Jestem jak mężczyzna, który kocha wiele żon – wywiad z ROBERTEM LANTOSEM (Camerimage 2016)

Dawid Myśliwiec

21 grudnia 2016


Firstly, I would like to congratulate you on receiving the Camerimage Award to a Producer with Unique Visual Sensitivity. The name might suggest that you tend to choose projects which focus on the visual side, but you also made very intimate, low-key films.

I think that the name might be misleading and what Camerimage really meant is the vision. I am not that much into the visual part, to me it’s the story that counts.

But it’s true that you worked with some very “visual” directors, such as David Cronenberg or Atom Egoyan. Exotica for example was a truly visually intriguing picture.

The credit for that goes to Egoyan, that’s his style. For me the most important part is the story.

You never play out the film in your head, think of how it will look like on the screen?

I do think about that, but as a secondary objective – the story is far more important. The visual part is also mostly the director’s responsibility – we discuss that, but it is not something which drives me to make a decision as to what film to make. It’s so difficult now to make a film – especially the kind of film I like to make. The market requirements get higher and higher and tougher and tougher, because nowadays the world is ruled by superheroes. But I know what I’m in for every time I undertake a project, these are years of effort, so it’s the story which must really motivate me.

Speaking about discussions between producers and directors – I always thought that there must be two kinds of producers: ones who do not interfere with the director’s vision and let him do his job and ones who have their own idea about the film and try to impose it on the director no matter what. In which of these groups you would put yourself?

In neither of them. Some of the directors I worked with had a really distinctive style and some did not really have it at all. Cronenberg has a very specific style, so if you don’t like it, don’t work with him – it’s as simple as that. Trying to impose another vision on him would not work, he wouldn’t accept it. The same thing is for Egoyan who also has a very visual style, while István Szabó is very different, he has a classicist approach. So as you see I am not married to one style of filmmaking and this is exactly why I am a producer and not a director. A director marries on style and sticks to it – I like to be like a butterfly and be able to go from one flower to another, to change tastes. The style of the film which is playing here at the festival, Barney’s Version, has nothing to do with the style of, for example, Crash, eXistenZ or István Szabó’s Sunshine. They have no relationship in style – I like that. I am like a man who loves many wives – I am polyamorous (laughs).

You mentioned Barney’s Version, which took 12 years to make it to screen. I wonder how you find inspiration and motivation to stick to one project for that long. Even Paul Giamatti, who stars in the film, said that he participated in projects which took a long time to be completed, but not that long.

That particular film had very specific difficulties, because it is based on a novel by Mordecai Richler, a man I admired a great deal and also a friend of mine. I bought the rights to the book and he began to write the screenplay, but he died before he was able to finish it. That was the difficulty. I wanted to make the film, but I wanted to find a way to do it in Mortdecai’s voice, even though I had to do it without him. I don’t write, so I brought in a writer and I didn’t like the result. Then I brought another, then another, then another, until finally I found a writer who was able to impersonate Mortdecai Richler. That was the job – I told to all the writers: Don’t write like yourself, write like he would do it. You know how some people are really good at copying famous paintings? They could do a Mona Lisa and you think that’s da Vinci? I was looking for someone exactly like that, someone who could copy the master, so when I finally found Michael Konyves, we could move on with the project.

I heard that you had several opportunities to work in Hollywood, but you turned them down. What was your motivation for that?

I was very young when I made my first real film, In Praise of Older Women. That was 1977, so I was 27 years old. The film was successful even before the premiere – after it was finished, Warner Bros. bought the worldwide rights and I received an offer to move to L.A. and have an office at the studio lot. They offered to pay the development costs of any project I would be interested in and they wanted to give me a secretary.

Well, that must have been tempting.

It was tempting for a minute. And then I spent some time in Los Angeles, talking to people who were in similar situations, and I realized that none of them had free will. They could work on projects and scripts, but they didn’t decide what was getting made. They had to get approvals and green lights, they would receive notes about the script, about which director or actors to choose and I realized that I made my film and no one gave me any notes, I didn’t have to get permission from anybody. So I asked myself: would I trade the freedom I have for this? I decided to continue making films my way and sell them afterwards which worked so well the first time. Well, it didn’t work out so well every time – sometimes it didn’t work out at all, because no one would buy the film and things became very difficult financially. But I decided to stay in Canada, where I love living, to have an office in L.A. and to make films outside the system, without having to ask anybody for permission or approval.

Have you ever regretted it?

Some years later I thought: did I do the right thing? Living outside the system turned out not to be as simple as I thought it would be. But that’s not something I ever regretted.

It worked out very well for Canada and Canadian cinema which you helped develop a great deal. In the recent years, however, its condition declined a bit, with Atom Egoyan’s films receiving worse reviews than before. Do you see any prospects of Canadian cinema becoming internationally important again?

It comes in waves. It’s true that the last few films of Cronenberg, Egoyan or Arcand were not extremely enthusiastically received. On the other hand we have Xavier Dolan or Denis Villeneuve making great films. There were times that the English-Canadian directors were more recognized, now it seems that the French-Canadians are very strong. It goes back and forth.

But now Canadian directors also are going international – Xavier Dolan is making his first English language film while Denis Villeneuve is practically a Hollywood filmmaker.

Jean-Marc Vallée, another great Canadian director, is also making American films, but nothing is forever – I can easily see them reverting to making Canadian films again and I hope they will someday.

Do you see any new filmmakers in Canadian cinema who could make a name for themselves in the next few years?

I think extremely fondly of François Girard. He is not a new director, he has made The Red Violin and many short films, but I think he is not recognized the way he should be. He and I are making a film together next year called The Sound of Names. I think very highly of Don McKellar – he and I are also making a film together called Through Black Spruce based on Joseph Boyden’s novel. Kim Nguyen, who received an Oscar nomination for War Witch few years ago, has a new film, not produced by me, which is also very good. These are all Canadian directors who the world does not yet admire so much, but certainly will. And the really young directors have yet to prove themselves before I start promoting their names (laughs).

Out of the directors you worked with, whose vision was the closest to yours? Which director was the most difficult to cooperate with?

I made seven films with Atom Egoyan, three with David Cronenberg and only two with István Szabó, but I have to say that Istvan and I are like brothers – we see the world in a very similar way. The first film we made together, Sunshine with Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, was brought by Szabó to me, and the other one, Being Julia with Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons, I brought to him and in both cases the work was a real pleasure. I also didn’t have any friction with Cronenberg or Egoyan – otherwise we couldn’t have worked together so many times – and I have great admiration for both of them, but maybe with Szabó it’s our shared heritage, since we are both Hungarian Jews, makes the whole cooperation special. The most difficult director was someone whose name would be a total mystery to your readers, so there is no point in making him famous now (laughs).

Is Sunshine the title you would like to be remembered by?

Well, I’m not dead yet, so… (laughs). Sunshine is certainly one of those films, because it is so much part of my own heritage, and I think I am equally close to Barney’s Version, not only because I was friends with the author, but also because in the novel Mortdecai indirectly makes fun of me, so I feel really connected to the film.

Dawid Myśliwiec

Dawid Myśliwiec

Zawsze w trybie "oglądam", "zaraz będę oglądał" lub "właśnie obejrzałem". Gdy już położę córkę spać, zasiadam przed ekranem i znikam - czasem zatracam się w jakimś amerykańskim czarnym kryminale, a czasem po prostu pochłaniam najnowszy film Netfliksa. Od 12 lat z różną intensywnością prowadzę bloga MyśliwiecOglą

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