Posts Tagged ‘Charlotte Rampling’

Barnaby Southcombe – Filmmaker

Barnaby Southcombe’s directorial debut, I, Anna, was released in cinemas last December, with advance showings at the BFI London Film Festival. Now, ahead of the film’s DVD release – on April 8 – we were fortunate enough to speak to man himself about his dark and delectable film noir which stars Charlotte Rampling and Gabriel Byrne, the former of which is the filmmaker’s very own mother.

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We’re now in the wake of your first ever theatrical release – how has the whole experience been? Noticed any dramatic changes in your life since I, Anna came into it?

BS: [Laughs] It’s been an amazing journey to be honest, and not one that I ever quite expected it to be. I think, a bit like your first girlfriend, it’s going to be a voyage of discovery. You know, with releasing a film and it coming out and getting good reviews and some very vitriolic stuff as well, so it’s quite a thing to get your head around, then with the release of the film some reviews that were a lot better and you just understand that the people feel very differently and very passionately about film in a way that, you know, you and I do. We feel very strongly about the films that we like and also the ones that we dislike, so it’s just getting to grips with being on the end of that is a novel one, and that’s come around and it feels like now I’m doing this part of the journey with the DVD release: it’s coming to terms to feeling a bit more acceptant about that. So yeah, it’s good, and very keen to move on now. I’ve followed the film – and it’s still out theatrically and it will be until the end of March in various locations in the UK. I’ve been following it and introducing it and talking with people, so it’s been really good having made the film to see who and where it’s connecting with, and how it’s connecting.

Q: You’ve toured the world with this film having done the festival circuit – that must have been a really fun experience, particularly in seeing how different audiences react to the film?

BS: Absolutely. As you say, it started off with this incredible round of festivals that it did and to see it play in China to what I assumed would be a very small, ex-pat community, but you know, there wasn’t one white person in the cinema and very few of them spoke English, so God knows what the translation was, but there was just this kind of sign-language understanding of appreciation of the film afterwards which was kind of extraordinary, and the same in Russia and stuff. That’s the beauty of the film, is to be able to travel.

Q: The film is certainly influenced by world cinema, with Nordic noir and also the likes of François Truffaut and Jean-Pierre Melville too. Do you think such cultured influences helped in connecting with a worldwide audience?

BS: I dunno, it’s a personal thing isn’t it? I guess what you try and do is feed in to a consciousness of film and then hopefully you bring a new element to it, so you’ve got something which people can relate to: a kind of languid, formal, quite architecturally-framed film, as you say, from Melville and Truffaut, then you add what I felt was this British quality to it. You bring those things together and hopefully you have something fresh but feels familiar at the same time. It has gone down well, it was very well-received in Sydney for example, so yes, in effect, I think that it does help. But it’s difficult, I mean, what did you think of The Master?

I, Anna with Charlotte Rampling and Gabriel Byrne

Q: I loved it – thought it was great.

BS: It’s a difficult one to get though isn’t it? It’s not an easy one, because you’ve got no frame of reference for it. You’re looking at something which is pretty startling and new, and I think it will outlive us all as a result. It’s not the easiest one to get.

Q: In terms of adding a British quality to the film, the original story this is based on was set in America, so was moving it to London a conscious decision, or more logistical?

BS: A conscious one. I liked the premise of the novel and I liked that it was very much about this woman in a very particular time in her life, a very fragile and delicate time in her life and I found that very interesting. Then there’s this cop who becomes involved with this woman, who may or may not have committed a crime. In New York it felt like it had been very well explored and done by far bigger directors, so right from the start I wanted to give it a European flavour and bringing it to London would add that element, this new, fresh element and also keep this European flavour that I was quite keen on.

Q: What do you think it was that attracted you to this story of an older woman?

BS: Very much her. I just found her fascinating, I found these small, emotional journeys that are actually quite epic in their courage and what they have to achieve. Small things that, to the person, becomes these mountains to climb. This idea of being shelved at a certain age, that the rug is pulled from beneath your feet. You feel that you’ve paid your dues, you’ve done everything right and you feel like you can settle, and then bang, you’re thrust out into the world to find yourself again and define yourself through other people’s eyes, and I think that is a kind of scary thing to do and place to be. I don’t see a lot of that in cinema and I felt that it was something I wanted to explore, so I really connected with this older woman I guess. Also the guy as well, that’s what I liked about it, I liked these characters who have so much to give and are definitely more interesting given their life experience, and yet find it more difficult to connect and find companionship.

Q: Did you instantly think about casting your mother – Charlotte Rampling – for the lead role?

BS: It was a lightning bolt for me. I was given the novel by my producer at the time and we were developing something completely different, a teen drama, and we were struggling with the script and he told me about this book he remembered from when he was a teenager that created quite a stir in Germany and told me to have a read to see if it still stands up, and it was very much that, it just seemed absolutely right for her and no-one else. To a certain extent, when I started writing, Gabriel Byrne was the same, I wrote it with both of them in my head, I could hear their voices when writing, and that was the one compromise I wouldn’t make – those two or nothing. I really felt that I hadn’t seen that cinematic pairing and I just knew the chemistry would be great and it was something I wanted to see as a viewer so that was just one thing I wouldn’t have done any other way.

Q: Considering this is your debut feature film, how helpful was it to have people as experienced and talented as Charlotte and Gabriel on set?

BS: Oh it all makes all the difference, it defines us. I have worked a lot on television and worked with some fantastic crews, but I made a conscious decision to work with a new crew. Not because I was unhappy with anyone else but I wanted people to have more film experience than I had and I wanted people to really understand the differences and language more than I would. My editor had edited The Hours, and a number of highly-acclaimed, big feature films, and worked with great directors. Everyone really had a lot of experience, and down to the actors who you know are just going to give you so much, the smallest scene becomes this little jewell of a moment, it makes all the difference.

Q: So what was the dynamic like in directing your own mother? Is it quite comforting to have her around, and is it difficult to avoid calling her ‘mum’ and maintain a level of professionalism?

BS: Yeah that was the hardest thing, I kind of made a decision I wasn’t going to call her mum on-set, although a lot of the crew would just come up to me and say “Oh yeah your mum wants to know when you’re going to be ready”, so that was the only thing I felt that I needed to exert some sort of authority, but actually it was a very natural, very comfortable environment and one that I would certainly repeat if the subject matter was right. You know she dragged me round a lot of film sets when I was a kid so I’ve always had a fascination for film, so of all the kids, I was the one who lurked around her film sets the most, so I’ve always been hanging around, so she’s used to having me around, so it was just a nice environment. She wouldn’t necessarily race off back to her trailer as soon as we said cut, she would be hanging around on set, it just makes for a good, kind of gypsy caravan type of feeling and environment.

Q: There is a real vulnerability to the character of Anna and that was enhanced by the fact she had a broken wrist – but am I right in thinking that wasn’t a deliberate move, she actually did fracture her wrist?

BS: Yeah [laughs[ she did. About three or four days before the shoot which was an absolute catastrophe at the time, for her and for me. Having spent so long and having got this far without having had to compromise too much and then suddenly have this thing which just seemed ridiculous and completely out of the blue was something that was tough to deal with. So we explored the possibility of claiming on insurance – and we had a very valid claim – and we could have put it off, but we couldn’t really put it off for very long because Gabriel’s availability disappeared and he went off to two very long engagements, and with the film industry being the precarious house of cards that it is, there was a great risk of the film not being able to come back together so we had to make a decision as to whether we were going to find a way around this or let the whole thing go – so I spent a few days with the script and came to what ultimately I felt was a really interesting development and one that I had to hit myself for not having thought of before. Because as you say, it’s a very strange place to injure yourself to that extent and not know how you did it, and without any kind of words it becomes a very unsettling place to be for somebody and I thought that was quite effective. It was also a very clear metaphor as well of suppression, that this thing is itching away underneath and bursting, trying to get out – like the memories of the murder that she is suppressing. So it seemed to work very well in the end – so it’s a happy accident.

Q: To add to Anna’s vulnerability, there was a very voyeuristic camerawork that would follow her around as though following a man’s gaze – can you tell us about that approach and what you felt it brings to the film?

BS: Again that is very classic noir, the idea of the male gaze, and the male gaze being that of a police detective, and that’s one that fits into a very comfortable, familiar stereotype of filmmaking and the idea was to try and find ways to evolve and to work around that and to have a different kind of relationship, one that starts off as a voyeuristic one but then ultimately develops as one of connection and empathy, opposed to one of lust and obsession.

Q: You were filming on location at the Barbican, why that particular setting?

BS: I didn’t want it to be a familiar side of London, I wanted the feeling I had when I first came to London. I didn’t grow up in London, I grew up in France and I went to school in France, and I came to University here and it felt very overwhelming, the city felt so much bigger than what I knew, and it was kind of unforbidding. Although most of London is, architecturally, very small and terraced houses, the feeling of it is much more smaller and forbidding than it looks and I really wanted to capture that feeling, that feeling how in the city of London, what are the chances of two people actually meeting? Two people who are right for each other? So I was looking for an environment that would stand out and would fit into a slightly out-of-time feeling and these two characters are kind of stuck in time, they are stuck a few years back and haven’t really been able to move on, so I wanted everything to feel out-of-time to a certain extend. It’s very much a contemporary film, but all the locations just don’t quite feel of this era, and the Barbican really fitted that bill perfectly. Also, just on a geeky level, there had been a 10-year shooting ban in the Barbican, so it’s not the most familiar of cinematic landmarks and I liked the fact that we were one of the first crews to be allowed back into the Barbican to shoot.

Q: Having mentioned before that you’ve grown up around the industry and spent time on film sets as a child, do you think that that insight has inherently given you a deeper knowledge of how the whole industry works, and has put you in good stead now as a filmmaker?

BS:  It’s too early to say. I mean, let’s see how I get on. The film thing is somewhere I’d like to stay, certainly for a while, and let’s see if I’m allowed to. It feels like a comfortable environment, whether that’s successful or not I don’t know. Time will tell.

Q: Is this what you’ve always to do though? Had you ever contemplated a career outside of filmmaking?

BS: Um, not really. It’s been a long road to filming though, that’s for sure. I’ve worked in TV a lot, and I was always interested in that. The directing thing came on a little bit later, after school basically. I was quite into theatre when I was in school, but then when I went to University I discovered directing and I found working with actors more rewarding than being an actor.

Q: So finally, what have you got planned next? Are you working on anything at the moment?

BS: I’m actively working with some really exciting, new, young writers – a playwright and also a filmmaker whose script I’m working on. I’m absolutely developing stuff that isn’t quite ready to go yet, but the last few months have been a very creative time in development, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to announce something soon – but I’m not quite ready to do that. SP


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François Ozon – Film Director

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François Ozon has never been one to rest on his laurels, as the French filmmaker attempts something new with each and every project and with his latest feature: In the House, theatrically released on March 29, he presents a somewhat satirical black comedy starring Fabrice Luchini, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ernst Umhauer in a tale about a student who systematically submits a story to his teacher describing his ventures into the middle class abode of a fellow classmate.

Of course In the House is an adaptation of the play ‘The Boy in the Last Row’, why did you chose this particular play to adapt? And how much did you change?

FO: I was invited by a friend of mine who is an actress and she was in the play, and she insists that I come to see the play because she said it was a play for me, and I didn’t want to go. All the actors always invite you to see them and you don’t know if it’s for the play or for them, so I didn’t want to go. But when I discovered the title ‘The Boy in the Last Row’ I was intrigued, so I decided to go, and she was right – the play really interested me and I thought it was very clever, funny and so I decided to take the rights of the play. The Rights were in Spain taken by a Spanish director, so I was afraid because I thought maybe it’s Almodóvar who wants to do it as a film – but thankfully it was an unknown Spanish director who didn’t find the money to make it, so I kept the rights and do my own adaptation.

What do you think you can accomplish through the film that you couldn’t in the play?

FO: You know when you do an adaptation you can’t keep everything, you have to follow your instinct and keep what you like. In the case of this film, because it’s a story about storytelling and the process of working and writing, I decided to take what was close to me, you know, and because the author of the play Juan Mayorga was very nice, he said to me “I respect your work, do what you want”, he didn’t want to control the adaptation, and let me be totally free, to do exactly what I wanted. So I cut many things because the theatre language and the cinematic language are totally different and I changed the characters and the ending, I did many transformations – but I tried to keep the spirit of the play.

So why the title change?

FO: In French, ‘The Boy in the Last Row’ is too concrete, it was just one situation of the film, and I had a feeling the film would be larger than that. In the House is abstract enough to put exactly what you want in it, and because of my other films are very often about houses, I think it was a good metaphor, you know, entering in the house, like entering a film – it was perfect with what I wanted to do.

Following Potiche, this is the second adaptation of a play in a row, is there something that appeals to you about transferring stage material into film?

FO: This time is different, you know. For Potiche I didn’t want to lose the origin, whereas in the case of In the House, if you don’t know it’s an adaptation of a play you can’t imagine it as a play, because I tried to make it very cinematic because for me it’s really a film about the mise-en-scene of cinema, so it depends on the project, but each time it’s different.

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Talking of different; on the surface, your films appear very different but do you think there is something that unites them all? A common thread, or a style particular to you?

FO: I don’t know, maybe. Don’t ask me these kind of questions [laughs] I don’t analyse too much of my own work, it’s your job to do that. I try not to repeat myself, I like to try new challenges and to go in different directions, I guess there are maybe links between all my films, and sometimes I am shooting a scene and I think, I’ve done this before, but I try to have a new experimentation each time. Especially because I do a film a year, if it’s always the same thing it can be very boring.

I assume you identified with the young writer in the film, did you also identify to any extent with Fabrice’s character Germain?

FO: I identify more with the student in the film than to the teacher. I feel that myself, I am still like a student, learning. But yes I am close to the two characters, just a bit more to the young boy because he is the storyteller, and in my mise-en-scene I try to follow the route he goes in his story because he tries to follow the advice of his teacher but very often he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. Is it a parody? Is it a melodrama? A comedy? A thriller? For me it was very exciting to play with these different genres.

Did you have a teacher who took you under his wing when you first started your career?

FO: Not like Germain, not someone so close. But yes, there are some people who were very important when I was a younger, cinema student. The fact I discovered some directors, for example a big retrospective of Fassbinder when I was a student was very important, because suddenly I had the feeling he was talking to me, you know, and his work and way of working, and the different genres he was able to do, was very helpful because when you are young and you realise you have different influences you can be a bit afraid, you don’t know exactly what kind of film you are going to do. So to suddenly see a master who is totally free, it’s very helpful.

In terms of influences, a lot of people have talked about Hitchcock with this film, for obvious reasons, but the way Claude talks about class seems to relate somewhat to Claude Chabrol. Were either of those filmmakers influences on you?

FO: When you speak about storytelling it’s an obligation to speak about Hitchcock because he was the first one to think about how to tell a story, how do you play with the audience with the idea of suspense?

FO: So for me it was obvious to do references to him, especially at the end of the film, with a shot that is like Rear Window. As for Chabrol references, no I didn’t have him in mind, and what amused me was to show the point of view of Claude and this middle class family, and how it’s very ironic at the beginning and then cynical and step-by-step as he follows the advice of his teacher, he learns to like his characters and at the end it’s more like a melodrama and he falls in love with the housewife, so I liked to show this evolution. For non-French audiences not only are we looking into somebody else’s house and different class, but we’re looking into a whole different culture. Do you think that changes the meaning of the film, or how it can be perceived in different countries?

FO: Yes. I guess it must be. Even for the French the film must be very strange because the middle class doesn’t look like a typical French middle class, it looks more like an American middle class. Even the school, we don’t have uniforms in France, it’s very unusual and so actually my first idea when doing the adaptation was to do the film in England, to make it in an English school because you have uniforms because I thought it would be a good idea to have all the students like a herd of sheep, always the same, except for the one in the back row who is different. I realised it was too much work though, and I didn’t know the English education system enough to set it in England.

In terms of the casting, you do seem to give quite prominent roles to actresses over 40, the likes of Charlotte Rampling in the past and Kristin Scott Thomas this time around…
Over 50 [laughs] I’m sorry! Do you think that French cinema is more accommodating to older actresses than perhaps Hollywood is?

FO: Yes of course. But I think it’s sad for the American and English actresses and that is why so many of them come to France to work. When you see the parts that Kristin has in England, very often she is a supporting part, she is the auntie, the grandmother, or the mother – in France she has lead parts. In my film she is a supporting part but she has a very strong part, even if it’s short she has the possibility to take on a complex part. I don’t know where it comes from, perhaps because in France cinema is an art first and after it’s an industry so we like to give parts to everybody, for women over 40 and 50 years old, and maybe that is why actresses like Isabelle Huppert or Catherine Deneuve are still working a lot as the leading parts.

Charlotte Rampling is in your next film as well, what is about her that appeals to you? Would you call her your muse?

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FO: She has a small part. But yeah, it was really great to meet Charlotte when we did Under the Sand, it was amazing meeting work-wise and then we became very good friends. She was very important because the film Under the Sand was a real fight, you know, everybody was against the film, they would say Charlotte Rampling is over, she’s too old, nobody will be interested in a film about death and a film about grieving, and we fought to make the film against everybody. When the film was released and it was a huge success in France and proved to be the comeback of Charlotte Rampling, so it was a real pleasure and we were very happy with that. We began a professional relationship because after that we did Swimming Pool, Angel and now the one I’ve just finished.

What do you think the film tells us about storytelling?

FO: The film says nothing, you know, I don’t have a message, I don’t do propaganda in my movies. I just want to share with you, the experience of the storytelling and the process. I want the audience to be engaged and it’s only when I speak with the audience that I realise that people have different interpretations of the film and I’m very happy with that because that’s what I want. In the beginning of the film it’s very clear what is real and what is fiction, but step by step I mix everything and decide to treat everything on the same level and it’s up to you to decide what is fake and you do your own film, and that was the idea, to make an interactive movie. I have no message, I just show things and give you the freedom. When I go to the cinema I don’t want someone telling me I have to think something, I am not Michael Haneke. I’m not a teacher, I try not to be a teacher.

The student-teacher relationship in the film reminds me of what it may be between a writer and producer, were you able to draw on your own experiences as a writer within that relationship?

FO: Yes, I need to speak with people when I’m working. The process of creation in movies is not lonely, you need to work with a crew, you don’t stop speaking with the others. When I’m writing a script I like to give it to friends, my producer for different point of views, because it’s a process that is always moving. If I’m not in the editing process I do some test screenings to see if people are bored, what they understand, for me it’s very important.

Speaking of editing, your films are very fast paced…

FO: When you tell a story you have to keep your audience captive, especially in the editing process: we didn’t want to lose time but to make it quick and make it funny and to have a good rhythm.

So when you direct do you keep up that pace on set?

FO: No because it’s not so quick. Maybe between Kristin and Fabrice, because it’s very wordy and I wanted a comedy tempo between them. I had in mind Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.

There isn’t actually that much drama that takes place in the house itself – was that a challenge for you?

FO: I asked myself many questions, because I think if I was a Hollywood director I would have put a murder in the film, make it like a thriller. But I think it was interesting to have nothing in the house. It was a challenge you know, but it’s not so much about what happens, but how do you describe what is going on in this house?

This is your second time directing Fabrice Luchini and you do seem to work with a similar cast of actors multiple times – is that something you find helpful, or comforting?

FO: It’s just that sometimes you work with an actor in one way and you know this actor is richer than that and they have more faces, and for Fabrice in Potiche he was the main character, and the part was like a caricature, but I wanted to give him the opportunity to show another face of his personality, so when you like someone you want to show difference faces of their work and personality.

As you said earlier you make a film a year and you’re incredibly busy – do you ever take a break or do you just love working?

FO: I like to work but I have time to take a break too? Do you want me to take a break? A long break? [Laughs]. I like to do movies, I don’t like to do promotion but I like to do movies. If I didn’t have to do promotion I would be able to do two or three films a year, but it’s not the case.

What was the last film you saw that you really enjoyed?

FO: Hmm… The last film I saw, oh my God. [Pauses] I saw a film on the plane called The Life of Pi, which is not the sort of film you should see on the plane, but I really enjoyed it! Each time I am on the plane I love the films because I am drunk because I get afraid, so I love all the films. But yeah, I liked Life of Pi because it’s a film about storytelling. I was surprised by it as I didn’t know the book, so I liked the ambiguity at the end. It was a beautiful idea.

You speak about doing the promotion for films, is it quite nice though, that when you make a film a year or so earlier to then travel the world promoting it, you almost get to relive it by talking about it?

FO: It’s easier because I have a distance, you know. But now I have a new film and already I have turned the page so it’s like talking about your last love. So yes it’s easier.

You’ve said that like to work on very different things and try different genres – is there something that you haven’t been able to do yet that you would like to?

FO: The West End. No, I don’t try to do do something different each time, I’m not like Kubrick who wanted to do different genres, I just follow my instinct, I don’t have a career path, I just follow my instinct and my pleasure, that’s all. SP

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March 2013


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