Matt and Mara (2024) was my first and last screening at this year’s Berlinale. I can’t remember the last time I saw the same film twice at a film festival. Very little could have prepared me for the beautifully quiet, wry but heart-wrenching love story propelled by the movement generated by two old friends’ intense conversation, Matt (Matthew Johnson) and Mara (Deragh Campbell), brought back together in sunny Toronto when Matt, suddenly and without warning, arrives from New York, where he’s been based for years and where he’s grown as a writer, to surprise Mara at the university campus where she teaches creative writing. One thing is immediately clear. From the second we lay eyes on a Kazik Radwanski world, we’re disoriented, but eager to follow the film’s electricity. There’s not enough time to get situated into the environment we’re presented with and instead, the audience is to become a part of it at once, which also won’t guarantee any further firmer ground to stand on. In the peeling of layers of these people’s lives, a constant readjustment is to be expected. Which is precisely why Radwanski has, for the last 17 years, measured the cadences of pace, tone and rhythm and conquered a place within the so-called Toronto New Wave, producing work through MDFF, co-founded with partner Dan Montgomery that amounts to highly empathetic and very intimate portraits of men and women alienated in the city, struggling to belong, and their inner fights to keep pursuing a sense of self. Where we might be looking for answers, or in this specific case by a will-they-or-won’t-they?, Radwanski challenges this finiteness and pursues the search for a continuous asking of questions. A deep excavation.

Housed by the naturalism of his signature handheld camerawork, and the use of the close-up, an emotional drilling of sorts, there to grasp the essence of reality surfaced during the delivery of very raw performances (by non-actors or actors-collaborators), Radwanski’s third feature film premiered at this year’s Berlinale’s Encounters section in a bubble of tingling excitement, displaying a gentle shift in direction. First, the film is more structurally stable, due to the addition of more static sequences that infuse it with the oxygen needed to recalibrate all the other moments. But more than that, there’s an unexpected melancholy that enraptures Matt and Mara, especially when contrasted with the previous wondrous tour de force for both Radwanski and the brilliant Deragh Campbell in the Cassavetian Anne at 13,000 Ft. (2019) – which attempts to placate a daycare teacher’s wired social anxiety with her diving into the void. The evolution from one to the other, and the coupling of the two, heightens even more the Canadian filmmaker’s will to ground his work in realism. 

Matt and Mara’s melancholy is the type that carries along with it a musing about the passing of time, our attempt to go back to a far-gone place as we re-learn the obvious impossibility of such a thing. Out of all Radwanski’s films, who has said in past interviews he writes “films from places I know, places I have access to”, this one is perhaps the more intellectually charged exactly because it is the one surrounded by the softest, most vulnerable of shells (and less of a formalistic venture). It also excels in defining for the screen the very specific leaps of awkwardness that speak for those who think first about everything there is to be said – all of the various scenarios – all the while knowing only a small portion of it will ever be uttered. 

In a gist, it not only is a film that points at the writing world and exists in it, given the characters’ vocations, but the film also reveals to be writing in itself, or rather the device where the act of writing is being produced as we’re going through it, tiptoeing in it. As a direct result of this, it successfully retains the sound of anxious bustling literature, the sound of a busy city avenue in the middle of the day, as if those characters could in fact, as one wishes to and does so in a book, be in charge of their lives. It has its heart in its throat throughout. 

Following this train of thought, for all its openness and refusal to pigeonhole, it is a very overthought film which usually condemns an emotionality from progressing and finding its shape. But not here. The way Matt and Mara balances the echoing of spoken words – whether that would be the charming beat of the sentences strung together or the harsh attacks they induce – and what remains withheld in silence, creates the unmeasured realness, the same that infuses love for cinema and makes this a film many cinephiles will, egotistically and for the best of reasons, want to keep a secret. The film’s ending certainly highlights the preciousness of such a craving. The things that remain hidden under clothing fabric or, in this case, inside a book placed on a bookshelf (author Emma Healey’s memoir, Best Young Woman Job Book, who acts in the film, is there alongside Rohmer and Gertrude Stein and Anne Carson) may be closed-off to possibility, but are still physically close enough to be looked at, revered or even touched, perpetually haunting the secret keeper’s thoughts. 

Kazik spoke with Senses of Cinema via zoom following Matt and Mara’s world premiere at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival – where three short films of his and his two previous feature films (in the Forum section) also premiered – about how his characters come alive, the very hands-on collaborating process with all his cast and crew, how improvisation can be misunderstood, John Cassavetes and Pedro Costa, his love of conversation, a small homage to Eric Rohmer, and more. Throughout it, please note how the filmmaker addresses his main actors and their respective characters. It gives a more fully-fleshed meaning to how, wanting to document the reality of fiction, reality itself is manipulated. 

The interview has been slightly edited for brevity and clarity. 

– S.B.


I had just arrived in Berlin for the festival this year and I raced to the press screening because I’d seen your previous films, and I knew that I could not miss it. Your films are very immersive, concentrated and they’re character-centric given how, at their basis, they are character studies. With this film, did you start with the characters? I know you didn’t write it alone (film was co-written with Samantha Chater), but do you start from the character or do you start with a concept, a subject matter of sorts? And if you start with the character, do you analyse it top to bottom first or do you wait to discover it, for it to come to you? 

There’s a few ways I can answer that. It’s nice hearing that you’ve seen the other films and that could be a way of talking about the inception or where the ideas for these films come from, especially thinking back to the first features Tower (2012) or [How Heavy This] Hammer (2015). With those films, I think I learned to think about films in relation to character, but also in how finding that character I learned how to conceptualise it somewhat abstractly, because for those two films I was working with non-actors. That made it so that I would have a goal for the character or something I would want to express through that character. So, for instance, with Tower, with Derek (the film’s main character), it was a type of loneliness, but almost a toxic or masculine or an aggressive loneliness, someone who would push people away. And with that film, I was initially imagining a construction worker, someone who looked like a construction worker, someone that was maybe physically imposing. But when I found Derek [Bogart], it became fascinating to filter these ideas of that character through him and suddenly…you know, I never thought of his hair being the way it was or him being so petite, but his connection to the character or the underlying sort of motivation was so in touch with it. He immediately got the character and it was someone he wanted to pontificate about. So with those two films – [How Heavy the] Hammer was similar – I got used to the idea of thinking about this character broadly or abstractly and then tailoring it to a someone that we could find, of learning from that person and then filtering this character through them. And what’s always been a big part of my process is generating these ideas, having these at times angsty, very emotional ideas, especially with these first two features, that I was almost embarrassed of. But filtering it through a character would be a way of understanding it and getting more perspective on those feelings and challenging them, learning about them and playing with them. And it was a process I always liked. 

Mara and husband Samir

With Matt and Mara and Anne at 13,000 Ft., what’s changed is working with actors but also collaborators, and in an essence, it is a similar process, but now instead of tailoring it to a non-actor, it’s a discussion with Deragh and Matt and having this notion of a character and then, through that collaboration, pinning it down. With Anne at 13,000 Ft., that was clearly Deragh, and I wrote that film with her in mind, and it was the first time collaborating in that way. I was so used to working with non-actor performances. And then about Matt, his involvement in Anne at 13,000 Ft. really was an experiment, where initially he was only going to be on set for one day. It worked so well that his character grew. With Matt and Mara, that dynamic was so exciting. Another major inspiration was also thinking ‘what else could we do with those two? Or how can we do more?’ 

In terms of other core inspirations for Matt and Mara were things from my personal life, lives of friends, collective experiences that we had, but also some very specific feelings. The overall sort of feeling or character we were going after was this idea of an emotional affair or someone that didn’t realise, perhaps, how unhappy they were and were sort of drifting into an affair that had maybe compartmentalised parts of their life. At the same time, it was this idea of a Mara character, but then also a very defined Matt character to interrupt it. And then lots of other influences too. Matt and I, we both went to film schools, different film schools, but had very similar experiences, and I think there was something too about being at a certain stage of your career, and this idea of looking back to what was initially exciting and somehow mirroring relationships and life at home. And then having that very concrete dynamic of Matt and Deragh and knowing that there’d be lots of ways for us to explore and sort of have those two characters collide with each other.

The characters definitely feel like they’re the actors. You feel like they’re in their skin. It all feels very organic all the time. 

Yeah, with Matt in particular. In the Q&A (that took place during the film’s world premiere at Berlinale), he said he doesn’t act, that he’s just playing a version of himself. Only Matt could play that role, or it was always only him, and it’s very organic to what he’s like in real life, in some ways. With Deragh it is different, not as overtly like that. In a lot of ways, there are created parts of Mara’s character or things that Deragh created that are very different to what she’s like. With Matt, there was something exciting about how literal it was. Even the choice to use his actual name in the film!

It was Matt in Anne at 13,000 Ft. too.

Yes, in all of his films. It’s a bit of a game for him. I think he likes blurring that boundary of having fictional characters with the same name as him, in the sense that it almost helps him play games off-camera as well too (laughs). If he can, he tries to do that. He’s done that in his own films. He didn’t do it on Blackberry (2023), but The Dirties (2013) or Operation Avalanche (2016) might have been his own name. 

How much improvisation was there? I’m sure you’re tired of hearing this, people asking you about your influential connection to [John] Cassavetes, but it’s a reality. There’s sort of this fact plus fiction equals reality, and that is strongly felt in your work. Is it highly scripted or are there pieces that come naturally and you blend together? 

There’s a lot of improvisation in the film and it’s an interesting talking point and it’s something I like talking about. But sometimes, I worry that people have different interpretations of what is meant by improvisation. So, for instance, even talking about improvisation with Matt, he’s a person that has a bit of a comedy background. Sometimes people view improvisation as just endlessly growing a scene and making it bigger and bigger. But what’s so great, thinking back to the collision of Matt and Deragh, is that those two work in very different ways. I don’t know if I could direct Matt without Deragh. She’s just the perfect foil. Or when I would direct Matt in scenes without Deragh, he would control the scene and it would become something. But Deragh is so great at cutting through it and denying it. Because that’s a moment I like too. I like characters who can’t express themselves sometimes. Improvisation can mean talking and talking until you find it, but I think a big part of what I like to do is removing things, or a character who can end a conversation or who won’t talk or who won’t answer something or doesn’t know how to answer something. In a lot of ways, we learned a lot making the film. Things certainly were created during the shooting process. Going back to the initial treatment of the film, improvisation could mean finding the film as we make it, but at the same time there was always a plan, there was always a road trip, there was always this arc and I think that there could be a way to improvise a film and truly find a different shape. 

What’s interesting too is that I certainly take a lot of inspiration from a filmmaker like Cassavetes, whom I love. The way in which he would make films and how his life was a part of that process. But then also someone like Mike Leigh or [Eric] Rohmer. He’s in the bookshelf, right here (points at the white bookshelf at the back of the room with which Matt and Mara ends).

That’s the bookshelf from the film! 

Yes! There’s that Rohmer book on there too (refers to Realist and Moralist, 1988). We were influenced in some ways by L’Amour l’après-midi (1972). But also by one of the few films of his that was almost completely improvised, Le Rayon vert (1986). All these filmmakers improvise in different ways and I think it’s certainly something I always embrace, or even just the difference between improvisation and documentary. That’s an interesting conversation too, that I liked how some things were sort of literal and observing moments, like working with Avery, the child in the film (Matt and Mara), those scenes. So much was discovered in the editing process too, later on. We would make discoveries through improvisation, but really it was in the edit where we would be able to really make some huge finds and decisions about the film. It all goes back to that idea of growing, but also a big part of that is removing and just sort of cutting out aspects of the film to help, at times, enrich it. Limiting is very important, especially in a film with as much dialogue as in this one. 

Matt and Mara

When I went back to watching your previous feature film, Anne at 13,000 Ft., I realised although they have little to do with each other, I feel like that film marries very well with Matt and Mara in their differences. With Anne at 13,000 Ft., the camera is very inquisitive and unstoppable, almost manic. With this one, I felt like it was more about observation and contemplation. You stop more. We feel the wind and breathe more easily, but it’s still up close, we’re still very much with the characters and it’s still as mysterious, but we can definitely see them being a part of their world more in this one. 

That reminds me about what should also be said about improvisation or the world they’re in, because as much as we would improvise with Matt, Deragh or Mara, and with the supporting characters, we’re deep into worlds, in this case the world of literature. I have my own ideas about what it’s like to be an author or an academic or someone who teaches literature. But again, it was collaborating with Emma [Healey], who plays the girl with the curly hair, she’s a working author, and we used her actual insight. It’s always about my ideas, but then also having a conversation about what it’s like going to a literary conference or getting a MacDowell fellowship. 

For example, for the dinner scene with the musicians, Mounir [Al Shami], or Samir in the film, is a musician, and at that table there was a mixture of other local musicians, I have an idea of what those anecdotes might be like, or what it might be like to sit at a table telling stories of being on tour, but of course improvising with them where they’re actually telling real anecdotes is very different. So, it’s about getting those actual stories and anecdotes. What was always important to us was building a world and finding characters that felt from the same world as the characters in the film, and that managed to still feel true to us and true to Toronto. A big part of the process with Deragh was that I had ideas about who her husband would be, but in the script phase he wasn’t a musician. It was through the casting process, and in meeting Mounir, that we realised it felt right. His persona, the way he exists in Toronto and his lifestyle, ended up being aspects that we could tailor his character to. 

And then this idea of music in the film itself, which was there in different ways, but it’s so funny now when I watch it. Music has a lot of meaning throughout the film. First, there’s that same dinner scene where Mara says she doesn’t listen to music, and then we cut to them (Matt and Mara) on the road trip in the car and the film culminating almost with him sharing a song with her. I love that, I would say that evolution was something that was discovered and ended up growing out of ideas we had with her writing. 

That makes a lot of sense! One of the notes I wrote in my notebook about the film was related to how the film felt like it was made for my ears. The way it riffs, how the sound of the city is felt in the dialogues, in the way people speak. It’s not just because I’m a writer myself, but there’s definitely this affectation, this sort of romantic world that we create for ourselves as writers. And your film so intelligently captures that desire for world examination, sometimes until we sound almost ridiculous. 

It’s funny thinking about it in those terms, a film for writers or I forget exactly how you put it, the romantic space. It’s buried in a lot of my films, whether it’d be Tower with that strange animation he’s making or with [How Heavy the] Hammer and the video games playing with the opera music, and then skydiving or working with children in Anne [at 13,000 Ft.]. But I feel like I do think of all those characters as sort of artist characters, or specifically with Tower, I love the idea of a character that had some artistic sensibilities, but not really a place for them. Especially with that animation, it made me think of a cousin or nephew I have who’s amazing at drawing and is naturally gifted musically, but just wants to draw pictures of cars. An artisan of cars enjoying the creative act, but not necessarily fully formed. With Mara, it was about wanting to write a character about someone who doesn’t know what they want, but who wants to find a way to articulate it. I love that artistic temperament. They haven’t necessarily found out how to exist with it or express it. 

Speaking of Mara and how she’s stuck in this rut, I love that scene at the coffee shop, where’s she’s clearly talking about herself, when she talks about a character not really knowing themselves (“a person who truly believes that they know nothing about themselves and that all of their desires are complete secrets from them”). Do you feel that she has stopped knowing who she is and that she’s going to be able to explore that, herself, with Matt’s arrival?

There’s a lot of paradoxes with her and her existence, for me at least, that I think on one level she does know herself very well, but it’s almost because of that that she’s almost too honest. I love that statement she has about a character, someone who doesn’t really know themselves. It is, in some ways, profound, but at the same time doesn’t everyone feel that way?

Yes, exactly!

So, I think she’s a character that I relate to in a lot of ways. She’s smart enough to trap herself, in a sense, or to sort of create this complexity. And that’s the great counterpoint to Matt, who’s blindly confident at times, so assertive in some ways. 

Matt and Mara

He’s in a state of arrested development. He reminds me of a lot of people in my life who just seem to know they’re writers, they’re publishing work, and they just seem to know exactly what’s going on. But then you see them in their lives and it’s rough. 

He’s perhaps an artist or a character who found success too early and then maybe she’s someone who found it too late or is still hovering around a sort of a prolonged indecisiveness, or not fully embracing it. I don’t know exactly. But I like the idea that maybe he wrote too soon and she waited too long. For Matt and I, even just the idea of a character who maybe had success too early, went to the States, and then is coming back. For us, it is a cautionary tale that we’re both in a very Canadian context. Directors who stayed in Canada and are committed to that. Matt, in particular, is someone who’s probably had a lot of opportunities, a lot of bad scripts given to him that he’s turned down. There’s an amalgamation of types of people that have maybe gone to New York too early or took a bad gig and are now coming back home after that. So, yeah, there’s a lot tied up in there, certainly aspects of characters. With Deragh too! There’s people we know, or writers, who’ve been stuck for a while. In a lot of ways they’re sort of at opposite ends of the spectrum, where there’s something great about those artistic mindsets, but at the same time limitations or traps. They’re both, broadly speaking, extremes creatively and on a personal level too, in how they emote and talk about their feelings. 

Exactly because of what you just said, when I first saw the film, I immediately thought these people are soulmates! It’s the idea I have of what a soulmate is, which is someone that I wouldn’t necessarily be in a relationship with. They have compatibility. They collide, but they have a language all of their own. She’s not afraid to be herself with him and he sees her. The film begins in a whirlwind, it feels like a burglary, it’s very disorienting, but Matt doesn’t leave, almost as if he had always been there. Why did you choose to delve into this portrait of what a soulmate is? There are a lot of romantic dramas, but they’re not as empathetic and they don’t tingle like this. 

That’s a really nice observation. That chemistry between them is something I witnessed, I suppose, with Anne at 13,000 Ft. I like this combination of those two who in so many ways seem like opposites, and I like the feeling of why she is spending so much time with him, or what about it is. That was always the entry point, that their connection is fascinating was the central focus of the film. In terms of us ultimately building the film, it was different ways of thinking about it. I know you talked about Cassavetes earlier, and Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) certainly was on our minds. Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel, the opposites. But a lot of it too is unpacking her life at home. This idea of soulmates is their shared history, the fact that he knew her at a different part of her life, there’s this foundational or shared experience that they had in the past that would help cut through certain things. That’s the difference from Minnie and Moskowitz, where there isn’t that element of the guy that keeps crashing into her life. With this, there’s that added thing of not only did he know her in her previous life, but she’s teaching writing, they studied creative writing together, they had many conversations in the past about their feelings about writing.

In terms of soulmates or compatibility, timing makes sense too. Their timing, maybe when in the past didn’t make sense, and now probably doesn’t either, this time around there’s something about it that contrasts with her current life. That also makes it exciting; that she appreciates it in a different way. 

There’s lots of muddled ideas that I’m still trying to figure out too. I don’t know if you remember that scene where she’s in the kitchen talking to Samir and she was like ‘uh but people who are so close and then suddenly aren’t, aren’t they sort of frauds’, ‘how do people reckon with the fact that at one point you were best friends and now you’re not’. You know, that strange notion of that if you did have chemistry at one point, why don’t you have that now? If you were liked, why aren’t you now? I like the additional complication of it being tied to a period in their life where they were trying to find their voices in writing, where you have that amplified integrity, or that you might have these really neat, pure artistic intentions when you’re first trying to find your voice. Especially thinking back to my own experience as a student or early collaborations that felt so pure, and then witnessing what changed. That’s another theme I always like in Cassavetes too. I’m paraphrasing him, but he says that at a certain point you lose the innocence and the honesty when you become an adult in society. There was a period before they were adults where they had a connection. Mara is a reserved adult now. That’s why we see those moments of her at home. She has responsibilities, a partner, a child, and a job. Matt doesn’t necessarily have that. It came up in different scenes, but it is mainly there in the car ride scene when Deragh-Mara says ‘you’re not allowed to say I love you, you can’t say that word’. For me, it’s such a cutting or cruel line, but partially it’s because his life is so incomplete, because he doesn’t have these life experiences, and because he’s a lone wolf he’s not allowed to throw that word around. For her, it has real implications. It’s a really tragic moment. 

That’s love. When I was first writing the review, I was thinking aloud about a love that arrives and is offered as opposed to one that is chosen. Was this something you wanted to challenge, are we in control of this or not? Which I guess goes back to what you were saying about timing. 

During the Q&A for the first screening in Berlin, Matt and Deragh were literally debating love on stage. It felt like a scene from the movie! (Laughs) Their interpretations of the characters were so different. Where I think Matt’s character actually believed he was in love and believed that they would end up together – that’s the only way he could justify his actions, and his directness works as an inkling for a certain type of passion or romanticism – Deragh’s character is romantic in the sense of it never being possible. Matt throws it all out on the table and confesses his feelings and storms in and then that’s romantic. Deragh couldn’t do that, but she’s going to be haunted by this for a long time. The end of the film, with her putting the dry cleaners’ slip inside the book, there’s a certain type of romantic notion of this thing that almost happened. In Mara’s mind, I think she never actually imagined them running off, her abandoning her marriage. At least, that’s how she (Deragh) put it in the Q&A. But Matt was fully like ‘oh no, this could’ve happened’. 

It’s the secret they share. I feel like the camera knows it from the beginning, and that’s why it’s so beautiful. At the end, she puts the proof of this secret inside the book he wrote. I love the placement as well, between William Carlos Williams’s poems and Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey.

It’s my bookshelf. Initially, we had a version of it where it was my books. But then when we realised it would be the final shot, Deragh and I collaborated to curate the bookshelf. So, yeah, some of her influences are there. (Gets up from the chair and walks to the bookshelf) Which books are there? Here’s the Rohmer book. (Picks up and shows me the Realist and Moralist book cover of Bernard Verley posing with his sweater reflecting the same gesture done by Mara in the film.) That’s the sweater shot exactly. 

The ‘sweater shot’

Eric Rohmer book cover












Out of all your films, I feel like this one is very much a Rohmerian film. 

It’s definitely the one we can consider to be Rohmerian. I love his work and I liked the idea of doing this small homage to him, but I was terrified to do that at the same time. I view it in the way that one could be influenced by [Robert] Bresson or [William] Shakespeare. There was definitely more of a push to think about subtler influences or head spaces with this one, and not just a collision of a director like Cassavetes. 

(Zoom link about to expire)

Sorry about that. Still keeping with Rohmer, but going back to when we were talking about writing before, what is it that you like about writing and making cinema? 

I do it for the questions or scenarios I don’t quite know the answers to. And I hope that that way, I’ll explore them, and that will give me more perspective. Even now when a film of mine screens, I’m still thinking about it and enjoying people’s takes on different characters. I like those conversations. I’m a person who likes conversation and I think that comes through in my improvisational approaches as a filmmaker. I like talking through ideas and gaining perspective on something through collaboration. Writing is a very solitary experience, and I’ll get writer’s block or I’ll get stuck if I don’t engage or have conversations with people. I think part of what happens in the film with Mara is how engaging with Matt in these conversations helps bring ideas out. I relate to that feeling. 

Being an auteur, you’ve managed to keep your very own voice in creating this world all this time.

There’s a lot of freedom in that. But I could only make this film if Matt and Deragh were as interested too. It’s about creating something they also want to explore, and creating an arena, a way to collaborate with people. And it’s the same with Dan Montgomery, my producer, who’s produced all my films, and Nikolai [Michaylov], my cinematographer. It’s a similar sort of thing exploring the scene through dialogue with the actors and then also through the camera or during the edit with Ajla [Odobasic], my editor.

Speaking of Nikolai and the work you’ve been doing together, he’s very much a third element in your films. Very umbilical the way he’s always so close to the actors. I’m guessing it’s been a different experience shooting the last two features. Is there a specific way in which you work?

I mean, Nikolai’s amazing for a number of reasons, his camera work and his eye and his sense of light, but also just his presence on set and he has quite a special relationship with Deragh, since Anne at 13,000 Ft., where everything’s so kinetic that he pulled his own focus and was moving with her. With Matt and Mara, it is all more subtle. We had a bigger budget this time around, so the camera and lighting were a bit more evolved. There was even a focus puller. 

I like some of the things you said earlier about the feeling of the film, how we feel the city…that comes from what Nikolai and I were hoping to achieve, I wanted a feeling of conversation, to feel like you could get lost in conversation, especially when they’re walking. So, the camera setup was quite different, just in terms of there being a gimbal and so there was a bit more stabilisation in order for it to still have the same candidness and freedom to shoot wherever we want and shoot in real places, but also to be able to control it a bit more. And doing that in a conventional way is one thing, in a standard film shoot. But the way I shoot, I shoot over quite a long period of time and quite sporadically too, almost a bit more like a documentary that will shoot four days in a row and then take a break for a week, and then shoot another few days. This film in particular came out of covid, and Matt was quite busy when we were shooting it, so it had a pretty unusual production. 

I mean, it’s great talking about someone like Pedro Costa and the way he uses a camera and self-operates. He’s a big influence in digital cinema with No Quarto de Vanda (2000) and those early projects. Having that as a principle is a big part of how I make my films, the fact that we own our camera and we own the stabilisation and build a crew and lighting package around that. In other words, being able to shoot when we need to. But to Nikolai’s credit. I mean, it’s our third feature together and he’s been able to really enrich the image from film to film and grow it, while still staying true to the nature of how we shoot. It’s a very unique skill set, of him being able to slowly build it, and allow shots to be a bit more stable but still flowing through a city. We shot a lot more walking sequences. Only a handful made it into the film. But yes, being able to roam and observe was important. We couldn’t shoot with a steadicam, because steadicam operators are not available that sporadically for such a long period of time. They’re great for a music video, a commercial, or a 15-day shoot, but not a 60-day shoot over three or four months. 

I love the sequences where they walk exactly because of how that physical movement pushes the dialogue. There has to be movement in the conversation.

Now that I think about it, there’s one scene, the Niagara Falls scene, that was actually quite improvised. Just seeing Nikolai being able to figure out how to shoot that with a propeller on the lens to hit away the water spray. It’s a very cinematic scene, even though we weren’t even sure if we could even get access to get down there. It was all improvised to the credit of his nimbleness and instincts. 

That’s certainly an adventurous way of shooting.

Yes. With Nikolai, in particular! I remember why I first started working with him. He’s a skateboarder too, so he’s naturally very agile. When we shoot, we really are allies and we always find a way to do what we set out to do.

About The Author

Susana Bessa is a Portuguese film critic and journalist, with a master’s degree in Film and Screen Studies from Goldsmiths College. An alumna of Berlinale Talents, she has written for MUBI, Público, Cinea, The Rumpus, among others. More recently, she became a collaborator for À Pala de Walsh, where she enjoys delving into rare films and all those in need of an urgent comeback. She has a particular predilection for ‘70s American movies and has studied boredom as an aesthetic tool for the longest time.

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