There are decisions in our lives which define us, setting out a path from the present to our eventual future and although personally momentous, they often slip past unnoticed by the world at large. An exploration of love and intimacy, Sydney-based Writer/Director Michael Gupta takes us inside such a moment in his understated short drama Flower, which quietly observes a young Muslim woman at an abortion clinic as she grapples with a life-changing decision. A film which feels all the richer for its lack of exposition or explanatory setup, Gupta tells DN why he was excited to meet the challenge of conveying the fleshed out emotional world of a character in more or less a single moment.
Flower is very much a ‘defining-moment’ film, where did the story come from and why did you decide to solely concentrate on this small window of time?
The launching point for the screenplay came after reading an article in an Australian newspaper about an immigrant women’s health clinic, situated in the outer western suburbs of Sydney. The article traversed the experiences of a Middle Eastern family and the mother’s fear of reprisal after learning her daughter had become pregnant out of wedlock. I knew there was something to unpack here, and I felt a pull to explore this as a portrait-piece; a young woman, grappling with her duty to family and her own hidden desires.
With limited resources and time, and a short development period for the screenplay, we placed certain restrictions on the scope of the project. Paring everything back was somewhat out of necessity but also a kind of challenge to see what we could conjure from modest means.
Asghar Farhadi is one of my favourite filmmakers, I admire the way he interrogates seemingly simple questions that slowly, slowly unravel like an onion. For Flower, the question became – If I show you who I am, will you accept me, no matter what? Of course, for us time was too limited for complete unravelling but I wanted the audience to wonder what might happen to this woman after the credits.
In what ways did Amirah’s internal conflict shape your choice of shooting style?
It’s endlessly interesting to think about visual language and the way it supports the psychology of a character. It’s something that was obviously at the forefront of our minds and for this film, it really just seemed to organically take shape throughout the process. In the lead-up, I had made some crude storyboards that leant toward this very observational, kind of sterile feel – something that would allow the unfolding events to simply play out, not forced or manipulated. We didn’t completely stick to that notion but for me, the first shot really set the tone. We wanted it to feel claustrophobic and a little disconnected – so shooting through the window of the door gave us both the architecture and the cold separation that parallels Amirah’s emotional state. Slowly as the film progresses, it felt right to loosen up and certainly by the end, we kind of burst open a little. When we go outside, the sun hits and it’s a completely different feel.
Aanisa Vylet does a great job of emanating the painfully raw emotions of this situation, how did she come on board and was it always the plan that your lead actor would compose the Flower Lullaby?
Aanisa and I were at university together, so I was familiar with her work and had been wanting to reach out to her for a while. She’s also done a lot of theatre and to me, this was a big advantage in the type of rigorous approach and sustained performances you have to deliver night in night out. Her sense of investigation and dedication pushed me to justify and think about all angles of her character. I’m so glad she was able to come on board and that we were able to dive in super quickly without too many reservations.
Paring everything back was somewhat out of necessity but also a kind of challenge to see what we could conjure from modest means.
Aanisa is such a collaborative creator, writer and performer. I had scripted the original lullaby and let me tell you, it was not that great. When we first chatted about the film, Aanisa had some suggestions and we spoke about reworking the lyrics. The next time we chatted she had sat down with her mum and developed the melody along with the new words. When I first heard it, I was floored. It felt tender and sweet, yet had this real sense of pain to it – they really hit the nail on the head with that. And the fact that the song was authored by mother and child, I couldn’t help but feel infused the film with an honesty and purity.
This feels like a story which could expand both forwards and backwards in time, do you have the next or previous chapter of Amirah’s journey in mind?
It’s funny, there seem to be two types of people – ones that want to know the backstory and ones that want to know how everything will pan out. The answer is, I’m not quite sure of either yet. It’s an interesting conversation to be had. But I’m definitely keen to revisit Amirah’s world, and I like the idea of an anthology of short works as simple yet powerful moments, told as portrait-like chapters.
What will we see from you next?
I have another short called The Echo in post at the moment, which we shot on 16mm and was a real treat to work on. I’ve also been funded to make a short documentary called A Way of Being, exploring off-beat youth in outer western Sydney and the tensions between growing up in an immigrant family, sex, duty and western culture.
As a screenwriter I have some television work coming up, which is very exciting and a new step for me. Hopefully, my feature will be finished soon too. In between all that I’m interested in pursuing good advertising work and just keeping on getting to the cinema.