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'Lek and the Dogs': Andrew Kotting

‘Lek and the Dogs’: Andrew Kotting

Lek and the Dogs: ‘They said he had a disrupted mind’

Andrew Kotting’s film Lek and the Dogs, based on a true story, is showing at the Kino Teatr in St Leonards on Sea on Friday 12 October at 7.30pm. HOT’s Chandra Masoliver uses quotations from the film to ask Andrew about the past’s dominion over the present, the dangers of love and how safety lies under the surface.

CM: Andrew, what inspired you to make the film ‘Lek and the Dogs’?

AK: Hattie Naylor’s radio and stage play, Ivan And The Dogs. We were at the Slade together many years ago and re-connected just after the play had been broadcast on Radio 4 – I was impressed and moved by it and managed to get in touch with her to tell her. She had also seen my film Gallivant and was so impressed and moved by it that she’d name her theatre company after it! We got on immediately and hatched a plan to use the play as a springboard to make work.

CM: “It is because we have nothing” says Lek’s mother in the film. What is the meaning of this quote, and what was happening in Moscow in the 1990s?

Lek Graveyard

Lek Graveyard

AK: Hattie’s play was very specific to that period in Russian history but for me it was more of a metaphysical statement and closer in meaning to the writings of Samuel Beckett. His text is loaded and transportative and became a catalyst for many of the themes within the film.

CM: “He went when the ice was broken, took hat and gloves…” In what world, both inner and outer, did Lek, aged four, find himself?

AK: A world full of danger. Alone, cold, traumatised and frightened but determined to not-be-in-the-world of abuse that he had experienced at the hands of his step-father all his life. He was desperate and frightened and yet something within him told him that he would be safer outside rather than inside. He was a child possessed.

CM:“Dogs are clever by instinct, not by brain.” What advantages and disadvantages did this give Lek?

AK: Lek could be with the dogs, run with the dogs and live like the dogs. He was working on gut feeling and despite all of the harshness that he experienced, being with the dogs was ‘better’ than being at ‘home’. They became his family, they were co-dependent because they realised quite quickly that with a child amongst them, they were more likely to garner food. They provided warmth in the winter and emotional sustenance for the years thereafter.

CM: Eugene O’Neill: “There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.” What effect can trauma have on the brain?

AK: A BIG effect – an annihilating effect – a cataclysmic effect – a seismic shift in understanding and reckoning. It induces a struggle to maintain hopes and aspirations, and is only happy when the mind slides into disillusionment and despair. But Lek fights against this and perhaps by definition, the fact that he is still alive to tell his story is a positive thing.

A bit like ‘Krapp’ in Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape – which is another inspiration for the film – Lek is still there, underground, telling his story. Or is he? Perhaps it is just a figment of his imagination….?

CM:“Through imagery memories crash into the present.” What happened to Lek when he fell in love?

AK: He became less animal and more sentimental. His animalistic instincts of eating, drinking, fucking and shitting were undermined and his humanistic traits surfaced. He became seduced by the power of love but with that love came all of the heartache and crisis that makes us human. Desire, guilt, loneliness and confusion, responsibilities and commitment to something other than oneself. Ultimately he isn’t up to the task, which is why he abandons his own family. Survival at all costs, this might well have been his mantra.

CM: “We perceive our lives in solid time.” What are your ideas about time in this film?

AK: Time is confused and time is confusing. We are always in the ‘now’ but reminiscing and pondering the past, we also look towards the future with trepidation and excitement. Alan Moore’s theories on time and the way in which he expounds on some of these themes within the film is fascinating. He is a remarkable interlocutor, beguiling you with his intellect, however it can sometimes take a while to decipher exactly what is meant.

CM: “We all try to change the truth.” What point do you make about individual and planetary destruction?

AK: I’m very interested in the idea of the ‘meta’ in the film. The idea of zooming out, zooming out into the cosmos and beyond, but at the same time I’m interested in zooming in, zooming into the macro. Which is why so much of Lek is filmed in extreme close-up. I wanted to dig into Lek’s psyche in the same way that an archaeologist might dig into the landscape.

Marlon Brando’s ‘Kurtz’ from Apocalypse Now was a point of reference, as was the ‘stalker’ from Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Both these characters always appeared to me to be on the edge of some kind of existential crisis or breakdown. They seemed to be metaphors for the human condition, desolate but ultimately optimistic about the future. Despite its bleakness, the film offers hope. Alan Moore concludes the film in a paradoxical yet hopeful diatribe.

CM: “What seems negative can be necessary for a different situation to occur.” Is this about the possibility of happiness?

Andrew Kotting

AK: This is exactly the point that the film makes.

CM: “I am under the city – a dark world made beautiful.” Your film is visually stunning, could you tell me a bit about your ideas when making it? And about the language your brilliant French actor, Xavier Tchili, talks in?

AK: The imagery is down to the brilliance of Nick Gordon Smith’s cinematography, someone that I have been working with on and off for almost thirty years. It is also because of the light and colours of the Atacama desert, where we filmed the landscape sequences. As an antidote to the collaging of archive and extreme close-ups, we wanted the Chilean footage to be cinematic and immersive.

Xavier Tchili

Xavier Tchili

And as for Xavier who plays Lek, we met over twenty years ago at a film festival in France. My background is in performance, as is Xavier’s and we had this idea of inventing a private language, something that twins sometimes do in early childhood. We wanted it to be more about sound and inflection rather than sense or meaning. It has an Eastern European feel to it and a pathos in delivery that was borrowed directly from Tarkovsky’s Stalker. It afforded me the opportunity of putting Hattie’s words into Lek’s mouth, I could then allow the language to speak for itself. It gave me a lot of freedom, I wasn’t bound by the rules of translation.

CM: “Safety is under the surface.” Lek and the Dogs is the last film in your trilogy ‘Landworks’, which seems to embrace earth, air and the underworld. I understand you are launching ‘Earthworks Bookwork’ (see link below) at the Kino that evening. Please tell HOT about this.

AK: There are three films in the trilogy: This Filthy Earth, IVUL and Lek And The Dogs. They all take risks and play with the conceits of narrative. The first part was inspired by Emile Zola’s La Terre and is set very much on the earth; the second part was inspired by Italo Calvino’s Baron in the Trees, and by Tarzan, and is set above the earth – and the final part is set under the earth. The character of Lek is also in all three films, but it is only in the final part of the trilogy that he tells us his story.

Anyhow the ‘Earthworks Bookworks’ gives an overview into the processes involved, from the research, to the script developments, the story boarding, the locations, the photographic records and essays from many of the cast and crew that worked with me on the three productions. Perhaps more akin to Haynes User’s Manual…. things become perfectly clear thereafter….

And for those of you that might be interested, the three films will be shown back-to-back at The Towner Gallery in Eastbourne on Saturday 17 November as part of Cine City, dedicated to Dudley Sutton, who plays the part of Papa in This Filthy Earth and who was a remarkable human being and actor.

Andrew Kotting: Earthworks Bookwork Hereon Hereover Hereunder Hereafter.

Andrew Kotting’s website.

Posted 15:30 Tuesday, Oct 9, 2018 In: Film


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