Women He’s Undressed, Gillian Armstrong’s new documentary about Hollywood costume designer Orry Kelly, opens over an unnaturally-saturated view of a blue sky, with a quote from actress Fanny Brice: “Let the world know who you are because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose; then where will you be?” The stage is thus set for a bio-documentary that will reveal some hidden aspect of its subject, guaranteeing an interested viewer who will surely be surprised – and likely touched – by the revelation to come. Read More
Primary Peruvian exports include non-monetary gold powder, cooper ores, concentrates, cathodes and non-crude oil. You can now add to the list supremely compelling cinema as Magallanes, the product of first-time Peruvian director Salvador del Solar, is a true festival stunner. Soaked in a gleeful amount of real world suspense and intensified by rich dramatic character work from its apt principal cast, the slow-but-steady-building drama-thriller is a certifiable symphony of hard-won victories – both from a narrative and practical standpoint. Read More
2014 looks to be the year of the twisted headline movie. With Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, we saw the real life story of a doomed Japanese misanthrope come to America and damned to stubborn and horrifying resilience. The Monument’s Men and Cesar Chavez brought horror to the screen for all the wrong reasons (*yawn*). Fernando Coimbra‘s A Wolf at the Door (“O Lobo atrás da Porta”) is similarly based upon a true story of relationships gone terribly awry, charged by a headline that will leave you in shock and awe. To be any less than stunned, stupefied and all but weeping in a depressed pile of nauseous disgust is less than human. Intrigued?
Then you might want to look into A Wolf at the Door, which opened at last season’s Toronto International Film Festival before moving to the Zurich Film Fest, The Brazil Film Fest of Paris and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. During its journey around the world, it has left viewers largely haunted. I chatted with Fernando to talk about his TIFF success, Greek tragedy, Brazilian film, women’s rights and murder. Be warned, spoilers are included in the interview.
You mentioned that you see ‘A Wolf at the Door’ as kind of a twist on the Medea story. Do you see it more as a modernized take or a distinctly Brazilian take on that Greek tragedy?
Fernando Coimbra: Yeah, the film was inspired by a true story that happened in Rio De Janeiro. And I had read about this story, and there are similar narratives to Medea the Greek tragedy. I thought that was interesting because of the drama, and details, and then the tragedy at the end. But the inspiration was this true story. It’s not an adaptation because a lot of things are different in the story. The way she killed the girl, the way she got close to the mother. It’s very similar to what happened in the true story.
Wow I didn’t even know that it was a true story.
FC: It repeats sometimes. Before shooting the film there was another story that was very similar to this story.
And this is in Brazil as well, the more recent story?
FC: Yeah, it was in Brazil and it was in Rio De Janeiro. Same town, same place.
Do you see this as a distinctly Brazilian/Rio De Janeiro film? This story, do you see it as something that could only happen here?
FC: No, I think the story could happen anywhere. It talks about very basic instincts and very basic emotions that I think every human being has. That’s why I wanted to tell the story. When I read about the story, the old newspapers and all the press treated Bernando like a monster, like a beast, like a kind of non-human being. I think it’s a passionate crime. It’s something very close to us. I want to tell the story to understand how humans could behave like that. I think it could happen in any culture. Medea is a Greek tragedy that is very basic to all human beings.
Was the forced abortion part of the real story as well or was that something you added?
FC: I decided to make the film from two different points of view because they tell different stories. The men never thought about the abortion because originally he had never harmed her. But in court she said it happened in a very similar way as it happens in the film.
Wow. So, one of the things you play with very early on is this idea of the unreliable narrator. From the get-go we’re getting these three different tellings of the same story that don’t necessarily make sense in the context of one another. We know that somebody is making something up. As we go on, Rosa becomes the main narrative thread and her tale becomes almost a reality. From my initial reading of the film, not knowing that it was based on a true story, I felt there was room for doubt in her version of the story. Was that at all intentionally on your part? For instance, maybe the whole abortion thing was made up or maybe, in the context of this film, she never committed that heinous final crime. Or do you see it as more cut and dry than that?
FC: Yes, I want the audience to doubt. I begin the film at the police station and I present all the characters because you don’t know at this moment who’s telling the truth, who they really are, if they’re telling their version of the story. You haven’t seen their lives and their relationships. People sometimes think, ah this is true, but you never know because of the two points of views. He could be lying, she could be lying. We don’t know what’s happened between them.
The film deals with some rather dark subject matter: the murder of children, forced abortions. Do you see that as an obstacle to getting the film into larger markets or do you think this is a film that people are prepared to see?
FC: I think when you are ready to screen the film to film professionals it works very well with that audience. But for bigger screenings, you worry if it’s gonna be a problem. But once you get into the story and understand it, you aren’t as shocked by the crime. It’s a challenge because when you tell the story, you get a little bit afraid. It’s so brutal. But when you see the film you see that it’s not so bad.
The way you film it, it’s like this John Steinbeck moment where she’s putting the child down in almost the nicest way possible. She takes it like, “Oh just look at the ground honey, everything will be ok”. She’s not doing it out of hostility but it seems to her like a necessity. Obviously the film relies heavily on the actors because it’s more about characters than anything else. I was wondering what your approach was to directing your actors. Did you leave them alone for most of it to do their work or were you more hands on with them?
FC: I worked a lot with them. We did a lot of research before shooting. We worked very hard on the rehearsals and they’re really great actors. We had to work together and find forms of acting that are very intimate. I used to be an actor. I’m not an actor anymore because I’m not a good actor. (Laughter) It would’ve been a lot different if I didn’t have the right actors for it.
Absolutely. So, one of the things that the film deals with is this issue of women’s rights. It’s one of the subtexts that continues throughout the film, giving a voice to women who maybe in other situations would be more demonized. Were you trying to make any particular statement about women’s rights or was that more incidental?
FC: It was not the main thing in my mind. I know that I talk about forced abortions, rape, when the child has problems, money problems, and the rights of the woman to have an abortion or not. Men kind of dominate the mind of society about these things. This is part of society but I know that it’s become part of the subject of the film.
I’ll admit to not knowing too much about Brazilian cinema. Can you give me some examples of works from Brazilian cinema that have inspired you, or that you grew up on?
FC: There are some directors from the 60’s and 70’s that I like a lot. One of them is maybe the best director that we have: Wagner Rocha. He was a great director, very different than my films. He has inspired my films. There’s another director that has a name that does not look Brazilian. It’s Leon Ishmael. He did a film in the suburbs in the 60’s based on a Brazilian play-writer that was all about passion and relationships and tragedy. He really inspired me about the way to shoot this film.
Do you plan on continuing to make movies in Brazil or do you think you’ll ever try Hollywood on for size?
FC: I have a lot of projects in Brazil that are starting to develop. But I have talked about some projects in Hollywood. The film Wolf at the Door got a great reaction so agencies and managers are talking about some new stuff. I cannot say now because we never know. What I have now… it’s perfect in Brazil and I’m starting to write some new projects. I hope it goes far.
Once thought to be a serious Oscar contender, Labor Day opened to lukewarm reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival and has largely fallen off the radar as one to be strongly anticipated. Nonetheless anything from Jason Reitman, director of Juno, Up in the Air, Thank You For Smoking and Young Adult, is worth a watch, even if this will be one of his lesser efforts. Starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet as a pair of strangers forced together by chance, Labor Day is currently rocking a 65% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Depressed single mom Adele (Winslet) and her son Henry offer a wounded, fearsome man (Brolin), who turns out to be a con on the run, a ride home and a place to lie low. As the police turn over the town in search of the escaped convict, Adele and her son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited. As the Labor Day weekend runs to a close, Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg, JK Simmons, Brooke Smith and James Van Der Beek co-star.
Labor Day is directed by Jason Reitman and stars Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet, Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg, JK Simmons, Brooke Smith and James Van Der Beek. It will not open on Labor Day as it comes to theaters on Christmas Day.