Architecture of Vision: Matthew Hannam and Sarah Gadon's 'Paseo'

Sarah Gadon in Paseo
Courtesy of TIFF
Director Matthew Hannam describes having an a-ha moment one day in Barcelona. While other tourists were taking photos and selfies, a picture formed in his mind. “The fucked up part is that most people aren't there, they're just trying to get enough pictures to prove that they were,” says Hannam. “At a certain point you don't even know where you are.”

The sentiment reflects Hannam’s short film Paseo, a dark psychological head trip that plays with viewers’ perceptions of time and reality. Paseo envelopes viewers in a hypnotic nightmare about a young woman, Alice, who kills time in Barcelona while delaying her return to her boyfriend/routine in Canada. Sarah Gadon (Alias Grace) stars as Alice and makes her debut as a producer while delivering one of her darkest performances, while Hannam makes his directorial debut an accomplished career as a film editor cutting Canadian movies like Into the Forest and Enemy, and American indies like James White and Swiss Army Man. The pair makes a creative leap and have a clear sense of where they’re going even if Alice does not.

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Hannam and Gadon, speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival where Paseo recently premiered, say the project began when Hannam was in Barcelona for post-production on Enemy. (In which Gadon also appeared.) “I spent a lot of time walking around because I didn't know anybody and I didn't speak the language,” explains Hannam. “I was feeling really alone.”

Hannam says that being alone in Barcelona let him observe the disconnect other tourists had with the spaces he admired. “The movie was mostly about exploring overrun tourist traps and trying to shoot them as if they’re not,” says Hannam. Working with Enemy cinematographer Nicholas Bolduc, Hannam says they explored the tensions of exploring foreign land. “We were trying to capture the perversion of what happens there,” notes Hannam. “Tourists walk around with their phones, taking pictures of isolated elements of a place without experiencing it.” Paseo plays with the image of a detached selfie culture tourist as Alice wanders the city talking on her iPhone. She fails to notice the beauty before her eyes, but avoids connecting with her boyfriend on the line.

Gadon adds that playing the tourist in Spain evoked Hannam’s passion for the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, like the Barcelona-set The Passenger. “When I was prepping Enemy, Denis [Villeneuve] asked me to watch a few Antonioni films and he was inspired by Antonioni. Matthew’s also very inspired by Antonioni,” says Gadon.
Courtesy of TIFF
“Antonioni is an architectural filmmaker. I love his movies and wanted to do a bit of an homage,” says Hannam. “Enemy was also very architectural. I think the mushy style that we developed came from wanting the film to be very experiential and psychological.”

Despite Hannam’s background as an editor, Paseo doesn’t rely on the cutting to drive the story as the fragmented narrative flows between past and present. Hannam adds that despite what one may think, he didn’t shoot the film with the editing in mind. “If I learned anything from the full circle experience, it’s that you don't have a chance of planning how you're going to edit a movie,” he says. Instead, Hannam says he and Bolduc emphasized “surveillance style filmmaking” with pans taking in the full views of locations that Alice fails to notice.

Hannam and Gadon, who are partners personally as well as professionally, say that mixing work and play has its advantages.” I think because of our relationship, I see so much more of post-production than any actor ever would,” says Gadon, “and [Matthew] has like a front row seat at character and character development.” Gadon adds that Hannam’s experience with the technical side of filmmaking gave Paseo an edge over other debut films she’s worked on.
Courtesy of TIFF
“It's very helpful for me as a filmmaker to know what it's like for an actor to make a character,” agrees Hannam. “Sarah helps me interpret other people's performances when I'm editing.”

When it comes to making the leap together and directing/producing for the first time, the pair sees it as an inevitable step towards furthering their careers in Canada. “If there's an impulse to create our own work, it's to create a way to be here,” says Hannam. With both Hannam and Gadon’s work gaining notice outside Canada, they’re frequently anywhere but here. (Hannam recently cut Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux and Paul Dano’s Wildlife, while Gadon just wrapped a spot on the new season of True Detective and the comedy Vampires vs. the Bronx produced by Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels and Erin David.)

“One thing about making movies in Canada is that there's a scarcity of work,” says Gadon. “There just isn't the same volume of production as there is in the US. The climate of filmmaking is such that, if you want to keep working, you have to propel your own vision, propel your career, and propel your own work. That often leads you into doing different things within the industry.”