Director Zal Batmanglij Breaks Down His Personal Cinematic Classics

When it comes to my appetite for cinema, it’s not always the film that intrigues me the most but the voice behind it. Speaking with various filmmakers—from auteurs that have been working for decades to emerging independent directors on the cusp—what I find myself obsessively enticed by is: why did this person, make this film, at this time in the world? Not only what did the film convey to the audience but what was the film trying to say, what was their intention—trying to understand where the film changed from an idea ruminating in their brainstem to the screen. And although it’s always interesting to know what other works inspired a specific film, I love discovering the movies that eternally excite my favorite directors, whether or not there’s any direct correlation between that which they worship and that which they create.

And as one of the most thrilling and inspiring new filmmakers to emerge in the last few years, Zal Batmanglij has been putting out films that speak to our current generation, illuminating the world we live in and asking us—now what do we do? His films carry a mix of political charge, poetic beauty, and suspenseful thrill that harkens back to a bygone era of cinema yet are distinctly modern and fresh.

So previously knowing about his love for films such as Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Red or Pekula’s All the President’s Men, I wanted Zal to breakdown some other films he loves, giving a fresh look at classics from David Lynch to Bernardo Bertolucci—and even his own first film Sound of My Voice. A few months ago Zal and I got on the phone to dissect just what he loves about these films and what he takes away.  Enjoy.


25% Jane Fonda – especially her voice in this film
25% Tone: that alchemy of direction. Also, the chemistry between Fonda and Sutherland, had to have been real.
15% Gordon Willis’ cinematography
15% Editing through holding the shot and withholding—you rarely see the therapist.
15% Sound design. That phone ringing.
5%  The 1970s – clothes, sets, the film stock.

The Conformist

45% The dreamlike tone; years later the mood lingers like an afterimage.
20% Jean Louis Trintignant
10% Finale in the snow
10% The tango scene
10% Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography
5%  The psychosexual undercurrent

Sound of My Voice

50% Brit
30% The tone of the film — the colors, the handheld cinematography by Rachel Morrison, that basement…
10% Rostam’s score
10% The element of WTF

Double Life of Veronique

30% It’s the music, which still haunts
30% Irene Jacob who pulls you in and keeps you clean.
30% The framing and the sense of magic from the film stock and colors.
20% The use of SOUND especially when the sound design enters the actual film — to take us to the train station.

Six Degrees of Separation

20% Will Smith’s fucking balls out performance
20% Stockard Channing’s transformation
20% The script based on Guare’s play, that dialogue
20% Donald Sutherland’s Flan
20% Real power and money skewered so effortless on screen.

Mulholland Drive

20% Bad Girl Naomi
20% Sweet naomi
20% WTF dream logic tone
10% Angelo Badalamenti’s music
10% Rebekah Del Rio singing “Crying” at the night club

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