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The End of the Affair

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The End of the Affair

On Feb. 15 of this year producer Stephen Woolley,
director Neil Jordan and a hand-picked cast and crew—most
of whom had worked with the producer and director on many of their
10 previous collaboration—gathered on a soundstage at Shepperton
Studios, just outside London, to start work on The End of the
Affair
.

Over 11 weeks, the story of novelist Maurice Bendrix
(Ralph Fiennes), his mistress Sarah Miles (Julianne Moore) and
her husband, civil servant Henry Miles (Stephen Rea), was played
out against a backdrop of re-created World War II-era England.
In the story, the mistress makes a promise to herself that if
her lover survives the London Blitz, she will leave him. Director
Jordan (The Crying Game; Interview With the Vampire), read
the 1951 Graham Greene novel on which the film is based years
ago, and saw it as Greene’s finest work. (One model for the
film that was not used is the silly 1955 film of the book starring
Deborah Kerr, Van Johnson and Peter Cushing). For Jordan, adapting
the complexities of the novel for the screen wasn’t difficult.
“Greene is great at moral dilemmas; human dilemmas,”
explains Jordan. “The predicament that Sarah finds herself
in is simple, and one that audiences can relate to on a basic
level. She does what everybody would do—she prays. She says,
‘Please turn time back and let this not happen.’ When
he walks in the door, she is stuck with this dilemma—does
she go back on what she’s said or not?” The character
of Bendrix was an amalgam of both real and literary sources. Jordan
drew part of the tortured novelist from the Bendrix that Greene
had written, but also sculpted him around Greene’s life,
as well. “I wanted the movie to be as much a portrait of
a writer as anything else,” notes the director. The design
was integral to creating the right atmosphere for the story. “London
is a character in the film,” says Jordan. “I wanted
the whole thing to feel like an erotic ghost story. There had
to be a kind of haunted aspect to it, an eroticism to it, because
the minute Sarah makes this promise she’s haunted, she’s
cursed. Obviously there is eroticism, from the frankly sexual
to the almost mystical.”

Jordan wanted a feeling of “richness, ripeness and something
spooked.” Production designer Tony Pratt says the aesthetic
he and Jordan strove for had to reflect post-war Britain but also
have a modern flavor. “We tried to suggest that there’s
not much central heating around, there’s probably a shortage
of coal and things because of the war,” says Pratt. “And
we wanted to keep it fairly muted in color. But we didn’t
want to make it absolutely ’40s. That would be a sort of
subliminal aspect of it, but we wanted to make it look like a
modern film, too.” Much of the action takes place either
in the rain or at night, which may strike fear in the hearts of
moviemakers but is distinctly advantageous to the atmospherics
of this film.

“It’s a terrible hindrance—people with umbrellas,
and actors getting wet and cold,” admits Jordan. “But
it’s a great way to make the exteriors express just the right
amount of mystery. All these wonderful things happen with the
light.”

ARTISAN ENTERTAINMENT

Felicia’s Journey

Felicia’s Journey is the second novel
to be translated for the screen by writer and director Atom Egoyan
(The Sweet Hereafter; Exotica).
The novel on which the film is based, written by William Trevor,
concerns two old-fashioned characters who don’t quite fit
their Ireland of 1998. Seve


Felicia’s Journey

nteen and pregnant, Felicia (Elaine Cassidy)
leaves Ireland for the bleak industrial landscapes of England’s
industrial Midlands in search of her lover, Johnny Lysaght (Peter
McDonald). Along the way she falls prisoner to Hilditch (Bob Hoskins),
a sociopath with a proclivity for lost girls. “Felicia and
Hilditch are each afraid of facing the world,” Egoyan says.
“They have wrapped themselves in various forms of denial, and
in their own ways, are running away. Hilditch has elaborated a series
of rituals and perversions that allow him to deal with his pain.”

Hoskins’ character has evolved from a boy who
was deprived of a healthy emotional life to an adult-monster.
To explain this character, Egoyan points to a scene where Hilditch
carries a cup of drugged cocoa upstairs to Felicia, who is recovering
from an abortion. “He looks into the camera and we have no
idea whose eyes we’re looking at. We understand that he has
no attachment to his feelings, and I think that that’s more
terrifying than anything else. We see this person behave compassionately,
but it’s all a performance.”

Shot at England’s Shepperton Studios, Egoyan
worked with many of his creative collaborators, including director of
photography Paul Sarossy, composer Mychael Danna
and editor Susan Shipton. New to the group were production designer
Jim Clay and Academy Award-winning costume designer Sandy Powell
(Shakespeare in Love; Velvet Goldmine).

FIRST RUN FEATURES

42 UP

In a recent article for London’s Sunday Times
newspaper, director Michael Apted contrasts his experiences bringing
forth two very different films this fall as director; 42 Up and the new James Bond flick, The World is Not Enough.

“I’m inspired by The Arithmetic of
Memory
, a new autobiography by a contemporary of mine, Anthony
Rudolf,” he wrote. “He starts off by quoting
Macbeth—‘If you can look into the seeds of time…’,
which, coincidentally, has become a calling card for me, as well,
reflecting the central piece of work in my life, the Up series
of films I made for Granada Television. I follow the lives of
14 people fr


42 Up

om the age of seven up to the present day and
their 42nd year (7 Up, 14 Up, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up and now, 42 Up). Can you see the man in the child? Now, it’s
as if I were in my own documentary asking myself the questions the
film asks—is it conceivable that there was anything in my younger
self that would give any clues to the man guiding 007 as he wrestles
control of Caspian Oil from the murderous clutches of the world’s
most feared terrorist?”

Like the period of life it illuminates, 42 Up is caught in a reflective mid-life crisis, one that Apted is quite
willing to admit to as well. “My series of UP films
has the cruel trick of confronting people with the cold reality
of the past. The visual truth of them on film erases any filtered
version.” As with “the anguished little boy from a children’s
home who didn’t want to get married because ‘Say you
had a wife and had to eat what she cooked you, and say I didn’t
like greens, which I don’t, and say she said you had to eat
them, well then, that’s it.’ In 42 UP, he’s
been married 27 years with two children and is none the worse
for his greens.”

As for the temptation to play God in his films and
predict how things might turn out, Apted says he got into terrible
trouble with Tony, a tough street kid who wanted to be a jockey
but by 21 knew he wasn’t going to make it. “So I filmed
him at 21 showing me the hot crime spots of the East End in preparation,
or so I thought, of his own decline and fall. I was completely
wrong, as he channeled his considerable energies into his family,
house and life as a cabbie.” The Bond film is Apted’s
own unpredictable outcome, where he embraces what formerly might
have been anathema to him.

LIONS GATE

Last Night

Seizing Y2K angst by the throat, Canadian writer
(Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, The Red Violin)
and actor (eXistenZ, The Red Violin) Don McKellar wanted
to break down the themes that have evolved recently in end-of-the-world
scenarios. The first-time director says that, when writing the
script, he turned to friends and asked what they would do on a
hypothetical “last night.” The answers all fell into
similar categories: spending it with your loved ones, in private
contemplation, having sex, or partying. McKellar decided to explore
the causes of such behavior. If chaos were to break lose, who
would we be and who would we become?

Unlike blockbuster apocalyptic disaster movies,
“none of my characters are trying to stop it,” says
McKellar. “The world is coming to an end anyway,” he
says, “so you might as well live

Last Night

your life or end your life the way you choose.”
Though the subject matter might appear bleak, McKellar says his
film is optimistic. “I wanted my characters to have courage,
perseverance and life. I wanted them to connect right up until the
very end.” Director David Cronenberg, who also appears in the
film, adds: “you never find out why the world is ending; in
fact, the reason itself isn’t really relevant to the story.”

The story follows several characters rather than
a few main ones, and McKellar did this partly as a reaction to
much of the current big-screen fare. “Most Hollywood films
are too predictable,” he explains. “Feature film structure
has become so rigid now. And it’s not like that in theater
or in novels or in anything else, really. It’s just really
oppressive, I find."

And people know that Hollywood structure so well
that it’s become an almost perverse audience game of expecting
something and watching the very minute variations and being satisfied
by them or not. And the only way to get out of that trap is to
completely throw the audience off with some kind of diversionary
tactic.

“I need that sneaky approach, to take the audience
by surprise. I don’t like it when things are too head-on.
I’m very skeptical of melodrama and a lot of obvious film
manipulation. Whenever I feel it’s too predictable, I get
very conscious of breaking that structure, throwing it off.”
Ironically, none of his characters seems to be losing their own
structure as the world around them comes to a halt. For example,
one family gathers for a last dinner, with the mother insisting
on table manners. Meanwhile, a man methodically meets prostitutes
at his apartment. “They’ve all dealt with it,”
says McKellar.
“They’ve all dealt with the end of the world. “They
aren’t exactly calm, but they’ve built these structures
and rituals to keep them going.”

USA FILMS

Agnes Browne

Director Angelica Huston (Showtime’s Bastard
Out of Carolina
) panicked when Rosie O’Donnel pulled
out as the lead a few weeks before pre-production, but she turned
it around and cast herself in the role, to the pleasure of many
in Ireland’s film community, where she is known for her work
on another Irish epic, The Dead. Adapted from the best-selling
1994 Irish novel The Mammy, Agnes Browne centers on a mother
of seven in1960s Dublin. The story had already been introduced
to the Irish public through a book and radio drama, Mrs. Browne’s
Boys
, written by Brendan O’Carrol (who co-wrote the screenplay
with John Goldsmith). O’Carrol says he tapped into a groundswell
of affection for a specific type of character with universal appeal.
“When I wrote the book, I thought it to be parochial, and
that it would appeal to either Dubliners, or Irish people at large.

Agnes Browne

I now realize there are Mrs. Brownes everywhere,”
says O’Carrol.

Huston was approached to direct by one of the project’s
producers, Jim Sheridan (directed of In the Name of the Father and My Left Foot). “I chose to make this film because
it brought me back to Ireland, the emotional landscape of my childhood,”
says Huston. Drawing on memories of her own Irish nanny, Kathleen
Shine, Huston used the woman as her role model for the Browne
character. “She was a second mother to me,” says Huston.
She also prepared by meeting with several women who work on Moore
Street in Dublin (called Market Street in the film, where Agnes
Browne runs her fruit and vegetable stand). What she wanted for
the production, she says, was realism and honesty. So the film
was shot entirely on location in Dublin and the crew was comprised
of Irish, English and American members. Oh, and one notable Welshman,
singer Tom Jones, who plays himself in the film. In the story,
Browne dreams of someday seeing the singer in concert. While it’s
not unusual for Jones to appear as himself (he did it in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! and on The Simpsons), he was a bit
nervous about the trip back in time to the ’60s. “Anjelica
told me not to worry,” says Jones, “as it was a surreal
situation.”

Like Tom Jones, the filmmakers had to revisit their
own impressions of Dublin in 1967, and then physically recreate
them. Production designer David Brockhurst was blessed by the
assistance of a modern medium: “We found a Tom Jones Fan
Club on the internet who kindly supplied original posters and
record covers. We put those through the computer and reproduced
them.”

SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

All About My Mother


All About My
Mother

Director Pedro Almodovar’s 12th feature is
a continuation of the director’s fascination with women,
but the heroines in All About My Mother are more well-rounded,
not merely cartoonish victims as before (Women on the Verge
of a Nervous Breakdown; High Heels; Law of Desire
) and certainly
more in control of their destinies. In this film, a woman whose
son dies in a car accident seeks out a former lover to tell him
their son wondered who his father was until the end. But first
she must tell him that after she left him 18 year earlier she
was pregnant with his child, that he has just died and that she had named him Esteban, like him. That
is, until the father changed his name to Lola. Finding a man named
Lola, one can imagine, is never easy.

Born in 1951, Almodovar, who grew up in the Extremadura
region of Spain, remembers observing women act their way out of
difficult situations at a very young age, and this is a central
premise of the film. “As a child I remember seeing that quality
(of faking it) in some of the women in my family,” says Almodovar.
“They faked more and better than men. And through their lies
they managed to avoid more than one tragedy.” In fact, the
film’s title is an ode to another film about actresses lying
to each other, All About Eve. The film’s main character
is herself a reference to another grande dame of theatricality,
Blanche Dubois from Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named
Desire
. And in All About My Mother, a flashback has
Manuela taking her son to a Madrid production of Streetcar.

In a further evolution, Almodovar’s heroines
do not clash over a man’s love. Instead, two women become
involved with each other. Quoted in The New York Times,
Penelope Cruz, one of the film’s lead actresses, said, “Manuela
and I fall in love, but we don’t have sex. I think that kind
of relation is quite new for Pedro. To give such a sexless friendship
an erotic tension was hard work—something of a risk.” MM

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