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A Conversation with Nadia Szold and Evan Louison (JOY DE V.)

(Joy de V. world premiered at the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival, where it received a Special Jury Mention. It has its New York Premiere at the Northside Festival, screening at Williamsburg’s Wythe Hotel on Tuesday June 18th at 7pm. Visit the film’s official website to learn more.)

Nadia Szold’s Joy de V. is an oddball Gotham pyschodrama, a walk on the wild side, a movie that does its best to evoke a mythical outer borough New York and one particularly headstrong, soon-to-be-a-father, pro con-man/nut job found within it. It centers on a cat named Roman, played by Evan Louison in a role perfectly suited for the young actor (full disclosure: Louison also stars in my own film, Redlegs, and was introduced to the director of this film by yours truly). Roman is the kind of guy who has to do something deranged every once in awhile to maintain his spot on the dole. After the mysterious disappearance of his seven month pregnant wife, to say homie starts tripping is a bit of an understatement. But just how under control is Roman and how close to the edge has he gone? Navigating a by turns grimy and glamorous New York underworld in search of his wife, and perhaps a little loot as well, Roman’s pursuit lends itself to some rather zany episodes and encounters, including a heist complete with catholic clergy costumes and Claudia Cardinale(!).

Reviewing the film in our pages when it had its world premiere several months ago at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, where the film earned a Special Jury Mention, Paul Sbrizzi wrote that Joy de V. was, “a film with wisdom, humor, and a fully developed, dazzling sense of style. It’s impossible to fully pin down: like a Persian rug, its pleasures come as much from the beautifully designed details as from the piece as a whole.”

For the second year in a row, our good friends at the Northside Festival asked us here at Hammer to Nail to curate a screening of a recent indie film we adored and we’re happy that Joy de V. was able to be our pick.

Joy De V. director Nadia Szold with Claudia Cardinale

Hammer To Nail: Had you read Pynchon’s Vineland at all when you came up with this film?

Nadia Szold: Yes!

H2N: I ask because the protagonists in each have a similar way of making money… that is quite unusual.

NS: Glad you saw the connection. No one else has brought that up.

H2N: Why’d that appeal to you?

NS: I’m a card-carrying Pynchon fan. Insanity- feigned or in fact real has always been something I’ve been interested in since I was maybe four or five. My pops is a shrink and I used to listen in on some of his sessions/ hide behind the piano, hide up in the balcony—it was highly morally ambiguous of me but we didn’t have TV and it was my entertainment. Sometimes I felt like the shit these patients were saying had to be made up, it was just so wild, but sometimes you really could tell they were out in the deep end and that was scary. I feel like everyone can relate to losing it.

H2N: Did your dad have a patient like this guy?

NS: No. For some reason I only remember women.

Evan Louison: Ha.

NS: But… that’s probably just selective. I immediately jived with the Pynchon story because that’s actually a somewhat common scam in NYC.

EL: That and popping up as your dead mother at the welfare check office.

NS: I have a friend who accidentally got dubbed as insane by the courts because of an outburst and he since then has been picking up the checks. There are multiple ways to attempt duping the system, but it does take balls and the knowledge that it may catch up with you. When my dad saw Joy de V. he diagnosed Roman as a paranoid depressive with sociopathic tendencies, but wouldn’t diagnose him as crazy. He’s not a schizophrenic. I’m more the schizophrenic, hearing voices in my head and then writing them down as dialogue—but it is a conscious process, thankfully. At least so far.

H2N: Were you trying to write someone who would be sympathetic from the get go despite his/because of psychopathology, or someone that the audience would have to warm up to over time?

NS: I was hoping Roman was a character that immediately charmed—just like a con artist—and then does things that try the audiences’ feelings towards him. He opens up his mind, and heart, though so that, despite his actions, especially the final one, I was hoping that by that point, the audience is invested and actually compassionate with his plight.

EL: His mind contains fears and nightmares that he doesn’t want to let out into the conscious world and it manifests there beneath the surface until it bursts, in crisis. This is not the type of behavior we are supposed to support or nurture, and yet it comes natural that we should feel compelled along with him in his journey.

H2N: What were the most effective methods to get yourself jacked up enough to crawl inside this guys psychosis?

EL: Well… It was a long period of time built into this character, Roman, and by that I could mean since Nadia gave me the script, which was four or five years ago now, or since we met, which was six years ago, or my whole life.

NS: Was it that long? I seem to remember it being three years ago, right before it left Paris for good.

EL: I had been through the ringer emotionally for a number of years and a lot of things came to a head in my private life that were just wreaking havoc across everything I tried to do, especially the movie things I was trying to do, so this film and this character were a catharsis on many levels.

NS: Yet, I think it may have been simmering since the Forensic days [ed. note: Forensic Films, where they worked together]. It was a case of life imitating art in more than one aspect.

EL: You’re probably right. I know that Nadia and I worked on the character, I would bring stories to her and perform them, tell her everything I could remember from my childhood about these men I heard of only in my father’s tales, and then also was informed a lot by Steven Prince & Scorcese’s American Boy, so we had a lot of different influences working through the experience of being him. And I was this person. That much was completely true.

NS: A lot of stories went into the building of the character that we had no intention of ever including in the picture.

EL: To get myself jacked up was only natural, like waking up and wanting to die all in the same instant. If you spend every waking moment of every day thinking, “Where is she, where is she, where is she?”—you get the picture pretty quick. I started to deteriorate just like Roman. It was hard, but it was necessary. By any means necessary.

NS: It wasn’t fun. Ever. But it was exactly what we both wanted to be doing.

H2N: Why did you decide to do it in outer borough NYC instead of along the Seine, as you had initially planned?

NS: Well, there just was no way a guy like Roman, a New York hustler, could get in with the demi-underworld in Paris the way he does in NYC and so, although I was seduced by the “sets” of Paris, I had to get real—at least once.

EL: It became a completely different world—a darker one—once the place was New York. The element of danger felt much more instinctive because we know the danger of New York in our bones.

NS: He’s manipulating the system… which would be a lot harder to do in Paris, even though they have a pretty healthy social security of their own. Both cities can be very unkind. Roman interacts with the city and its denizens more than he does with Joy… aside from his rants towards her in his mind. He is constantly in a dialogue with Joy, but it’s a one-sided conversation. I think he actually grows adrift because of it. It’s the problem of placing all one’s hopes and, am I really going to say it, dreams in one person. Romantic love is very exclusive by nature. I love you—and by that, I am choosing you—excluding everything, everyone else.

EL: It’s a place he feels the most at home in, but then feels completely adrift within the blink of an eye. That conversation becomes a picture of his dependency upon her, upon the place she held in his heart and life just by being there. When she’s not, he goes to pieces. He loses his grip. He’s being pushed along, down this road of attempting to establish something of a “normal life,” whatever that is, and the draw of the criminal underworld no longer attracts him with its glow as it once did. It’s putting it on one hope, one dream, no matter how much a figment it could be, that without that nothing will work. Nothing can change. So when you pull that pin, everything disappears.

H2N: What were the biggest unforeseen challenges the both of you faced once you were in the midst of the shoot? And how did they change the course the movie ultimately took during production?

NS: Money. But that didn’t change the end result of the film because we did everything to get the day, get the scene. Wreaking havoc in the process.

EL: Yeah, it was a breakneck pace. I would also call the emotional wreckage of the character something that was kind of intense and for some reason, blindsided me. I think the tone of the production matched the timbre of my mind the whole time.

NS: That’s true. That was naively unforeseen by me.

EL: Well me more than anyone. I don’t know what I was thinking.

NS: Well… I cut a swathe and kinda had blinders on.

EL: You do cut quite a swathe. But it is interesting—things did start to break down, and a lot of our work was trying to constantly make ends meet, make emotional and physical production ends. In that way we rose to the occasion. But it nearly crippled us.

H2N: What were the key things you realized about the story you were telling while shooting that you hadn’t before you started?

NS: Oh, that it was much darker. I wrote it originally as an absurd comedy.

EL: Yeah. Originally it was like a romp.

NS: But that’s the trouble when you play with hellish emotions and gallows humor. Maybe we’re not British enough to pull that off, yet.

EL: Yeah, or Italian enough.

NS: There was a point where we just couldn’t laugh at it any more.

EL: It became shockingly clear how unfunny the scenario was, how deafeningly serious it was.

NS: Although there are some scenes that still carry moments of humor. Roman’s interactions with Morosini, or with the psychic.

EL: Definitely the tone is still there I think.

NS: The scenarios are comic—there’s play there, and the two actresses hit the beats beautifully. Claudia joined on because she found the script very funny. She thought the final metaphor was a gas. For an Italian woman, the metaphor made perfect sense. I think maybe that’s why she never married.

H2N: The two of you have already shot  another picture together—the forthcoming Mariah, with Dakota Goldhor. What did you learn on Joy de V. that you’ve applied to that one?

NS: Reflection, that’s something I rarely do, so I don’t wanna bullshit you, but not to take everything so damn seriously,  shoot for the cut, etc. All things I’m still working on. We certainly shot a lot more on Mariah. We just came back from pick ups and b-roll. We shot much more atmosphere for MariahJoy de V. is very sparse; it’s almost a portrait. Following Roman, Roman, Roman all the time. When I was a kid I wanted to make The Odyssey, but shoot it entirely as a close-up on Odysseus and through the changes in his face, understand the entire scope of the story.

EL: We have grown a great deal since then just in terms of the “big picture”—never losing sight of it and what is needed for the movie to work. It was a conscious decision to move away from New York for our second story and we just wanted to push ourselves as hard and as far as possible. Completely different animals, completely different trainers.

NS: One thing I wanted to do with Mariah was make a story that involved three people. Joy is almost claustrophobic in that it follows one obsessively.

EL: Triptych.

NS: Having a plot that was the product of three wills, three desires.

EL: As opposed to one mind, bewildered.

NS: Three separate people. That’s how story is born. When wills go against each other and ultimately fate, chance and the gods intervene and shame everyone, cut everyone down to size. Structure is something I’m still grappling with—and collaborating with Louison on the script was another major difference than with Joy in which we collaborated more on the character. We basically wrote Mariah over three days on the top floor of a cantina. I had the story in a very bare bones place, but when Ev arrived, we hammered out all the meat of it—restructured it and wrote the scenes. A lot of the process was Evan pacing, both of us talking lines at each other and me scribbling. Micheladas helped.

EL: Ha. I’m laughing because Brandon’s probably familiar with that exact process.

NS: De verdad?

H2N: All too true. How has the film changed for you since you completed it? Having lived with it so long, do you have much the same relationship you did to it at the beginning or has it completely changed in terms of what it means to you each personally?

NS: It’s another planet. When you’re working on it in such minute detail for months and years, and then you lay it to rest, it is finally outside of you…

EL: It went away for a little while but came back strong. It still touches me. It was three years of my life. I lived with the character long after we ended. Because I was still working on it, it felt so urgent for it to grow into something fully born. I’m happy now that it’s coming out, but in regards to what it means to me—it’s like the continuing story of Antoine Doinel to be perfectly honest. And I’m thankful for that. Because I have that. We have that.

NS: And now it’s something for others to dig or distain or dismiss. It’s out in the world. It’s the Romanade.

EL: Exactly. The character is the thing. He goes on.

NS: This particular chapter, I feel is out of us…

EL: Yeah. We’re on to the next, and next, and next.

— Brandon Harris

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Brandon Harris works nebulously in the world of American Independent Film as a critic and journalist, producer and director, writer and educator. The Cincinnati, Ohio native is a Contributing Editor for Filmmaker Magazine and teaches part time at the New York Film Academy. You can catch his reviews here at H2N and over on his site Cinema Echo Chamber. He resides in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, which is also the setting for his forthcoming feature film debut, Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa.

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