Life is inherently dramatic, if not melodrama, and with your films, you’re not afraid to show that drama. But it’s a very fine line when someone is trying to portray that strong emotion realistically without going over the top. You seem to be able to navigate this real sense of drama while still being very cinematic.
Yeah, when I was growing up my mom watched Days of Our Lives all the time and I did too. I watched soap operas and they can really be riveting. I think watching Days of Our Lives made it’s way into Pines just because I soaked up so much of that. But I also love movies and I love films that don’t pander to you. I can’t stand over-sentimentalization. I’m interested in honesty—I can’t say “truth.” I remember Cassavetes has a great line in The Killing of Chinese Bookie. Ben Gazzara says, “My truth is your false hood, and your false hood is my truth and vice versa.” There is no real truth you can get to but you can go for honesty and emotional honesty.
This kind of mutual psychosis between people is one of my favorite themes to explore, and although it may be a natural thing that occurs when people fall in love, it takes time. But for Kris and Jeff, this was an instantaneous connection between them beyond their control. The way they speak to each other at first, he’s very terse and straight and it’s never very romantic, it just happens as if they’ve been this way forever and they’re dealing with it. There’s no slow fall into it.
There are a couple things going on. From a plot perspective, you’re looking at two people who are thrown together because their pigs are somewhere in the world being thrown together, and so this tether is making them behave in ways that don’t quite make sense at the front of their minds. So it’s almost like they’re having their faces pushed into it, and this is the way it’s supposed to go. But it doesn’t seem to be working. That’s the way I thought about it, like in a romantic comedy this is Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock or whoever, this is the part where they would be flirting and somebody would drop a book and pick it up and it goes well, and in this, this was like the event where it’s never going to go well. There’s nothing organic about this, the strings are being pulled somewhere else. So playing with that is both fun and part of the exploration. But also, I don’t know what could be more romantic than people who have been broken to their lowest point, the romantic promise that exists when you’re just destroyed.
And this love is all there is to cling to.
Yeah, that’s intoxicating. Like The Hustler, one of my favorite movies. It took me a while to realize that I don’t really care about the pool playing, I care about these two alcoholic broken people that are very holed up.
There’s that line in the film that says, “What are we longing for? Where does all this yearning come from?” I feel like that’s a central theme in so much of your work and this was a way to physicalize this deep longing.
That was something that maybe tied us together, Pina and me. When I saw her pieces for the first time I realized we had a subject in common, as well. Many of my films were trying to deal with the same issues in different ways but certainly not in the same way she was able to do it without words and without story. There was never a story; in some of her pieces there is a red line going through, but it’s not a plot; in movies you always have a story to carry you, and I realized that maybe stories are in the way sometimes of getting to the core of things. The way Pina gets to the core of what love and loss means in her piece, Cafe Muller, I just don’t know a single film that has been able to come remotely close to that. In forty minutes Pina showed me more about men and women than the history of cinema without a single word.
But that kind of love is an addiction. One clings to the desired one’s words, every gesture holding the weight of one’s happiness. You can process that perhaps this isn’t love at all; perhaps it is simply the desire to possess another soul. You can rationalize it to yourself, but to be in love or to be consumed by the need for another means existing without the luxury of rational thought. Love does take courage and strength, however, and if one is only willing to possess, that is a form of cowardice. If one is unable to open and free herself into the arms of another without expecting reciprocation of obsessive emotion, than person will remain alone. And here, Petra is hindered by her unconscious adherence to patriarchal confines and societal norms, never allowing herself to truly connect with the woman she loves. Yes, this person, who so shamelessly flaunts her heartbreak and flounces around like an open would, is much more guarded than she wants to believe. It is as if her theatrics are her mask, when usually we make ourselves stoic in order to conceal from the world the inner melodrama that plagues us.
As deliciously evil and thrilling as it is visually-rich and haunting, Park Chan-wook’s fantastical gothic thriller Stoker plays out like an erotic waltz with sinister intentions. As his first English-language film, the acclaimed Korean director has crafted a quiet kind of suspense that shows the graceful unraveling of an isolated American family.
The style of the film feels like it’s told in these bits like splices from internet clips. Did you want to reflect something about this generation of kids being raised in a time where personal connection is kind of lost and your actions are so disconnected and distant from who you are and without feeling?
I never try to do anything or speak to anything specifically; I never try to prove a point. But at the same time, it’s definitely of that world. It’s the idea of that world, that sort of post-everything. And the filmmaking, I wanted to the filmmaking style to be very much of that. There was no real conscious referencing of other films just more the idea, now things just live inside of me and of people and images and sound coming from all directions and falling from the sky. So I wanted the film to never stop moving, I wanted it to be floating and falling and breaking apart and coming together and then smacking the shit out of you and then disappearing. And at the same time, there’s a world that’s created that I hope people—the way things look and feel—I want people, it’s nice if people can identify with that and say, I’ve been to those places and have experienced those things.
You’ve spoken before about being drawn to this sort of gangster mysticism.
In the film, these things in some weird way collide. There’s a collision of those two things—they’re gangster mystics. But then there’s something behind it too, there’s something just behind it in the air, a violence and color and a swagger to it.
Bad Timing, in essence, is a film about the sexual obsession and savage attraction of two opposites. It’s also a film about chance and fateful encounters. “They were down for each other,” Roeg once vaguely expressed about Alex and Milena. As two Americans living in Vienna, their meeting is almost tragic from the start, intrinsically drawn to one another like two opposing forces, setting in motion a dangerous collision of psyches. Recently separated from her Czech husband, Milena meanders through life, finding pleasure in the impulsiveness of a moment. Alex, on the other hand, lives with structure as a psychoanalyst and professor. Milena has loose control over her emotions, prone to fits of passionate rage and sexual indulgence. Her aggression, fervor, and sexuality live on the surface, but underneath lies a woman who is driven by fear and vulnerability. Alex, conversely, is a cerebral man who sees love as a hurdle to be crossed or something to keep at an arm’s length. He is composed and cold but represses a great deal of violent and sexual urges. Together, the two unearth various traits in one another—a lethal combination of flesh on flesh.
What the film does best is speak to the sentiment that we’re drawn to that which we cannot have, that which will never be fully attainable despite all our efforts. This impossible desire provides us with a sense of purpose and a drive towards something. The love is not just a feeling that lives inside our bones but something we hold sacred, even in the pain it causes. And when it fades or when the absence of feeling outweighs that prior sorrow, you’ll long for the days when you felt something as profound as a love this strenuous. Alex and Daniel are both besotted with Bob, regardless of their better judgement and desire for stability. It’s not a film about unrequited love in the sense that their feelings are never reciprocated; on the contrary, Daniel and Alex are both shown a great deal of warmth from Bob, but never in the way that they need or want and never quite enough. At one point in the film Bob says, “I know you’re not getting enough from me. But you’re getting all there is.” Loving someone so completely who does not have the facility to love in those same parameters is devastating on the heart. But this kind of longing is made even worse by the fact that the object of their desire does not thwart their advances, rather he continues to provide a glimmer of hope, never fully allowing Alex or Daniel to be able to let go.