Filareta Atanasova (left) as Gordana and Vesna
Stanojevska as Menka in "Shadows", the 2007 film directed by Macedonia filmmaker
Milcho Manchevski. "Shadows" finally makes its North American theatrical
release debut this Friday, opening exclusively at the Cinema Village in New York
City. (Photo ęBavaria Film International)
CINEMA THIS WEEKEND IN NEW YORK CITY
Sex, Death, Eroticism And Psychological Horror
Amidst "Shadows" From Director Milcho Manchevski
Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel
January 27, 2009
Initially, "Shadows" filmmaker Milcho Manchevski said he wanted to make "just a
scary film -- very visceral -- a scary film that was not political or complex."
The Macedonian director, born in the town of Skopje in 1959, said he loved scary
movies but the kind that were innovative. It became clear to him however,
that "Shadows", written and directed by Mr. Manchevski and shot in the small
southeastern European country of Macedonia, wasn't
going to be your average scary movie. "It became sort of a dialogue with
the dead. And that's what made it personal for myself. And that, in
itself at the same time it's quite universal, because it's one of the main
concerns of most cultures, most civilizations. It's very archetypal."
Mr. Manchevski, who for 20 years has been living in New York City where he heads
the Film Directing Department at New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts'
Graduate Department, spoke via telephone yesterday to The Popcorn Reel about
"Shadows", which was released in numerous countries back in 2007 and will
finally make its North American theatrical release debut on Friday, opening
exclusively at the Cinema Village in New York City. Mr. Manchevski put
Macedonia on Oscar's cinematic map when in 1995 his debut feature "Before The
Rain" (1994) became the first film from the country to be nominated for an Academy
Award for Best Foreign Language Film. "Before The Rain", a
highly-acclaimed film, won top awards at the Venice Film Festival, the David di
Donatello Awards (aka the "Italian Oscars") and the Independent Spirit Awards,
among more than 30 awards.
The idea for "Shadows" literally came from a moment of great levity one night in
New York City. "I was sitting with a friend of mine who was a diplomat in
New York at the time. We're sitting at the Brooklyn Promenade and looking
at the Manhattan skyline and we're laughing, 'would you imagine ghosts in this
park?' And that's where it started."
While the director did say that "Shadows", an erotic drama about death, sex and
psychological states of perception, was "a scary film seen through the eyes of
European glasses", the film is also an absorbing and thought-provoking look at
the willingness or lack thereof, to confront death and deal with concerns
surrounding the departed, something that Mr. Manchevski said was reflective of
contemporary society. "Shadows" stars first-time feature
film actors Borce Nacev (pronounced "Bor-che") and Vesna Stanojevska,
who is also a harpist in the Macedonia National Opera. Miss Stanojevska, said the director, only had the experience of appearing in one
television commercial prior to being on the big screen in "Shadows". Miss
Stanojevska plays Menska, a doctor's assistant who translates messages. In
"Shadows" the actress bears a strong resemblance to Isabella Rossellini, a
likeness that grows as the film moves along. Mr. Nacev, whom in a "making
of" documentary for the film confessed that he was bothered by the fact that
"Shadows" was shot out of sequence, revealed that he had to watch previous
filmed scenes to get a sense of the emotion he had to bring to the present scene
he was filming. Mr. Nacev plays the film's protagonist Lazar, a medical
doctor at a hospital who survives a nasty car crash.
"Borce emerged as just really the best for this part," Mr. Manchevski said, citing
that he had scoured the entire country of Macedonia, which is the size of the
American state of Vermont, to find
his actor and actress. He added that acting neophytes were "both a
blessing and a drawback." There was also a naturalness to Miss Stanojevska
that worked well for "Shadows".
Not surprisingly, Milcho Manchevski is a meticulous
planner. He storyboarded "Shadows" with between 1,000 and 2,000 of his own
"I believe in doing my homework. I was a straight-A student."
Left photo: Vesna
Stanojevska as Menka in Milcho Manchevski's "Shadows". Right photo: Borce
Nacev as Lazar in Mr. Manchevski's film. (Photo ęBavaria Film International)
Obviously the director was careful about the objectives and impact of "Shadows".
"The key was not to make a film that's going to jolt you, but a film that's gonna creep with you and stay with you for a long time, like something you see
from the corner of your eye," said Mr. Manchevski, who prior to the discussion
was told that his phone was playing tricks on him. "I'll have to see
about getting that fixed," he said. Not short of a sense of humor, he gave
a wise piece of advice about not buying a particular brand of cellular phone.
The director, who also directed the MTV Best Video of 1992 "Tennessee", by
hip-hop artists Arrested Development, also likened "Shadows" to a nightmare you
wake up from that lingers and won't leave you alone. "And to achieve that
there's a lot of repetition. In a way, the idea was to make it feel a
little bit like Ravel's Bolero. You take a theme or a few themes and then
you keep repeating them and they grow bigger and bigger."
Mr. Manchevski shared an observation that reflected the type of effect he was
aiming for in his latest film. "Bergman's films were scary films for me.
Even though you wouldn't find them on the horror shelf." Films like
"Autumn Sonata", "Persona" and "Cries And Whispers" were cited by the director
and his interviewer for their scare factor. "So creating that visceral dialogue, that visceral
reaction, in a way is sort of the basic but also the most difficult task an
artist can have. If you're doing a comedy people are laughing or they're
not. If you're making a scary film people are scared or not. There's
no middle ground."
Today's horror films and psychological thrillers are a long way from the
imagination and power of past classics like "Psycho", "Rosemary's Baby" or "The Exorcist", with
what is termed "torture porn". That type of
filmmaking is "not lazy but it's easy", according to Mr. Manchevski.
"It depends on what kind of film you're making. Even in doing a gore film
. . . there [are] various degrees of how well you do that. I remember
seeing the first "Halloween" in film school (at the Department of
Cinema and Photography at Southern Illinois University, where he graduated
in 1982.) And I was working at the
theater [in Illinois] at the time. I saw the film and everybody was
screaming. Virtually hanging from the ceiling. So I was like, 'I
better see the next screening to see why it's so effective and why is it that it
worked so well.' And then
I realized that . . . the craft was definitely there. There was something
very direct about it. If you recall, the first "Halloween" (directed by
John Carpenter) had almost no blood at all in it."
Though he has made just three feature films (including "Dust" in 2001), with an
interval of roughly seven years between films Milcho Manchevski has a very good
reason as to why more features aren't on his resume. "I handcraft the
films," he said. "And I don't know if it's good or bad. It has its
plusses and its minuses," said the director, who mentioned that just the
physical work on a film takes a year to two years of his life. "I don't
like doing industrial films. I don't like just rushing them through the
assembly line and then into the theater and then out. I believe that by
investing a piece of yourself in the work in general that will somehow resonate
from the screen and stay with the viewer." The director finances
all of his films in Europe even though he lives in the Big Apple. He
mentioned that "Europe is a funny place for financing films", citing the balance
between "half-distributor, half refugee", although in Europe "there is much more
of a respect for the author." Still, he noted that "Europe is slowly
becoming a little more Hollywood-ized." Mr. Manchevski lamented the
Hollywood way, saying that "granted there are films that you need this kind of
industrial approach but there are also films that are created by one or two or
several filmmakers expressing a particular point of view that get ruined by the
money, the suits, the studios or the producers changing, tinkering with the
films too much."
Filmmaker and commercial director Milcho
Manchevski. (Photo from Mr. Manchevski's Facebook photo album)
Mr. Manchevski joked about having his films remade, hinting that he would
disengage himself from the remaking process. He said that at one point
there were discussions about remaking "Shadows". Earlier in the
conversation he had observed
that "in development, scriptwriting, script doctoring in Hollywood in general
there's so much emphasis put on [explaining] things and, 'do people get
it?', and I think it's just overrated. The relevant consideration, he
said, is "'do I like the film' -- not 'do I understand the film.' There are a number of wonderful films
where I'm not quite sure what happened one hundred percent but I'm really glad I
saw the film. And vice versa, there are like some films where everything
is clear but I couldn't care less. So I think that understanding has been
overrated at the expense of feeling and liking the film."
Another reason for the sizable interval between films is that Mr. Manchevski has his hands full with
many other more interesting projects which he prefers working on, such as his
direction of short films, long-form works, art and experimental
cinema pieces. He has directed numerous television commercials, the most recent of
which can be seen
here. He is currently working on a photo
exhibition art project entitled
"Five Drops Of Dream", five photos in a film strip. The photo
exhibition has some one hundred film strips, or a total of five hundred frames. The artwork
be completed for display later this year.
The director is asked about the sex scenes in "Shadows", each of which
is distinct and not without meaning in the film's context. If comedy is
difficult to film and convey so too are love or sex scenes. "It's
difficult because it's such a personal moment and here you are doing it first,
in front a lot of people and second, in front of a lot of people who are going
to see you in the future. And you need to make it look very intimate, like
only two people together. I just put everything on the table, discuss it.
First of all, everything was described in the script in detail so the actors
knew what they needed to do, so they spent a lot of time preparing for it.
And they had their own little dynamic going on as we were shooting," the
Mr. Manchevski then remembered something that happened during filming.
After rehearsals with a partially-clothed Vesna Stanojevska, the director
recalled that "we were filming the scene where [Miss Stanojevska] is showing her
breasts . . . and then as we were preparing to roll again, the microphones
were on but we weren't rolling yet and you hear Vesna saying, 'Well, why are you
being that way? Just look at them before I show them to everybody.'
Which I thought was really sweet and very funny."
One of the sex scenes,
Mr. Manchevski revealed, "that is particularly important and dear to me . . . is
where they're having sex and laughing. Which is something that you know,
you very seldom see in films. And I think it's, it's a great way to deal
with it, a great way to approach . . . love and sex."
"Shadows" opens exclusively in New York City at the Cinema Village this Friday,
January 30. The director hopes that the film will get a wider theatrical
run, spreading to other major U.S. markets. Cinema Village is located at
22 East 12th Street in New York City. For tickets, telephone 212-924-3363
www.cinemavillage.com. A written film
review of "Shadows" and a
Popcorn Reel YouTube review of the
here on Friday.
Copyright The Popcorn Reel. PopcornReel.com. 2009. All Rights