My Old Lady director Israel Horovitz at MoMA premiere on Samuel Beckett's Cascando: "I once recited a poem of mine to Beckett." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
The New York première of Israel Horovitz's My Old Lady, starring Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith, was hosted by Meryl Streep, David O. Russell and Glenn Close at MoMA. Among those attending were producers Rachael Horovitz and Gary Foster, Charles Cohen, Paul Haggis, Gina Gershon, Joanna Coles, the Beastie Boys' Adam Horovitz, Phil Jackson, Alex Gibney, Ophelia Lovibond, Colin Callender, Mark Feuerstein, Erin Richards, Billy Magnussen and Julia Jones.
Israel Horovitz with co-host Meryl Streep: "It's probably rare for you to be talked to by a first time feature director who begins by saying, let me tell you about my grandchildren." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
"If you do not love me I shall not be loved," a line from Samuel Beckett's Cascando, the poem written in 1936, stains Israel Horovitz's debut film like a birthmark. Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour will pick up on the sentiment of Cascando nearly a quarter century later. My Old Lady, adapted for the screen from his 2002 play by the playwright himself, tells the story of Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline), an American who arrives in Paris to claim his inheritance of an apartment, centrally located in the Marais and with private garden - a multimillion dream come true.
Only, as he soon finds out, it comes with a Viager, a specialty of French real estate. The seller lives in the home and is paid a fee until death, then it belongs to the buyer - it is the gamble on property value and life expectancy.
In My Old Lady, Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith) is not a random Viager, but an old friend of Gold's deceased father. What exactly that entailed is unravelled over time. Mathilde's daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas) also lives in the house and would be thrown out after her mother's death.
Kline carries Gold with the heavy burden of family hatred. He is a man in his fifties, broke, thrice divorced, a recovering alcoholic with unpublished masterpieces in his no longer existent drawers in New York. This apartment and the hope for the old lady's quick death are his only hope. "57 and 11 months and so little to show for it" -Mathilde, who knows an awful lot about her "guest" rubs it in.
A real estate agent, who "lives in the blood of Paris" explains the system. "That's how French people do it," Chloé explains, "they suffer in silence," as the film explores how everyone is cursed by their parents.
My Old Lady red carpet - all in the family - Gillian Horovitz, Israel Horovitz, Rachael Horovitz and Oliver Horovitz Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Anne-Katrin Titze: How was it working with a first-time director?
Gary Foster: You know what? It was great, because Israel had such a clear vision of what he wanted to do and he was open enough to say - here's what I want but I don't know how to do it. Show me how to do it! There was none of that chip-on-the- shoulder-I-know-everything. Clear vision, collaborative relationship and a nice man. We all wanted to do well for him and give him what he dreamed of.
AKT: Your co-producer (Rachael Horovitz) was family, the film is all about family, did you feel left out?
GF: No, I was the fifth Beatle, as Israel likes to say. I feel like an adopted child of the Horovitz clan now. I know more about their family dynamics than probably anyone else in the world.
AKT: But you won't tell.
GF: We had fun. They are great people.
AKT: Were you aware of the Viager concept before?
GF: Before the movie, no, I had no idea. When I was walking around Paris, I saw it was somewhat common. It's a crazy way to do it, depending on somebody to die but I also understand the value of it.
My Old Lady star Kevin Kline with co-host Glenn Close on his character: "He doesn't dress nearly as well as Errol Flynn. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
AKT: Would you be tempted to invest in a Viager?
GF: It depends who the person is, right? If I'm a gambler, I've got to have good odds. I might do it under the right circumstance. Do you know the story of Jeanne Calment?
AKT: No, I don't.
GF: Jeanne Calment lived to be 122 years old. Her lawyer bought her apartment as a Viager when she was 90. He died before she did. It could go bad, if you're not careful [he says with a laugh].
Peggy Siegal and Glenn Close were praising Kevin Kline on the red carpet and Close told a story about Maggie Smith, who could not attend the premiere.
Peggy Siegal: Kevin Kline is the greatest song and dance man of our generation.
Glenn Close: Brilliant, brilliant physical comedy…I spent an evening with Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier's wife, Joan Plowright. It was absolute heaven.
PS: You are in rehearsals for your new play.
GC: We had our second day of rehearsals today.
PS: Bob Balaban was so exhausted, he had to go home [and did not attend the My Old Lady premiere].
My Old Lady producer Gary Foster on being one of the family: "No, I was the fifth Beatle, as Israel likes to say." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Peggy Siegal told us that she was the publicist on The Big Chill, Laurence Kasdan's 1983 comedy-drama which co-starred Close and Kline and made sure we didn't miss the facts on Close's current Edward Albee project coming to Broadway this fall.
PS: A Delicate Balance - second day of rehearsal today - opening on November 20 - October 20 it previews. She is in it with John Lithgow, Bob Balaban, Martha Plimpton, Lindsey Duncan.
GC: We are sitting around, going, 'you know what it's about?' 'No.' 'Do you know what it's about?' 'No. Okay, let's read it again'.
Anne-Katrin Titze: One of the protagonists in the film tonight is Paris. What's your relationship to Paris?
Glenn Close: I wish I had a better one. I wish I had a very intimate relationship with Paris. Unfortunately, I haven't. This is kind of pathetic, I've only been to Paris to work. I've never been to Paris to just play and enjoy the city. [Not just to] see - I'd much rather kind of be. I've seen the great buildings and art.
Anne-Katrin Titze: Out of all the possibilities, you chose a quote from Samuel Beckett's poem Cascando to feature prominently in your film. Why this particular line?
Israel Horovitz: It's a poem that I love. I was very close with Beckett from the time I was 27 years old until his death. And I wanted him to be in the film. So there he is.
AKT: This particular poem is so beautiful.
My Old Lady producer Rachael Horovitz on working with her father and Rebecca Miller: "Actually, it's not dissimilar to work with Rebecca because we're very old friends and she is also a writer/director. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
IH: It is beautiful and [My Old Lady] is a play about people who are romantic beyond … maybe selfishly romantic. And that line is so much about love and romance.
AKT: It is not an obvious choice, though.
IH: No - certainly not for a tombstone.
AKT: The poem goes in the same territory as Hiroshima Mon Amour, which will have a revival at this year's New York Film Festival. The fear of replaceability.
IH: I once recited a poem of mine to Beckett. He asked me to do it and I did it. And I realised that I had stolen something from him. And he said 'oh no', and I said 'yes' and I pointed out where I had stolen it. And he went silent and I said 'what?' And he said, 'oh my god, I stole it from Dante'.
Up next - Kevin Kline comes by for a debonair chat. He is also starring in Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's The Last Of Robin Hood. The directors spoke to me last month about Kline's Errol Flynn portrayal.
Anne-Katrin Titze: The character of Mathias in this film doesn't have much derring-do. Would you say he has anything in common with Errol Flynn?
Kevin Kline: Ahhh. The common part, I would say, is he has some issues. Beyond that, he's an alcoholic. He does not shoot morphine as Errol Flynn did.
AKT: He doesn't dress as well.
KK: He doesn't dress nearly as well as Errol Flynn. Well, like Errol Flynn he had three failed marriages. Wow, I never even thought of that. Beyond that, Flynn speaks French, my character doesn't but he spoke very good French - he was an amazing and sort of tragic character.
At the after-party, following the MoMA screening, I spoke some more Beckett, this time with Kline.
Anne-Katrin Titze: Did you ever do a Beckett play?
Kevin Kline: No. I want to do Beckett. It's definitely on my list - my short list.
Cohen Media Group, Chairman & CEO, Charles Cohen on Israel Horovitz: "This evening's filmmaker is making his debut." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
AKT: What parts would you be interested in?
KK: I don't know. Vladimir or Estragon, I can't decide.
AKT: Let's put it out there! I think you would be great doing Beckett.
Producer Rachael Horovitz, with whom I exchanged memories of George Whitman, the late owner of Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris, told me about working with her father and her upcoming film with old friend Rebecca Miller.
Anne-Katrin Titze: I saw that George Whitman is among those the film is dedicated to.
Rachael Horovitz: My father's graduation gift was a one-way trip to Paris and he had arranged for me to have coffee with Samuel Beckett. And Beckett did not know what to do with me. We had breakfast the day I arrived and it was a Sunday. And that's when George [Whitman] always had his tea parties.
AKT: I remember those tea parties very well.
RH: So he [Beckett] sent me over to this bookstore and I never left.
AKT: How is it different working with, let's say Rebecca Miller, or your father?
RH: You know I am working with her?
AKT: You are in pre-production aren't you?
Beastie Boys' Adam Horovitz on the My Old Lady family red carpet Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
RH: Yes, we are. Actually, it's not dissimilar to work with Rebecca because we're very old friends and she is also a writer/director. Even though I am very involved with her in the development of the script, it's really an auteur piece. She's been very patient with me because this movie [My Old Lady] interrupted a lot of our work. She's a really old friend, so it's a little bit like family.
AKT: I am very much looking forward to it. [titled Maggie's Plan, the film has Julianne Moore, Clive Owen and Greta Gerwig attached as cast]
RH: And my father… My father is 99% working. He plays golf a lot, but he mainly works.
AKT: Is there a little joke in the film about François Roy (Stéphane Freiss), the man Kevin Kline calls Wah Wah, loving golf?
RH: Exactly. As someone who loves him and wants to spend time with him, I don't play golf. So I knew the only way to spend time with my father was to work with him.
AKT: The film itself is all about family.
RH: Whenever you work on a film it's a collaborative process. It's really like being in a band. Not one person can do it. You need everybody. You have to have a means of communication, a lingua franca. Actually, my brother and I worked on a script together once and it was really fun because we could talk about 'remember that summer when we went here and this happened? We want a scene like that'. It was a bit of the same working with my father - we had a lingua franca of our family and we had such a good time doing this together. Even when it was difficult we laughed.
AKT: I love the color combination of the dress and the shawl you are wearing tonight.
RH: I love this dress. It's Nili Lotan.
The screening was introduced by Cohen Media Group, Chairman & CEO, Charles Cohen.
Charles Cohen: This evening's filmmaker is making his debut. I don't know if you're aware but he has written and produced over seventy plays. Please join me in welcoming Israel Horovitz.
Israel Horovitz: It's probably rare for you to be talked to by a first time feature director who begins by saying, let me tell you about my grandchildren.
Horovitz thanked among others Meryl Streep and Glenn Close, "our beautiful hosts tonight and very old friends", and introduced some members of his team to the packed Titus Two theater: editors Jacob Craycroft and Stephanie Ahn, composer Mark Orton (who also did the music for Nebraska, "one of the best scores I've heard in my life," according to Horovitz), DP Michel Amathieu, his son Oliver Horovitz who came to Paris to help, and his producers, daughter Rachael Horovitz and Gary Foster.
He then pointed out someone in the audience "who has absolutely nothing to do with the film, a friend from the Seventies. This is more to wish him luck for reasons that will be obvious when you hear his name - Phil Jackson (New York Knicks president of basketball operations).
Israel Horovitz: I think everybody who works in theater and in film has a favorite actor in theater and a favorite actor in film. And they are in my life Kevin Kline.
My Old Lady opens today in the US and will be screened at the London Film Festival next month, opening in the UK on November 21.