Freitag, 12. Juni 2015

Hot Pursuit

On paper, putting Gloria from "Modern Family" and the legally blonde Elle Woods in a female odd-couple action comedy sounds like a no-brainer. So it's disheartening, stupendous almost, to witness something as entirely inept and punchless as "Hot Pursuit".

Plenty of stuff happens in the movie, from the personality clash between an uptight cop (Witherspoon) and the sassy mafia trophy wife she's supposed to escort to safety (Vergara), their bumpy trip through various assassination attempts, all the way to the uncovering of police corruption and the development of supposed character arcs complete with backstories and a twist. Whether one can call all that plotting, though, is not clear. The whole thing, down to its very last detail, feels so blandly formulaic it might as well be regurgitated from the dozens of similarly-themed films we've had over the years.

The two leads, both accomplished comediennes, fare poorly on this thankless job. Vergara's natural charm and fiery persona come off gratingly shrill in a heavily caricatured role where she has trouble flaunting her curves while keeping up with the one-liners. Witherspoon, who has charisma and comedic timing to spare, seems curiously uncommitted to this performance. The blend of overzealous quirks and straight-faced goofiness she comes up with is so affected it misses every mark. Also just on a physical level, her posture and movements are never convincing as those of a dedicated policewoman. Even more damaging is perhaps the painfully obvious fact that these two women share zero on-screen chemistry from the get-go. Their comedies never gel, nor does their pairing click at any point, leaving us with so much loud, unfunny shtick it made a movie not even 90 minutes long a certifiably grueling sit.          

Interview: Gerd Conradt (Une jeunesse Allemande (A German Youth))

(Originally appeared in EXBERLINER on Jun. 11 , 2015)

Can you talk about your relationship to the film?

Well, it was an intensive one. The director [Jean-Gabriel Périot] came to me about five years ago and said he wanted to make a film on Holger Meins. I, of course, went to the DFFB (German Film and Television Academy Berlin) with Meins and had already made a film about him: "Starbuck – Holger Meins". So the director asked me where he could find archive material on this subject. Six months later, when he had seen everything and had more questions, we met again. In this way I supported him through the making of the film. On the one hand I was a historical witness, on the other hand I was someone who knew his way around the archives, particularly on this subject.
What was your first reaction when a French filmmaker came to you for this project?

I was surprised. I thought it would be difficult for him to bring another RAF film to the market and to get funding from German TV broadcasters or other organisations. Then I thought it could be an interesting idea, because he had a completely different point of view.

Until now he had made mostly short films and tended to be experimental in his approach. So I actually expected him to use maybe just a small amount of imagery from this time period and put them together in an experimental way, like a musician who composes a piece with a motif.

And how was your reaction when you first saw the film?

When I saw the film properly for the first time at the Berlinale, I cried. I saw so many acquaintances and friends who have passed away, people like Ulrike Meinhof, Holger Meins, Gudrun Ensslin – wonderful people who were just chasing after an idea. That made me very sad. The film made no explicit statement at the end. It just let it be. So for me it's interesting to see how people who haven't experienced these events would react to the film. People to whom it's all ancient history, like the first World War or the Weimar Republic to me. Or the GDR to the younger generation. Therein I definitely see the film's value.

As a filmmaker yourself, what do you think of Périot's approach?

It's quite radical. It's an attempt to create a portrait of an era solely out of archival materials.  I also find it interesting that he uses a mixture of documentaries and narrative features. He also confronts us Germans with the fact that we have such a rich reserve of materials in the archives. Over, say 60 years, our television has collected so much footage on everything that we actually don't need to shoot anything new. He had to put in a lot of work just to sort through all that, find what he needed and watch it all.

Can you still learn something new about the history of the RAF by watching a film like this?

I think you definitely learn something new about this time period as a whole, not just the RAF people. In the movie there's a snippet of a film I made, in color. When I saw it, I thought to myself: "We were quite a crazy bunch back then!" Very courageous and experimental too. A lot of what people thought about, they also just went ahead and did it. We thought: "Oh, we should go have a demonstration today." And we would just do it. We'd make and distribute flyers. Before you knew it, the marchers would be there already. There was no internet, no cell phones, but there were other ways of communication and there was this readiness to act. The film also shows the creativity of the generation back then. So I think it's not just about the RAF, but also about that time.

When you see Ulrike Meinhof on this talkshow, for example, you can tell all the other guys were astonished by this attractive, intelligent young woman who was so eloquent about her clear, militant ideas. She'd just sit there and smoke! The film really says something about Germany back then.

Do you think people nowadays talk about the RAF too much or too little?

I think people are too fixated on a few RAF figures. There was the extra-parliamentary opposition movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the beginnings of the feminist movement, and the discussions about the justice system. It was completely different back then how one could get arrested and be held in police custody. We had to learn about all these institutions and about how the state worked. We learned that we all had rights, and that we needed to exercise these rights to defend ourselves.    

Donnerstag, 4. Juni 2015

Roundtable interview: Melissa McCarthy (Spy)

(Originally appeared in EXBERLINER on Jun. 3 , 2015)

It's both an action movie and a comedy. How did the director juggle the different tones? 

Paul [Feig] is a freak for action. He once wanted to be a stuntman. He can still do front-flips and is always doing these crazy stuff with the stunt guys – in his suit! But it's part of what's great about Paul – he has no "should-button". He works on pure instincts, and luckily I think his instincts, aesthetics and humour are really good.

How does it feel to be the star in a spy movie where, people like Jason Statham and Jude Law play, as Jason himself put it, the “dumb fuck”?

It's pretty great! We had a blast making it. That was a fun group of people. And I mean, sometimes people are like "How strange to have a female spy!" And I was like "You know there are female spies!" All through the film, I actually talked to a woman who did that job, which I thought was really interesting. Even the crazier outfits that I picked out, like the grey, short wig and the cat, she's like: "That's pretty accurate." The thing is, when you pick out disguises, they shouldn't be glamorous. You just want to blend in, become nothing.  

Do you think we've arrived in the era of female comedians? 

I hope so. I'm just fighting for good characters. At the moment, I'm lucky that I get to fight to make these women real, smart – and flawed. I always want a flawed character. I don't think I'd know how to play someone who has no flaws, I wouldn't know how to make them interesting, or real. If you don't make female characters interesting, then they're not interesting to watch. And then people say "Women aren't that funny in films." Well, not when you write these lame, perfect characters!

You get more and more foul-mouthed in the movie, to the point of bringing a grown man to tears. Why is it so funny to see you being verbally abusive?

I don't know. I'm not that way in real life, for the record. Paul loves to make me swear. For me, I loved the inner turmoil of the character Susan, who doesn't speak like that but has to fake it and be believable. I love that kind of push-and-pull. And Paul always just stands by the side and goes "Swear more!" when I'm like "There's no swear word on Earth that I haven't said." And I don't know why that's so satisfying, but I get all of that out at work, which is really cathartic, and I don't do it in life, luckily.

You shared many scenes with Miranda Hart, who's a celebrated British comedic actress. Did you notice any difference in your approach to comedy?

She's also a celebrated dramatic actress, she's just great across the board. If she ever had a funny line, I was like "For the love of God, tell me. I would like to steal all of your good ideas." She's really good with getting so much out of not overplaying it. By just staying in that flustered character, she gets so much out of it.

Who's your favourite spy character?

Besides Susan Cooper? I'm a Bond fan but I really love all of them, like the Jason Bourne movies. I get totally wrapped up in that kind of stuff, the action and suspense of it. But the Bond films are fun because they're so campy in a way. I remember when I was a kid, I was always like "He doesn't even fight that much!" He's always in a tux and getting a drink. I love them for their style.

68. Cannes Film Festival

Personal highlights from the 32 movies I saw at the 68th Cannes Film Festival:

Best film: "聶隱娘 (The Assassin)"
Runner-up: "Cemetery of Splendour"
honorable mentions: "The Lobster", "Carol", "Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (My Golden Years)"

Soldiers sleep and goddesses come out to play as the boundary between this world and the next blurs in "Cemetery of Splendour" (u.l.); the conservative times of 50's America don't make it easy for an innocent shopgirl who falls for a married socialite and mother in "Carol" (u.r.); a young woman trained to kill in 9th century China realizes she still hasn't mastered the ways of the heart in "聶隱娘 (The Assassin)" (central); memories of that one special girl haunt a Frenchman with the intensity and bittersweetness of first love in "Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (My Golden Years)" (l.l.); finding a partner has never been such a matter of life-and-death as in the dystopian future of "The Lobster" (l.r.)

Best director: 侯孝賢 (Hou Hsiao-Hsien) ("聶隱娘 (The Assassin)")
Runner-up: Apichatpong Weerasethakul ("Cemetery of Splendour")
honorable mentions: Yorgos Lanthimos ("The Lobster"), Todd Haynes ("Carol"), László Nemes ("Saul fia (Son of Saul)")

Best lead actor: Benicio Del Toro ("Sicario")
Runner-up: Jesuthasan Antonythasan ("Dheepan")
honorable mentions: Vincent Lindon ("La loi du marché (The Measure of a Man)"), Harvey Keitel ("Youth"), Michael Caine ("Youth")

(top to bottom) Mysterious consultant leading an elite US government task force to crack down Mexican drug cartels may have an agenda of his own in "Sicario"; former Sri Lankan freedom fighter finds refuge in France but must resort to his old skills as deadly violence breaks out again in "Dheepan"; middle-aged man fights for his livelihood and dignity as the world looks on with fatal nonchalance in "La loi du marché (The Measure of a Man)"; a retired conductor and a once-prominent director retreat to the luxurious seclusion of a Swiss hotel only to be confronted with the regrets of their lifetimes in "Youth" 

Best lead actress: Rooney Mara ("Carol")
Runner-up: Lou Roy-Lecollinet ("Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (My Golden Years)")
honorable mentions: Kirin Kiki ("あん (An)"), Cate Blanchett ("Carol"), Marion Cotillard ("Macbeth")

Best supporting actor: Josh Brolin ("Sicario")
Runner-up: Ben Whishaw ("'The Lobster")
honorable mentions: Patrick Stewart ("Green Room"), Guillaume Gouix ("Les anarchistes"), Sean Harris ("Macbeth")

Best supporting actress: Olivia Colman ("The Lobster")
Runner-up: Sarah Paulson ("Carol")
honorable mentions: Jane Fonda ("Youth"), Léa Seydoux ("The Lobster"), Angeliki Papoulia ("The Lobster")

Best screenplay: "The Lobster"
Runner-up: "Inside Out"
honorable mentions: "Carol", "Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (My Golden Years)", "Dheepan"

Best editing: "聶隱娘 (The Assassin)" 
Runner-up: "Cemetery of Splendour"
honorable mentions: "Green Room", "Saul fia (Son of Saul)", "The Lobster"

Best cinematography: "聶隱娘 (The Assassin)"
Runner-up: Saul fia (Son of Saul)
honorable mentions: "Cemetery of Splendour", "Sicario", "Tale of Tales"

The imminence of death and the desperate urgency of surviving Ausschwitz recreated with terrifying immediacy and vividness in "Saul fia (Son of Saul)" (top); ethereal beauty and Gothic spook blended on an eye-popping tapestry of bloom and blood in "Tale of Tales" (left); the quiet hum of afterlife captured on expertly composed, seductively neon-lit imagery in "Cemetery of Splendour" (bottom); deadly terrain of the Mexican drug empire shot with equal mystique and menace that mark the human intrigue at play in "Sicario" (right); the art of colors and shadows elevated to the level of distilled poetry in "聶隱娘 (The Assassin)" (central) 

Best art direction: "Tale of Tales"
Runner-up: "Youth"
honorable mentions: "聶隱娘 (The Assassin)", "Cemetery of Splendour", "Carol"

Best costume design: "Tale of Tales"
Runner-up: "Carol"
honorable mentions: "Macbeth", "Youth", "聶隱娘 (The Assassin)"

Best film music: "聶隱娘 (The Assassin)"
Runner-up: "Tale of Tales"
honorable mentions: "Sicario", "Carol", "Dope"

Best musical number: group dance in "Cemetery of Splendour"
Runner-up: "Perfidia" by Cristina Alfaiate in "As mil e uma noites - Volume 3, o encantado (Arabian Nights - Volume 3, The Enchanted One)"
honorable mention: silent rave in "The Lobster", "Reality" by The Retrosettes Sister Band in "Youth", final rap by Shameik Moore in "Dope"

You'd stare too at this gloriously bizarre and endlessly joyous spectacle near the end of "Cemetery of Splendour" (u.l.); Léa Seydoux doesn't just lead an army of loners but has a penchant for techno music as well in "The Lobster" (l.l.); delicious indie pop served with chilled Alpine air carefully savored from all sides in "Youth" (u.r.); no need to see when Princess Scheherazade opens her mouth to sing that timeless, wondrous tune in "As mil e uma noites - Volume 3, o encantado (Arabian Nights - Volume 3, The Enchanted One)" (central r.); protest, rant, celebration all in one smashing, uproarious, proudly black closing performance in "Dope" (l.r.)     

Best sound: "Sicario"
Runner-up: "Saul fia (Son of Saul)"
honorable mentions: "Green Room", "Dheepan", "Tale of Tales"

Mittwoch, 3. Juni 2015

Roundtable interview: 趙濤 (Zhao Tao) (山河故人 (Mountains May Depart))

(Originally appeared in The Film Stage on Jun. 1 , 2015)

Some call "Mountains May Depart" Mr. Jia’s love letter to you.

I don’t see it that way. "Mountains May Depart" has actually been on his list of films to make for over a decade. The project just never came to be. When he told me he was going to make this movie last year, he described to me in very simple terms that it’s a love story spanning 26 years. Which meant of course that I’d be playing someone from her twenties to her fifties. This prospect really excited me. As an actress I think it’s a great fortune to come upon a role who lives through such a long period of time. It allows such breadth in a performance.

Was it a bigger challenge for you to play the younger or the older version of the character?

I think the hardest part was to put all three stages of this character side by side in one movie. In the 1999 segment, I had to come across as this guileless young girl. When she’s in her forties, I must look like a mother who’s already been through a lot. And in her fifties, I wanted to make the audience see an aged but happy lady. The character must seem real at every stage. Only when you can buy into her, would you be able to buy into her story. That has been the biggest challenge for me.

How did you go about achieving this goal?

To achieve that goal, I concentrated on many little details. For the 1999 segment, I conjured up and maximized the innocence in me. Act a little spoiled, let out squeals, break into running abruptly… When Jinsheng’s car was trashed, my character’s only response was: “Everything all right?” Watching it, I had to laugh and think: “What a foolish girl.”

In the segment 2014, this woman has just had the most painful experiences of her life. She lost her father and had to make a decision on the custody of her child, which she eventually gave up. At this time of emotional hardship, we’re looking at an entirely different person than the one from her youth. My hope was that the audience would be struck by their first look at this familiar but also new character, that they could tell this is somebody who has lived. To this end, I chose big, long hair for her look and had no make-up on. I hoped that, with all the spots and wrinkles plainly exposed on the big screen, it would be a face that touches you, one that tells a story; that when you see a face like this, you could feel the existence of the character. I also lowered my voice during this part of the story.

To give you an example of how I perceived the inner landscape of Tao: the scene where Liand’s sick and I went to visit him featured the same location with the same people, only 15 years have passed. Both then middle-aged and perhaps no longer sharing any romantic feelings for each other, but their friendship and their common past still bound them. So when Liand said; “I hope this is not asking too much of you,” my character replied; “No, it’s the least I can do.” The scene really moved me as I was playing it. I think this is what life and humanity is about. So the presence of Liand brought further complications to Tao’s emotional state in 2014, which ultimately led her to forego child custody.
Or the scene where she was standing by the river with her son and telling him; “Mom can’t give you much. It’s better for you to stay with your father.” That was a difficult scene to shoot because we were near a bridge with a lot of traffic we had no control over and I had to be in that complicated state. After the first day of shooting, I was not satisfied with my performance. On the second day, I finally sank into that feeling. I realized that, even though the lines weren’t long or epic, those were the hardest words for a mother to say. At the same time, she didn’t want to show her child the pain she was feeling. She wanted to keep up this strong, independent appearance in front of him.

For the segment of 2025, I took off my contact lenses. In my fuzzy view of the world, the sense of distance felt right to me for playing somebody that age, where you still see things, but not that clearly anymore. I also shrunk my eyes a little to portray the light aversion, hunched my back and dragged my steps a bit. But above all, I wanted to portray an old lady who’s happy and content. Even though she’s had a lot of misfortune and is now living in solitude, I wanted her to have a smile on her face. So in this whole late segment of the film, we see a smiling old lady, walking her dog in the snow, who suddenly hears a familiar melody from the past and can’t help but break into a dance. For that dance scene, my instruction from the director was simply “Stop crying”. Actually he was already shedding tears behind the camera when we were shooting the happy dance scene for the 1999 segment. So he knew that, after playing this character through these stages of her life, I would definitely be touched by the final dance sequence. And indeed, for the first couple of days, the tears just kept pouring out of me in the middle of the scene despite all my attempts at restraint. Through that final dance, as simply choreographed as it was, I hoped to convey all the joy, pain and loneliness of a woman’s life.

The movie seemed to really strike a chord with the Cannes audience.

On the night of the Cannes premiere, I watched the film on the big screen for the first time just like everybody else. I think the audience responded to it because this movie is about emotions that we’ve all experienced before or will experience at some point. It’s about something universal that we can all relate to.

You’ve worked with Mr. Jia Zhangke on many films by now. Was it any different this time around? 

The biggest difference this time – which I really appreciated – was that he finally shot the movie by the script. It never used to be that way. Usually he would only give me an outline of the story or the character and we would start filming. On "Still Life", for example, there was simply no time for screenwriting because houses were being torn down every day. So he would only tell me what my character’s name was, her age, what she did etc. We were literally fighting against time on that shoot.

This time around, he was able to shoot the film completely according to script. It was such good news to me, because it gave me plenty of time to prepare. I got to go to Fenyang, sit by the road and observe the people passing by. That I got to experience life in Fenyang was hugely important to my portrayal of this character. Also, I finally had time to discuss my character with the director face to face. It never happened on previous films because he was always too busy with other matters. This time we even had time for rehearsals! It was all just wonderful.

Has pop music, which is prominently featured in the film, informed you of your performance? 

Not really. I grew up learning classical dance in a very conservative environment. We were hardly exposed to any popular entertainment at all. So I never had much impression of pop music. Not until I first became part of Mr. Jia’s team – back in 2000 for "Platform" – did I suddenly realize I’d never heard of all these songs. I’ve only started to learn more about pop music through his films since then.

Some critics have noted that the movie “derailed” in the third part. Did you feel that way while watching it?

I didn’t feel that way. I knew going in that the movie wasn’t evenly divided between its three parts, but watching it at the premiere, I didn’t even notice the disproportion. That detail just completely went past me. For me there was no “derailing” in the third act. What it did was allowing me to imagine how we’ll live 15 years from now.

There are elements of melodrama in the movie. How did you make sure the performance didn’t become melodramatic?

By believing in the feelings of the character, I think. In the first segment, the key to portraying the young Tao is the fact that at she believes in what she feels. There are no ulterior motives to her choices. Back then the living standard was completely different from what we’re used to today. Actually Liand and Jinsheng were equals in 1999. They couldn’t have known that in 15 years’ time, their circumstances would become so drastically different. Tao couldn’t have known that either. She was won over by Jinsheng because he was a proactive guy and cared for her well-being, helping her get the CD back in time, for example. I think all young girls would be touched by such gestures. So I believe in her feelings.

Do you see Mr. Jia in the characters of the movie? It’s conspicuously set in Fenyang again. 

Not really. I understand why all his films are set in Fenyang. I also grew up in the Shanxi province. Our hometowns are about 1.5 hours apart by car. His description of Fenyang, the city, the people, the mentality, how it looks and sounds, all strikes me as authentic. He chooses Fenyang as background for his movies also because he has so many memories there.

Roundtable interview: 賈樟柯 (Jia Zhangke) (山河故人 (Mountains May Depart))

(Originally appeared in The Film Stage on Jun. 1 , 2015)

Some are calling Mountains May Depart your most ambitious project to date.

I think it might actually be the least ambitious film I’ve made so far. At the same time, I would also call it the most intimate. It’s the film that speaks to my own emotions and experiences the most closely since "Platform". Most of my other films like "Still Life" dealt with societal changes and what they meant for individuals, whereby the existence of the individuals was always on the line, so their personal feelings only played a minor role.

As time went by, I entered my forties and have accumulated more and more memories. With it came the urge to tell a story that’s more about my emotions. And I also needed to tell this story at this stage of my life, because it probably won’t describe how I feel when I’m in my fifties.

As you just said, this is an emotionally-driven movie, but did you intend to make certain comments on the Chinese society through it as well? 

Individuals still exist within the context of society – I’m not making a fantasy film that’s completely separated from reality. Every person is at once his own self and a member of a larger community. The character Jinsheng, for example, is someone driven by the need to become rich. Tao is a woman with her own background who gets caught between two different types of guys. When I approach their love story, I also try to offer some thoughts on the value system reflected therein, like the materialistic way in which our mind works these days. Take me as an example: I’m always busy working and don’t spend much time with my mother. Whenever I do get to see her, I compensate by giving her money before promptly leaving again. I regretted doing that and finally brought my mother over to live with me in Beijing, because I’ve come to realize that money is not of the essence, time is. This is the kind of sad realization I gained with age, and I wanted to project that into this film. So Tao forgoes custody rights of her son because she thinks he’d be better off with his father for his wealth. But where does that reasoning leave her? She ends up alone and her son grows up not even able to speak his mother tongue.

What I also wanted to talk about in the film are the basic human conditions that we all go through, from life, sickness, accidents to death. So Tao gives birth, Liand falls ill, Tao loses her father and, notably, everybody ages. These are all life’s lessons; lessons you start to learn once you hit middle age. My first major lesson was the death of my father when I was 36. Before then, such a thing didn’t even cross my mind – just like in the 1999 segment of the film, when everyone is young and alive, notions of pain and misfortune seem simply inconceivable. But the movie wouldn’t be what it is if one only looks at this segment. Instead it moves forward in time. where everything changes. And as time goes by, the decisions we make based on materialistic reasons might lead to even more regrettable outcomes in the future, as foretold by the 2025 segment.

There are voices in the Chinese media which criticize you for overselling the “Chinese element” with this movie; others find the subplot of the teacher-student affair a bit too sensationalistic. How would you respond to such criticism?

I am a Chinese director, so there’s no separating my work from the so-called “Chinese element.” Even when I travel to Australia to film [the 2025 segment], it’s still very much a Chinese picture. As for the latter criticism, I think it speaks right to the point I was trying to make, namely the question of personal liberty. Can you still stay hopeful and find romance when you turn old? There are many restrictions posed upon us in life. Are we allowed to love someone much older or younger? Can we love someone of the same sex? It’s all a matter of liberty.

What are the reasons for the prominent use of music in this movie?

It’s true that I haven’t used so much music in a film since "Still Life". One reason is the overall lower density of dialogue. For this movie, I didn’t want the characters to talk too much. I wanted more open space in which to develop the contour of these characters. For example, the opening dance number shows a body language of the young Tao that’s drastically different from when she’s in her fifties, chopping vegetables and walking her dog. I find this visual contrast more striking than words. And music happens to be a good support for these non-verbal sequences. Also, I think music brings out those feelings you know are there but can’t put into words.

Some observers say the reason for the international popularity of your films is that they deal with the changes in the Chinese society. Do you see it that way?

I think in order for a movie to be appreciated, it ultimately needs to be an aesthetic creation. Who would care for a film depicting a lot of social realities but devoid of a sense of aesthetics? If my movies have appealed to an international audience, I hope it’s because on a substantial level, they bring the contemporary Chinese experience to the big screen, and that at the same time, they have an artistic quality to them.

There’s a considerable amount of English dialogue in the movie. Has that been a challenge?

The way I approached it was I first wrote the dialogue in Chinese, which I then had translated by a British film critic. When we first began shooting this part of the film, I’d listen carefully and make sure every word was pronounced correctly. After a while, I realized you only needed to listen to the rhythm of speech. It’s the same with Chinese dialogue. If an actor messes up a line, the rhythm is definitely off. When they get it right, the rhythm would naturally sound good. From there it all went smoothly and English ceased to be a problem. These past days, I was even approached to direct English-language films, which I’d like to try someday.

Did you have to make any compromise filming this movie?

No. I’ve been making films for 17 years now and have never made any compromises.

Dienstag, 2. Juni 2015

Roundtable interview: Jesuthasan Antonythasan & Kalieaswari Srinivasan (Dheepan)

(Originally appeared in The Film Stage on Jun. 1 , 2015)

How was your reaction when you first saw the film?

Antonythasan: It was obviously an emotional, happy moment. I was doubly happy because, for the past 20 years, I’ve been writing about the struggles in Sri Lanka. So it’s really great to see that, through this film, those stories have found an international platform and can now reach more people.

When you saw the film, was it just like how you imagined it to be or were there differences?

Antonythasan: I’d read the script of course. And it’s a Jacques Audiard movie, so I pretty much knew what to expect.

Srinivasan: Yes, it’s the same because we had the script, but I also think it has evolved in a very subtle way that surprised us all in the movie. It was a very organic process which happened during the shoot and the period before that. To me personally, I discovered more about my character when I saw her on the big screen.

Did the conflict in your countries help you prepare for your performances? 

Srinivasan: I’m Indian, not Sri Lankan, so I have not experienced war in my life. To me, both the Sri Lankan and the European backgrounds of this film were totally new. There’s nothing I could relate to or have lived through. I knew about the conflict in Sri Lanka because I lived in Chennai, which shares a political history with Sri Lanka. I’ve grown up with the news but have never been a part of it. So I could never say I know the pain, the grief, the conflict. That’s why the way I approached and created the character with Jacques has been different.

Antonythasan: There are a lot of similarities between the character’s life and my life. I was also in the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), I’m also a political refugee, I also lost a lot of family members in the war. I have been in the same situations as the character. So I’ve been able to use my life experience for the character and the acting, as I was able to imagine what the character’s thinking, feeling or what his intentions were.

Where do you call home now? Are you still in danger because of your past and current activities?

Antonythasan: It’s been 25 years since I left Sri Lanka. I’ve been a political refugee in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, before coming to France 22 years ago. When I first came to France, there were certain dangers from the side of the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, because I was writing against both of them. Since the end of the war in 2009, there are no more threats from the LTTE. However, there may still be threats from the Sri Lankan government. That’s why the refugee status I have in France strictly prohibits me from traveling back to Sri Lanka, for my own safety.

Do you see your experiences as a refugee often reflected in movies?

Antonythasan: I don’t really remember seeing movies like this. There’s the Hollywood film "The Terminal" and some French-speaking African films that I’ve watched which kind of reflected my experiences, but it’s quite rare.

How do you feel about being in a male-dominated film?

Srinivasan: You can take it in any way, but are we not in a male-dominated world? And I see my character Yalini — not because it was me who played it — as the life force in the family. The movie, to me, is more about the relationship between the three main characters. She’s kind of steering and bringing life in their fake family, in her own way. So… it came as a surprise to me when you described the film as male-dominated.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the film for you?

Srinivasan: There were a couple of scenes where I needed to not just cry but go much deeper. Only then would it be true to the character of Yalini. To achieve that, you must let go, be naked and bare your soul to let the character take over. These soulfully demanding scenes, were, more than the physical stuff, the hardest part for me.

How did you work on the chemistry between the two of you?

Srinivasan: It just happened. The first time we had an improvisation, I didn’t know him much and vice versa, but we just clicked.

I gathered that your livelihood comes from your writing. Can you make a good living as a Tamil author?

Antonythasan: I’ve been writing for 20 years now. I’ve written about 15 books and novels but I’ve never really earned anything from my writing. I only spent a lot of money on publishing. There aren’t a lot of Tamil readers. Even the best Tamil authors get only 1200 copies published. For my livelihood I do various kinds of odd jobs.

There aren’t many French movies about the Tamil community. Do you hope this film will open a new discussion in the French society about the Tamil community?

Antonythasan: Yes. A lot of people here don’t even know why there’s a Sri Lankan refugee community in France. They just don’t understand why these people are here, especially when Sri Lanka has never been a French colony. So in some small way, this movie does help clarify a few things. Today, there are still about 20,000-30,000 stateless Tamil refugees in France.

As an author yourself, was it hard for you to be the actor and have no say in what the story should be about?

Antonythasan: Well, the story was better than what I could have written, so no complaints there.

What opportunities do you have as an Indian actress to break into western movies?

Srinivasan: I honestly don’t know. I do wish to work more in movies now that I have my first film credit. To me it doesn’t matter which part of the world it is, but I’d really like to continue working as a film actress.

Roundtable interview: Jacques Audiard (Dheepan)

(Originally appeared in The Film Stage on Jun. 1 , 2015)

How did this project start for you? 

[whistles, pointing to right] This is my screenwriter (Noé Debré).

It didn’t start with the director?

Sure, but if a director talks, the screenwriter remembers the conversation.

What drew you to the project?

It’s probably the guy who sells roses at cafés. When you send them off, you don’t look at them, but they do have their own stories. That’s what we’re telling here.

Why did you choose the civil war in Sri Lanka as background for the film?

I’d say the film is about war in general. Noé [Debré] was the one who chose the location of Sri Lanka. In France, we hardly ever hear anything about the war over there.

Debré: There’s something very striking for us in Europe, specifically in France, about this subject matter. Ours is a very diverse population. In Paris you meet a lot of Sri Lankans – no, actually you don’t meet them, you just see them. You have no idea what their stories are. They are not represented in cinema, at least not in French cinema, or even in western cinema, especially not in genre movies. That’s what made the prospect interesting to me. Immediately you think, there’s going to be pictures that we’ve never seen before.

This is no doubt a very human story. Do you see it as a political film as well?

The film’s not political because it deals with the projects or immigrants. It’s political in the sense that it’s a French production with unknown, non-professional Tamil actors, co-produced by French national television. To me this fact is politically significant. And also just the fact that it shows how we live today in France, with faces that are not necessarily familiar because they’re from different parts of the world.

This film is also about how a fictional family becomes a real family.

I do think the real subject of the film is the family. And if you look at that family from a distance, you realize the film also becomes a comedy in a way, like a comedy about marriages. From there you arrive at a truth that’s even better than ordinary truths. In a way, the comedy supports the whole narration. The rest of it, like the depiction of the projects, is just background. It’s like making a film about the vigilantes by way of romantic comedy.

What often happens with your films is that, one thinks they’re watching a certain kind of movie, only to finds out later that it’s something completely different. 

I’m not necessarily aware of that, nor is it something I try to do deliberately. But I do realize that there’s a structure in screenwriting and a way of shaping the story that’s recurring in my films because it’s effective. The genre element, for example, is an effective means of storytelling, but there are people who take genre too literally and they end up making bad movies. It’s a matter of balance. Having too much action in an action movie can be counterproductive.

I recently re-watched "Straw Dogs" and I was very disappointed. I didn’t like it anymore. It aged in a bad way. It’s far from being the best Peckinpah film. I thought it was the perfect film but it’s not.

The depiction of the projects in the film is quite shocking. Were you going for a realistic portrayal or an exaggerated version? 

It’s a reflection and, as such, an exaggeration. It’s a stylized portrait of what is, at least from the point of the view of the characters – the idea of the film is that we see the majority of the events through the characters’ eyes. In cinema there’s no such thing as an objective view anyway.

Do you think there’s a moral code within the world of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)?

I wouldn’t be able to say. I know that it belongs to a completely different culture that’s very structured and has ancient myths. I know that the LTTE are fighters. They’re an army which has killed a lot people. Yesterday I also learned that Antony (lead actor Jesuthasan Antonythasan) was a leftist-communist, a Guevarist.

Can you talk about the choice of music for the film? 

The song Dheepan sings in the film is the actual hymn of the LTTE fighters. The other Tamil songs were chosen by Antony. As for the rest of the score, it was composed by Nicolas Jaar, an American-Chilean musician. I wanted him to also use classical tones and notes, which is why we had the Vivaldi piece.

Many European directors presented English-language films at this year’s festival. Will you also consider doing one? 

I’m no doubt the first French director to work in Tamil. [laughter] And that would be my answer to your question.

How important is the fact that your main actor has actually lived through the Sri Lankan warfare? 

You should ask him that question. For me it wasn’t an essential factor. I only found out that he used to be a fighter afterwards. In some respects it was good that he brought with him this experience, because he could provide me with details like the correct names of the places etc. Otherwise it wasn’t important.

Is it true that you’re inspired by Montesquieu’s The Persian Letters?

What Montesquieu asked was how to be a person. It was a great question that certainly interested me.

You have worked with both established actors and non-professional actors. Did you notice any difference and do you have a preference?

After “A Prophet” I became more and more inclined to work with non-professional actors because, first of all, I don’t know their faces. Also, allow me to exaggerate a little bit here, when a professional actor gives a bad performance, it’s just plain bad; whereas you can often still get something out of a bad performance by a non-professional actor. Someone who does things that you haven’t seen before can always surprise.

Your films tend to have a happy ending. Did you find it justified or necessary in this case?

In a script, you often have two endings. One is the ending of the characters, one the ending of the story. Often they don’t coincide, which is why you have epilogues or additional scenes in films. In this case, the end of the story is of course the violent fight and the end of the characters is the episode in the UK. To me that episode also functions as a vision of Dheepan, of this tranquil, quiet happiness.

You mentioned at the press conference yesterday that the film rejected many things by its very nature. 

Yes, the film rejected every attempt at aestheticization, for example, both in terms of using special lighting and narrative tricks. I could actually make a catalog of the things I said no to. Simply put, whatever went beyond the point of view of the characters was uncalled-for, because it would be excessive. When you think about it, this is really a film from the point of view of the three main characters. That doesn’t change throughout the film.

When you choose new project, do you look back on what you’ve done already and go for something vastly different?

I’ve only made seven films in over 20 years, which is not a lot. What I know is that every film meant something to me. I’m sure if you ask John Ford what he’d learned between his 68th and 69th films, he’d be puzzled and surprised by the question as well. For me, it’s always about looking for something that makes me question and re-examine what I thought I knew, but I can’t really specify what triggers the inspirations in me.