Long before he made his directorial debut with 2009's Greek Pete, Andrew Haigh was already envisioning his name on movie posters. "When I was really young, I used to draw lots of film posters, and I was always the director on those film posters," says the filmmaker. "But I never thought it was a possibility."
"I mean, I directed a short film when I was like 33, and I did my first feature when I was 38. It took me so long. I was terrified. I thought, 'How on earth can I do this?' Haigh reflects. "It's interesting. So many directors come from filmmaking families or artistic families, and that's not my background. So, it took me a long time to get the confidence that I had something that was interesting to say, and that I could think about making films."
Haigh broke through with his second feature, 2011's Weekend, which was hailed as a contemporary queer classic. "I think when I made Weekend, it was almost out of a frustration of feeling like I'm not seeing a version of how I see queer being on the screen," says the writer-director.
He is also the filmmaker behind the emotionally stirring 45 Years (2015), for which Charlotte Rampling received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and the coming-of-age drama Lean on Pete (2017). His latest is perhaps his most personal film yet: All of Us Strangers, a modern romance and metaphysical ghost story and about a lonely gay writer in London.
"You've got to take risks. Even if they're personal, emotional risks, you have to take them," says Haigh. "I think you want to go into a project afraid, and I was quite afraid going into this project. You have to listen to that voice... You never want to go into something that you think, 'Oh yeah, I've got this.' I want to go into something thinking, 'I could make an absolute mess of this.'"
Below, Haigh shares his Top 5 with A.frame. "I've basically tried to do five films at different points in my life that have said something to me."
Written and Directed by: Martin Rosen
Watership Down is an animated film from the late '70s, and if you've never seen it, it's basically an existential apocalyptic film about rabbits. But it was so devastating to me, that film. I cried watching it as a kid. Still now, every time I watch it, I find it an overwhelmingly emotional experience. I think looking back at my career, it's a cathartic emotional experience, and I love to be emotionally affected. And that is a film that did that to me. So, that's why I still love that film to this day.
Directed by: Nicolas Roeg | Written by: Allan Scott and Chris Bryant
My family weren't big cinemagoers. We didn't come from an artistic family, so I would just go and see 'regular' films in the cinema. But I saw Don't Look Now when I was about 15. To be honest, I rented it because there's supposed to be a really good sex scene in it. I think I forwarded to the sex scene, because in those days, you didn't have porn or anything. So, you got whatever you could get!
But then I was like, this is an amazing, incredible film that looks like it's a horror film, but actually it's about grief, and loss, and intimacy. And the sexual component of that film is about two people trying to restore intimacy. I think what I learned from that film, is how you can combine all of those things and you don't need to be stuck in a genre, which for this film I've just done, is quite relevant. You can bring all of those things together and tell an incredibly human story. Sometimes you've got to get the audience how you can, take them in, and then surprise them with whatever is around the movie. I remember I watched the sex, and then watched the film again. And then, I watched it again the next day because I was like, 'This film is just incredible.' And it's still an incredible film.
Directed by: Michelangelo Antonioni | Written by: Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini and Tonino Guerra
Before university, I worked as an usher in the BFI, which is a cinema in London. They play a lot of arthouse films, and they had a retrospective of Antonioni films. I watched L'Avventura, and in those days, there was no subtitles but you had an earphone commentary where someone in the booth was describing what was happening. It was very weird, but it was an old print.
I was an usher, so I couldn't listen to the earphone commentary; all I got was the images. All I saw was these incredible, visceral images that burned into my soul. I was probably 19, and I was like, 'These images have the power to make you feel something incredible.' I've always loved that film. And I go back to that film.
Written and Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Cries and Whispers is another film I adore. I was actually working on a film as an assistant editor, Shanghai Nights with Jackie Chan, in Prague, and in the evenings, I was watching the Bergman collection. That was my introduction to Bergman. His films can often be like chamber pieces and intimate, intimate, painful relationships that say so much about who we are, what we want, the existential struggle of existence. I think that inquiry is something that I have looked at with all my work. I remember watching Cries and Whispers a lot before 45 Years. I always go back to that film as a way to look at existential pain. I've loved Bergman for a long time.
Written and Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Uzak, which is called Distant in America, is by a Turkish director called Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and I love his films. This film, it's the best depiction of loneliness within a city, or that melancholic existence of just not quite understanding who you are in the world. I think it's just a beautiful film, and I think it's a masterclass in understated emotion and acting. It's one of those films that lingers forever, and has lingered in me forever.