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“I wanted to build up the rules of the game”

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Aik Karapetian • Director


- At the 18th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, Cineuropa sat down with Aik Karapetian to talk about his career, the Latvian film industry and his thoughts on horror

Aik Karapetian  • Director
© Emilia Haukka

Following the selection of The Man in the Orange Jacket [+see also:
film review
interview: Aik Karapetian
interview: Roberts Vinovskis
film profile
 at the 18th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, Aik Karapetian tells Cineuropa about himself, Latvian cinema and his thoughts on horror as a genre. 

Cineuropa: Your movie is being hailed as a Latvian film, but you were born in Armenia – how do you identify yourself: as a Latvian, an Armenian or a mix of the two?
Aik Karapetian: I see myself as an Armenian, but as a Latvian director, of course, because I’m working in Latvia. Actually, I was born in Armenia, but my parents were living in Latvia before my birth. So I don’t have that strong a connection with Armenia. But I think a good director should be a craftsman. The movie should be more important than the director; and now, in Europe especially, directors all want to be number one and be more important that their movie. I think this is a big problem with filmmakers nowadays: that they try to build up their profiles more than their craft. I think I’m trying to kill my identity, and work with a free mind instead. 

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How do you see the future of Latvian cinema?
In the last few years, Latvian cinema’s been doing well. I think there is now a new generation of filmmakers who are making very personal films, and they are beginning to cover topics about society or young people, and how that generation is trying to find its place in society. I think now is a very interesting period for Latvian cinema, certainly the most interesting one in the last 20 years. I hope we won’t stay in the same place, but that we will go forward to do bigger and more interesting things instead.

And do you feel influenced by Latvia’s cinematic tradition?
It’s hard to say. I’m a big fan of lots of very different kinds of movies. In general, though, my big influences come from American and French cinema, perhaps the most important regions for film history. And then there is the UK, Italy or Russia. But I think the real Latvian cinema is building up only now. Previously, there was the Soviet period, of course, and they were a very different kind of films. We are only now building real Latvian movies.

Are there any particular French or American directors you would aspire to be like?
No. There are many directors that I admire, and I want to be as good as they are, but I don’t want to identify myself with anyone. I’m doing my movies. You’re always just motivated by the hope that your next movie will be good. 

In terms of genre influences, then, how would you describe The Man in the Orange Jacket?
With this thing of interpreting subgenres, I just wanted to build up the rules of the game. With a genre, there are rules that you have to follow, so I just watched a lot of horror movies, and I started to understand what I hate and what I like. Of course, there are some clichés, but without clichés, it’s almost impossible to build up a genre.

But I was trying to make an interpretation of a subgenre, like a slasher or a psycho-thriller. There were some movies that inspired me – for example, Repulsion by Roman Polanski or Kubrick’s The Shining. Those kinds of movies that are not so much based on narrative, but focus more on seeing the transformation of a character. That was the main point with this movie. I wanted to start this film where horror movies usually end. That is why I think after 15 minutes the audience is very surprised: “Ah, so the film will be about that guy, not about his other victims.”

Do you think your film fits in with a trend at Black Nights (alongside It Follows, Over Your Dead Body and Goodnight Mommy [+see also:
film review
interview: Severin Fiala and Veronika …
film profile
) where horror directors are placing more emphasis on being psychologically thrilling?

Yes, but I think this is something very specific to horror, because what is fear? It’s a subjective impulse. And if you’re trying to show horror or fear, you should show the subjective side of the character. So of course we follow dreams, illusions or hallucinations. This is one of the tools, but I don’t think you can make a film just about a dream, because the audience will lose interest. Actually, that was one of the things we were working on in the edit because there were too many dream scenes. So we started to make more depictions of thoughts or fantasies in his head.

But since the 1970s, when John Carpenter started to make slasher movies (and they became very popular), nothing has actually changed in 30 years in this genre. There were maybe five fresh horror films in the last 20 years. But for filmmakers nowadays, it’s almost impossible to get people interested in seeing their title at the cinema. Genre helps you to draw people’s attention to your film.

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