A broad vision

Martin Radich on the trials and triumphs of filming Norfolk.

by Jennie Kermode

Norfolk
Norfolk

Some films are more about mood than narrative, more about atmosphere than dialogue. That's certainly the case with Norfolk, Martin Radich's poetic tale of a boy growing up in the eponymous county with a father who doubles as a hired killer. After making an impression on visitors to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, it's now on general release. I asked Martin how that part of the country got under his skin.

"Memories of a boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads from when I was ten resurfaced as I sat at my desk conceiving an idea," he says. "I suppose me thinking about creating a puzzle, a meandering mystery set in a timeless land triggered those distant memories to present themselves… I’d never been back for nearly 30 years."

The landscape makes a powerful impression in a film whose themes he feels, can exist outside of time. I ask if his background in cinematography helped, but he doesn't think so. "Being a cinematographer is helpful but a completely different mindset is required when directing. Perhaps a shorthand with the DP is possible but that’s about it."

Denis Ménochet and Martin Radich on the set of Norfolk.
Denis Ménochet and Martin Radich on the set of Norfolk.

Anything that eased the working process was useful, however, when facing the challenges presented by the terrain.

"Because I knew what the budget would be I opted to write much of the story in the landscape assuming that this was a cheaper solution; it backfired. The schedule on low-budget features is so incredibly tight that when you do get torrential rain and gales barreling in across the flatlands you keep on shooting regardless, knowing full well that the material is unusable. I’d perhaps reevaluate that tactic in future."

Sound is also really important in contributing to the film's immersive power. It's clearly a product of careful design rather than - as in too many films - something put together on the fly. Did Martin have much input into the sound design process?

"Lots," he says. "As much emphasis as picture was placed upon sound when I was writing the script. I often wrote phonetically believing that if the reader sees not just descriptive bold imagery but also hears the evocative sounds of that space it solidifies the story, it embeds it in the mind’s eye."

Then there's the casting of Denis Ménochet in the role of the boy's father. Although he, like the other actors, is silent throughout most of the film's running time, he has a powerful presence. How did they get him on board?

"We asked him. We needed an actor who had the capability of communicating inner turmoil through a blank expression. Despite being contradictory Denis can do this. He can express volcanic violence or a deep-seated melancholia all the way from back behind his eyes. Denis has got something special. He's a gifted fella."

Martin says he's very pleased with the way the film has been received so far. As for what's next, he says he doesn't yet know. Nothing is guaranteed.

You can view screening dates for Norfolk on its official site. The film is playing in Scottish cinemas from 1 October.

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