Well into his second decade as one of the fashion world’s premier filmmakers, we’re proud to welcome Barnaby Roper to the site for the first time with his tense new psychological thriller, The Interview.
On its surface, the film is a straight forward two-hander—a young system analyst, skilled in forecasting, is interviewed for a new job. Typical conversations on qualifications and methodology follow, but quickly give way to increasingly personal questions, as the interviewer (Rory Kinnear) prods and pushes the candidate (Billy Howle) outside his comfort zone with seemingly inflammatory and non-sequitur inquiries that verge on sadistic.
Kinnear’s character is careful to be “reasonable” with his questioning. At several points, he stops the conversation to ask for consent to continue. However, the phrasing and context of the request is a challenge—is Howle’s character tough enough—man enough—to continue? The firm values “mental resiliency”, so to demur is to seemingly concede the argument that one is mentally weak. Thus they continue, despite considerable anguish.
What Roper appears to be evoking is a dystopian program at the corporate level, imagining a future (present?) where the inherent power imbalance between firm and employee bleeds into bizarre experimentation on a path to total control. If exaggerated, it is only subtly so—the film is so effective because it is speculative only by degree, rather than by concept. We are all familiar with modern capitalism’s fetishization of culture fit, and, especially in ambitious sectors, that frequently demands insane working hours, 24/7 digital availability, and a willingness to debase oneself at the mercy of superiors. What Roper and screenwriter John Dover imply is how pernicious the progrom is, and how employee complicity in their own exploitation is a figurative fig leaf for something darker in society.
Barnaby is currently working with Dover on a feature version of The Interview, and while the short suffers from the kind of indeterminate and open endings we associate with the “proof-of-concept” genre, what’s promising about this short and more generally Roper’s foray into narrative filmmaking after a long career as a top-shelf commercial director, is the way that his skills prove malleable to the task, but are not overly leaned upon. While the stark aesthetic of the white room in which the interview takes place is stylish (and certainly there is a bit of his trademark visual pizzaz in the closing phase of the interview) the majority of the film is relatively simple and restrained. It is a piece that puts a lot of emphasis on Dover’s script and the performances of its leads, both enhanced by tight, on-point editing. There is a rhythm to a good two-hander, and the cat and mouse element to the interplay of the characters is immensely enjoyable.
As alluded earlier, Roper has had an illustrious career in image-making, having previously worked with the likes of Kanye West, David Bowie and with brands such as Nike, Dior, and Chanel. His work is typified by gorgeous fashion photography married to inventive post-production techniques that play with composition in fresh ways. I was first introduced to his work when curating the 2012 Vimeo Festival, where his work, Rêve, was nominated in the fashion category and I instantly fell in love. However, in the past couple of years, Roper has extended himself towards storytelling, beginning with My America, a 17min documentary project that received a Vimeo Staff Pick. Now The Interview has arrived and Roper mentions he is working on another short film as well as two feature projects. Commerical directors sometimes struggle with the transition to scripted, but his collaboration with Dover, and the smart writing evidenced by this short, make me optimistic for Roper’s future work in narrative. We’re excited to see what’s next.