A Kiss on the nose, an interview with Laura Neri and Azita Ghanizada

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In “A Kiss on the Nose”, when Chiara’s distant father Romano dies, she is left to try and figure out the man and her own feelings about him. For that, she must go back to the very beginning: her parents’ birth and their first encounter. From fragments of memory and often whimsical reconstructions of events that she did not actually witness, little by little Chiara builds a picture of her father—but she does not have all the pieces yet…

Laura Neri, director of “A Kiss on the Nose” was born in Belgium of a Greek mother and an Italian father, which meant she had to learn three languages by the time she was four. She got her BA with Honors in Film Analysis and Screenwriting at the Free University of Brussels with a Minor in Languages and Linguistics (German and Modern Greek). She then got an MA in Video Production from Bournemouth University (UK) and has recently completed her MFA in Film Production at the University of Southern California, where she was the recipient of a grant by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. She was also selected by USC to receive a full scholarship for two years. “A Kiss on the Nose” is her thesis film and it has won multiple awards.

Cinema Without Borders: Your short film, “A Kiss on the Nose,” has a great sense of humor and it is also a very emotional movie. Actually, I was watching this movie and thinking, how you have been able to deal with love, death and nostalgia all in a short movie, where many other film makers have tried to do the same in a feature film and have failed. How did you come up with the idea and structure of your film?
Laura Neri: Well, thank you, first of all. My father had lung cancer for several years and he died in May 2002, and I found myself thinking about him constantly—day and night. I wrote the script during the few months after his death when I was trying to cope with his loss. We were not that close and I never could tell him the things that I am basically saying in the film so I kind of felt like I needed to bring it out somehow and the structure of the film is very much based on how our memory functions. For example you may just mention something and you suddenly find yourself back in it or you think of something and you recall something else. So that is how the film is structured.
CWB: Has your colorful background had any influence in the way you have made “A Kiss on the Nose”?
Laura: Yes, definitely. My mother is Greek and my father Italian; I myself was born and raised in Belgium. So my family has definitely always been very multicultural and I was always traveling between countries, you know, to spend the summer with my father in Italy and then with my grandmother in Greece. So that was clearly something that very-much made me the person I am. It’s a wonderful feeling on one hand to belong to all these cultures and be able to speak their languages and, you know, be able to be at home in many places. At the same time you think that maybe I don’t really belong in any of these countries and you wonder where I should settle myself.

CWB: You are dealing with a serious matter such as death, but your sense of humor is showing up in every second of your film. Does it come from the Italian side of you?
Laura: Yeah, I did not want to make a complete drama and fall into the melodrama trap, of course, when you reach such a serious subject like a parent’s death, you can easily fall into a complete melodrama and I didn’t want that. Also in the back of my head I was thinking what my father would say if he were watching it. One thing my father said after my first semester at USC was “Really, why do you do so many dramas? You have such a great sense of humor!” That was a very rare compliment that my father ever paid anyone. Basically, my father only gave criticism and if he didn’t say anything, it meant that everything is good. So he saying that I actually had a sense of humor was the most fantastic thing in the world. I kept his advice in the back of my mind. My father had a very dry sense of humor and I think I kind of have a bit of that too in some way. I believe that even the most dramatic moments can be funny.

CWB: In “A Kiss on the Nose”, the death of a dear one does not stop you from communicating with within a dream. The scene in which you talk to your father after his death is moving and emotionally effective.
Laura: True. I never said to my father that I loved him when he was alive and he never said it to me. I remember the last time I saw him was on Christmas right before he passed away in May. I remember even though he had lung cancer; he never showed any sign of it. He drove me to the train station so I could go back to the airport, which meant that he couldn’t drive me to the airport anymore. It meant that he was already in bad shape. He said, “We should sit down.” I remember thinking that that’s an inclination of how bad it is for him, but you know, we were sitting and he was making me laugh and we were chatting. When it was time to leave, I wanted to hug him but I knew that he wouldn’t like that; I knew he wouldn’t want that and wouldn’t want me to do anything different or show any kind of emotion. So I did what I always did before and I kissed him on both cheeks, even though I knew that it might be the last time that I would see him… and in fact it was. I got on the train and waved and that was the last time I saw him. He was just that type of personality where you could not go against what he wanted. I had to keep all of these feelings buckled down when he was around and I could only let them out in the film.

CWB: What inspired you to become a film maker?
Laura: Well, that’s a good question. I always like telling stories. When I was a child I always liked to write little stories or little songs. I started reading very early, when I was about three and a half years old. I was the only child so I read a ton of books, you know, every day and every week. But in regards to cinema, my mother used to take me to movies and she would often show me old classics like Humphrey Bogart and stuff like that. Those movies were in English, because often in Europe they would play in the original language on the BBC. Then she would translate the movie simultaneously to me because my mother was an interpreter and as the film was playing in English she would translate it to me in French, sentence by sentence. So she basically never stopped working as she was still an interpreter for me in the movie theater. I think she must’ve had a big part in my passion for filmmaking.
CWB: Did you go to any filmmaking schools?
Laura: Well, first I went to Belgium and I got a BA in Film Analysis and Screenwriting and my mentor for my thesis was Luc Dardenne a filmmaker who did Rosseta and R…ne Repond Plus and he and his brother always co-directed their films and they won The Palme d’Or in Cannes twice. Then I came to the United States and I studied at the University of Southern California and I graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts in Film Production and A Kiss on the Nose was my thesis film.

CWB: Could you please tell us about your future projects?
Laura: Yes, actually. I just finished a short film called Fighting Auditions. It’s about discrimination in the film industry and it’s about a bi-racial actress that’s only given the most difficult parts to read for and it’s also a quite humorous look at how you can try to go against people’s first judgments just based on skin color. That is one that I just finished sound on and I have just started sending it to festivals. I am also about to finish a documentary on ethnic Jewelry, which I shot in Greece. That was actually work-for-hire and it’s going with a Jewelry exhibition that is going around the world and the owner has all of this beautiful jewelry from Africa and Asia and the whole century and it’s going to travel around Europe. There is another short film that I am editing right now and I am going to be submitting my feature script called Keeping Things Simple about a quirky French girl with a passion for cheesy Kung Fu movies, and a chain-smoking, Hong-Kong superstar who are thrown together when he chooses a hotel where she works for an unorthodox purpose. So that’s what I’m doing right now.

CWB: What are the recent movies that you have enjoyed watching?
Laura:The Dead Girl (really powerful, I was thinking about this movie for days after I saw it)
Volver (By a filmmaker that I really LOVE, Almodovar)
The Prestige (one of my favorite films of last year)
The Life of Others (Foreign film Oscar winner – very moving)
Water (Indian film nominated for an Oscar this year – quite beautiful)
Turtles can Fly (not as new, but also a very powerful movie)

CWB: What do you think about the Southeast European Film Festival Where “A Kiss on the Nose” Will be screened this year?
Laura: I think it’s great. I went last year for a screening at the festival and met Vera, president of the Southeast European Film Festival through Aldo Shllaku. Aldo is the composer on my short film and a friend of Vera.  I think Vera is a fantastic person and so dedicated to her work. It’s good when people try to help out independent films and, make films available to the public which wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day.
Bijan: Thank you Laura.


Azita Ghanizada, born in Kabul, Afghanistan moved to the US with her family at an early age. Her multi-ethnic background and her mother’s love of Bollywood Films launched her into a world of International Music and Film Making. Azita’s first acting experience was to play as Mother Goose at the age of 4. Continuing in drama throughout high school, she developed a passion for story telling as an actress. Years later, she moved to Los Angeles and began starring in television commercials for the US and Europe, and supporting local young film makers by acting in their Thesis films whenever possible. “A Kiss on The Nose” was her first starring role in a short film.

Cinema Without Borders: What inspired you to become an actress?
Azita Ghanizada: I believe that wanting to perform, becoming a character, standing on a stage terrified and just getting lost in the moment is a desire you are born with. I remember being only 12 years old in drama class, and getting such a rush when I moved people to silence or laughter; I felt alive and free. There was always this sense of escape when I would morph into a character. My inspiration to pursue it professionally took a long time for me to come into – there was no Afghan film stars or television stars, no one in American cinema looked like me – I thought
on-air journalism would be an acceptable professional, and so did my family. But eventually the desire and passion outweighed the obstacles.

CWB: What has been the effect of your ethnic background your career as an actress?
Azita: “I’m too ethnic … I’m not ethnic enough.” Those are very famous words for me; it is an obstacle and yet a blessing at the same time. I have had the opportunity to audition for wonderful directors like Henry Bean and Marc Forster, and be considered for tremendous roles because they are written ethnically for South-Asian or Middle-Eastern actresses, so the pool of accessible women for the roles is small. But on the other side, I have lost many jobs because my ethnicity is not defined enough in traditional cinema to be understood. That is why independent films are amazing, you see a real slice of humanity in these films, not bound by having to fit into any one idea, pushing the envelope, thinking outside the box. Ultimately though, I think the commitment and the talent will surpass anyone’s doubts that an Afghan girl can be just as valued as a more mainstream ethnicity.

CWB: In “A Kiss on the Nose” you deliver a great and natural performance, acting as an Italian girl. How did you manage to do it?
Azita: We are all cut from the same cloth, especially if you have an International heritage, you define yourself with other children of immigrants. There is a common thread; a great respect for our cultures and yet the defiance to stand out and become your own hybrid of someone who is both American and of a different culture. We all have difficult family relationships that we are still trying to figure out—that is not defined by any one race or ethnicity. I couldn’t imagine losing my father before we had a chance to work through the hurt and distance; that in and of itself was the emotional ride for Chiara.

CWB: How did you get involved with this beautiful short film?
Azita: Like all other actresses, I auditioned. Laura was this Italian/Greek young filmmaker, she spoke French, Italian, and Greek, and had this kind worldly presence. Her audition was unusual, I went for it emotionally but she wanted me to keep it light and funny—I think she needed to see
Chiara as someone with great humor as well.

CWB: A Kiss on the Nose is loosely based on the relationship between Laura, the director of the film, and her late father. How did you and Laura communicate on this matter?
Azita: Laura wanted it to be my interpretation—she didn’t give me any other information other than the story and she gave enough direction to let me go through it. Looking back on it, there is so much more I could have added, but I had a great script to honor, and that was great.

CWB: Please tell us about your current and future projects.
Azita: I just worked in an Independent Comedy Feature titled “X’s & O’s” directed by Kedar Korde, who is an Indian-American film maker. It’s a great story of love lost and adulthood found with a multi-ethnic cast. I also just worked as a guest star on a few television dramas, “Bones” and “Veronica Mars” being two of them. I enjoyed “VM” because I got to play a college student of middle-eastern decent who is dating a Jewish boy and gets caught by her very Muslim parents. The need to stand up to your family, even though you have insurmountable love for them, was something I was happy to get to play because it’s something I know too well. I hope to work on an Indie film this summer and hopefully will work on a play in June.

CWB: Who are the actors that you admire? Do you have a model to follow?
Azita: I loved the women of the 70’s: Sissy Spacek, Gena Rowlands, Ellen Burstyn; this was a time for women to come into their own in film. I count Cate Blanchett and Rachel Weisz as my two favorite film stars today.Maggie Gyllenhaal, Elena Anaya and Natalie Portman are doing beautiful work as well, and of course Meryl Streep for her ability to become anything. There are too many men I love;Denzel Washington and Javier Bardem are too wonderfully complex and committed in every moment as actors. I got to work in an audition with Tim Robbins and he was so generous to me as an actress—I fell a little in love with him for his kindness as an artist.

CWB: A Kiss on the Nose will be screened at the Southeast European Film Festival, how did you find this opportunity for this film?
Azita: Laura deserves all the attention and credit, she made a beautiful film and has stood behind it and created these opportunities for it to be seen. I am extremely excited and just grateful to have been a part of her first film making endeavor. I hope it affords her the opportunity to make her next film, and maybe she will be kind enough to include me.

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About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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