Until going up the jungle in The Lost City of Z (2016) and now into deep space with Ad Astra, the films of American director James Gray – from Little Odessa (1994) to Two Lovers (2008) – all told stories of New York, with many focusing on immigrant families. His 2013 ode to classical melodrama, The Immigrant, was the culmination of that interest.
Set in 1921, it sees Polish immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard) tricked into a life of Manhattan burlesque and prostitution as she tries to fund the release of her ill sister, who has been confined to Ellis Island. She also finds herself caught in a toxic love triangle between Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), the charmer pimp who got her there, and his chivalrous magician cousin, Emil (Jeremy Renner).
Featuring contenders for Cotillard and Renner’s career-best performances, reliably magnetic work from Phoenix, and cinematography from Darius Khondji that simultaneously evokes 19th-century painting, silent cinema and the 70s highpoints of Godfather cinematographer Gordon Willis, The Immigrant is a beautiful and devastating slow-burn drama. Its closing act, particularly the lingering final shot, must count among the finest American filmmaking of this decade.
So, why was the film never released in the UK?
Full feature for the BFI
It’s October 2017 and we’re interviewing Stacy Martin, the French-English actor currently best known for her breakthrough role in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. We’re here to discuss her part in Redoubtable, the latest film from The Artist director Michel Hazanavicius, but there’s an elephant in the room, and it’s not just that we look shaken up from an attempted mugging on our way to the interview (Martin very kindly poured us a drink upon discovering this).
Only a few days before our conversation, Anne Wiazemsky, the woman Martin plays in the biopic, passed away, aged 70. An actor and novelist, she made her cinema debut at age 18, playing the lead in Robert Bresson’s 1966 film Au Hasard Balthazar. Wiazemsky didn’t make a huge number of films, but she collaborated with many of that period’s key European directors, including Pier Paolo Pasolini (on Theorem and Pigsty), and, crucially, Jean-Luc Godard, to whom she was married from 1967 until their official divorce in 1979, though their relationship had broken down as early as 1970.
Redoubtable is adapted from one of her many novels, Un An Après, which chronicles her time shooting Godard’s La Chinoise in the late 60s. As well as presenting a portrait of their romance’s rise and fall, the film documents a version of Godard’s personal and political conflicts across the surrounding period, including his ultimately successful efforts to have the Cannes Film Festival cancelled – Cannes-celled? – in light of the May 1968 civil unrest in France…
Full interview for The Skinny
A late addition to this year’s Cannes competition, Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s satirical drama The Square ended up a surprise winner of the Palme d’Or. The follow-up to his well-received Force Majeure, the film’s cast includes Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West and Terry Notary, best known for his motion capture work in Kong: Skull Island and the recent Planet of the Apes films.
The main star of The Square, though, is Danish actor Claes Bang, who plays Christian, the respected curator of a contemporary art museum. His next exhibition is “The Square”, an installation that invites visitors to remember their role as responsible human beings, inviting them to be altruistic (“The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring, within it we all share equal rights and obligations”). Despite the thesis of his show, and his public commitment to good causes, Christian finds it difficult to live up to those same ideals in his personal life. Following a misguided response to the theft of his phone, he’s dragged into a series of strange and shameful situations; some of which are brought on by him, others by outside forces like a PR agency creating a disastrous viral campaign for “The Square.”
While he was in London for the film’s UK premiere, I spoke to the charismatic and entertaining Bang about Ruben Östlund’s intense direction, how he thinks he’d react in a Force Majeure situation, the feeling of being part of a Palme d’Or winner, having to share a scene with an intimidating ape, and filming a particularly funny sex scene with Elisabeth Moss…
Full interview for The Film Stage
“Someone said it’s very difficult to define, this movie. For me, that is the biggest praise.” South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho is speaking of his latest project, but such a query of genre and tonal classification could easily be applied to most of his prior features as a director – from debut Barking Dogs Never Bite to Memories of Murder, The Host, Mother and Snowpiercer. With pretty much all of them, you think you know what you’re going to get based on a glance at the plot synopsis, only for a considerably different beast to emerge during viewing; sometimes multiple different beasts…
Full interview for The Skinny