“I'm interested in telling stories about families,” Derek Cianfrance, the director of “The Place Beyond The Pines,” said this week during the Toronto International Film Festival, where his hotly anticipated drama finally premiered to much acclaim. Cianfrance stormed Sundance in 1998 with “Brother Tied,” a picture that was critically acclaimed at the festival, but then vanished afterwards. It wasn’t until twelve years later that he returned with his sophomore feature effort, “Blue Valentine,” a searing family drama about a marriage in irreparable decay, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, which put him squarely back on the map.
“‘Brother Tied’ -- the first film I made that no one saw -- was about brothers,” he explained about his affinity for the familial subject. “ ‘Blue Valentine’ was about husbands and wives, and this, [‘Pines’] is about fathers and sons.”
Starring Ryan Gosling alongside Bradley Cooper, Ray Liotta, Dane Dehaan, Emory Cohen, Eva Mendes and many more, the sprawling, three-part ‘Pines’ is unconventional and epic. At two hours and twenty minutes long, the picture focuses on lineage, legacy and the sins that are passed down from generation to generation.
“Families are full of secrets,” Cianfrance said of the appeal of his subject matter. “Their stories are intimate places where you can really get to know people and get to see people with their masks off.” With a second child on the way, Cianfrance said the film was inspired about his own personal concerns and distresses about becoming a dad once more.
“It was born out of my own fears and anxiety about becoming a father again,” he admitted of his latest film. “I was reading a lot of Jack London in 2007 and I was thinking a lot about the calling down of my ancestors. In [Jack London’s] ‘Call of the Wild’ when the domesticated dog goes out at night and he cries in the middle of the night and he feels the pain and the hunger and the starvation from his ancestors...” he explained. "And it's the same call [in this story].”
Intense and wiry, resembling Ryan Gosling’s older brother with a little less hair up top, Cianfrance said he drew from the legacy in his own family and the sometimes often unproductive “fire” that was inside his grandfather, father and himself.
“The fire that I feel inside of me that helps me do things, like make movies, but it also destroys things in my life,” he said. “I was thinking about how far back that goes and about my unborn child and how he was going to come into this world clean and I just didn't want him to have that fire." You can read the rest of our conversation below. “A Place Beyond The Pines” comes out TBD in 2013 via Focus Features [beware some hints towards spoilers in the film on the second page].
So with ‘Pines’ was it a conscious decision to do something on a bigger scale than Blue Valentine”?
Yeah absolutely. At the same time there's things that are similar between this and “Blue Valentine.” “Blue Valentine” was one moment kind of under a microscope whereas this is a film about legacy, it's a film that just has a larger canvas but you know it's equally as personal of a film as “Blue Valentine” was. I wanted to make a film about legacy in that way. About the passing on of the torch through family.
It's a very expansive story. Can you talk about how you decided who to hone in on, because it could have kept on going.
Yeah, you could keep passing it on. We used to joke in the editing room when the old man sells him the motorcycle like, 'Let's start with the old man now.' But that triptych idea came twenty years ago and I was in film school and I saw [Abel Gance's] “Napoleon.” I was just like ‘I've got to make a triptych one day’ and I had all of these ideas.
I went to a very formalist film school and studied under Stan Brakhage and Phil Solomon so I had this idea of making a triptych for twenty years, I just didn't know what to do, what to tell. And then in film school also I saw "Psycho," which I had only seen the shower scene when I was 19 years old, but I had no idea that you spent forty five minutes with [Janet Leigh] before she went in that shower. I just had that experience watching "Psycho" of what Hitchcock must have wanted me to have and it just blew my mind.
Then I had this deep feeling of needing to tell something about legacy in my own life and it just found its way into this movie.
There’s also the legacy of violence in the film.
In terms of what happens in the movie, in terms of also dealing with feelings of gun violence, movies and actually dealing with reverberations of death, the aftermath of that -- to deal with death in a real way, in a linear way. There's some detractors of the script. Five years ago I remember them saying, 'Have you seen 'Babel'? What did you think about intercutting this?' I loved “Babel,” you know, and I love it. But I've also seen it and this is a story about lineage and I think it needs to be linear and...having an experience in a movie theater where you actually experience that [twist] or whatever. I actually don't think it ruins the movie to know about it, you know?