The French provocateur is one of seven directors contributing to the film
One of the highlights of this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, 7 Days In Havana, is an anthology movie set around the Cuban capital, inspired by the likes of Paris je t’aime and New York, I Love You. As the title suggests, seven filmmakers called the shots, from actor Benicio Del Toro, making his directorial debut, to classy auteurs such as Laurent Cantet and Julio Medem. Straddling Latin America and Europe, however, is Gaspar Noé, the 48-year-old Argentinean-born, French-based provocateur behind such controversial outings as Irréversible and Enter The Void.
‘I really wanted to discover Cuba,’ he admits, when we meet at Cannes, where 7 Days In Havana made its world premiere. ‘My father was obsessed with Cuba. He’s Argentinean and he went there in 73 or 74 and he loved it. It was a mystery for me. I don’t know what happened to my father in those two weeks – I’m sure he had a second wife in Cuba!’ After Enter The Void was invited to the Havana Film Festival, Noé got a taste for the city and decided he wanted to come back for more.
This being Noé, however, there was inevitably trouble. Having written a treatment for his short, he refused to provide a complete script to the producers, saying he was intending to improvise the dialogue with the actors. ‘They were afraid,’ says Noé. ‘The Spanish producer said “If Gaspar doesn’t deliver a script, then we’re going to do a movie called 6 Days In Havana … so fuck him!”’ Worse still, the delays meant that Noé was forced to make his short on half the money allotted to all the other directors, who had begun to divvy up his budget between them.
Even with his back against the wall, there’s no question Noé’s film ‘Ritual’ is the most distinct of the seven with its depiction of an African-Cuban teenager, caught by her parents in bed with her girlfriend then subjected to a voodoo-style ‘cleansing’ ritual with the local witch doctor. Shot with lashings of style, and an ominous drum-beat soundtrack, Noé spent time investigating such local rites. ‘They’re kinda scary. First you’re not really welcome. And even when you’re welcome, they’re kinda scary. People believe so much in that, at a point it’s contagious.’
Noé did make some changes; usually, it would be a female shaman or healer who would perform the ritual. ‘I thought it would be scarier and more emotional if it was a guy with a big knife,’ he smirks. If this lends the sequence a phallic energy, the one thing Noé did draw the line at was including an animal sacrifice. ‘I’m phobic of the animal sacrifices they usually do,’ he says. ‘I eat meat, I’m very carnivorous, but killing chickens or lambs for a sacrifice is not part of my way of being.’
There was one other cultural difference Noé discovered during the casting process. ‘Girls are very lesbo-phobic there,’ he says. ‘In France, any teenager would kiss her best girlfriend, just to impress the boys around. In Cuba, if a girl kissed another girl, she’s banned from the community! Many girls came out from the casting so offended!’ Gaspar Noé, it seems, can’t do anything without a little controversy.
7 Days In Havana is on selected release from Fri 6 Jul.