On her recent visit to Australia to open the Sydney leg of Alliance French Film Festival, French writer/director of "Planetarium" Rebecca Zlotowski struck me with the following statement:
"I don’t dream of Hollywood at all."
Wait, what? That ever so mythical Hollywood. Is it not the centre of the filmmaking universe? That cultural imperialism has extended itself to the neutral positions in your mind. It immediately echoed Gabriel Byrne's Devil discussion with Arnie in "End of Days." He claims that God had a better publicist; evidently, Hollywood got the same people.
Zlotowski really has no interest in being within the Hollywood machine. After discovering that she's the first female director to work with her star Portman, and discussing other great countries that foster filmmakers like North Korea it became necessary to explore what about her home country France nurtured emerging filmmakers and a love of cinema. In France, cinematic arts is "not controlled by the market economy."
"I can craft a film for eight million euros with American stars and French actors, they can speak both languages, it’s not a huge success in the box office but I still like flying to festivals like Venice [and Australia for the Alliance French Film Festival]. We are allowed to tell stories... This is the main difference in our cinema in France and the other cinemas. We can design and dream of films not connected to the commercial destiny of the films...Not for ten films. [LAUGHS]"
"Planetarium" is a movie starring Natalie Portman and newcomer Lily-Rose Depp (daughter of Johnny Depp) about sisters, practicing as mediums who serve a French Producer (Emmanuel Salinger) who then becomes obsessed with bringing their magic to the cinema.
"The amazing thing with this character is that I bumped into a real character that became the inspiration after imagining him as a fictional character.
Inspired by the a story of two American sisters who were hired by a banker because he needed to be in contact with his late wife to make speculations. I was like, this is a crazy story. We are experiencing a very, very dark moment ...the rise of anti semitism again and I really wanted to deal with this. I really wanted to create a rhyme or an echo of a story from the 1930s compared to our threatening moment. So I was picturing, how can I make this French producer? O.K he would be Jewish, he would be a victim of anti-Semitism, how can I do that? And then my father, the guy who speaks Yiddish in the film... he came to me and said are you talking about Bernard Natan? He actually exists, you’re creating the story of a guy but he actually exists, just pay attention and document it yourself. It was crazy. I just literally bumped into this character who used to be a huge producer but everyone forgot him. It’s not a biopic at all, but it’s clearly inspired by his life.
Right now that seems to be the way to tackle what’s happening in the world right now."
The charming and gregarious filmmaker could have talked for an age but we were getting the wind up. I found myself fumbling for the final question. Rebecca leans in with a smile as I’m pouring over my notes, “I’m going to help you.”
"There’s a lot of French films this year that are in costume/period films. And I feel that we cannot..I feel like we’re embarrassed with the contemporary, we are very embarrassed with our era and we don’t know how to deal with this and how to write stories with this era of social networks... it changes a lot of the story telling. We can feel that there’s something very threatening happening. The fact that we are re-enacting stories in the past, it’s a way to talk about stories that are happening today. It’s our way to to talk about nowadays."
An interesting filmmaker, with astute observations about the wrangling contemporary existence into narratives set in the past because they are simpler. The message may not be overt, but it's clear.
“See you found your question.”
"Planetarium" is screening at the Alliance French Film Festival for one more week.