Unique voices

Sarita Choudhury on Learning To Drive for real, Ingmar Bergman, Hirokazu Kore-eda and A Year

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Sarita Choudhury with Anne-Katrin Titze on Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, Nobody Knows and Like Father, Like Son: “His type of filmmaking, I just can't get enough of.”
Sarita Choudhury with Anne-Katrin Titze on Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, Nobody Knows and Like Father, Like Son: “His type of filmmaking, I just can't get enough of.” Photo: The Barber director Melanie Aronson

At the Nordic International Film Festival closing night party at Gitano, I followed up with Sarita Choudhury, who starred with Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson in Isabel Coixet’s Learning To Drive, on her stated quest to get a driver’s license when we spoke at the premiere at The Paris Theatre in New York. Hirokazu Kore-eda and Ingmar Bergman are two of her favourite filmmakers and I told her as a member of the jury how much I liked Jisun Jamie Kim’s A Year, which screened in the festival.

Netflix announced that Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver with Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda, Julie Hagerty, and Merrit Wever will have a theatrical release at The Paris Theatre, starting on November 6. It was the Centerpiece Gala selection of the 57th New York Film Festival.

Learning To Drive co-stars Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson at Southgate
Learning To Drive co-stars Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson at Southgate Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Earlier in the evening Sarita hosted the NIFF awards ceremony at the Roxy Cinema.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You say you'd much rather be on the jury than present the awards?

Sarita Choudhury: Oh, yeah.

AKT: You were a great presenter, though.

SC: Thank you. I was so nervous.

AKT: When we talked previously about Learning To Drive, that was at The Paris Theatre. You heard that The Paris Theatre closed?

SC: Yes. It's what's happening now in New York.

AKT: You were saying to me then [in 2015] that you didn't know how to drive and that you were going to learn how to drive. Have you in the meantime?

SC: I can't believe you ask me this! Last night I decided, I'm starting next week. That's crazy! And then I thought of the film, Learning To Drive, which I haven't thought of for years.

AKT: It's a lovely film. You were great in it. You played Ben Kingsley's wife.

Hirokazu Kore-eda in Central Park
Hirokazu Kore-eda in Central Park Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

SC: Who couldn't speak!

AKT: And now you are thinking of getting your driver's license?

SC: Yeah, but I felt almost weird, because I thought, hold on, Learning to Drive was about that. I was in it. It feels like it's a recurring theme for me. Like Patricia, as a character.

AKT: How did you get involved with this festival?

SC: I had done a film this year that's not out yet, called After Yang, and the assistant director on that was amazing and he then asked me "Please, can you do my short film?" And I said "Of course." And Johan produced the short. So Johan reached out to me with an e-mail, saying "Would you host?"

AKT: What is the short about?

SC: You should ask Johan. I don't know how much I'm allowed to say. It's a futuristic film to do with climate change.

AKT: Always good.

SC: Always good. So when he asked me to do this, like I said in my speech, I was like "I hate hosting." But I'm obsessed with Nordic films and I've always been. So I thought why not?

Learning To Drive at The Paris Theatre
Learning To Drive at The Paris Theatre Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Do you have favourites?

SC: So many. I mean, starting with Bergman.

AKT: Do you have a favourite Bergman film?

SC: I mean, I guess when I started seeing Bergman films, Persona was my film. Always. I would stay with that.

AKT: Did you see any of the films in this festival?

SC: I did. And I actually need to see more because I keep meeting some of the filmmakers. I almost prefer festivals over new releases now. Because I'm realising I guess competition is so high, what we're seeing on platforms like Netflix are only the ones the masses watch around the world. So these very small unique voices, they're still not being seen.

AKT: They get lost.

SC: They're brilliant. And people think, oh they're not being seen because they're not great enough. No! It's because you might have to have a certain patience of art to love them.

AKT: I was on the jury, as you know, and I saw one film in the category of International Shorts that I really loved. It's called A Year.

Nordic International Film Festival poster
Nordic International Film Festival poster

SC: I will ask to see that.

AKT: It's about a woman in Nepal who has to make the decision to either stay with her children or become a surrogate, which means leaving for a year, but it would finance her kids' education and help the family survive. It has beautiful cinematography and depth to it.

SC: This is what I was saying, a lot of Nordic films in general … well there isn't general, so it's wrong to generalise. The depth is almost a given, but the artistic twist is not documentary, which I love. It's two points of view. Reality mixing with a point of view.

AKT: What were some of the best films you've seen this year in general? Did you go to the New York Film Festival?

SC: I was working. I keep missing festivals. I've been watching a lot of Kore-eda films. I saw Shoplifters.

AKT: Shoplifters is very good.

SC: Then I saw Like Father, Like Son. And then I saw Nobody Knows and I kept going.

AKT: He's great. I talked with him about Like Father, Like Son.

SC: And?

AKT: It was with a translator. I loved the film.

SC: I mean, literally his type of filmmaking, I just can't get enough of. And it made me realise we have this appetite that's not… I'm noticing it's more in the festivals. Or we need a new curated platform. Someone to create a site that's popular for people like us, who show their best choice from a festival.

AKT: Quality! Instead of trying to cater to some generic taste. We're much more alike internationally, than we are different. It is what the best films show.

SC: I agree.

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