, by their actual relation). The scenes where Mohammed tries to teach Alí such simple things as making scrambled eggs before he departs are heart-wrenching as we realize how tall of an order it is for ten-year-old Alí just to survive on his own.
The short does get a little heavy-handed towards the end with a rather melodramatic voiceover, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t crying like a little baby at it anyway. Immigrants are so often treated callously as one monolithic group by politicians and citizens alike, viewed only as a population problem and almost never as individuals, except when we want to show how great a country is because this one single immigrant managed to become a lawyer, or a doctor, or some other socially acceptable/admirable thing. Baradar forces us to reckon with the individual consequences as we watch the individual courage and bravery of these two boys, and heavy-handed or not, it lingers long after the screen fades.
When did you first read Alí Ehsani’s book, Stanotte Guardiamo le Stelle (Let’s Look At the Stars Tonight)? Did you know right away you wanted to adapt it, or did someone else have the idea?
It was my longtime friend Francesco Casolo, author of the book with Alí, that told me about Alí’s story that he was putting into a book and got me hooked on it after a few seconds of him talking. Soon after I was meeting Alí and hearing about his exceptional journey that brought him here in Italy, after five years of trying, made me think right from the start that it was something worth being transposed into images as well.
How involved was Alí Ehsani himself in the film?
Alí’s contribution to the film was paramount: not only getting the chance to discuss with him directly the many aspects of the events that lead him to Italy, to get an intimate look at what his emotions were all the while, but also having him near me on set to help overcome the linguistic and cultural differences with the two brothers that we cast for the film, who were coming from his same area in Afghanistan and had shared with him a similar story and journey.
Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first start filming, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?
I started working around the idea of getting the film made around 2017 and then it was in the spring of 2018 that I got the two production companies on board, Tapelessfilm and Art of Panic. We knew right away that we didn’t just want to make the film, but we wanted people to be able to see it. Which meant production and distribution. So, in order to achieve that, together with the two co-producers of the film, Tapelessfilm and Art of Panic, we got to work on the whole process of getting the financials in place to cover the production costs (through public funding, like the MIBACT tax credit and the Puglia film commission regional incentive; private funding like Blue Sands Foundation, very active on humanitarian issues and refugees relocation; and producers equity) and drafting the first production timelines.
Once we knew that the film could would have been feasible, from an economic point of view, we started working on getting the crew together (starting from some professionals that I knew from the start I wanted to be with me, like Francesco di Pierro, our amazing DoP, or Daniele Carmosino, responsible for the very emotional original soundtrack) and in the meantime we did the first location recce and scouting in Puglia. All the while, I was still looking for the cast, remember that I had been looking for them for a year already. When we realised that we had all we needed, we went into pre-production in June and filming started at the end of September 2018. Shooting lasted for a week in Puglia. I got very quickly into the editing room because our idea was that of starting the festival circuit straight away: and for that we sought the involvement of Prem1ere Films, an Italian distribution company specialised in distributing short films and with a strong expertise (and success history) in International festivals. Thanks to their widespread activity, Baradar was acquired in Italy by Rai (our broadcaster), ended up being selected at over 50 festivals around the world, winning 21 awards and pocketing a nomination at the David di Donatello 2020 (the Italian Oscars).
Were there any major script changes from conception to end? How much of a say did you have in any changes?
We worked hard to stay as faithful as possible to the story and Alí’s experience, and this was possible thanks also to the constant presence of Alí on the set. However, I was interested in isolating a specific moment of the children’s story that could represent the human meaning of the whole, a cross-section of everyday life between the two brothers that could enter the audience’s chords and convey something powerful. This idea of the script was maintained from beginning to end and Francesco and I were very much on the same wavelength throughout. If truth be told, I have to say that we worked on the script very organically and it evolved pretty much to stay in tune with the two brothers that we cast for the main roles, because, in order to get the maximum authenticity, intimacy and expressiveness that I wanted to return to the audience, we had to adapt to them.
How did you find Nawid and Danosh Sharifi? I thought they both gave great performances—how did you approach directing with non-actors/first time actors?
From the very start, I had an almost impossible desire: finding two protagonists with a background close to that of Alí and his brother Mohammed. For this reason, I turned to associations that deal with refugees. After a long search, I received from an NGO (Binario 15) the photos of two brothers, Nawid and Danosh Sharifi, who, from a scenic point of view, could have been the same age of the protagonists. They had just arrived in Italy to be reunited with their older brother. Basically, something that was well beyond my hope! In terms of my approach to directing them, I was looking for truthfulness and expressiveness. I didn’t want anything to be trivialized or clichéd. And the two actors were so authentic that … they didn’t even utter a word in Italian!
I noticed that several translators are listed in the credits. Were there any language barriers, and if so, how did you adapt to those?
The main difficulty was of course due to the fact that Nawid and Danosh had just arrived in Italy and didn’t speak any Italian. So we didn’t just need translators but cultural mediators that would help me convey the meaning of a scene or simply what was happening and how they should behave on set. Alí’s presence on set was, of course, a plus.
What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after watching your film? What lessons can we learn?
I would like the audience to go back home and be more open about the refugee crisis and emigration issue, because, beyond the political positions, it is a profoundly current, urgent issue that affects us all. Because being born on another side of the world shouldn’t be a discriminating factor in taking away or giving the right to have a passport and freedom of movement.
You have several projects in the works for Amazon Prime which seem to be much larger scale than Baradar. How does directing on a bigger budget change things, or do you take the same principles with you from short films to features and television shows?
New streaming platforms lead to the research and development of new contents, some of which are of great quality. The opportunity to work with Amazon Prime allowed me to carry out more ambitious projects aimed at an international audience. They are universal projects, worldwide and for a director this means being able to experiment and grow. If I had a choice I would always like to bring my directorial vision to these projects that have bigger budgets, maintaining a more intimate and delicate approach to following the stories. Having a clear vision and the freedom to follow it makes a project more solid. On the other hand, when there are too many compromises, the final result is also affected, despite the fact that we are talking about projects with more important budgets.
What’s a memoir that everyone should read?
Speaking of this short film, I would like to name both books published by Alì Ehsani (Let’s Look At the Stars Tonight and Boys Have Big Dreams). Because this is not just a story of immigration, but the story of two brothers, a small one who seems too fragile to face such a long journey but who over time will demonstrate incredible strength, and one of seventeen, who becomes a man ready to do anything to be able to give himself and his brother a new life. Because Ali, who arrived alone in Italy at the age of 13 and was able to graduate in law, is the proof that making dreams come true is always possible, no matter what the starting point is.
A Glitch in the Matrix takes audiences on a journey through science and philosophy to examine the theory that humans live in a simulation and the world as people know it is not real. It is a documentary style animated horror and composer Jonathan Snipes emulated the theme of the film into the score. Jonathan was inspired by 90s electronic beats and used those throughout the music. Beyond being the composer on this film, Jonathan also held the role of sound designer, sound supervisor, and re-recording mixer. Jonathan is also a longtime collaborator of Hamilton and Blindspotting star Daveed Diggs, through their freestyle rap group Clipping, and produced other Daveed tracks including Rappin Ced in the credits and album of Pixar’s Soul and Disney’s Puppy for Hannukah song. Alongside his work in film, he also works extensively as a theater sound designer, especially in Los Angeles’ Geffen theater. He also teaches a course on sound design in UCLA’s theater department.
A Glitch in the Matrix starts off by examining an idea that’s been bandied about for years and viewed with varying amounts of skepticism: what if we live in a simulation à la The Matrix? The film heavily features Philip K. Dick’s lecture in 1977 wherein he declares we are, in fact, living in a simulation, a weighty declaration from one of the foremost science-fiction oriented minds. Elon Musk and other bigwigs pop up with soundbites, but A Glitch in the Matrix focuses most of its time on ordinary people—some with families, some without; some with advanced degrees, some with high school diplomas—who happen to subscribe to this theory.
Director Rodney Ascher playfully obscures the faces of many interviewees with animated, mechanical masks, complete with creaking and scraping sound effects provided by sound designer and composer Jonathan Snipes that toe the line between diegetic and non-diegetic. (The film possesses a level of self-awareness that many within it do not.) We never get to see the expressions of those interviewed, but they lay bare their souls as they describe the metaphysical experiences that led them to believe in the simulation theory. Ascher rarely judges; he simply lets the speakers speak, often accompanied by extensive animations of their narratives and underlaid with appropriately eerie music, though there are moments when the viewers—and speakers—are brought back to reality. At one point, an interviewee’s dogs start barking, completely breaking the immersion and giving a much-needed moment of levity.
The first half of the film is interesting enough, if not that groundbreaking aside from the largely-animated style. The second half, however, examines a question I have not often seen brought up alongside the simulation theory: if we are in a simulation, then our actions should have no real consequences, and so what does that mean for our morality? How do we relate to other people?
Here, the film gets more intriguing and more harrowing, especially as we hear Joshua Cooke speak calmly of murdering his adoptive parents at the age of 19 while believing he was inside the Matrix. Yet many of the others interviewed, strange as it may sound, took the apparent lack of consequences in a simulated world and went in the opposite direction, wanting to “level up” for the person controlling them, concerned more with doing good than running amok. Several admissions turn out to be unexpectedly touching.
This is A Glitch in the Matrix at its best: engaging at a personal level with those interviewed, discussing the why over the what. Unfortunately, this is largely delegated to the back half of the film, but while we have to wait awhile before getting to the heart of the matter, it turns out that the heart, simulated or not, beats quite strongly.
SYNOPSIS: In the world of Anmaere, north of the city of Whithren, wild horses run through the moorlands and up the coast. These horses are the city’s most valuable export and, as a result, are hunted, trapped, sold, and shipped across the sea once a year. For those in Whithren, this trade passage creates lucrative and exciting possibilities: the chance to escape their constantly sweltering city and escape to the Western continent of Levithen, or simply to begin again.
Meanwhile, in a small house just north of the city, a young woman dies in childbirth. Her last words are an attempt to tell her daughter of the life she’ll have and her inheritance of a recurring dream that must be kept secret — for it contains the memories of another age long before us, one where magic and myth were alive in the world.
That daughter now left behind is Moira. She grows alone in Whithren, without anyone to explain her dream, her unique difference, or her place in the world. As a result, she resolves to leave Whithren at all costs, and employs the help of Lawrence, a wounded young man engaged in the criminal enterprise of stealing tickets.
This begins a series of events that echo over the next thirty-five years of their life, the life of a child found screaming on the rocks, and through the alleys and coasts of Whithren… a city hidden in the fog, wanting in heat, now beginning again.
REVIEW:The Wanting Mare is a breath of fresh air amidst the inundation of remakes, sequels, and spinoffs (and I say this as someone who has rabidly dissected just about every Marvel Cinematic Universe offering). Its setting feels incredibly familiar and at the same time eerily distinct: Director Nicholas Ashe Bateman creates a world that settles comfortably in its uncanny valley-like similarity to ours, a world populated by people who dress and speak like us but inhabit a different universe. A world called Anmaere, where wild horses are the most valuable export and people will kill to get a ticket out.
The film follows a woman named Moira (Ashleigh Nutt, Jordan Monaghan, and Christine Kellogg-Darrin all playing Moira at different ages)—whose family has matrilineally passed down the same dream for generations—and her daughters (Yasamin Keshtkar and Maxine Muster) as they look for a way out of the city of Whithren. The camera remains glued to the actors the entire time, almost never leaving their faces; it feels almost claustrophobic. Part of this, of course, is to save money on sprawling and detailed CGI locations, but it creates a sense of intimacy. The world is big, but our glimpse into it is small.
In some ways, this does hinder the world-building. We have been told about Anmaere, but our eyes can’t see what we’ve heard, so some of the plot points that rely on our knowledge of the in-film universe feel underexplained. However, the personal focus of the film makes viewers feel closely acquainted with the characters, and, in an ironic way, lets the world feel more lived-in. We might not know everything about the city or continent, but we know the characters, and through them, we gain a rudimentary understanding of the world and how it affects its citizens. And, on the plus side, there are no awkward exposition dumps.
Where The Wanting Mare really excels is its visuals. Nicholas Ashe Bateman has extensive work as a visual effects supervisor (such as for the upcoming A24 film The Green Knight), and it shows. Bateman shot almost the entirety of the movie in a warehouse in Paterson, New Jersey, but you would never know. He transforms concrete walls into a rocky shoreline or a distant coast, and does so with such a deft touch that the audience can barely catch on to the fact that the film wasn’t shot on location. Bateman’s visuals fill the movie both with warmth and foreignness at the same time; I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
I do wish that The Wanting Mare had taken a bit more time to explain its plot and the characters’ relationships, for there were several times where I had to rack my brains to remember what was happening. Still, even during those moments, I enjoyed watching the movie as a visual treat. Experiencing a film that feels wholly unique has become a rarer and rarer experience, but The Wanting Mare managed to craft something entirely original, and for that, I am grateful.
There’s a chance I might have enjoyed Mother Schmuckers if I were a frat bro sitting in my frat house with my fellow frat friends and we were all very high. Unfortunately, I am not a frat bro, and I watched this stone-cold sober in my bedroom.
Mother Schmuckers begins with its two lead characters, brothers Issachar (Maxi Delmelle) and Zabulon (Harpo Guit) attempting to force-feed their sex worker mother (Claire Bodson) their own fried shit. Their mother promptly vomits, and we are forced to look at the bile as the title card appears in it. Things don’t get any more sophisticated from there.
The bulk of the movie chronicles the brothers’ attempts to get their dog, January Jack (whom their mother—understandably, might I add—loves more than them), back home after they lost him. What follows is one vile thing after another, from bestiality to necrophilia, ostensibly played for laughs but lacking in any humor whatsoever.
There are the faintest glimmers of something funny, such as when the brothers acquire a gun and chase each other through the streets of Brussels and onlookers think these two idiots are terrorists, or when the two are roped into dancing for a terrible music video. There are the briefest glimpses of an emotional undercurrent regarding the boys’ relationship to their mother, but any tenderness is quickly zapped away by whatever appalling hijinks Issachar and Zabulon get into next. The low-budget, frenetic cinematography and editing could almost be charming if they weren’t showcasing such uncharming scenes. So, what are we left with? Not much, it would seem.
The problem is not that the brothers are completely irredeemable—media is full of morally murky protagonists, and when done well, we still are invested in them at the end of the day regardless of their morality. We can even find them funny: I don’t think anyone would call the gang in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia upstanding citizens, but it’s the longest-running American television comedy because it makes its characters’ unlikability funny. Mother Schmuckers, however, foolishly equates crassness and grossness with humor, leaving us with a distinctly unfunny movie thatlacks any sort of pathos, therefore eliciting no emotion other than disgust.
Mother Schmuckers does not ever attempt to be a sophisticated film (aside from a brief appearance by Mathieu Amalric, whom I can only assume was forced at gunpoint to be in this), but it seems to think it’s a funny one. It’s wrong.
SYNOPSIS: In ‘You Wouldn’t Understand’, one man’s elegant picnic is shattered when a stranger approaches, leaving nothing but churning questions. Is it ever okay to interrupt someone at peace with a picnic? What motives lay beneath a seemingly mundane ask? What does decadence look like when locked in a time loop of horseradish and death? Ultimately, we’re reminded never to believe in the promise of a perfect day. the comfort of a blue sky, or the serenity of a beautiful setting. Because when a slow wave of Hitchcock smashes against the rocks of Monty Python, the result is a film and a world that you wouldn’t understand. But you should certainly try.
REVIEW: Time travel, time loops, destiny, free will. These are all very serious topics that typically get explored in very serious and often lengthy forms of media. You Wouldn’t Understand takes these topics, adds a dash of absurdism, and crunches them into a film that lasts less than ten minutes. The end result is a wonderfully bizarre short that packs a lot of fun into that time frame.
You Wouldn’t Understand immediately sets its tone as it opens on a man (Anthony Arkin) in a pretentious gray-toned outfit chuckling to himself as he eats at his picnic for one—complete with horseradish sauce (delicious, I guess?). He’s having a jolly good time guffawing at his book and looking out over the fields until another man (Jacob A. Ware) shows up. The second man seemingly murders someone who looks an awful lot like himself before jogging up to the first man, and jovially asking for the horseradish sauce, as one does. Things quickly snowball into a time travel conspiracy from there. As one does.
Director (and co-writer with Ware) Trish Harnetiaux manages to keep the film suspenseful while never losing the absurdly comedic tone, pulling off a tricky balancing act with deftness. Arkin and Ware give delightful performances, Arkin playing the ignorant straight man to Ware’s slightly unhinged time traveler(s) with a penchant for exaggeration. The script is clever and zany, the music is wonderful, and the nine minutes fly by in the best way possible. You Wouldn’t Understand does leave us with more questions than answers, but over-explaining would sap the life out of it—and, honestly, when you’re having this much fun watching a movie, who cares?
VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH WRITER/DIRECTOR Trish Harnetiaux
Tomer Shushan’s White Eye has screened at over 70 film festivals, including 23 Oscar-qualifying. This Live-Action short has won numerous accolades including the Oscar-qualifying Best Narrative Short Award at SXSW Film Festival. White Eye was nominated for a 2020 Ophir Award.
Interview by Anna Harrison
Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?
It’s actually a very interesting story. About two years ago, I was on my way to meet my writing mentor, we were working on some short script that I wrote and was supposed to finalized it so we can send it in the night to the Makor film foundation so I can get funds. So then the story of White Eye really happened to me, I was finding myself getting late to my mentor because I was trying to get my stolen bike back after seeing it in the middle of the way. The experience was very hard and when it was all over I couldn’t think about anything else but this guy that I may just ruined his life. It took me 40 minutes to write the script and Makor film foundation supported me and finance to production that happened later that year. I guess it all happened in two years. And the most important thing is that in the real story nothing bad happened to Yunas.
One of the most striking things about this film is that it’s filmed in one long take. Was that always the plan? Did you have to find a location that worked for the take or did the idea come after you scouted the location?
That’s a great question, the Idea to make it one shot was because this story is about a person who experiences a stressful and intense moment. Instead of acting from a rational place he gives in to an egoistic rage. Everything happens to him in a short time without a moment to stop, reconsider, breath. I wanted the same effect for the audience to really feel the main character’s situation. But between every take in a film, the viewer has a tiny little break to catch breath. I wanted the camera to connect the viewer and the main character in a never-ending, motion like tension that doesn’t give you a break.
And about the location, I was plan to do it in a restaurant like it was in the real story and all was planned and the location for that has been chosen
But then I went to visit my friend who works in this meat factory and I saw this fridge, I felt like it’s supposed to be there. Could be a great metaphor for how society treats and threatens immigrants and refugees. To compare them to pieces of meat was something that I felt can reflect the feeling I had and wanted to give the audience.
So doing it in one shot and around the scene in the meat fridge was my opening plan for the film.
On a similar note, how much rehearsal did you need to prepare for the shoot? How many takes were there once on set?
We knew that everyone on the set, not just actors, every crew member on the set should have some choreography how they move when the camera starts to record.
It took us about 4 months to understand the rhythm and the movement of every person on the set because we filmed it on 360.
And we shot the film one night and had 7 full takes.
Were there any major script changes from conception to end?
The script hasn’t been changed except to change the location from restaurant to a meat factory as I said. I wrote the script less than an hour after it happened and I didn’t touch it until the end. It felt like a dream that it’s so clear to you that only if you write it down the moment you’re waking up you are able to experience it in a way again.
Would you mind talking about the ending, with Omer’s realization of what he’s done and his destruction of the bike?
I guess I wanted to emphasize how people and life are much more important than objects. I felt that after the harm was done, no one would get the bikes. Omer felt that his actions may have ruined someone else’s life and he doesn’t deserve it anymore.
What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?
We constantly meet immigrants with different social status in our everyday life but people do not always act in a way that can keep up with their actual ethical beliefs. Often this behavior stays unnoticed and life just goes on. White Eye shows the audience these social differences and reminds everyone of their privilege.
What’s your favorite memory from the making of this film?
Making White Eye was full of amazing and also very hard moments.
We planned it so hard and had money to make it only in one night.
We started at 4:30pm when it got dark and until midnight we couldn’t complete one full take from the beginning to the end. People around got frustrated. But I knew that my main job is to make them believe. So we took a break and It’s just filled me with new positive energy. I think everyone felt it and I felt how I changed the atmosphere and the morale of the team in a short moment. After the break we started again and completed a full take. Everyone celebrated and we saw it was possible. From midnight till 4am we made 7 full takes and it felt amazing to see how everything you were working on the last year was getting life.
It is a really dreamy unique moment that you see how all this suffering is worth it for this short moment that was captured with camera and became immortality.
Tomer Shushan’s White Eye has screened at over 70 film festivals, including 23 Oscar-qualifying. This Live-Action short has won numerous accolades including the Oscar-qualifying Best Narrative Short Award at SXSW Film Festival. White Eye was nominated for a 2020 Ophir Award.
Written by Anna Harrison
Tomer Shushan’s film White Eye is a feast for, well, the eyes (and the ears with its excellent sound design). Shot all in one take, White Eye tracks Omer (Daniel Gad) as he attempts to retrieve his bike, which he believes has been stolen by Yunes (Dawit Tekelaeb), an Eritrean immigrant to Israel. What follows is a simple story told with deftness and precision and lingers long after the credits roll.
White Eye’s long take ensures that we follow Omer every step of the way as this unfolds in real time: we watch him call the police, walk across the street to ask for help, uncover a group of migrants hiding from the police in a freezer. We don’t get a rest as the tension builds about what Omer will do, but instead are forced to watch as the film builds to its inevitable but no less affecting conclusion. The shot takes us through the dark streets of Tel Aviv, where people lounge about and the same prostitute wanders in the background looking for customers, to a bright, sterile meatpacking facility, its harsh lights contrasted with the outside. Shushan makes sure our eyes would never want to leave the screen, even though the story flags in places.
The premise is simple and the scope small, which in many ways makes White Eye more effective than an overblown feature might be. It’s simply about people navigating a world that changes vastly depending on what social strata you belong in. While the technical prowess might overshadow the script itself at times, White Eye remains a powerful story about the precarious situation of immigrants where countries only pretend to accept them with welcome arms, but in reality have a knife behind their back.