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Regional Interests

Timur Bekmambetov's Newest Movie Takes Place On The Screen Of A Laptop

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The film "Profile" is an international thriller, but even traditional big-screen action like an explosion is seen on the small screen of a laptop. At the heart of the story is a British reporter who tries to explore how ISIS militants in Syria recruit young women in the West, so she creates a fictitious identity on the internet. It's a ploy that draws her into a relationship where the lines between what's real and what's fake begin to blur.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PROFILE")

VALENE KANE: (As Amy Whittaker) What's that behind you? What's that I can't see?

SHAZAD LATIF: (As Abu Bilel Al-Britani) Do you like guns? I'll give you plenty, starting with this lovely Kalashnikov.

KANE: (As Amy Whittaker) Kalash...

LATIF: (As Abu Bilel Al-Britani) Kalash...

KANE: (As Amy Whittaker) Kalash...

LATIF: (As Abu Bilel Al-Britani) ...Ni...

KANE: (As Amy Whittaker) ...Ni...

LATIF: (As Abu Bilel Al-Britani) ...Kov.

KANE: (As Amy Whittaker) ...Kov. Kalashnikov.

LATIF: (As Abu Bilel Al-Britani) Kalashnikov. When are you going to come to al-Sham?

SIMON: "Profile" is based on a nonfiction book, "The Skin Of A Jihadist" (ph) by Anna Erelle, a pseudonym for a journalist who still will not use her real name. "Profile" stars Valene Kane and Shazad Latif. It won the Panorama Award at the Berlin Film Festival. And the co-producer and director of "Profile" Timur Bekmambetov joins us now. Thank you so much for being with us.

TIMUR BEKMAMBETOV: Thank you. Thank you.

SIMON: The entire film takes place on the screen of a laptop, but it was shot before the pandemic, wasn't it?

BEKMAMBETOV: Yes, it - yes. We shot it four years ago. And it was not the first movie I'd shot where a story takes place entirely on computer screen. It was, like, fourth movie. First one happened 2014. It was the movie called "Unfriended." And Universal distributed it worldwide.

SIMON: Yeah.

BEKMAMBETOV: And my colleagues and other producers and studios, they told me that, OK, it's great, but probably there is no reason to shoot another one because it'll be...

SIMON: (Laughter).

BEKMAMBETOV: ...The same type. It'll be gimmicky. And I spent many, many months just trying to convince my colleagues that we spent half of our life not in physical space. We live in digital space. And there is no way to tell stories about our life without showing our screens.

SIMON: Did the actors ever see each other in person?

BEKMAMBETOV: Yes, they did. Before the principal photography, which is not photography - it was screen recording - they met, and they spent week together trying to develop the language because it's totally different type of filmmaking.

SIMON: And, of course, we often ask in thrillers if the actors did their own stunts. Here, I have to ask, did they do their own typing?

BEKMAMBETOV: Yes, they did. And it also was unique process because the way how we type, the way how we Google, the way how we buy stuff online tells about us much more than the - our facial expression or our body language.

SIMON: Wow. The reporter who creates this identity tries to find out how young women are drawn into ISIS.

BEKMAMBETOV: Yeah.

SIMON: It seems as if the man with whom she strikes up a relationship, if that's the word, on the internet - well, is it a relationship?

BEKMAMBETOV: It is. It is because her professional goal was to convince him. And there is no way to convince him if you don't feel it because she is not an actress. She cannot lie. She cannot perform.

SIMON: The scenes with the IT department are hilarious.

BEKMAMBETOV: Yes.

SIMON: And I should explain that we had technical problems even connecting for this interview.

BEKMAMBETOV: You see? You see?

SIMON: And in the middle of the film, I mean, you reach an important point, and it's, oh, dammit. The link went out. It's hilarious because it shows you how people all over the world feel about any transaction at this point.

BEKMAMBETOV: It's not James Bond movie, when everything works perfect. It's a realistic story.

SIMON: Yeah. What do you think she begins to find in ISIS?

BEKMAMBETOV: Unknown, scary, different, weird, broken world, like, where you understand nothing. It's just a other world.

SIMON: Yeah.

BEKMAMBETOV: It's a mirror of our world. She understood, like, such tiny things, weird. They like cats, for example.

SIMON: Yeah.

BEKMAMBETOV: It's a small detail we found during the researches, researching about them. And they really like Nutella, the chocolate, the cream.

SIMON: Yeah.

BEKMAMBETOV: And the sort of small details make this world very scary because we think we understand it, you know? It's like uncanny valley, you know? Like, looks real, but it's totally different.

SIMON: Yeah. Without giving away where the story goes, it does seem to underscore nothing's really confidential anymore, is it?

BEKMAMBETOV: Yes, it's a main subject of the movie because it's a movie about our world, about our problems, about our loneliness. And it's huge problems we're facing. It's fake news - yeah? - catfishing and prank and cyberbullying and conspiracy and to protect your personal data and how to live in digital world. It's not the same as physical. There is a different rules. There is a lot of questions we must answer in next few years. Otherwise, we will be in trouble.

SIMON: Timur Bekmambetov - his new film, "Profile," in theaters now. Thank you so much for being with us.

BEKMAMBETOV: Thank you. Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.