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‘BPM (Beats Per Minute)’ Director and Stars on Sex, Realism, and the Fluidity of Cinema

Written by Joshua Encinias, October 21, 2017 at 2:17 pm 

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Act up! Fight back! Fight AIDS!

You don’t hear the United States branch of ACT UP’s (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) famous slogan in Robin Campillo’s BPM (Beats Per Minute), but its ethos courses through the film’s powerful love story.

Campillo spent his late twenties debating, organizing, and protesting as a member of ACT UP Paris. A quarter of a century later he’s telling a fictionalized account of their story. BPM won the Grand Prix award at the Cannes Film Festival in May and swept through the New York Film Festival earlier this month, receiving standing ovations at both screenings.

The film, which is France’s Oscar entry, excels at rooting history in a relatable love story between Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), a firebrand ACT UP activist living with the virus and Nathan (Arnaud Valois), a latecomer to the movement who ignored the plague throughout the 1980s. Set in the early 1990s, BPM dances between ACT UP members debating the ethics of their actions, the developing relationship between Sean and Nathan, and the club culture that gave LGBT people moments of relief.

Robin, Nahuel, and Arnaud spoke to us at length about the film and its strange, albeit welcomed, reception by American critics.

During Nathan’s ACT UP orientation, he’s told that even if he isn’t HIV positive, he’s going to be associated with the disease in the eyes of the public. When presented with this film, did either of consider repercussions of being associated with the disease?

Nahuel Pérez Biscayart: That’s a very American question. It’s crazy, right? All the questions about being out, being identified as positive. All those questions, it’s so strange, they all come from the States. And I think it’s because people and careers are so mixed. In France I never ask myself that question. Never. You’re just playing fiction. In film projects we don’t think in those terms.

Robin Campillo: We don’t care. And I think it’s even better if you’ve been playing a gay or HIV positive character.

Biscayart: It’s like, woah, you really went for it!

Arnaud Valois: For me it was a bit different because I was not acting anymore. When the casting director explained the project to me, I said why not try, because it was a good subject. Because it was really intense and engaged. That was really interesting for me.

That’s interesting, because the actors in Call Me By Your Name were critiqued by their own screenwriter James Ivory because they wouldn’t do full frontal nudity.

Campillo: The funny thing is I put a quite pornographic scene in my script which we didn’t shoot. But it’s very important to say to the actors that we will be at this level. [Everyone laughs.] It’s very important to be clear to each other. If they had told me during the shooting “I’m not going to do it. In fact,” I would have accepted because I could not oblige them to do what I want to do. It’s not possible. But we had this kind of agreement about what we were going to do and we talked. I wanted the film to be very sensual and of course sexual. I wanted to be really clear with them about that. It’s a very important thing, especially when you’re talking about AIDS. You want people to use a condom. All these details are important because that was our lives. We were having sex and talking about AIDS.

Valois: The main deal was not protecting yourself, just give everything in the scene.

Campillo: I told them it won’t be pornographic, you won’t see any sex. But I told them because you won’t see any sex they have to play the sexual act a lot. You have to be really involved in this moment to make us believe you are actually having sex.

Valois: Which is the case in your previous movie, Eastern Boys. You can’t see anything but it feels like you’re seeing something. That’s really strange.

Biscayart: What I like about the sex scenes in our film is also that they’re not like the typical performative sex scenes in which everyone gets beautiful and everything is all about giving a great performance. And that’s hard to play because you have to expose yourself in those awkward moments of having sex with somebody that isn’t idealized.

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The first sex scene where Nahuel’s character recounts his sexual encounter with a teacher was kind of spooky, with the teacher emerging in the scene.

Campillo: I thought it was kind of like a seance. And personally, when I have sex, it makes me think of the others I’ve had sex with. It’s like I’m connecting to a lot of people… oh, I shouldn’t say that. [Everyone laughs.] For me it’s like a natural thing. It’s like, when you’re French, when you go to a restaurant, go to dinner, you’re talking about food. So when you have sex you’re talking about sex with others. It’s like of like this… I shouldn’t say that.

What you’re saying makes me think of the final sex scene when Nathan is having sex with Thibault. Why are they having sex? Nathan’s lover just died and he’s having sex with the guy his lover had conflict with the entire film.

Campillo: For me it’s like friendly sex. After this kind of moment you need to connect with someone because you miss the body of the person you just lost. Of course, Thibault is waiting for that. At first in the script he was saying, “Oh my God, it’s my lucky day.” Something horrible to say. I loved the idea but I decided not to put it in the film. First of all, this kind of thing happened a lot. This scene is a little connected to a real thing I lived through. I remember a guy who lost his boyfriend made love with another guy and they slept on the same bed where he died. But that was the way were living. It was not like Nathan was shitting on Sean. It’s something else. They want to stay connected to life and to sexuality and to sensuality, especially in this moment.

Were Sean and Nathan based on real people?

Campillo: A little bit; some of the characters are connected to real people. I did a fiction with very realistic elements and very historical ideas I had in my head for many, many years. I think when I was in ACT UP I was recording everything. In order, maybe, to do a film about it a few years after. Like a quarter of a century after. There’s a part of me in Nathan but you know, as I say to my actors, I don’t have a “master plan” frame of mind. It’s just people I create with the actors because I don’t want the characters to be what I was thinking of when I was writing the script. I want the characters to become the actors. That’s the main thing for me. When Nathan’s talking about his past, it’s my story. But the rest, we are so different. He was inspired by a real character but not so much because they don’t exactly have the same history. It’s a fiction.

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Nathan isn’t HIV positive but he joins ACT UP. Is he doing so for solidarity?

Valois: I had a small conversation with Robin before shooting. Maybe Nathan has seen an action of ACT UP on television and his past came back to him. Saying, maybe the time is now, I need to face the disease and I need to act. I think he’s entering the group because of that.

Campillo: I think it’s not only a question of being guilty. It’s a question of not being synchronized with what happened in the 1980s. Because he was so protecting himself from the epidemic, that it took some distance. And because he took some distance, he didn’t live his life. The fact that he’s going to ACT UP is a way of being synchronized again to his own life. And he’s synchronized because of this relationship with Sean. For me that was the more important thing, to talk about a character who is very open when he gets into his groove because he wants to be synchronized with this effort which is the AIDS epidemic.

Valois: The time is now. No protection.

Why is so much of the film about ACT UP’s group debates over the ethics and morality of their actions?

Campillo: For me it’s like a science-fiction film, in a way. I’m revisiting my past. It’s like I think of the scene in very different space and times, different dimensions. The first dimension is this kind of brain which is the amphitheater. You have no windows, it’s all white and people are talking and imagining things or talking about an action that some of them did that was a little too violent. They are caught and trapped in this place and they are talking and the words are creating images, pictures. The other dimension are the actions. In the first scene for instance, they are talking about this action they’ve just done which was a little bit violent. Germain is talking about the way he sees that action. In the end, Sean, because of his rhetorical agility, convinces everyone that it was a good action and it was successful. I love this idea that you have dimensions which are very different. Another dimension is the club, which is another way of looking at the world because you’re in a dark place and nobody’s talking. They’re just dancing in the dark — it’s like the antithesis of the discussion scenes. I wanted to talk about the possibility of the words to be political, be powerful. The debates in ACT UP were very efficient. We were very good at deciding things, at dreaming action, creating a new political happening. It was like this because you had all those people who were coming from very different social worlds all together having this discussion. That was like collective intelligence was going on in this place. That’s why I chose this different dimension.

The film looks like a documentary. You had three cameras going at once, so did you actors feel like they were actually protesting and having debates?

Biscayart: Totally. Actually, the first rehearsal we had one month before principal photography, we were rehearsing for three days and I had this very weird feeling you have when you’re a kid. When you go to the theater and you just believe it all, just take it as real life. I was so shocked because it was not the first time I played in a film, but realness was in the air. When we were shooting, the fact that having to talk in front of a hundred people being an actor, not knowing everyone around you just put you in a very effervescent state. All of a sudden everyone would just look at you as an actor, not only as an activist. All the time I think it was very mixed. We being actors, activists, that excitement and that pressure of being an actor and also being able to create a discourse that would appeal to everyone around you.

Valois: We were very free. No marks on the ground, no you have to do this, stay here. He told us just do whatever you want and the camera would be on you. It didn’t feel like we were on set. It felt like real life.

Biscayart: At some points we were playing and the monitor was just like one meter away. It felt even that they were part of the debate.

Campillo: I must say that I don’t agree with this opposition of cinematic and naturalism. It’s like I put mice in a cage and say, oh these mice are very naturalistic. For me the film, the actors are so theatrical. I don’t know which director in France said “a film is a documentary of actors.” I think I felt it like this. For me, the actions are a little bit surreal. It’s not something very realistic, it’s like a hallucination. I love to talk about this opposition because most of the time when I see a film, I have a feeling that when you see a quarter of the film you know exactly what will be the aesthetic background of the film. When I talk about dimensions, I’m talking about the fact that I come from this form, there’s a kind of mutation and I go to another form. I like the idea of the cinema to be a little more fluid aesthetically than just be a way of doing this. When you are talking about naturalism, when Nathan’s talking about his past, you start with a scene that’s very realistic. People are around him. After a moment you are so focused on him you don’t hear people.

Biscayart: It’s not at all a documentary.

Campillo: It’s something else. I like this idea to change the emotion and form and the perception of the scene during a scene. For me that’s the most important thing about cinema.

Biscayart: Even the strobing light, nobody sees the artificiality of that. It’s like when we see animal documentaries and you see ants and you hear what they do. It’s just impossible to hear what ants do with their legs. Because you’ve got the sound you think it’s even more realistic and it’s absolutely fake.

Campillo: It’s artificial.

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Most of the actors are high energy all film, but Nahuel’s character has to decline. And for a large chunk of the film you’re playing a corpse. How did you play a dead body?

Biscayart: It’s so difficult! It’s funny because some people are like, okay, now you’ve got fun days. You’re just going to be laying down in a bed. I was like, I’m sorry, but this is very exhausting, even if you think I’m just relaxed. You’re not sleeping – you’re dead. And the body that’s dead is a corpse which has a certain rigidity you have to play. In order to play that you have to be very alive. But if you’re too alive and you start breathing and moving it’s going to be a contradiction. It was tough to be very active and tonic in my body to be dead. It’s such a contradiction. You’re not just relaxed. You’re exposing yourself, you’re creating stiffness.

Thinking of the long-term impact of BPM: John Waters’ early films were controversial and inspired people. But now he says he’s an institution. Do you think recreating the actions of ACT UP Paris will inspire people, or will people in power see it and go, “Oh, whatever, now we know what protesters are going to do”?

Campillo: Yes, the pharmacy people are going to say that anyway. They don’t mind what we are doing. I know them a little bit and it’s good advertising for them anyway. Even though they are the bad guys, we are talking about new drugs. For that it won’t change anything. I don’t do films hoping I’ll make a political difference. I’m not sure of that. I’m doing things because I’m having an intimate dialogue with one spectator in the cinema. Even if the film was a success in France, I’m just trying to connect people to this history, not in just a historic way. I’m trying to connect this story emotionally, sensually. I want them to feel. It’s like an emotional intelligence of what we were living. Of course because you make this connection of the past and this emotional history, people will think differently. I’m not trying to lecture people. I’m not trying to say I was such a good activist. I was not so much. I did what I thought was important for me to do. In a way, I wouldn’t have been a militant if there wasn’t this epidemic. I was obliged to do it. So I don’t want to give license to people, I just want people to get connected to this history and to understand emotionally.

Biscayart: I think that’s even more political than giving a lecture because it’s not intellectual.

Campillo: It’s another way to convince people politically. I was meant to be a director and not a militant. I did my militant time and I want to come back a director. So that’s my way to pay tribute to these moments. In France the film was a big success so that changed a lot of things. People took the film and put it on a political level to say to the government you should do that you should do this, and that’s important. But to be honest I didn’t do this film thinking of that, honestly.

BPM (Beats Per Minute) is now in limited release.

François Ozon on the Playfulness of ‘L’amant double,’ Criticism, and Jury Fights

Written by Zhuo-Ning Su, October 18, 2017 at 8:42 am 

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Ever since making his feature debut with the darkly comical Sitcom, French writer/director François Ozon has been making the world feeling horny and shocked with his films, often at the same time. With a body of work that also includes Water Drops on Burning Rocks, Under the Sand, In the House and the glorious one-two punch of 8 Women and Swimming Pool, you’d think the prolific provocateur might soon be running out of tricks.

Think again. His latest erotic thriller, L’amant double, which premiered in competition at Cannes this year, proved to be the film scandaleux of the festival. Starring Marine Vacth as Chloé, a young woman who one day discovers her psychiatrist partner Paul (Jérémie Renier) might have an evil twin brother and gradually loses herself in a web of deceit and kinks, it’s the kind of dangerously sexy farce at which Ozon excels.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with the ever-exciting auteur at the 2017 Hamburg Film Festival to talk about his latest work, the state of queer cinema, and his experiences at film festivals from Cannes to Berlin.

The Film Stage: Identity is a recurring theme in your films, from Swimming Pool, The New Girlfriend to Frantz. What does Joyce Carol Oates’ story, on which L’amant double is based, say about identity that intrigued you?  

François Ozon: I like to follow a character who changes during the course of a film. I like to start a film with a character in a bad situation who tries to be in a different place by the end. Which is the case of Chloé, who finds herself on a journey in this story. At the beginning she doesn’t know what she’s got inside of her or what’s wrong with her. At the end she realizes that and her true self becomes clear.

I saw the film in Cannes and the experience was one of my festival highlights because, in contrast to watching most other competition films, it was so much fun. Was it also more fun to make a movie like this than say, other more “serious” films?

Yes, the filmmaking experience was very playful – definitely more so than Frantz, which was a more classical movie where the mise-en-scène happened behind the movie. In the case of L’Amant double, I felt with this material it would be a good opportunity for me to play with many effects of mise-en-scène I’d never tried before. To play with horror, comedy and this mix of different genres. So yes, it was a playful experience, we had a lot of fun making the film.

Was it a quick shoot?

We shot for about eight weeks, which is actually not that different from Frantz, which took about nine weeks. The shooting of my films is usually quite short.

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Apropos Cannes, have you heard that Thierry Frémaux is thinking of reforming the screening schedules in Cannes so that the press screenings would coincide with the gala premieres?

I didn’t know that.

The main reason he offered is that bad press reactions often ruin the atmosphere at the premieres.

That’s a good idea. I think that also has to do with the internet, Twitter, Facebook and the fact that very often, journalists tweet about a film right after watching it. So that while the credits are still rolling, you already know what important critics or some stupid person thinks about a film. It can be dangerous for the fate of that film. It’s like les jeux Romains [thumb up/down motioned by the Roman emperor]. Of course everyone is allowed so say if they enjoyed a movie or not, but if the critics don’t take the time to consider their words, they are no longer critics, they’re just regular audience members. So I think this is a good idea.

I also know Xavier Dolan was totally destroyed by the early press screening reactions. A film is the result of a lot of time involving many people, and in one minute all of it could be destroyed. And you know the reactions from Cannes are very different from those of a real audience. Sometimes you have the impression a film in Cannes is a masterpiece, but when you see it later in a cinema, you go “Heh?” It’s normal because at a festival you see so many films you don’t always make the right judgment call. Just like everybody else, critics can make mistakes too.

Generally speaking, what’s your relationship to criticism? Do you read reviews?

Yes, I’m very interested in what critics have to say. You know I make films for people to see and not only for myself. But I think I have a lucid attitude about these things. I know the work I’ve done, I know the mistakes I’ve made, so I’m interested to read carefully considered opinions. And I’ve known for a long time that my work is often controversial, that some people will like and other will hate my films, I’m used to having this kind of polarized reaction. For me that’s a good thing, because it means my work doesn’t leave the audience indifferent.

So you won’t be destroyed by negative tweets I guess.  

No, I’m quite philosophical this way. I know the real critic is time. So we’ll see in twenty years whether something I’ve done is good or not. It happens so often that movies considered to be bad turned out to be masterpieces. That’s why it’s important to take time to think about a film.

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How do you make a film as sexy as L’amant double?

I need to create desire. It’s about creating desire between the actors and about what to show or not to show the viewers. This is what I have to play with as director.

Have you seen Fifty Shades of Grey?

No, but I should have! Some American friends said to me, “You have to see it. Your film is a trash version of Fifty Shades.” So I have to watch it.

You first worked with Jérémie Renier on Criminal Lovers in 1999. What’s it like to have a work relationship with an actor for almost 20 years?

For me it’s a great pleasure.  When I met Jérémie for the first time, he was 16 years old. I had seen him in La promesse by the Dardenne brothers, which I consider to be a masterpiece. He was very young and we became friends. We made Criminal Lovers when he was still a teenager. Then we made Potiche when he was 28.  And now he’s 35. So I said to him: “Let’s make a movie together every ten years.” It touches me to follow an actor as he grows up, to see him become an adult and now a father. For me it’s a beautiful story we share.

You have worked with many of the world’s best actresses: Deneuve, Huppert, Rampling, just to name a few. You’ve now worked with Marine Vacth twice. What is it about her as an actress that makes her special?

She has a mystery about her. The camera loves her. She has what the Americans call star quality.  When we made our first film Young & Beautiful together, it was a film about the secret of a girl. You don’t really understand her character and can project many things onto her. With Marine she’s like this beautiful white page, on which you can project many fantasies and desires. I thought she was perfect for the part. The movie was almost like a documentary on her. In the case of L’amant double it was quite different, because it’s about the inner world of the character. I wanted to reveal a secret at the end so that you know what’s been inside her. So the work was quite different. She had to really compose the character. That’s why I decided to cut her hair, as if turning a page on Young & Beautiful and showing that this is a new Marine.

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Are there any particular actresses you’d like to work with?

I love actresses. There are many actresses I’d like to work with but I’m still waiting for the right parts. First and foremost it has to be about the part, after that I try to find the best actress for that part.

These past years we’ve seen a tremendous supply of quality LGBTQ films from all over the world. As an icon of queer cinema, do you think it’s still necessary to keep this label of queer/LGBTQ cinema at all?

I think it’s always necessary to help films find an audience which might otherwise have a hard time doing that. I can’t say I’m for having this label “queer cinema” but I’m definitely not against it. For me, when I won the Teddy at the Berlinale for Water Drops on Burning Rocks, it was very helpful because I wasn’t well-known then and the fact that the film won the Teddy probably sold it to the queer audience.

Are there any new filmmakers from queer cinema that caught your attention in recent years?

Some weeks ago I saw BPM by Robin Campillo in Paris and I really enjoyed it. It was very strong because I actually lived through that time. I’ve gone to some of the meetings of ACT UP and can say this film really succeeded in bringing the spirit of this period to life. I also really loved his last film Eastern Boys. I think he’s one of the best and most interesting directors working in France today.

I read that your first foreign language was German and that, in your youth, you used to come regularly  to Hamburg to visit your pan pal.

Yes, that’s true.

Has the German film culture informed or influenced your own filmmaking?

I think the discovery of Fassbinder was very important to me as a student of film. I saw all his films at a retrospective in the Latin District of Paris and I was amazed by such a strong body of work. The stories they told about his country, the German society after the Second World War — I found them to be so honest and powerful. And he was not afraid to mix genres. Even though always working with the same actors, he went in so many different directions with his films. In terms of role models, he’s definitely one of mine.

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In 2012, you were part of the competition jury at the Berlinale. After seeing the competition films, I remember thinking to myself: François Ozon would probably like Christian Petzold’s Barbara and Miguel Gomes’ Tabu. Of course neither won the Golden Bear…   

There was a big fight. Those were my two favorite movies. Actually I suffered a little because of this experience – I realized a jury is a democracy and I wanted to be a dictator! I can say today that I was the only one who supported Tabu. I told Miguel Gomes this because he was quite upset to have only won the Alfred Bauer Prize for Artistic Contribution. I told him that without me, he would have won nothing.

No.

Of course. And for Barbara I also fought because I wanted to give it the Golden Bear. Well, for me it was between those two films. But that was not how the other members of the jury saw it. So what can you do? At the end of it I was sick – well, we were all a bit sick because Berlin’s so cold – but overall it was a very good experience. Usually I always refuse to be on a jury, but that year I was in the company of very interesting people who I admire. But we were not on the same page and sometimes you realize that people you admire don’t necessarily have good taste.

The Golden Bear eventually went to Caesar Must Die.        

That was Mike Leigh’s favorite, who was of course the president of the jury. That’s why I said afterwards that next time, I would only be the president of a jury.

You do notice that, even in Cannes, filmmakers you greatly admire sometimes make… “curious” choices when they preside over the jury.

I think this year in Cannes the winner was not Almodóvar’s favorite, but some jury presidents succeed in imposing their choice. It’s a fight, you know. You think it’s pure pleasure to be on a festival jury. Actually, it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of discussions and fights. I remember with Jake Gyllenhaal we were often of the same opinion about things. I was quite surprised because he’s a Hollywood actor but we would fight together, you know, against the others.

Speaking of Barbara, do you know Nina Hoss? I think it would be amazing if you work with her someday.

Yes, I know her. She invited me to see her in a play by Thomas Ostermeier in Paris. We see each other sometimes. She’s great.

You’ve adapted Fassbinder (Water Drops on Burning Rocks) and shot a half-German film (Frantz). What’s the experience like working with German material or with a German team?

Well, with Water Drops on Burning Rocks it was very much a French picture. We shot in France and the idea was to do a film like those Hollywood movies from the 40s and 50s where Americans pretended to be French, only with French actors pretending to be Germans. As for Frantz, it was a great experience to work with a German crew. I think the Germans were quite surprised to see how the French worked. In France, what counts is really the vision of the director and everybody works in one direction. I have the impression that’s not always the case in other countries.

You’ve also worked with some crew members multiple times over the course of your career, for example the great cinematographer Yorick Le Saux. I noticed you made your respective feature debut as director/DP on Sitcom.

Yes, that’s right. He’s a very good cinematographer. He’s shooting now with Claire Denis – in Germany, I think. We met in film school, became friends and made several films together. Hopefully more to come.

L’amant double screened at the 2017 Hamburg Film Festival and will be released by Cohen Media Group.

Todd Haynes on ‘Wonderstruck,’ Perceptions of Childhood, and David Bowie

Written by Nick Newman, October 17, 2017 at 11:55 am 

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It’s no small testament to Todd Haynes that this is the second interview this website’s conducted with him since August. Although the opening of his newest film, Wonderstruck, is a proper excuse, that’s only ostensibly the occasion; the truth is that we’d gladly go over his decades- and genre-spanning filmography any day of the week and still have plenty of ground to cover.

So it’s doubly to our fortune that Wonderstruck befits multiple rounds of discussion. A children’s adventure movie wrapped in a two-pronged period piece that can hardly conceal the tragedies this kind of work so often doesn’t want you to think about, it finds Haynes and the usual band of collaborators — DP Ed Lachman, composer Carter Burwell, and costume designer Sandy Powell among them — working on their biggest canvas yet. For recalling the director’s artistic history as much as anything else, it’s only natural that the film would act as the springboard for a one-thing-after-the-other chat.

The oldest available work of yours is a 1978 short, The Suicide, that surveys unbearably severe trauma inflicted upon a child; about fifteen years later, there’s Dottie Gets Spanked, another consideration of how childhood is so often a scarring experience; and now there’s Wonderstruck. Similar traumas abound therein, but, as evidenced from the title on down, it’s also more wondrous, even lighter. Can you chart this long arc of depicting childhood, as well as any (possible) perception of the projects as connected entities?

I haven’t thought about The Suicide in the context of Wonderstruck until this question, although we put it in the Safe extras because it just came back to me through friends at the time, and I was just like, “Oh, wow! Weird. An artifact from my life.” And I recently saw Dottie in Vienna — actually just a few days ago, when I was there for a retrospective, and it preceded a masterclass that I gave. That, probably in a way that is quite different from either The Suicide or Wonderstruck, is probably the most directly autobiographical of the three films we’re talking about. And that film, although I think it’s full of tensions between the sense of social law and limits that children, invariably or usually or normally, have to confront at some level — in some kids, it’s more of a conflict than for others — it’s full of so many expressions of desire that are played out in a creative practice that the kid has in the movie, where he kind of reveals who he is through the drawings that he makes and fixations he has in popular culture.

In that way, I think there’s a direct line to Wonderstruck, which, of course, is something I did not write; it did not come from my own life in the way that, maybe, no film does more so than Dottie, because it’s full of my own drawings and my own obsessions with Lucille Ball, and was occasion to bring those things together in this thing made for public television. But I did really feel that there was something that made tremendous sense, that I liked saying for a film about kids. Maybe there is more hope in Wonderstruck… I mean, there is, because he kind of finds a family. At the end of Dottie, he’s preparing this… he’s sort of repressing his own desires, but you feel like it’s in the interest of the future.

He’s literally burying it.

Literally burying it, but taking very good care with it. It’s almost like, “I’m going to be able to get back to this at some safer time, when I have more agency.” But for Wonderstruck, these kids also have creative practices. They’re also isolated, also confronting limited freedom due to circumstances and disability, but they figure out the value of how those creative practices get you through life and help you navigate finding the answers to your stories. It’s structured like a mystery, and so it’s structured in such a way that the questions need to be answered by the structure itself, by the genre of the mystery, and so they are. So it does have that sort of satisfaction of questions being answered, families being found — even if it’s not the family that he thought he was going to find. He ends up having to, sort of, find a different family.

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And your tastes are clearly sprinkled throughout. Looking at this through an auteurist lens, as your fans are wont to do, there’s some additional interest in (as far as I counted) four references to Bob Dylan: the silent-movie intertitle that uses the phrase “shelter from the storm”; the two album covers in the book shop; and, my favorite, the sign for a bus station in Duluth, Dylan’s birthplace. I assume those are intentional.

They actually weren’t. They were all inherited — except for the set dressing in the bookstore. Oh, yeah, and the bedroom, because there’s also a Dylan… one is in the bedroom and one is in the bookstore, I think. Or both of them are in the bookstore. There’s Blonde on Blonde in the back of the bookstore.

And Bringing It All Back Home somewhat obscured behind the top of the staircase.

That’s right. Further up on the stairs. Those were the only things that I, myself, inserted into this story, but they were not meant to be overly stated — in fact, there was actually Paul McCartney, one of the photos from Let It Be, on the wall where Blonde on Blonde was. We shot half the scene with the Paul McCartney photo where the Blonde on Blonde was, and we were like, “Oh, shit — that’s going to cost way too much money. We have a good relationship with Jeff Rosen and the Dylan estate, so let’s quickly swap out for some Bob.” It’s all quite relevant for somebody who does come from Minnesota, and the Duluth bus station is in the script because it’s all part of that.

But it was brought up in the press conference after the screening: someone said, “Oh, yeah, you put the Oscar Wilde quote in the beginning of the movie” — and, again, that was from Brian Selznick’s book and script. Because I had a friend who saw a cut of Wonderstruck and he said, “Yeah, I think it’s working well, but I really don’t think you need to impose your own stuff in it, like the Oscar Wilde quote and the David Bowie song.” And I’m like, “Actually, Greg, check out the book. They’re both there.”

Yet “shelter from the storm” was my “game on” moment.

Right, right, right! Right.

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I’m also a Dylan obsessive, so any little thing will make the antennas spring up.

Exactly. Well, he’s omnipresent, and I have to carry that as a legacy.

Worse things.

I’ll say. There are moments in my life where my name will come up in the lineage of “Sirk to Fassbinder to Todd Haynes,” or “Todd Haynes and David Bowie” in the same sentence, or “Todd Haynes and Bob Dylan” in the same sentence. It’s… yeah. The impact is not lost on me.

I imagine there’s gratification in using a Bowie song, given the somewhat legendary story of him reading Velvet Goldmine’s script and wholly rejecting the project. There’s no Bowie music there.

There’s no Bowie music in the movie, and I know that the movie is, I think, a better film for that. I do think that that concept of the parallel universe that we set up — that I kind of took from the language and discourse, or the elevation of artifice that was the mandate of the glam era that I found so contrary to what we often expect from music and art — made it better to have those songs that replaced those sort of spaceholders. And they were: they became structuring devices for how I wrote the script and how I conceived of the story. They were lifted out and replaced by other songs — often Roxy Music songs, a lot of Eno songs, and some Cockney Rebel songs — and so it was also music that was just lesser-known, and maybe freer for associations that one could then bring to the film and still fix back to Bowie, of which there are so many references and to which it is so indebted.

But yes: I have regrets that Bowie didn’t see I was taking his own invitation to kind of play with fictionalizing one’s self and creating parallel narratives and aliases and all of that stuff, and that I was just taking it to what I thought was the next logical place. But yeah, it’s certainly cool to now have it. And when he passed away — because it was sort of after I had started to think about doing this film — we were hearing a lot of Bowie music and I thought maybe “Space Oddity” would be too worn-out and feel tired and exhausted by that process, but it lives on with new associations.

I must be honest: initially, hearing “Space Oddity” made me groan a bit because I thought, “The guy who named a movie after ‘Velvet Goldmine’ is going to use the Bowie song from car commercials?” Then it connects to the characters and incidents in a way that, by the end, I found very moving, and in a way the song has pretty much never moved me. I love Bowie dearly, but that’s one of those songs towards which I have very few feelings.

Yeah. It’s not my favorite Bowie song or the one that blows my mind when I hear it again. It does feel like it belongs to an early… it’s almost like a one-hit wonder for David Bowie. It could be that guy who never made another song. It was essentially an attempt to finally get his foot in the door, because he made many attempts at incarnations before that moment, and it didn’t really hold and that one did.

But then there’s just another sort of metonymical, funny, internal riff that it’s “Space Oddity” — a riff on “space odyssey,” of course, because that was what inspired it initially. Then the Deodata song that comes in later in the movie, that’s obviously playing with “Also Spoke Zarathustra,” that’s a riff on “Space Oddity,” that also is, within the context of Wonderstruck — which is talking about the ‘70s and movies from the ‘70s — a riff on Being There, where the song was first used, that I know of, in the scene of Peter Sellers leaving his weird, sanctioned, early life.

Which maybe leads to something that was on my mind: when preparing for Carol, your actors studied the particulars of ‘50s speech patterns. Was a similar process undertaken for the ‘70s segments? I wonder if you’d be especially conscious of this, since you were alive at that time.

Not to the same degree, where a kind of codified idea of femininity that was so… this documentary, Lovers and Lollipops, had this female character who had a poise and a sort of self-conciousness in the way she presented herself as a woman. She was sort of middle-class, and it was such a specific way of self-presentation and speech, and felt like, really, a lost vernacular or practice. In a way, I do think codes of femininity have been exploded maybe more radically than the way people spoke in the 1970s, which I think has been incorporated — except for specific slang, where the kids would say certain things, when they would improvise, like, “Awesome!” And we’d be like, “No, you can’t say ‘awesome.’ You can say ‘neat’ and ‘cool.’”

I think more what we were trying to pay attention to was practices of non-speech, and the way that — and it had everything to do with Millie’s story — kind of vernacular, coming out of movies that was not about naturalism, but was kind of trying to find the correct lyricism, I think, to allow for some moments of acceleration and almost expressionistic little touches. But mostly to honor something that we don’t think of in silent film, which is an understatement in how people perform and how much you have to watch.

I was so surprised when I saw The Crowd — which I had actually never seen; it was hard to locate — how much key emotional moments were performed without intertitles. And it expected the audience to watch the performances acutely. They were very naturalistic performances, but they were expressing extremely serious, dire situations — or domestic situations, but they were dire to the people involved. And they were about how visual gesture and the face conveys the information and how we perceive it in ways that I think we don’t necessarily train, that way of perceiving, anymore. Not as highly fine-tuned as it was.

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Tom Noonan: great American actor or greatest American actor?

That’s the question?

Yes. I was so happy to see him show up here; I had no idea he was in the cast.

He also plays such a kind… just something I don’t associate with Tom Noonan, so I think we were asking of him something quite different than we expect of Tom Noonan in the amazing panoply of evil characters he’s played in movies over the years. Always unexpectedly, the way he conveys evil, because he has the sort of gentle, sweet giant quality.

A very soft voice.

A very soft voice and kind of a tenderness that he uses to trick us with his sinister characterizations. But Tom actually spent time in Massachusetts in the ‘70s, and he learned sign language a little bit and he remembered some of it. And he has these hands that are, like, this long [expands arms], so the physicality that Tom Noonan brings, I think, to everything he does was, in this role, asking, yet again, something unique from him. And then those sort of huge, wafting fingers that you literally felt the wind off of as he communicated with Julianne Moore. Yeah, he brought something that I hadn’t seen him do before, and that’s saying quite a lot in this film.

He’s one of my favorites, so it was a pleasure.

Yeah, it was amazing — one more little touch in the movie that I can’t imagine not being there.

Wonderstruck opens on Friday, October 20.

‘Félicité’ Director Alain Gomis on Morality, Musicality, and Modernity

Written by Murtada Elfadl, October 16, 2017 at 9:34 am 

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Set in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Félicité is the new film from Alain Gomis, a French director of Guinea-Bissauan and Senegalese descent. It tells the story of its eponymous heroine, a singer trying to put a life together and barely making it work. It is a poignant portrait of a woman in crisis but is also about Félicité’s search for herself, for peace, for a contented soul. The film, which will represent Senegal in the Foreign Language Oscar category, recently played at the New York Film Festival and will open in limited release on October 27. We had the chance to talk to Gomis about his film, and you can read our conversation below.

I’m curious about the inception of the project. How did you come about it?

It was a mystery! I had this character, this woman I knew in Senegal. And her son, this kid with an amputated leg. It was something that happened to a young cousin of mine. And at some point the music came, I don’t really remember how. But it was also clear to me that I wanted to make a film about the city, an African city, about a working class neighborhood. Trying to capture something that’s sometimes hard to show, a dignity. That, yes, it’s hard but in fact we are doing it, we are making it through.

Was Félicité always a singer?

She wasn’t a singer at the beginning. She became a singer because I don’t like to explain too much with character and dialogue. Making her a singer allowed me to have an internal voice, with her real singing. I could have this character that sometimes would remain silent but you have the other side when she sings.

There’s a duality in the film. Two parallel stories; one a ticking clock structure — to find money to try and save her son. The other more fanciful to find peace within herself.

I wanted an easy entrance into the film. I wanted people from this neighborhood we are depicting to see the film. So we have a character with a problem, with a goal. But for me what I really wanted to share was the second part. Sometimes it’s fair, sometimes it’s difficult, but we can come back from this. The first part is like a mechanical drama then you reach an orbit that’s more about sensation with a more musical structure.

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There is a lyricism to the second part movie that I particularly enjoyed. Can you talk about that aspect and how you managed to hold the balance with the very real dilemma at the center of the story?

It’s something that you can’t really explain. I want you to feel the movie, to have an experience with the movie. It’s more than a movie to see; it’s a movie to live. It’s about sharing a moment with the audience.

Can you talk about your casting process. Your lead actor, Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu, is tremendous and I understand this was her first filmed credit.

I’ve seen a lot of different actors. She came by chance when a friend of hers told her she should try auditioning. Immediately she was powerful, she surprised me a lot. Even though I imagined that character as a little skinny woman, I had to cast her. She had this powerful talent that made every situation concrete. This ability to remain extremely powerful even when silent. In the end I had to follow her because she knew the character better than me.

Part of what struck me about her performance was how highly performative it is. Félicité is a performer so that’s gives all her scenes a heightened reality. Can you talk about your collaboration with your lead actor?

The only thing I said to her was that, you don’t have to beg. These people owe you this money. Félicité is a character that doesn’t compromise. She has the moral authority. In our first improvisation she was begging, pleading so I asked to remain to always be proud. She got it, I didn’t have to say it twice.

A favorite scene is the one set in the market where Félicité has an altercation with another character from whom she’s trying to collect a debt. It’s funny but also full of drama.

This scene was at first supposed to be just between Félicité and the other actress. We filmed in a market in Kinshasa, and during the first take someone in the background interjected. It wasn’t scripted but made the scene more powerful. We were always trying to make the situation real, to interact in a real way. So we kept it in.

Was that why you filmed in real locations in Kinshasa?

I think Kinshasa is a perfect image of our modern world. 20 years ago if you wanted to have an snapshot of this modern world, maybe you filmed in New York. Today you have to do it in Kinshasa or in Lagos. This is our modern world without the makeup. You can see all the forces struggling together. It’s a powerful city, it was incredible to shoot the film there.

This film has a density that is sometimes found in movies but more often found in literature. Who were your influences in literature?

Do you know the Congolese writer, Sony Labou Tansi?

No, I’m afraid I don’t.

He’s a Congolese writer who died several years ago. He wrote a few wonderful books in the 1960s and 1970s. But somebody like James Baldwin is also a big influence. I can say that the first sequence in the film is a homage to a few pages of his Harlem Quartet.

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The film won the grand jury prize at Berlin. How was that experience?

Berlin made it possible for the film to reach a wider audience. It gave us visibility. So it was important.

How was the reception at the New York Film Festival?

The screening was beautiful. I felt a deeper connection with the film. It surprised me. The audience got the film. It was a really strong, really intense feeling.

I read a quote from you about cinema prevailing in Africa without having cinemas to go to: “The young generation of filmmakers have grown up without ever having gone to the cinema because there are no more cinemas in Africa.” Can you elaborate on that?

I had the chance to go with this film to a lot of places in Africa: Congo, Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal. We’ve been with the film in places where people are not used to going to the cinema and not used to seeing this kind of movie. But still we had wonderful experiences. It’s not because we don’t have cinemas anymore that we have to make simple films. There is a need for dialogue with images. Making films is not about trying to project the right image, but about being able to be part of it, to expand the constriction of our images of ourselves. This is just our little contribution to this huge work we have to do.

Félicité screened at the New York Film Festival and opens on October 27.

Agnès Varda and JR on Friendship, Life, and the Communicative Power of Cinema

Written by Jason Ooi, October 13, 2017 at 7:42 am 

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“We kind of like each other… It’s hard every day — I’m counting the hours and the minutes but we are under contract so we have no choice,” the bespectacled JR jokes about his friendship with legendary French director Agnès Varda, who quickly fires back, “When do we stop the contract?”

Immediately upon entering the room, before questions are even on the table, the friendship between Agnès Varda and JR is clear; they tease each other about their contractual friendliness lasting only the publicity campaign and the two years of shooting — they’re on that level already.

Varda gives up the joke fairly quickly: “The thing is, we could work together because we have the same way of appreciating people. I’m curious about people and [JR] is, and so when we meet people it becomes easy to start a conversation. It’s not a Q&A. It’s also about what we can share about our own lives. We try to establish something so that we’re not quite stealing something from other people’s lives.”

Their friendship originates from a place of mutual respect, JR explains in discussing how they met in the first place: “Rosalie, the daughter of Agnes and also the producer of the film, realized that we had a lot in common but had never met. Agnes had books of mine, and she wrote me, and of course I had seen her films and so I took my bike and went to her house and had tea and pastries. I left, and the next day she came back to my studio — it was really like an arranged meeting, like trying to marry off an old cousin, except that we had already known of each other.”

The conversation shifts to incorporate the film, and its humanist approach to the working class. They recall a variety of their subjects, discussing their lives in great detail. “The farmer that takes care of the land runs a sort of small company. He used to run a lot of people, but the machines took over and now he is by himself, alone with hectares and hectares,” JR starts before Varda finishes, “instead of having friends he has his computer. We wanted to share that because we still have in mind the concept of farmers doing things with their hands, but he said that he no longer touches tools. We were learning through making the film, discovering the things of today with the spirit of the past.” They recall Jeannie, a local bartender whom they pasted on the side of a house with an old parasol, and the path to which they discovered her, after two other locals on neighboring streets refused to talk to them, among many other members of the working class included in the film. “We completely let the film be dictated by chance,” JR starts, before Varda interrupts: “Preorganized, so that chance could help us.”

The aloofness of the structure eludes a lack of preorganization, and JR clarifies: “Agnes being very, very curious, we constantly asked everybody what they do, and got them involved in the film. We would stop and talk and question…” In continuing to share scenes founded on coincidence without being prompted to — their shared connections to the beach at Calais; their sheer luck in visiting the dock at Le Havre while its workers were on strike, so that they could borrow equipment and workers — the pair fill the room with a magnificent sort of energy — palpable, sincere.

Varda declares her love for that lucky scene at Le Havre, in which the wives of the dock workers become part of the artistic process, and furthermore explains the aloofness of structure:  “Comment ca-va Lego?” before continuing, “It was such a big production, building from the bottom up so that the women could feel proud. I love that scene because it started from just saying “let’s meet your wives!” and that built and ended up with them in the boxes where their hearts would have been. This is really documentary — inventing a way to put people in light, listening to what they feel or what they say. We could have done more — we could have done half an hour. Everywhere, we could’ve done half an hour — we had enough material. We chose to go lightly, because we didn’t want a sociological thesis.” With this being said, Varda continues to champion more casual audiences. “The people who pay ten, twelve dollars don’t want to get bored, they don’t want to listen — they want to meet people. So we travel between being very serious about the subject and making it light with asides, including some of our little jokes.”

Varda deflects a question about the state of politics with a sentence on Donald Trump’s irrevocable influence on the world, before speaking on cinema as a whole instead: “I think cinema should exist regardless of whatever is happening because cinema is a very good tool for communication. The world is so shitty in terms of who is free and who is not. We should decide that cinema is a language to make links with people who are interested. It is about sharing, with no violence, no guns, no suspense — nothing that is supposed to make cinema work, that will bring money to the producers. We would love the film to be successful but that is not our aim… It has nothing to do with heavy entertainment or even good entertainment. I picked up a paper and the two films you can see are Blade Runner and Faces Places. We are in another category in terms of budget, and our aim is really to just meet people and touch audiences. I’ve done this all my life, and I’m still working on it. What JR does as a street artist is similar: to meet people and put them together.” She describes JR’s most recent project, in which he put a photo of a child over the Mexican border.

At one point, JR breaks off from the conversation and begins to film Varda (“I love recording you talk! I will watch it before I go to bed!”) to which she goes off: “Don’t you have anything better to do!” I take my phone out to take a picture of JR recording Varda, who, in turn, looks at me and shakes her head jokingly. I inquire about the more personal sequences, in which the camera is pointed inwards at the directors rather than outwards towards others, and how she finds her balance between her own life and the lives of others. Varda simply rebuts: “It is part of life!”

Faces Places is now in limited release and expanding.

‘Call Me by Your Name’ Team on Romance, Sufjan Stevens, Maurice Pialat, and Sequel Potential

Written by Joshua Encinias, October 11, 2017 at 9:20 am 

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Call Me By Your Name came to the 55th New York Film Festival last week and both screenings were met with rapturous applause and standing ovations (a rare occurrence at the fest). Director Luca Guadagnino participated a press conference with the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Dennis Lim, and also did a public Q&A at NYFF Live with actors Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Timothée Chalamet at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater.

In the press conference, Guadagnino discussed his collaboration with cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (who also shot his upcoming Suspiria remake), Sufjan Stevens writing two original songs for the film when only one was requested, and avoiding romantic film cliches.

Hammer and Chalamet talked about the non-verbal sensuality of their character’s relationship at NYFF Live. Stuhlbarg discussed his character’s famous conversation with Elio in the film, and Guadagnino lists all the things he hates about filmmaking (hint: it’s a lot).

In these talks, it’s clear there was a lot of love going into making Call Me By Your Name, and based on audience reception, the alchemy on set worked.

Luca Guadagnino’s definition of cinema

We live in space. We are the outcome of the relationship between each other and the space. The truth is, what is cinema for me, is a translation of our capacity of being sentient through the mystery of the editing. And I try to approach my work and my films from a perspective that is a little bit less narrow. So I don’t convey and relay what are the tropes of any kind. Whether it’s the trope of art cinema, the trope of a horror movie or love story. I try to rely on behavior and the physical space where this behavior happens to unfold.

Guadagnino on avoiding cliches in romances

I want to sound neither pompous or pretentious, it’s a very difficult one. But I will be honest because New Yorkers are very direct. I always found myself restless as an audience member to all the films that tell the coming of age that are relying on the cliche. On the assumption what a narrative has to deliver in order to get there. There’s a cliche for every generation and for those majority of cliched films, there are standouts. Rebel Without A Cause by Nick Ray, of course. But there was one that was very, very dear to me, and it’s À nos amours by Maurice Pialat. What is great about Pialat cinema is the capacity to avoid the traps of a narrative and to be very at the center of his characters and letting live the flesh and blood and bone and sperm and every other biological fluids of his characters in a way that’s really connected to his audience because we are like the people on the screen. So I would say I wanted to prove myself, that I could tell the story from the perspective of someone like Pialat instead of the perspective of a three-act script. The idea that there is a contrast against the lovers. It’s something that is so artificial, you know? That there has to be somebody that’s going to contrast them and then the love will triumph. In the gay canon, it will triumph or be bittersweet, or it will not triumph.

Guadagnino on translating the book for the screen

The book is a Proustian book about remembering things passed. Indulging into the age of melancholy of lost things. I felt that was beautiful but I felt that a movie being in present time would be much more efficient and strong in making the audience be in the shoes of these characters.

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Guadagnino on working with Sufjan Stevens

I personally dislike the idea of voiceover of your main character telling the story retrospectively. Maybe because in a way it kills the surprise. I like in cinema when you have an ominous narrator. It’s something that fascinates me a lot, and in fact, I wanted that here. In a way the narrator became Sufjan Stevens with his new songs, made contemporary, about our story, which is back. The only direction I gave Sufjan was to ask him to do it – it’s Sufjan Stevens [laughs]. We wanted a sort of narrator that could make justice of the book, of the film, drawn from the narrative of Elio. We wanted something that wasn’t as close to us in first person. I felt Sufjan’s lyricism, both in the voice and the lyrics itself, had some beautiful elusiveness on one hand, on the other hand poignancy that were really resonate. In fact, when I approached him, and he’s a very reserved person as an artist. So it was quite a challenge to see if he wanted to play with us. And eventually when he did say yes, his tools were the script, the book, our conversation about the characters and I would say his own source of inspirations. I wanted one song and he gave us two: Visions of Gideon, which is the one that closes the movie, and Mystery of Love. There was this Futile Devices that he sung, from the album Chicago, I think. [Editor’s note: it’s from The Age of Adz]. We asked him to remake it with piano to be close to Elio.

The director on Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography

This is my second film working with him where I was a producer. I worked on a movie with him on a movie I produced called Antonia by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino. That’s how we got to meet Sayombhu; those are the ways of cinema because Ferdinando loved Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films and when I asked him who he would like to work with as a DP, he said to me this guy and we contacted him and then Ferdinando and Sayombhu met and they basically fell in love with one another. When we came to make his movie, which was his first non-Thai film ever. … Our relationship with Sayombhu was so exquisite and extraordinary, and his capacity to create an atmosphere and at the same time understanding the characters was so astonishing that I had to beg Ferdinando to allow me to call Sayombhu, because it was very generous of his relationship. Finally, he said okay, go ahead. I approached him and he came. We wanted to have this scorching summer’s heat in the film, but the process was really plagued by heavy rains that almost lasted the entirety of the shoot so he created the light completely artificially.

Luca Guadagnino’s three favorite romantic films

One is Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock, which is the ‘morbidity of love,’ the second one is L’atalante by Jean Vigo, amazing film, like really amazing. And the third one is Journey to Italy by Roberto Rossellini. Those are the few that come up right now but there are many.

On casting

Timothée Chalamet: I met with Luca four years ago and then I met with James Ivory soon after that. There was kind of a loose plan to put it together that summer but it didn’t come around. It always seemed like the project that was too good to be true and the opportunity that on paper seemed like a dream role but it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. Because of powers way above my pay grade, eventually it did. I got to Italy a month early and I think I met Armie a couple of weeks before we were going to film. I was in one of the piano lessons for the film and Armie barged in.

Armie Hammer: I went for tea at Luca’s house and didn’t hear back for four years or so. I got a call from my agent and he said Luca’s doing a new movie and I was like, I’m in. He said I might want to read it first. I read the script and after having several really great conversations with Luca, I came to the conclusion that there was no way I couldn’t do this movie.

Michael Stuhlbarg on the emotional talk he gives to Elio

I think every aspect of the possibility of making this movie excited me to be part of it. [The monologue his character gives] was absolutely a highlight for me, but getting to work with Luca and getting to work with these beautiful young men. In terms of my material in the film, we shot it very much in order. As professor Pearlman watches what’s happening between these two, I got to watch them as well over the course of making the movie. And to get to say what I got to say was kind of a climax to the time of making the whole film. It grew and changed in me over time and it was absolutely a highlight.

The director on his qualms with the process of filmmaking

I’m really bored by the process of filmmaking. I hate it, I don’t like it at all. It’s true! There’s development, which is hell. There’s preparation, which is exciting. There is the shoot, which is a drug. And there is post-production editing, which is fantastic. So, the part I like the least is absolutely the shooting. At least this movie was less bad because I was going back home and sleeping in my bed (in Crema, Italy where the film was shot). It’s fifty people asking things and it’s the effort you make to make things happen. We all make the effort together but there’s a tension. You have this scene and you have this long monologue and then you go, action! And then you’re like this [makes a tense face] until it’s over because you hope it’s going to go good, but ninety percent of the time it goes wrong and then you have to start again… I hate it.

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Timothée and Armie on their character’s non-verbal relationship

Timothée Chalamet: It felt tremendously freeing. I always like in the film where it seems like the love is first revealed, it plays out in a very long, wide shot. I like to play things out in long scenes. So much of the story, this book and screenplay, and hopefully how it comes off in the film, it is a physical dialogue, and a push-pull and a wrestling match of sorts. So from the perspective of acting I found it tremendously freeing, it doesn’t feel like you’re restricted by a frame and that you have to play everything in a close-up.

Armie Hammer: It was also nice to play in a movie that didn’t have any exposition in it. No, “And besides, you also have to remember that the captain is over there!” There’s none of that. It felt like a much more replication of how people actually speak. Very few people actually say what’s on their mind. They’re always, “I was thinking we should actually try this.” People are never direct, so to get to play that with two people who are incapable of being direct because they have so much to learn about themselves and the world and who they are. So you’re watching two people really try, which feels analogous to a lot of situations we find ourselves in.

Luca Guadagnino on the film’s sex scenes

I remember the script was pretty graphic in the description of the first time they make love. I was struggling with that because coming from someone who debuted in 1993 with a short film that was pretty out there, called Here, I think I’m interested in the representation of sex between people if that is in an insight about their behavior and who they are. But if it’s an illustration or transition, I just don’t care. I think we had everything we needed in the movie about their intimacy, about the necessity of attraction to one another. I found it erotic when they put their feet on top of the other’s feet. That moment is so strong and so powerful because it dictates an urgency of intimacy. What would we have gained in seeing the actual physical act between the two of them? I think not much. I also like the idea that we gaze toward the window and to the trees like a McCarthy-era movie. We were free to show everything and we decided not to. And in a way it was a very liberating experience.

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Everyone’s favorite classic films

Luca Guadagnino: Journey to Italy by Roberto Rossellini with George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman. It’s the movie that influences me the most.

Armie Hammer: One of my favorites has always been Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman.

Timothée Chalamet: For me I’d say Night of the Hunter with Robert Mitchum.

Michael Stuhlbarg: Cabaret.

Rumors of a sequel

Luca Guadagnino: André’s book doesn’t end with the end of the summer. It keeps going for another fifty pages and goes through twenty years time. I think I have discovered my complete, absolute passion for these characters and the people we made the movie together. Because I’m an old-fashioned cinephile, I think maybe there’s a place in which we could try a cycle of films about these people, the way the glorious, legendary cycle of Antoine Doinel made by Truffaut. I don’t think the lives of Elio, Oliver and Mr. Pearlman and the rest of the gang is completed by the experience of this very first film, so maybe, who knows. It depends on the actors, will they do it?

Armie Hammer: I’m in.

Timothée Chalamet: Me too.

Michael Stuhlbarg: Okay.

Call Me by Your Name screened at the 55th New York Film Festival and opens on November 24.

‘Brawl in Cell Block 99’ Director S. Craig Zahler on Casting Vince Vaughn and Realistic Violence

Written by Christopher Inoa, October 9, 2017 at 1:52 pm 

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In Brawl in Cell Block 99, Vince Vaughn, after finding out his wife is having an affair, assaults her car in a fashion that would remind anyone who owned a Sega Genesis or Super NES in the 90s of a bonus stage in Street Fighter II.  Vaughn, who is mostly known for his roles in broad comedies, including the likes of Wedding Crashers and Old School, plays Bradley Thomas, a no-nonsense, towering figure with a large, black cross tattooed on the back of his head. Thomas runs drugs to support his wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter) who is pregnant with their first child, who they adorably refer to as “The Koala.”

He works for a dealer named Gil, who is working on developing a partnership with a Mexican dealer. Thomas is skeptical when Gil persuades him with time off after the birth of his daughter. The run goes bad and the Mexican dealer, unhappy, sends an employee (Udo Kier) to inform Thomas that if he doesn’t murder a man in the hellish Cell Block 99, he will do something best left unspoiled. What happens afterwards is not for the squeamish; as Thomas will do anything (and break anything) to make sure his wife and daughter are saved.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is one of the most violent films you will see this year. Arms get broken, so do legs, so do… never mind, you have to see it for yourself. Once you do, you might wonder what kind of man would think of this stuff; well, that man is director S. Craig Zahler.

His second feature after last year’s Bone Tomahawk, Zahler — who wrote, directed and even provided the score for this film — is someone who clearly is making the kind of movies he wants to make. We spoke with Zahler about how he goes about naming his movies, why he decided to cast Vince Vaughn to play his unstoppable, violent force and if he will ever make a movie that isn’t violent.

The Film Stage: I’ve noticed your films have unique titles. How do you go about developing these?

S. Craig Zahler: I spend a lot of time on the title for everything I do. I have a belief that the most important thing outside of the work itself is the title. Sometimes all you’ll ever hear of a movie is the title. That’s why, for the most part, I can’t stand the titles of movies today.

I remember one time I was at a multiplex and there was nine movies and most of the names of the movies were either one word or one word with the word “the.” To me a lot of the problem with that approach is that they are not memorable and they are not distinct to the movie.

I will call out last year Oscars winner Moonlight. I think the original name of that play was Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. That is an fantastic title, that title puts an image in your head and is really memorable. The title has two or three meanings and its unique to that piece, and then the movie came out “Moonlight.” I have no idea what this movie is about; is it about astronauts? Is it about vampires? I couldn’t tell what’s it about.

When I come up with titles, I want it to be unique to my movie. I can’t think of another Bone Tomahawk or Brawl in Cell Block 99 or Dragged Across Concrete  [his next feature starring Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson].

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So, we need to talk about Vince Vaughn. What made you cast him — someone who is more known for being in comedies — to play this hulking, serious, and violent character?

A couple of our greatest actors of the last few decades came from a similar place. I point to Bill Murray and Woody Harrelson as both being phenomenal dramatic performers; comedy is just as hard or even harder than dramatic acting. Everybody’s perception of the ability of comedic performers has been proven wrong repeatedly through the years. In the case of Vince Vaughn, because his most successful movies for the most part are his comedies, that’s what people know him for, but he has done dramatic stuff throughout this career.

What I saw was someone who can be real in the moment and that’s sort of a bottom line of an actor I can work with and one I cant. An actor can show you a lot of technique, show you his acting chops at all times and I can’t stop them from doing that, and get them to be real in the scene, which a lot of times is just doing far less acting. An actor who is determined to show you how much acting he can do at all times is maybe someone I wouldn’t want to work with. But Vince is very consistent in his work. I took a step away from the perspective of him and looked at whom he is and Vince looks like he’s not nice person. Vince is a really nice guy, but I don’t think if I saw him in the street I would think he’s a nice guy. Plus he’s 6’5″, so he’s imposing physically. So if this is the first time someone’s seeing him and then some guy told you, “Hey! That guy is a comedian,” you would probably wonder about that.

Plus, we got along fantastically from our very first meeting and he was willing to transform himself and do all the stuff that I wanted him to do. He brought so much depth to this performance and I m really happy with his performance. If anything, he overachieved.

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One thing that stands out in your film and in Vaughn’s performance is the action scenes. Most action scenes we see in movies today are either in the John Wick gunplay style or the kind we see in superhero films. The action here is well-choreographed, gruesome, physical and also shot in a style that we don’t see too often, more like a Hong Kong action flick. Is that something you yourself just like shooting or is it a response to the way American action films are shot today?

It’s not so much a response, I’m not doing things to throw a middle finger at the industry. It’s just I’m doing things to my taste. To me what happens when you advertently stylish your violence, you’re using the cinematic medium in a way that calls attention to yourself. That can be great: slow motion does this, lots of cutting does this. The choices I make is to show the performers and let them do everything, and make the scene happen on a set. Like Fred Astaire in his movies: when you see him dancing, you see him from head to toe and you know he’s doing every bit of it. It’s harder to get and you need actors who are comfortable getting punched in the face, which happened to all of them — none of them badly. We were doing one of our first fight scenes and Vince got punched in the face. It’s gonna happen if you’re doing that and you’re committing to that level of energy. There’s an element of danger. A lot of people talk about finding their movie in the editing room. The movie I make in the editing room is the one I wrote and the one I shot and you know when you watch Brawl in Cell Block 99 that Vince Vaughn is doing every bit of his fighting. You know that that’s him. I’m happy we didn’t come out without anyone getting any serious injuries and happy we came away with action scenes that do not at all look like anything we see in contemporary American movies.

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Both films you have directed so far have been noted as being extremely violent. Do you have any plans of directing a nice, non-violent drama in the near future?

I definitely see myself making all sorts of films. My next film, which I wrapped a couple of weeks ago, Dragged Across Concrete, is kind of the third piece along the lines of Bone Tomahawk: strong violence, complicate characterization, and men just being mean to each other. The fourth piece I’m looking at doing if everything lands correctly will be based on my upcoming novel Hug Chickenpenny: The Panegyric of an Anomalous Child, which is the story of an orphan in a gothic landscape; the orphan is misshapen and it’s the story of his life. It will probably be a PG movie and be a different kind of experience

I enjoy the two movies I’ve made and this is why I do them, but at the same time I definitely have the desire to be a lot different and I also have the desire to make movies that are just as violent.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is now in limited release and hits VOD on October 13.

‘The Florida Project’ Director Sean Baker on His Modern-Day ‘Little Rascals’ and America’s Hidden Homeless

Written by Joshua Encinias, October 8, 2017 at 8:32 am 

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Sean Baker’s vivid new film The Florida Project is now playing in New York and Los Angeles and it recently played at the New York Film Festival, fulfilling the director’s long-time dream. While at the festival, he sat down with his producer Chris Bergoch and acting coach Samantha Quan at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater.

The trio took part in NYFF Live, a nightly event held during the festival to go deep into the process of making the films highlighted across every category of the fest. Baker and Bergoch talked about stumbling upon the ‘hidden homeless’ in south Florida that inspired The Florida Project. They also discussed casting breakout star Brooklyn Prince and The Little Rascals influence throughout Baker’s films. Throughout the talk, one gets a taste for Baker’s humanism and how it drives every storytelling decision across his oeuvre. He is gifting American cinema with a focus on society’s broken and left out like a modern-day Satyajit Ray.

See highlights and the full talk below.

The Florida Project’s origins

Chris Bergoch: “We were working on an MTV show in 2010 that got cancelled and wasn’t a good match for MTV. But that was the blessing in disguise because that led to Starlet. We came up with the idea for The Florida Project around that time and it was something we’ve been trying to get going ever since.”

America’s ‘hidden homeless’

Sean Baker: “Chris brought this world to my attention. I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t even know there was an issue about the ‘hidden homeless’ in our country. Chris brought me news articles focusing on the situation in Kissimmee and Orlando.”

Bergoch: “I didn’t know myself until my mom moved to Orlando. So when I would go down to make visits to see her, the drive across U.S. 192 that you see in the film, I would see kids playing in motel parking lots. It kind of intrigued me because they didn’t look like tourists and I was wondering what was going on there because they seemed to be doing everything that I did as a kid, playing wiffle ball, playing hide and seek, but it was in the motel parking lot. It led me to do some researching and finding out they live there. Then bringing it to Sean, saying I think there’s a very good story here for a Sean Baker film.”

Baker: “I started reading more articles about it and it was that juxtaposition of those children growing up in budget motels, technically homeless because their families could not secure permanent housing, right outside the happiest place on earth for children. That drew me in.”

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The Little Rascals influence

Baker: “I’ve always wanted to make a film about children. I’ve been very inspired and influenced by The Little Rascals my entire career. You’ll see winks in every film I’ve made at Our Gang. I think what Hal Roach achieved almost seventy years ago with child performances hasn’t really been matched many times since. If you think about The Little Rascals actually was; these comic shorts set against the great depression. Most of the characters in The Little Rascals were living in poverty. The focus was the joyous nature of children, what makes the universality of childhood and focusing on the comedic adventures of children. I thought that was special, I thought that was ahead of it’s time. I saw these shorts growing up, they would play on New York television after school. At the time they were entertainment. When I revisited them later in life I realized, wow, it’s actually an interesting approach to this. So I always wanted to do something like this. When Chris brought this topic to my attention, I thought this might be our opportunity to make a present day Little Rascals.”

Researching for The Florida Project

Baker: “We spoke to the whole community. We were speaking to residents at these hotels, we were speaking to the owners, managers. People who worked at the agencies, the nonprofits who provided social services to the homeless in that area and eventually to some of the local government. If you had to nail down one person (who was our entry way into the community), it was the motel manager, who really in many ways inspired the role of Bobby, who Willem Dafoe plays in the film. He was a wonderful gentleman who’s been very supportive. I’m not going to give his name because I’m not sure he wants us to. He’s the guy who said, yeah this story should be told. What these families are struggling with, nobody knows about this, and I think it’s an important story to get out there.”

Bergoch: “We were walking onto the places looking for collaborators or people who just want to talk to us. It was good to have a friendly face like our producer Shih-Ching Tsou there as well because when he saw two guys walking up he was on guard. We met him with a baseball bat in his hands. We were lurking around the property and there were children playing.”

Baker: “It didn’t look good. Think about it. It was two guys our age with my tiny little chihuahua walking onto a playground, which very much inspired the scene with the pedophile. We turn around, there’s this gentleman and he’s like, “What are you guys doing?” I was like, “Oh, yeah, we’re doing research for a movie, thanks!” Chris goes, “No, you better talk to him now, this doesn’t look good.” He brought us into the office. He started interrogating us… this is a nice story for the New York film community, I think. He said Andrew Garfield stayed here for a week. I was like, oh no, did Ramin already make this movie? This is 99 Homes, isn’t it?! Because Ramin Bahrani and I are friends and we make very similar movies, and I had not seen 99 Homes yet. It was still in post-production. He had done his research around Route 192 as well, and this gentleman was helpful to him as well. As soon as I dropped the name Ramin, he was like, “You guys are legit, it’s okay.” We were actually in their office texting Ramin. It was then the ice was broke and he was inviting us to his home, telling stories.”

The casting process

Baker: “We had a local casting company, two agencies, actually. I wanted to cast locally with the kids. It was very important for me because I didn’t want to fly in Hollywood kids, I needed the accents to be right. We looked at a lot of kids over several major casting sessions, sometimes in motels and sometimes in a local community center. We said your kids don’t have to have any prior experience, we’re just looking for great personas, bring them on in. Brooklynn Prince, who happened to be in the database for a local casting company called CrowdShot. We hadn’t seen her at first. We were getting a little worried because it was getting very close to production, about two months out. And I said we weren’t going to make this film unless we find the present day Spanky McFarland. I was adamant about that. The same thing with Tangerine, I said we were not going to make this film unless we secure Donut Time. That was the caveat for that film. The caveat for this one was we have to find Spanky. Then one day she came in. It happened to be she auditioned at the same time as Christopher because we were putting kids together to see what their chemistry would be like. They blew us away in seconds. Christopher said, “I have to get myself energized and psyched for this audition.” He got on the ground and he started doing push-ups and then little Brooklynn started doing squats. So I was watching these two kids do a boot camp and I was just, this is amazing! They haven’t even started auditioning and they’re already winning us over.”

The Florida Project is now in limited release. See the full NYFF Live talk above.

Director Shane Abbess on the Nostalgic and Collaborative Framework Behind ‘The Osiris Child’

Written by Marc Ciafardini, October 5, 2017 at 9:08 am 

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It’s been almost one full year since Shane Abbess’ Science Fiction Volume One: The Osiris Child made its world premiere at Fantastic Fest late September 2016. We recently caught up with Shane to talk about his film. We discussed everything from production design to music to the economy of the film, notably the team’s efforts getting shots both done in budget in a timely manner. However, aside from a handful of scenes, you’d expect that he had the luxury of resources to build this fascinating world.

Culled from favorite childhood experiences/films, cherry-picked tropes from specific genres, and aimed at giving the audience things they’ve never seen before , the result of Abbess’ work is one of the most impressive sci-fi films this year. A long time coming for those of you who missed it on the festival circuit, but the ambitious sci-if gem that is The Osiris Child is finally making its stateside theatrical debut on October 6.

We’re glad to finally be speaking with you. It should be no surprise to you that we’re huge fans of the film.

Shane Abbess: Oh, I know! [Laughs] I remember your review of it very, very well. Your Fantastic Fest review became a bit of a theme for us. After you do a film, and everyone sees it, you think, “I hope someone gets it because it’s literally been years of our lives working on it.”

You just hope someone understands what that was. We saw your and others’ tweets about it at the world premiere, and we were thrilled. But shortly after that, your review went up and I was sitting at Shake Shack reading it with Dan MacPherson, and he got very emotional because of all the work we put into it. It was your review that really told us we did our job right and you really, really got the film. It was amazing, so thank you for that!

You and the team have shown us how great you are at world building, but you still keep the focus of the story small and relatable. One of the more noteworthy components is the dynamic between the three leads. What did you want the focus to be?

Well, a lot of our choices were based on money and time. It was a great challenge because the budget was tight, and so was the schedule. But I always knew I wanted to focus more on the characters and the moments rather than the spectacle.

So even though we have some really cool things in the film, I spent a lot more time than other films would just focusing on these characters to find out who these people are in the truth of their moments. And all the actors were very committed to wanting to pull that off. It was tough to juggle that across the course of the film because of the chapters, and because we shot things out of order.

Things were all over the place, but my fantasy was that when you got it on Blu-Ray, you could literally watch it in ten different ways, and get a different experience each time.

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Christopher Nolan and Nacho Vigalondo had done that, respectfully, with Memento and Timecrimes. But they also believe that audiences are smarter than we get credit for, so spelling things out for them isn’t entirely necessary. 

True, but we really chopped it up, and when we showed it to audiences they thought it was too crazy. They couldn’t get their heads around it, so [laughs] we made a more streamlined version like it is now. It’s still in chapters, but it’s a lot easier to digest.

When you’ve gotten to the core of a character, you get to the meat of their moments, and you’ve identified them down to their connective tissue. You know who these people are and you can jump around with them without fear of losing the audience. You don’t have to follow them from point A to point B – you can go from A to G to Zed in three chapters – and that was helpful for the actors as well because we would have to talk a lot about what would happen between the moments and hope that the audience was smart enough or invested enough to fill in the blanks.

I was really surprised by Sy’s arc. Kellan Lutz brought a whole different level to the film. His reason for looking after Indi was so emotional. How was it working with a first-time child actor among all these adults?

Kellan grew a lot as an actor, and we wanted his character to be his own. We pushed him a lot, and it was very confrontational at times, but he responded very well. By the time we got to the end, he was a very different actor. He was very raw, and very spontaneous. The process changed him for the better.

For about 99% of the film, Teagan is not acting. She’s 11 years old and she’s just reacting to what’s happening. She’s not drawing from years of experience, so everything is in the moment and responding to what’s happening in front of her.

It’s difficult for her because she’s not an adult who’s made the choice to become an actor. The scenes with her at the end are so raw that we have to talk with her after each scene – and her Mom was there, too – just to make sure she understood there was a big difference between real and not. But when you get to a moment of truth like that, it’s beautiful. It’s the art form at its best when the character owns you completely and it reacts for you.

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There’s a scene in the film where Kane (MacPherson) escapes from the floating military base – the Floatilla – and we go right from him needing to escape to, boom, he’s already escaped and now he’s in a spectacular aerial dog fight. You really cut this down to essentials which help the pace of the story.

I really wanted to get on a track and just keep going without dragging things on or making unnecessary stops. What we’re trying to do with films over here [Australia] that are off the radar – and you see a lot of those types at genre festivals – is that you do things that are familiar. I’m doing things that are based on the types of films I grew up with – the types of films that are now are extinct. But I also do things that have enough uniqueness to them so that you can discover something new and exciting with them. It’s a good balance.

So if a 12-year-old kid were to watch this [The Osiris Child] for the first time, I’d want them to feel like there’s something dated about what they’re seeing and have them wonder, “Ok, that’s cool, but what did this come from? I have to go back and discover things that I probably overlooked or missed out on.”

You look at Paul Verhoeven, who is an amazing filmmaker in his own time, but kids today will likely see the remakes of RoboCop and Total Recall. When my kids are old enough, I’ll send them back and tell them, “You have to start with the original.” I want them to get to the heart of where things they like or love today come from. Especially my films. [laughs]

The entire production, for me, was like eye candy, and the “solitary confinement” cells are one of the most innovative and original things I’ve ever seen in sci-fi. How did you come up with that?

On any film, you’re always trying to figure out how to keep things entertaining when you’re on a schedule, and a budget. The solitary cells were something that I really wanted to keep in the film, and every time the budget started shrinking that was always a question of whether it was needed or it could be cut. But I told them that we needed to see that – we needed to see the punishment because it was also important to the story. So it had to be interesting enough to stay in the film. We only had enough budget for one little tube. Our storyboard artist drew an octagonal shape for the prison tunnels, but I saw that and said that it should be the solitary cells instead.

My thought is that if you’re on a prison planet, you get worked to the bone – that’s the job. Solitary shouldn’t be a break. If you got put in solitary, traditionally, it would be quite good. You’d go, “It’s peaceful, I’m by myself, I can get some rest, and it’s dark, but I’m getting fed.” It’s not a hassle, but that’s not the right kind of punishment for these guys. It would have to be something more.

So I thought about what kind of environment you could have where you couldn’t stand, you could never sleep or rest, and it was this ever revolving cylinder. Now even though we had a cool idea, we only had one day to shoot it all, so we did it like we did in my earlier film, Gabriel, and used forced perspective to make everything appear bigger. I had one corridor built, one cylinder, and we had changing lights and a revolving camera move that makes it seem like one sequence when it’s really one little part of a set constantly used over and over again. It was necessity vs creativity.

Brian Cachia is the co-writer and the composer on The Osiris Child. When John Carpenter shoots a film, he’s said he doesn’t even think about music until he’s editing. How does Brian work, and how much time do you two spend on the score?

On our earlier films, like Gabriel, we usually had an idea of the palette we wanted to use. When we got to this one, we wanted it to feel adventurous. But nothing we started with really worked. So it’s the first film I’ve done where I couldn’t use a temp score because nothing was able to hit the right tone – it was either too contemporary, or not enough.

We’ll talk about and discuss why something does, or doesn’t fit a scene or an edit. When he has something ready, I’ll go for a day, and we’ll drink a whole bottle of wine and listen to the score. Then I’ll go away again, keep working, and then we’ll spend the last few months together – almost every day – refining those moments.

But I love working with him. He’s the kind of creative I can just let go, and for any film I’ve directed, it’s really Brian’s voice; it’s not me giving him another piece of music to try and sound like. His music is his interpretation of the vision which is the best way to do it I think.

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What is your favorite scene, and what made it special to you?

For me, it’s the scene at the end with Sy, as The Ragged, and Indi on the ship. It completely busted me emotionally. I didn’t expect it. It was Teagan’s last day as well as Dwaine Stevenson’s last day. He plays The Ragged, and was stuck in the suit the whole film, and he really wanted to make a great performance because he’s not just a performance artist, he’s a great actor. When he and Indi sat quietly on that ship together, and I watched them do that sign language, and then put his head in her lap. It was beautiful, and it all evolved from what this story was originally all about.

That manifestation of that monster within the man and how it emerged from all the hardship it took to get there just meant so much to me. It was so emotional to me, and I know it was to Brian as well. As a scene itself, it wasn’t crazy emotional in the movie, but it was for me while I was shooting it because it just felt like all this the darkness inside was now on the outside of that character, and so this little girl who, all she has left is The Ragged, is able to move on.

I don’t like the fun stuff, like the ships and guns, I find the really turbulent and emotional stuff are the best things for me. [laughs]

I’m sure you have plenty of heartfelt, funny and memorable stories. Any that really stand out?

This might be the first time I’ve told this, but we were on the shore shooting the first scene with Sy and Kane. Sy, played Kellan Lutz, starts to walk away, and Kane, played by Dan MacPherson, stands up and says that he has to save his daughter. It was late in the day, and everyone was tired, and it was the first time I didn’t have anything for Dan to help him really nail his line. I said, ”I don’t know what to tell you. We’re not getting it, but I can’t find the thing that’s not working. I don’t sense the desperation of having to get your daughter.”

So we talked about it, but couldn’t figure it out. We played music, and tried a number of things, and then when we got down to the shore, I told him, “I’m out of ideas.” All of a sudden, he picks me up and throws me over his shoulder, and I go right into the lake.

I’m 6’-3”, but I went right over and under the water. I cut my back on a rock, and as I was under the water I saw Dan over me, and I started punching him in the ribs. I knew what he was doing: he was trying to get the energy out of a true confrontation. I remember thinking, I’m bleeding, I’m drowning, and I’m wailing body blows on one of my lead actors, but I realized that this is exactly the level of trust I’ve built with my team over many years…this is what’s needed.

As soon as he jumped off me, and my head cleared the water, I pointed to my DP on the hill and gave him the “roll” signal. Dan walked to his spot, squatted down and then, with cameras rolling, stood up, did his line and that was perfect! [laughs] Now you can’t do that everyday. The thing about those shots is that they have to be real and unrehearsed. But it changed us, and Kellan, too. He was like, “Ok, so that’s how far these guys will go to find a moment.”

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What film was most influential to you?

Die Hard is what made me want to make films. Apocalypse Now influenced me as far as process, but Die Hard for the fact that I watched it in awe asking, “Did a bunch of people actually make that? How do you do that?” I really wanted to know how you got to be part of something like Die Hard, and I didn’t care what department. I couldn’t believe how that someone specifically did the writing, and editing, wrote the music, someone directed it, someone set explosives, etc. But however I could work towards something like that, I wanted in. And I want to try to give that back to someone, because that experience I got out of Die Hard was so rewarding. Man, what a gift if I could give that to someone because it changed my life!

If you have time off, or need a break, what do you watch or try to catch up on?

South Park, Game of Thrones, and House of Cards. They are the three things I have to watch. I just watched Ozark and think it’s amazing, and now I’m so much more excited about TV than I am the cinema. I still get pumped for Star Wars and the like. But as far as my time, and getting invested in watching things, TV has won over films for me, which is sad because I’m still in that game. Yet it’s a reason I’m supporting more of the serialized movies because if you don’t come to this movie until years later, you can get a whole body of content out of it.

Look at Star Wars. You’ve got books and games and movies and TV shows. If you want to invest in it, you’ve got a whole world. So it’s got me worried that if you’ve got all this great TV out there, if you just have one movie, you’re no longer an event; your movie could be something that comes and goes in a weekend. We’re working on these smaller features, but the goal is that the body of work leads up to one big thing. So we’ll see how it goes! [Laughs.]

The Osiris Child is now available on DirecTV and will be in theaters and On Demand / Digital HD on October 6th. Read more of the interview at Go See Talk.

Richard Linklater on Robert Bresson, ‘Taxi Driver,’ and Meeting Robert Altman

Written by Joshua Encinias, October 3, 2017 at 2:07 pm 

richard-linklater-photo-by-sean-diserio

Richard Linklater’s new film Last Flag Flying may not be in theaters until November, but it opened this year’s New York Film Festival and the director sat down with festival director Kent Jones for extensive at the Walter Reade Theater on Saturday, September 30.

On Cinema is an annual event at the festival where world-renowned filmmakers invite festival goers to learn their cinematic inspiration and influences. Linklater built the conversation around his favorite moments in film, including The Long Goodbye, Pickpocket and Taxi Driver, among others. From the beginning of his talk, it was clear Linklater held reverence for everyone he was to discuss, but none received praise like Robert Bresson and Robert Altman.

Linklater fixates on the passing moments in film, which he calls the stuff we remember from cinema. He’s gifted American cinema with a philosophy unique to the last twenty years of filmmaking and was explored in detail at the festival.

On cinephilia

I think the big jump for me was films were always kind of a social thing, which I think they are to a large percent of the population. Just the idea that you would go to a movie alone. At some point you’ve just got to make the decision. No one’s going to keep up with me, I’m going to a twelve o’clock show and a three o’clock show, five-thirty. You just get used to buying that ticket alone, getting your seat wherever and it’s fun because you tend to meet those other loners, like that guy who always sat over there and about six months later you finally go, “Hey man.”

On the nature of filmmaking

What is film? To me it’s moments. It would be one thing to show my favorite films and favorite scenes, but I thought to show a moment. Not necessarily the best moment in the movie or my favorite emotional moment. It’s just a moment that jarred me, not so much as a viewer, but as a future filmmaker… it’s what you remember. When you think back on a film, you don’t really remember the plot of a movie… well you do, kind of. I always thought plot was an agreed upon fiction that we all sign up for to get those moments, to hang those moments on. Our lives don’t have plots really.

On his storytelling philosophy

The main storytelling element of any movie is who knows what, when, and what do you want the audience to know? It sounds simple but it’s really the backbone to everything. I think you could put the audience in a privileged spot or you can screw with them by withholding information, so it’s a huge choice.

On Taxi Driver

Another example of cinema pulling you into a point of view of someone, and by the time your identification is so thorough you realize it’s too late is Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. I think that’s also a bit of a perversity that you get to know Travis. He’s vulnerable, he’s alone, he shares a lot of things everybody has felt. It’s only the last part of the movie where you realize this guy is a psychopath.

On Robert Bresson’s cinematic language

No one has the precision of Bresson. We can talk about Hitchcock all day as far as leading you the viewer, but Bresson has this elliptical storytelling method. He’s one of that special handful that created their own cinematic language and answered to it their whole cinematic career.

On the Pickpocket and Breathless crews running into each other

It’s an interesting cinema note that here was Bresson, in his late 50s doing this, and the Pickpocket crew would run into the Breathless crew on the streets of Paris. And he complained to Godard that he had such a low budget. Isn’t it funny when you think of these masterpiece films, I always jump back and go there was some filmmaker complaining that he didn’t have enough money. A lot of the film is just him and some actors, but he added these public scenes and he only had a few days and he had like seventy-five extras for those few days. If you look closely, you see the woman carrying the luggage, she’s in other scenes. You get to know them, you say, “She wouldn’t be there and there,” but he only had them for a few days. What he was able to do was breathtaking. He has these recurring visual images in his movies of feet, doors opening and closing, handles. I remember L’Argent was the first Bresson I saw and it played over a weekend at Hogg Auditorium at the UT campus, it was shown three or four times and I remember having read a lot about Bresson. I went on a Friday night and really struggled with it the first time I saw it. By the end of the weekend I had been converted, I totally felt like I got it. I also read the Tolstoy story that L’Argent was based on, The Forged Coupon. He leaves out the redemption part of the story. He ends it at the worst part. That was a his last film. I know he lived quite a bit longer. He was old but he was trying to make a few more projects. Genesis, from creation to the flood. I actually got a letter from him. I showed ten of his films in Austin and sent him a letter and sent him flyers and stuff and he wrote me a really nice letter back. Just saying, “Oh, wow, the power of cinema… my films are showing in Texas.”

Actors v. non-actors in early films

Long before the star system, they thought people would accept films as real and said you can’t show the same person again in another part because the audience won’t believe it. That was an early worry of studio people.

On Vincente Minnelli pissing off Frank Sinatra and being a masterful visual designer

Vincente Minnelli started here in New York. I think he was a costume designer. He was just a beautiful designer, he was a master of color and the palette and the camera. I think Wilder dismissed Minnelli as a decorator, but I just think he’s so masterful. And the master of a lot of genres, too. He’s known for his musicals obviously, but I love his melodramas. The way Some Come Running ends, he shot it like a musical without the music. It has a great Elmer Bernstein soundtrack but they’re at this big carnival and the wheel is going. There’s this famous story where he had to dig into the ground to get the right angle. He was taking so much time and when he finally got it it still wasn’t quite right, so he said we have to move the ferris wheel. Frank Sinatra apparently left the set, got on a plane, and came back days later because Minnelli was driving him crazy. But he was known for that kind of detail.

On Robert Altman’s 1970s films and meeting him at Sundance

Those 1970s Altman films in Cinemascope are always beautiful. His camera was always moving and he was the master of the zoom in. I love The Long Goodbye and Sterling Hayden, I think it’s one of his great performances, Elliott Gould, obviously. Altman tackled so many genres, doing his version of it. Talk about moments… The Long Goodbye is just one incredible moment after the other and again, globbed onto a plot that… someone’s taken some money. Altman had a deal at FOX, they trusted him, but he didn’t have many hits except MASH, and he could go into the studio and say “I had this dream the other night and there were these women in the desert in a car and I kind of want to make this movie,” and FOX let him do it. Here’s a million bucks, go make that movie. I actually met him once, my first time at Sundance. It’s 1991 and I’m there with my first film and there’s Robert Altman and he’s there with Tanner ‘88. He was coming out of something and he was lingering so I made my move, I told him about the cigarette scene in The Long Goodbye and told him it changed my life, and he said, “I can’t be responsible for that!” And I went, “No, it’s a good thing! I have a film here!” He signed my DGA card years later.

Last Flag Flying premiered at New York Film Festival and opens on November 3. Watch the full talk above.