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Interview with Noli

You wrote MARRIED/UNMARRIED originally as a stageplay but adapted it for the screen prior to any production. What made you decide it was better suited for film?
It’s not that I thought it was better suited but a case of reaching a wider audience. And even for the screen I wanted to stay implicitly faithful to the play’s structure – four equal leads where each character meets every other character once so that you have these six dialogue-based self-contained duologues that slowly reveal more about each other relationship. I thought this would transfer perfectly for screen in the tradition of the dialogue-based European films I’ve always admired.

Such as?
Such as…La Maman et la Putain, or early Godard, Rivette, or seventies Antonioni…

Any English influences?
Not many, not on film. I loved the television of Dennis Potter and the theatre of Pinter. They could slice you in half with one word.

What about Hitchcock?
What about Hitchcock?

What do you think of Guy Ritchie?
I don’t think of Guy Ritchie.

What led you to want to direct the film?
It was a natural progression. I had always directed my plays and film was the next step. But no studio is going to give you $10m to make your first film because you directed a handful of your plays in London. So I had to start small. In terms of budget, you can’t get too much smaller.

What was the budget?
Somewhere between zero and £200,000. It felt a lot closer to zero most days.

How do you think cinema audiences will react to your work?
I do not write feel-good stories, so the journey an audience takes is quite demanding. But I have always believed that cinema is far too important a medium not to provoke thought. I have no desire to make fleeting time-fillers that dissolve in your mind the moment you leave an auditorium. I would prefer people to hate what I do than to have no opinion of it.

I hated this film.

No, I didn’t hate it. Technically it’s excellent and the performances are very strong. I hated what it was saying which is why I wanted to interview you. As a woman it was very difficult to watch.
As a man it was very difficult to make.

Then why did you make it?
Because sometimes we have to confront and explore and dissect our darker instincts. If we didn’t do that as filmmakers we’d all end up being Richard Curtis.

Who’s Richard Curtis?

What films or directors have influenced your work?
I’m very much from the school of European Cinema. Rivette, Antonioni, Tarkovsky, Bunuel, Pasolini…they were my film education. It wasn’t that I was anti-Hollywood, just that it did not inspire me in the same way. I’d spend day after day in repertory cinemas all over London watching the entire works of these directors, just staring up at the screen like a blind man who could suddenly see. I remember the first time I saw ‘Last Tango In Paris’ and the impact it had on me. I think subconsciously that was the day I decided I wanted to make films, though it was nearly twenty years before doing so. I think today someone like Michael Haneke is the same kind of visionary as Bertolucci was back then. Certainly a film like ‘The Piano Teacher’ will amaze audiences now as ‘Last Tango’ did thirty years earlier.

So have films been the greatest influence in your work?
Absolutely. Even as a playwright, my work is directly influenced by film and perhaps that is why they can be so freely adapted. My first play ‘Blue Eyes Red’ is dedicated to John Cassavettes as it was completely inspired by ‘A Woman Under The Influence’ Cassavettes remains for me the greatest voice in American Cinema. One of the next films I’ve written is called ‘Liquor’ and it has its roots firmly in ‘The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie’.

MARRIED/UNMARRIED has a very distinctive style and design not seen in a lot of British films. Did you not want to be a part of the very successful Cool Brittania?
Cool what? No. I never wanted to make a Brit-film. Never wanted it to even remotely be identified as one. I didn’t want any jerky hand-held or grimy locations which seem to be the norm for the majority of independent British features. I wanted the camera locked off for absolutely static images that would suffocate the viewer, long claustrophobic takes, styled meticulously. I wanted these four characters to be the only four people in the world and tried to film them within empty streets and interiors. One of my actors said during filming that had I made the whole film on an ugly council estate it would have a better chance of being heralded because we don’t like modern opulence in Britain. Maybe that’s why ‘Intimacy’ was so well praised because as a film it was rubbish.

I liked ‘Intimacy’.
Do you remember a single line from the film?

The misogyny in your film is unbearable at times. What moral obligation do you have to your audience with such subject matter?
I have absolutely no moral obligation to anybody but myself. I have to remain true to my characters and if my characters say the things they say, I have to allow that voice to be heard. My moral obligation is to prevent the censorship of that. I cannot and have never perceived an audience whilst writing a single syllable of my work.

But there will be claims that this is a chauvinistic film.
Will there?

You believe your film does not give voice to misogyny?
Give voice?… The character of ‘Danny’ is a misogynist. That does not make the film chauvinistic. Misogyny is a disease and Ben Daniels’ performance reveals that all-consuming disease at specific moments when it overwhelms him. To call this film chauvinistic is the equivalent of calling ‘La Dolce Vita’ a film about a womaniser. It deserves no riposte.

Are you comparing your film to La Dolce Vita?
No, but after that remark I am beginning to compare you to an idiot.

I will ignore that… Do you not feel that there is a dangerous precedent set in your film that depicts the enjoyment levels of misogyny to a dangerous degree, possibly on par with the enjoyment levels of violence in ‘A Clockwork Orange’.
God, where’s the exit? … Why is that dangerous anyway? Did you want to kick a beggar to death after seeing ‘A Clockwork Orange’? Did you want to abuse a woman after seeing Married/Unmarried? That is the character, that is his psyche. It is a fascinating insight, a dissection of a diseased mind. It reviles us. And yet the intrigue comes from the tiny voice within us all that has the capability to do that also. Most of us have the intellectual awareness to resist that voice. Some do not. The world is not pretty. We are immersed with rapists and murderers and paedophiles and thieves. And they all enjoy what they do. In M/U we witness that enjoyment.

Good answer… Your film examines the principles of whether we are the victims or willing participants when we are mistreated by those we love. What advice would you have for women like ‘Kim’ or men like ‘Paul’?
(sighs) … I wouldn’t even remotely claim to be in a position to advise anyone. Love can make you irrational, what else need be said? ‘Kim’ knows she is being mistreated. She hates the world she is in, but is helplessly unable to escape. No one can understand that but ‘Kim’ herself. To us on the outside it seems ridiculous – just get your bags and go. But emotional ties are unbreakable and stem from history and fear and denial. We can all look back at our relationships and identify that we remained with certain partners longer than we should have. There is no difference. You pick up the paper on any day and you’ll read about women who have been beaten and abused by their partners for years and they just stay and take it. It’s horrifying… With ‘Paul’, he believed that marriage would curb his infidelity and fights hard to prove that motive right. He needs that affirmation. If you want to sleep with many women, nothing will change that, certainly not marriage.

You speak from experience.
… Are we done?

One more… This is your debut film. In years to come what do you want people to say about your films?
… If only we listened to him when he was alive.

Noli politely shakes my hand, smiles, and exits.

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