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BLACK NIGHTS 2020 First Feature Competition

Sonia Liza Kenterman • Director of Tailor

“Sewing is a world of small details”

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- We talked to debuting director Sonia Liza Kenterman about Tailor, after she got to celebrate its world premiere in an actual cinema

Sonia Liza Kenterman • Director of Tailor
(© Nikolas Kominis)

Shown in the First Feature Competition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, Tailor [+see also:
film review
interview: Sonia Liza Kenterman
film profile
]
focuses on Nikos (Dimitris Imellos). Coming from a family of tailors, he is set on following in his father's footsteps, even though the business is failing. But once Nikos is forced to figure things out on his own, he finds out that there is more to life than a perfectly cut suit. We chatted to the film’s director, Sonia Liza Kenterman.

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Cineuropa: Do you have a background in costumes yourself? You really pay attention to the clothes in the film, even the fabric. You look at them as lovingly as Nikos does.
Sonia Liza Kenterman: I don't, but I just like fashion! The more I found out about sewing while writing the script, the more fascinated I was by this very strict hierarchy and the very strict rules that no one can ever break. The people who sew are so committed to their art and their craft, which they have been learning since they were children. It's a lifelong effort to become better and better. I was really inspired by everything that goes into constructing a suit or a wedding dress. Together with the actors, we would go to see seamstresses and tailors at work, trying to learn more. It's a world of small details.

It's an occupation that has also changed, as one character observes in the film. And Nikos just has to adapt. When he goes out in the street, so elegant is his perfect suit, he looks like an alien.
It's true. The comedy arose from the fact that he is just so different. He has grown up with these old-fashioned ideas about how men should dress, and then he leaves his shop to confront reality. He really looks like a character from a period movie. But he doesn't have clients any more – no one will pay that much money for a suit. He is a bit of a dreamer, very child-like.

It’s likely that this child-like quality makes his friendship with the little girl a little less jarring.
When we were discussing it with the actor, the idea was that this nine-year-old would be his only friend. He has no social life, and he’s probably never had a girlfriend – that's the only connection he has. They have a routine: they send paper boats to each other. He is still stuck in that time, and it's easier to communicate with a child than with grown-ups. Only when we got to the editing did we realise that it might be considered as strange, when he kisses her hand and so on. I just hope it isn’t, because he is so honest and harmless.

At the beginning, when he is sitting alone in the office, it brought to mind silent cinema.
We were studying many French comedies from the 1960s – in these films, the actors are very confined, in a sense, but there is so much elegance and poise. We also studied Buster Keaton films, because of his movements and his fantastic face. I always wanted to have very little dialogue anyway. Nikos is so sheltered, away from society, and so alone in this microcosm. And he is so used to being alone, so no wonder his expressions are more “out there”. Usually, nobody looks at him.

There is a fantasy aspect to your film and this story, but you show the society around him as well: people with no money and limited opportunities, not exactly willing to wait three weeks for an outfit. How did you want to combine the two?
I wanted to include these two worlds in the film. He carries the comedy with him, in this fairy tale-like approach, so his entrance into the “real” world has some lyrical qualities about it. But this world is the world of Athens today! Nikos sees things differently – for him, something that's beautiful needs to take time. So when he goes out and meets these potential clients, time is what sets them apart. They are used to getting everything very fast and cheaper, just like me, whereas he comes from a profession which values time and a relationship between the tailor and the client.

His father actually keeps his old patterns, from the clients who have already passed away. He is even more set in his ways.
Nikos has been living in his shadow, and it was impossible to break out of this restricted world. But not just because his father is so domineering; it’s also because Nikos hasn't found the strength to really take life into his own hands. He probably had some ideas about how to change things – after all, he invents this “shop on wheels”. He just never had the courage to share them with his father. At the same time, it's a very loving relationship. They are all they have! His father feels that by trying something new, Nikos ruined this family tradition. But by the end, he has to acknowledge his talent.

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