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Cannes First Look: Paul Haggis Talks 'Third Person,' starring Neeson, Wilde, Franco, Kunis

Festivals
by Matt Mueller
May 20, 2013 12:59 PM
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Paul Haggis

Paul Haggis has been quiet since his last outing as writer-director, 2010’s “The Next Three Days,” with only a credit on the videogame "Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" to fill in the gap between then and now. But he turned up in Cannes to beat the publicity drum for "Third Person," a multi-stranded relationship drama he shot last fall in Paris, Rome and Cinecitta Studios.

The film focuses on three couples played by Liam Neeson and Olivia Wilde, James Franco and Mila Kunis, and Adrien Brody and Moran Atias. Neeson’s Michael is a writer struggling to live up to his early success, holed up in Paris working on his latest novel and embarking on an affair with Wilde. Franco portrays a famous artist locked in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife (Kunis), a former soap actress reduced to working as a hotel maid to fund her court case. Brody appears as a shady American businessman who decides to help Atias’ gypsy rescue her daughter from the mob.

We were shown an extended trailer that revealed glimpses of the three strands, while a promotional brochure revealed that Haggis’ narrative intentions are fairly complex, with the stories in "Third Person" “starting to cross and meld in ways that they shouldn’t, until we finally realize that these are all characters that Michael has created as he grapples to deal with an unthinkable secret.”

Corsan, who are selling the film in the Cannes market, have nailed distribution deals for 23 territories, with discussion underway for the US and UK.

Matt Mueller: What are you expressing about relationships with this film?

Paul Haggis: I think we all know they’re impossible. People ask if the film is autobiographical: all these characters are me because they all explore questions that I have about how you survive in a relationship and how you get what you want, or if you ever get what you want. One of the stories is about, 'what if you trust someone who is completely untrustworthy? Do they rise to that by becoming trustworthy? And if you manage to change them into someone that you think you can love, do you no longer love them?' It’s hopeful and depressing at the same time, sort of like life.

What was the inspiration for this film?

I was troubled by living this many years and having the relationships that I’ve had, and failing at them and wondering how one succeeds.

Should we read anything into the fact that the three female characters, played by Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde and Moran Atias, bear a resemblance to each other in that they’re all young and have long, dark brown hair?

It was interesting to see that develop but I really just cast the best actresses. There’s something to be said for that but not what you think.

While the multi-stranded narrative recalls "Crash," the visual style appears very different from your previous films. Is that deliberate?

I think it’s a mistake to impose a style on a movie. Your style should be dictated by the subject matter of the film. "In The Valley Of Elah" looks very different from "Crash," and "Crash" looks very different from this film. I think if you have a director who has a style, you get really bored of that director very quickly.

Was it an expensive film, and why did you choose to set it in Europe?

It wasn’t cheap. It was not nearly as expensive as "The Next Three Days" and a little more expensive than "Crash." The stories were formed here: I write a lot in Europe, and the film is very influenced by Antonioni, Chabrol, Godard, Pasolini… the filmmakers that influenced me when I was a teenager. This is a movie about secrets, and it’s also about the creative process and what you have to kill in order to create. It’s a risky film for me. I’m terrified audiences won’t understand it or like it. When reveal yourself, that’s terrifying. But I’m not happy unless I’m miserable, so I’m thrilled.

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