Stillness and chaos; tenderness and anger; eroticism and violence: it all intertwines in the tumult of a romantic relationship, capturing both the highs and lows of falling for someone else. After all, what is love if not a “ghastly risk”, as the poetic clip Falling into Love – used here as voiceover – reminds us? Utilising a striking combination of colours, operatic sound and a keen two-handed cast, HeavenHell from Director Anthony Capristo (last seen on DN here) distills a feature film’s worth of drama within a fleet, abstractly drawn two minutes, using innovative transitions to blend different emotions into one another. The final result is a stark reminder that as we fall in love, we can often fall into many other conflicting feelings as well. We caught up with Capristo talk to him about using VFX, getting the right visual references, the importance of giving an overview through voiceover and finding the right energy from the two leads.
What was the main impetus behind HeavenHell?
Love is often idealised and romanticised in pop culture. But love often causes more pain than strong positive feelings like affection. It was important to me to portray what love sometimes can be; namely heaven and hell at the same time. It’s a state of strong attachment and overwhelming emotion, and equally a state of irrationality and hostility. Strong feelings can cause strong reactions, no matter in which direction.
The relationship of the two protagonists is an amour fou. It’s a French term for a love relationship that is deadly, passionate and obsessive. So I decided that the best approach to reflect this roller coaster of emotions is that of an experimental, creative short film.
It was important to me to portray what love sometimes can be; namely heaven and hell at the same time.
It feels like a feature film condensed into a fleet two minutes, giving us a great impression of these characters. What was the difficulty in finding the right moments and condensing those in the edit?
There was a vague script describing different moments of a romantic relationship. These moments had to live on strong feelings which could suddenly turn into their complete opposite. Falling in love always means taking a risk. It’s a bet with one’s own feelings.
We were also very lucky to cast two fantastic actors in Ava Coburn and Ben Rummler. They got along well from the beginning, laughing together and having no shame in front of each other, even during the sex scenes. That’s why their relationship in the film feels so authentic.
The characters often seem like they’re on the verge of breaking up, both as characters and quite literally, especially with the way you transition and play around with the frame itself. I’d love to learn more about the use of this technique?
I was looking for a way to visualise the inner turmoil of the characters. I contacted Henning Himmelreich, a great VFX artist, with whom I’ve worked many times before. We asked ourselves: what’s the most powerful way to visualise the extreme contrast of repulsion and attraction in a human relationship? The smear effect, as we call it, works like a magnet that repels and attracts. We tried different techniques and styles. It was important that it didn’t look too digital, not like the typical glitch effects. It had to have something analog, even if it’s subtle, to show the madness and inner conflicts. It was a long process, but we’re both very happy with the result.
The smear effect, as we call it, works like a magnet that repels and attracts.
Did you write backstories for the characters in order to give them more strength?
If I had intended to make a short film, I would have written background stories for these characters. But since the idea of the film lives primarily off its visual power, it was more important for me to find the strongest images. Unfortunately, the experimental approach, especially with such a short running time, often leaves little room for narrative depth.
I love the romanticism found in the way the film is lit. Did you have any visual references? What was it like trying to get the feel of the film right?
In retrospect, it’s difficult to say what exactly inspired me or what inspiration really found its way into the film. The mood board brought together a lot of different films and visual influences from cinema (The Dreamers, Mulholland Drive, Irreversible, In The Mood For Love) as well as the music video genre (JIL: All Your Words).
Of course, a mood board is important but even more important is the communication with the DOP. Marco Schott and I have not only worked together for years, but we’re also very good friends. We know precisely what the other one thinks and how he works. It’s inspiring. This allows you to quickly notice whether something feels right or not.
Tell me about the Alan Watts “Falling into Love” clip that you use to narrate HeavenHell. Why did you want to use this to anchor your film?
Actually, I came across this clip by accident. We were already in the editing process for a long time. It must have been version seven or eight when we decided to start over and use Alan Watts’ voiceover as a leitmotif. I’m not really a fan of voiceover at all, but I felt that what Watts says about love not only expands the theme of the film but also supports the visuals in a way that helps you understand what you’re seeing. I don’t like it when experimental films are too vague.
The music itself helps to give the film a breathless feel, rising in conjunction with the characters. What was your collaboration with the composer like?
That’s a nice anecdote. Before we started editing, I sent my Editor Andrew Holmes a reference of how I envisioned the editing of the film. It was a commercial film by North Face Japan for which Seiji Champollion had written the music. We used that music as a template for the edit until I contacted him to ask if I could use his music for my project. He said yes. We edited a few versions until Andrew and I realised that the music didn’t fit the film. It was too commercial. I talked to Seiji, who was so taken with the project that he agreed to write new music from scratch. That was a long process, too. He wrote several compositions, tried different instruments, and recorded countless voices until we finally found what we were looking for.
Falling in love always means taking a risk. It’s a bet with one’s own feelings.
After that, Seiji and I collaborated on another film. He is such a great composer and sound designer. I’ve never met anyone like him before. We’ve built a friendly relationship since then. That’s what I love about filmmaking, strangers become friends because they share one thing: the love for filmmaking.
How was the casting process? What were you going for in terms of finding the right energy from the performers?
The casting went extremely smoothly. Both Ava and Ben had been recommended to me by agencies and colleagues. I had video calls with both of them, in which they immediately convinced me. I had no worries about whether it would work on set or not. You also have to try your luck with a passion project. It is hardly possible to do many castings considering it’s a non-paid job.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on two feature film projects, both of which are in the middle of the screenwriting process. In fact, I’m looking for a female screenwriter for one of the two projects. The main character is a woman and I feel that a female influence would benefit the character. So if you can recommend someone, please let me know!