“It was like The Little Rascals, only we were on LSD,” John Waters says of the early Baltimore days that began his career exactly 50 years ago this month. And as the reigning King of smutty brilliance for half a century now, the thinly-mustachioed notorious director, comedian, visual artist, author, and actor has become one of the most beloved, iconic, and wonderfully subversive American filmmakers, shining a light on the underground and taking a sharp bite out of Hollywood’s shiny veneer while perverting our screens in the most necessary and wonderful way.
We’d finish our day and then I’d either be with Abel or I’d be on the phone with Abel and the writer, and we’d be working on what we’re doing the next day. So outside of sleep, and he did enter my dreams, that’s what we’re doing. I’s fluid like that, and that’s another reason why I like Abel, it’s scary and it’s chaotic but it’s alive and we bang away. So there’s really no rest and no going away. While normally I used to always say, oh I don’t stay in character, when the camera’s turned off everything goes back inside me and I’m just ol’ Willem from Wisconsin. But the truth is, when you’re working twelve hours a day in a certain frame of mind and you’re willing identification and you want to inhabit a set of situations and thoughts, it transforms you.
“I have conversations with myself,” Marion Cotillard tells me. “When I said yes to Macbeth I was like, ‘My god, here you go again, I really thought we had this conversation before when you told yourself, okay drama is enough, you’ve experienced a lot a drama can you have fun, please, so we can have fun all together within yourself?’” But for the brilliant French actress, it’s her emotionally daring and beautifully raw performances that have made her a star. From her Academy Award-winning turn as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose to her portrayal of a defiant Polish woman coming to America in James Gray’s The Immigrant, there’s always an honesty and dramatic weight you can expect from watching Cotillard.
When Mathieu Amalric is on screen, it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. There’s a distinct manic energy that emanates from inside the French actor and pours into the myriad characters he takes on . Whether he’s continuing his career-long collaboration with Arnaud Desplechin, appearing in roles for Wes Anderson, starring in films from icons like Roman Polanski and Alain Resnais, or playing a Bond villain, Amalric’s presence wraps you in a giddy pleasure, as you admire his ability to be completely devoured by a role while still carrying the spark that makes him so fascinating.
Not only a filmmaker, but an editor and distributor as well, Metzger began his career as an editor at Janus Films, cutting trailers for the likes of Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman, after releasing his acclaimed but unsuccessful passion project Dark Odyssey and starting his own distribution company Audubon Films (named after the legendary Audubon Theater in Washington Heights). Debuting in the 1960s and ’70s, his films were lauded for their candidly sexual nature, garnering attention with an X-rating, but for Metzger, it’s always been the “in-betweens” that have mattered most. From his literary adaptions such as Therese and Isabelle, the black-and-white youthful lesbian love story with visuals akin to that of Alain Resnais, to his Henry Paris hardcore films like the hilarious and creamy dreams of The Opening of Misty Beethoven, his work is always as expertly crafted as it is erotic.
I found an expression to explain what it is, because I love to compare Philippe to a painter. He tries to extract small things in existence, the simple details. He loves to paint simple beauty, the existence in a simple beauty. But then it requires a lot of concentration and precision, and sometimes can be a little bit frustrating because of the artificiality of cinema. Philippe does not like that—not because he’s not funny, but because his kind of cinema is very pure and the way he tells the story is very simple.
“When I feel my cheeks burning with shame, I know that I’m really acting or writing something that’s getting close to a truth,” Brit Marling tells me. “That, to me, is the litmus test of oh my god, this is how you would do it, and your body has a physiological response because it knows that it’s real. You’re not thinking anymore. When that occurs, that is pretty damn awesome.” And as one of the most inspiring and talented new woman to emerge in Hollywood over the past several years, in a short time Marling has made her mark on the world of independent film, as not only an actress and writer, but a director and producer as well.
There’s a scene in Mike Cahill’s debut feature Another Earth in which John (William Mapother) asks Rhoda (Brit Marling) what she would say if she met her other self. Without a beat, Marling says, “Better luck next time.” It’s a brief but powerful moment, imbued with the sentiment of Cahill’s latest film I Origins, a story that once again takes us on a scientific exploration of the human soul and its reincarnations, through the eyes of life’s most potent force—love. With Another Earth, the first feature collaboration between Cahill and Marling (having written and produced the film together), we were given a stunningly poetic and insightful character study about forgiveness and hope, wrapped inside a massive science fiction concept looming above. And as his career progresses, we’re able to observe the brilliance in Cahill’s affinity for finding the metaphysical in the mundane, allowing us to accept the grandeur of the ideas he presents, because at their core lies complex human drama and emotion that latches itself under your skin and holds you captive.
“Even with characters as horrendous as Joaquin’s are, what I’m always trying to do, is to put as much love and humanity as I can into this person, so we can at least understand them,” said James Gray when we spoke on the phone last week before his talk at The Film Society of Lincoln Center. And for the director, whose first film since 2008 has its theatrical premiere this Friday, whether he’s telling us a desolate story of lost hope amidst the buildings of present day Brighton Beach or giving us an emotionally devastating period film through the streets of 1920s lower Manhattan, he employs his passion and skill for storytelling to craft potent dramas. Culled from a massive wealth of artistic influences and knowledge, his deeply personal urban tales—fromLittle Odessa to Two Lovers—capture theduality between happiness and sacrifice, framed through the lens of complex familial drama. With his new feature, The Immigrant, we’re given a film that plays out like a prologue to his entire oeuvre, built upon his own family’s historical past to bring to life a story about the lengths we go for love and survival, the madness of desire, and forgiveness as a means of salvation.
“Creating gives me the feeling that I’m alive—wrong or right, I’m alive—because when I feel nothing, I would rather be dead,” said Claire Denis in a talk at Lincoln Center during the New York Film Festival earlier this fall. “That’s a little exaggerated, but I like to be emotionally involved in things, you know? Otherwise I feel terrified by life.” But as one of cinema’s most audacious and fascinating directors and personalities, Claire Denis has built an oeuvre of films that vacillate between the deeply human and the coldness of a razor’s edge. Through her early work as an assistant director on films like Paris, Texas, Sweet Movie, Down By Law, and Wings of Desire, Denis was impressed by the absolute power that the poetry of images could possess—which has informed her stunning work from Chocolat andBeau Travail to White Material and her latest haunting feature Bastards (Les Saluds).
“What color would you say that is?” asks Jeff Goldblum while peering at the flecked remnants of polish on my horribly bitten nails. “Would you say that’s silver?” he asks. “I believe it’s more of a periwinkle,” I reply, hiding my embarrassment with an awkward chortle. It’s an odd introduction to the actor, but one perfectly befitting for the subject we’re about to discuss—the meticulously-detailed and frosting-coated Europe-on-the brink-of-destruction caper story, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. And as no stranger to the wonder world of Wes, Goldblum knows the delicate intricacy of the beloved auteur’s worlds, and with the actor’s bizarre and ever-fascinating talents, always knows just how to inhabit them with the most pleasurable ease.
Shot with a language that’s as poetic as it is tactile, the behavioral and quiet style of the film is rife with sensory emotion, and washes over you with palpable desperation. Played with dedication and intensity, actress Gina Piersanti takes us through Lila’s summer on Sheepshead Bay, as she sets her sights on conquering the affections of the thuggish older Sammy. But in Lila’s pursuit and over-anxious cries for attention, Hittman illuminates the amount of self-deception and hidden complexities that come to reveal themselves with truly coming-of-age.
I love narrative and how it exists and why it exists and how it’s meant to be used. You can come up with a paragraph full of some truth, something that’s universal, some exploration, and it can be really informative but it’s likely to not be that interesting. But you ca spin a story, you can tell a narrative and you can infuse it with this stuff and if you’ve done your job right, you haven’t just captured somebody’s attention long enough to take them on this exploration, you’ve also maybe figured out something about the exploration through the act of the story because that’s what we key into. So I love narrative and I think that film is the height of narrative and I don’t know what 100 years from now looks like, but from right now, to be able to communicate non-verbally but still explore, I don’t know what would be better than that. So I guess that’s what I love about it. It’s like you’re feeding right into the main line of how we experience things.
Andre Breton’s Nadja ends on the note that, “Beauty is like a train that ceaselessly roars out of the Gare de Lyon and which I know will never leave, which has not left. It consists of jolts and shocks, many of which do not have importance, but which we now are destined to produce Shock, which does….Beauty must be CONVULSIVE or will not be at all.” And for provocative and acclaimed Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, his films exist a realm of sublime beauty, always amalgamating the absurd with the exquisite.
From dissonant rattling of the train cars and the clamorous hum of machinery to the vacant dark alleyways and sparsely populated industrial buildings, Richard Ayoade’s The Double immediately immerses you in a heightened state of awareness. It isn’t quite fear that gnaws at you but the unease that creeps up when everything you’re seeing is “just a bit off.” Your senses prick up as you’re plunged in the collective psyche of the world he’s created—one where suicides are more than rampant, science fiction shows are set in nature, and two men can possess the same face.