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Eugene Kotlyarenko isn’t one to let vanity get in the way of a good visual gag. In his SXSW Visions entry “A Wonderful Cloud,” his hilarious follow-up to his little-seen debut “0s and 1s,” the writer-director-actor first appears on screen with his sweaty face in between a woman’s thighs; later during an extended sequence, he sits on the toilet taking a dump while trying to plan the night with his disgusted ex-girlfriend (played by Kotlyarenko’s own ex-girlfriend Kate Lyn Sheil). It’s that no-holds-barred approach to letting it all hang out that lends his sophomore feature its zany energy and bruised heart.
The story of “A Wonderful Cloud” centers on Kate (Sheil) who travels to Los Angeles in hopes of wrestling control of a clothing company from her ex, Eugene (Kotlyarenko). Unable to deny their emotional past, the mismatched pair spend the weekend trying to determine once and for all whether or not they have a future. For Kotlyarenko, this doesn’t mark the first time he’s used his own life to mine material for his work: his web series “SkyDiver” tracks the ups and down of his dating life and includes an awkward appearance from Sheil, after she dumped him.
Below, Kotlyarenko shares his thoughts on why the bathroom is one of his favorite locations, and what first caused him to fall in love with the movies.
When I was a kid, I was really into reading “Moby Dick” and listening to every song by Beethoven. I tried to be learned.
[As a kid] I saw on TV there was an “AFI: 100 Years, 100 Movies,” and I hadn’t really been into movies. I saw “Terminator 2” when I was six and I was like, “Oh, this is cool” — just sort of casual. But then I saw that list, and it was like, “Oh, great!” I just copy-pasted the AFI list and into a word document and printed it out. I called it “Movies to watch before you die.” I kind of pretended like I had come up with the list myself.
That summer I went to the library, and early on in the alphabet is this movie that was on this list called “A Clockwork Orange.” I looked at the cover and I was like, “This is a pretty cool-looking cover,” and when I got home I popped in the VHS. And it changed my life — it just made me realize that all of these things that I was interested in like literature and music and photography and art could be synthesized into one thing.
The goal of putting something out there is for it to speak to as wide an audience as possible, or to engage with people fervently.
I think it’s important to exploit that line between a fictional sort of universe and a very real, fact-based, nonfictional sort of universe — because we’re living in a time when basically everyone is on display and everyone is basically manipulating their own image.
The majority of the projects I’m developing right now don’t really feature me. But they’re inherently going to be autobiographical, just like any Woody Allen movie. Even the silly ones like “Sleeper” have to reflect some kind of personal fixation.
The bathroom has always been this interesting spot. On the one hand, it seems like this very personal refuge. I grew up in — I wouldn’t call it a Jewish Panopticon, but I would call it a place where you were being watched and looked at. One of the few refuges that you had was in the bathroom. Whenever I’m writing scripts or thinking of ideas, and I don’t want to say it’s conscious — think about how to make an important scene or scenes take place in the bathroom. Whether it’s like someone showering or pooping or shaving, I just feel like that’s a place where we can confront ourselves and be really naked.
The bathroom, to me, has always been this threshold between the world where people project the image they want people to see, and the actual “real.” The poop, the nakedness of the shower, the cutting of the face — all of this stuff is the “real.”
People do poop; people do cum; people do say misogynistic shit; people are fucking idiots; people don’t think twice a lot of the times when they express themselves, both physically and verbally. As long as you’re portraying that in a way that is true to people, I think [audiences] can take it and I think they will find a reflection of their own reality in it; whether or not they like seeing it is another thing. Oftentimes, a reaction of laughter or discomfort will accompany things that people relate to, but don’t want to see: such as poo!