Piercing, by the young American filmmaker Nicolas Pesce (1990), immediately puts you on the edge of your seat. Main character Reed is standing over his baby with an ice pick readied in his fist. Is he really going to kill the little girl? Of course not, he would never...
Reed orders a call girl to satisfy his murderous tendencies. It ends in a violent play of S&M, in which the prostitute touches the main character in the deepest of his soul. Pesce calls Piercing, based on the eponymous novel by Ryū Murakami from 1994, 'a pitch-black romantic comedy'. “It’s a twisted love story. However violent it is, it is mostly funny.”
The beginning of the film suggests otherwise. During these surrealistic horror scenes, faint-hearted viewers may want to focus on the rich Italian design. Piercing is a feast for the eyes. Pesce explains where his predilection for style comes from. “My whole family is Italian; my father is a fashion designer. I grew up in a highly stylized world. Our house looked wild and crazy.”
Pesce was a fan of Giallo films in his youth, Italian 'underground' thriller/horror films from the sixties, seventies and eighties. “Giallo films pay a great deal of attention to design, costumes and aesthetics.” Pesce wanted the same in his own films. It worked out. Together with his production designer, Pesce found filming locations, art and designer furniture that matched his ambition for the film.
PiercingNicolas Pesce IFFR 2018 81′
Afraid that he will stab his baby to death, Reed decides to drive out this compulsion by murdering a call girl. She has her own neuroses and is quickly pulling the strings, in an unpredictable SM duel with surrealistic horror and a dash of irony. The demons from Reed’s childhood also play a role in this stylised psychothriller with cult potential.
“He can do something totally different with his face, it’s incredible. You feel his confusion, his joy, his emotions, his struggle.” – Nicolas Pesce on the protagonist Christopher Abbott
After Giallo, Pesce got obsessed with Japanese alternative horror films. “They are by far not as stylised as their Italian counterparts, but there is a sense of humour that inspires me. I love the way the Japanese write scary stuff. It’s a bonkers movement with crazy films, very sharp and funny.”
Take, for instance, Suicibe Club (Sono Sion, 2001), an award-winning film about a wave of suicides in Japan. Screaming teenagers jump off the roof and their blood spatters on the school windows. Freaky and funny at the same time, just like Piercing. You catch yourself grinning during surreal S&M scenes.
At the same time, Piercing is an emotional, moving experience. The protagonists, Christopher Abbott (Reed) and Mia Wasikowska (call-girl Jackie), constantly play with the viewer’s emotions. “If Chris says something, it’s not necessarily what he does”, explains Pesce. “He can do something totally different with his face, it’s incredible. You feel his confusion, his joy, his emotions, his struggle.”
Laughing out loud
According to Pesce, there are not many films like this in the US. Japan is much more extreme than America, he says. That also applies to Europe. “You already had independent films in the sixties. We have only just discovered them. Of course, you could just make a movie in the US, but actually releasing it was a lot harder for a long time. There were underground filmmakers in New York, but you couldn’t do much with your movie unless you worked with a studio. Hardly anyone got to see these alternative films.”
Twenty years ago, Pesce would’ve had a much harder time. Now, more and more other American stories find their way to the surface. “Fortunately, I grew up in a time when you could become a filmmaker without having to convince someone in Hollywood with a bag of money. I can just start with an idea I have for a film. Moreover, it’s so much easier to film with digital cameras.”
Pesce unfortunately cannot be here in Rotterdam, but he hopes that many people will see Piercing, laugh out loud and go home with a good feeling. “A lot of people love dark films. But that does not make them dark people.”
Photo in header: Interview: Sophie van Leeuwen & Pieter-Bas van Wiechen