Awakenings, part 2

Mona Fastvold and Brady Corbet on recent favourites and their next project.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Christopher Abbott as Andrew with Brady Corbet as Ira in Mona Fastvold's hauntingly beautiful The Sleepwalker.
Christopher Abbott as Andrew with Brady Corbet as Ira in Mona Fastvold's hauntingly beautiful The Sleepwalker.

Brady Corbet, who pops up in Bertrand Bonello's exquisite portrait of the tortured artist Saint Laurent, Mia Hansen-Løve's Eden and the incisive Clouds Of Sils Maria by Olivier Assayas, talked about the banality of evil and the evil of banality, as our Sleepwalker conversation turned to Amy Berg's An Open Secret. Mona Fastvold and Corbet's upcoming project, The Childhood of a Leader, which he is going to direct, will star Bérénice Bejo, Tim Roth, Stacy Martin and Robert Pattinson. The script is influenced by everyone from John Fowles and Jean-Paul Sartre, to Volker Schlöndorff's Young Törless. I suggested checking out Christian Kracht's cinematic novel Imperium in the Norwegian translation for last minute reading, as pre-production begins next week.

On deck for Mona Fastvold and Brady Corbet:
On deck for Mona Fastvold and Brady Corbet: "We're making a film called The Childhood of a Leader." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

As a member of the First Time Fest (Second Time Around) industry jury, with Village Voice Chief Film Critic Stephanie Zacharek and Nicholas Haden-Guest in April of this year, we presented the Outstanding Achievement in Scoring to Kato Ådland and Sondre Lerche for The Sleepwalker. The jury's statement: To The Sleepwalker, for its evocative and original approach to storytelling through sound, sounds that linger after you've gone.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Brady, it seems as if you had been in every second film in the New York Film Festival this year. You were in Eden, Clouds Of Sils Maria and Saint Laurent.

Brady Corbet: It's a strange thing. Last year, we were supposed to be in pre-production for the film that we are actually starting pre-production on next week. It took an extra year. I had strange little pockets of time that I was available and all at once, all of those filmmakers that I really like asked me to come and do something. I kept telling them, 'just so you know, I'm also only in one scene in someone else's movie.'

AKT: It was really eerie for me. He again? And you have these strange parts, too. In Eden you are Greta Gerwig's husband. Saint Laurent, to stay with the subject a little longer [see part 1 of our conversation], has this dog killing scene…

Brady: Oh, yeah, the dog that chokes to death. Especially in the context of Yves Saint Laurent, I think the funniest thing you could include. I love Saint Laurent. I think that Bertrand Bonello is truly one of the great Western European filmmakers. Bertrand and I, we're friends now, but we weren't close. I wrote to him because I'd seen L'Apollonide.

AKT: A haunting film, if there ever was one.

Stephanie Ellis as Christine:
Stephanie Ellis as Christine: "This foreboding sense that something intensely negative had occurred even though usually something quite banal had occurred."

Brady: I fell in love with it. I thought it was such a masterpiece. I thought it was such a bizarre exclusion from the New York Film Festival the year prior. Anyway, I think Saint Laurent is a film that people didn't really know how to interpret it. It's about the fetishization of objects and the history of iconography - a movie about surfaces. People made the mistake to think that the film was not deep. He treats all the characters as if they were an item, a bottle of Dom Perignon or something.

AKT: Here we are sitting in the IFC Films conference room and you were in the scene in the conference room in Saint Laurent. When I asked Bertrand Bonello about that scene, he told me that he wanted to stage the business meeting like an action sequence. Let's get back to Sleepwalker, though, about violence presented as normal. I am talking about the rape dialogue. "Kids, you know," the character Andrew says to pull it off as normal. How did you go about directing that important moment?

Mona Fastvold: We spent a lot of time rewriting and rewriting that scene. That scene actually we spent the most time shooting. It's the same thing that we do with the fight scene as well. We wanted to shoot it from really far away. All the violence is presented in the film as something kind of banal. That, of course, points to the history of the two women.

AKT: Incest?

Mona: There is some violence in their upbringing.

Gitte Witt as Kaia:
Gitte Witt as Kaia: "You have to balance the language with the esthetics."

Brady: The truth is - and of course we have our very very specific ideas about the film's conclusion, the main reason why it remains undefined in the film is that whether one sister is delusional and has made it all up or has expanded upon a real event and misunderstood that real event - it's real for her. We became at one point unconcerned, because they were both right and both wrong in a way.

Mona: And the monster is not so exciting. It's more how they deal with it.

Brady: Oh, the monster in the closet scenario? Absolutely. Your imagination takes things to much deeper and darker places than the two of us could ever dream up on our own.

AKT: Last week, I was at the, I believe, so far only screening of Amy Berg's documentary An Open Secret about child abuse in Hollywood at DOC NYC. There are moments in it that reminded me of the tone of normality describing the most outrageous acts that you were going for in Sleepwalker.

Brady: The banality of evil and the evil of banality go hand in hand. We know what our next projects are and they are very different.

AKT: Tell me about the next projects.

Gitte Witt as Kaia Stephanie Ellis as Christine:
Gitte Witt as Kaia Stephanie Ellis as Christine: "We wanted to have this very natural dialogue."

Brady: The next film we're making, I'm directing what Mona and I wrote together and we're working together very closely from beginning to end as we did with this one. Basically, what determines who takes the lead is just whose story it is to tell.

Mona: And who is not giving birth to a baby.

Brady: And who is not giving birth to a baby. We're making a film called The Childhood Of A Leader. It's a historical film, which is one of the reasons why it's been so difficult to put it together.

AKT: Historical set in what time?

Brady: 1919 mostly. It's Bérénice Bejo, Tim Roth, Stacy Martin and Robert Pattinson. It's about a family that relocates to France for the Paris Peace Conference and about the events leading up to the Treaty of Versailles, partially. It's funny, whereas this project [The Sleepwalker] was about subverting the clichés of psycho-sexual thrillers, this is a historical film that's not really a historical film. It's about the childhood of a would-be-fascist. We'll start shooting in January.

AKT: Have you heard of the novel Imperium by Christian Kracht? He wrote the screenplay of Finsterworld together with his wife, director Frauke Finsterwalder. Christian told me that the novel will be published in English next year. I don't know if there is a Norwegian translation. Thematically, it should be interesting for you. It is about a man called August Engelhardt, who traveled at the beginning of the 20th century to the South Seas to establish a new society based on the divine qualities of the coconut. Connections to Hitler are fully intended.

Kaia with Andrew:
Kaia with Andrew: "All the violence is presented in the film as something kind of banal."

Brady: That sounds amazing. This film is a really strange amalgamation of real events, a lot of literary references, lots of different biographies.

AKT: Literary references to whom, for example?

Brady: Everyone from John Fowles to Jean-Paul Sartre.

AKT: Which Fowles book?

Brady: There's about a hundred pages in The Magus, where you're dealing with a sort of Nazi infiltration on the island. There's allusions to Volker Schlöndorff…

AKT: Which Schlöndorff film? I just did an interview with Volker a few weeks ago.

Brady: Young Törless.

AKT: Musil, I see. That makes sense.

In part 1, we discussed Borderline Films' productions of Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene and Simon Killer by Antonio Campos and how it began for Corbet. Lars von Trier's love of Douglas Sirk and Melancholia led the discussion to the films of Claire Denis, Bruno Dumont, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne. Scarlett Johansson's performance in Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin in contrast to an Aki Kaurismäki film conjures up choices for all filmmakers to consider.

The Sleepwalker opened in New York on November 21.

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