The films that influenced me: Andrew Haigh

The acclaimed director behind Weekend, 45 Years and now Lean on Pete reveals the films that shaped his love of cinema.

1 May 2018

By Sam Wigley

Andrew Haigh

“I don’t like horses. I’ve not been around horses.”

Andrew Haigh doesn’t have a favourite horse movie either. If there’s any kind of filmic model for his fourth feature, Lean on Pete, it’s Ken Loach’s classic Kes (1969), a kindred story of a down-on-his-luck boy finding solace with an animal companion. “That film is not about a bird. It’s just a bird,” Haigh explains. “It’s about what the kid has been going through, and how the only thing he has left is the bird.”

The only thing teenage Charley (Charlie Plummer) has left is a racehorse. He’s moved to a new neighbourhood in rural Oregon with his feckless father, finding work mucking out stables for local trainer Del (Steve Buscemi). But he gets too attached to the eponymous nag, and when he finds out Lean on Pete – now past its prime – is headed for the slaughterhouse, Charley takes drastic measures, embarking on an odyssey across the Pacific Northwest.

Haigh began his directing career with a very different Pete, the London rent-boy protagonist of 2009’s Greek Pete, before breaking through as one of British indie cinema’s most exciting new directors with the finely turned emotional dramas Weekend (2011) and 45 Years (2015).

Based on a 2010 novel by Willy Vlautin, Lean on Pete is his first US-set film and finds Haigh trading the Bergmanesque chamber dimensions of 45 Years (“I went through a period of watching probably too many Bergman films in a row,” he tells us, “I felt like I’d discovered the answer to what cinema should be”) for a world of bar-room Americana and wide-open spaces that feels closer to the cinema of Kelly Reichardt or the modern western.

“My influences are all over the place,” Haigh says, sat in a viewing theatre at the BFI. “Different films have spoken to me at different times in my life, and they’ve helped create my idea of the kind of films I want to make.” With Lean on Pete out in cinemas from 4 May, he took us on a quick canter through some of the big ones.

Don’t Look Now (1973)

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Don’t Look Now (1973)

“When I was growing up, I was watching fairly standard American cinema. I remember first watching Don’t Look Now (1973), the Nic Roeg film, and being amazed. You think it’s about one thing – you feel you’re watching a horror story – but then it’s not: it’s a very profound look at grief and a marriage and all those things. It’s the first time I realised that a film could be a lot of different things, on different levels.”

New Hollywood

Five Easy Pieces (1970)

“There was a time when all I watched was American 70s cinema, and there are still films from that period – some Robert Altman films, Bob Rafelson films like Five Easy Pieces (1970) – that are constantly in my mind.”

Ratcatcher (1999)

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Ratcatcher (1999)

“Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher blew me away when it came out. When I started making short films, I would watch that film over and over again, marvelling at how that story visually unfolded.”

L’avventura (1960)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

L’avventura (1960)

“I used to work at the BFI, when it was the NFT [now BFI Southbank]. I was an usher there for six months after I left school. It was a cinematic education. You saw three different films a day if you were working weekends. I saw L’avventura (1960), Antonioni’s film, and it was with an earphone commentary. There were no subtitles; it was just someone talking in the ear about what was happening. But as an usher I didn’t have the earphone on, so I could only watch the images. And that film’s actually better when you don’t hear the dialogue. I loved just watching the images, because they’re so powerful.

“That was the first time that I realised, shit, there is such power in the image, and it can affect you incredibly emotionally. That’s what made me think, this is the kind of thing I want to be doing. Not necessarily to try to be Antonioni, but to make movies. After that I was hungry to watch whatever I could watch.”

Uzak (2002)

Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Uzak (2002)

“I was also obsessed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Uzak (2002). I was so blown away by that film – the way that you can get quite deep into the psychology of a character, their aloneness or their isolation from the world. It tells the story in essentially a very gentle way that allows you to watch rather than necessarily always feel and experience. For a long time, that was my go-to film that I wanted to emulate.”

Andrzej Zvyagintsev

Leviathan (2014)

“For me, Andrzej Zvyagintsev is the most interesting director at the moment. I’m jealous because I don’t think I could ever make a film like his – they’re so sturdy and strong. I’ve watched Leviathan (2014) a few times, and the power of those images that he managed to conjure up without them feeling like they’re too weighty is pretty incredible I think.”

Kelly Reichardt

Wendy and Lucy (2008)

“Kelly’s films are really beautiful at exploring a way of life and a socio-economic world, but doing so with such tenderness and care. It’s surprising how often that isn’t the case – films can often be judgmental. I think she’s a master at telling stories with a beautiful simplicity. I admire her a lot.”

Robert Bresson

Mouchette (1967)

Mouchette (1967) even more than Au hasard Balthazar (1966). His films are not easy watches, by any stretch of the imagination – you have to be in the right mood to watch a Bresson film. But I think his use of image and sound was incredible, and the way he ends films. Even while you’re watching them you’re not sure how you’re feeling emotionally, but it’s afterwards when certain images and feelings come back to you that you realise the power of what he’s doing.

“I read something interesting the other day about how with certain filmmakers – and I think you can include people like Bresson and Tarkovsky – you can drift off or fall asleep during their films. But they are the most powerful films – they almost work in a kind of dream state.

“That’s always important to remember: films don’t always have to be grabbing you every moment, in spite of what people think. Sometimes I love to see a film that I can be engrossed in but also drift off at certain times and then come back to. I feel like they get deeper in your subconscious. They have an ability to linger on because they work more like dreams than reality.”

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