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Sasha Argirov on his film Nurture at the Brasserie

Sunday 29 January 2023, by Abla Kandalaft

An emotionally stunted man reckons with the deep-rooted resentment that he harbors for his ailing mother.

A surprisingly and impressively beautiful film given the dark and complex subject matter.

Why did you choose this title in particular? 

Nurture just popped into my head one day when I was writing a draft of the script. As a title, it sums up the entire story for me. It also provides the perfect ironic counterpoint to the first image we see at the start of the film. 

What was it that you wanted to explore in the relationship between mother and son? And the mother figure…

This is a film about parental codependency; when a child is forced to become a parent or a life partner to the person who’s supposed to be nurturing them. There’s a deep resentment that builds up over time, as we see in the film. But it’s never as simple as that. With codependency, there’s always a complicated tension between anger and attachment. The figure, without giving too much away, was my attempt to make that internal conflict literal and explore the themes of the film through surrealism.

Can you tell us more about your cinematography? Why the choices of black and white, the tight angles, the slightly surreal, dream-like quality? 

My DP Peter Hadfield and I decided on a unique visual approach that was halfway between Roy Andersson and Bela Tarr. We wanted the film to feel like a dreamscape where the subconscious becomes literal. Besides the atmosphere and texture of black and white, there’s a distancing effect that allows the audience to meet the film on a different level. This isn’t reality, this is something heightened. The unusual compositions only add to that effect.

How did you work with the actors? How were they cast? 

Dimitri Vantis, who played the son, was someone I had worked with on a previous short film. He’s a brilliant actor and friend, and I knew that he would absolutely nail this role. The mother and figure were played interchangeably by the absolutely iconic Robbins Twins. Working with these highly capable, intelligent actors was simple from a directorial standpoint; each of them was 100% queued into what we were trying to accomplish. All the work I had to do was in pre-production, explaining the vision and unique world of the film. Once they understood what was being asked of them, there was very little else to discuss. They just brought it to life. 

What films have inspired you in your work more generally? 

Michael Haneke and Stanley Kubrick were the directors who really awakened my love of filmmaking; Barry Lyndon and The Piano Teacher are my go-to favourite films. When it comes to direct inspiration in my work, I’m not entirely sure. I like to watch a wide range of movies and put all these techniques and ideas in the bank. When I go to make a film, all of those stored-up influences will inform my approach depending on what kind of story it is that I’m telling. 

What sort of themes would you like to explore next? 

Right now, I’m working on a loose feature adaptation of Nurture with my immensely talented producer and co-writer Phillip Thomas. The working title is Disgrace. We’re exploring similar themes as we did in Nurture, but with much greater depth and more of a focus on parental guilt. 

What’s your favourite short? 

That’s such a difficult question. I’m not sure about my all-time favourite, but a film I watched recently that I really enjoyed was Ian Barling’s Safe (another Clermont selection!). I thought everything about it, from a craft perspective to the nuanced performances and script, was all top-notch. I can’t wait to see was Barling does next, but as far as I’m concerned Safe is a major accomplishment in its own right. 

What does the Festival mean to you? 

The ideal destination for our European premiere. It is such a privilege to be selected by Clermont, which is widely known as the most prestigious short film festival in the world. To me, Clermont is a place where short films are taken seriously as individual works of art, not just stepping stones to something “bigger”. I cannot wait for this year’s Festival!

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