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Interview: Tatiana S. Riegel on Editing I, Tonya

Reigel discusses working with Sally Menke, how editing a film is like attending a dinner party, and more.



Interview: Tatiana S. Riegel on Editing I, Tonya
Photo: Neon

In her 30 years as a film editor, Tatiana S. Riegel has cut five films for director Craig Gillespie, starting with 2007’s Lars and the Real Girl. Her work on Gillespie’s latest feature, I, Tonya, has earned her an Oscar nomination for best achievement in film editing. Reigel talked to me by phone from Berlin, where she’s working on the early footage of director Fede Alvarez’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web—starring Claire Foy, Vicky Krieps, Claes Bang, and Lakeith Stanfield—as it’s being filmed. In a conversation studded with references to intuition and instinct, Reigel talked about how editing a film is like attending a dinner party, what she learned from her years as an assistant to Quentin Tarantino’s longtime editor, Sally Menke, and why it’s not easy for women to find a place at the editing console.

Is your work entirely about figuring out how best to realize the director’s vision, or are you also discovering or creating the film yourself to some degree as you edit it?

It’s both. Obviously, I’ve read the script, and I’ve had some conversations with the director. If it’s a director I’ve worked with a lot, like Craig, that makes it very easy. If it’s someone I haven’t worked with very much, or at all, it takes a little bit more time to suss that out. But it’s a 50-50 combo, trying to figure out what they want and also bringing your own input in terms of story and performance and pacing and stuff like that.

What makes you and Craig such good partners?

We have a lot of similarities, and differences in the right places. You have to be able to sit in a room with a director for eight, 10, 12 hours a day and still get along at the end of the day, but you also have to have enough differences so there’s that real yin-yang and sounding board happening, which enables you to build on each other’s work and make it better. We have a similar sense of humor, and we have very similar tastes in films and emotion and the sort of story that moves us and that we find interesting. Our differences are just the innate differences that you have in two people from different places, different times, who are of different sexes—those sorts of different experiences that you bring to it as an individual.

How have you seen film editing change over the years? Obviously, there’s been the switch from film to digital, but I’m also thinking of things like people’s attention spans getting shorter and the boom in special effects.

Obviously the biggest difference I’ve experienced in my career is that change from film to digital. That makes a huge, huge difference in the workflow and the pace and the sort of day-to-day job. It used to be a very physical job. Now it’s rather sedentary. Also, the way people watch media is different. People’s patience has probably gotten a bit shorter. And people get very used to seeing things in a certain way: quicker cuts, lots of music. I’m not sure that’s all for the better, but on certain things, it’s definitely appropriate.

In the early days of film almost all of the editors were women, but they’re only about a quarter of the members of the Editors Guild now. When and why do you think film editing became male-dominated?

The short answer to that question would probably be that people realized how important it was. [laughs] The other answer is that pretty much all of the directors, for a really long time—it’s getting a little bit better now—were men. It’s a very close work situation and ultimately, a lot of times, guys want to hang out with other guys. Buddies, you know. I think it’s more comfortable [for them]. But I don’t think it’s good for the film, necessarily. I like to have a mix in my crew, my assistants—a mix of male and female whenever possible, different backgrounds, different points of view. Because you’re trying to put the film out there to as many people as possible, so it’s very important to get reactions early on from a great variety of people. That’s why my situation with Craig works very well, because sometimes I’ll look at a scene and be like, well, no, a woman wouldn’t do that, or would do that. And he’s approaching it from a different point of view, and we can debate that.

You like to say that the editor is the only person involved in a film’s making who comes in as essentially an audience member. Can you explain what that philosophy means to you and how you find it helpful when you’re working?

Yes, I find it extremely helpful. For example, when a scene is shot, I’m the only person [in the cast and crew] who watches it for the very first time exclusively on film—or on the monitor, or however it’s being shown. So I get that initial reaction to the performance and to the geography of the situation and to the costumes and what people look like and everything else that everybody else on the set doesn’t have. They know the geography of the set because they’re physically walking on the set. I’m reacting the way an audience member would. Does something look believable? Does the performance feel believable? I haven’t been to all the development meetings, been part of the casting and rewrite process, or done any location scouting. I haven’t heard about all of the innumerable compromises that have taken place through the pre-production and production process. That helps me have a really instinctive, intuitive reaction to what I see initially.

Even though women are in the minority now, there are a lot of famous and sought-after female editors in Hollywood, probably more so than in other important behind-the-camera positions like directing or cinematography. I’m thinking of people like Dede Allen and Thelma Schoonmaker and Sally Menke, who you worked with early in your career. Do you think editing is still one of the easier ways for women to get into film?

I’m not sure there’s really any easy way. I think it’s wonderful that all categories and job positions are finally starting to open up to women. It’s really important. But I really don’t know what’s the easier way to get in. Only 23% of the Editors Guild is female. It’s easier than cinematography, yes, but it’s still a pretty competitive, difficult way to get into the business.

Do you think there are more female editors as you go down the status scale, like in lower-budget films?

Unfortunately, yes. There are probably more women in TV and reality or other places where the investment isn’t as big or a studio is more willing to take a little bit of a risk. In the larger features, they’re less willing to take that risk. They’re not used to picturing a female editor cutting a big action movie. So it’s probably a little more common in these other areas. I don’t know if it’s easier.

Was I, Tonya particularly challenging to work on?

It was very challenging. It’s got a very interesting and unique tone, and it was challenging, yet extremely gratifying and fun, to find that. There was a big mixture of emotional and tragic stories alongside some ridiculously humorous moments, and that’s a tough line to walk.

Can you give me an example of something you contributed to the film that illustrates what good editing brings to a movie?

The biggest example is how the interviews and voiceover and breaking the fourth wall are woven throughout the story. We jump around in time a bit. There’s a lot of movement in the film, and finding that balance is always the big challenge and what required the most editing. The skating scenes were beautifully shot and wonderfully choreographed, but they all had to be built to have their own personality and to be appropriate for the given point in the film and what was happening character-wise, in terms of the amount of energy and pacing. The simpler dialogue scenes often were the most difficult, in an odd way. You have to get the pacing exactly right, whether it’s the argument scene with the mom where she throws the knife at Tonya or the bar scene with Jeff Gillooly and Shawn Eckardt where it’s the tension that the F.B.I. is recording them and Jeff Gillooly knows it, building that tension and keeping the audience leaning into the show and wondering what’s going to happen.

Is that done with cuts? Sound? With how long you draw out the scene?

All of the above. It’s a slow build, going back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes it’s more important to see the reaction to a line than who’s saying the line. It’s following your eyes. It’s like at a dinner table: If you want to understand what editing is, just try to sit at a dinner table with a bunch of people and really pay attention to where your eyes go. You don’t know who’s going to start talking next. Somebody starts talking and your eyes move to them, and then you want to see the reaction to what they said, so your eyes are on this other person while somebody’s saying something. Or you look over at somebody picking up the salt shaker, or you look at somebody playing footsie under the table. All of these things are telling you the story of that dinner, and that’s exactly what editing is: It’s following the eyes and figuring out where you need to be at a particular place to convey that story the best.

The skating scenes are so well done. To what extent was it digital effects and to what extent was it editing that made them feel so seamless?

It was three things: the way it was shot, the digital effects, and the editing. We didn’t do the visual effects until the very end, so we screened the film many times through the process without them. We were cutting back and forth between two people and one of them had a little orange ball on her head for tracking purposes, and it was amazing how in an audience people didn’t really pay attention to that. Because they were so involved in the emotion of the scene and the speed and the pace, and they were really watching her body doing these amazing physical feats. Which, to me, let me know that the scene was ready and done—ready to turn over to visual effects.

I read that one of the cinematographers was a good skater, so he shot a lot of the skating scenes on skates?

That’s exactly right. They were having big discussions about how they were going to shoot the skating, with Steadicams and dollies and cranes and drones, and however else they were trying to do it, and then one of the operators quietly said, “Hey, by the way, I skate.” They did some tests with him holding a camera and countering the moves and it just added a tremendous amount of energy and made it a much, much more dynamic and fun scene. It was brilliant. Happy accident!

Tonya Harding seems like a prototypical example of the kind of Trump voter we keep hearing about since the election: working-class, white, frustrated, and angered by the highhanded treatment she gets from the cultural elite. And, in fact, according to a recent interview she did, she said she’s a Trump supporter. Did you and Craig talk about that while making the film?

We didn’t talk about Trump literally, but one of the themes in the movie is classism, definitely, and not getting support from people around you and the struggle of this woman who was a phenomenal athlete and was never judged strictly on being an athlete. She was judged for all of these other things. Unfortunately, because of that, we all lost out on being able to experience one of the greatest athletes around.

It’s classism, and it’s also sexism: all those rules about what a female skater is supposed to look like and dress like.

Exactly. I don’t know about the writer or Craig or Margot, I can’t speak for them. But I can say we were all very much aware of and spoke about those scenes that ran through the film, I think very strongly, about classism, sexism, being allowed to be an individual, and what the media does in terms of simplifying and describing people in a very black-and-white way. That was something that was very important to me from the first time I read the script. And how quickly people judged her. It made me think that I need to make sure I’m not making judgments, in stories that I hear on the news or in my life, without all the information I need to know what’s really going on. I think that’s a good moral lesson for everybody.

You’ve edited work by a lot of excellent actors over the years, and you must have their performances practically memorized after looking at their scenes over and over again. Has that taught you anything you can articulate about what makes for great acting?

I would say the main thing is truth—really embracing and understanding who your character is and what their motivation is. The other aspect is to be disciplined and to understand, particularly for film acting, that there are certain technical requirements in terms of matching and consistency that are really important. Somebody can do the absolute best take in the world, the very best performance that I, in watching dailies, believe from one end to the other and think is just absolutely perfection, and if I can’t cut that particular take into the rest of the scene I can’t use it.

Because they’re holding a cup of coffee when they weren’t supposed to be, or something like that?

Yeah. And then I wind up having to use the second or third best take, and it’s really heartbreaking to have to do that. Because it’s a big puzzle and you have to make a lot of pieces fit. You’re cutting back and forth between all of these different takes for each line, and each moment has to be telling the story and hitting those points. And if for some reason you can’t use something because of something physical, like continuity, it’s very frustrating. But obviously, that’s not as important at all as just story and emotion. That’s always what you cut for: emotion first, story second, and then the continuity. But if the continuity is glaringly wrong, it’ll yank you out of the emotion. The best actors have this amazing ability to give you variation but consistency. Those two things seem counterintuitive to each other, but they really are very related.

You’ve said that you had to cut some wonderful scenes from I, Tonya to keep it from going too long. Can you tell me about one of them?

Yeah, there were a few. There were a couple of other scenes with Jeff Gillooly and Shawn Eckardt that were really, really funny and quite enjoyable. And then there was a little section of film, a kind of montage sequence, that was based on some of the interview of Tonya Harding where she’s talking about Jeff and how a lot of people around Jeff ended up dead. That was also quite good, but it didn’t push the story forward in the proper way. That’s always the hard part. You always are making that call about what’s necessary. What’s enjoyable and what’s necessary for the story. Sometimes scenes that are just wonderful scenes do not fit and just don’t move the story forward.

When you do talk to a director ahead of time, do you sometimes influence the way the film gets shot? I read that you told Craig, after reading this script, that there were an awful lot of talking heads in it, and after that he decided to shoot the interviews as direct addresses to the camera, which made them more dynamic. That might be something he would have done anyhow, but do your suggestions sometimes wind up changing what’s shot?

He definitely would have done that anyway. When I mentioned that to him, he was already thinking about it. But, yes, there are times when I read a script and I might say, “I think we need an additional scene here,” or, “We don’t need that scene.” Or there’s something about a character that I’m not liking. But there are so many other people involved in the pre-production process. I really try to keep myself separate from it as long as possible, so that I can keep my perspective. During the shoot, as dailies come in, if I’m liking everything and I know everything’s okay, we don’t have any conversation. But if there’s anything where I feel like it’s off a little bit or that maybe I don’t understand, then I’ll call the director and we’ll either discuss it until he sets me straight or he’ll say, “Hmm, that’s a good idea. Let me try that.”

How much influence do you have on the music used in films you’re editing?

A lot, especially with Craig. I try not to put music in for quite a long time. This film was different because of using songs versus a score. And obviously the skating sequences were cut to certain songs, because she really did skate to ZZ Top and things like that. But the other songs—the needle-drop score, as we call it—we did that together. He had some ideas, and then when we had an assembly of the movie, we just started throwing songs against it to see what worked, trying different things for energy and feeling and pace.

But normally, on a regular film that doesn’t have so many needle-drops, I like to wait a while before putting music in until I get to know the movie and know its personality. Sometimes I work with directors who have a very clear idea of the kind of music they would like. They may even know the composer. And occasionally a composer may even write stuff before they shoot. But I like to stay away from that as much as possible, because if I can make the scene work without music, then I know it’s good. If you leave the music off, it forces you to be very efficient and disciplined. It also allows you to not get attached to things. Sometimes transitions between scenes work very well because music is hiding the fact that you really just have to move that scene. Whereas if the music isn’t there, you become much more free to move a scene around. You’ll discover it the other way too, but it takes longer.

Are there other editors you particularly admire and have learned from?

Sally. I was a sponge around her. I had a unique position at a unique time, when Quentin was just making his second, third, fourth movie. To participate in that, and to see that amazing relationship they had—I always thought that would be my dream, to find somebody like that. I feel that way with Craig.

In addition to the relationship, there must have been things about how she did her work that you admired.

Oh, definitely. She was just phenomenal. She had an intuitiveness that I’ve never seen in anybody else that I’ve worked with. I still can watch her scenes over and over and study them, and they’re so good. It’s hard to explain what it really was. It was just an innate thing in her, her ability to go for the story and for the emotion. That’s what it always comes down to. And she would always find these amazing moments and build them to their greatest potential.



Interview: Mary Kay Place on the Emotional Journey of Kent Jones’s Diane

The actress speaks at length about the little pieces of herself that she sees in her character.



Mary Kay Place
Photo: IFC Films

Diane, the eponymous character of film critic, programmer, and documentarian
Kent Jones’s narrative directorial debut, provides Mary Kay Place with a rare leading role that the character actress inhabits with customary nuance. Diane is a woman grappling with countless burdens, none bigger than her struggle to bridge the gap between herself and her son, Brian (Jake Lacy), who’s battling addiction. Place is in every scene of the film, and she’s mesmerizing in each one, for showing how Diane’s routines, from volunteering at a soup kitchen to caring for a dying cousin, takes some kind of toll on her mind.

Place has delivered many memorable performances throughout her long career, most notably in The Big Chill and Manny & Lo. She became reliable for playing folksy, no-nonsense women—often mothers—who’re predisposed to putting others first and leading from the heart. Maybe that’s why Diane felt like a perfect fit for the actress. Throughout Jones’s film, Diane drops by houses and hospital rooms, looking to stay “only but for a minute.” But her business masks a deeper pain and loneliness, and the film allows Kay to bring to the surface certain rhythms that she hasn’t often been allowed to channel in her previous work.

In a recent conversation with Place about Diane, the actress spoke to me at length about the little pieces of herself that she sees in her character, how she expresses her own anger, and why she considers herself a “kitchen dancer.”

Diane is selfless, lonely, ashamed, tough. Do you see yourself in her?

Yes, because she lives in a small community, and my parents came from small towns in Texas, and because I went to these towns my whole life to visit my grandparents with my family. The casserole exchange, and the experiences that take place in small communities—they resonated with me. Many of us in our families have addiction issues; we can all relate to that aspect of Diane. And many of us have said things we regret or feel ashamed about and hold on to, though maybe not for as long as Diane does. As members of her family pass away, that family loss is an initiation into a new dimension of your life. I could relate to that as well. She takes a turn into a deeper exploration of her own needs and wants because she has time to reflect.

Diane’s well-meaning is an attempt to compensate for her failures. Why do you think Diane is the way she is, so hard on herself?

Because some people just are. She’s a sensitive person. She busies herself with lists to distract her from thinking about the things she carries around as a burden. But as the film moves on, she has more time for reflection and goes through a transformation in small, tiny ways.

Much of your performance as Diane is internal. Can you describe your process in playing those moments?

It flowed naturally because of the script. There was an inner dialogue going on and that was reflected on my face. I was aware of subtext. Even though it wasn’t written, my imagination found the rhythm and flow that occurred. Once you get into shooting, being in every scene helped that development. There was an inner and outer dialogue. We go through this whole time period and as she has more time alone and once her son gets sober—that’s a huge weight off her shoulders—she doesn’t know what to do with herself.

Diane’s relationship with her son is interesting. He lies to her, he bullies her, and at times she stands up to him. She’s no-nonsense in dealing with him. I’m curious to know your personal thoughts about this dynamic of their relationship?

She’s definitely codependent and enabling her son by doing his laundry. She doesn’t know how to let go. Maybe she’s never been to an Al-Anon meeting—or has and rejected it. So, they have this dynamic, and they feed off each other. They’re hooked in. She’s not able to break free of it.

How do you personally cope with the ups and downs of life?

Well, I do centering prayer, and mindful meditation, exercise. I think the prayer and meditation have always been important coping mechanisms.

There’s a scene in a bar where Diane goes drinking, puts on the jukebox and dances. It made me remember your dancing in the kitchen to “Handyman” in Smooth Talk.

I’m a big kitchen dancer—with other people or by myself. I have all kinds of playlists and I love to dance. I really wanted to do that bar scene. I picked the song—Leon Russell’s “Out in the Woods”—because it’s fun to dance to, and the lyrics were appropriate for Diane. Kent was game for that. It showed another side of Diane that we hadn’t seen. It was from when she was at a simpler time in her life and didn’t have shameful thoughts and was just out having fun.

We see what makes Diane come undone. So I guess I’m also curious to know what makes you lose your temper or patience?

I come from a family that doesn’t hold things in. We let the freak flag fly and then it’s totally over and done with. Explosions and then we’re through! I lose patience with people being oblivious to the feeling of others, and I have no tolerance for meanness. None. I might lash out, depend on the circumstances—and I can if called upon—but I generally don’t.

Diane appears to be a creature of habit, living a life that consists of routine. Are you in that mold, or more peripatetic or free-spirited?

I’m “both/and” instead of “either/or.” I get real orderly and then I get real spontaneous and have to start all over again. Diane’s driving connects the scenes and shows that monotony that she experiences. Oh my God, we’re back in that car again driving to someone’s house! It’s not a walking community. And it’s a different rhythm driving on country roads than in L.A.

We also see how patient Diane can be. Where do you think she gets that quality, and do you share it?

Sometimes she’s not patient. I strive to be more patient. I can be patient and sometimes I can be very impatient. Once again, it’s a “both/and” kind of thing.

Your career has been as an in-demand character actress. This is a rare leading role for you. Watching Diane, I kept thinking: “It’s long overdue that you were the star!”

Thank you for saying it’s long overdue. I enjoy every minute of it, but I love ensemble work. It’s interesting to find a rhythm and exchange words and movement with other people. It’s fun. It’s been interesting to have this leading part, but I love the other work as well.

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Interview: Jia Zhang-ke on Ash Is Purest White and the Evolution of China

Jia discusses what he likes about digital video and how Zhao Tao helped bring her role to life.



Jia Zhang-ke
Photo: Cohen Media Group

Unshowy yet unshakably self-assured, sincere but with glimpses of a sly sense of humor, and unhesitatingly frank even about touchy topics like the Chinese government’s censorship of his work, Jia Zhang-ke comes off in person just as a fan of his films might expect. Ever since his 1997 feature debut, The Pickpocket, and 2000’s Platform, in which young people struggle to adapt to China’s increasing Westernization, Jia has been creating a kind of unofficial history of his homeland, quietly defying his government’s determination to erase its tracks as it barrels along by doing things like rewiring the economy, rewriting the social contract, and depopulating whole cities and erecting new ones in a matter of months.

Jia’s films operate in metaphorical deep focus, surfacing the ways that these sweeping societal changes affect individual lives and relationships by zeroing in on sensitively detailed portrayals of two lovers, or of a group or pair of friends, while just as clearly portraying the socioeconomic backdrops to their stories. And often at the center of his films is Zhao Tao, his wife and longtime muse. In Jia’s latest, Ash Is Purest White, Zhao reprises the role she played in 2002’s Unknown Pleasures: Qiao Qiao, a strong-willed woman from Jia’s hometown of Fenyang, this time over a span of 17 years that starts when she’s the young lover of a gangster and ends with her in charge of the gambling den he once ran.

In a conversation before Ash Is Purest White’s debut at the New York Film Festival, Jia explained what he likes about digital video, how Zhao Tao helped bring her role to life, and how he deals with his government’s suppression of his work.

The music in your films is always an important part of the story. Can you talk about how you picked the songs for this one, starting with “Y.M.C.A.”?

Since I wanted to set the story starting in 2001, I wanted to find a piece of music that can trigger that particular era very authentically. And back in the day, in 2001, the younger generation, they didn’t have a lot of sources of entertainment. They might have had a disco club and karaoke, and that was about it. Two songs very popular at that time were “Y.M.C.A.” and “Go West” [the Pet Shop Boys song that was a motif in Jia’s Mountains May Depart].

The reason that we liked “Y.M.C.A.” was not because we understood the lyrics or understood who sang them or who was involved in the production. We had no idea what they were singing about. But we did enjoy the rhythm, the melody, and the beat, which is matching the heartbeat of the young people. It really got you going and brought up the energy of the room.

Another song that is particularly important in the film—you hear it again and again—is “Drunk for Life” by Sally Yeh, a Cantonese pop singer. This is a song I listened to when I was in junior high. At the time, young people tended to hang out in the video arcade, and this was one of the songs heard there. It was also a theme song for John Woo’s The Killer. That film, in the triad genre, is very similar to the John Woo motif that I want to evoke in this film.

The third song in this film is “How Much Love Can Be Repeated?” This sequence was actually shot 12 years ago in Three Gorges, when I made Still Life. I think the reason why I wanted to use it was that it could create this interesting contrast between what was happening on stage and Zhao’s character off stage, when you see her reaction watching this performance. Mind you, the on-stage part was shot 12 years ago, but Zhao’s part was shot last year. Hopefully, you cannot tell that these two footages were from two different times and spaces.

Was any of the other Three Gorges footage shot for Still Life, or shot when you were making that film? I know you shot a lot of documentary footage there at the time.

Only that particular clip was shot 12 years ago. The rest, we went back to the same location and tried to capture what we did in Still Life. But, unlike in other parts of the film, where we tend to use digital video, for the Three Gorges part we use film stock. That’s why it gives you a sense of nostalgia, evoking what happened in the past.

You’ve worked in digital video for a long time, partly because it allowed you to bypass processing labs, which would not have developed your films because they weren’t government-approved. Digital video also made it much easier for your films to be copied and disseminated in China when they weren’t being played in theaters. Are there also things that you prefer artistically about using digital video, especially now that it can do so much more than it could early on?

Starting in 2001, using DV to shoot Unknown Pleasures, I didn’t think of it just for practical purposes. DV as a medium has its own aesthetics that I can really explore and develop. Using DV you can create a close proximity between the camera and the actors and actresses, a kind of intimacy that cannot be done through the traditional camera.

The other thing is, things that happen unexpectedly can be easily captured with DV cameras. With cameras that use film stock, things are usually highly scripted in a contained, particular environment. With DV you tend to have a lot of spontaneity and a lot of impromptu happenstances that can be easily captured.

It’s so important for people to share their stories and learn from history. To me, one of the most important forms of disruption in China since Mao is the way people have been barred from telling their stories, or made to alter what they say to fit some official narrative. So you’re performing an important service by writing history with your films, recording the story of the present and the recent past for the people of tomorrow.

I think that’s also why I rely a lot on DV. I joke that only the pace of the evolution of DV equipment can keep up with the pace of the development of China. For me, this film is very much about how, in this time span of 17 years, human connections and human emotions—the interpersonal relationships between people—evolves and changes as a result of all that. On the surface, you can see very clearly the changes pre-internet era and post-internet era, [things like how] in the past you had slow trains and now you have high-speed trains. But that is on the surface level. What I’m interested in exploring is what happened in terms of the inner world of those people in this particular historical context, how their relationships evolved or dissolved and the reasons for the dissolutions and the evolutions of their relationships.

You’ve said you like working with your wife partly because she becomes a kind of second author of your screenplays, adding detail to what you have written. Can you give an example of what she brought to this movie?

When she was in the cabin of the boat and the lady in black [a cabinmate] came in, she just, almost as a kneejerk reaction, stood up, suddenly and immediately. She was trying to capture what it would be like for someone who has been in prison for five years, how she would have reacted to a security guard entering the jail cell and how she would react the same way when this lady in black entered her cabin.

I see her training as a dancer a lot in the physicality of her acting.

Yes. Another example would be the water bottle in this film. It was used to evoke this same character in Still Life, and she carried that water bottle there too. It makes sense because of the weather; it was very hot so she would need to drink. But the water bottle also came in handy to enhance the mood I was trying to create. Zhao Tao took this on and really went for it. She used it as a weapon, she used it as a way to stop the door from closing,

And to avoid holding hands with the man she met on the train.

Exactly. She was using this bottle as a kind of third character in the film, thinking about how this can be expanded and explored.

Your work has faced such strong resistance from the Chinese government. What is the government’s response to your films these days, and how does that affect how you work or how your films are seen?

I make films based on my own ecology, my own tempo and rhythm. I don’t really think too much about whether or not the film can be shown in China. Of course, I would love if my film could be shown in China, but that’s not the only reason why I make films. The most important thing for me is to understand that that’s not the end goal, so I don’t need to somehow sacrifice and change the way I make films in order to be shown in China.

I will make the film I want to make, and if it can be shown in China, great. If not, so be it. That’s the way I interact with this particular censorship system. But I have to say that the situation has improved in terms of the communication channels. Those have opened up a lot more, so after I finish the film, I will do my best as a director to communicate to the censor bureau why this film should be shown in China. That I am willing to do. But I will not compromise the quality or any subject matter.

Translation by Vincent Cheng

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Every Cannes Palme d’Or Winner of the 2000s Ranked

There’s a certain formula that often defines the recipients of Cannes’s most prestigious prize.



Every Cannes Palme d’Or Winner of the 2000s Ranked
Photo: Wild Bunch

There’s a certain formula that often defines the recipients of the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious top prize, the Palme d’Or. These films, in recent years especially, tend to have a sense of importance about them (Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11), frequently due to their sociopolitical awareness of the world (Laurent Cantet’s The Class), or of specific societal ills (Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). Very occasionally, the Palme d’Or goes to a bold, experimental, and divisive vision from a well-liked auteur (Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), but more often it’s awarded to a film in the lineup that the most people on the Cannes jury can probably agree is good (Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake). And in less than three months, we’ll see if Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s jury will follow any sort of predictable formula when it announces its winners.

You’ll find us on the Croisette this May, covering most of the titles in Cannes’s competition slate. Until then, enjoy our ranking of the Palme d’Or winner from the 2000s. Sam C. Mac

Editor’s Note: This entry was originally published on May 1, 2018.

The Son’s Room

19. The Son’s Room (2001)

Halfway through The Son’s Room, director Nanni Moretti shifts the rhetoric of his narrative away from an exaggerated view of happy domesticity and into a realm of weepy melodrama. Psychiatrist Giovanni (Moretti) is a perfect father and husband: he helps his daughter with her Latin homework (perducto means “without hardship you will be guided”—wink, wink); allows her boyfriend to exalt grass (when high, the boy says he’s “looking at the universe”); and initiates group lip-synching during the family’s car trips. Nicola Piovani’s score grotesquely heightens the joy behind every smile, meaning disaster is inevitable. As Moretti delves deeper into Giovanni’s work, focus is shifted away from the family arena. Though the film blooms when Paola (Laura Morante) and the family seek deliverance from their pain by connecting with a girl their deceased son, Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice), met at summer camp, Paola remains a cipher throughout. Cue Brian Eno’s “By This River,” which blares from a car radio as the family stands near the sea that killed their Andrea: “Here we are stuck by this river/You and I underneath a sky/That’s ever falling down, down, down.” In this one stoic moment, not only does the family seemingly escape their grief but also the Rob Reiner soap opera Moretti trapped them in. Ed Gonzalez

Fahrenheit 911

18. Fahrenheit 911 (2004)

A mediocre director but a master PR man, Michael Moore is the father of the Happy Meal documentary: big fonts, quick-fire montages, celebrity cameos, causing elaborate scenes. Fahrenheit 9/11 is no less an attention-grabbing stunt than his Bowling for Columbine, but what a scene it is. At the time of its release, Moore’s compilation of the Bush I administration’s bamboozling of the American public in the wake of 9/11. More than 10 years after its release, though, what lingers most about the film is Moore’s self-aggrandizement and forced sanctimoniousness (he rah-rahs from the sidelines when an interviewee says something he agrees with, and you sometimes get a sense that he wouldn’t call a dying man an ambulance if it meant getting the money shot of the guy croaking). At least it’s some kind of mercy that he spends very little time on screen. Gonzalez


17. Amour (2012)

There’s a deceptiveness lurking deep within Amour, an insincerity that colors the drama, recasting it as a ploy. Whereas across earlier films Michael Haneke’s predilection for deceit served a high-minded, if still somewhat suspect, intellectual purpose (an interrogation of privilege and meaning in Caché, the deconstruction of genre in both versions of Funny Games, and so on), here his disingenuous approach is not only unwarranted, but is actually at odds with the tone and tenor of the drama. This suggests two possibilities: Either Haneke has attempted to shear his sensibility of trickery and failed to do so convincingly, or he has made an experiment in manipulation and feigned empathy so exacting and oblique that nobody has understood its real purpose (I wouldn’t put the latter past him). Either way, Amour intends to dupe us, to feed on our own pain and suffering. Moved to tears or scared to death, we’d all lose our dignity in the end. Calum Marsh

I, Daniel Blake

16. I, Daniel Blake (2016)

English stand-up comedian Dave Johns brings the sort of spontaneous energy to his eponymous character that’s consistently made Loach’s films worth keeping up with. But Blake’s storyline veers from its emotionally grounded setup and into grandstanding displays like the Michael Moore-worthy stunt from which I, Daniel Blake takes its title. Both principal actors have a strong enough sense of their characters, even as they’re pulled into increasingly harrowing places, to make the film a more successful one than Loach’s last few, but it’s still schematic and predictable, and it aggressively stacks the deck against Blake and Kattie (Hayley Squires) in a way that makes it more effective as social activism, and less so as drama. The Loach of two or three decades ago, who made intimate, naturalistic films about the working class, like 1969’s Kes and 1994’s Ladybird Ladybird, is distinctly different from the Loach of today—and the soapbox-prone I, Daniel Blake reaffirms how unlikely it is for that to change. Mac

The Class

15. The Class (2008)

When a plot finally emerges, it’s all about the quandaries of privileging principle (and principal) or empiricism, duty or personal preference, questions that have been implicit all along, even in kids’ protests that they’re always being picked on or favored. As a clever late twist suggests, the interactions themselves are almost all riffs on Socratic debates—usually, the teacher seems to be asking students to verify their claims so he can give himself time to rebut—and as director Laurent Cantet said at The Class’s New York Film Festival press conference, the school’s a place “where democracy is at stake.” Instead of the usual righteous monologues, this is a film of dialogue and dialogues, in which the bickering teachers’ conferences begin to echo the kids’ troublemaking and skepticism but for the adults’ pretense of understanding and decorum (everyone, in any case, has their reason and handily states it in close-up). It would make a perfect, though not particularly good, double feature with Frederick Wiseman’s documentary State Legislature or Advise and Consent. David Phelps

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