Man on the edge

Kasra Farahani on emotional disintegration, modern America and Tilt.

by Jennie Kermode

Kasra Farahani
Kasra Farahani

Tilt, a film with a modest budget that made a big impression at Tribeca earlier this year, developed from a single image. A man standing over his wife, who is completely unaware of his presence. Kasra Farahani describes himself as a very visual filmmaker and this image gripped him and co-writer Jason O'Leary from the moment they conceived of it. "Both of us are not naturally horror minded people. We're quite averse to graphic or gory imagery, so it was quite disturbing to us," Kasra explains.

We're chatting because the film has recently screened at the Fantasia Film Festival, which Kasra is particularly excited about because, as he says, "there are a lot of festivals out there but it's doing something unique." He tells me he feels really lucky to have had good responses at festivals but he's keen for general audiences to also have the chance to see it.

"The image of someone looming over a defenceless person stayed with me, and it felt disturbing and inappropriate," he says. "It's a real world vesion of horror, more familiar than stylised. I think real horror comes from the biggest threat not being outside of the home, out there in the scary world, but in the safety of your home where you feel safe."

"We see this struggle like a tug of war between two sides of him"
"We see this struggle like a tug of war between two sides of him"

I tell him that I recently watched Alexandre O Philippe's documentary 78/52, about the shower scene in Psycho, which posits that Hitchcock's film got the reaction it did in 1960 precisely because of that, because it brought horror into a place where people had previously felt safe. Kasra is intrigued by this and its relationship to troubled personalities. The central protagonist in Tilt, like Norman Bates, is torn between being a very ordinary guy and expressing a deep rage.

"I think lot of what were trying do in the film was to show the difficulty Joseph Burns [played by Joseph Cross] is having reconciling these two distinct facets of his personality, so we see him going home and cleaning the litter box, watering the plants, all those everyday things you do to maintain life. They're not things you do if you know you're going to destroy life, so evidently at least one part of him is trying to keep going, but the other side is deeply dissatisfied. His wife is pregnant, he feels under pressure and like's run out of time for himself, he's thinking about responsibility and he has these powerful hate fantasies.

"We see this struggle like a tug of war between two sides of him and it's all very much in this house. The house is really important."

A lot of critics have pointed out the wider relevance of the story and how this one man's disintegration can be seen as a metaphor for Trump's America. Kasra notes that it was shot in Autumn 2015, when things looked a bit different.

"We had no idea how the election would go," he says. "Trump was not being considered as a serious candidate at all but the thing that was new and disturbing at the time was the voice being given to regressive, vile, misogynistic and racist views which have always existed but have never been talked about openly like that, at least in recent decades. Anyone who dared speak so freely about them out loud wouldn't get listened to like that, let alone be able to organise a viable, effective political movement. I never thought Trump would be president but I was interested in the idea of a character who was outwardly very progressive and informed intellectually but was emotionally very different, at the primitive reptile mind level.

"He feels emasculated, not being able to recognise that his wife is the breadwinner, and he feels very angry at being marginalised. Maybe he longs for the he's making a film about, the Golden Age as he calls it, when if you were a white male in America you could basically only fall so far. Obviously there were struggles but by and large the barriers to entry were very different for things like home ownership and being able to have a vacation each year. He's the product of a couple very practical generations of people and he thinks the world would be worse off without his great intellectual contribution.

"He has these powerful hate fantasies"
"He has these powerful hate fantasies"

"I think that what happens to him could happen to anyone, but when you take somebody with fundamentally vulnerable brain chemistry or somebody who had a tenuous link to stability to begin with and has struggled with sanity his whole life, we're seeing that moment when the circumstances of life overwhelm him. I was thinking earlier about things I've read about in the news media where we often encounter people who have gotten to a certain stage of life without incident and then something happens and they do something terrible, so the real horror is in trying to work out who are these people and how do they get into that situation?"

The protagonist here is also a filmmaker; are his expeiences in the industry based on personal experience?

"Absolutely. Jason and I drew on a lot of personal experiences to make this film. But that's how it always is on some level. You take things you relate to and then crank them up. A lot of people in the crew shared their experiences too."

He and Jason are now going on to work on their next film, he tells me. "It's sort of like American Beauty meets a Farahani film with a sort of One Hundred Years Of Solitude, magical realism component to it. It's a family drama, so quite different to Tilt."

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