Mike Goodridge of Screen International moderated a panel discussion with Golden Globe nominees for Best Foreign Language Film Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, Italy), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Biutiful, Spain/Mexico), Susanne Bier (In a Better World, Denmark) and Aleksei Uchitel (The Edge, Russia), hosted by the American Cinematheque at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre. The only no-show was Radu Mihaileanu (The Concert, France). Bier, Inarritu and Uchitel's films were also submitted by their countries for Oscar consideration (nominees will be announced January 25). Sophia Savage reports:
The panelists covered their experience as international filmmakers, working with actors, why they are drawn to certain subject matter, and the reception of their films worldwide. While they all agreed that their countries' politicians were not likely to have seen their films (they're "assholes," according to Inarritu), the four filmmakers differed on several points. While Guadagnino considered the community of directors a "brotherhood," Bier unabashedly responded: "What about women?"
Fest veteran In a Better World will screen at Sundance this January, Biutiful began a limited release on December 31 after playing the global circuit, as did I Am Love, which opened last June, The Edge is yet to open in the U.S., and The Concert had a limited release last summer. One will be awarded the Golden Globe this Sunday evening, January 16.
Below, twelve smart lessons from four different yet relevant voices in global cinema:
1. Inarritu considers himself to be a global communicator:
"I feel [I am a] privileged filmmaker as part of [the] world community of filmmakers who are lucky enough to explore other realities. I'm very curious as a person. I observe, through the otherness, to explain myself better…The world we are living in now, [it is]complex, it's hard to brand and put nationality [onto] a film…[the film is] kind of an orgy, so then it's 'whose is the child?'…I don't know if it's extremely important to find a nationality. It should be universal. Like painters: When it's a Spanish painter painting in Paris with Italian materials, do you ask where that painting is from?"
2. Basic human nature is the same all over the world:
Bier: "I'm interested in the recognition of a world, not just being national but global, and somehow addressing how the two worlds play together, and influence each other; you can't separate them. The vast outside world blurs into your own world. That has been important and interesting to me. With In a Better World, this has a more integral part [than in After The Wedding]. Part of the whole notion of the film has to do with asking if we, in our privileged world - [are] alway looking for the threat to come from outside, or can it come from within? Our world is not that protected. The circumstances are different…but the basic human nature is not different."
3. Inarritu defends his expensive shooting style:
"I shot the film in chronological order, and that's absurd and expensive. But it is a strategy I regret not [using with my other films]. In Babel and 21 Grams I mapped a lot. [It was a] very intellectual process in the beginning. But what I am more interested in is the emotional impact, more than the structure. To make [a film that way, chronologically] is a lottery as a way to invest my money, for me and the actors, it's important to be navigating emotionally. That gave me freedom to improvise and shape things. Because chronologically, I am understanding the film. I am shaping the film as I am doing it, and it's a great tool for me to play on the set. And I have been lucky to work with different actors that come from different schools. I try to understand them and help them express themselves better in their own way."
4. Bier likes to change her mind:
Bier: "I think I work in a very opposite way than these other directors. I like when a film doesn't film in continuity, when there is something arbitrary. I change a lot during shooting, take out scenes, rewrite scenes. It has alway seemed important to have a space of unknown. And likewise, working with actors, I talk with them and work with them up to a point. I rehearse on the day, not in advance. I rehearse on the day for a few hours, starting on the set with the cast and just a few essential crew members, no one else. We go through the scenes and [sometimes] change them radically. We usually [in the end] move back to what is scripted, but some things are always different. It is a thorough build up. [The actors and I] talk about things, but we don't like to know everything [in advance]. There has to be that romantic element of the unknown."
5. Guadagnino does not want to make "imbred" movies:
"I have a fascination with Russian culture. I like the idea of contamination of places, identities. We had a crew that was French, Spanish, Brazillian, etc., otherwise we make imbred movies…[On his approach to Milan] I think that I was gentler, because I am fascinated. I wanted to be recognized by the bourgeoisie, even though I have upbringing to make me aware of the consequences of their actions. We are beyond decadence there. It's great to see how people want everything to stay the same, and to see and understand why they want it to stay the same."
6. The problems depicted in Uchitel's film are relevant today:
"When I was making this film I wanted this film to project something that was contemporary, to find the emotions which play with today. I was always interested in the subject with people who speak different languages, who at once start to kill each other. The great historical thing, people who were taken to Germany as forced labor, etc, they were sent back to Russia into those circumstances you see in the film. The combination of the Russian soldier and the German girl who is at the losing side, the combination of those two characters is very interesting. Our film, at least I can remember four languages spoken. It is important to understand the problem is contemporary--why we hate each other?"
7. Bier relies on her "bullshit detector":
"I don't know if I like the term 'melodrama.' If you keep asking questions like 'what if, what if, what if'…and I have always been extremely sensitive to: 'is this for real? Would he really walk through the door that way?' Sometimes even the most brilliant actors will be too prepared. Once you feel the beats, it's over, it doesn't work, it becomes melodramatic. I'd had that extreme detector of 'do I trust it?' I think as human beings we develop it in life [A "bullshit detector?"]…Yes. And we trust it. Once it's honest, it can't be melodramatic."
8. Inarritu thinks melodrama is misunderstood:
"I think melodrama has been corrupted. I think there is a big difference between soap opera and melodrama. There are extreme melodramatic situations all over the world every day. It has to do with cultural expression. It's a cultural way to express emotion and it's different in every territory. One of my biggest fears, in 21 Grams, it was one of the most radioactive materials, Sean [Penn's character] saying to Naomi [Watts' character]: "I have your husband's heart" - this is the most radioactive melodramatic material you will face in our life! How can you not make people laugh? But again, when I was doing those cases I research a lot. It's true, it happens a lot. It's about how you execute it. It's about trust. Less is more. The less they talk, it's just [the combination of] the fact and truth. With Biutiful, I knew, I wanted -- I was dealing with a different territory-- I was on purpose getting to excesses with a guy in free fall, and trying with dignity to stand up to that drama. It's very different from melodrama."
9. Curiosity drives Bier, asking questions:
On her relationship with frequent co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen (In a Better World, Brødre, After The Wedding): "I think all great films are born from one vision. Sometimes it doesn't matter what the vision is, but there has to be that consistency of one vision. I'm a fan of the subconscious moving forward. We usually have the notion or idea, but we usually end up somewhere else. The notion is there at the end, even if it's been transferred. My movies are about asking questions and not suggesting answers. It's about curiosity for the topic matter, thats the main thing. That's what's driving us."
10. Guadagnino's Luchino Visconti references are "obvious":
"I am very humbled by the comparison…I am a movie buff and a cinephile. You can see Visconti because of the obvious references. It's about being obsessive with being knowledgeable about what you want to portray. Otherwise you [end up making] American TV."
11. Tilda Swinton executes ideas:
"I never felt that Tilda was simply an actress. When I speak to her about movies and cinema…it's like talking to another filmmaker…With Tilda, the idea is beyond the movie. We wanted to make a movie about the consequence of your own will in life, and how this love force can change everything. It was there, we knew what we wanted to do. The fun part of the process was going to tea parties with Milanese society…"
12. Filmmakers need to explore what's bothering them:
Uchitel, on films about history: "Russian, etc, it doesn't matter. You have to explore what it really interesting you, what is bothering you. A lot of material that was not known to our people became available. The second World War is the main event in our history, and we won, but the important thing for us is to look at this from the other angle, and to understand what really happened, and this is one of the main goals of Russian cinema makers. I made quite a few documentaries before [becoming a feature film maker], so it was important to me to make it absolutely truthful."