Max Sobol • Director
by Jesús Silva
- The debut feature by Max Sobol, You (Us) Me, is screening this week at the Film Fest Gent and depicts a rather unusual relationship
You (Us) Me, the first feature by British director Max Sobol, focuses on a particularly awkward romance: a pitiful serial killer who falls in love with a suicidal girl. From this starting point, the movie becomes an upside-down romantic comedy, with hints of horror and black humour, which stands out as one of the boldest offerings from the last year's batch of films. After a fairly short run at the festivals, owing to a lack of distribution, the movie is screening this week at the Film Fest Gent, and Cineuropa had a chance to talk to its director.
Cineuropa: Where did the idea for You (Us) Me come from?
Max Sobol: It came from a few different places. It was partly inspired by a bad relationship I had been through. We loved each other very much, but it was a really destructive relationship. No matter how much we wanted it to work, we seemed to be going in opposite directions. I was really interested in this kind of impossible love story, where two people are seeking such different things that the only potential result is a conflict.
Was it difficult to find the right tone to approach a topic like this?
The eventual tone of the film is not the one I expected. I had imagined the story as much more of a comedy; but of course, suicide is not a funny topic, and nor is depression. When you come up with the characters, you need to be trusting of them, and you have to do them justice. We were dealing with a really heavy issue, and I didn’t want to make light of it. But I also have a very dark sense of humour, so I also got pulled in that direction. The original idea, that concept of the serial killer in love with the suicidal girl, already provided the driving force that made the film work; but of course, when writing the script, we were trying to incorporate different elements from romantic comedies, horror movies, low-budget productions… The language of the camera is taken from that world.
Tell us a little bit about the casting process.
The first time I worked with Hannah (the lead actress) was back in 2006; I just cast her randomly for an experimental short film. I was still a student, but she brought so much to the project, in terms of both her performance and the questions she asked, that we developed a close working relationship. I wrote the script for her, so she was always Vivian. The guy was much more difficult to find because I didn’t have anyone in mind or any money. Also, a lot of the content is very challenging, so you need someone who is a really great actor, willing to do some really uncomfortable things. We did different rounds of auditions until we found him through an online casting. Through some random coincidence, he actually knew the lead actress, which was great because the whole film is about them. They really hold the story up with their brave performances.
It seems there is no hope for either of the characters from the beginning; do you consider this a pessimistic film?
I have a very pessimistic and bleak side to me, which is partly in Vivian’s character. But on the other hand, I think I’m a more hopeful person, and maybe this movie was just a cathartic way to exercise that part of my brain. In one sense, I think there is something quite beautiful about his final sacrifice – there is something tender and romantic in the proposition at the end of the film, but it is also quite a bleak result. The whole movie deals with the idea of this little bubble that you create when you are in a relationship (hence the brackets around “Us”). I believe that according to the rules of their relationship, which are different from the rules of any other relationship, the end is incredibly romantic; it is like the ultimate gesture of love.
How did you find the response of the audience? Could they empathise with the characters?
I think there is something universal about difficult love stories that a lot of people can relate to. In terms of depression, we had some interesting feedback, too: a lot of people who came to talk to us after the screenings felt connected to that hopelessness. It is such a difficult topic to deal with, and quite a scary one. It is a cancerous thing that drags you down from all directions, and I hope that at least we represent that in a truthful way.