The French adore James Gray. And we don’t blame them one bit. With only four films to his name, he has already inspired a book dedicated his works, published by the France-based Synecdoche Books (limited to 1000 copies, but it’s bilingual and features interviews with Gray and the various actors he’s worked with over the years). So we’re not entirely surprised that the first look for his upcoming “Low Life” (a working title) arrives not on a website, or in an American trade publication, but instead courtesy of French language newspaper Liberation, who also have the first profile of the film (and thanks to Jerome for the scans).
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner and Marion Cotillard, the project marks the first period piece for the director, but it’s another New York City tale, chronicling the journey of a Polish immigrant (Cotillard) who becomes caught between a cabaret owner/pimp (Phoenix) and a magician who wants to save her (Renner). Richard Brody at The New Yorker managed to parse the paywalled article, and once again, the deeply thoughtful and intelligent Gray is touching upon a variety of fascinating influences both aesthetically and thematically for the film.
Cinematographer Darius Khondji notes that the photographs by the Italian architect Carlo Mollino along with the tenor of Robert Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest” are serving as the template for “the perfect texture for filming the grain of the skin, and the kind of lighting which would give the ensemble a sort of religious aspect.” Paintings by Everett Shinn and George Bellows are also reference points for the look of the film. But while his previous efforts are indebted to Italian neo-realist films, the author of the Liberation article notes that this time around, Gray is visually attempting “to distance himself from the formal realism of his previous films in order to seek out the element of myth.”
When we spoke with Gray last month, he indicated that his own family history played a part in shaping the story and it’s something he elaborates on here. His great-grandfather ran a bar during the 1920s, when the film is set, with Gray saying, “The bar was supposedly frequented by a whole bunch of gangsters, bohemians, and eccentrics, and my great-aunt often spoke to me about a certain Max Hochsten, who was the local pimp.”
All told, this is easily one of our most anticipated films of the year. Gray himself told us just before he started editing, “I think it’s going to be my best work. What I shot was not just my best work, but the actors doing their best and I’m very excited about it for that reason.” He’s currently in the midst of a 15-week editing schedule, and a Venice or TIFF premiere is looking likely. Until then, check out these images of what he’s got brewing.