Books and images

Paul Auster on Alicia Vikander, Felix van Groeningen, Alejandro Chomski, and Per Oscarsson in Hunger

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Paul Auster on Alicia Vikander's connection to In the Country of Last Things being filmed by Alejandro Chomski in 2019: "At one point, it was before Alicia became famous, when she was on the brink, and she loved the book and she wanted to do it."
Paul Auster on Alicia Vikander's connection to In the Country of Last Things being filmed by Alejandro Chomski in 2019: "At one point, it was before Alicia became famous, when she was on the brink, and she loved the book and she wanted to do it." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

When I met Paul Auster to return his DVD copy of The Inner Life Of Martin Frost, starring David Thewlis and Irène Jacob with Michael Imperioli and Sophie Auster, I brought a brochure for him of the Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum and I showed him Ed Bahlman's copy of Attilio Bertolucci's collection of poetry, signed by his son, Bernardo Bertolucci.

We discussed Felix van Groeningen's The Misfortunates and The Brooklyn Follies, Pedro Almodóvar and The Book Of Illusions, Per Oscarsson in Hening Carlsen's adaptation of Knut Hamsun's Hunger, Nikolaj Arcel's A Royal Affair, Joe Wright's Anna Karenina, starring Keira Knightley, Alicia Vikander, and Alejandro Chomski's upcoming film In The Country Of Last Things.

Paul Auster on meeting Alicia Vikander in 2012: "I liked her. She was 24, very talented. But she's gotten to be big now."
Paul Auster on meeting Alicia Vikander in 2012: "I liked her. She was 24, very talented. But she's gotten to be big now." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Paul was proofreading the galleys for an upcoming book on the morning I arrived at his home.

Anne-Katrin Titze: What is it you are working on here?

Paul Auster: It's not total, not collected. It's selected, you know. Still, it's 400 pages. It's enough.

AKT: What do you call it?

PA: Talking To Strangers.

AKT: Remember that I mentioned Hilma af Klint to you last time I was here? I brought you the Guggenheim brochure.

PA: Oh wow. What year is this? [He is looking at one of Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth]

AKT: 1907. This is before Mondrian, before Kandinsky. I think you will enjoy it. The paintings look spectacular and there are séances and ghosts, too. I also brought you a copy of the Bertolucci remembrances.

PA: I see. Great, thanks.

AKT: I brought one more thing I thought you might enjoy. This is a book of Bertolucci's father's poetry.

PA [noticing the translator]: Charles Tomlinson was a good poet, English poet.

AKT: He did the translation. This is a poem Attilio Bertolucci wrote about little Bernardo. [For B … The little paper planes you make - fly into twilight, disappear - like night-moths in the darkening air: - now they will never cycle back.]

PA [reading the poems in the bilingual edition]: It's beautiful.

AKT: Isn't it?

PA: It's a beautiful poem. Exquisite. [Paul reads to me in Italian] I piccoli aeroplani di carta che tu - fai volano nel crepuscolo, si perdono - come farfalle notturne nell'aria - che s'oscura, non torneranno piú.

AKT: I met Sophie once at a screening of Felix van Groeningen's Broken Circle Breakdown.

Paul Auster on Per Oscarsson in Hening Carlsen's Hunger: "One of the greatest single performances of any actor I've ever seen."
Paul Auster on Per Oscarsson in Hening Carlsen's Hunger: "One of the greatest single performances of any actor I've ever seen."

PA: Oh really?

AKT: I even have her picture in a feature I did on the event.

PA: How interesting. You know, Felix is a friend of mine. He wanted for years to make The Brooklyn Follies into a movie and it never worked out. They could never get a good script. And then he went on to other things. I see he's got a big Hollywood movie out now.

AKT: Have you seen Beautiful Boy?

PA: No, I don't want to see it.

AKT: I know the screenwriter Luke Davies. He is very good. He did the screenplay for Lion, with Nicole Kidman. I don't know if you've seen it. So this is another movie that didn't come to fruition for you?

PA: Yeah, another failed movie [The Brooklyn Follies]. But I think Felix's greatest film is The Misfortunates.

AKT: I haven't seen it.

PA: It's a kind of wonderful film that's about lower class people, not even - they're barely even working class, you know lumpen, a bunch of beer-drinking idiots. But the movie oscillates between real tragedy and comedy, just about faster than any movie I've ever seen.

AKT: That's always good.

PA: It's fantastic really. I can't say enough good things about it.

AKT: Did you see Submergence?

Paul Auster on Alicia Vikander with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in Joe Wright's Anna Karenina: "She was good. She played Kitty. Kitty was never shown in any film version before."
Paul Auster on Alicia Vikander with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in Joe Wright's Anna Karenina: "She was good. She played Kitty. Kitty was never shown in any film version before."

PA: No, I haven't seen it yet. Did you see it? Is it any good?

AKT: I saw it. It didn't look like a film by Wim [Wenders]. It's not Pope Francis: A Man Of His Word.

PA: It sounded like a strange project. You know that Alicia Vikander, I've met her. The project that's been going on for I think 16 or 17 years is In The Country Of Last Things, one of my early novels. It's finally going to be made in the spring in the Dominican Republic.

AKT: Who is going to direct?

PA: An Argentinian director. It's going to be in Spanish. Alejandro Chomski. Anyway, there'd been so many possible productions. At one point, it was before Alicia became famous, when she was on the brink, and she loved the book and she wanted to do it. And then they couldn't come up with the money and she moved on. She actually - it was not so long ago, remember the Hurricane Sandy?

AKT: Yes of course [Superstorm Sandy in 2012].

PA: She was in New York, in Manhattan. And of course there were no subways and she walked from Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge and came here and we spent the day together.

AKT: After Sandy when the subways were down?

PA: Yes. I liked her. She was 24, very talented. But she's gotten to be big now. And I don't think she is making good choices. And Wim was irritated with her. He told me that she was on the phone all the time with her manager and her agent about doing Lara Croft Tomb Raider or whatever this thing is called. But she's probably making a ton of money. It's okay. I was a little disappointed.

AKT: She was good in Ex Machina.

PA: I didn't like that film very much. She's really good in A Royal Affair, the Danish movie, where she plays the Queen of Denmark.

Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth - Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future at the Guggenheim Museum in New York
Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth - Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future at the Guggenheim Museum in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Yes, I liked her in that.

PA: She's also good in [Joe Wright's] Anna Karenina. She played Kitty. Kitty was never shown in any film version before.

AKT: Yes, Kitty is usually thrown out with the wheat fields. Do you have any books of yours that you would really love to see someone do as a film?

PA: No, not really. The Book of Illusions I would like to see because it's about movies. But I don't know who could do it. Maybe Pedro Almodóvar can do it. He's a good friend. I could see him just translating it into a Spanish setting somehow.

AKT: You have to do your own thing. Those are the films adapting literature that work best. Death in Venice by Visconti, for example.

PA: It's one of the worst movies I've ever seen.

AKT: Really? Why do you hate it?

PA: I saw it only last year. I saw it and thought this is complete bullshit. It is so bad that I ached with unhappiness as I watched it. So terrible and bombastic and full of fake emotion. I watched it in this fascination about how terrible it was.

AKT: That is so interesting.

PA: But for me, the greatest film adaptation of a great novel is Hening Carlsen's Hunger of the Knut Hamsun [autobiographical] novel. Did you ever see this movie?

AKT: No.

PA: 1966, with one of the greatest single performances of any actor I've ever seen, a Swede named Per Oscarsson. He won best actor in Cannes that year. It is an amazing film. You should get it. Did you ever read the book?

AKT: I did, yes.

PA: Well, I don't know how he did it but he recreates the book in images and it's tremendous.

Read what Paul Auster had to say on the journey for Lulu On The Bridge, Pawel Pawlikowski, Joanna Kulig, Teresa Wright, and Stanley Mar.

Read what Paul Auster had to say on Wim Wenders, Pandora's boxes, Willem Dafoe, Mira Sorvino, and Harvey Keitel in Lulu On The Bridge.

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future is on exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in New York through April 23, 2019.

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