The Collider &amp AICN Interview: Fernando Meirelles

     August 26, 2005

Posted by Mr. Beaks

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(This is Part II of an interview that begins on Ain’t It Cool News.; You might want to read that first.; I set it up real nice, and ask a bunch of probing questions.; Also, there’s an introduction by Moriarty that’s probably very complimentary.; I like Moriarty.)


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John LeCarre has proven a terribly difficult author to adapt.; His novels have baffled some very fine filmmakers.; I think they’ve all struggled to find the emotional core of his stories because they’re often so busy with such subtle espionage.; You solve this by engaging us emotionally in the very first reel.; But once you do have to get into all the intricate plot mechanics, how do you keep us engaged?

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Sometimes you have to expose the plot and present characters.; If I could, I really would have taken all of that out, but you have to use it.; The trick is trying to create the most interesting way to do this.; What I do is, when there’s something on like dialogue, I try to create a different story or thing with the image.; Like the golf course scene.; That scene used to happen in the pub, but then we were walking in Kibera on this railroad track in a slum, and we see this wall.; And inside this wall there’s this beautiful green golf course.; It was amazing.; It was like Hyde Park.; And I said, “I need to do this shot on the golf course.”; So we took it from the pub and put it there.; Now, while you’re hearing the dialogue, the image is telling you something else – this idea of two worlds.; In the film, there’s another point where I have the same comment.; There’s a little moment in the kitchen before they have this party.; We have the servers in the kitchen, it’s very busy and noisy, and we cross the door into a different world.; I tried to explore this world.; What planet is this where we live?; It’s like two planets.; It’s kind of a visual comment on the story.

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Ralph Fiennes is a little more dashing than the typical Le Carre protagonist.

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Well, in the book, actually, he’s single.; He’s charming and good looking.; Everywhere he goes, when he works in different countries as a diplomat, he always has affairs with his colleagues’ wives.; All the women like him.; He was supposed to be like this.; But he doesn’t like to have any involvement.; That’s why he never got married.; He lives, but he doesn’t touch things really.; He lives in his cocoon, his garden.; He does what must be done, but he really doesn’t get in contact with things.; Then, when he starts searching for Tessa, she teaches him what is happening.

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The location that serves as the terminus for these characters is lovely.

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It’s called Lake Magadi.; It’s near Nairobi – a two and-a-half hour drive.; It’s a dry lake, and it’s really amazing.; There are so many colors – blues and pinks and whites.; It’s fantastic.

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Had anyone shot there before?

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I don’t think so.; Yeah.; They have a very small film industry.; There were three or films shot there before us:; Nowhere in Africa, Out of Africa, and that Angelina Jolie movie.

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Beyond Borders?

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No, no.

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The Tomb Raider sequel?

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Yes, maybe that.

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There are a lot of folks touting this as an Oscar film.

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Really?; That’s good news.

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(Laughing); But I think this is interesting because The Constant Gardener is a very cerebral film, and those sometimes have trouble connecting with Oscar voters.

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But the love story’s very moving.; At the end, I think it’s very sad and very emotional.

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True.; But it’s not a classical, straight ahead narrative.

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What I like about the script is that it’s multi-layered; it’s not “this is the good, this is the bad”.; It’s not like that.;

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You present the political dilemma, but there’s no preaching.

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There was, but I cut it.

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Really?

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Yeah.; There was a documentary.; At one point, Tessa would go on the internet and watch this documentary that preached against pharmaceutical companies.; And it was my voice preaching, too.; “See what they do!”; (Laughs); But I decided to take that out.

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That’s the kind of thing that can stop a film cold.

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Yeah.; “Here comes the director sending his message!”;

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That reminds me of that scene in Salvador where James Woods launches into a lecture about the evils of America’s involvement in South America.; You’re like, “No, no, you’re already making this point.; You don’t have to tell me.”

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Again!; Yeah, I’m glad I decided to go more subtle.

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Shooting in Kenya must’ve been difficult, particularly since the book on which your film is based was banned for a time there.

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Once they approved, all the doors were opened.; This was work done by our producer, Simon Channing Williams.; He told the government that we were going to do the film anyway – if not in Kenya, then we would go to South Africa.; I don’t remember which minister said it, but he said, “Well, if you’re going to do it, do it here.; At least, you’ll bring in some money.; And, at the end of the day, this will bring some visibility to the country.; People will know there’s a country called Kenya.”; After he agreed, all the doors were really opened.;

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Having made two visually striking films back-to-back, I have to imagine that you get a lot of scripts from the studios.

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I receive quite a few.

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Do you have any interest in making a mainstream studio movie?

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I want to at least, for the moment, produce films from Brazil.; More control, you know?; In the future, if something really interests me – like with [The Constant Gardener].; I wasn’t planning to do a film in English, but just because I read the script and liked it, I did it.; But the plan for the moment… I have two projects that I want to shoot in Brazil.; And actually, as a career, I would like to do what [Pedro] Almodovar does – produce Brazilian films for an international audience.; That would be the best.; Maybe do one film in English here and there.; (Laughs); But I have no plans to move here, and have a career here.;

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The films that you’re going to do in Brazil, are they anything like what you’ve done before?

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The two other projects that I’m working on are really more philosophical.; One’s about happiness around the world.; And the other one is about death.; It’s about the meaning of life, actually, our relation with our death.; I never think about one character; it’s always multi-plot stories about something else.; I love [Robert] Altman, because he does the same thing.; Or [Pier Paolo] Pasolini.; Directors who think in multiple stories.

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Judging from the way Meirelles has torn it up in his last two films, there’s every reason to believe he can make this work.; I wish him the best.; In the meantime, you can help support the career of a true visionary by seeing The Constant Gardener when it hits theaters nationwide on Wednesday, August 31st.; Consider it a must-see.

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