SXSW 2021 Capsule Review: The Nipple Whisperer

Written by Alexander Reams

65/100

I was very excited to see The Nipple Whisperer due to Denis Lavant being cast in the lead role. He is a fantastic character actor, and just last year at SXSW 2020 I’d seen him in the short film Figurant. Though I didn’t particularly enjoy Figurant Lavant was a delight to watch in it so I was very hopeful to see him again here. The Nipple Whisperer follows Lavant as he goes about his day, until he meets someone from his past that he has not seen in a long time. His former muse. It unfortunately doesn’t have enough time to explore Lavant’s character Maurice’s “power” and the film suffers for it, losing its chance for a deeper emotional connection with the audience.  On the technical side it is very well shot, Fiona Braillon serves as the cinematographer. She relies on an Alexa Mini, which shows its power specifically in some of the scenes in the studio where the camera is moving. Despite these greater technical aspects, the film continually suffered from a lack of emotional connection and explanation that would allow the audience to connect with Lavant’s character on a deeper level. 

The Nipple Whisperer Trailer

The Nipple Whisperer played at the SXSW 2021 Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

Interview: Tomer Shushan Talks About Writing and Directing Short Film ‘White Eye’

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.  

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of White Eye or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Capsule Review: White Eye

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

85/100

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. 

You can also read Anna’s Interview with the Tomer Shushan the Director of White Eye or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Finding Yingying

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

80/100

I could see myself in Yingying Zhang’s story. I came to the US to study as well. I came here looking for a better future and aware of the financial and emotional sacrifices my family made for me just like her family did for her. Yingying’s description of independence, loneliness, and homesickness are also emotions that I grappled with when I first arrived in this country.  

While, the cinematography was nothing remarkable Yingying’s passion for learning and her family’s determination to find her made this a compelling watch. The story was told through a mix of Yingying’s diary entries, testimonials from friends, family, and the FBI as well as interrogation footage of her assailant. 

As we began to uncover what happened Yingying’s family discusses the differences between the criminal justice system in the United States and China. Her family respected the work of US authorities but grew increasingly frustrated waiting for the trial. I wish they spent more time explaining these differences.

It pains me to even suggest that I wanted to “learn” more about her assailant. But when incidents like this happen we forget to ask how did this radicalization occur. I think about this question frequently when similar acts of violence occur around the world. How can someone torture, assault, decapitate another human being? 

This documentary should be an urgent call to action for academic institutions to invest more resources in counseling and mental health services. Some might say that the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign failed to act when the assailant discussed thoughts of hurting others during a counseling session. However, in April 2019, a judge sided with the University when he dismissed a case brought up by Yingying’s family claiming the University should have alerted the authorities. 

By all accounts Yingying was an independent, curious, steadfast, and passionate woman. In the end, my heart broke for Yingying’s family. They were never able to find her remains despite their best efforts. It was devastating to see her family, especially her mom, come to terms with what happened. One of Yingying’s diary entries mentioned “life was to short to be ordinary.” This is the only fitting way to remember a woman who wanted to pave a future for herself in her own terms. I sincerely hope Yingying’s family finds the comfort they need to overcome her loss. 

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To find more details about the latest lawsuit check here.

Finding Yingying will be available in Virtual Cinemas on December 11th you can find screenings here.

Finding Yingying is part of the Heartland International Film Festival 2020 line up and Double Exposure Film Festival 2020 line up.

Thanks to David Magdael & Associates for providing this film.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.