“Son of Saul” Director László Nemes on Spatial Strategies: A Conversation From the Past

“And now what?” It sounds like a genuine question to ask a director who has just won a prize in a “A list” film festival. It happened to László Nemes just a few days ago, during the press conference of the Award Winners in Cannes. His first feature, Son of Saul, won the prestigious Grand Prix and the FIPRESCI Prize with international acclaim, so everyone wanted to know what was next.

Yet, instead of talking about his recent exploit or future plans, I want to jump back to 2012, when I shared a few days with László in France and later in Italy. We both were attending the TorinoFilmLab programmes that year: I was taking part into the Audience Design sessions and he was among the emerging talent selected for Script&Pitch. László was developing a project called Iris, set in 1914 Budapest when war was about to break out.

Still from "Son of Saul"

Back then we had the chance to talk about different approaches to cinema. I was surprised that he wasn’t at all interested, to say the least, in what I was delving into: the many possibilities of digital media combined with audio-visual narratives, especially transmedia storytelling. For a while I even thought he was a bit out of fashion in resisting something that so many in his field were embracing.

Then I realised that he had such a strong vision for his story and that his “classic” approach to cinema was not classic at all, nor a snobbish faith in the power of 35 mm (which he chose for Son of Saul too). He was concerned about the integrity of that story and his idea of cinema was grounded in a visual approach that he described as “an organic spatial strategy” based on documentary-style realism, through which he was going to immerse the viewer in a “more volatile, unreliable flow of information.” Any doubts I had were then wiped out when he pitched his project by screening a teaser that clearly showed how talented he was.


I remembered that conversation while I was reading the director’s note written for Son of Saul. “We follow the main character throughout the film, reveal only his immediate surroundings, and create an organic filmic space of reduced proportions closer to human perception. The use of shallow focus photography, the constant presence of off screen elements in the narration of extended takes, the limited visual and factual information the main character and the viewer can have access to – these were the foundations of our visual and narrative strategy.”

When it comes to directors’ visions, there is no right or wrong. But I’m glad to see that what László was experimenting with his short films has now become such a powerful piece of cinema, a tale of horror and hope that now I am now looking forward to seeing on the big screen.


Can File Sharing Become a Form of Art? “The Pirate Cinema” Project Investigates Information Flows as Aesthetic Exploration

When it comes to torrents and digital piracy, users’ behaviours online are usually tackled under a variety of points of view, which include ethics, laws and copyright issues. But what about the file themselves, whose content is usually ‘invisible’ when people are sharing it via BitTorrent? What if you could have a glimpse of that hidden activity in the form of a real-time ultimate mash-up, made of an endless flow of media shared on peer-to-peer networks?

With The Pirate Cinema, a project created by Nicolas Maigret and based on data interception software, what is distributed through file sharing platforms is made visible as a flux of fragments of audio-visual files from all over the world.

Logo for Nicolas Maigret's project "The Pirate Cinema".

These images are restlessly screened almost at a subliminal speed. Or at least this is the experience you get when you stream this investigation into P2P architecture from the website of the project.

When screened in a physical space in the form of a more conventional video art installation, The Pirate Cinema becomes instead a cinematic collage that can be experienced in the room of an art gallery. In this case, the system downloads the most viewed torrents and data are projected onto multiple screens.

The Pirate Cinema. Exhibition at Eastern Bloc (Montreal) / Sight and Sound Festival 2013

In its third incarnation, The Pirate Cinema can also be executed by a performer, a sort of multimedia dj who selects movies and mp3s which are downloaded and screened live. In this case, the system becomes a sort of instrument that can be played in real time.

Finally, the project also has a release in the form of a book which offers a critical view on piracy wars. Overall, food for thought. Or, better, for the eye.

Is Style In The Eye of The Beholder? A Look at Fashion in Two Documentaries

Nowadays everyone seems to be a fashion editor, a professional photographer and even a designer. So, just to put things into perspective, I went back to the roots of some iconic roles in the industry thanks to two documentaries.

Fashion is a minefield and style even more so, but we live in the age of Instagram, The Sartorialist and The Blonde Salad. So it’s not surprising that not only do people flood the web with their personal ideas about looks, dress codes and trends, but they also try to capture them on camera in an attempt to replicate Scott Schuman’s fashion photography, or steal Chiara Ferragni’s recipe for success. By the way, no prejudice intended here: after all, isn’t fashion all about reinvention?

Poster for the documentary 'Diana Vreeland. The Eye Has to Travel' (2011).

Back to the documentaries, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011) is focused on the life and career of a woman whose name is probably most synonymous with fashion journalism. Long before Anna Wintour, I mean. As an editor and columnist at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Diana Vreeland needs no introduction, as she probably invented these roles. Mixing old interviews with Vreeland and new contributions from fashion editors, photographers, models and designers, the documentary directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Frédéric Tcheng is a celebration of Vreeland’s spirit spanning almost a century.

Poster for the documentary 'Dior and I' (2014).

Dior and I (2014) took a different approach. Documentary filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng introduces the viewer to the atelier, the heart of the Christian Dior fashion house, by following newly appointed artistic director Raf Simons in his struggle to create his first haute couture collection for the iconic brand. Although here too the director uses old interviews with Dior himself, the presence of the founder is more felt when the camera captures the pride of long-time collaborators of the brand.

If Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel hints at the mythology of a woman that lived the Belle Époque and contributed to writing some of the most exciting chapters of the fashion industry, Dior and I opts for realism in a framework of immediacy (of course within the limits of a medium which is known to filter reality). But they both share a sense of legacy for which fashion still stands: creativity in a constant dialogue between past and present.