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An Interview with Keyvan Sheikhalishahi, Director of Divertimento

by Mike Haberfelner

February 2023

Films directed by Keyvan Sheikhalishahi on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Divertimento - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Itís about Jonas Olsen, a chess player whoís given an opportunity to participate in a mysterious game, Divertimento.

 

With Divertimento being a murder mystery of sorts, is that a genre at all dear to you, and some of your genre favourites?

 

Definitely, it was interesting to me to start the story as a classic murder mystery, something everyone has read or watched and can relate to. I needed a basic aim to gradually change directions and create a different, special tone in the second part which is proper to the film itself.

 

Other sources of inspiration when writing Divertimento?

 

I was of course inspired by The Game, which is one of my favourite films. I can watch this film as many times as you want. But I didnít want to do the same thing. The idea was to establish a new, fresh approach. Something challenging that hadnít been done before, and could attract such a cast.

 

What can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

Iím keen to make a cinematic experience. The audience should be caught in the film, from beginning to end, without thinking about anything else. The idea was to employ simple but dynamic camera work which follows the characters, so that we can highlight the complexity and mystery of the story.

 

Divertimento features quite a star studded ensemble - so do talk about your cast, and why exactly these people?

 

Working with so many actors was a premiere to me, and I loved it. They were all kind are perfect.

 

For Jonas, the main idea was to cast an actor well known by the audience for his great heroism and kindness. Someone who canít be seen as a villain, at first sight. Kellan Lutz has played a kind vampire, Hercules, one of the Expendablesí teammembers, an FBI agent and many more heroesÖ he was perfect to make the film unexpected and the character more ambiguous and disturbing.

 

I also absolutely wanted Torrey DeVitto. She was perfect to portray the queen, and to play an emotional, yet disturbing character. You want to relate to her but her character leaves a bitter taste at the end of the film. I loved working with both of them. And thereís a lot of exciting discussion by the audience. Who between Jonas, Cathy and the others is innocent, or guilty?

 

I couldnít imagine this film without GŲtz Otto. I mean, who else could have played the rook?

 

I absolutely wanted Nordic actors for Gustav and Mark. For me, Ola Rapace was an obvious choice. I already had him in mind since several years. For this reason and for the seriousness, severity he can portray and that he played in Skyfall, he was my first choice. When he said he wanted to do it, it was extraordinary for me.

 

It was a gift to make this film with Christian Hillborg. I needed an actor able to deliver a very strong and impermeable performance in a few minutes. Chritian was more than perfect. The script is the script but my only regret is that I wanted him more present in the film.

 

For Helen, I was looking for an actor of English origin. I first had in mind another actor, based in United States, who wanted to play the part but her schedule was too complex for our shooting. We both tried to find a solution, yet the circumstances of her play in New York didnít make it possible. I stopped casting for a few weeks. Then, I remembered I watched a few episodes of Harlots and I immediately thought about Ellie Heydon. She was my new first choice.

 

You of course also have to talk about the castle you filmed Divertimento at, and what was it like filming there? And did you write your movie with this location already in mind?

 

I knew I wanted to film in a castle but not this one specifically. Yet, during pre-production, I absolutely wanted this one, which was not an easy thing. Filming there was challenging, the rooms and spaces are very large, you need dozens and dozens of lights.

 

A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

Incredible. Literally a dream.

 

The $64-question of course, where can Divertimento be seen?

 

Screening at festivals right now.

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Divertimento?

 

Moviegoers are impressed, I can only be happy ! I wanted to make an ambitious film with a different, new approach, with some classic tropes to not lose the audience. Iím happy thereís a very positive reception to it.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

Iím working on several scripts.

 

Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?

 

Iím mainly active on Instagram - @keyvansheikhalishahi

 

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Anything elseyou're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

I want to again thank everyone involved in this film. There were lots of artists and people from the industry at every step. As you know, a film canít be made by its filmmaker alone. We were about 150. I feel grateful to everyone. And a specific thank you to my make-up team who came from Spain.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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