Plangent Rain

Dark, desolate and dreary, Plangent Rain (original title, Daqqet ix-Xita) offers a concise but effective tribute to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Director Kenneth Scicluna tells us more .

Set in the atmospheric, narrow streets of Valletta and inspired by Soviet director Grigori Kozintsev‘s 1964 production of Hamlet, the Lighthouse +Ashley movie already made waves some months ago at the Short Film Corner in Cannes. A cursory look at the movie’s page on IMDB proved to be immediately intriguing. Let’s face it, with a synopsis that kicks off with the immortal words ‘dark, liquified decrepitude’ and the promise of a sobering journey into the deepest insecurities of the human psyche… I was obviously hooked. But the question remained: were these empty words merely intended to puff up a mundane script, or does the film actually deliver the gamut of oppressive emotions that the blurb on its sleeve promised?

There was only one way to find out. I cadged a copy of the movie and prepared to be blown away – or not.  I made the mistake of watching it in a dark room with headphones on. Bad idea, simply because the atmospheric doom and gloom is so strong that even after the fifteen minutes were over I found it difficult to snap back into the happy-go-lucky, falalala mood I had been previously enjoying. Which is exactly what the team behind Daqqet ix-Xita wanted to achieve, which in turn makes the movie a success. Reuben Zahra’s score – Maltese folk, interjected with dramatic and discordant chords- was particularly inspired. The film is shot in black and white, another factor that contributes to the heavily oppressive atmosphere. Short as the production is, the characters leap at you and you can actually feel the main character’s impending madness.

Hardly any wonder the film has been endorsed by Hungarian cult director Bela Tarr.  Of course, Kenneth Scicluna is no new name to the local movie scene with seven directing roles under his belt and participation in a host of other offerings. He started off by explaining that Daqqet ix-Xita is the fruit of a production team of six, working under the umbrella of Lighthouse+Ashley productions. The whole project, which was co-financed by the Malta Film Fund, took about two years to finish with actual filming starting a year ago.

“I had been toying with the idea of using the story of Hamlet in a production for quite a while and the Shakespearean tragedy is a recurrent theme in this movie. Daqqet ix-Xita is based on the idea of fluidity, kicking off with the crashing waves and repeatedly using Ophelia’s figure like a billowing sail in the wind.”

Wetness, in the movie, is used to personify death. Rather ironic, considering that the first day of filming happened to be the same day a series of flash-floods brought the whole of Malta to a standstill. Up at dawn and ready for a full day’s filming, Scicluna’s crew were faced with a totally flooded and unusable location that they couldn’t even get to. The situation descended into farce when reports started coming in about coffins floating in the roads in Qormi. Filming was postponed to later on in the evening. An eight hour delay is no big deal, you would think. You’d be wrong of course, with cast and equipment booked to precise timelines, the slightest change in schedule can lead to a missed deadline.  The fickle Maltese weather turned out to be a big deciding factor in the whole process and as sod’s law would have it, the forecast rarely delivered what was needed.

“Working with the weather was definitely one of the biggest challenges. To mention just one example, when we needed overcast skies to shoot a scene in the Grand Harbour, we got blue skies and blazing skies. The scene included the use of very expensive marine equipment and a whole diving team, so we had to go ahead with it. Despite all the weather mishaps, all the nights spent writing and re-writing the script and the other hundred and one things that went wrong at any given time, we made it. The commitment that the whole team showed was incredible. One story that springs to mind involves actress Polly March, who managed to overcome a big fear of water to shoot  (and re-shoot) a scene where she in being taken across the harbour by boat.”

It is easy to see that Daqqet ix-Xita, much like all his other film offerings, is very much a labour of love for Scicluna. When asked about the downside to directing this kind of project, he does not mention the sleepless nights spent filming or the cost to his personal time. What worries him are the scenes that were shot but which ended up on the cutting floor.

“With every production, a number of perfectly good scenes end up not being used for a variety of reasons. In the case of a movie like Daqqet ix-Xita, the reasons are usually related to the length of the film. No matter how necessary it is, I honestly hate doing it! Both crew and actors will have sweated blood to create that scene and it always pains me to throw out someone’s good work. Probably the biggest regret of this sort is related to a particular scene in a five-minute movie I did called The Isle, where I enlisted the help of a crowd of extras to play the part of dead people in a church. I often think that I shoot re-shoot that movie and find a way to include it and one day…I probably will.”

The satisfactions, of course, outweigh the challenges. Contrary to what I expect, Scicluna insists that the biggest pleasure of all is not when he sees the end product ready and polished. Rather, it’s letting the production go by giving the rest of the team the opportunity to make it their own, using their interpretation of his script. Upon its launch, Daqqet ix-Xita was immediately accepted by the Cannes Short Film Festival Corner, an achievement that opened the gateway to a number of other opportunities within the international Short Film industry. The film in fact was also accepted to take part in the Salento Finibus Terrae last July, the Trani Film Festival last week and will also show at the Cyprus Film Festival in October.

This blog appeared on The TV Guide (Times of Malta) last May. However, the movie is currently taking part in the Malta TV Short Film Festival Viewers’ Choice Award.  If you’re a Malteser and you like the trailer I posted here, you can text “Daqqet ix-Xita” to 50615050 to vote. You can read more about the making of the movie here.

© Ramona Depares 2011. All rights reserved.