GoCritic! Interview: Jonathan Laskar • Director of The Record
“Music is an emotional language, a recording of the past”
- The Swiss animator competed this year at Animateka and we spoke to him about his film’s genesis and the transportive power of music
Swiss animator Jonathan Laskar is already a regular guest at Animateka, and this year saw him competing in the main competition with The Record, a bittersweet story of a man's life changed by a magical music record gifted to him by a mysterious visitor. The record’s physical limitations are nothing compared to its power. We spoke to Laskar about the film’s genesis and the transportive power of music.
Cineuropa: "A record that reads your soul and plays everything you have forgotten". This film sees you reimagining time travel, whether physical or mental. Where did the idea come from?
Jonathan Laskar: It is precisely that; it is a time machine. The initial idea came from a short story by Jorge Luis Borges from his collection Infinite Library. A book, in itself, is a time machine. A record is also a time machine. It is a recording of the past. When you listen to music, you listen to recorded music which automatically takes you back in time. I think we all know that feeling of music taking us somewhere. The magical record in the film plays an infinite amount of music. You never know what is coming, and you cannot hear the same piece twice because it is never-ending. The analogy is important: the music isn’t known to the person in question, but it will help to reawaken a forgotten, lost memory.
There is an interplay in the film between a Persian instrument, the lute, and a Shoah-like story. How are these topics connected?
The instrument is originally from Persia or Arabia; it’s a source of dispute between them. Nevertheless, it is a common instrument in North Africa. I am a Sephardi Jew from North Africa. My great-uncle played the lute in Algeria and the instrument was a constant presence in our family.
Not much is known about Sephardi victims from North Africa, Turkey and the Balkans, but there were a great many Jews who tried to escape from the Balkans to Switzerland. The Swiss authorities did everything they could to prevent the Judaization of Switzerland; they were very anti-Semitic. But that is not the subject of my film, it is just the backstory. It is crucial, but the subject of my film is more about how one person’s culture and identity are stolen.
So it is an autobiographical film?
It is a puzzle. My grandfather was taken prisoner at the border and sent to Germany, where he had to hide both his person and his Judaism for 5 years until the end of the war, when he was able to return home to Algiers. I am Swiss after my mother and French after my father, though he was born in Algeria. My mother did not teach me her native German language, and my father did not teach me the traditions of Judaism. In that sense, the film is very autobiographical, indirectly speaking.
There’s a transition in the film where the motion of a train merges into a filmstrip or a record. Could you say a bit more about this?
There is a tape on the record which sets the speed and which also divides time in the same way that cinema does, through sequences. This record is set to 33 revolutions per minute, meaning an approximate frequency of one revolution every two seconds. The music, the dreams, and the entire pace of the film are built on these two-second cycles. The record and the animation complete one rotation within 24 frames, with all the mistakes that happen within a cycle. Like the sound that we hear with the light, the flash is like a speck of dust on the record.
Your film's editing is marvellous, flowing seamlessly between segments, layers and objects. It is almost like a concept album, with one song segueing into another.
There are two different dimensions to it. When the protagonist is locked in his store, his reality is edited in the interests of the story, with lots of cuts. As soon as he dives into the record, everything becomes fluid; there aren’t any cuts anymore. It is like a metamorphosis. I used a powerful light at this point, which is handy because the light appears and disappears. It means that you can connect two different shots using the dark rather than a cut. All the memories or dreams in the film are constructed this way. Because it’s with this light that he always returns to his past.
Nevertheless, there are several different ways of cutting. For example, there’s the Sergei Eisenstein school of thought, where every cut has a narrative and symbolic meaning. Alternatively, there’s that of Andrei Tarkovsky, which involves a more free-flowing, organic motion. Trying to combine the two together in one film was very interesting for me. I did the same thing with the sound. In the realistic space of the character’s store, there are noises, foleys and pink noise. As soon as he goes outside, the sound opens up; there is no more spatiality and, consequently, very little noise, no more foleys, more abstraction.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in the production process?
One considerable challenge was combining two different visual vocabularies, one in colour and the other in black and white. It was hard to bring the two together so that you stay in the same film. Our production approach allowed me to spend time on all kinds of details, and I enjoyed a lot of freedom.
Writing was the hardest part. When the production process began, I only had the bare bones of the story, everything else was developed as I went along.
There was also the Covid lockdown at a given point. It was not part of the plan, but I decided to compose and record the music myself. I then developed the scenes alongside the music, and more or less wrote them as the protagonist experiences them.
Do you think music can influence people’s life stories, personalities, decisions, and events?
For sure. Because music is a language. Not a rational one, but an emotional one. And a recording of the past. It’s also a compelling vehicle for spreading culture.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.