“Zola” is the most vivid look of the filmmaker Janicza Bravo | Entertainment

NEW YORK (AP) – It’s not easy to fully understand Janicza Bravo’s cinema. In describing his work, which now encompasses nine short films and two feature films, including the new film “Zola,” adjectives such as surreal, disturbing, satirical, absurd, otherworldly may be used.

“These are all very good and sexy words for me,” says Bravo, laughing.

“Zola,” which A24 opens in theaters this Wednesday, is the 40-year-old’s most vivid look as an emerging filmmaker. The film, which debuted at Sundance in January 2020, is one of the most anticipated of the summer. It is quite possible that it is the first feature film to be adapted from a chain of posts on Twitter: a notorious, mostly true thread of 148 tweets from 2015 in which A’Ziah “Zola” King wrote about a road trip in Florida to a strip club that ended violently.

In Bravo’s hands, the viral storm of tweets is a “The Wizard of Oz” -style fairy tale that turns into a nightmare: a hallucinogenic but clear adventure due to sex work, social media, race, and the violence that is both fantastic and darkly real. Comedy and horror intertwine. The same goes for movies and the internet.

“I think it’s still very much a ride,” says Bravo. “I just don’t know if it’s nice all the time.”

Even for some of Bravo’s closest collaborators, explaining the sentiment and style of his dreamy, disorientating films can be difficult. Halfway through the filming of “Zola,” her production designer, Katie Byron, turned to her and asked her if she had taken a lot of ketamine.

“Unfortunately, I’m a bit upright,” says Bravo. “I am very attracted to creating a work that feels a little larger than life. It’s right there. It is somewhat familiar, but we go over the maximum volume ”.

Bravo’s style has earned him many admirers. His second short film, 2013’s “Gregory Goes Boom,” starred Michael Cera as a bitter paraplegic. Jeremy O. Harris, the “Slave Play” playwright, saw it at Sundance and fell in love. At the time she thought that Bravo, by name, was Polish, but Bravo was actually born in New York and raised in Panama before moving to Brooklyn when she was 12 years old. His parents were tailors, a source of the Bravo style.

“What I loved about that movie and all of its movies since then is that it has this very crafty and chaotic way of dealing with the darkest truths in American history while making you laugh,” says Harris as he recovers from a hangover and buys some smoothies after a celebratory screening of “Zola” in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Harris became friends with Bravo about seven years ago. When the possibility of doing “Zola” came up, Bravo asked him to write it with her. For Harris, “Zola” represents more than the average Hollywood achievement.

“The work she’s been doing has been so consistent that I think people didn’t have a Rosetta Stone (program) to understand the language she was speaking in,” Harris says. “We are not used to hearing a black woman speak such complex languages ​​in independent cinema.”

“Zola” was originally to be directed by James Franco. That version of the movie, the filmmakers say, was more carefree. Bravo and Harris approached King’s Twitter network – a colorful and often funny story told – with more reverence. For Bravo and Harris, the chain of publications was a modern Homeric epic. They wanted to cement the film in Zola’s perspective and capture the way that black women can be treated as expendable, and the traumatic consequences of the white appropriation of blackness.

“When Janicza joined, she focused more on my voice,” says King, who is an executive producer on the film and whose tweets were published in a hardcover book.

In the movie, Zola (played by Taylour Paige) is a Detroit waitress whose new friend, a customer she serves, Stefani (Riley Keough), urges her to spend a weekend with her in Florida to have fun and win. money stripping. Keough plays Stefani as imitating Zola by adopting her gestures and phrases. For Harris, it’s kind of a face paint without black makeup; a scene he compares with Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled”. We watch as Stefani drags Zola into a hellish situation.

“Zola” turns the camera towards whiteness. It’s a theme throughout Bravo’s work, including his previous feature “Lemon” (about an unattractive failed actor, shot with his ex-husband and frequent collaborator Brett Gelman); and a series in development with Jake Gyllenhaal as Dan Mallory, the successful novelist known by his pen name AJ Finn who invented a tragic past that included a brain tumor. For Bravo, whiteness is often treated as invisible and neutral. Your experience is the opposite.

“I wanted to make a conversation with whiteness and I wanted to talk about it because I hadn’t really seen anyone do it, especially in comedy,” says Bravo. “Usually when it came to race, it was explicitly about race. And I am interested in incorporating race into my everyday circumstances. So it is for me. It’s my own processing of feeling limited or feeling less and what it’s like to wear this skin and this body. “

But “Zola” hides his reflective meditations. Throughout the film, whenever dialogue matches King’s tweets, a Twitter jingle sounds like the chimes of a slot machine. It’s a touch that King considers “invaluable.”

“When I watch the movie, it’s like a time travel, like I suddenly forget where I am and I’m back in 2015. She really paints that picture,” says King. “The movie feels like Twitter. I don’t know how to explain it, but it is. From the quotes to the bells to the lighting, it feels like you’re on the internet. “

Whether it’s because of his identity, his international childhood, or his artistic instinct, Bravo’s ability to make the familiar look strange seems perfectly compatible with “Zola,” a film with one foot in real life and the other in a strange and ethereal digital reality. . The movie, he says, is a love letter to the birthplace of history: the internet.

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