The cinema as a family | Profile


When Sam Mendes, the director of American Beauty, one of the best films in the Bond saga, from 1917 says that “the cinema is in trouble” it is not hard to believe him. He says it calmly, and he says it knowing that his Empire of Light is part of a series of movies that haven’t had a great reception when it comes to ticket sales. Joining him in this interview are Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman and Micheal Ward, who plays a pivotal role in the making as Mendes tells the story of his own mother and his mental illness. He maintains Mendes: “I have made films in the James Bond saga, so I know what I am talking about, and this film is 10 times more difficult to promote. People expect it to say something about cinema, and it has to be a masterpiece.” Mendes sounds angry, but at the same time happy for this creation that opens next Thursday on the local billboard.

—Olivia, how did you work on a character who has a psychological affliction?

OLIVIA COLMAN: The truth is that I am not an actress who is interested in working according to the famous method. The script was enough for me. It was all there, everything he needed to know at least. And also, of course, there was Sam Mendes, and he was the one who built this character from his experience and from his ideas. What more can you ask for when working on such a complex character? I mean, you may or may not know it, but my character, Hillary, is based on the mom from San Mendes. That is why I say that at any moment, she had the best material available, to put it in some way: her own son, who saw the need to tell that story from this particular place. Sam how was that? Sam is it too much if I do like this? It may sound vague, and I’m even embarrassed to say it, but I was also scared to walk on set with an idea formed of a character so close to the director. That’s why I also felt that constantly consulting is the best option.

—What was it about your character that interested you and how does a scene bring up racism at a time in the United Kingdom?

MICHEAL WARD: It was one of the more interesting ideas that Sam came up with. It involved addressing racism and how it was breathed and felt at the time. It’s a strong idea. Above all to realize that little or nothing has changed. So, I felt that it was an idea, a vein of the film, that far from being forced, it added up perfectly. How can it be that an art like cinema changes and racism has the same form? How can the real idea of ​​freedom be conceived if some of us suffer in one form or another from racism permanently? That is why a character like ours, I feel a mark that there are stigmas that are difficult for us to remove. That also happens to Colman’s character, for example: today we are better with psychological illnesses, but not that much better. That is to say, that we understand something does not mean that we are a proactive society to change it.

—Sam Mendes: you decided to make it public that you talked about your mother. But, at least among the characters in the film, there isn’t a child or anything that indicates your point of view taken to a character. Why did you make that decision?

SAM MENDES: There’s a lot of me in the whole movie, I mean, I’m the director, where he decided to go with the camera, and since I’m the writer, where he decided each line of dialogue. That being said, I fully understand your question. There is a quote from Margot Jefferson that I love that says: “How to show that you are there, without asking for love or being sorry for you?”. She did not want love or pity for me, and so if she introduced the figure of a child, she would immediately invoke those feelings. And worse, they were going to be directed at me. He didn’t want to talk about anything other than Hilary, her problems and her struggles, and the complexity of psychological illness. People don’t understand it on a very simple level. We tend to deny this reality, and it is a disease; How can Hilary’s character fight with all her soul not to be thrown into a mental institution and then be ready, good and all, in mere minutes? She believes in those two things with all her being, not that she gives in. That explains a lot about her character.

—The film also speaks of the power of cinema. When did you fall in love with it?

M: Cinema for me was Close Encounters of the Third Kind; I remember how the ground trembled at the beginning of the film, I remember the end and its different epic from the one we have today. It was a function that really changed my life. The room was full, and there I experienced silence and darkness in a new way.

—Olivia, and Micheal, what was it like working with Sam?

C: American Beauty was a film of radical beauty, which I feel marked an era of American independent cinema.

W: Road to Perdition was a movie that had a huge impact on me, that showed me a different side of a lot of people, and that showed me that Sam could go a lot of different places with his filmmaking and directing.

—Sam, what is your process as a writer, a screenwriter, or do you always have the director, that is, you and your future work, looking over your shoulder and saying ‘no, no, this is going to be impossible to film’?

M: It’s a good question. When I wrote 1917, which we wrote with four hands, the director was literally looking over his shoulder, since we wrote both: form and content. Here, due to that experience, I just wanted to let go, I wanted to write the story that came to me, and leave what would be filming for a future, which would be to think if such a shot, such a set or such an idea would be possible. It took me a long time on this film to “learn” my craft as a director. I wanted to tell it first and then. I almost managed to split myself up and work as if the writer were someone else.

“Why set the story in a theater and put the story of mother and a medium you love together, Sam?”

M: I wanted the cinema in the film to represent the possibility of being able to escape. In those days, you only watched movies in the theater. There were no Smartphones, there was no domestic format to watch movies, and on television they were only shown at the end of the year. For me, it was escaping into another world, one of imagination and one that turned me on. As an adult, cinema has become about finding families, a family, in fact. When I was a child without siblings, my mom was in mental asylums and she only had the movies to bring me some joy. It was also a place to escape to as an adult, but in a completely different way.

A narrative against the giants

Mendes spoke about the problems of current cinema, but decides that the problem lies in another corner, for a way of understanding two forms of cinema, or many more, that could coexist on the screen: “There are so many reasons to be concerned: although there is talk of audience levels that grow to numbers prior to Covid, to the pandemic, throughout the year. That public is concentrated in 20, 25, movies. Not for 200 movies. And the platforms mean that people also say ‘ok, I’ll see you later’. Not to mention franchise fever, which basically implies not only the comfort of a well-known brand but also a framework of expectations, understanding that one is going to see what one feels comfortable with. There is something obvious that is not talked about: if you go to a restaurant, there is a difference in cost between a good dish and a quasi-prefabricated meal. I mean, we can’t ask one movie to cost the same as another: one is big, expensive, the other not so much, and maybe certain movies need help when it comes to cost, in order to get more people to go. That’s why big movies always win, no one shows small movies at a nice cost, which encourages viewing. In this world, where films by Steven Spielberg, by James Gray, by Alejandro González Iñarritú, including mine, have problems at the box office, cinema is in trouble. It’s not a director’s problem, Los Fabelmans is wonderful. That’s why it’s important to control that narrative so that people understand what they see when they watch a Marvel movie.”

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