By David Llewellyn
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30th August 2019

Interview: Quentin Lazzarotto

'Carlito Leaves Forever' is one of the films shortlisted for this year's Iris Prize. The Iris Blogger caught up with its director, Quentin Lazzarotto, to talk about the making of the film.

There are picture descriptions for the visually impaired at the end of this post.

Iris Blogger:  Carlito Leaves Forever was made during a cinema workshop in Peru. Did you already have an idea for the story before travelling there, or was it developed through the workshop?

Quentin Lazzarotto: I had no clue what to expect of the workshop. On the first day in the rain forest our mentor, Werner Herzog…

(At this point, the Iris Blogger interrupts the interview with an excited fanboy squeal.)

QL:      …Our mentor, Werner Herzog, gave us the theme we had to work with: “Fever Dreams in the Jungle.”

We spent our first days meeting the communities and getting a feel for the place. Cameras were forbidden. Herzog allegedly said he would steal any camera he could spot, never to return it! I’m thankful that he wanted us to find our stories from the place, and not from what we expected the place to be.

IB:       Other than threatening to steal your camera, what was the best advice Herzog gave you?

Director Quentin Lazzarotto with Werner Herzog

QL:      “Don’t forget your batteries.”

IB:       And how did you find the experience of working in Peru? Was it very different to working in France?

QL:      Our camp was located deep inside the rain forest, two hours’ boat ride from the closest city, Puerto Maldonado. We had rough weather, and everything you see around you is about survival. In our case, you had a bunch of young filmmakers discovering how to film in a place where everything is limited; food, water, time, electricity. Our lenses would get foggy and wet. And the absence of an internet connection pushes you to find your story deep inside yourself. There, far from any judgment or film critic magazines, I felt free to talk about more personal issues, such as this story of a young man in love with another man.

IB:       The performances in the film have a rough, unrehearsed authenticity to them, and your lead actor shares his name with his character. Did he have any acting experience before making the film? How did you go about casting him?

QL:      I met Carlito at the very end of my casting day. I was asking around in the village of Palma Real and got rejected by everyone I asked, either because of the theme or because they were too busy to spend time acting!

I was beginning to lose hope when Carlito walked past me. He was very different. He’d studied to become a nurse. He was living alone, and never acted before. He liked the idea of the film so much that he brought his friends and even provided a boat! We filmed the whole thing the next day.

It was my most intense filming experience. I wanted to do this almost silent film, where everything is about movement, and gaze. Carlito, who is naturally quiet, was doing it perfectly. Most of the work was to get rid of his idea of acting, which involved trying too hard. We talked mostly though body language, and I was telling him to relax, breathe, feel his body, and be sad about leaving. You don’t need anything more, and especially not film or acting theories.

IB:       You’ve directed a number of documentaries, and Carlito… has a very documentary feel. Do you have a preference for documentary or drama, or do you see them as equals?

QL:      Most of the shots you see in the film are unprepared, almost stolen. And most of the shots I had planned weren’t good. It’s usually what happens when I shoot a documentary. You follow the flow, your eyes and ears open and searching for that moment where something looks true to you and your story. Of course, you try to influence things your way. You see, I directed this film as a documentary, but every film festival I send it to keeps putting it in their fiction selection. I believe the difference between the two has more to do with communication and business than artistic engagement.

IB:       Will you return to Peru? And is there anywhere else on the planet you would like to make a film?

QL:      Herzog said to me, “Go where the stories are.” I am sure there are plenty of them in Cardiff, so why not? I am very happy that Carlito… is showing here. I studied British cinema and even wrote a thesis about it!

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Programme | Modern Love | Cineworld Screen 15 | Fri 11 Oct 12pm

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Picture Descriptions

  1. The film’s protagonist, Carlito, steers his small boat along a stretch of river through the Peruvian jungle. Carlito is a young man with dark hair.The river is a greenish brown and the sky is a little cloudy. To the right of the shot, a bank of reddish brown sand rises up towards a fringe of vegetation. Carlito is dressed in a loose yellow vest and blue shorts.
  2. The film’s director, Quentin Lazzarotto, stands on a riverbank overlooking the same river, next to Carlito, wearing the same clothes as in the previous picture, and another member of the crew. The boat is tethered in the background of the shot.
  3. Quentin Lazzarotto sits with director Werner Herzog, both of them looking at the screen of a laptop. They are in an indoor setting, both seated at a table.
  4. In a still shot from the film, Carlito is crouching down in his home, a very basic wooden shack with little in the way of decoration. There is a bed surrounded by hanging sheets, a child’s toy car, and blue tarpaulin spread across one corner of the roof. Carlito is holding the black rucksack that he will take on his journey.

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