Tribeca Interview: Julia Solomonoff Talks “Nobody`s Watching”

There are many movies about undocumented immigrants, about broken dreams and expectations. But there are not much movies about an actor who leaves a fancy life behind for a new beginning in New York, that does not welcome its newcomer the way its protagonist character, Nico was expecting.  Oh yes, indeed a new life never promises to meet anyone at the airport with tons of opportunities, while it has enough negativity to turn back any man from wherever they came from.

But in the case of Nico, nothing is as easy as it appears. In order to learn that, of course you will have to see the film, but one thing I can promise you is after reading the below interview with the writer/director Julia Solomonoff, I am sure the first thing you would like to do is to learn more about the film she made, by watching it perhaps during the Tribeca Film Festival, if you happen to be in New York.


MOVIEMOVESME: I saw the film in New York during Tribeca’s Pre- Festival press screening and I was quite amazed by its concept, it’s idea behind when an actor who was somebody in his country (Argentina) and nobody in New York. Can you talk about the approach you have taken to take the story to this direction?

Julia Solomonoff: I think, it’s pretty close to me because it’s something I experienced and have seen in my friends that people come with an expectation to this city, but also with the sense of self and for different reasons. Here they get a little lost about who they are, who they want, or what they really want to pursue. So to be honest, it’s not like I had to use a lot of imagination. Mostly it is a film about observation more than anything of different experiences, feelings and frustrations. Coming to New York can be great, but sometimes it’s exhilirating, but sometimes it is very bitter and difficult city.

MOVIEMOVESME: I am glad that you mentioned New York. New York is such a given with many opportunities. But it is also, as you said, can be bitter city as well. Was New York your first choice?

Julia Solomonoff: Yes, I have over 15 years of experience of going back and forth to New York and Buenos Aires. And I have observed many lives. And I also know what New York means to so many people outside and inside of New York. In the case of my character, Nico is almost like a stamp of validations – if he can make it here – he is good so he can make it anywhere. And it is also in a way to show off that he can do it without support of his mentor producer and lover. So there is an element of proving himself, but also in that proving himself he starts losing his own spine, his own needs, his own perspective, it’s kind of he tries to impress somebody more than following his own path. And that comes to the cost. Unfortunately, I have witnessed that here too, with not just actors, but with people that feel that living in New York gives them a sense of, I don’t know if that’s prestige or something, and they hold on to the city many times in spite being cruel to him. Sometimes you just want to get out and improve your life.

MOVIEMOVESME: It was also interesting to observe Nico. If we compare a man and a woman, a woman is much stronger psychologically, but may not be physically. And he is Nico, somebody from Argentina comes to New York. And all of a sudden, he as a man who supposed to be stronger than a woman and be willing to face the reality of a life. But no, he is broken and vulnerable. It would great to hear your way of seeing Nico that he might be seen to the audience as well.

Julia Solomonoff: Interesting, I never thought of that way. I think of the problem he has is probably more male problem than a woman problem that he is too proud of himself. And that does not allow him to accept who he is. He always tries to pretend to be who he is not. I am not saying that women are not proud of themselves, but there is a little bit of sense of how to put up a façade the character has and that kind of to face against him.  That’s why, I think, talking about masculinity and femininity, for me the role of the baby here is so relevant in this story. Because it’s a place where he can find a shelter, where he does not need to lie or pretend to be anything else. I don’t think he feels like he is a father of this kid, I think he finds a companion in this kid, someone who is not judgmental. And just physical and without language. He also clearly struggles with the language – and that is a part of this story like a misunderstanding of a culture and being lost in translation. And for me, what is also relevant is, because of his tenderness he finds for a baby, or when he loses the baby, when he realizes he does not have much more to do. He tries to stay, but he is stumbling. When I decided to write this piece, of course, there is a lot of erotical (graphical) elements for me coming from Argentina to New York and start again from zero was not that easy. But it was great and helped me to find who I am now. But there were moments when I had doubts if this was a place I wanted to be. And I what I felt when I decided, instead of woman, Nico was going to be a man was very related to kind of feminist side of this man. Because I felt, If I put a man as a babysitter with a baby, it is almost impossible for the audience not to think that she wants to have a baby. Motherhood almost becomes as a stamp, something you cannot avoid when you have a woman with a baby. But I think when you have a man with a baby, it’s not necessarily a connection a gay man with a baby, and not necessarily a connection with fatherhood. There are other possible relationships I wanted to expose.

MOVIEMOVESME: I am glad you brought up about Nico being a babysitter. It is indeed, he finds himself a different person, someone who he always wanted to be. However, whether he was psychologically weak, but he does something that he should not have – he goes to the store with the same baby and steals some goods. I wonder if you could talking about developing his character in a way, that he was forced to do such radical thing?

Julia Solomonoff:  For me what makes Nico compelling is, he is not a hero, and not in traditional sense. He is full of floats and I like it. And I love him for his struggle more than for his bravery. And in general, that was another thing I liked about him: he feels human, vulnerable and not necessarily heroic or about to save anything. So that means, he got things that I agree or disagree with, but at least, they gave me a window to his emotional state. For me, when he is shoplifting, it’s a mix of a little it of rebellion of trying to be better than the system. But also, there is a little bit of self destructiveness, and that’s what a friend discovers at the end: “You wanna be kicked out, right? With risking so much for something so little, and what is the point of this?”. And that, again, is his emotional state. Him stealing chocolate not because he does not have three dollars. He steals chocolate because he feels abandoned and lost. And yes, he is using a baby to steal and that’s not a great thing. But he does not even realize he puts a baby at risk.

I did a film in 2001 called “Scratch”. It was abut somebody who came from Kosovo, super good looking and you would not even be able to know who he was until an American girl he meets. And they start shoplifting together. And in that film, the shoplifting was as an act of rebellion, an act of seduction that they did something together, have fund and to see if they can get away with this. But the background of it, it was because of war, an act of pain, which was things come from. When I decided to do “Nobody’s Watching”, I went back to shoplifting, because I felt it was something Nico as an actor, somebody who is totally dependent on other people want to be seen. He also wanted to test a camera a bit to see if there is somebody who is watching. But what he finds out that, there is nobody watching. The cameras are there as a method of oppression, but not really for watching. And not to pay attention. And he is white and looks like a middle class and has a baby, nobody will be look at him. Maybe, if he was a black, then somebody would have pay attention in a bad and controlling way. And he knows that the immunity he has because of his position and look.

MOVIEMOVESME: Could you talk about your collaboration with Christina Lazaridi who is co-written a screenplay as well?

Julia Solomonoff: I was very very happy to find Christina in my past. We both were the professors at Columbia University and both went there. But we barely knew each other until she was conducting her workshop in Mexico. At that point, I had my script fully developed, but I wanted her input. Basically, I wrote a film, I wrote my original story, but what Christina did was a lot of patience and great guidance. She helped me to work on architecture of an art,  and making it more clear. She gave me a lot of freedom and added the depth to the story and perspective I was lacking. It all because of a great collaboration. When somewhat you so close, the other person is helping to see what is there and what is not there, what is repeated and what is missing. Because for me, there were some personal elements in the story, and sometimes it’s painful. But about us writing a man, to say, one of my favorite films is Claire Denis’ “Beau Travail” with Agnes Godard as cinematographer. It takes place in France foreign legion, all men. But the gaze of the film is very feminine and able to reveal subtle moments that a male director may deem irrelevant. And her view of masculinity is impressive. It’s a film about a lady looking at a man in a very different from a way other men look at a man. So I think the film (Nobody`s Watching)  is a very much female way of a very complex male character. But it also a male character that is very much, you call, is touched with a feminine side and less macho side. And that is a melancholy of the film.

MOVIEMOVESME:  There are many people who look at celebrities as if they were God. They follow after them, take selfies and think they have an amazing life. But in your film, there is a different look of a former celebrity, who had an excellent life in Argentina, well known, but here, in New York, he lives a life of every other individual, with common problems like everyone else. What the viewer learns from “Nobody’s Watching” that, celebrities are normal human beings. It just happened they are famous but with well known problems.

Julia Solomonoff: I think your absolutely right. It’s something that depends on how people perceive him or any actor. It’s hard for an actor not to think about how he is seen. Sometimes, it’s great, sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes its whole process is to be able to free yourself from that. I also feel that, many actors comes to New York because it’s a great city to learn and absorb and be curious and discover. And it’s not necessarily the best city to create your own thing to stay. If you’re a United Nation speaker, you will always have little disadvantages. You will always be crippled in your own expression because of your accent. And you will be pinpointed in position are many time less challenging and interesting if you would not have that. And one of the reasons I made the film, you find a lace where you can grow and be yourself, and do what you need to do more than trying to hold on places that not giving you what you want. So they film is sad that way. And that’s what I like about this film where Nico can find a place where he can be genuine.


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