Kaveh Nabatian is the author and one of the seven directors of the concert film The Seven Last Words (2018).
What does Franz Joseph Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ mean to you?
I like Haydn’s music in general. It’s classical music—therefore, timeless—but I must say that it has rarely affected me in such a powerful way as with this composition. Usually, Haydn’s music is more controlled, more rigid, but there is something greater in The Seven Last Words of Christ. The themes of the sonatas are vast: death, abandonment, forgiveness… They bring out something greater in the composer, and he manages to channel a lot of things into this music. The sonatas are quite long and have different colours. He ends with the powerful Il Terremoto, which almost sounds like heavy metal. It’s very different; I feel like he’s just turned everything upside down.
Where did you first hear Haydn’s work?
Sarah McMahon, the cellist of the Callino Quartet, is a good friend of mine. I was touring with my band in the UK, and we spent some time at her house. She was the one who introduced me to the piece. The quartet wanted to make a recording of it. I listened to it then and thought it was amazing. It made me want to be part of their project, to make something with it. At first, I was going to do everything myself, but after thinking about it some more, I thought it would be better to have several directors and make a film that is universal.
How did you choose the directors, and how did the collaboration go?
At first I looked for directors from all over the world, but it turned out to be too complicated logistically. With Catherine Chagnon, the producer, we focused instead on Quebec directors from different backgrounds and religions. We needed as much variety as possible. They were mostly people I knew or that Catherine knew. I also wanted to have more women than men, because I found the music so interesting and different… I wanted that to be reflected in the film. In terms of collaboration, the most important thing for me was to spend time together. I organized dinners and barbecues so we could talk about the music, themes, and each other’s ideas. I also set some constraints: they had to shoot in panoramic format, without dialogue, and I wanted them to use their intuition rather than intellect in their interpretation of the last word. I didn’t want something cerebral: I wanted them to listen to the music and make their films a dance between the theme and the emotions that the music provoked in them. Otherwise, everyone was given carte blanche. It was very interesting to see other people directing, other ways of doing things and communicating.
You make two segments in the film, “Introduzione” and the conclusion, also called “Il Terremoto,” as well as the segment called “Everything Is Accomplished,” whose theme is triumph. Can you tell me about your inspiration for these segments?
“Introduzione” and “Il Terremoto” follow the same story: an elderly woman facing death. I wanted to tell a really simple story that spoke about the themes of the film, the ideas of abandonment, trust, and rebirth. I tend to complicate things, but I really wanted to try to make it simple for this segment. In the West, we don’t talk about death, we hide old people in retirement homes, and I wanted to create something in contrast to that. I was interested in the culture in Haiti, in the relationship that Haitians have with death. They are closer to it, and often people have cemeteries that house their ancestors in front of their homes. There is a kind of collaboration between life and death. I wanted to take a part of Haitian Voodoo and tell it differently. That’s why Baron Samedi pilots the plane. The music is so Western; I put it in images, but the content is very different from the images that come to mind when you hear this kind of music. For “Everything Is Accomplished,” I was interested in fairy tales and mythology, which are subjects that fascinate me. With the word in mind, I created a mythology. I drew on ideas of the end of the world, such as eclipses; eclipses are often found when great changes take place in the universe. I revisited the idea of the prodigal son as well. And then for the set, I had some very specific trees in mind and ultimately found them in Mississippi, on the Louisiana border—that’s where we shot. It worked really well because mythology is part of normal life in Louisiana, a bit like in Haiti.