“The Mad Half Hour” is Argentine actor-turned-writer/director Leonardo Brzezicki’s amusing, affecting short about a gay couple, Juan (Julián Larquier Tellarini) and Pedro (Diego Echegoyen) dealing with a crisis when Juan feels he has lost his passion for life. As the characters encounter various strangers over the course of an evening filled with karaoke, an art show, and a walk in the woods, they recalibrate their relationship. Brzezicki films “The Mad Half Hour” in luminous black and white, and he injects moments of humor—such as a sight gag involving Juan bumping into poles—to address anxieties about love.
Brzezicki spoke with /bent about his film, which plays as part of the International Shorts program at the New York Film Festival, September 27 at 4:00 pm and September 30 at 7:15 pm, as well as other fall festivals.
You first caught my attention as an actor in “Smokers Only.” But you are a very accomplished filmmaker. What prompted you to become a director?
I always knew I wanted to direct. I studied both acting and directing at the same time. But I lost interest in acting very early. Even though I will play a role in a Greek film next year that a friend of mine will direct, I am only looking to act in friends’ projects. Directing was always my goal. It became my life.
Your feature, “Noche” and your short “The Mad Half Hour” are kind of experimental films. Why do you take this approach to your storytelling, which asks audiences to fill in some narrative blanks?
This type of cinema is more interesting to me, but I’m not thinking about it when I’m constructing the characters and the story. It’s not something I did consciously; it’s just how it comes out. I think there are limitations with classical narrative. My style is the way I can tell stories. My two projects come from places in the process of filmmaking, not such much in the writing. I leave blanks for people to fill in so it’s richer. But it’s not something I’m trying to do deliberately. I’m working on a script for my next feature and I’m trying to work at a different level in the writing and I’m discovering new things.
Why do you depict gay relationships in your work?
I tell these stories because I’m gay, and these are the relationships I know. I want to tell stories that are close to me; it comes naturally. But it’s not my only purpose.
Juan has lost his passion, nothing makes sense; this seems to be a theme in your work—characters who feel nothing, or uninspired. Why do you address this topic?
[Laughs]. That might be a personal interest, too. In “The Mad Half Hour,” I thought it was a way of not taking myself seriously or portraying an element of my life, when I sometimes feel I have lost the interest of things or feel completely lost. I wanted to talk about the absurdity of that feeling as well. It’s moments I experience and wanted to portray and make fun of it.
You also examine relationships, and loneliness. Why is this topic so important to you?
I can identify with all my characters and what they are going through. I feel that as we get to know ourselves, and as we relate to others, we can’t help but feel alone at times. There is a big contradiction in human behavior that fascinates me.
“The Mad Half Hour” incorporates dreams, art, films, music/karaoke, fantasy (a three-eyed cat) and memory in your short. How do you conceive of these elements and integrate them?
All of these things come into my mind, and I start writing them down and thinking about them and visualizing them. Some things stand out and hold everything together, creating a certain emotion I want to portray. Once I have that, I go back to [that emotion] when I feel lost. It’s try and fail, try and fail, until I feel something it right. It takes a long time, and some elements don’t come together until I develop them in editing.
Juan is very good at bumping into poles. The characters all live with a kind of fear—hitting poles, stepping in shit, being pushed onto the subway tracks. Where does all this fear come from?
I used to hit a lot of poles while walking and sometimes it was quite embarrassing—like when I was on a first date with a guy, walking, playing it all cool and seductive and then BAM! I walked into a pole, and looked totally stupid. All those fears are part of what we are made of. I mean we try to avoid them, or we have to deal with them. In “The Mad Half Hour,” I wanted to laugh at them. It was important for me to do that. I’ve realized that I should not take my life so seriously.
What was your decision to film “The Mad Half Hour” in black and white?
I always knew I was going to shoot it in black and white even though a lot of people were telling me not to. A lot of cinema is in black and white, so I don’t see why there has to be a reason—or at least a conscious one.
Can you talk about the title—what it means, and what it means to you?
The title refers to the time of day cats go crazy for no apparent reason. I was talking to a friend and she mentioned that the term in French is 15 minutes, but in English it’s a half hour. I don’t know why. The original idea was that the short was going to last 30 minutes, but it ended up being 20 minutes.