Interview: Director of Futuro Beach Karim Aïnouz
Close-Up Film caught up with Karim Aïnouz, director of Futuro Beach (also known as ‘Praia do Futuro’), to find out about his initial motivation in making a male melodrama, its literary origins and the symbolism that runs throughout. The film follows the courage that some have to leave everything behind and start anew. However, the past always catches up with you.
Q. So I want to start with the film’s beginning which immediately throws the audience into the action. Of course it is the catalyst for the rest of the film’s plot, but it is also on first sight shocking. I just wanted to know what you were thinking of in opening in such a way?
A. In a nutshell, the older I get I am more interested in death, but death in the sense of how we can transform it. In the beginning of the film this was very important for me. This (Futuro Beach) is an arthouse film and I was worried that arthouse films are going to much towards a place of contemplation, so I was very interested in negotiating how action can be brought back into arthouse cinema. Also I was interested in how tragedy can trigger life. So the death of the man [Konrad’s unnamed friend] made the two men meet. So to begin the film in this way, it was important to engage with the central relationship and at the same time make it gripping and appeal to the senses of the audience. Although the drowning scene was technically very difficult to shoot, it tracks the tone of the film from the beginning and allows the film to go in a completely different direction.
Q. The drowning scene is vital to the entire film in the same way the film’s melancholic ending plays a huge role …
A. Yes, but it also allows [the audience] us to think about death and how it can bring life.
Q. And the ending?
A. Listen, it was very much an ad hoc decision and was not the actual end of the film in the script. The end was actually a man running to the sea that I did shoot, and the scene with the motorbikes was supposed to be between Donato’s character in the pool and another scene but looking at the material it reinforced the idea I have that I do not believe in film endings. It’s a strange thing for me because film is different to theatre, it’s something that you can make believe.
For myself, most of my films do end on a note that you can observe the characters and their lives, and when I saw the material we had shot for that scene in particular the running seemed a bit silly, you know, running cinematically is just not that interesting. But when I saw the motorbikes, and it was a total accident that we got that scene, when I was in the editing room I felt it was a beautiful scene because it was like these characters are going but I’m [and we] are staying. So, what I just shared with the viewer that part of their lives and I think there is an act of respect to just let them go, but it is also important to give some clues to the audience of things that could happen.
From the material that we did shoot, the characters disappearing into the midst was like the films opening as the man disappearing into water. I saw this [the ending] as an interesting counterpoint to the film’s opening, speaking poetically, that it would be good to set them free.
Of course, because the film is about life, and it is incredibly difficult to find an end point as things do not really end, and so to cut to black at the end would have seemed unrealistic…
I mean, yeah definitely. I just tried to give respect to the characters and end it in a fitting manner.
Q. Landscapes: There is a visual, almost tactile difference between the film’s two central locations. What was your idea behind creating a film of parallels in this way? (bright, vibrant reds, yellows and blues of the beach in Brazil versus Berlin which remains throughout quite grey and drab)
A. I wanted to have a movie that was also able to talk about sensation. I wanted to experiment with what it looks like to feel the heat and the cold in cinema as cinema is very much about the visuals and I though it would be interesting to see how the film could apply to other senses. How, if you put together different elements in a certain way it does give you a sensation, and it was important for me to create that contrast because it encompasses the trajectory of the main characters.
This is something that was very much wished for, and they way that I wanted to construct it was through the use of primary colours at the beginning of the film and in the whole Brazilian part, and the latter half remained quite grey, but there remains points of reference that represent the characters in their landscapes. This is something that I was very much trying to use to tell the story of how one character moves from one planet to another and how do you, or can you, describe that visually….
Q. Definitely, and it becomes very tactile. The differences are so distinct, almost like looking at an old Kodak image [in comparison to a digital image], which are two very different conceptions…
A. Ah, do you know what, when I began to make this film I was referencing this ongoing life project where I produce images using a small camera in order to produce a role of slides per week that can be viewed on a carousel slide projector. I then single out one photograph and by the end of the year I have 52 photos. I am really interested in photographic material and the film was thought of as being like a slideshow and every abrupt cut was looked at in a similar fashion. And of course the film is shot on Kodak 35mm film so that sensation is very precise and it is exactly the way I wanted it. The structure of the film was really looked at as a sequence of photographs, and in between photographs there is always a gap where there is something you do not always see.
Q. Talking about structure now, Futuro Beach has very clear chapters and follows the different paths travelled by the three men, also containing an epilogue named ‘From Aquaman to Speed racer’. So I was wondering what was the motivations between splitting the film in this way, because if was nice that you allowed the audience to see what each central character was doing….
A. Listen, I really wanted to make an experimental film, doing things I have always thought about experimenting with, and I was also interested in what it is to tell a story in 2015; what’s its significance and how has it changed? Adventure novels have always inspired me, for example Moby Dick, so for me and with this film literature was a great inspiration. Literature has the ability to work with individually named chapters and I wanted to make reference to that. However, it was more useful to reference it in terms of a way of organising the story as the film can be read as an epic ‘travel novel’ of sorts. I thought that the chapters would be important to the beat and pace of the film.
Q. I mean, I definitely agree. For example the chapter in the film where Donato’s brother Aryton is grown up and comes looking for him would have been very strange if you had just cut from Donato and Konrad in Berlin to this character who remains unknown to this point. In this way, I guess the chapters helped to show the audience how the plot advances and say ‘ok, now moving away slightly’ without confusing them…
A. Yes, this was very important to me and it was actually when I was editing the film that I began to seriously think what the chapters were and what are the names of these chapters.
Q. So how did you come up with the name of the chapters?
A. One of the names is actually a line of the film, another references a Brazilian artist who has alongside one of his works a beautiful line that reads ‘a hero cut in half’ and so the name of that chapter came a little bit from his work and his materials as an artist which I just really love. The others just come from poetry really, and so I thought it was important to not have titles that were descriptive, but that could actually bring you somewhere else.
Q. In terms of you characterization, were the characters designed specifically for the film or based on real people? I say this because they are all very different but still manage to work very well together as it is a film of equal parts. Each character has their own story to tell…
A. I think that the main character – if there is a main character – or the characters themselves represent a triptych. I mean generally I do not start from a synopsis but instead with an image that haunts me. With Futuro Beach I always had this image of this lifeguard on his post watching the ocean imagining what lies beyond the horizon. For this film therefore Donato really triggered the other characters, as he was the first character I really thought about. But I also really wanted to make a film that had a character that loved speed and velocity, and so it became interesting to look at male couples where they are heroes, but very human heroes. Whereas Konrad’s character seems to be always taking risks and Donato’s brother came as a consequence of the couple I imagine. Because I see the brother as almost like a son to Donato.
Q. Yes, definitely in the film the bond they share goes far beyond the normal brotherly relationship, as he very much looks after him in a fatherly way…
A. Yes, Aryton character is a consequence of Donato’s actions, as if Donato did have a son. I build the characters and then the story as the story is a way to deal with the characters.
Q. And the actors?
A. Every actor has a different way of conducting themselves due to their [personal] history. Moura’s (Donato) character is actually an old friend of mine and we have been trying to do something together for the last 10 years and there was never an appropriate role. He is now a super famous actor in Brazil, his last film being the biggest Brazilian box office hit ever [for his portrayal of Captain (later Colonel) Roberto Nascimento, protagonist of the highly successful 2007 film Elite Squad, soon after gaining global recognition globally playing “Spider” in the 2013 sci-fi Elysium], and since the moment we met I thought as a director it would be interesting to challenge him and shift his [public] perception. It was very much collaboration.
Jesuita Barbosa (Ayrton) on the other hand we did two years of casting to find him. I wanted to find somebody from the area and we eventually found him after 100 auditions or so. In this way it was a very traditional casting process. He has a certain energy that really struck a tone that we wanted for the film.
I was very interested in Clemens (Konrad). First of all there was something quite surprising about his gaze and the way that he looked at the camera. He was very difficult to cast because you could easily fall into the traditional white German Aryan archetype. But with Clemens you have someone who has done a lot of theatre so there is an author already there. Also he has lovely eyes and I always imagined Donato’s character getting lost in his eyes. But again in this case the casting remained very traditional also. I feel that it is useful to cast actors who have different histories and ways of acting.
Q. What was it like to have the luxury of working with a cast of three?
A. That an interesting question. We spent a lot of time together before the film started, not rehearsing, but actually in the script there were a lot of female characters…
A. Yes, in the script I had written and shot a lot of scenes with Donato’s and Ayrton’s would-be mother and also Clemens character that in the script had a wife and a child, so there were a number of secondary female characters. But when I started editing it didn’t make sense. It needed to be more focused on the three men which required the removal of these secondary characters. And it’s strange because now thinking back to the film I would never have imagined that there were any more characters than the three central characters….
Q. Did you always want there to be a focus on the relationship of the men, or did this just come to be in the editing process?
A. My previous films looked somewhat exclusively at women and so with Futuro Beach I wanted to talk about and look at a more male space. I was interested in making a film about male affection because you do not see enough of that in cinema. How do men relate to each other? How do they negotiate affection? How do they negotiate being at once macho and a coward? Brave and frail?
Q. I think your film definitely sheds a different light on male relationships, with many of the scenes being very touching…
A. I think film is a good place to experiment. I wanted to portray relationships with barriers, when the characters themselves cannot express themselves. So I wanted to explore affection without dialogue.
Q. For example, the train scene where the characters sit and do not speak. In this moment you as an audience member are able to feel it all …I wanted to ask about the recurring nightclub scene. What is that about?
A. That’s a good question. The nightclub scene represents a ritual of sorts and talks a lot about collective rituals. For me clubbing is about the collection of individuals that produces a transformative experience that I really enjoy. Berlin is a city and culture where clubbing is very present, and there is a certain amount of hedonism in going clubbing there and so, bear with me now, in the film the nightclub scenes represented this utopian space where you can drift into it and forget about the world.
Q. That’s exactly what I took from the scenes! Almost like a moment of reflection for the characters where they would go clubbing to forget….
A. Yes, almost like they go underwater [like in the beginning of the film], and it was important for me that the audience got a similar sensation. I actually shot some of the scene slightly in slow motion in order to maximize the emotional significance of these scenes. It was important to show the character drifting into another space. Also the music too, most often, is not the music that was played in the club, sometime it was, but for me it was the place where the characters were unconditionally free.
Q. The film, other than the nightclub scenes and some other scenes remains very quiet. Can you explain your decisions regarding soundtrack? I mean, I liked it in a sense that music was not being used to create an overly transformative poetic experience, and I feel it was a good conscious decision as you are talking about life which itself doesn’t contain a pitch perfect soundtrack. In this way Futuro Beach flows quite uninterrupted…
A. I felt it was interesting to make the film speak for itself. I am interested in the cinematic experience as a sensation, and I think mainstream cinema has done a lot to storytelling and how you convey stories. So for myself I want to deal with noise or silence as elements of storytelling. But more importantly it is about 1) language, 2) dialogue and narrative and the counterpoint in-between to create a cinematic space.
I was always researching how cinema can suggest or produce a sensation, and sound remains important if not central to it [selective sound].
Q. The film’s title makes specific reference to the actual beach in Brazil, with ‘Futuro’ translating to ‘Future’. Would you say this remains the main focus of the film?
A. The name of that neighborhood in Brazil we call Praia do Futuro and in Brazil we call beaches Futuro Beach, Venice Beach etc., and I grew up in that neighbourhood and so it is a place that I know and for a long time I have always dreamed about making a movie that takes place at that place at that time. So the title has always been like poetry for me, and I needed to make a movie where it was the title of the place, but also represented something else.
Q. I definitely think the title is very fitting for representing how Donato essential leaves his old life behind to start anew. It is not really a sense of abandoning what came before, but at the same time it is. It a strange thing you feel for his character…
A. Yeah, it was nice to have a title works on multiple levels. The title is very close to the overall tone I wanted for the film and Donato is essential a character who has to break with the past to be unchained in the future. I think that was something that always kept me loyal to the idea.
Q. At the same time Futuro Beach can be read as a film about cowardice as much as it is about bravery, where the two contrasts are ever-present. At one time you can accept and respect the decision he [Donato] made to move across the world to be with the man he loves, and at the same time you feel angry at him for what he left behind…
A. I really think it is strange thing to see a cowardly character in cinema, and it forever will be. It is something that I miss seeing. I feel that we all have a share of weakness in our lives and I don’t think his decision of quitting his family defendable, but I think sometimes we do, or have to do things like that, and we are not less human because of it. For myself, it was a very interesting way to navigate a character.
Q. In many ways you can’t help but love all the characters…
A. Yeah, it is difficult because it is equally as easy to not like him (Donato), to not forgive him, but I thought about this phrase that Americans sometimes say in regards to others people: ‘he/she is a really good person’ which I don’t believe to be true. I am interested in the contradiction as it is contradiction that makes you singular.
It really was a difficult decision to make in regards to his character. It was a deliberate decision.
Q. Made even more mystifying by the fact that the characters never really verbalize their feelings…
A. No, and this was also deliberate as I wanted to look at people who struggle to do so.
Q. And of course there are no villains…
A. Well of course that stems from the fact that I am very bad at writing them!
You can also read our Futuro Beach review
Interview by Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark