Thursday, October 1, 2009

Antonio Campos' AFTERSCHOOL opens via IFC, after a massive festival run

AFTERSCHOOL -- the not quite new film by Antonio Campos that made its New York debut a year ago at the 2008 NY Film Festival, after playing Cannes and then moving on to Berlin -- begins with a scene that brings to mind the finale of the Olivier Assayas film Demonlover. As you might expect from something that startling, the

movie takes off into a narrative that addresses the subjects of kids, adults, teachers, school and society in general – always with a camera seemingly present.
It's not pretty.

In fact, it's been awhile since TrustMovies has seen anything that depressed him as much as this film. This is not because of its quality level, for Mr. Campos (shown just above) has achieved something difficult and demanding on his end and ours: making a movie about the next generation that is slow, often very quiet, and runs the risk of alienating its audience. That it will not put off thoughtful adults is due to Campos' technical skill and his careful planning of what happens and when -- and how the insular little world that the writer/director captures reacts to the event.

Hypocrisy runs rampant in Afterschool, and though the kids are guilty of this, it soon becomes clear that most, if not all, of their role models are near-geniuses at this all-too-human endeavor. The depression sets in as we realize how little hope for youth there seems to be. Mr. Campos frames his wide-screen images beautifully, and because so much of the movie is about the act of watching -- on computers and in cameras both hidden and in full view -- there is always a "remove" present. Although this distances us initially, we soon grow used to it and are then able to think and feel as does our protagonist, a remarkable performance from first-timer Ezra Miller. Also in Campos' surprisingly illustrious cast are the likes of Michael Stuhlbarg (opening tomorrow, as well, in the Cohen Brothers' A Serious Man), Rosemarie Dewitt (her body and voice, if not her face), Lee Wilkof and Christopher McCann.

For much of the film there is only ambient sound, and the visuals often include adults seen in partial view, almost as though they were disembodied. The film's sex scene, though consensual, has got to be among the least enjoyable ever pictured. Another scene, in a dorm room in the middle of the night, is as weird as it is powerful. The director's use of distance and his ability to visually isolate his "hero" is achieved gracefully, without undue pushing. And his script is a marvel of chosen "reality": small, tight, un-showy but on the mark. One of the final lines of dialog, spoken by Stuhlbarg -- "Brighton will be here for you" -- is surely one of the scariest in movie history.

There is so much to consider here in terms of both content and film-making skills that I fear for Mr. Campos' ability, at such a young age (24), to keep his ego in check after the kind of praise he will surely be receiving. But that's his problem. Audiences should have an easier go of it, though the movie is damned demanding.
And depressing.

Afterschool, distributed by IFC Films, opens its theatrical run tomorrow, Friday, October 2, in New York City at the Cinema Village. Antonio Campos will be participating in Q&A's on several of the evenings during the first week of the run, immediately following the 7:20pm show:
Friday 10/2: Antonio Campos and cast members, moderated by Anthony Kaufman
Saturday 10/3: Cast members & crew
Sunday 10/4: Antonio Campos
Monday 10/5: Antonio Campos, moderated by Ted Hope
Tuesday 10/6: Antonio Campos, moderated by Nicole Kassell (director of The Woodsmen)
Thursday 10/8: Antonio Campos & cast members


After a number of false starts, TrustMovies managed to connect with Antonio Campos, only to learn that the delays were caused by a death in his family -- Antonio's grandfather -- just the day previous. The young writer/director rallied and spoke with us long enough to answer some of our questions.

TrustMovies: It’s been awhile since I encountered a movie that depressed me as much as yours -- about society in general, kids, adults, school, the works. But in retrospect, it seems just about a perfect movie for our time. When did you actually make the film?

Antonio Campos: We shot it in 2007 and released in at Cannes in 2008 and at the NY Film Festival and then at the Berlin.

I have to think back to mid-point Antonioni to find a movie this quiet that has pulled me in so thoroughly. The stillness of the film is striking. Want to talk about that?

I always think that the moments between dialog and in-between action are the things that have moreto do with character than the dialog itself. I always found that there was more tension to be had with silence than with a lot of talking. A lot of the film is this sort of "waiting for something happen." As a director doing these scenes, it's more exciting for me to sort of put the characters in the situation with whatever dialog they have, and then just sort of watch them and get to a place where I feel I am almost intruding. To get to something that's authentic, but where I feel I am a fly on the wall in an intimate moment that I shouldn't be seeing. Those moments, when things are quiet and lingering, are moment where you can take in the characters more. This is true while we are shooting, and that's what I hope the audience feels when it is watching.

One of the very interesting and enjoyable things about the film is how noticeably less skilled is your character Robert's POV with his video camera than are you with yours.


In your interview in the press kit for the film, you say: “The last thing one thinks of is “Who is the person holding the camera?” That struck me as odd, because that is often the first thing I think of.


Yes. Which brings up the question you address about the person holding a camera when any emergency happens -- for instance, war photographers: Do you act to help, or do you simply record? Your film raises this point in an interesting manner.
(Antonio has no comment to this.)

Why did you choose AFTERSCHOOL for your title, rather than, say, just "school"?

Well, the original title, when I first started the script treatment, was Afterschool Special. I am essentially playing on the idea of an Afterschool Special: something overly dramatic and moralistic. But eventually, I felt that was a bit too gimmicky. And not what the film was really about. When the film became clear to me -- that the video was what the film was about -- I felt that Afterschool was more effective as one word. And in Afterschool Special it is always spelled as one word.

One of your final lines, “Brighton will be here for you,” seems to me one of the great, scary lines in movie history.

(He laughs)

Does what you’ve put on film reflect what you found at private school in NYC?

Yes. I have taken a lot from my experience. But I needed the script to be more contained. And the dynamics at a boarding school are not that different from what I experienced. Essentially, I spent a lot of time doing location scouting to sort of talk to the kids, find out where they'd go to drink and smoke and how they handled their daily routine. So I combined a bit of what I found during my scouting with what I already knew.

Is there anything else you'd like to talk about, now that I've go you? Something that journalists don't often bring up -- but you wish they would?

There are only a few journalists who have picked up the influence that Kubrick has had on me. I didn't realize until after I made my film that Antonioni had influenced me, too. At the press screenings, people pick on the influences of Van Sant and Haneke. People often compare me to them. And Haneke is the more appropriate connection, as he has been a huge inspiration on the stuff that I've been doing. I don't necessarily see Afterschool as a Kubrickian film, but Kubrick is someone who I always go back to. My love for zoom shots came from him.

What are working on now?

A couple of things: a script I am writing called Moma, about a boy growing up in NYC and the relationship he has with his mother The other is a film we’re doing for our producing partner Sean Durkin who did Afterschool, titled Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Interested readers who want to learn more about Mr. Campos and his work can visit the website of the company Borderline Films.

(All the photos, except that of Mr. Campos (second from top),
are from the film itself. You can probably tell
which are from the POV of Campos, and which are from
that of his lead character in the film within the film.)

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