Fellipe Barbosa, Salt Kiss
This article is part of Filmmaker’s Sundance 2007 Special Coverage.
Salt Kiss, the second short film by writer/director Fellipe Barbosa to screen at Sundance (following last year’s La Muerte Es Pequena), has none of the tropes commonly associated—by Americans—with “Latin American” cinema. That means no knife-fights, gambling, gang violence, or overt poverty. Yet Salt Kiss is absolutely a Latin American film—Brazilian, to be exact—because its creator told a film straight from his heart, and yes, he happens to be from Brazil.
In truth, Salt Kiss shares much more with two fine American independent films released in recent years—Sideways and Old Joy. While one could argue that the characters in those films possess radically different value systems, both movies explore male intimacy, and the pain of growing away from a friend from your salad days
Barbosa has an uncommon gift for creating what seems—quite deceptively—like effortless films, where the characters drift into each other’s lives, casually shatter hearts, and then sober up, unsure if their relationships are too far gone to possibly recover. But here’s the kicker: Salt Kiss is an absolute pleasure to watch, and creates that rarest of all film sensations—it feels like life.
Salt Kiss screens at Sundance in Shorts Program V.
Can you say a little bit about your background? Where you’re from? Age? Education? Film experience prior to this film?
Background. From Rio, Brazil. Went to an all-boys school, the only all-boys school in Brazil. Benedictine monks wearing black under the 90 degree-sun. Lots of men all around me. Insanely conservative education. But a great school. Everybody thought I was nuts because I wanted to study film. My peers were all going into engineering or med school or law. The fact that I wanted to study film at a time when Brazilian cinema barely existed (the 90’s, after collor shut down Embrafilme) was seen as a joke. I think that made me go into film more than anything else, more than even my love for film—the fact that people didn’t believe in it. When I realized it was too late, I was already in it. Then I had to love it. I believe this is the way the film process works for me to this day. That’s the logic behind it: I love what I do because I’m doing it.
Education is really learning your limitations, what you cannot do–and, by elimination–what you can do. And finding your voice means finding what you can do well. That’s what you’re gonna love– what you can do well. There are lots of types of cinema that I love but I can’t do, and I learned that. Therefore, I don’t like doing them. And that’s essentially what Columbia meant to me– finding out those things, my limitations– a very humbling process — PLUS living day-by-day with people who breathed cinema and love it and knew it so much more than I did and, because of that, made me want to learn more and make more mistakes and fall in love with what I was doing.
Can you briefly describe what inspired your film?
Inspiration for this film: Rogerio Trindade– the film’s main character and main actor. His magnetism, his charisma, his gift: to ENTERTAIN. How this man who seemed to have everybody and everything was yet so lonely.
As an exercise, I try to find one word that defines what a movie is about. I got a much better sense of which way I was going with “Salt Kiss” when I understood it was about ENTITLEMENT. A man who has everything and everyone, and yet is so lonely.
Everything started from him, Rogerio– the real guy. He’s both the actor and the character. Someone I find truly inspiring, fascinating, magnetic, a force of nature who’s out there. It started with him, and with a specific mood– one of abandonment, decadence maybe. From a group of people I know very well, with whom I have a huge intimacy. Intimacy was key, working with people I feel close to; more important than surrounding myself with complete professionals.
I did everything I could to get these people in the set: the same group of people that inspired me, starting with Rogerio. But it wasn’t until I found out the word– entitlement-that I could start thinking more precisely about story and how to dramatize Rogerio’s problem. It seemed natural to bring into the film his best friend with a fiancé–his best friend being outside his circle of influence now, having outgrown his scene– and study how Rogerio progressively loses control by NOT HAVING his friend, whom he feels entitled to.
Can you talk about some of the people you collaborated with? (actors, producers, DP, editor, composer, etc.)
Collaborators=friends. Bottom line. They were my friends before being my crew members. People whom I trusted. Very small crew. Would much rather haves friends around me who know just enough of what they’re doing than great professionals who totally know what they’re doing. The latter really scares me. On my set, nobody should know A LOT.
Relationship with Chris — my d.p. — is very special. He is a director before being a DP. So I remember our first and only location scout (the day after he arrived in Brazil I took him to the island!) The location is beautiful and, as we were talking about the shots, I would get these wild ideas and then Chris would stop me, and say: this would be a great shot but i don’t think it has much to do with you film. That’s when I realized WHY I flew him there, instead of finding a Brazilian DP from the advertising world, who would be all about the cool shots. Chris knew what the film was about, what the process was about; as a director, he understands and appreciates the narrative choices rather than stylistic ones. And at the end of the day, he knows the film will mean nothing for his reel if — as a film-it doesn’t work. The film has to be good before people start talking about its cinematography.
Then, the apparatus; as my good friend and filmmaker Kirill Mykhanovsky says — reality resists the camera, ALWAYS. So I want to reduce the apparatus as much as I can in order to have less between me and the reality I want to capture. Working with non-actors also helps to make the apparatus invisible. So Chris and I said we were not going to light it– it would be minimun light for the interior night stuff and absolutely nothing for daytime. When I said that to the grip and the gaffer, they didn’t believe it, naturally. So they brought a bunch of their personal gear. Of course they didn’t use it, so they were initially kind of disappointed and bored in the set. Then they started paying attention to the scenes, and to Rogerio… this is what mattered — this is the only thing that matters: who’s in front of the camera. If you have someone magnetic and truly charismatic, half of
the job is taken care of. And we had that– and I can say that bluntly because it has nothing to do with me, but with him, Rogério, only. At the end, the gaffer and the grip, they had a blast. It’s like Cassavettes used to say: “Everybody in my set has to care about what’s happening in front of the camera, period.” If they’re hanging out by the truck doing nothing, it’s bad. Well, I had no truck because we were on an island in the middle of nowhere.
The ISLAND: a character: way of getting away from everything. A place where characters don’t have jobs, don’t have financial problems, don’t have bills to pay, don’t have to worry. So i could discuss things that Brazilian cinema usually doesn’t have the time/chance to discuss. Because once you have somebody who’s hungry or can’t pay the bills, it’s almost vulgar, and definitely unfair, to discuss his solitude, or why his best friend isn’t with him anymore.
Were there any compromises you had to make on this film? Anything you’d do differently?
My biggest regret, or compromise, was not having had more time on the island before the shoot. Not necessarily rehearsal time because I don’t think this film would have benefited from rehearsal. The first takes, without rehearsal, were generally the better ones, which is sometimes the case when you work w non-actors who have incredible instincts but no technique to sustain whatever they did first. I wanted more time to simply develop more intimacy between Rogério and the actor who plays Paulo–Domingos. They literally met the night before shoot day one. While Rogerio’s entourage was mainly made of people whom he already knew and was very close to– he had never met Paulo. And since Rogerio came from a different state (Minas Gerais, where he had just had a daughter!), I never had the chance to put the two together in a room until the night before. One week in the island with the two with no cameras would have created a tighter bond.
Any film influences? (this could also include literature, art, music, etc.)
Influences: Lucrecia, Lucrecia. Not formally because her style is way more rigid and controlled than mine. But the patient build-up, the effortless experience, the feeling that this might not be a movie and then, bang, that explosion of dramatic ironies that have slowly been constructed that suddenly justify the whole thing, and I dare say, legitimize it as CINEMA. The Dardennes Brothers: formally — holding the tension without cutting, the feeling that anything can happen within the frame precisely because of the lack of cutting. La Dolce Vita: the wanderer, the beautiful wanderer– who’s so sad and you don’t know why. Sergio Sant’Anna: Brazilian writer (of La Muerte, actually). Embracing the perversion of his characters, and loving them the same, or even more because of that.
My most important influence: Kirill Mikhanovsky, the director of the great Sonhos de Peixe. He was the one who taught me to fight reality in order to print it on film. He also taught me to observe, to sit and look and listen to the things that are interesting.
What are your expectations for Sundance?
That the audience is not looking for the “Brazil” in the film…that instead, they’re paying attention to these characters, these people, these human beings, whom I happen to know so well. And understand that this is a Brazilian film simply and precisely because it comes from a personal place — not because it has a cockfight in it.
Any films you’re excited to see at Sundance?
The docs. I had a great time last year watching some of the docs, and I’m looking forward to some of them. Especially Manda Bala and Accidente. the first was made by a Brazilian/Argentinean/American director (if I’m not mistaken) and promises a hot political scandal on screen, so I’m dying of curiosity. Accidente is a Brazilian documentary from a group of filmmakers from Minas Gerais (same state where Rogerio comes from) called TEIA. They make very sensorial, incredibly poetic, work– I’m a fan of their shorts and I still haven’t seen Acidente. Among the features, the David Gordon Green film. I have a soft spot for All the Real Girls, I must admit. I can never wait to watch the films from Malick’s disciple! I’m also very very excited about Chicago 10. I really like Brett’s The Kid Stays in the Picture, and one of my best friends did the animation for C10! Then, finally, THE SHORTS! They’re the most fun part of any festival, as my buddy James Ponsoldt would say.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve read or received about filmmaking?
“Follow your instincts,” from Tom Kalin.
What’s your favorite/least favorite question to read in interviews with directors?
Least favorite question: “Why did you make this film?”. Nobody should ask that. Favorite question: influences…I love to know where each filmmaker is coming from.