NADIA SZOLD: Between the woods and frozen lake
NADIA SZOLD began directing and producing theatre of the absurd when she was in her teens in New England, Spain and Russia. She moved into filmmaking, founding the production troupe Cinema Imperfecta and making four short films in New York City and Paris. She counts her degree from Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School and the classes she took with Judith Weston as her most valuable formal education.
Interview by Guillaume Benaich
HOW AND WHEN DID YOU DECIDE YOU WANTED TO MAKE FILMS?
I remember really very, very clearly the moment. I’d been directing theatre since I was seventeen years old and I really only did that because of the fact that they were no interesting plays being produced at my high school, and when I read Waiting for Godot, I needed to see it put on. So it was not a desire really to direct but a desire to see the play, and the easiest way was to do it. I had written and directed plays and was attending this symposium of filmmakers. Werner Herzog was there and I was very inspired by how he had used landscape and location. A lot of time in my plays I brought the audience into the middle of the woods, or to an abandoned train station, what have you. Location was always extremely important. After hearing Herzog speak, I remember thinking: should I make my current play into a movie? I was walking along a riverbed that was completely dried up and I remember thinking: it has to be in a location, it has to be a film. I think I was twenty-one.
JOY DE V., IS YOUR FIRST FEATURE FILM. CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT IT?
The film is about what happens to somebody when they don’t know where the person who is most important to them is. It’s about the different stages that you go through when you’re in the state of not knowing. Roman (Evan Louison) is a con-artist from Brooklyn, comes from a very Italian American background. One morning his wife Joy (Josephine de La Baume) just doesn’t come home. She kisses him in the morning; nothing seems to be wrong or at all out of place. Time passes and she just doesn’t come home. The movie spans over four days and traces the psychological phases Roman goes through. It is structured like a Bildungsroman in a way, where he’s really the main character, and all the others are these people he encounters who either advise him or distract him.
YOU DESCRIBED JOY DE V. AS A « CONTEMPORARY CATASTROPHE ABOUT A MAN AND A WOMAN », BUT A LOT OF THE NARRATIVE IN THE FILM IS HIDDEN FROM THE VIEWER. IT IS TOLD IN A DREAMLIKE, METAPHORIC ALMOST SYMBOLIST WAY, APPEALING TO THE IMAGINATION AND EMOTIONS BEFORE THE INTELLECT.
I definitely agree with this. I think it’s a very simple story and the narrative is not so important compared to what it’s like to have this anxiety of not knowing, and all the places your mind takes you. I think a lot of the film was built in post-production. In structuring it and in the sound design I was able to take it to an emotional level, to create unease in the audience. I think cinema should be visceral. I admire films that are more intellectual, almost essays, or intellectual in the sense that the plot is very intricate, but this one is an attempt to get under people’s skin and make them concerned about what’s happening to this guy.
IT’S QUITE TEMPTING TO TRY AND INTERPRET YOUR FILMS THROUGH A FREUDIAN LENS. WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO PSYCHOANALYSIS?
My father is a psychiatrist, and when I was younger we had no TV and very few toys, actually. I grew up in the country side, we had the woods, that was our playground. But I found something much more interesting as a form of entertainment and that was listening in on some of my father’s sessions with his patients, way before I even had any comprehension of what this was about. I once took my sister to the hiding place. Together we were trying so hard not to laugh, but afterward she said “Nadia, this is not good, this is not right”. She never did that again but I continued to hide and listen to my father listening to his patients, many of whom were schizophrenic. It wasn’t just psychoanalysis, since he is a psychiatrist. He worked in prisons, he worked in schools for troubled kids but he also had a home practice. When I was a little older, my father, never mentioning names, would tell me about cases. And so I think, in retrospect, that’s always been a fascination of mine.
YOU’VE SAID YOUR AIM IS TO BRING AUDIENCE THE JOY OF WATCHING IMPASSIONED CHARACTERS IN ALL THEIR HUMAN PERFECTION AND IMPERFECTION LIVE ON THE SCREEN. AS A DIRECTOR YOU DECIDED TO WORK WITH FILM ACTORS AND NON-ACTORS ALIKE. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THIS CHOICE?
I think that there is an urgency in making a film sometimes, you just have to make it Now. There are characters from your life who you are fascinated by and you rope them in, so those are the non-actors. Part of it is also access. At that point I only had a limited access to professional actors. Claudia Cardinale, who is in Joy de V., was wonderful to work with. She totally understood the humor of the film and it was really fun to pair her with a younger actor. Evan Louison is a actor but he’s never had formal training, so it was great to see how, when working with her, he completely stepped up his game. I think that you can get a good performance out of non-actors if they’re relaxed and unselfconscious enough to be able to create and just live in the scene.
HOW DOES A NEW FILM IDEA COME TO MIND?
Sometimes it’s a specific actor I want to work with. I think of that person and I write it for that person. I find it is so easy to write with someone in mind because you hear the way they talk, it informs how you write the dialogue. It’s almost cheating in a way because you already have these characters, they just start talking to themselves. Right now I’m writing this script and it’s frustrating because sometimes I’m running late for some engagement and they start to talk! I’m not schizophrenic but I just have to stop for a second and write because what they’re saying is actually very funny! So sometimes it’s about casting the characters and then seeing what story comes from that.
WHAT FILM OR BOOK WOULD YOU SAY HAS HAD A PROFOUND IMPACT ON YOU?
It changes all the time but I would say for book, Bloodbrothers by Richard Price. He’s a New York writer, also a co-writer of The Wire. He’s an incredible sort of urban intellectual. He just finds a system in the street life and he’s able to show it with such clarity. He’s really inspirational, in terms of dialogue, in terms of having this very broad perspective of contemporary urban situations. For movies I would say Polansky is my number one influence. When I saw Knife in the Water, it was a revelation. It is so simple and absurd. I already had been fascinated by the Theatre of the Absurd, had studied it on my own, put on lots of plays by Beckett, Ionesco and Pinter but with him, this is actually cinema of the absurd.
WHAT’S CURRENTLY ON YOUR MIND?
My new script. I’m completely in its world.
A WORD THAT BEST DESCRIBES YOU?
Published: April 3rd, 2012