This interview took place in New York City, October 8, 2002, during the New York Film Festival where Elia Suleiman's new film, Divine Intervention, was screened.
DS: Divine Intervention seems to have a pastiche of genres such as films by Jacques Tad and Luis Bunuel, or spoofy sixties spy movies. It was interesting that this political film seemed constructed from some of these genres.
ES: I don't think so. This is probably your reading and that's fine. I haven't seen Bunuel for twenty years. Tad I've seen only after I made Chronicle [of a Disappearance, Palesdne, Israel, USA, Germany, France, 1997]. It was shocking for me to see how many similarities exist when I saw Playtime [France, 1968] a month ago . . . some of the moments were absolutely precise. The same. But then, it's only natural that you get two filmmakers, two people with similar sensibilides, humor, and use of frame and choreography. Really Uie kind of films I sucked on had no humor of this type. Ozu, Bresson, Hsiao-hsien Hou. Antonioni is someone who nourished me a lot. I wouldn't really think of Tad, Keaton, Bunuel. It's fascinadng now to discover this similarity. That I use more than one genre in the film widens the scope of all these references.
DS: Of the ones at you just mentioned, who do you think is the most dominant influence on you as a filmmaker?
ES: Influence or similarities? They're really two different things. The closest aesthetically to my filmmaking? Jacques Tad. I've only seen two films. Mon Oncle [France, 1958] after Chronicle and then Playtime, a few weeks ago. It's not a question of just films. It's the consumption of all the culture that I pass through and thrive on that makes the image what it is.
DS: Are there other media, such as music or painting, that are just as influential?
ES: Yeah. Temporality, musicality ... definitely. I'm really attracted to modern dance now. When I'm asked what I would do if it wasn't film, I think it's choreography. You can see that in the film. It's really what I indulge. It's the temporality of all the movements in the frame that are carried by the elements /characters. I try to create a rhyme or lack of it with the sounds. I compile an abundance of sound tracks. Listen to every bird, none of them are chaotic. When the father comes to beat the neighbor, there's a kind of bird. When he comes out, there's a bird. In the kitchen, I put a very annoying, very teasing, nasty bird that always prophesies disaster or laughs at it.
DS: I was going to ask you about sound. The film is full of sounds-squeaks, shots, chirps, clicks, all sorts of noises. Can you talk more about this?
ES: Every time you see movement, it's calculation; it's all preconceived. I calculate how characters A and B enter the frame, even which leg they enter the frame with, to create a temporality. It's a temporality of their body movement, the way they turn left or right. It's difficult for the actors to do the job. I rehearse a lot and make sure that there's utter silence. In postproduction, I highlight the sound for the humor or for the tempo.
I'm not saying that people have to deconstruct all the musicality in the film, but people often aren't attuned to sound when they watch film. I'm completely the contrary and when I use sound in film, including music, I put sound and image in the forefront equally. I think our eyes see on two fronts and our ears hear on two fronts. Just like different instruments. It's important to listen because often a lot of what you hear is outside the frame and that somehow extends our visual space. I make sure it's a parallel tableau. This is not a strategy. It's just a pleasure. I love to be attuned. I have a lot of discussions with the sound man. The amount of tracks I put on Divine and on Chronicle made the mixers go crazy.
DS: Is making the sound create a picture outside the frame very important to you or is it used to keep something together, so that everything has an equal place? …