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LOCARNO 2019 Competition

João Nicolau • Director of Technoboss

“As a director, the use of music in film is one of the subjects that interests me the most”


- Portuguese director João Nicolau talks to us about his latest film Technoboss screened in competition in Locarno

João Nicolau  • Director of Technoboss
(© Ottavia Bossello/Locarno Film Festival)

Technoboss [+see also:
film review
interview: João Nicolau
film profile
, the most recent work by Portuguese director João Nicolau, is a quirky, surreal and ballsy comedy which transforms everyday life into a dream. On the occasion of its premiere at the Locarno Film Festival, we chatted with the filmmaker about his passion for music and his own understanding of “normality”.

Cineuropa: Where did the idea for your film come from? How did you develop the script?
João Nicolau: The film was born out of a very simple idea: I wanted to observe a man without interacting with him. My co-writer Mariana Ricardo and I came up with the idea of a long car journey. In these situations, we often feel a sense of abandonment and solitude. The car represents a confined and intimate space which we can’t get away from. I didn’t have any particular reference point for the main character, but I was probably influenced, albeit unwittingly, by all those men from the generation preceding my own. The remainder of the film was developed during the creative process. The first version of the script dates back to 2013. I filmed another feature film in the meantime, and then I returned to this idea of a solitary journey.

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Did you already have Miguel Lobo Antunes in mind for the main character?
Not at all. In my work, I tend to use a mix of professional and non-professional actors. Just like in my previous film, John From [+see also:
film review
film profile
, I started with the casting process, I didn’t have any particular actors in mind. That said, as the screenplay came together, we did realise that we needed a professional actor to play the main character. It’s a complex and difficult role, rich in nuances. It also required singing and dancing. So we organised auditions with professional actors, singers and also performers. We saw 20 or 30 of them, but I wasn’t convinced. Then I met Miguel Lobo Antunes at an evening event, who, at that point, I only knew from a distance (he’s the father of a colleague). I watched him and said to myself “Why not him?”. But I had to convince him to come to auditions. He enjoyed himself during the audition, but the work that followed was intense. I love the work we do with actors before filming kicks off; we’re allowed to have doubts, to question ourselves, to experiment or make mistakes. Miguel threw himself into this project. He worked a great deal on the songs with the musical director. The choreography, on the other hand, is more spontaneous, even if I did ask him to include certain moves.

In Technoboss, you portray old age differently, moving beyond clichéd representations. The main character, for example, is at ease with himself and seems free and serene. Why so?
I really wanted to make a film which would explore the main character’s present situation. In my previous film, I worked with adolescents, but this time I wanted to do something different. We often look at old age with commiseration, but I didn’t want to fall into this trap with my film. The main character is indeed faced with a present situation which is perceived as positive: he must take on new challenges or experience unexpected pleasures. He’s someone who doesn’t have many worries in life; he’s at peace with himself and perhaps that’s what makes him dangerous. He’s the opposite of many people his age; he’s happy with the life he leads, even if it’s not perfect. He has a rather mundane job, he doesn’t own a big house, he’s divorced but he doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He finds pleasure in the smaller things in life (spending time with his grandson, having fun at work) and he still has a future ahead of him. I didn’t want to portray old age in an overly dramatic or pessimistic fashion. There are already plenty of films - good films, even – which explore the subject from that angle.

Music plays a central role in your films. How do you go about working with this artform?
I’ve always had musicians playing live in my films. As a director, the use of music in film is one of the subjects that interests me the most. In Technoboss, I wanted to try something different with music: the main character wouldn’t be a singer, but a sales manager. He would only sing for himself, for pleasure. I wanted to portray this very personal and intimate side of music, more so than the singing performance itself. The aim was for the music in the film to tell us something else about the character without getting in the way of the story. I’m not talking about time-stopping moments like in Hollywood musicals of the 50s, even if I do really like these films. Personally, I consider Vincente Minnelli to be a great director, but I feel both a sense of attraction and repulsion when it comes to traditional musical comedies. We worked hard on the music in Technoboss. In our minds, music should be seen as a raw material, a key component in the filmmaking process. I worked with two composers who were rather different, musically speaking. We (myself, my co-writer, the two composers and the arranger) took part in two residencies in 2015 and 2017. There was a lot of teamwork involved. We wrote together, taking it in turns, like in a game of table tennis. There are even a few scenes in the film which were suggested by the composers. I had to invent them especially for them.

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(Translated from French)

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