At last Maddin makes mischief in Cannes

G7 satire star power for Rumours filmmaker

by Richard Mowe

Cate Blanchett: 'I’ve never been directed before by a threesome'
Cate Blanchett: 'I’ve never been directed before by a threesome' Photo: Richard Mowe
Normally Canadian director Guy Maddin has shunned casting star names in his body of work which now spans more than four decades.

Although his compatriots Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg have been regular fixtures in the Cannes Film Festival firmament until this year Maddin, 68, had never reached the giddy heights of the Croisette with any of his idiosyncratic works.

That omission has changed after a collaboration with his directorial co-conspirators, the brothers Evan and Galen Johnson (also Canadians) on Rumours, an excoriating and dark political satire about world leaders meeting for a G7 submit in the isolated surrounds of a dank schloss in the heavily wooded German countryside turns into a zombie apocalypse and quest for survival.

Cate Blanchett: 'It is very hard not to laugh at the absurdity of the situation'
Cate Blanchett: 'It is very hard not to laugh at the absurdity of the situation' Photo: Richard Mowe
With such star turns as Cate Blanchett as the German chancellor and host, Charles Dance as the sleepy American President with a cut-glass English accent, Denis Menochet representing France, Nikki Amuka-Bird batting for the UK, Alicia Vikander and others flying the flags for Japan, Italy and, of course, Canada, the scene seems set for Maddin to reach a wider audience.

Teaming up with the brothers Johnson on films including the experimental feature The Green Fog in 2018, which revisited Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, seems to have spiced up his creativity. Cate Blanchett admitted that The Green Fog was one of her favourite films. Another notable title in the canon is ode to Soviet-era propaganda films The Heart Of The World, presented at the Toronto Film Festival in 2000.

Maddin confirms that he wants to keep moving in new directions. His Cannes entry, which is screening Out of Competition, happened “spontaneously”. But he left it to Galen Johnson to explain: “We had been writing a few other scripts which didn’t quite make it. We had lots of stupid ideas for about 20 movies but the G7 idea kept asserting itself and crawling out of the wastepaper baskets and insisting on being made as a film.

Brothers Evan and Galen Johnson, Cate Blanchett and Guy Maddin
Brothers Evan and Galen Johnson, Cate Blanchett and Guy Maddin Photo: Richard Mowe
“We also loved the idea of the G7 - we don’t know them from up close but we know them the same way as you do from afar on the evening news. Seeing them and their spouses greet each other regardless of ideology, they appear to be just as friendly with each other. Even though they might declare war on each other or commit atrocities they are all just as genial as the after party we had last night. It seemed strange to have this disconnect between what is actually going on in the world and it seemed the perfect blank canvas for all kinds of mischief.”

One mischievous thought applied to Charles Dance’s head of state. Maddin expanded: “The idea of having the American president speak with an inexplicable English accent was one of the first ideas we had in the writers’ room and it was one that never went away.

Rumours Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
“It just felt right and it was one irreducible fact that it was our best idea. So we went to think about who could play this role and we wanted someone who could be presidential and the most British actor possible and obviously that was Charles Dance. He is the incarnation of this surrealist idea. I rationalised it and it was almost like a ‘What if’ moment: if the Revolutionary war had gone the other way and the US had just stayed a colony. It was just in the mix as bait!”

Maddin started wooing Blanchett when he attended the Sydney Film Festival in 2008 with My Winnipeg, described as a “docu-fantasia” about his birthplace. The Aussie actor subsequently championed the film as head of the jury that year.

Blanchett confessed that she was “an enormous admirer of Guy’s work and the work the Johnson brothers. They make narratives out of things that should not have narratives. What I loved about the script was it that it felt like it was a departure for them. I have never directed by a threesome and it was fascinating! As a directing triumvirate they were all going in a different direction so we would all have the chance to depart collectively.”

And why the title Rumours? Blanchett had pressed her husband on the subject and he had suggested it must be the Fleetwood Mac album. Maddin and Galen Johnson both confirmed it was chosen as the title because “the album was famously creatively fraught and everyone was sleeping with each other, so it made sense to us. We thought people, producers and financiers, would be like, ‘Why Rumours?’ But no one ever questioned it, so we just made it the title.”

In the past Maddin frequently has had to promote his films by himself without the presence of stellar power and collaborators. Clearly he relished the opportunity Cannes afforded to line-up alongside Blanchett, Dance, the Johnsons and the rest of the team.

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