Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2017
Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Mon entretien avec Keyvan

Occasionally, filmmakers will send me their short films, and I invariably find each one to be interesting and accomplished in its own way. Recently, though, I got a chance to see one, called Vesper that blew me away with its style, self-assuredness and richness in themes. I was further blown away to learn that the Parisian filmmaker, Keyvan Sheikhalishahi, made it last year when he was only eighteen years old. I actually did a web search just to satisfy myself that I was not the victim of an internet hoax. (I wasn’t.) Keyvan has been gracious enough to answer a few of my questions (below).

Keyvan Sheikhalishahi If you want to learn more about Keyvan (in the photo at right) and Vesper, you can visit the film’s web site or its Facebook page. You can watch the trailer for Vesper on YouTube, and the full 23-minute film is available to stream for a fee on Keyvan’s own web site.

ScottsMovies: First, thank you so much for agreeing to subject yourself to my questions and, particularly, for agreeing to do so in English so that I do not have to embarrass myself. I was extremely impressed by your film Vesper for the following reason. I have seen quite a few films from new, young filmmakers, and they almost always have a “film school” quality, that is, one can discern the mechanical manufacture of the work. Vesper is like something from a different era that feels completely organic. I understand you are not a film school graduate and that you are a film blogger. Is it a crazy idea that maybe film blogs are this generation’s Cahiers du Cinéma which just might spawn the new Truffaut or Chabrol?
Keyvan Sheikhalishahi: Thank you very much, it’s always nice to have some good feedback on the film. I never actually take cinema classes, I am currently studying at Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris, which teach you theoretical lessons. I have been passionate about cinema and telling stories since my childhood. I made an amateur movie each summer with my family members as the actors since I was 12 years. The last one I made in 2014 was very appreciated by film professionals, festivals and even some celebrities, I received a lot of messages which encouraged me to carry on. I was satisfied because there was a very interesting atmosphere and story. Like you say, I had also a blog for several years, called Fenêtre sur écran—which refers to the French title of Rear Window, Fenêtre sur cour. I made a lot of film analysis and invented a new analysis method, using geometrical figures to better understand the screenplay’s issues and psychological relationship between the characters, but it was mostly a hobby…

Götz Otto and Agnès Godey in Vesper SM: Much of the pleasure of watching Vesper was from the way it could be seen and appreciated on so many different levels. Obviously, it is a psychological thriller, but it could also be interpreted as a ghost story. Another angle could be to see it as an allegory with the house as a person and the three characters as different personalities vying for supremacy. I find it interesting that you cast a French actor as Marge and a German actor as Walter (Götz Otto and Agnès Godey, seen in the photo at left). While I accept you probably simply chose the best actors for the roles (and ones of such experience and quality!) without regard to nationality, the casting does make it possible to read it also as a historical allegory. How much is any of this intentional and how much is only my over-active imagination?
KS: You’re right, I wanted to make a mix between a psychological thriller and a ghost story. But it was not intentional to make a historical allegory, but this reading sounds interesting, should we meditate on it?

SM: I really do not mean to come off as gushing fanboy, but it is amazing how strong you seem to be in all the facets of film-making: the writing, the visual imagery, and the all-too necessary business end. You are also quite a good actor. Do you see yourself working on projects as a virtual one-man-show for the foreseeable future or is there one particular area in which you will prefer to specialize over time?
KS: In the foreseeable future, I don’t see really myself acting in films, but of course you never know! I acted in Vesper to better understand the work of the actors in front of the camera. Now, I have this great desire to continue to tell stories making films. When I make a movie, I try to do anything to give the audience an experience, it does not mean necessary to make a weird or complex movie, but to create an audiovisual universe proper to every movie made. I would love to make more psychological thrillers because this structure allows the audience to have deep characters, social issues, some reflection, and at the same time, be entertained thanks to the suspense and be captivated by the atmosphere. It’s what I’d like to do.

SM: I am going to subject you to a couple of very self-indulgent questions if you do not mind. Here is the first one. Readers of my blog know that I have a longtime fascination with an American television serial of the late 1960s called Dark Shadows. It is mainly remembered for its storyline of a vampire who transitions from villain to hero, but the original story was about a woman (played by Joan Bennett) who secludes herself in her house for years for reasons relating to the mysterious disappearance of her husband. Were you familiar at all with this when conceiving your idea for Vesper? Wait, there’s more. In the 2012 Tim Burton movie adaptation of Dark Shadows, the witch Angelique is played by French actor Eva Green, who six years earlier in Casino Royale (and I see you have written of the James Bond films on your blog) played a character named Vesper! Is there something to all this or is my over-fevered brain getting the best of me?
KS: I didn’t know Dark Shadows serial when I wrote Vesper. But, indeed, the original story echoes what’s going on on Vesper. You know, you’re often inspired by film inspired themselves by other films or stories. This is the way you can find sometimes indirect connections between two or several films. It’s funny that the whole thing is related with Eva Green, I’m her biggest fan! I’m also a huge fan of James Bond and I discovered her in 2006 Casino Royale movie which was an incredible experience for me. Of course, you’re right, the title comes from the Latin meaning “night” and to Venus star in an astronomical way but it alludes also to Eva Green character. I mean, for me, it was a superb title!

Götz Otto on the Deauville boardwalk SM: Here is my other self-indulgent question. I was surprised and delighted when I realized that Vesper was filmed in Deauville, Normandy. (Götz Otto is seen on the Deauville boardwalk in the photo at right.) While I have never been there, I recognized it instantly because I researched it fairly extensively for a novel, now nearly complete, in which an American photographer falls in love with a French woman at the film festival there in 1980. (I will be sending you a copy—whether you want one or not!) Was there a particular reason you set the film in Deauville, whether for its various cinematic connections or perhaps personal reasons?
KS: I chose Deauville for several reasons. First, I love getaway and self-isolation themes, which are major in Vesper, and you know, Deauville is a seaside town spatially isolated between two hills. I had also this familial house on the hills which was perfect for the shooting. I wanted to have a marine atmosphere and make a scene with a deserted beach. The beach scene is actually very strong, even tragic for me, because there’s nobody on this 3 miles beach – while it’s usually too crowded in summer, with the festival event, the red carpet, the Planches which is an iconic promenade with famous beach cabins dedicated to Hollywood stars. In this scene, we’re only two people walking towards our blurred destinies. As it’s imagined by Marge, that shows she thinks the world is in the process of destroying, she feels very much out of place… And, of course, I want a copy of that novel!

-S.L., 24 July 2017

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