Khavn De La Cruz has been one of the most prolific artists in the Philipinnes in recent decades, having made 47 films since 1994, amongst an array of shorts, compositions and various other interdisciplinary pieces. In Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore, Khavn – alongside Christopher Doyle and Tadanobu Asano – examines violence through poetry in one of his most complete offerings to date. We caught up with the director to talk about the film and his broader career at Melbourne International Film Festival.
I wanted to open by asking about how Ruined Heart engages with this well-known fable and concept of the love story. I was curious as to what you wanted to convey in reengaging with it?
Well, at the heart of the project is the idea that it’s a love letter… yeah.
Mmm, so what inspired making this film as a love letter?
I mean, it’s nothing conscious… you know, all these ills and all these injustices… it’s like, they’re all around and they happen every day in different permutations. You see them whether you like it or not; whether you’re discussing them or not – from the script to the actual shooting. There’s no specific aspect of society that I focus on though.
At the heart of this film, there’s this slow-moving poetry to it. For a lot of your career you’ve been known as this markedly interdisciplinary artist, who has worked in a myriad of fields. I was wondering what drew you to reconciling a lot of these various paths – poetry, directing music – in one of your largest international films?
I don’t know… it just happened to be that way. Filming is like trying to create an image with different puzzle pieces which might or might not fit. At the end of the day, you’ve got to show whatever you come up with. The poetry, the music, the images, the sound; they were created during that moment. We shot in 4 days and then we tried to make some kind of sense of this nonsense in post-production, you know?
I guess one of the interesting parts of this quick shoot is the scale outside of the shoot itself. Like, you’ve got Tadanobu Asano from Japan to star in the lead role and Christopher Doyle in charge of cinematography, and I was wondering how that came together for such a small shoot?
I mean, the film is a collaboration with different people whose work I admire; whose energy I wanted to be part of the project…
Yeah, and how did you become aware for Tadanobu Asano’s work?
Ah, yes, I’ve seen a lot of his films before. I think the first one was Ichi the Killer with a lot of other films after that. I mean it’s a long time ago but he saw Mondomanila, one of my earlier films and we were aware of each other back then. So I wanted him to play the criminal and like, it’s set in Manila, but it’s not necessarily there. It’s a Philippines film but at the same time it’s not. And yeah, of course I am familiar with a lot of Chris’ earlier work –
Well I guess Doyle’s cinematography combined with Asano’s acting definitely helps in transposing this film from being landlocked to Manila and into a very kind of universal and unique spatial realm?
Yeah, he was like throwing a DSLR back and forth, seeing what sticks, seeing what works, experimenting. Although there’s like a map or a supposed screenplay, you really have to try and see what works on the actual set.
With that composition of the film, I noticed you were involved with the score as well?
Well I composed the main melody before we actually shot. So in the scene where Asano is playing the indigenous two-string lute – that melody he’s playing was written before. In post-production, yeah, you see what works, what doesn’t work and then you make more music.
Did the music inspire the writing of the film or?
Yeah, I mean it’s there, in a way… like they’re connected but they’re like two different elements. They’re like aliens, they don’t really… I mean they communicate, but they don’t really meld. So it’s… one is informed by the other, but at the same time… they’re on different planes.
One of the things that isn’t entirely available or accessible somewhere like Sydney or Melbourne, which is the 47+ back-catalogue of films to your name – most of which haven’t gotten an international release. I was interested in what informs this pace?
Well, I mean it’s all about momentum, you know? Like, once you start you just keep on going and exploring cinema. Yourself through cinema, or your world through cinema. Again, it’s not conscious. I mean the conscious thing was to say “okay, this year I won’t make any more films” and then the next year you have 3 or 4 films, it just kind of happens. Also with actual filmmaking, you want to make a purple chair but something else comes up.
So Ruined Heart first screened as a short in 2012?
Yeah, there was a short film in Berlin in 2012, which is a different film but the same journey. There’s also a criminal and there’s also a whore. It’s similar but Asano wasn’t there and Chris wasn’t there. It’s like… I wrote the love letter in the shape of a poem or a short story, which became this short film and we did it in a day – just me and my friends.
And this longer version? Because the two seem to blur online?
Well it was in Berlin this year in February but… I mean yeah, IMDb is fucked up.
Wrapping up, considering this aforementioned pace – do you know what your next projects are from here?
Well I always want to retire, but it doesn’t happen. Yeah, I have two films in post-production, I also want to shoot something before the year ends. Maybe two of the three will get an international release? The other one is really quite… experimental.
Thanks for the chat.