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"I feel like the rock star of storytelling"

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Rafael Kapelinski • Director

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- We sat down with British director Rafael Kapelinski to discuss his first feature film, Butterfly Kisses, the winner of the Generation 14plus Crystal Bear at the latest Berlinale

Rafael Kapelinski  • Director

Cineuropa sat down with British director Rafael Kapelinski at the Lucca Film Festival of European Cinema, where he was competing with his feature Butterfly Kisses [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Rafael Kapelinski
film profile
]
, winner of the Crystal Bear in the Generation 14plus section of the most recent Berlinale.

Cineuropa: What made you take on such a challenging subject for your first feature?
Rafael Kapelinski:
It wasn’t a calculated decision. When I joined the project, the screenplay was already there. It was raw, but there was something in the centre of it that was very dark but genuine. It had a voice that I could relate to. Paedophilia as such is one of the last remaining taboos, especially in some cultures. No matter how we try to attack it, we are going to encounter a lot of resistance. One of the toughest decisions we made was to make a film about paedophilia that wasn’t a film about paedophilia.

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How did you manage to distance yourself from such an overwhelming theme?
When I was a teenager, I thought that the world was about hearts and flowers, playing football and having fun, and then I had a whole array of experiences that showed me differently. For me, the film could have been about a young boy dying of cancer and his friends realising that they are left without someone to spend time to play football with. 

We didn’t want to offer an insight into the nature of paedophilia, but we did meet with three people that are registered as paedophiles, or "boy lovers", as they call themselves, people who are functioning in society but openly admitted to having these tendencies. After talking to them, it became very clear that it wasn’t our job to look for reasons; we just wanted to capture a certain world where a friendship between three boys suddenly exploded.

The film is shot in black and white; why did you make this decision, especially since the film already had the fairly gritty setting of a south London housing estate?
A black-and-white film today is like a monk dressed in a shirt - someone very simple and modest that doesn’t have a lot of expectations, and this is how we saw our film. In narrative terms, black and white objectifies the story; the world that you portray becomes more distant, and that allows you to use the camera in an observational kind of way. In this sense, Kyle’s eyes are the camera. Also, black and white renders images very abstract, so when you are talking about something as abstract as paedophilia, I think it is a good idea to give it a certain abstract quality. Also, we have a lot of English housing-estate films that are very literal, and that's not very interesting to me. I wanted to get the quality of a dream sequence, which helps to add yet another layer of the story.

The visual concept is quite eclectic; what made you decide to combine such different styles?
When you have independence, you can make gutsy decisions. I like eclectic cinema, storytelling that is dynamic and rich - I feel like the rock star of storytelling. Everything that has to do with the housing estate is very literal. I moved away from that - the fire-escape scene is a different, dark world, and the leitmotif with the horse is as well. In the beginning, it’s something dirty that appears in a porn film, and then it becomes the guardian angel.

The soundtrack is brilliant but also quite unexpected. What made you head in this direction with the music?
What really struck me when I first read the script was how dirty it was. My instinct was to counteract that, so I thought of analogue organ music as a counterpoint. What you hear is music played on an authentic 17th-century organ, recorded in one of the churches outside London. It has a sacred quality to it. We live in a world where everything shifts, so I was looking for something that would serve as a point of reference, which would pin down that crazy world of those boys who watch horse porn. Organ music is still within us; it makes us react.

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