P:O.V. No.11 - Three Recent Short Fiction Films, LAS NUEVE VIDAS

An interview with Petri Kotwica

Richard Raskin

How did you become involved in the making of Las Nueve Vidas?

A series of ten short films were to be made about Helsinki in connection with the "European Cities of Culture" program. The production company, Gnu Films, had planned this project for more than a year, and the other nine films were also well on their way They were all supposed to be filmed in the spring and summer of 1999, and Las Nueve Vidas was one of two films that did not yet have directors assigned to them at the beginning of 1999. So Tero Jartti, one of the producers, contacted me two and a half weeks before the first of the ten films was to be shot. He would be directing one of them himself and he showed me the two remaining scripts. And this [Las Nueve Vidas] was the only one I could make any sense of at all. So I took it and then began to speculate about what I could do with it, once I had promised to direct.

And I understand that you changed the original screenplay quite a bit?

Yes, because all of the films were supposed to run very close to five minutes. And the screenplay that Tero Jartti had written, and that was loosely based on a Finnish short story by Hannu Raittila, "Järngrynnan," was absolutely too long. If that had been filmed as it was the result would have been at least a twenty-minute film. And I don't think I'm exaggerating at all. So what remains from that Tero Jartti script is the main joke.

There are few silly questions I wanted to ask. When your main character is out on the ice, was that filmed on location or simulated?

It was filmed on location.

Was it dangerous?

No, there's only one shot that might be seen as dangerous, but that's a stunt man, and he is wearing a diver's suit. And he's a professional life-saver.

Another silly question. The fish flapping at the end of the film How did you do that?

It was supposed to look much more energetic. Anyway, it's of course a dead fish bought at a market. We actually meant to use the ignition motor from a car but it never worked. There was a guy with a car battery and wires behind the amplifier. But we couldn't get it to work as it should have. And if I remember correctly, he only pushes with some metal wire system.

At the beginning of the film, your main character looks worried as the band plays. And at the end, he can hardly contain his happiness, and even winks at a girl who's off camera. I was wondering: what instructions did you give to your actor as he played his role at those two moments of the film?

Well, first of all, at the beginning, he's supposed to suffer from the need to relieve himself But also, you know there's a prejudice about Finnish character or nature: that we are very introverted. The [Spanish] guy has simply not gotten into the Finnish system during his stay. After the journey, getting under the icy surface of the Finnish way of being, he is happy. But of course, the concrete version is that he has to pee, and then he has peed, and even got a fish, and has gotten away [from the dangerous situation] alive. But I can't remember the instructions I gave the actor, because that was more than a year ago.

That's OK. What you've just told me is much more interesting than the instructions I was asking about. As you know, I am crazy about this film and it's hard for me to pin down exactly why. I just can't get enough of it, and every time I see it, I like it even more. Can you help me to figure out what is going on in this film that is so appealing?

First of all, I think it has something to do with the length. And I can't emphasize enough the importance of the actor's capabilities. Every time I've worked with him, something good has resulted.

Do you have any favorite short films?

I have to admit that during my years at film school, when I went to festivals, it was almost always a Danish film that impressed me most. The graduation works made at the Danish Film School were excellent both technically and in relation to their stories.

Is there any advice you would give to student filmmakers about to make their own shorts?

When I was at film school,I never knew what a short film actually was. That it's important not to choose a story line that is too complex for that form, and that a short is not a compressed feature film.

22 November 2000

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