STA VOLTA. It has been labeled “revelatory.” It has been labeled “revolting.” It is the brainchild of two reclusive French brothers with a Florida connection. It is in Italian. It is violent. It is subversive. It is filled with frame after frame of incendiary images. The ten minute work received the highest preliminary screening score of any film submitted to the 2008 24fps International Short Film Festival. We rejected it. After the film’s unceremonious dismissal, a dialogue began between the French brothers and the 24fps committee that had scored their film so highly and then tossed it aside. What transpired was a series of compelling exchanges that skirted the issues of art and censorship to touch more on the strange chasm between the bold world of the Boyadjians and the quiet landscape of the Bible Belt of Texas. From that mutual curiosity and respect, this interview was born. The story of STA VOLTA’s trek from France, to Florida, and finally through the Red State Landscape of West Texas is as singularly bizarre as the film itself—and certainly one worth telling. 24fps sat down with the Terrible Twosome, and got their take on brotherhood, violence, religion and that fine line between exploitation and art. FB and GB are the Boyadjian Brothers—Frederic (31) and Gerard (32). French-born, they began their filmmaking career together in 2004 when Frederic fled the world of finance and Gerard returned from exile in Mexico. 24fps is Barry Smoot—Barry is the Artistic Director of the Historic Paramount Theatre, Inc., and the founding director of the 24fps International Short Film Festival. Now in its 11th year, the unique, curated competition has received worldwide attention for its innovative programming and unique exhibition venue.
The full version (un-edited) of the short film STA VOLTA follows this interview at the bottom of the page. Please note: the film contains mature subject matter.
24fps: There is not a lot of information about you guys out there in the Indy film world. Even Google has a hard time pinning you down. Why so private?
FB: Well, first of all we would not describe ourselves or our work as ‘confidential.” Our adventure together is only in the early stages. We have just written the first page.
24fps: I understand you have only been filmmaking partners since 2004.
FB: Yes—prior to that I was working for the French Treasury Department, investing the state cash flow in the short term market.
GB: And I was exiled in Mexico.
GB: I left for Mexico for three weeks and ended up staying four years. A theatre teacher saw me in a restaurant acting like a clown. It got me accepted to TELEVISA, the national TV Art School.
24fps: So you were on your way to becoming a TV star?
GB: Not exactly. I refused to work in sitcoms, so it didn’t quite work out for me.
24fps: So how did you both arrive at the idea of making a movie together?
FB: In 2004 I reunited with Gerard in Mexico. One day he was just standing around and I switched on a camera and started filming him. He didn’t even notice. It just felt natural. At that moment I decided to quit my job and live out this new passion with my brother.
24fps: Just like that, you knew you wanted to become filmmakers?
FB: Yes. We quickly found our balance by defining each others skills. Gerard is the story teller, and I am the director.
GB: But we control everything, from the first frame to the last note of music.
FB: This is our strength.
24fps: Have specific filmmakers influenced your approach to the medium?
FB: Krzysztof Kieslowski, François Truffaut, Kim Ki Duk.
GB: Takeshi Kitano.
24fps: Kitano is certainly an example of an artist in total control. I find it interesting that all four filmmakers you cited as influences tend to infuse their work with a bleak or nihilistic philosophy.
FB: Yes, but at the same time filled with a great deal of humor and affection.
24fps: Your first film collaboration, STA VOLTA, seems to embody the same contrast. It was described by the 24fps festival selection committee as “absolutely riveting, and yet absolutely offensive.” It’s claustrophobic, violent, and terrifying, while at the same time strangely funny.
FB: We never hesitate to ambush the audience. People either love or hate the film, and no one comes out of it unfazed.
GB: The film was actually inspired by a real-life encounter. I was living in Naples and was witness to a bar fight involving a young Italian woman and her date. After insulting and humiliating her publicly both verbally and physically, he screamed at her “…and if you keep this up, there will be no wedding!”
[24fps warns its readers of a spoiler alert here—if you haven’t viewed the film yet, do so now before reading ahead.]
24fps: Let’s get right to the heart of the film’s controversy, the message that so many viewers see as a glorification of violence and misogyny.
FB: Well first of all we are not talking about misogyny is this movie.
24fps: Let me read you one of the juror’s comments about the film:
“If STA VOLTA’s explicit tale of rape, humiliation, torture, kidnapping and violence was not intended to make a statement about gender politics, then what is the point? Would the film have had the same impact if the central (kidnapped) character was a man? This is misogyny, plain and simple. It is offensive and steps over the line between art and exploitation.”
FB: Humiliation, torture, kidnapping, and rape are physical and moral injuries linked to the human condition. The gender of the character sequestered in the trunk is only revealed at the end.
24fps: This is true but the impact of the revelatory image is made much more powerful by the fact that the violence is directed toward a woman, a bride in particular. Again, I am quoting another juror’s comment:
“While I can admire and in many ways appreciate the skill and artistic technique of STA VOLTA, I have to reject it strictly on the basis of its tone. I am not comfortable elevating a film that, in my opinion, uses the premise of violence against women as the “joke” or payoff at the film’s conclusion.”
GB: If we had replaced the woman with a small child, what then? Would you deduct that the characters have a particular hatred toward childhood? That the level of their craziness would be diminished or increased? Or would you come back to the basic psychology of individuals having no regard for humanity, no matter what the gender of the victim.
FB: The fact that the victim happens to be a woman is just the “complimentary gift.”
24fps: But you would have to agree that the “payoff” of the film is more controversial because it is a woman that has been humiliated? In the credits at the end of the film the groom is seen having sex with his totally lifeless bride while the religious figure of the film stands over them casually reading a book and smoking a cigar.
GB: Look, a religious institution, as respectable as it can be, remains an institution just like any other body. We believe that everything is alterable and that nothing should be spared.
FB: We strived to create a feeling of ambiguity and uncertainty. Everyone who sees STA VOLTA has a different reaction. Some laugh, some feel terrible for laughing, some totally reject it.
GB: Our greatest satisfaction is that it leaves no one indifferent. Starting with its premiere in France in 2008 it has divided people. Your own jury gave it high marks and then rejected it from competition because of its content.
24fps: But you have to understand that our theatre is located in one of the most conservative regions in the entire United States. The selection committee thought your work was outstanding, but didn’t feel it was the right choice for the public exhibition (competition) program.
FB: Why so much fear? Art is meant to challenge. It is meant to provoke.
24fps: Yes but not everyone has the same sensibilities and standards.
FB: We are quite aware. STA VOLTA has been rejected by several festivals because of its content.
24fps: So let me give you a chance to clarify. What place, then, does violence have in art?
FB: No more or less than any other form of expression.
24fps: There is a widely held opinion in the United States that overt violence in film has a direct link to violent crime in our society. The shootings at Columbine High School and subsequently the tragic incident at Virginia Tech have been used by some to draw a parallel between the perpetrators of these hideous crimes and the media images they were bombarded with. What are your thoughts on this?
GB: To blame the violence in your society on its artistic output is to believe that some individuals are acting solely based on cultural influences. There is a lot more involved. The issue is a lot more complicated.
24fps: But you would have to agree that modern film violence has become highly graphic and unflinchingly realistic. When it is exploited in this way don’t you think we run the risk of becoming desensitized—or worse, find it empowering?
FB: This is why we love cinema—we can refuse to make politically correct movies and stand in the face of this argument. We cannot allow the “possibility” that some viewers might be influenced by our actions to change our vision. We are not politicians. We make movies. That is our sole responsibility.
24fps: I would agree that violence is not exclusive to the modern condition; we have just found more elaborate and stimulating ways of reporting and portraying it.
GB: If you remove violence from your art some of your greatest directors would never have existed—Scorsese, Coppola, and Van Zandt.
FB: And besides, STA VOLTA is not about violence, it is a love story—a crazy and sadistic love story.
24fps: Speak to me about the political parallels that have been discussed regarding the film’s plot? It has been widely discussed that it is a darkly comic satire of the United States and the liberal, left-wing view of the George W. Bush presidency. I quote one such critic:
“The bride represents us [US citizens]. The groom is Bush, who has ravaged the American political landscape in the name of religion, union, and democracy. The priest is the right-wing political machine that has condoned these actions.”
FB: That is certainly a volatile statement. It’s fascinating, but who can say what our motivations are. Nothing is off limits.
24fps: I found myself watching the film again and the political parallels are certainly compelling.
FB: Well I can only say it is correct that in this story the scenario is based on a equilateral triangle. Any political assumptions you make are of your own choosing.
24fps: (laughs) Fair enough. So let’s discuss the film technically for a few moments.
GB: At last, something less controversial to discuss.
24fps: Where was the film shot?
FB: It was shot entirely in a suburb of Paris, France.
24fps: The film’s cinematography is stunning. How was it shot?
GB: It was shot in Dvcpro HD with a Panasonic AGHVX200 lens for all scenes except the final wedding. We wanted to visually separate the two parts of the film.
FB: For the realistic opening sequences we used the obturation speed of the camera, increased for that purpose to 1/200 to punch up details and outlines and to diminish the motion blur.
24fps: The first sequence of the film has a fantastic claustrophobic tone. The hand-held camera and the shot perspective put the viewer in a vulnerable position. We feel like the victim.
FB: This was our intent.
24fps: However, the revelatory last section of the film is shot from an entirely fresh perspective.
GB: In contrast, we wanted the last scene to be very painterly. To expose the madness of the two male characters, we wanted the image to be as clear and warm as possible. We used extreme lighting angles to up the contrast, and added a REDROCK Mini 35mm optical lens to get the proper depth of field.
24fps: Who composed the score?
GB: As we said, we take on all the details of our film projects. Frederic composed the score.
FB: Gerard sings the title song “Sta Volta,” which I also composed.
24fps: Who is the actress in the film?
FB: Diane Montcharmont. She is a young and promising actress that we auditioned for another project but who seemed to be right for the role of the bride. We did not make a mistake, she was perfection.
24fps: Can you give us any details about your next project?
FB: We have two short movies in preparation. In fact one of them two of the characters from STA VOLTA return in a totally different context. This one will, through rash and impudent direction, tear apart the main taboos that are still holding back French creativity.
24fps: It doesn’t seem like the French have many taboos. Will this one be as controversial as STA VOLTA?
FB: Hopefully many times more so. We do not take the easy path.
24fps: I want to thank you both, sincerely, for sending your film STA VOLTA to our festival for consideration. I respect you for taking the time to discuss your film even though we chose to exclude it from competition and public screening. We are linking the full film to this interview, so that any of our readers will have the chance to see it and the debate can continue.
FB: That would be excellent.
24fps: Do you have any advice you can give to aspiring filmmakers about the creative process?
GB: Learn the basic narrative techniques and technical procedures so that you can forget them.
FB: Each detail of a film is important; you must sculpt it like a raw stone and gradually arrive at a precious jewel.
GB: Open your eyes: everything you see can be inspiring
FB: Open your heart: emotion is everywhere.
TO VIEW STA VOLTA ONLINE, CLICK HERE.
Since the writing of this article, STA VOLTA has gone on to be both rejected and celebrated at film festivals throughout Europe. It was the recent recipient of the 2nd Prize at the 2008 Festival 7eme Art du Lys in France, as well as receiving Official Selection status at the 2008 Festival Court-Métrange and the 2009 Festival Vues Sur Court. In the US, the film has been the subject of controversy, and has been rejected by both the Manhattan and Miami Short Film festivals. During the summer of 2008, it was broadcast on Sky Network (Great Britain). It continues to build a cult following online.
The 24fps International Short Film festival is currently accepting submission for its 2009 competition and public exhibition programs. 24fps is a juried competition, open to any student or independent filmmaker worldwide. Works will be considered for competition only if they are of a total running time of 20 minutes or less, and were completed after January 1, 2006. The Festival committee reserves the right to determine the eligibility of any project.
All qualified entries must be independently produced and financed. Films produced, financed or developed by a major film studio or television network are ineligible for competition.
For more information on the Boyadjian brothers, visit their website (French only) at http://www.boyadjian-films.com