“If you are a woman of color you are always going to be thinking about your race in intimate relationships“
In her sophomore film, writer-director-actress Kit Zauhar, one of the new voices in low-budget American independent cinema, comes up with a tense drama enclosed within the four walls of a room-based rental apartment. ‘This Closeness’ places the viewer in the position of a ‘voyeur’ who attends with some discomfort to the strange game of forced cordiality and ambiguities that is established between a young couple staying in a rented apartment and their lonely and disturbing host.
The film uses various resources to highlight the internal conflicts of a millennial generation that desperately needs human contact, but at the same time does not know how to manage it when there are no filters or intermediaries. It is no coincidence that the protagonist of the film dedicates herself professionally to ASMR; that is to say, to the production of whispering and extremely intimate sound pieces whose objective is to produce in the listener an autonomous sensory response of relaxation or accompaniment
The claustrophobia that the proposal deliberately conveys also has to do with the situation in which the protagonist finds herself: a biracial woman locked up with two apparently very different men, but united by the privilege of the white heterosexual.
What were the advantages of filming the whole film in an interior set to bubble up the tension between the characters?
It has a theatrical element; there is a sense that you’re performing a play in fragments, which gives the actors and the cinematographer a sense of familiarity and play when utilizing the space. It allows both viewer and actor to understand this insular “world” fully, which lends a texture of reality and intimacy. The viewer is as aware of what it means to have a door open or close, to hear footsteps, as the characters, which allows the audience to become a true voyeur. Tension requires energy to be trapped, so having the plot exist within one environment helps make that energy feel incredibly contained and volatile, like a pressure cooker.
What is it in how people communicate and especially how they communicate about little things that interest you this much?
I’m someone who has always been intrigued by subtext, the ways in which we communicate by saying one thing and meaning something completely different. The marrow of humanity exists in our trivialities and inabilities in regards to language, to love, to connection, to everything. I think that the “little things” are often what make a person a person; good characters and interesting people are oftentimes not defined in broad strokes but for minute details. We understand more about people as a whole if we start at this microscopic level and move outwards.
The film was two hours, 20 minutes at the beginning. How did the Kit director deal with the Kit scriptwriter when having to edit the film?
It wasn’t very difficult to reconcile the various roles. I had a great editor, Brian Kinnes, who guided the process. We were working with tight deadlines so had to be somewhat merciless from the beginning. I don’t feel that precious about what I make at that stage because it’s all malleable, and it really only exists for the audience of me and my editor. I always just try to remember, “People aren’t going to miss what they didn’t even know existed.”
Why have you underlined both sound and silence and how they affect people as a key theme in the film?
I think both carry immense weight. Silences are interesting ways to punctuate a film, the same way they can punctuate different kinds of interactions. Sound is a wonderful way to create atmosphere in a space; good sound design makes a space come alive. I always think about what this critic said about Monet’s paintings, that he captured “the tremblings of an atmosphere.” I tried to use both silences and sound to try and replicate this sentiment.
For a living, Tessa makes ASMR videos, how personal is your interest in these phenomena?
I love ASMR videos. I struggle on and off with insomnia, and ASMR videos have been a big help. But sometimes I’d have this moment of recognition where I would realize how strange it was that I was watching this (oftentimes) woman pretend to “pamper” me; it’s an occupation that straddles a lot of different lines for women. They’re playing caretaker, lover, friend, something more ambiguously sexual at times. They’re trying to simultaneously comfort and arouse, they’re paid to be a virtual friend or spouse. It’s a strange emotional purgatory to find yourself in and just a fascinating subculture of the internet to explore.
How close do you feel from the mumblecore wave?
I am very grateful for its existence and really appreciate so many of those films, but with every film I make I want to create distance from the genre. I don’t think just because a film has a lot of conversation that it’s necessary to label it mumblecore, and maybe that speaks to how scared a lot of contemporary filmmakers are to write dialogue-heavy films.
Do you think that longing high school friends is a sign of immaturity?
I used to think so, but upon further consideration I think there is a more empathetic viewpoint, one that acknowledges a great privilege I have. I think a lot of people, including myself, equate high school with this intense period of feeling. You feel so much so intensely for the first time, whether that be finding your sense of self, learning to understand your sexuality, your body, how you see the world and how the world sees you. I think a lot of people who don’t go into the arts feel nostalgic for high school because their daily routine doesn’t require such an emotional response, they don’t necessarily need to engage with some rigorous process of self-actualization, so they conflate high school with a time that feels potent and deep. But as an artist I constantly find myself in that adolescent intensity, but now I have more autonomy and self-awareness, so I don’t have a need to look back fondly at my youth. In many ways, I’m still living it, but with more self-respect and a greater understanding of what I want from life. And I’m very lucky I get to have this worldview.
Both your first film and this one dwells into the trivialities revealing more about humanity and relationships than they might seem to at first. Do you plan to go on exploring this path?
Yes, definitely. I always gravitate towards films like that. I think you go into big sweeping epics or dramas or horror films to feel something pure to your emotional core, like fear or hope. But I don’t really come out of those films with any great revelations about myself or other people. That’s always the goal for me, to tap into something more complex and sticky in what makes people tick.
What answers have you achieved by interrogating through the film the experience of being a white man?
I don’t know if they are answers so much as they are acknowledgements. I think white men are utterly fascinating. They have so many doors open for them they don’t even know the doors exist. They present a great foil to the other characters that I write and play, who have been conditioned to tread through life more carefully. What’s compelling about this film is that the two white men in it believe themselves to be so different fundamentals, but they actually operate with similar motivations but achieve different outcomes. I don’t feel the need to make films that admonish any particular group but I think there’s a lot of humor and strange epiphanies an artist can come to by utilizing white characters without trying to make a clear political or sociopolitical statement. I am much more interested by the anthropological possibilities of my films, what do individual audience members take away from watching these men “in the wild.”
Why was it important for you to raise awareness about race as a source of toxicism in affective and sexual relationships?
If you are a woman of color you are always going to be thinking about your race in intimate relationships. Does he like me because of me, or does he have a fetish? Is it a coincidence that many men I’ve been with have dated other biracial women? These can’t really be answered because the other person might not be consciously aware of his choices, or would never admit to them. The lack of clarity available doesn’t mean the questions don’t demand to be asked. It’s important for films to keep probing at these dilemmas because if they don’t we all become passive to possible fetishization, marginalization, and the vague but frightening prospect that people are not seeing you for your full self.