Literary cinema

New York Film Festival Diary, part 1: Saint Laurent, The Blue Room and Gone Girl

by Anne-Katrin Titze

New York Film Festival selection committee member Marian Masone with Mathieu Amalric
New York Film Festival selection committee member Marian Masone with Mathieu Amalric Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Literary works are big at the 52nd New York Film Festival, as we reach the midpoint. Some take the shape of adaptations, such as the two world premieres, David Fincher's Gone Girl, starring Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, based on Gillian Flynn's best seller; and Paul Thomas Anderson's delirious Inherent Vice, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin, based on the only Thomas Pynchon novel ever put on screen. Mathieu Amalric's The Blue Room (La Chambre Bleue), with Stéphanie Cléau, is based on Georges Simenon's novel; and Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent with Gaspard Ulliel and Helmut Berger as the two faces of Yves Saint Laurent, begins with a Proust reference. Friedrich Schiller's misadventures in Beloved Sisters added to the literary tenor.

Saint Laurent director Bertrand Bonello: "I wanted to do this scene, which is only talking, like an action movie."
Saint Laurent director Bertrand Bonello: "I wanted to do this scene, which is only talking, like an action movie." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Saint Laurent

France's Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film at next year's Academy Awards is less a fashion biopic than a portrait of the artist as a tortured spirit. "I love bodies without souls because the soul is elsewhere," is one of the many insights targeting identity and bliss in order to come to terms with boredom and business. Bertrand Bonello makes the famous Helmut Newton photograph of Le Smoking come alive and gives Saint Laurent's two principal muses idiosyncratic behaviors that double as fashion tips.

Loulou De La Falaise (Léa Seydoux) mixes flea market findings and heirlooms with couture and frequently leather clad Betty Catroux (Aymeline Valade) puts butter in her hair. Whereas Pierre Thoretton's 2010 documentary L'Amour Fou and Jalil Lespert's Pierre Bergé authorised Yves Saint Laurent (2014) have a stronger emphasis on the clothes and style, Bonello accents artistic connections beyond. The man who "can't be Matisse," reserves his hotel rooms under the name Swann. "Are you in Paris for business?" the concierge asks. "No, to sleep," is the reply of the fashion mastermind, who lives in an apartment with "mirrors like Bavarian castles" and a painting of Proust's bed.

Bertrand Bonello, director of Saint Laurent - France's Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film
Bertrand Bonello, director of Saint Laurent - France's Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: There's a long scene that doesn't have Yves Saint Laurent in it. That is the business meeting. I think I've never seen anything like it, or, actually, heard anything like it. The way you are using the two languages and the interpreter overlapping, it becomes something else than the content. We look at the patterns of the ties and we half listen. Can you talk about this fascinating scene?

Bertrand Bonello: Yes, true, this was a very important scene for me. In the first draft of the script, there was a lot of information about the economy. And for this moment I thought this was too much information, it is practically one huge moment. Yves is not in there, at the same time they talk about Yves. These are not easy stakes, but I wanted the spectator to not always understand what they say, but to say "I don't understand, but they do understand what they are doing." Something very technical. I wanted to do this scene, which is only talking, like an action movie. Now, basically everyone talks good English.

But in the Seventies, someone like Pierre Bergé [in the film played by Jérémie Renier] doesn't speak English. I liked the idea to have the interpreter because it creates some tension on the scene. You have the general feeling of something quite tense. It took me 9 years, sorry, 9 days, to write this scene. It was very very long and very precise. Even me, now, I'm not sure I understand what happens. But I know it's right.

The Blue Room

Mathieu Amalric as director/writer boldly takes on the challenge with his adaptation of Georges Simenon's novel The Blue Room and makes it a thriller of membranes, a chronicle of fluid crime.

An airy empty room, blue and white. A rustic corridor in a rural hotel in France. Snapshots to take a quick look. It is summer. Objects tempt us to turn them into transparent things, as do the bodies who take over a bed.

The Blue Room director Mathieu Amalric: "If you think of Hitchcock, you're dead."
The Blue Room director Mathieu Amalric: "If you think of Hitchcock, you're dead." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

A man, Julien Gahyde (Amalric), is bleeding at the lip. In rapture, his lover Esther (Stéphanie Cléau, who co-wrote the screenplay) bit him. "Your wife will ask questions," she says, and then "do you love me?" She is marking her territory in blood. Amalric uncompromisingly shows us the stains, the sweat, passionate embraces and a room as silent witness.

The wife decorates for Christmas, standing on a tall ladder holding one end of a blood-red garland of tinsel while her husband pulls aggressively on the other. The domestic tug of war works brilliantly because the actors make sure that we are aware of how little anyone knows about what is going on inside their head. Because there are no angels around.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Many of the scenes in your film are visually connected to each other. One was standing on its own for me, the one with the wife on the ladder when he [Julien] pulls at the garland. There, for a moment, because you show the glass table, I thought is this going to be William Holden or Lost Highway? Was this going in another direction? Can you talk a little bit about this scene?

Mathieu Amalric: In the book, it happens more in his head. There's nothing that happens physically. He sleeps but that's all. And that wasn't enough for me. I think I fell in love with RKO thrillers. How to tell what he has in mind after having received those anonymous letters where she says "I did it." That's what he thinks [she means] - "I killed my husband - now it's your turn". Before that day, I did not know how to do [that scene]. I wrote something with a knife. But it was not good. It was stupid. And I saw the prop guy on a ladder, putting up the decoration for Christmas. There, that makes sense! I can kill him [the prop guy]!

And then, of course, very simple, I was thinking of Hitchcock. If you think of Hitchcock, you're dead. It has to be the memory of what we all construct on our own with Hitchcock. To me, it is not precise, it was the pleasure to be afraid. I remember during the editing, there's a moment, where [composer] Grégoire Hetzel - the scene was in silence - where Grégoire continued the music. It was his idea and it was great. At one moment the music seems to stop and they're going to love each other again and they're smiling. And then it comes back, of course. There was guilt. For Simenon everybody is guilty, even if you are innocent. Especially if you are innocent, you are guilty.

Amalric dares to go for big cinema moments while letting his audience have the freedom to do the work of plot-telling on their own.

Gone Girl

Gone Girl director David Fincher, author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike
Gone Girl director David Fincher, author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

First rule about David Fincher's deliciously slippery and entertaining domestic crime thriller Gone Girl? Do not spoil the fun of unspooling Gone Girl for future audiences. So, as Nick Cave announces in Wings Of Desire, "let me tell you about a girl." The girl is called Amy Dunne and this is her film, primarily because Rosamund Pike is a revelation as the woman who can be everything you want her to be - and, especially, what you definitely don't want her to be. Pike plays this cracked concept to the fullest - more than a change in hair color makes her a cinematic cousin to Hitchcock's Marnie.

Ben Affleck's face as Amy's husband Nick is illegible, a cryptogram of guilt and complacency, anger and ennui. His voiceover starts the story, soft in tone as it is violent in vocabulary. "When I think of my wife, I think of her lovely head." He continues by saying how he wants to crack open his wife's skull to understand what she really is thinking and feeling.

Anne-Katrin Titze: The only really stable character in this house is the cat.

Ben Affleck: You haven't met the cat!

AKT: Could you talk a little bit about this very prominent cat in the movie?

David Fincher (to author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn): That was you.

Gillian Flynn: There's a screenplay book that is called Save the Cat and it's all about make your character likable. In the first ten minutes you should do something that makes you like them. And so I enjoyed the fact that in the first ten minutes he literally saves the cat.

Ben Affleck: And yet, you still don't like him.

David Fincher: That's your gift.

Gillian Flynn: I like him. I love that he is so devoted to the cat. I love, you know, the cat was really hard to get. He was really hard to cast, he was very difficult on set. And I know you guys had a ...

Ben Affleck: A half-dead cat. The cat would not move. We'd drop it and he was like [Affleck grimaces]. Best acting cat you'd ever have. Five days with that cat at the bottom of the stairs. He did not move.

Rosamund Pike: I did win him over in the end with the crêpes [in Gone Girl].

Gillian Flynn: Which I don't actually like. I feel like Amy was playing Cool Girl again at that point and shouldn't have let him up on the counter.

The greatest difference in the characters' behavior might have little to do with gender. One goes for the grand transgression, a mapped out plot of revenge and disguise whereas another, with seemingly no thought at all, stumbles into the most basic and classless of teenage thrills. Seeing an absorbing psychopath work scary charms can actually be an effective deterrent from all too common ramshackle betrayal. The fluidity of guilt is Gone Girl's shimmering lifeline.

The New York Film Festival continues through October 12, with the Closing Night Gala film being Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance, starring Michael Keaton as action hero Riggan Thomson with Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianikis.

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