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Advice from a Director – Tony Gatlif

Resources_Dir_117 - Tony GatlifBorn in Algiers in 1948, Tony Gatlif moved to France after the Algerian War of Independence. He worked there as an actor until directing his first film, La tête en ruines, in 1975. In 2004 he won the best Director Award at Cannes for Exiles, starring Romain Duris, while Transylvania premiered at the festival in 2006. Here he gives his advice on directing actors and selecting music for his feature, Transylvania.

On giving actors space…
‘In my films I don’t like seeing the directorial and framing mechanism, so I try to give as much freedom to my actors as possible, all the while being very precise with regard to my instructions. I manage to get my actors to fit into the skin of their characters. I’ve even had times when the boundaries blur between the performers and their characters, between reality and fiction. We wind up unaware of the lighting, the set, the costumes.’

On Asia Argento…
‘I used to more or less write stories about men because I’d automatically be projecting myself. With Transylvania, for the first time, I felt like I was shooting a woman’s soul through Asia Argento. I filmed it like a man in love who starts with the soul and eventually winds up unveiling the beauty of the face. Zingarina has a changing soul, and Asia’s face metamorphoses during the course of the film. In the beginning, it’s sombre and preoccupied, then becomes more and more luminous toward the end. Asia doesn’t protect herself during the shoot; neither physically nor psychologically. She gives everything, exposing herself to extreme cold or wind without ever worrying about her face. She abandons herself totally without holding anything back. I appreciated her participation in the film like a wonderful gift. As a result, I felt an incredible responsibility toward her. Asia possesses a rare force that I’ve only encountered among Gypsies.’

On directing actors…
‘I don’t give them the script to read. I just inform the evening before that we’re going to shoot this or that scene. For example, when I told Asia that we were getting ready to shoot the exorcism sequence, I gave her the minimum of information so that she wouldn’t ‘prepare’ herself for the scene. On the day of the shoot when Asia found herself surrounded by the villagers, in front of the priest with a bottle of oil in one hand and a candle in the other, she wasn’t acting anymore. All of a sudden, in the middle of the singing of the villagers and the priest’s chanting, milk gets poured over her head – without her having rehearsed this before! We were very afraid of the reaction from the villagers because the milk exposed her body in the church. But out of prudence, I’d asked the extras to lower their heads and to keep them down.’

On musical choices…
‘I travelled throughout Transylvania long before writing the script, to do my ‘musical scouting’. I discovered extraordinary sonorities, which absolutely possessed me. But, at the same time, above all, I didn’t want ‘folk’ music for the film. So, with Delphine Mantoulet, who I also worked with on Exiles, we first composed an original score and then hired eighty musicians who I’d met there to do the recording. As a result I already had the music during the shooting. It’s the first time I’ve functioned like that and I think it allowed me to concentrate more with the actors and the technicians. Music can be demonic and can suck the life out of you like a vampire, like a drug. It becomes painful then because it can obsess and inhabit beings. You know that in the majority of ceremonies Transylvanian Gypsy musicians reach a trance.’

This formed part of an interview that originally appeared in Issue 117 of Film Ireland Magazine.