FOLLOWING JANUARY 2013 SCREENING OF 'PHANTOM' AT MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE
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I love Debussy. And I'm a fan of this ballet. I wanted to use it for a long time in a movie. In the French model of "Passion", Isabelle goes to the movies and slips through a rear exit. I moved the scene to an evening at the ballet.
So it wasn't really the sexual theme of "Afternoon" that attracted you?
With me you can see the pas de deux with the kiss, and on the other half of the split screen you can see Christine at her home, expecting a lover and getting murdered. At the moment of the kiss, the knife cuts her throat.
Did you discover Berlin as a film location, or did Berlin find you?
We had planned to shoot the interiors of the film in Berlin and the exteriors in London. When I saw the venues in London, I said: Why don't we shoot Berlin as Berlin? There are some great buildings there as in any other European city. At the end we even shot the scenes set in London in Berlin.
With you however, Berlin doesn't come across as a particularly cozy place. It's rather spooky.
Great! That was exactly my intention. When I work in European cities, I often have the feeling that the directors who live there miss out on some of the most amazing sights of their own surroundings. To shoot at the Sony Center is not particularly original, in fact. Nevertheless, in every interview people say : Oh my God, the Sony Center! (Laughs) It seems to be a fantastic location. Why has no one else ever thought of it?
Since "Femme Fatale" your image of women seems to have changed. The heroines are more active, more aggressive, less victimized than in your earlier work.
It is always more interesting to have a woman instead of a man act in front of the camera, one can simply do much more beautiful things with them.
Did you pick your actresses by hair color?
That happened by accident. Rachel has already changed her hair color quite often. She came in as a blonde, Noomi as a brunette, and then Karoline came in - I liked her red hair in Tom Tykwer's "Perfume". That's why she dyed it again in that tone.
Is working with German actors different than with others?
No, I wouldn’t say that. The guy who plays the detective. . .
. . . the actor Rainer Bock. . .
. . . this guy can do anything. Incredible. Great character actor. Fantastic. It was wonderful to watch him at work. And then the guy who plays the prosecutor, the German with the English accent!
You mean Benjamin Sadler.
That was so funny. We shot the scene, and they all spoke English. I said, but you are all Germans, why don't you speak in German? They were gobsmacked. They had to literally make an effort to continue in German, because they had rehearsed their roles in English. And we found no proper translation for the sentence, "The butler did it." Instead, he suddenly said: "The gardener did it." Okay, I said, then I guess it was the gardener! Don't you have this butler cliché in Germany?
Absolutely, there is a famous song: "The murderer is always the butler." However, even there in the end it turns out to be the gardener.
Oh, really? (Laughs) Well, that's probably where it all came from then.
What made you interested in the game with lesbian entanglement?
In the French original, this motif of attraction and manipulation was already there. The decisive alteration with me is that I changed the gender of Isabelle's assistant. I now find this figure much more exciting. The fact that Dani loves Isabelle and picks an argument with Christine almost automatically makes her a murder suspect.
For your last shot, are you referring to Chabrol's "Cry of the Owl"?
I've never seen it. The idea for the scene literally came to me at the very last minute. In the script, the story ended with a dream sequence. Having Dani dead on the carpet allowed me to send out a clear message. Chabrol has done the same thing? Then it was probably a good idea.
Does Christine really have a twin sister, or is it an illusion?
I have no idea.
Have you had problems with the budget?
Not a bit. The film was scheduled for 45 days, I shot it in 39. It just rushed through.
Do you sometimes think about releasing DVD director's cuts from your early films?
No, never. I'm actually quite happy with my films. For "Casualties of War" I recut two scenes for the DVD edition. But that's it.
Not frustrating. Indeed, I did not want to work for a few years. With two school-age daughters it's been good to stay home with them and not have to travel.
Now, you've filmed an English-language remake of a French thriller from three years ago. What do you think justifies a remake of a film?
If the material is interesting enough, to mature in a recycling. Frequently, foreign films are remade in English, as in America, people do not like to read subtitles. This was also the case here. There was a French film, and it was thought that if it was in English many more people will see it. The producer brought the idea to America, but he decided he'd rather do it himself. And I found the story engaging enough to organize the English version.
America is now remaking your adaptation of the 1976 film Carrie. What do you say?
As I said, the raw material is what decides. I think Carrie is an interesting story that can touch anyone from generation to generation.
Curious about the Carrie remake?
Other films deserve better. [Not sure of this question/answer]
In Passion, Rachel McAdams plays a sexually liberated woman, a sex scene, yet covers her body with a comforter. Was that your choice, or did you simply fail to persuade the nudity?
Her nudity was not a problem, in fact, she told me, well, would you like if it seemed as though she’s hiding herself modestly? We filmed the scene so that you see everything, and also so that she was covered. I liked it better the latter way, so that’s what’s in the movie.
When I saw Redacted at the Venice Film Festival, I was taken by something different, and I felt like I was run over by a truck. Did you mean to trigger this effect?
Yes, I deeply wanted to shock the audience.
Were you satisfied with the reception of the film?
Well, it was fiercely hated in America because it criticized the U.S. military, and most people do not like that sort of thing. But I felt like these things to be said, and so I did.
Did you see Zero Dark Thirty?
How did you like it?
[Crazy] [I quit.] [I walked out?] [It’s off its nut?]
You've repeatedly said that you want the movies to play on the big screen. Is it saddening that most people are watching on their computers or on their phones?
I have no control over it. I'll do the film as I'd like to see on the big screen, and if they want to watch it on the iPad, that’s their business. I think the majority of film deserves a large canvas, not the iPhone. They look good, and if someone is in the grip of watching a movie, it remains a major part of the experience. Of course, you can't have everything, I get it. But I represent the school that says the film should be given the honor.
Recently, two films were released that showed Alfred Hitchcock as a monster. Is this trend repugnant?
It's unjust because he is no longer alive, so he can not defend himself. And who said that a major artist has to be like a friendly uncle? It is possible that Hitchcock did some things that were upsetting with some actresses, but the great master of the genre we are talking about does not have to be an angel to everyone.
If you made a movie about him, how would he be portrayed?
I would not do that film. In fact, the Hitchcock movies were offered to me, but I refused.
Can you accept it dispassionately, if a film fails at box office?
It has happened to me so many times that I am not at all interested. The major disruption is only because it will then be harder to get money for the next film.
Occasionally, you've entered a film just for the money?
Francis Ford Coppola said, it is difficult to remain a good artist, once one becomes rich. Do you agree with him?
Tough question. The directors of my generation earned an incredible amount of money, but they did damn good movies. Spielberg, Lucas and Scorsese are incredibly rich, and they did the most influential films of the era.
When you became rich, you felt a change in your work?
Not really, because I never dealt with money. [I don't feel a need for things.] If you are looking for as much money to make a living out of it, and I can keep my family, the rest is useless to me.
A few months ago we made a compilation of the sexiest strip scenes, and the one in Femme Fatale came in third place. Satisfied with that result?
Yes, it is a very sexy dance. Rebecca has an incredible body, and the way she moves ... sexy killer. What were the top two?
The Wrestler and From Dusk Till Dawn.
The Wrestler striptease I would not call sexy.
Tarantino said that as directors get older, they get burned out, and usually the last four films are the weakest. What do you think about this revelation, are the recent films just as percussive as the older ones?
I know what he's talking about, because I've studied a lot of directors' careers. The best films they usually did in their forties and fifties, and then in their sixties and seventies saw a marked decrease in quality. And if you look at the most important directors of Hollywood's golden age, this is true. Towards the end John Ford, Billy Wilder or Hitchcock films were inferior in their careers.
But there are exceptions?
Of course there are. It's a tough profession, that is physically demanding, a lot of things can go the wrong way. If you have a few good movies you can put on the table before your forties and fifties come around, you can call yourself lucky.
Do you think of what you will leave behind?
No, because I have no control. Whether they will remember me or not, it depends on so many things.
We've been talking about the Untouchables prequel. Now that the HBO series Boardwalk Empire has largely processed the early stage of Al Capone's career, does it makes sense to even do that movie?
No, but it is not primarily due to the series. The Untouchables prequel was was doomed, after former management developed it at Paramount Studios, and a new management team refused to do this film, which was begun by its predecessor. For this reason, it will probably never be made.
Have you otherwise looked at Boardwalk Empire?
I watched the first part, which Scorsese directed, and then a couple which included Al Capone. But there the legend of Al Capone was processed, as it has been in countless films and television series. Interesting touch to put the story in Atlantic City, but Italian gangsters during the Prohibition ... this has been done a thousand times.
How do you know whether there is enough to make something a worthwhile movie?
When it takes hold of my imagination, and the whole thing almost self develops in my head. I can see the pictures and figure out which actors would be able to play the roles.
I know you go to the movies a lot, and see a lot of movies. Have you seen a Hungarian movie that you liked?
Hungarian film ... hmmm. I see a lot at film festivals, that often never even cross the border. Remind me, please, my memory, which Hungarian movies should I have seen lately!
Last year, Passion played simultaneously at the New York film Film Festival with Pálfi György's Final Cut: Hölgyeim és uraim. Did you see it by any chance?
I do not recall. What's it about?
Tells a simple love story, but from a great montage of all 500 famous classic films put together. You can use one of the films in it for at least five more.
Sounds very interesting, but unfortunately I have not seen. Will it be presented in America?
It's only projected at festivals because the many film clips make it a nightmare for copyright purposes.
If you have a brilliant idea for a commercial, it's usually pretty funny. Passion in turn has a really excellent idea for advertising. How did you think of this?
This advertisement does exist, I found on the internet.
And sought out the rights?
No, just used it.
And they will not demand money for it?
They haven’t so far.
The cult movie Scarface was greatly enjoyed by rappers and gangsters, but it's as if these people did not catch the irony of things, and Tony Montana is seen as a role model. Do you not find this scary?
It's really amazing to me that the Scarface cult is alive after all these years. And for those who understand my films, this is another thing that can not be controlled. I'm not really going to smash my head over things that I have no control over.
And are you accustomed to think you are responsible to the public as a filmmaker?
If you mean to imply that there are many violent movies, then I have to say I absolutely do not believe that violent movies beget real violence. I think the opposite is true. If you look at violent movies, you reduce the tension. I do not think, for example, after watching the Untouchables anyone felt like grabbing a baseball bat and crushing someone's head.
Your next film of Joe Paterno will star Al Pacino. In this a topic you find interesting?
This case is a real drama, which, incidentally, raises lots of interesting questions. For example, this could be an excuse to talk about the story of America's favorite sport of football, and also that in principle, although this is a sport that is associated with all kinds of positive attributes in our heads, it has become extremely corrupted by the whole fact that there's an incredible amount of money involved. I find it a very interesting process, as business destroys things that were previously clear and innocent.
Which movies on filmmaking do you think are the best?
Sunset Boulevard and The Bad and the Beautiful.
And those that show how things are going these days?
Living In Oblivion. It's a delightful film, that accurately and credibly demonstrates how to do a low-budget movie. In addition, it’s very funny.
Is there a movie, for which you feel, that you absolutely must make?
Not anymore. The fact that I'm alive and I can still work is sort of a minor miracle at this point.
How many films are you planning to do?
I have no idea. As long as the idea is good, I will do it.
Do you find it difficult to raise money for films in America?
It depends on what kind of movie we are talking about. A lot of horror themes are easy to get money for, the question is whether you want to devote a couple of years of your life to it. I often find myself looking at things that are eerily similar to one of my earlier films.
Seen any good movies lately?
Django Unchained was pretty good, and I really liked Silver Linings Playbook.
"...De Palma is a romantic filmmaker par excellence, and that he has in common with his Hong Kong colleague Wong Kar-wai. Perhaps the problem lies in something they both contend with when it comes to the reception of their work: the harsh reality of the current zeitgeist offers little room for the beauty of the elongated moment."