An interview with writer and director Tamar Glezerman about her dark comedy 'Fill Your Heart With French Fries'
In 2014, a 26-year-old woman named Tan Shen from Chengdu, China spent seven days inside a local KFC after her boyfriend broke up with her. Like any viral news story, this woman’s tragically entertaining heartbreak was just another blip on our social channels. But to writer and director Tamar Glezerman, Tan Shen’s week-long breakdown at a chain restaurant ended up being more than just a trending article. After going through a “pretty terrible summer” of her own, Tamar wrote the script for “Fill Your Heart With French Fries,” a short dark comedy about a woman who gets dumped by her girlfriend at a fast food joint and becomes trapped in the only place that isn’t defined by memories of her ex. Following the main character’s inadvertent climb to social media fame, the film explores the perception of grief within a culture that has largely stigmatized public displays of mourning.
After a series of shorts and music videos, a video series for the New York Times and a mid-length feature film, The Other War, Tamar is now working on her first feature film tentatively called Gayvengers, a dark political musical comedy. Next to the release of Fill Your Heart With French Fries, Tamar talks with The FRONT’s Head Producer Muriel Soenens about her creative process, channeling the personal and how to laugh at unexpected heartbreak.
THE FRONT: WHEN DID THIS STORY START TAKING SHAPE?
TAMAR GLEZERMAN: A few years back, I read about a young Chinese woman who went to KFC because she was depressed and sad after a breakup, and she hung out there for a few days. And then there was press, and she ran away. I had clipped that article because I thought it was a beautiful story. A few years after that, I was sitting around thinking, “Good god, I can actually feel the shards of the muscle formerly known as my heart just poking around in my rib cage. Why can’t I just wrap them in a trash bag?” And from there, I kind of invented the fake invention of a “heart bag,” and I wrote down that character who was trying to pitch the anti-love prophylactic. That ended up tying into the woman I read about, and I started writing the script.
I think the story stuck with me because it’s very poetic, and it’s equally funny and sad. I identified with it in the way that I think anybody could identify with that state of mind, of being so torn up, you cease to know how to be a person anymore and just sit down. But since I was going through my own little thing, I’d started to notice there are only so many variations on the type of advice people give to the heartbroken. I noticed people rarely just extend empathy. More often than not, even with the best intentions, they are just channelling whatever it is they themselves are going through in their own personal lives. Or, they’re advocating this wellness-based attitude that allows for little romanticism. And then other people just feel like sorrow is contagious. So in the script, I narrowed it down to five characters who each represented a type of attitude toward heartbreak. Then, I mapped it out and organized them by stages of grief. That was the script.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO FOCUS ON HEARTBREAK RATHER THAN FALLING IN LOVE, WHEN BOTH ARE STATES THAT ARE PROFOUNDLY FROZEN IN TIME?
I don’t know what to say about falling in love. I guess that would be similar to a drug movie about taking acid or something temporarily insane like that. Love is the least explained but most explored governor of our lives. But, I was interested in that specific romantic headspace where reality is completely solipsistic. Where it’s all in your head, every song is about you, every poster is about that and everything is a sign. You’re not even spiritual, but the entire world falls in line with your narrative because the rug’s been pulled out from under you. So, I guess I wanted to explore that as well as how people interact with others in that predicament.
THE FILM IS UNIVERSAL IN THEME, AND IT’S TIMELESS IN THE WAY THAT WE’VE ALL (PROBABLY) BEEN THERE. BUT, THE LOCATION IS WILDLY AMERICAN. BEING FROM ISRAEL, WHY WERE YOU DRAWN TO THIS PLACE?
A fast food joint is very American, but it’s also Nowhere America. We don’t know where the place is located, but it could be anywhere in the US. It’s the same at 3:00 AM and at 5:00 PM. It’s kind of like a casino in that way: Time doesn’t really exist, every day looks exactly the same and things are quick, disposable and kind of meaningless.
WHICH IS THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT MOST PEOPLE SEEK OUT DURING HEARTBREAK.
Yeah, the reason she’s there is because the breakup happens, and she just stays. And in my previous narrative work, I’ve always struggled with a passive protagonist. I guess this time, I was just like, “Fuck it. She’s just not even getting up.” [Laughs.] Guess I finally found a story that allowed me to create a perfectly passive character.
HOW DO YOU MEAN?
Sometimes when something traumatic happens, we kind of revert to this kid, a little toddler who thinks that if a face is hidden, it ceases to exist. And I feel like refusing to leave a place or a situation just puts off the inevitable return to reality, which is what she’s doing. Like, if we don’t express something in words — if we don’t say it out loud — it doesn’t exist. If we don’t go back to that place where something was lost, it may still be there. But, I think that’s a very common response. Hopefully, it’s usually not as public.
SO, HOW DOES AN OBSESSION WITH A STORY FINALLY TRANSLATE INTO A PROJECT FOR YOU?
Well, I think obsession is a prerequisite to making indie film. There’s no other way to run up a hill like that if you’re not obsessed with getting it done. Actually, this was a very quick film to happen because I was hell-bent on it. I put in some money for the principal shooting in the hope a cut would bring me all the finishing funds, and it did. But, I’m also part of a very beloved and active film collective called the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, without whom I couldn’t have even done principal shooting. It’s where I met my producer and and creative partner, Chris Casey, and it’s just a very supportive community that helped out in every way. I had, like, 10 successful young directors busing out to Long Island every day at 5:00 AM to be extras. It’s an amazing group. Because of all that, we shot in February, and the film was done that June. I also edited it myself because I didn’t have money for an editor.
As for the lead, Lindsay Burdge, I had seen her and thought she was remarkable. I wrote the whole thing with her in mind, and then I sent it to her. She was like, “That’s a really good script, but I’m not coming out to New York in the dead of winter.” Like, “I don’t know you.” [Laughs.] I was like, “Okay, challenge accepted.” Eventually, I harassed her with enough wooing and snippets from the pre-production work that we were doing, and she finally gave in. I am so lucky for that.
COULD YOU HAVE MADE THIS FILM IF YOU HAD BEEN AT A DIFFERENT POINT IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE?
DO YOU BELIEVE IN HAPPY ENDINGS?
In life or in films? It’s fundamentally a different question.
OKAY, LET’S START WITH FILMS.
Well, I think some films deserve a happy ending. But, I think if this film ended with the couple getting back together, it would be a piece of crap. The very end is just my stab at realism.
WHAT ABOUT IN LIFE?
I don’t understand the question.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Yes. Thank you for not asking me why the character is gay.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]]
(Portrait by Sarah Tricker)