"Cinema is a record of the human experience and it's important for a serious-minded project to reflect the responsibility of that task of record-making"
- FLMTQ Interview
Brady Corbet is an American actor and filmmaker who can claim one of the most promising careers in contemporary art house cinema. At just 27 years old, he has worked with auteurs Michael Haneke, Lars von Trier, Olivier Assayas, Mia Hansen-Løve, Ruben Östlund and Noah Baumbach and maintains close ties to New York independent filmmaking collective Borderline Films (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Simon Killer).
Corbet is moreover a formidable filmmaker in his own right. He has collaborated frequently as a writer and editor, notably on The Two Gates of Sleep, Simon Killer and The Sleepwalker. His 2008 short film Protect You + Me, playing this week on Le Cinéma Club, won an Honorable Mention at Sundance. His debut feature, The Childhood of a Leader, took home the Best First Film and Best Director prizes in the Orizzonti section of last year's Venice Film Festival and is now playing at IFC.
Filmatique conducted an exclusive interview with Brady Corbet to discuss nascent trends among his two endeavors as a filmmaker: shooting on 35mm, the use of sound as an immersive force, and anger— and how it can quickly escalate to violence— as a theme in his work.
FILMATIQUE: Most audiences know you as an actor who has primarily appeared in art house films. Have you always had ambitions to direct? What has been the progression to The Childhood of a Leader, your debut feature?
BRADY CORBET: Yes. Outside of acting for other people's films, I have been working in various capacities for the last 13 years as a writer, ghostwriter, editor and directing short form content. I was very passionate about the medium since I was quite young and was always searching for new ways to contribute. I started writing Childhood a decade ago but after the project was rejected from the Cannes Residence or around that time, I decided to put it down for fear that it was too ambitious. Mona Fastvold, my partner, with whom I was writing another project at the time convinced me to pick it back up and we finished developing and writing the script together. She and I have a very similar sensibility (we are now partners in life, as well) and I don't think the movie would have ever seen the light of day without her perseverance and fresh approach.
FLMTQ: There is an auspicious lack of commercial films in your acting credits. Do you consider this a matter of coincidence, artistic integrity, or both?
BC: I'm not too interested in making movies that are made by committee. The more money you spend on a project, the less control the filmmaker has on the final outcome. That's the only reason I tend to work on less corporate projects.
FLMTQ: At Rotterdam, you explained that acting for the stage is the purest form of performance, and film— insofar as time and rhythm are deconstructed via discrete shots— the director's medium. Regarding the use of long takes in both your films: do you consider this a matter of expediency for actors, a means to preserve their space without exposing the hand of the director? Or a deliberate formalism? Or both?
BC: It's not that I have much of a philosophy about long sequence takes. I do have a philosophy, however, about editorial. I only make an edit for new information that could not, otherwise, be represented without a hard cut. I want each cut— each new image— to take my breath away. If you abuse your options in an edit, you often take away from the uniquely cinematic impact of re-sculpting our time.
FLMTQ: Can you discuss the aesthetic motivations behind shooting Protect You + Me and The Childhood of a Leader on 35mm?
BC: I'm dumbfounded that a filmmaker still has to defend their choice to shoot on film. I feel like Frances Farmer. I could rant about it for hours but the simples reason we shot on film was because it looks much better. The viewer's mind may not know, but the heart knows. I'm certain that in hindsight we will regard this moment in time of image-making and be shocked at how weak and dated most images look from this period. Celluloid will prevail but it has come too close to slipping away from us on more than one occasion.
FLMTQ: From the screech of steaming milk in Protect You + Me to Scott to Scott Walker's orchestral score in The Childhood of a Leader, sound is often used as a cue into the inner state of characters, a signifier of their alienation. Can you touch on the way you believe sound can communicate something unconscious to the audience?
BC: Sound is music and silence is music. In Protect You + Me, I remember trying to get the dialogue right on top of the mix for a feeling of no or very little ambient room tone so that the space would feel totally internalized. An echo of an occasion. Not the occasion itself. A parallel universe.
I try to use sound to compensate for everything I can't shoot. I can't shoot a feeling as well as I can create a mood / feeling through the sound mix.
FLMTQ: In the past, you have expressed a kinship with Haneke's ouevre. The topic of anger— how we contain it and how it can quickly escalate to violence— appears likewise to be a theme in your work. Are you more interested in the ramifications of anger, or its origins?
BC: Haneke has found and developed a link between film theory and sociology. Cinema is a record of the human experience and it's important for a serious-minded project to reflect the responsibility of that task of record-making. Violence is the biggest problem we face as a species so our work must constantly reflect that problem. Michael Haneke is a good friend this way and I guess those ideas have shaped my own interests.
FLMTQ: Who have been your other influences?
BC: My biggest points of reference for this project were Anselm Kiefer, Carl Dreyer, Hammershoi, ermanno olmi, Robert Bresson. And always Tarkovsky because there was no one more singular, spiritual, visionary.