"Tipping from innocence to nightmare "
by Fabien Lemercier
30/01/2006 - A meeting with a young filmmaker with an explosive talent, coldly dissecting human violence
The veritable revelation of year, Gela Babluani accorded Cineuropa an interview in Paris between two editing sessions of his next film, co-directed with his father. The occasion to experience firsthand the strong personality of the director of 13 (Tzameti) [+see also:
film profile], this young 27 year old is nourished by a pessimistic vision of the world and by the search for a cinematic style with powerful images.
Cineuropa: what was the starting point for writing the screenplay for 13 (Tzameti) ?
Gela Babluani : I wanted to talk about man’s destiny and the human condition in general, of the manipulation that certain people apply to others. I had arrived in France two years before that and I had enough distance from my Georgian past to realise that we have more or less the same sensibilities in different countries, that we live with the same codes other than economic differences. I wanted to take on the subject of a man and the power he exercises over the daily lives of others. I think we all make a choice at one moment or another in our lives, and we can get it wrong. In the film, I wanted to push this decisive moment to the extreme. The choices are very individual because the hero knows that if he takes the letter there is no going back. We are confronted in life by situations which seem absurd but in reality could decide our future. The notion of this letter that is caught in a sudden gust of wind and can decide someone’s destiny, is something I believe in.
Where does this attraction come from for this hidden world of violence which is at the heart of your film ?
We are inspired by what we go through. Before coming to France at the age of 17, I lived in Georgia during a very difficult period. I didn’t have the impression of passing my childhood in a country that suffered a triple civil war and which was suddenly thrown into an absolute freedom that no-one understood, with political parties, demonstrations, wars... When put together, all this created a parallel system, a world of socio-political manoeuvres behind the scenes, playing with power and influence. The fact that we get used to this world, of gunfire, daily violence and death, we sense it, we digest and each of us expresses it in our own manner. I don’t have a very positive image of mankind, the madness, the money. Human beings are very complex because they have a degenerate side, but they are not all like that. There was a moment when everything is turned up side down and I wanted to deal with the change from innocence to nightmare, with the notion that we always depend on others, that we provoke a number of things to get to a situation where we are going to depend on others.
Why film in black and white, and in Scope ?
Firstly, because black and white removes one realism and replaces it with another. We concentrate more on the characters, on the story. When the first images of the film began appearing in my head, I saw them in a certain manner and atmosphere, I saw them in black and white. As for Scope, it’s a format that allows for large compositions within the frame and since I love composing images, it was the ideal format. I don’t have any major influences but I love, for instance, the first films from Scorsese, The Godfather 1 from Coppola, Sergio Leone, le souffle absolu de Fellini, Théorème by Pasolini which shook me up.... I could also mention soviet cinema since it contains a true reflection on the image, which no longer exists. It accorded a great deal of importance to composition, to setting the scene. The films were silent even if they were billed as films with sound. Throughout, the shoot, the post-production and final cut, was done without sound and they never recorded directly on set. Also, as a child, I attended the editing of my father’s films: the characters talked, but you had to understand them without the sound, feel the emotion and that affected me. I prefer to tell a story using images rather than dialogues.
How did you find your actors, all these "characters" which make the universe credible in 13 ?
It took a long time. There is a mix of professional and non- professional actors from all walks of life. Some work in prisons, others have been released from there. I didn’t want to see faces I recognized, I wanted to create a world apart. With the exception of one actor and my brother, I had never seen any of the other participants acting.
Were you tempted to have a happy end ?
Yes, it was dilemma. For dramatic construction, it was right that the hero died. Even though he did have a chance to survive, this chance does not last forever and the wheel turns.
What are you future plans?
I am in the middle of editing L’âme perdue du sommet, a film played by Sylvie Testud and Stanislas Mehrar, which I co-directed with my father Temour Babluani and which will come out in theatres in May. Also, I am writing a personal project. I work a lot and I don’t want to stop to enjoy myself. I don’t want to remove myself from the action because I know many directors who have made a first film, then get lost. I am happy when I am on-set and I am doing everything possible to get back there.