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John Maclean • Director

"My European western"


- The Scottish director made his European premiere at the Bif&st with his stunning debut Slow West, Jury Grand Prix at the 2015 Sundance Festival

John Maclean  • Director

A surprise hit at the sixth edition of the Bari International Film Festival (21-28 March), where it had its European premiere, Slow West [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: John Maclean
film profile
by Scottish director John Maclean is a striking plunge into Colorado at the end of the 1800s, in the footsteps of Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), an idealistic teen who leaves Scotland in search of his beloved Rose, and Silas (Michael Fassbender), the wild adventurer who offers to accompany him. An unusual and surreal western, filmed in New Zealand, peppered with flashbacks and dark humour, with its release in April in the US, in June in the UK and in September in Italy, distributed by Bim.

Cineuropa: Let’s start with the title. Why is your West neither far nor wild, but slow?
John Maclean
: Everyone thinks that the West is far, fast, like the action of taking a gun out of hits holster, but, in reality it’s not like that. The West is a story about huge spaces, long periods of time and travelling. If a shootout happens, it comes from behind; it’s unexpected, not fast and head on. I took that violence and I analyzed it from a renewed perspective. What’s more, I liked the sound of these two words, each with four letters: slow and west.

Why would you make a western film in 2015?
When I was a kid my dad used to take me to see westerns. That’s why I wanted to represent in a kind of inventive way what the concept of film was for me. Then I saw Once Upon A Time in the West and I was so struck by this extraordinary work that I started to look at the issue in more detail, to research it and to watch many more films that were way better than those that I had seen as a child. But the western that I’ve filmed has no direct reference to the genre itself. While filming I watched so many other films that have nothing to do with westerns: Chinese, Japanese, European and Italian directors. I wanted to avoid a tribute.

Among the movie’s visual references, aside from Sergio Leone, you’ve got Sam Peckinpah… How did you create your unique western world?
While filming I tried to not watch too many westerns and to not fall into the cliché, to step back from the genre also because a western made by a European wouldn’t have been credible. I tried to give a more European perspective, and thus the film is influenced by European cinema in its structure too, with narrower shots and more schematic: a European vision of the American US western. I drew from Peckinpah that manner of lingering with the camera on violence in order to criticize it, that able border between exploiting violence and using it to say something.

How did you get Michael Fassbender to feature in this your first feature film?
I met him in 2009 thanks to a friend in common, while he was filming Inglourious Basterds [+see also:
film profile
. My friend had made me send him the mad things that I was doing, my initial film experiments, and he was impressed. He gave me an opportunity to meet him once, a meeting I filmed with my mobile phone. He was really kind and spontaneous. First we filmed a short and then he decided to participate in my first feature project. I wrote the character of Silas with him in mind. It has been an honour and a really lucky opportunity to work with such a talented actor. The great thing is that when he was on set, with that great aura he has, the whole team worked better.

Slow West is also the story of a desperate unrequited love. How did the figure of this young romantic hero, so unusual in this genre come about?
Let’s call it personal experience. When I was 16 I too liked older girls who didn’t even notice me. I also liked the idea of exaggerating, taking something small, like an unrequited teen love and placing it in such a large context, where everything is amplified, and in which to reach your beloved you must embark on a lengthy journey that later ends in tragedy. Filming in New Zealand added that fairytale, dreamlike element of magic realism that’s another source of inspiration for me. Finally, I liked this idea of sacrifice that opens up a path into someone else’s life.

(Translated from Italian)

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