Interview: Luca Machnich

Interview done by Prarthana Mitra

The Eve brings a classic Hitchcockian narrative to a mixed media driven thriller to create a new wave of psychological horror movies. Based on child psychology, dealing with delusional characters, and with Christmas Eve as the backdrop, Luca Machnich’s short portrays the trials and tribulations of a young boy who is disenchanted with his current life where he feels he doesn’t belong. Simon who lives with his parents seeks freedom from this life and wants to escape to Santa’s toy factory. This Christmas, he receives a visit from Santa Claus himself. In the meantime, there’s a gruesome family secret that his parents are keeping from him. The film builds up to a momentous climax as the clock prepares to strike twelve and herald the birth of the lord savior. Will the secret be revealed? Will that bode well for the family’s future? Or will Simon continue to be haunted by his fervid imaginations?
 

 
1. Let’s start with a simple question. Can you tell us a bit about your filmmaking career?

I began in 2006 as a student of directing and production at the Los Angeles Film School, though I soon realized that apart from a small set of ten or so rules, the cinema is a highly accomplished craft activity that simply cannot be taught. I believe that directors are born not made. As the great director, Sergei Parajanov was fond of saying, “The best school for directors is the womb of the director’s mother at the moment of birth”.

The Eve is my debut work. I was supposed to do a short film in America as my thesis at the Los Angeles Film School, but I didn’t feel comfortable with the time and resources available, so I came back to Italy and chose from two different stories. One of them eventually became the short film The Eve, while the other was a short story which the great writer and director Alejandro Jodorowsky had given me as a gift when we met in Italy. I preferred the second story, only it had no ending and turning it into a screenplay proved to be difficult. So after a number of attempts, I decided to put it aside and switch to The Eve, whose well-defined, the sturdy story served as an excellent foundation.

2. Talk us through some of your previous works and how it feels to be recognized worldwide for The Eve. When you look back at your work, was there a steady progression or did things just happen due to the commitment of nothing giving up?

I am very precise and exacting in my writing, directing and post-production work. When I filmed The Eve, I worked with a crew of thirty, quite large for a short film, so we were in a good position from the start. And given the resources we had to work with, I don’t think I could have done a much better job. The shooting went very well, better than I’d imagined. I handled the post-production myself, investing a lot more in the project so that the final product turned out even better. It took three whole years to complete the film, a grueling effort. Of course, the 3D special effects of 2006 aren’t those we have today, but they were acceptable even then, and earned some awards which I thought, at the time, were given with a good deal of generosity.

I remember that when we finished the soundtrack, my composer came up to me with a smile and said that the film was a small-scale masterpiece, one that was sure to win a number of awards. I didn’t put much faith in what he’d said. I thought it might pick up some minor recognition, but nothing more. Instead, it won an award at its very first festival, the 2015 Independent Horror Movies Awards, and it was very well received in the United States, especially the experimental portion that I had included. All on its own, that portion earned a number of awards. So it was all quite a surprise to me, especially since, being a fairly slow-paced film done in a somewhat old-fashioned style, I didn’t expect it to be tremendously successful in the US, where I imagined the festivals would favor more modern, spectacular films. I thought it would have a better chance in Europe. In reality, the exact opposite took place!
 
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3. How important is it for you to get to know the characters and what drives them to commit crimes in a thriller?

It’s hard to come up with a general answer to this question. The psychological introspection of characters is the cornerstone of great cinema worldwide, in all the different genres. If you neglect this side of things, you aren’t creating cinema. One of my favorite visionary filmmakers is Andrei Tarkovsky, who showed us characters whose three-dimensional development I have yet to find in any other great director, not even Ingmar Bergman. What drives the characters of a story to kill? A mad intelligence or an enormous stupidity? I believe that criminals who are conscious of what they do are by and large stupid, as otherwise, they would solve their problems without having to resort to crime, seeing that, in the end, they almost always get caught.

4. Tell us a little about what/why the psychological horror/thriller genre means/appeals to you.

Horror is my favorite genre because I have a great deal of fear, and I feel the need to tell others about it. Then there is the fact that horror, unlike other genres, allows you to deal with especially strong emotions. With the psychological approach, you can dig deeper into the characters, rather than simply turning out a blockbuster horror flick filled with blood and guts and nothing else, which is certainly not my goal.

5. Who or what would you say is the central character in The Eve? And why?

He is a sensitive, introverted but very creative boy. There is something of myself as a child in him, which gave me the chance to tell the story from a personal perspective. His parents are not actually his parents, but rather a rich couple who were unable to have children, and so they bought the child of a poor, very mentally unstable woman, only then she seems to change her mind and wants the child back. He is surrounded by toys, but he has none of the happiness that comes from receiving affection because he is ultimately nothing more than a toy in the hands of his parents. He wants Santa Claus to lock him up in the toy factory, but if you take a good look at the animation, the factory is oppressive. Its windows are the kind you’d expect to find in a prison. It is anything but happy and gay. The boy escapes from the prison that is his family, only to find himself locked up in Santa Claus’s even more unbearable prison.
 
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6. Which literary works have influenced you the most in writing this script?

I would say a certain distant influence from Henry James, the author of Turn of the Screw, in terms of the sense of inner conflict, the air of isolation and ambiguity that some of the characters give off. Another influence, found at an even further remove, would be Dino Buzzati, the great Italian writer whose fantastical tales from the 1900’s evoked a brooding atmosphere in which long-awaited harbingers of happy events turned out to be tragic, destroying the happiness of a family. Something we find, though in a quite different tale, in his story, “Il Mantello” (“The Cloak”), an unquestioned masterpiece. I would also mention Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho, given the unsparingly macabre thrust and psychological violence of its final portion.

7. The Eve contains some interesting bits of animation. How did the idea come to incorporate them in a thriller?

Luca: Originally there were no plans for animation. The shot was going to linger on the letter that the boy writes to Santa Claus while the entire story written by the boy appeared in the background, but that would have come off as rather tedious, so I had the idea of including a cartoon that would be both dramatic and analytic. In other words, the exact opposite of a cartoon meant simply to entertain children. With this in mind, I contacted a child psychologist, and she worked with us on the script for the cartoon. It was she who suggested that I let myself be guided by the theory of Max Lucher, a famous Swiss psychologist who holds that every shade of color corresponds to a specific emotion. In keeping with this theory, I went to a center that he has authorized in Italy and had them review and adjust the colors of the animation, with the result that every shade of color presented by the images corresponds to a feeling experienced by the child. We had an Indian animation firm take care of the entire sequence. In the end, it is less a full-fledged cartoon than a series of drawings in a movement that springs from the child’s mind, meaning his drawings as we see them in the letter.
 
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8. The bell tower has a portentous meaning in your film. How important are symbols in cinema according to you? Do they play a vital role in storytelling?

Luca: A story entitled The Eve is naturally going to have time as its lead character, and so the bell tower is the star. If you think about it, the whole film revolves around the tower that strikes the hour. But there are other symbols too, such as the store that explodes in the murder’s dream, serving as an allegory of the macabre surprise awaiting the children.

9. What is your message to aspiring young filmmakers today?

Luca: My advice to young directors is, above all else, to be themselves and to tell of what they know, of what they feel most deeply. They should see a slew of films and write continuously, even if it’s just a couple of lines a day, assuming the inspiration is there, simply because it takes a great deal of time, along with a precise, commanding personality, to be a director.

10. What can we expect next from Luca Machnich?

Luca: I’ve been working for a number of years on two feature-length horror film projects of international scope which address social issues and will allow me to convey messages of considerable impact. As I see it, the most compelling type of horror film is that which comes with a message, as in the case of the work of George Romero.

 

Prarthana-Mitra

Prarthana is presently in between odd jobs and obtaining her master’s degree in literature. She loves modern poetry and meditative cinema. Based out of Calcutta, Prarthana observes people, football, films and enjoys writing about all three. Of late, she relates to Frank Ocean’s music. Her writing experience consists of writing for various sites such as Try Cinema, The Indian Economist, Doing The Rondo, Saintbrush and various academic journals.