Tom Hardiman becomes a director to track with “Medusa Deluxe,” a deliciously dark murder mystery set in the competitive hairdressing competition which is about to bow at Locarno.
A24 has acquired North American rights to writer-director Hardiman’s debut feature which will make its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival on Saturday, Aug. 6.
MUBI holds the rights to U.K./Ireland, France,Latin America, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Turkey, India and Southeast Asia.
Sold by New Europe Film Sales,”Medusa Deluxe” was produced by Emu Films (“Small Axe”), with the support of BFI, BBC Films, and Time Based Arts.
“I really care about hairdressing, it’s something I am really passionate about,” admits Hardiman, who “picked up their language” over time.
“When they talk about Russian weaves [in the film], that came from a hairdresser in Peckham. A lot of them say: ‘I am a hairdresser first, counsellor second.’ It’s a unique territory, but there is an acting side to it too. They listen to someone’s problems and then bitch about them around the corner.”
Hardiman, who tells the story of a broken community which finds its way back through their shared passion, worked with celebrity hairstylist Eugene Souleiman on the film’s elaborate hairdos.
“He lets you peek behind the curtain, which is why I approached him – so many hairstyles are shown mid-style in the film,” he says, comparing Souleiman’s work to “modern sculpture.”
“There is this cathartic moment at one point, two people genuinely caring about each other, and you have this hairstyle with a boat on the top. It’s utterly ridiculous,” he notes.
“To care about almost anything, including film, is absurd and it’s funny. I just really value people who are passionate to the point of obsession.”
Envisioning a character-led drama in the vein of Altman and Linklater, Hardiman decided to eavesdrop on his cast in “places of vulnerability,” in dingy rooms and dark corridors – far away from the glamour and glitz. Never really focusing on the actual investigation, even though the unexpected tragedy constantly looms over everyone’s hair-sprayed head.
“Something happens when you have a policeman coming. It changes the atmosphere. I prefer people who just fade into the background. Security guards or, yes, hairdressers, who are much more interesting than they give themselves credit for.”
While he wanted his feature debut to feel authentic and touching, it sizzles with humorous exchanges and mentions of “cheeky chignons.”
“My first short film was about carpets and my second about lazy eyes. I just like comedy,” he laughs.
“Hair is culturally important; it’s about how you want to present yourself to the world. But there is also the backroom gossip, the fun side of it. When I look at Altman or Loach, or even [Sean Baker’s] ‘Tangerine’ more recently, I honestly believe that in their darkest moments, people still crack a joke. Genuine realism needs humor.”
Shot by acclaimed cinematographer Robbie Ryan, nominated for an Academy Award for “The Favourite” and granted Camerimage’s prestigious Golden Frog for “C’mon C’mon,” “Medusa” might surprise the audience with the duo’s visual choices.
“I used to babysit my nieces and they were happy to watch a YouTuber walking around their flat for a solid hour. I felt there was something there that felt unique,” says Hardiman.
“We wanted this film to feel joyful, obviously, but we wanted it to feel now. There is a reason why we shot digitally. Robbie has a gift – you really ‘feel’ a person properly through his images. When I would look at him during the shoot, I could just see him smiling. We both set out to do the same thing: To bring love and enjoyment into people’s lives.”
Currently working on a new film about finance, diving into the world of economists and financial academics, Hardiman will stay close to his “obsessive” interests for now, he states.
“Once you get drawn into something, that level of passion is really interesting. It drives you to do crazy things. Trying to unravel why people are pushed to that point is the basis for storytelling.”