Nikolai Gogol’s classic short story, “The Overcoat,” is retold in a visually stunning film of the same name. In a story that takes the classic proverb, “Clothes make the man” to its heart, a clerk saves all he can to get an impressive overcoat. Unfortunately, a simple mishap transforms this seemingly simple tale into, without giving too much away – a ghost story! It was an Official Selection at the London Independent Film Festival, Palm Springs International Film Festival, Cyprus International Film Festival, Belfast Film Festival, and a Semi-Finalist at Los Angeles CineFest.
FRONTRUNNER interviewed director Patrick Myles to get firsthand look.
What inspired you to adapt this story?
I saw a stage adaptation of Diary of a Madman, another one of Gogol’s short stories, and loved his tone and slightly warped, absurdist view of the world. That got me reading his other short stories and I came across The Overcoat. I knew immediately I wanted to adapt it into a film.
How do you feel about the awards the film has won?
It feels really lovely to have the film recognized in this way. It’s not the be-all and end-all, and it’s just as important when you’re sitting in the cinema with an audience who are new to the film and you can feel them connecting with it; but it’s always nice to get an award too.
What was it like translating this Russian story into another culture?
I had to be very careful as deciding to set our film in England, albeit a parallel universe England, could lead to us missing out on a lot of what Gogol was trying to say – especially considering I’m not Russian. So before I actually wrote the adaptation, I read as many translations of the story as I could to make sure that I’d had as broad a view as possible. But after a certain point, you also have to accept that you will have to own the story in order to make a personal film, so it’s a delicate balance between staying true to the spirit of the original while also offering something fresh.
What inspired the stop-motion nightmare?
I knew of Gustavo Artaega’s work and wanted to work with him on something, and I thought the nightmare sequence would work well as an animation – which gives you so many more fantastical options than live action. Plus there’s something so wonderfully old-fashioned about stop-motion that fit in with the retro world that we’d created.
Without giving too much away, the story is relatively faithful to the plot of the original Gogol story. Did you, at one point, think about spinning it into another direction?
No. I wanted to keep the same story, as I think it’s structurally perfect and I’m not a better writer than Gogol! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
What messages do you want to send with this film?
I didn’t want to send any message, I don’t believe in films (or theatre, or anything) ‘sending a message’ to an audience. I think our job is to ask questions, not to answer them (I’m stealing this quotation from Peter Brook), so I always set out to try and not be didactic and let the audience decide for themselves what to think and what it’s about. That makes it a two-way relationship between the filmmaker and the audience rather than only one-way.
Tell us about your future projects.
I’m working on my first feature at the moment and hoping to shoot it next year. It’s a heist comedy, a genre I’ve always loved, but they are really tricky to write because they have to be so structurally tight. I wish Gogol had written one that I could adapt…