"Little Boy Blue": Antonio Tibaldi Tells No Fairy Tales
by Anthony Kaufman
In this sultry, sordid Texas tale directed by Antonio Tibaldi, Nastassja
Kinski (“Paris, Texas“) and John Savage (“The Deer Hunter“) star as a
pair of deeply dysfunctional parents of Ryan Phillippe’s Jimmy, a
19-year old boy, seeking escape from his sexually-twisted family.
Plotted like a mystery, but shot like a memory, this, Tibaldi’s third
film, should establish the Australian-Italian born director as a
proficient manipulator of high-profile actors and moody, engrossing
Tibaldi’s first film, “Own My Own” starred Judy Davis, who won
Australia’s Oscar equivalent for her performance as a mentally ill
mother. In Tibaldi’s coming fourth feature, Christina Applegate (TV’s
“Married with Children“) delivers a surprisingly poignant performance in
“Claudine’s Return,” which screened well at this year’s LAIFF. Tibaldi,
in tune with the techniques of directing both camera and actors,
spoke with indieWIRE about Texas trailer parks, focal lengths, and the
challenges of Nastassja Kinski. “Little Boy Blue” opens in Los Angeles
and New York this Friday.
indieWIRE: Your film did well on the interntational festival circuit,
winning an award at Italy’s Mystfest, you went to Stockholm, Rio, et.
cetera, did those festivals help get the film international sales?
Tibaldi: Yes, internationally, the movie sold pretty well. It was sold
in pretty much all available territories except France, but otherwise
the rest of Europe has been sold, including Scandinavia, and Greece,
India, Pakistan, the Middle East, Japan, Korea, and Australia have all
iW: It occurs to me that the pace, depth, and darker quality of your
film might work better in a European audience?
Tibaldi: Maybe. It’s possible. It might work better because it’s a
film about a specific place in America, and I think to an audience that
is foreign to America itself, it’s a little more exotic. Whereas to
Americans, it’s just plain, simply Texas.
iW: Being Australian and Italian, you have this outsider’s view of what
Texas is, which gives the film a unique look at the Texas heartland.
Tibaldi: When you make a movie, you’re going to film something and make
choices, of what you’re going to film and how you’re going to film
them. And those choices are a direct reflection of your relationship
to what you’re doing. Therefore, your sensitivity of your origin,
definitely, has to do with it. At the end, though, it’s really about
telling the story. And so, telling the story is a filter to that, to a
vision or to an angle or to an attention to detail. All those things
have to be part of the story in order for one to pause on them and look
at them. Imagine a guy from somewhere else who comes to New York and
makes a movie in New York, and there is the temptation to just point
your camera at the sky and look at all the skyscrapers. It’s quite
unique, it’s just not the same as other American cities. But it would
be a terrible thing to do, unless you’re telling a skyscraper story.
Again, you are struck by certain details. I remember when I was doing
research on this movie. I spent a lot of time in that area, in trailer
parks, going into people’s homes and talking to them and really looking
at where they put their stuff, because one of the main issues with
trailers is storage space — it’s a bit like New York apartments.
There’s no storage. Most people just throw stuff outside. If you just
look at the exterior, the direct peripheral area around the trailer, is
basically just a wasteland, where they just throw the stuff outside they
rarely use, but they don’t want to quite part with. And then in the
interior of the trailer, they usually build shelves from the wall and
the closets are totally filled with the stuff. When I was talking to
the production designer to show me the progression of the dressing of
the trailer, you have to get that sense of no space. Even if these
people are neat, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a cluttered order.
iW: There is a sense of claustrophobia to much of your film, isn’t
Tibaldi: Claustrophobia is ultimately a psychological disease, in the
sense, that it’s a totally subjective feeling. People tend to get
claustrophobia in elevators and subways, but you can have a
claustrophobic feeling in a desert. It’s a state of mind. For me, that
was one of the challenges was to give that claustrophobic sense which
comes from the invasion of someone else on your turf. You don’t have
any freedom. And you can have that even in a place where you look
around 360 degrees and there’s almost not one house in sight, there’s no
walls — so it’s not because of the physical place, but it’s because of
the presence of the father, of a man who steps on everybody’s toes. So
that was challenging and interesting to find ways to convey that. There
was the use, technically, of a certain way of staging and certain
iW: Can you be specific?
Tibaldi: Basically, what we did was use two different lenses, one was a
wide angle lens, ultimately what you get is a very deep, depth of field
— you have everything in focus, it’s like a postcard. And for me, I
wanted to keep the wide angle, but to try to have very little things in
focus. So what we did is we got these short-focus lenses where the
screw in the barrel of the lens and focus on things that are very close
to the lens and they will be very big and those will be the only thing,
the only field in focus, and all the rest of the field, all the depth of
the frame which is still wide, it’s all out of focus. We used it quite
a bit, especially at the beginning, when he’s burning the evidence, when
the kids are fishing, on the baseball — we really did try to put focus
on one element within a larger frame.
The other lenses we used were plain, very long lenses, a 400 mm lens,
which does the opposite basically, you are narrowing the angle. And if
you put a person in the foreground, and a person 100 feet behind and you
pull focus, they are almost the same size, but they’re not both in
focus. But it’s hard to tell how distant they are from one another,
because you’re totally manipulating the distance by enlarging both.
iW: I don’t remember specifically, but do you rack focus dramatically
Tibaldi: For my own tastes, yes, a lot. By the same token, I find that
you have to be careful, because it’s a very artificial device — you can
see that somebody’s actually pulling focus.
iW: Yes, and I don’t think people do it as much today as they did in the
Tibaldi: Yeah, if you do it too much, it ultimately gets in the way of
what you are trying to do. You become very self-conscious that
somebody’s doing that. We really tried to make the pulling of the focus
linked to an action, so that you would not be aware of it. It’s
interesting that you don’t remember, because there was quite a bit of
it, but maybe, the actual pulling was hidden in action or a movement.
In the 70’s, they used it as away to punctuate something, they would
pull focus or keep something perfectly out of focus to create an
effect. Different use, but same lens ultimately.
iW: You mentioned the power of the father and I wanted to know how you
came to find John Savage and Nastassja Kinski — the two of them were a
Tibaldi: First, we went to her. She was our very first casting idea and
choice. And so we had to assess whether she would make the picture or
not. So we basically went to her took the time it took to get to her
and made sure she was going to commit to the movie. And once she was
committed, one of her main concerns was who will play Ray. I asked her
at one point, who do you think. And she said, John Savage. I was
surprised she said that. Then we thought it was a very good idea. They
had worked together before [in “Maria’s Lovers”] which was kind of
interesting. They certainly used knowing each other and being
comfortable with one another in this movie. It worked, it helped.
John, I found out where he was and I sent him the script and called him
and said why don’t you read it and Nastassja wants you to do it. So
after he read it, he called me right back and told me he’d love to do
iW: How was it working with the two of them? They are both experienced
actors and quite intense and they’ve been doing this for quite awhile.
Tibaldi: They were not easy to work with, but they are good to work
with. Nastassja is someone who is very much a team player. She really
wanted to meet the kids and spend time with the three kids. She was
very generous. She basically had everybody over, many times, playing
ping pong, and swimming, so the kids would feel comfortable if she needs
to hold them. So I think that was very good, because then we separated
for awhile and regrouped in Texas the week before we started shooting
and everybody knew each other. It worked that way. It really made the
fiction of the family less of a fiction. I’m not saying that they were
like a family, but they really knew each other quite well. And she was
instrumental in making that happen. And especially because of the
little kids, it made it something that she was very smart to organize
and dedicated to organize.
And then when you’re shooting with her, she becomes a bit more
complicated. All that was almost too good to be true. When she shoots,
she becomes not self-conscious, but insecure and the insecurity makes
her self-conscious. It’s not like she’s self-conscious when she’s
acting. She’s got amazing instincts and I think she’s very good, but I
think she’s extremely insecure, so she wants to know how she did at the
end of the take. It’s very tricky because you realize that ultimately
it’s not about the work, it’s not about the take, it’s something much
greater than that. And there’s little that I can do, whether reassure
her or do another take, it’s not about that. It’s about something much
greater that acts out in the process of making the movie. Once I
understood that, it didn’t make the process easier, I was just able to
detach myself and realize that it didn’t have anything to do with the
setting and circumstances of which we’re working and it really has to do
with her and something she needs to work on in order to free herself
from a lot of that. Not that it’s easy, but. . . so she wants to see
the dailies and she wants extreme amounts of takes. And that’s stuff
that you don’t really need to do. So I think you’re basically wasting a
lot of energy and you’re losing a lot of the things you were doing in
the beginning — you don’t have any more spontaneity. That to me was
very exhausting to deal with and she wasn’t the only person and she
needed tremendous attention, of my energy to accommodate her insecurity.