Film Review #143: Interview
Director: Steve Buscemi
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Sienna Miller
Curiously, several reviews of Steve Buscemi’s latest directing project, in which he also acts the male lead as corrosively angry journalist Pierre Peders, inform readers that Peders and TV star named Katya (Sienna Miller) – main characters in the ill-fated interview at hand – once they are soaked in alcohol and dusted in cocaine, eventually have sex. What’s curious – unless you count one strenuous but fast aborted embrace – is that they don’t. Aside from alerting us that some reviewers don’t thoroughly watch the films they pass judgment on, such reports signal something more. That is the degree of dramatic sexual tension achieved in a full-length feature almost entirely comprising one marathon conversation that occurs mostly within one large Manhattan loft.
Here the plot turns on revelations, real and supposed, rather than action in the usual cinematic sense. An older journalist in serious withdrawal from politics who seriously doesn’t like women, Pierre cools his heels while a crisis unfolds in Washington. Instead his editor assigns him what he considers a fluff piece on a popular TV star. She is late. He quickly insults her – he’s watched none of her work – and she walks out. A mishap on the street that bloodies his head gains Pierre entrance to her near-by loft, where they engage in some hours of cat-and-mouse, he seeking dirt to print and she, more serious an actor than he knows, seeking insurance.
Interview is actor Buscemi’s ninth directing effort since Tree’s Lounge (1996); his most recent feature was 2005’s Lonesome Jim. Interview reprises late Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh’s 2003 film of the same title starring Dutch TV celebrity Katja Schuurman, filmed over five nights in Schuurman’s own loft. Buscemi’s re-make is the first of “Triple Theo,” a project that van Gogh envisioned before he died in 2004 at age 47 to re-make three of his films about difficulties between men and women, set in New York City and directed by invited US actor-directors.
Offered his pick first, Buscemi chose Interview – for its celebrity and media focus, and for its exploration of “who we seek connection with and how quickly both Pierre and Katya betray that connection.” He asked for Sienna Miller (Factory Girl, the new Alfie, Layer Cake), the UK-raised actor whose mother Jo ran Lee Strasberg’s London Actors’ Studio. Like Katya, Miller would be underestimated as mere eye candy. (Stanley Tucci directs and, with Patricia Clarkson, stars in the re-make of van Gogh’s Blind Date, which premieres this month at Sundance. John Turturro will direct and act in the third.)
Van Gogh’s long-time producer Gijs van de Westelaken carried Triple Theo forward. The project exemplifies a European-style collaboration over several films, with Buscemi employing many of the original Dutch crew. As previously, cinematographer Thomas Kist employed three digital cameras shooting simultaneously, a method allowing very long takes that both Buscemi and Miller say approximate the experience of stage acting. There are visual carry-overs too. Schuurman appears in the last scene, exiting a limo, and a framed snapshot of her with van Gogh sits among what we assume are family photos in Katya’s loft.
Van Gogh’s work is not yet well-known here. Buscemi’s Interview opened state-side in July for a non-spectacular three-month art house run – with DVD release three weeks ago – but it’s going to nearly 30 other countries so far, keenly anticipated both for its lineage and as a parable beyond obvious portrayal of two nasty people with secrets.
One source of that interest is van Gogh’s notoriety. An extremist shot and stabbed him to death in Amsterdam two months after his 10-minute English-language exposé about Islamic violence toward women aired on Dutch TV. Submission, which superimposed Koranic verses about misbehaving women on images of their bodies, emerged from collaboration with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Somali-born member of the Dutch parliament whose memoir Infidel uncovers her own earlier life as a Muslim woman. Van Gogh’s work was provocative and political; some compared his documentary work to Michael Moore’s.
Buscemi, known more for personal, quirky films than message-themed “serious” projects, here successfully makes the transition to that kind of larger parable that van Gogh himself worked toward. Curiously, Buscemi’s Interview has a ready companion in Brian DePalma’s recent Iraq war film Redacted. Both films explore the kinds and degrees of extreme violence toward women that abide within some very mainstream men, including the accountability of the witness who does nothing and leaves the scene. Both films address how media refract, distort and depersonalize what we see. Both use sound and images from laptops, camcorders, cell phones and TV – Interview sometimes has several versions running at once on-screen. And Interview goes further, beyond the easy enough illusion that the media mechanistically does all this on its own. Buscemi’s Interview exposes, in the character of the hard-bitten newsroom veteran Pierre Peders, how part of journalistic culture even promotes and drives a specifically, aggressively macho worldview – ironically, in the heart of a profession dedicated to seeking, a worldview that springs precisely from hostility and fear of curiosity.
This review appeared in the 1/3/2008 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where “Make it Snappy” is a regular column reviewing DVDs of recent movies that didn’t have a theatrical opening in CNY & older films of enduring worth. Steve Buscemi’s re-make of Theo van Gogh’s Interview was released on DVD 12/11/07; the original is available online with English subtitles in non-USA format for those who have zone-free DVD players.