Monday, May 21, 2007
DEATH AND THE MAIDEN
"To me the great hope is that now these little video recorders are around and people who normally wouldn't make movies are going to make them. And suddenly, one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart and make a beautiful film with her father's camcorder and for once the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever, and it will really become an art form." Francis Ford Coppola
Little fat girls from Ohio. Real estate agents in vomit-colored Century 21 blazers. Beaner leaf blowers. Even ex-Vice Presidents. Everyone, it seems, wants to make a movie. A few will be good; most will be awful -- and that, my fellow film buffs, is the inconvenient truth.
Having produced three low budget, independent features, all with first-time directors, I'm often asked for advice. My first suggestion is to find a script that lends itself to logistical simplicity and budgetary constraint. That's why so many first-timers opt to make horror films. But if blood and gore (no pun intended) isn't your thing, then a truly compelling thriller may be the answer.
One of the best examples I can think of is Roman Polanski's brilliant adaptation of Ariel Dorfman's riviting stage play, DEATH AND THE MAIDEN. Sigourney Weaver is outstanding as a former political prisoner in an unnamed South American country that has recently become democratic. Her husband, played by Stuart Wilson, is a newly appointed government official charged with investigating the torture policies of the previous regime. They live in a remote home near the coastline and 98% of the film takes place in the cliff-top house and the adjacent, deserted landscape.
One evening her husband comes home in the company of a stranger. Ben Kingsley is outstanding, as always, in the role of this seemingly well-educated and personable fellow. Weaver, however, believes him to be the interrogator who repeatedly raped her while she was incarcerated. Although she was always blindfolded, Weaver is convinced she recognizes his voice and his "smell," and so she turns the table on her putative tormentor and makes him her prisoner. What ensues is nothing less than a frightening fusillade of furious accusations and haunting humiliation. (What Weaver does with her panties, for example, gives meaning to the word demeaning.)
As the terrified Kingsley vehemently denies all of her charges, Wilson (and the audience) is kept on edge while attempting to determine who is telling the truth. This is a powerful, relentless story that confronts a litany of moral conundrums regarding guilt, revenge, justice, punishment as well as an individual's responsibilities to both himself and society. Rather than give anything away, let me simply say that the last few scenes are, at once, subtle, satisfactory and sublime.
DEATH AND THE MAIDEN is a fantastic film despite limiting itself to virtually one location and three characters. Of course, in the hands of a pro like Mr. Polanski, anything is possible.
Likewise, anything is now possible from the next generation of filmmakers.
Bring on the fat girl...