Halfway through the successful series of short films for his anthology "Morning Interim", I caught up with film maker João Paulo Simões to talk about the latest episodes and also take stock of the series so far. As ever, he was forthcoming in answering my questions for another exclusive interview.
A halfway interview with João Paulo Simões
To what extent has the Polish-French auteur Walerian Borowczyk's 'The Beast' influenced 'Morning Interim' series?
I consider Borowczyk's La Bête a crucial influence that goes beyond the surface or aesthetics. Like Morning Interim, which evolved from unfinished material shot with the purpose of being part of a sequel to the feature film Antlers of Reason (2006), the Sirpa Lane scenes in La Bête (1975) were also originally conceived to be part of Borowczyk's anthology film Immoral Tales (1973). So I guess both projects share that same "salvaging of unused material" approach. I think this can contribute to a very specific formal outcome, which can translate as having elements that pulsate with their very own energy and identity within the overall narrative. But, I must say that La Bête has been a far more direct influence in Antlers of Reason. Aside from the few brief references made in the film, I semi-consciously borrowed specific concepts, such as the materialisation of fantasy into the reality of the central character's life and the primal connection she, as a young woman with a blossoming sexuality, has to Nature - itself embodied in the beast-like figure of the antlered god Thalus.
The 'Morning Interim' series is turning out to be a mystery thriller by drawing elements from 'exploitation films' of yore but you'd given it an entirely distinct treatment. Placing it somewhere between an unapologetic Jean Rollin and a Lynchian drama, are you consciously building a new 'genre' for the age with this series?
It is certainly (and hopefully) an exercise in broadening the scope of the web-series format, which itself is a liberated by-product of a digital age. It's fair to say that I am channeling all the mythological subtexts and suggested narrative strands of Antlers of Reason into a considerably experimental approach. The eight-episode format provides it with a definite structure (with its own self-imposed set of restrictions), but frees me creatively to pursue other ideas that can alternate between the abstract, the minimalist and the atmospheric. In many ways, the majority of the web-series that one finds out there still operate within conventional broadcast rules, with minor adjustments to cater to the immediate satisfaction of the digital age. I can't think of anything more 'pornographic' than that. So to make something that would, ironically enough, feature sexually-explicit elements, but would adopt a sense of nostalgia for both the analogue and a foregone era of Cinema seemed to me an irresistible proposition...
Here you are, a director making 'European' films whilst living in an England that has a distinct film-making heritage of its own. Was that a choice, and if so, is that because Britain, for all its much-talked about 'Britishness', still remains a veritable melting pot where different ideas find space and thrive?
It's definitely been a permanent "fish out of water" situation, I must say. Whilst Britain has, so far, enabled a variety of cultures to settle within its cultural barriers, its filmmaking traditions have remained rooted in a constant reassertion of their identity. I find the approach of social realism incredibly tedious, to be honest. That said, the reality of a Northern England (and a lot of what it evokes, as filtered through my foreign eyes) has been pivotal in the formulation of a lot of my projects. Antlers of Reason would've never existed without it. And, by default, neither would've Morning Interim.
Still, what many would consider "creating in isolation", I choose to look at as "being left to do your own thing".
While Episode 3 (Re-enactments) injects conventional plot elements to an otherwise cryptic first two episodes, Episode 4 (Further Illicit Diagrams) not only introduces a new character named 'Fern', but also hints at a different side to Jay aka Thalus. Is this going to turn into a morality tale of sorts..?
That is a very interesting question. The morality tale aspect reverts, once more, back to the film that originated it all, Antlers of Reason. The episodes of Morning Interim though, shift between what you define as cryptic and a plot device that takes the shape of personal investigations that unearth a dark Past (and the shadows it continues to cast over the existence of certain characters). We are driving towards a specific destination - that is ridden with guilt and loss and certainly tinted with personal moral dilemmas.
Now, to the star of Episode 4 - Alexandra Patriarca plays 'Fern' and this episode largely focuses on her intimate encounter with Jay. I'm also surprised to hear that this is Ms. Patriarca's first film.
Alexandra is one of those rare cases of someone who can effortlessly inhabit space and, with her gentle presence, extend a moment outside its time limits. This is rare to find and can't be taught in acting classes. It's intrinsic to who she is, as an individual.
The episode features perhaps the most explicit and dare I say 'passionate' sex scene in the series so far, notwithstanding your character's (Jay/Thalus) largely passive and 'robotic' nature - the passion is entirely from Ms. Patriarca. Could you shed some light on how you came to cast her for the role?
Once I identified that very special quality about her, my mission became to preserve it - and never to corrupt it. She's actually one of the most coherent and earnest people I ever met. With great humility she accepted my challenge and 'donated herself' to the project - a beautiful act of faith and trust.
What was Ms. Patriarca's reaction to performing explicit sex for camera, and that too on her film debut? Was any of the crew present during the shoot?
There was never an issue. Her personality and aforementioned presence really suits the minimalism that I wanted to bring back (and improve upon) from Episode 2 - Illicit Diagrams become Further Illicit Diagrams, after all. I've developed a way of working that keeps production elements to their bare minimum. Only those essential to the scene in question are allowed in.
Something tells me Fern is not just 'any other' victim of Thalus, but without giving away any plot points, could you confirm if this is not the last we'll hear from her in this series?
Very far from it. Although one could argue that she's constricted to a film world of a specific era (the 1970's), the importance of her role will unfold in upcoming episodes. Whilst the Mystery Woman (played by Luisa Torregrosa) is instrumental in bridging crucial gaps in the Present, Fern's identity and ambiguous relationship to Jay will be gradually revealed as the transitional stepping stone of the Past.
I've so far enjoyed several aspects of this series from a film-buff's point of view. There are 'atmospheric' touches scattered throughout, like in the start of Episode 3, which surely is a nod to David Lynch/Carlos Reygadas. Some characters and place names even have direct references to films from the past. I also like the concept of film within a film that's already within a film. The insertion of a clip from a supposed 1975 film titled 'Ninho das aguias' (Eagles' Nest) does not only look convincing - it also doesn't clash with the rest of the narrative. Is this your homage of sorts to Seventies and Eighties cinema?
Glad to hear that. Very much appreciated. The goal was precisely that: to bring a sort of analogue-transmutation to proceedings, in the way the footage of that fictional film is treated to evoke a very specific type of 1970's Cinema.
It's not wrong at all to call it an homage. It's a throwback to a way of doing things that simply got lost, as your priorities become surreptitiously defined by others. There was just something very genuine and pure about a lot of those films - regardless of how explicit and supposedly exploitative most were. But, its insertion in the episode poses certain fundamental questions that could be pointing towards a "pretty meta" reveal, when it comes to the character of Jay.
What can we look forward to in Episode 5? Any new or legendary faces we can expect to see?
Episode 5 is currently in production. Again, there will be a return to more traditional horror elements and Nature will come to the foreground once more. It's entitled "This Place, That Time" and, in conjunction with the subsequent Episode 6, will give a face to the hidden forces and interests at play. It will center mostly on new characters, but their introduction will help make sense out of a lot that we've seen so far.
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Morning Interim, Antlers of Reason and other works by filmmaker João Paulo Simões are all available on The Vault of Alternative Cinema. You can also support the project directly on Patreon.
The Nudity: Luisa Torregrosa, João Paulo Simões, Monica Calle, Erica Rodrigues, and Alexandra Patriarca
The third episode (Re-Enactments) features an explicit sex scene between Luisa Torregrosa and João Paulo Simões. The fourth episode (Further Illicit Diagrams) features yet another explicit sex scene between mature Monica Calle and João Paulo Simões. Erica Rodrigues also appears nude in a brief scene. However, the highlight of the episode will have to be a gratuitously explicit sex scene between newcomer Alexandra Patriarca and João Paulo Simões - something I also touched upon during the interview. The found projector-with-footage effect used in the scene, whilst not as convincing as shooting it in 8mm directly, is effective enough in conveying the feel given the budget and resources. Recommended Viewing..!