Phil on Film Index

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review - An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

I'll probably need to watch An Oversimplification of Her Beauty again before coming to any firm conclusions about how successful it is. My first viewing of Terence Nance's picture was frequently exhilarating and occasionally exhausting. The title hints at oversimplification, but the movie is anything but as Nance dives into the complicated nature of his own love life. At its heart, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is a rather straightforward story about a boy who is in love with a girl, but whose love isn't reciprocated in the same way. It's the adventurous and idiosyncratic approach he has taken with this story that makes if feel like something new, even if it's an approach that is just as likely to alienate viewers as it is to beguile them.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty has its roots in another film, How Would You Feel?, which Nance made in 2010. Both films focus on the filmmaker's relationship with Namik Minter, a friend and fellow aspiring artist whom Nance has been besotted with from as far back as 2006. How Would You Feel? details a moment when Nance had set a date, only for the object of his affections to pull out at the last moment. This prompts a bout of self-questioning from Nance, as he replays the incident, and the moments that led up to it, over and over in his head, gradually giving us more information and context.

When Nance switches between this movie and the new footage that An Oversimplification of Her Beauty consists of, he creates the effect of a VHS tape being paused and ejected, to be returned to later. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty continues to document the filmmaker's pursuit of Namik in a variety of ways. The most startling and memorable of these techniques is the incorporation of animation into the picture. Nance doesn't limit his romantic reveries to just Namik, and his thoughts drift to many women who have won his heart before slipping away. These encounters are re-imagined and shared by the director through hand-drawn and stop-motion animation sequences, with Nance mixing and matching from his grab-bag of stylistic tricks to create something that feels disarmingly imaginative and playful.

But is there too much of it? Nance reportedly had a three-hour cut of An Oversimplification of Her Beauty before taking the film to Sundance, where he listened to advice and pared down his vision to a more manageable ninety minutes. That ninety minutes feels so densely packed, however, it's almost bursting at the seams, and some aspects of it inevitably feel short-changed. In particular, despite Nance's offer to Namik to make her own film of their relationship and the Q&A sessions he shares with her, we are never clear on her own thoughts on the matter. Perhaps that's because she herself is unsure of her feelings, or perhaps it's appropriate for how opaque Namik seems to the lovestruck Nance, but I can't help feeling a more balanced approach to storytelling might have offered more incisive moments.

Nevertheless, there are incisive moments dotted throughout the picture, and it may divulge even more on repeat viewings. My favourite sequence – aside from the brilliantly judged, immediately seductive opening – involves Nance telling Namik about a passage in a book that reminds him of her, only for her to read it and fail to recognise any resemblance. The scene touches cleverly on the way people in a relationship see things from wildly different perspectives and misread signals, and it's the kind of scene that will surely resonate with anyone who has found themselves in such a situation. For those that haven't, there is still much here to enthral, stimulate and impress. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is the work of an artist trying to find new ways to express the purest and most complex of emotions.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Review - God Bless America

Most people who watch God Bless America will be able to empathise in some way with its central character. Frank (an excellent Joel Murray) is an ordinary guy whose tolerance for the rudeness, shamelessness and idiocy he sees around him every day has reached breaking point. Every TV channel he turns to appears to have people aggressively shouting at each other, or some useless contestant on a talent show being mercilessly mocked, and his pain is exacerbated by the wailing of his neighbours' baby, which causes him crippling migraines. Even if Frank turns off the television he finds there is no escape from the insidious cruelty and ignorance of modern society. As he drives to work each radio station continues the onslaught, and when he reaches the office, every conversation begins with, "Did you see what happened on TV last night...?"

Who among us can say they haven't shared the same frustrations as Frank? Who hasn't felt the same anger rising inside us as we watch hate-spewing commentators being given a platform for their views, seen the talentless and witless being elevated to instant celebrity status, and heard colleagues interminably discuss the most moronic television shows? God Bless America is a film about an everyman deciding to take violent retribution against the people he believes are in some way responsible for polluting society. For Frank, the breaking point (on top of losing his job and the discovery that he is terminally ill) is a TV show in which a 16 year-old girl is given a new car for her birthday, and then throws a tantrum because it was the wrong type of car. She becomes the first name on his hit list.

If the story of that car-based tantrum seems familiar, it's because it veers pretty closely to the truth. On the MTV show My Super Sweet Sixteen, a spoiled child really did burst into tears because her parents had unveiled her present of a brand-new car before her big party, thus "ruining" the girl's big day. God Bless America is not an over-the-top satire in the vein of Idiocracy, and everything we see in the film has a firm basis in truth. Fart noise ringtones, people enjoying their 15 minutes of fame after embarrassing themselves on TV, people behaving disgustingly on "reality" shows – the film doesn't need to exaggerate its content to drive the point home, it just needs to hold up a mirror to our society, and ourselves.

God Bless America is written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, who is building a body of work that explores taboo subjects in a comedic fashion. His last two pictures, Sleeping Dogs Lie and World's Greatest Dad, had real wit and insight underpinning their attention-grabbing premises. In some ways God Bless America is a natural extension of those pictures, but while it's his most ambitious undertaking yet it's also his least successful. The subject matter seems to have brought out the polemicist in Goldthwait, and on too many occasions the movie stalls when Frank starts delivering monologues about the ills of society. After a bracing opening half-hour, the director also struggles with the character of Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a teenager who decides to join Frank on his killing spree. Her character never feels real in the same way Frank does, and their relationship always feels like an unlikely contrivance, despite Barr's sparky performance.

Despite being a slightly more uneven and unsatisfying work than his previous films, I enjoyed God Bless America, and I think Bobcat Goldthwait is by some distance the most interesting comic filmmaker working in the United States right now. I wish his latest film had built upon its astonishing opening sequence rather than narrowing into predictability (the plot essentially has nowhere to go but the place you always know it's going to go), but the film is always engaging and occasionally very funny. It may have no impact beyond the (too small) number of viewers who habitually go to see Goldthwait's films, but if you've ever suppressed the desire to kill somebody for talking or texting in a darkened cinema, then maybe this is the movie for you.

Review - The Raid

There are holes to be found in The Raid, but on reflection those holes don't really seem to matter. The film is wafer-thin in its plotting, light in its characterisation and the whole aesthetic of the picture is cheap and ugly, but The Raid's attention is focused on other things and its success in those areas is so spectacular it renders all other concerns moot. Gareth Evans' film is built on action and its plot is basically an excuse for Iko Uwais to run from one room to another, beating people up in a variety of brutal and occasionally inventive ways. The structure of the picture is akin to that of a computer game – the protagonist starts at the bottom of a tower block and must climb each level to face the boss on the top floor.

That boss is Tama, a crime lord running his drug operation from the top of this Jakarta tower. He's the target of a police raid led by the 20-odd elite squad members tooling up outside. The one figure we focus on is Rama, played by Uwais, a diminutive figure whom we first meet kneeling on a prayer mat and kissing his pregnant wife goodbye. Evans doesn't waste much time on developing the key players in this drama, and in the shorthand of The Raid these two brief glimpses of Rama's home life are enough to establish his good-guy credentials. The Raid is a film drawn in simple, broad strokes. There's a hero and a villain, then there's a corrupt cop and the villain's seemingly indestructible right-hand man. These characters are archetypes, and the plot follows familiar lines too – the raid is a disaster, leaving the men ambushed and hopelessly outnumbered, and we follow the rookie Rama as he tries to survive in the most hostile environment imaginable.

The simplicity of The Raid's approach is all to a purpose; Evans won't let anything slow down the film's momentum, or distract from the fight sequences which are its raison d'être. This is the director's third feature but it's the first to win widespread international recognition, and it is clearly a calling card for both Evans and his star. The action in the film comes in a variety of guises, from frantic gunfire to brutal hand-to-hand combat, and Evans handles every violent encounter with a masterful control of timing and space. He makes the action fluid, visceral and authentic, and he is aided by the extraordinary athleticism and brooding presence of his star, who also played his part in choreographing the violence.

Of course, the risk with any film constructed entirely around fight sequences is that a sense of monotony will eventually sink in – surely one shot of a man getting beaten to a pulp is no different to another? – but The Raid admirably avoids that pitfall. There's enough variety in the specifics of each encounter to make every battle feel fresh, and Evans utilises his single location effectively. Pitched battles between machete-wielding men take place in narrow corridors, while a group of cops find an inventive way to use a fridge as they escape through the floor of one apartment into another. Evans also shows his ability to develop a slow-burning tension with one scene in which Rama and an injured comrade hide in a tight space and come within the width of a blade of being discovered.

If there is a disappointing sense of monotony in The Raid it lies in the film's visual style. The whole picture is drab and grey in a manner that feels oppressive after an hour has elapsed. It could also use an occasional variation in tone; one of Evans' touchstones is clearly Die Hard, but that had equal parts humour and humanity mixed in with its action. The Raid is utterly single-minded in its approach, which is both its strength and its weakness, but it should strike a chord with movie fans who haven't seen an action movie this exciting and invigorating for many years. But while Evans and Uwais may look destined for bigger and better things, I hope people don't forget Yayan Ruhian, who plays chief henchman Mad Dog. Stringy and wild-eyed, Mad Dog is a memorable figure, a character who lays down his arms because he believes a real man fights with his hands, and he is at the centre of the film's two most gripping encounters. Uwais may be the star of The Raid, but Yayan Ruhian is its secret weapon.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Sundance London Festival 2012

Last week, Robert Redford's Sundance festival came to London for the first time, with four days at the O2 Arena offering up numerous films, musical events and masterclasses. I caught a few of the new features that were on show at the festival, and here's my take on four of them.

The Queen of Versailles

One of the skills a documentary filmmaker must possess is the ability to adapt when twists of fate dramatically alter the subject of the film they have set out to make. When Lauren Greenfield began filming David and Jackie Siegel, they were one of the wealthiest families in America and were in the process of building their dream home, a 90,000-square foot mansion in Florida modelled on the opulent Palace of Versailles. Within a couple of years, however, the financial crisis had caused significant damage to David's timeshare empire. The Queen of Versailles intimately captures the Siegel family as they readjust to the new realities of their situation – or fail to readjust in some cases. Jackie treats herself to caviar and facial treatments while her husband rages about money being haemorrhaged, and one telling shot shows the Siegels' nanny shaking her head as she sets down the kids' new bike next to an enormous pile of barely-touched bicycles.

For a while, it looks like The Queen of Versailles is setting the Siegels – and particularly Jackie – up to be mocked. She's a 42 year-old ex-beauty queen with enormous fake breasts, married to a man three decades her senior, who thinks nothing of taking a stretch limo to the McDonald's drive-thru. The couple's plans for their Versailles-inspired mansion are a monument to obscene wealth and tacky taste, and the pair give their interviews to Greenfield's camera while sitting on a golden throne. It may seem as if the film is aiming to let the Siegels hang themselves on camera, but Greenfield is fairer than that, and while many viewers will undoubtedly enjoy the sense of schadenfreude that comes with the fall of rich people, she never lets us forget that the Siegels are, at heart, decent people. They're generous and good-humoured, and perhaps their only fault is the naïveté with which they indulged in the pursuit of their American dream while failing to spot the storm clouds on the horizon. The Queen of Versailles allows us to empathise with them as one home begins to fall apart (dog turds litter the carpet as the cleaning staff is let go) while their fantasy mansion sits half-finished and David fights to keep hold of everything he has worked for. That fight is still ongoing as the credits roll, and Greenfield drifts rather uncertainly towards the ending as we sense there's more of this story to yet be told, but in her skilled and balanced hands, the Siegels' story becomes a fascinating, oddly affecting and cautionary tale.

Safety Not Guaranteed

Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. You must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

That's the classified ad that ran in newspapers in 2005, and it's the inspiration for Colin Trevorrow's moderately charming but exasperatingly underdeveloped directorial debut. It begins in the offices of a Seattle magazine, where this ad is raised as the seed for a potential story. Cocky reporter Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) sets out to investigate with interns Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni) in tow, but he's really intent on rekindling an old flame, leaving Darius to do most of the work. This is good news for the movie, because Plaza is an actress who rarely gets a chance to shine in a lead role and seizes this opportunity. Her dry, sarcastic delivery is tempered by the surprising amount of emotional texture she brings to the film as Darius grows increasingly conflicted in her relationship with would-be time traveller Kenneth (Mark Duplass).

There's not really enough going on in the central narrative of this story to sustain a movie – even one that runs for a brisk 84 minutes. Trevorrow tries to pad his movie out with a subplot involving Jeff's burgeoning romance with his high school sweetheart (Jenica Bergere) but these scenes feel rushed and half-assed, and are transparent in the way they exists solely to give their character something to do and to try and provide some shading for his personality, an attempt that fails. Similarly, the awkward and virginal Arnau is very much a third wheel and Jeff's attempt to help him get laid is shoehorned into the film clumsily and subsequently forgotten about. Safety Not Guaranteed is all loose ends, and while some might think this gives the picture a shaggy charm, it just felt underdeveloped to me, when a rewrite and firmer directorial hand could have fully exploited the genuinely good ideas it has in its locker. Duplass and Plaza are an endearing pair who are largely responsible for Safety Not Guaranteed being as engaging as it is, but the film is a litany of missed opportunities, with rushed and botched ending being a particular disappointment.

For Ellen

Before it stumbles with an ending that feels forced and obvious in its stab at resonant ambiguity, So Yong Kim's For Ellen is an absorbing and quite moving character study. Paul Dano impresses in a role that forces him to carry much of the movie singlehanded, playing a rock star who is in the midst of a messy divorce. His lawyer (a dialled-down Jon Heder) has negotiated a settlement for Dano's Joby Taylor, but the deal stipulates that he will have no visitation rights with his young daughter, a revelation that forces him to consider if this is what he really wants. Joby and his wife (who never really registers as a character) had their daughter when they were very young and probably before they were ready for such a responsibility, but the film gives him one last chance to connect and play the role of father before she leaves his life forever.

There's plenty of scope for sentimentality in this setup but Kim mostly avoids it. Her film is low-key and observational, allowing for long stretches in which little happens but Dano's committed performance holds our attention. His awkward relationship with Heder's well-meaning but ineffective lawyer are amusing, but the film's finest moments occur when Dano is finally allowed a two-hour visit with Ellen (Shaylena Mandigo). Opinion was divided after the screening over Mandingo's performance – some found her charming and convincing, while others found her false and cloying – but I liked her and I liked the rapport she developed with Dano. The hesitancy and slowly emerging affection in their short scenes together felt real and moved me without feeling too heavy-handed. Sadly, Kim doesn't real know where to take her story once the focus has shifted away from their relationship, and the ending (which features a rather purposeless cameo from Jena Malone) is a glib disappointment.

Nobody Walks

There's a lot to like in Nobody Walks. The performances, from a collection of indie-movie regulars, are uniformly excellent, the film is beautifully shot, and there are some notable instances of sound being intelligently used – but there's really nothing here you haven't seen before, and Ry Russo-Young's film fails to freshen up its familiar material. Set in LA, the film charts the effect that attractive young artist Martine (Olivia Thirlby) has on the family she goes to stay with while working on her installation. Sound designer Peter (John Krasinski) has agreed to help mix her soundtrack, but he's instantly smitten, as is any man who apparently lays eyes on her. Peter's wife Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt) is all too aware of the spell Martine is casting over her husband, but she has temptations of her own to deal with, as one of the psychiatrist's patients (Justin Kirk) has become very open about his amorous intentions towards her.

It's hard to really pick holes in Russo-Young's film as there's nothing inherently wrong with it and it probably succeeds on the terms the director has set for herself. But it's also a hard film to get excited about or particularly involved in, and I think much of that has to with the director's storytelling choices. She opts for a simmering, detached tone that feels as if it's only skimming the surface of the turbulent emotional territory that she and co-writer Lena Dunham have opted to explore. Some aspects of the movie are particularly short-changed by this tentative approach, such as the strand of the narrative that touches on the uncomfortable relationship between Peter and Julie's daughter Kolt (India Ennenga) and her Italian tutor, which should either have had more time allotted to it or been dropped completely. By the end of the picture, the waters that this family swim in appear mostly untroubled, which the filmmaker may cite as a subtle move but which I'm taking as a lack of conviction. By the way, the central narrative of Nobody Walks – of a dangerous innocent disrupting a family with their sexual power – brought to mind Pasolini's Theorem, but without any sense of danger, mystery or intellectual rigour. Nobody Walks fails simply because it so consistently plays it safe.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

"It's like you are only alive on set, which is a good thing and terrible too" - An interview with Mia Hansen-Løve

Mia Hansen-Løve began her film career as an actress, when she was plucked from obscurity by director Olivier Assayas (whom she later married) to act in his films Late August, Early September and Les destinées sentimentales, and she subsequently wrote for Cahiers du Cinéma, but she only really found her voice when she stepped behind the camera herself. After making her directorial debut in 2007 with All is Forgiven, Hansen-Løve confirmed her potential with the devastating drama The Father of My Children in 2009, which was loosely based on the life of French film producer Humbert Balsan. Her third picture Goodbye First Love similarly has its roots in real life, but this study of young love lost is the director's most nakedly personal film yet. I met Mia Hansen-Løve in London recently to talk about it.

There seems to be a consistent theme in your films to date of people trying to move on from events that have affected them in the past. Is that a coincidence or is it a theme you consciously wanted to explore in each picture?

It's not a coincidence at all, I think. When I wrote the first one I had no idea what the second one would be, and when I wrote the second one I had the idea for the third one but I wasn't sure if I would ever write it. I felt unable to write it. It's only afterwards, having made these three films, that I realise it's like only one film that I made in three parts. I'm not saying they're the same story, because they're totally independent films, but the energy and inspiration comes from the same source. With this film, I didn't feel like I was exploring the same themes again in a different way, it was more like...OK, this may be a stupid and funny comparison, but it's like Star Wars. [laughs] They make three films and then afterwards they make the first one.

The prequel.

The prequel, that's it. In a way, Goodbye First Love is the prequel to my other films, but I could never have made it as my first film. It was there but I wasn't aware of it. When I was looking for money for The Father of My Children, I hated waiting so much I started working on Goodbye First Love, but it was very painful at this time and I couldn't imagine telling the story from the girl's point of view. I was telling the story from the boy's point of view, but that was impossible. I could not project myself into him in South America and it was just impossible, so I left it. After I made The Father of My Children I went back and looked at this, and then I just threw everything in the garbage. [laughs] I started all over again and I had to face the fact that if I wanted to tell this story I would have to be with the girl from the beginning to end of the story. It was the most difficult film to write, actually. I mean, The Father of My Children was not an easy film to write in terms of the maturity that you need, or because it's the complex world of a producer and a world I didn't know that well. Maybe The Father of My Children was more difficult to write technically, but in terms of how you feel about the material, it was much easier to write than this one.

Was one of the challenges to find the right balance as you show the progression of time over so many years and to decide when to revisit these characters at certain points in their lives?

Yes, but it was very intuitive. The passing of time is something that was at the heart of my inspiration since the first script that I wrote and it felt like something very natural to me. In a way, I think it's more natural for me to tell a story that stretches over many years than to tell a story over a very short time. You know, after every film I have thought, "Oh, it would be so nice to make a film that happens over a weekend and to stop with this passing of time thing," but I can't avoid it with every film. It's just my way of expressing myself. It's not like I thought of it as a challenge of something, I just don't know how to tell a story in a different way. There are films I love that only take place in one day or one week, and I feel jealous because I can't do it! [laughs] The only way I know how to express the feelings I want to express through my films is by showing different moments in a life and the way the past resonates into the present, to show the connection of this moment. Maybe it's because I want the viewer to experience the same things as the character.

The way you handle time also feels very natural and fluid. There are no title cards saying "Two years later" and instead it's suggested in subtle ways so we gradually sense where we are in the story.

I guess it's because that's how I feel about the passing of time in my life. It's impossible to catch the moment when you move from one stage to another, it happens so progressively, it's so fluid all the time, it's like water. I think the film is really about that.

Was it difficult for the actors to portray these characters over such a long period of time?

Yes, I think so. I think they must have been kind of anxious about that. We didn't talk so much about that but I tried to make them not worry about it at all. I don't like it when the actors start to worry about things. All filmmakers have their own method, but the only way I can get things from the actors is through the trust and confidence I have with them. Everything I have got from the actors in my films has to do with the fact that I tried not to make them worry about their performance, and I always gave them the feeling that there would be no problem. Some filmmakers achieve great things through conflict and brutality, but I can't work like that. I try to make them forget that it's a big deal and to always be present in the scene; I never film the past as past, I always film it as present. When I'm here talking to you, I am in this moment, I am not thinking about the past.

That's one of the things that's notable about your films, the natural quality in the performances. It's like they're not acting at all, you've just caught their natural behaviour on camera.

I think it has to do with the fact that I make a lot of takes, and the reason I do this is not just to torture the actors [laughs], but because at one point they let it go. When actors get tired or bored you can find some great things because they forget being actors and you can get something deeper from them. It doesn't always work but it's worth trying, and most of the time I find that I use either the first take or the last one.

Did your own experience as an actor determine the way you direct actors now?

Well, when I said that the one thing I believe an actor needs is trust, I think that came from my experience of Late August, Early September. I wasn't an actress, I was just in high school on a theatre course when it came to me. I wasn't involved in cinema at all and I wasn't self-assured, I mean, it's not like I always wanted to become an actress.

Did you enjoy it?

I loved it. I loved it so much, but I loved it because he trusted me and his trust gave me incredible self-confidence. I never found that again as an actress, it was just in these two films with Olivier, but I think the relationship I have with actors has to do with the gratitude I have for this experience of Late August, Early September.

So you had no ambitions to be an actress, but had you thought about being a filmmaker before you met Olivier?

I met him when I was 17 and started to think about becoming a filmmaker when I was 21. From 17 to 20/21 it was really about writing and studying, but I felt I had lost this great experience that I had on set and I had no other great experience like it. I wanted to find this sense of freedom, self-confidence, creativity and artistic fulfilment that I had seen in him, it was so desirable to me. It took me some years to imagine becoming a filmmaker myself, because it wasn't something obvious to me. I am always amazed when I see so many filmmakers who say they always wanted to become a filmmaker, like since the age of 12, but for me it was so far away. As a child, an adolescent or a young adult, it wasn't something I imagined.

Were you a cinephile growing up?

I became one, but after Late August, Early September. The first connection I had with film was this physical experience on set, which had an incredible intensity of feeling that has never left me. It's like you are only alive on set, which is a good thing and terrible too. That was why I made The Father of My Children, because I felt so connected with the producer and he thought that films were life. It's great, because when you are in the process of making the film you live with such intensity, but when the shooting is over and you go back to your life it's kind of tough.

Is that why you make films so quickly? You directed your three films in five years.

I think it gives me a lot of energy and determination to make another film, but I think it will become a problem. I would like to write all of my own films but I'm not sure I can continue to write my own films every two years.

What about your use of architecture in the film? Does the way the character finds herself through architecture act as a metaphor for how you discovered yourself through filmmaking?

Yes, you can say it's a metaphor for cinema and make a parallel for many reasons. I could have made her become a filmmaker, but I had just made The Father of My Children, and the one thing that was exciting about that was that it was films from the production perspective and not the filmmaking perspective. It was totally new territory and the great thing about making films is that, even if I write an autobiographical film, it allows me to explore the world and learn new things. Some of my friends are architects and we have a lot of discussions that I find fascinating, and this was a way to learn more and explore more, and to educate myself.

I guess another big area of interest for you is music, because you always have interesting soundtracks and your musical choices are often very unusual given the context of the scene.

The title of my next film is Lost in Music! [laughs] It's not about me, it's about my brother who is a DJ. But yes, music plays an important role in my life, it's very present, as I guess it is for everybody. From the start of my career I was aware that I would not work with composers, mainly because the relationship I have with music is so intimate, the idea of having someone just make the perfect music for the film is totally depressing to me. I'd prefer to have music that was not meant for the film. It's hard to explain, but I find it so much more interesting to have music that doesn't fit, it's like opening doors instead of having a film that's closed on itself. Of course there are great composers and there is music for films that I love, but I feel that music made for the film just underlines and comments on the image. When you use pre-existing songs, the writers of those songs never thought about my film, my characters, my story and they were thinking of another story, but music is universal so you can use it to make a new connection. One of the important things about the way I use music, and I think one of the reasons why the music is sometimes striking in my films, is because you have a lot of silence in the film. In many films today half of the film is music, but in my films you might have 45 minutes without a single use of music, so when the music is there it is more powerful, I think. The last thing – I'm sorry, I speak a lot...

It's OK, keep talking.

It's because I know you are my last interview of the day and I want to say everything! The last thing that's very important to me about the use of music is that it should come from inside the scene. In most of the scenes in my films, the music that you hear is also heard by the character in the scene, it's very important to me. It comes from inside the screen and sometimes I let the music continue in the next scene a little bit, as if it was resonating in the character's head. To me, I am kind of allergic to the idea that something comes from the outside and you don't experience the same thing as the characters. I want the music to be part of the world of my characters and not something disconnected.

I read a quote from you that said, "The more style fades and disappears, the more it is erased, the more it creates a style of its own." It seems to be important to you that you remove any visible sense of direction from your films.

Yes, that was a choice from the start. Maybe at one point it will change, because I guess everybody changes, but at the moment I'm at the same point. I don't want to impress people with my style, and even if I wanted to I don't know if I could. Form is extremely important to me, questions of how to film, the rhythm, the colours, it's there all the time, but I'm not looking for easy solutions or flashy solutions. I think sometimes for young filmmakers it's easy to make a radical choice but it's also a way to avoid asking yourself questions, although I enjoy a lot of those films. When I started I asked myself if I should make choices like only using a handheld camera, or make every scene only one long take – but why should I do that, just to impress people? To make it easier for them to write about it? I don't think I make the kind of films that make people go "Wow" but my obsession is to have people totally forget about the style and just have a feeling of reality. It's a style itself, this appearance of lack of style.

One of the actors you've used in your last two films is Magne-Håvard Brekke and he's somebody who doesn't make many movies. Can you tell me about working with him?

I enjoy so much working with him and I think it's because he's like a child, because he hasn't been in many films. Actually, I don't think he's very proud of this, but I think he was a child actor when he was five or something. He told me that once. After that, his career has been in theatre in Germany, he has been a great actor in the theatre, but he has never been in front of the camera and he has such an incredible innocence, like only children have. To me that's very precious, the fact that he's not aware of his presence or charm, it's not something he plays, he's just like that. There are a lot of great actors who I like a lot, but I really appreciate this kind of innocence, especially when it comes from an adult because it's so unusual. I'll give you an example that's typical of Magne. There was a scene where he had to come into a room, and Lola was in the entrance so he smiles at her, and I did so many takes but couldn't get the smile. I said, "Magne, is this really so difficult for you, what's the problem?" and he told me that he was doing his most beautiful smile to Lola and couldn't understand what he was doing wrong. Finally, I realised that he was doing it but at a place where there was no camera. He had no idea where the camera was! [laughs] That innocence is really connected to what I like about him as an actor.

You spent some time writing about films for Cahiers du Cinéma. What was that experience like? It's kind of a French tradition going back to the Nouvelle Vague for filmmakers to start as critics.

Yes, but not really any more, it's more unusual today. When I started writing for them it was because I wanted to become a filmmaker. I had done my first short film already but I didn't want to go to any film schools, because the pleasure of film for me was escaping school. The idea of doing an exam was impossible to think of. I didn't know anything about technique and the filmmakers who I admired the most all started by writing about films, and I think it's the best way to learn, actually. It's so important to be able to write correctly, it sounds basic but it's true, and it helped me a lot when I was writing my scripts later. It teaches you to be able to put your feelings into words, to understand and explain why you liked a film, to say why it's true for you, and it makes you defend yourself, it's so great. It's one of the best exercises I can imagine to prepare you to make films. Also, I was read by my editors and they sent it back with red marks and corrections, they were very tough on me, and I integrated this toughness in myself and I think it made me a maniac looking at my own scripts. The one aspect I didn't like about Cahiers was being the only woman in the middle of this big group of young men. That was not something I enjoyed. [laughs]

One woman you have worked with on your three films to date is your editor Marion Monnier. Can you tell me how that relationship works and how you work together to construct the film?

She is my alter-ego. She's the only person I have worked with on my three feature films and she's the person I feel closest to in terms of artistic complicity. She's exactly my age, we have the same tastes, we are very close. I'm there from the first hour to the end with her, and we always talk a lot during the process of shooting too. I enjoy it because of this relationship and because editing is very addictive. I prefer the shooting, this is the most beautiful moment, but because I make so many takes we have a huge amount of material to work with. It's not like we have only one or two takes and we have to find the best solution, it's really like a re-writing and it's fascinating to work on that. Actually, I'm very sad when the editing is over, and I try to make it longer, "Oh, let's try it another way." [laughs] It's also about the movement and rapidity. I love to work on the concision and fluidity, and one idea we share is that we don't like to let the scene start and finish. It's not like a gimmick, but just a feeling of starting the scene a few images or a second after you might expect, we work very hard on that. It's hard to explain in English.

I guess it gives a sense of scenes and these characters' lives continuing beyond what we see in the movie.

Yes, it's a great thing to work on. It's not about the speed but the fluidity of movement as you go from one scene to another, it's such an exciting thing and I enjoy it so much. Marion and I can spend hours looking at just a few images and thinking, "At the end of this scene she puts her bottle of water here, so how can we go to the next scene in the most fluid way?" There are really two types of filmmakers. There are filmmakers like me who are really addicted to editing their films, and there are other ones who just look at it from time to time, even really great filmmakers. I cannot understand that.

Especially when it's material that's so personal to you, it must be hard to hand that over to someone else.

To me it's totally absurd. The whole point of shooting this material is to be able to make these decisions later. It's like if you had a field and put out all of the seeds and then let someone else take the food. It's not a matter of trust, it's just about continuing your presence in your work, and it's a mystery to me why all filmmakers don't do that.

You mentioned Lost in Music as your next film. What stage is that project at right now? Can we expect you to continue your rhythm of a film every two years?

No, and I'm so depressed because for the first time I've missed that.

Oh no, you've let us down.

I've let myself down, it's terrible. But it's a film in two parts so in three years I will have two films, and maybe that will be OK.

It sounds like an epic.

Yes, this is my Carlos. [laughs] It's in two parts and it stretches over twenty years. It starts in 1992 with the first raves in France, and it ends today. It's the life of a DJ. I edited the script in November and I am hoping to shoot in February 2013, but it's hard for me to wait.

It sounds like you're getting more ambitious with every film.

I have to stop at some point! [laughs] After Goodbye First Love I again thought that it would be nice to do a simple film and instead I did the worst thing I could ever do. I wrote a very expensive film, no famous actors, only young people, and it's about music so the rights for the music will cost like €500,000. I'm lucky that my producer is very courageous. After this one I promise I will make a simple film with a big star! [laughs]

Review - Goodbye First Love (Un amour de jeunesse)

If you didn't know that Mia Hansen-Løve had drawn from her own past for her new film Goodbye First Love, you could probably guess. The film has the sting of the deeply personal, of experiences that have been felt rather than observed, and the effect of watching the movie is akin to leafing through the diary of a melancholy teenager, absorbed in their own romantic woes. Tales of teenage infatuation in cinema may be very familiar to us, but this sincerity of emotion elevates Goodbye First Love beyond its potentially mundane subject matter. We sense that Hansen-Løve knows what it feels like like to carry the weight of one's first love in your heart long after that lover has left your life, and she has the sensitivity and intelligence required to remind an audience of what that feels like too.

When Goodbye First Love introduces us to Camille (Lola Créton) and Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) they are 15 year-olds in the midst of an intense relationship. Their dialogue is littered with absolutes and ultimatums: "If you cut your hair I'll leave you," Sullivan tells Camille, before she retorts with "If you leave me I'll kill myself." But while both attest to the depths of their devotion to one another, the restless Sullivan also harbours a desire to explore the world, and he embarks upon a trip that leaves Camille inconsolable. She mopes around the house, eagerly awaiting his letters and marking his progress with pins on a map. Eventually, the letters grow more infrequent, and the map is taken down.

The passion that burns briefly but powerfully between Camille and Sullivan is just the starting point for Hansen-Løve's film, as she traces the fallout from this breakup and the way it resonates in Camille's life over the subsequent years. Goodbye First Love covers almost a decade in its young protagonist's life, allowing us to watch Camille as she grows from the callow youth we met in the film's early stages to a more mature and confident young woman, but those changes are not clearly marked by the director. The film slips from one year to the next without highlighting the passage of time, and the development of Camille's character happens in incremental – almost imperceptible – stages, all of which are expressed through Créton's luminous central performance. Camille is a potentially maddening character – indecisive, morose, selfish – but it feels as if Hansen-Løve and Créton are giving us an honest portrait of a character who is a slave to her emotions and romantic ideals.

Hansen-Løve's handling of this tale is fitting for a picture that's largely about lovesick adolescents. The pace is languid and dreamy, in a fashion that will beguile some but may test the patience of others. The director even alludes to this potential schism herself with a scene in which Sullivan and Camille walk out of a movie that she admired but he did not – "The actors are annoying. It's so talky, so complacent, so French!" he complains. Surely few will quibble with Hansen-Løve's skill as a filmmaker, though; even if her direction is so discreet it's sometimes hard to discern her hand guiding the drama. She has a gift for capturing moments that feel naturalistic and fresh, as if she has simply happened upon a scene and recorded it on a whim. She gives individual moments a fresh slant with her imaginative and unexpected musical selections, and her direction is so skilled in so many ways, the occasional clumsy or obvious touch – such as a too-literal final image – sticks our rather glaringly.

There is one other key sequence in the film that seems to be making a comment upon itself. Halfway through the story, Camille begins studying architecture and starts a relationship with her tutor, a man two decades her senior, in a narrative strand that clearly mirrors her real-life romance with Olivier Assayas, the director who was her mentor and later became her husband. As part of one of his lectures to his students, Lorenz (Magne-Håvard Brekke) talks to them about "glimmer," the light that can transform an everyday object into something special and memorable, and that seems to me to be the best way to describe Mia Hansen-Løve's filmmaking. She has a lightness of touch and a feel for truth that sheds a particular light on the complex emotions of our lives, and such a gift is surely an indication of a natural-born filmmaker at work.