From a jungle on the beach in Quintana Roo blooms the Riviera Maya Film Festival. Now celebrating its third birthday, the festival — spread across Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Cancun along the Caribbean — brings over 70 films to Mexico, 40 of which have never been seen in Latin America. Many of the films are challenging auteur works off the festival circuit (“Nymphomaniac,” “Night Moves,” “Under The Skin”) while others are homegrown Mexican indies you’re not likely to see in the US — or maybe anywhere else, ever.
Sunday night marked the fest’s opening night premiere of Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Moves.” In attendance was star Peter Sarsgaard, who came down to the peninsula with wife Maggie Gyllenhaal on his birthday and charmed the international press at a conference earlier in the day. By “Night,” he got the lavish red carpet treatment and as a gift from the fest, was endowed with a giant conch shell covered in saran wrap. “My daughter is going to freak out,” Sarsgaard told the audience as he accepted the odd swag. (Click through for more quotes from Sarsgaard, who opens up about the anxiety of acting, Jesse Eisenberg, religion, marriage and more.)
Coming from the director of slow-paced dramas like the neorealist “Wendy and Lucy” (2008) and the revisionist western “Meek’s Cutoff” (2010) — whose pace is akin to petrified molasses — it’s surprising that “Night Moves” turns out to be an old-school thriller. But in Reichardt’s sure hands, it’s pure dark magic and her most accessible (and possibly best) film to date, with Jesse Eisenberg nailing his role as an environmental zealot, and the lovely Dakota Fanning proving her subtle gifts yet again in a small-scale movie. Sarsgaard, as always, is brilliantly subdued in a small but key role. His next part will be onstage in New York as Hamlet under the direction of Austin Pendleton.
“When people see a good film, they see a reflection of their own lives, and they learn something and they connect. It can be serious, it can be frivolous, but it’s a reflection of your own life. It validates your life,” said Sarsgaard warmly at the press conference.
The film, set for 2014 distribution by Cinedigm, is about a group of so-called eco-terrorists who craftily assemble a bomb from ammonium nitrate fertilizer to destroy a dam that’s holding back a wealth of Oregon’s water supply. The film’s universe is one of complex moral fabric, where red herrings fall like flies and paranoia, among other things, is in the water. (Here’s our 2013 Venice review.)
“A Kelly Reichardt movie has nothing else except for the actors in it to help sell it and move the story forward,” Sarsgaard said in the press conference. “It’s all on us. When you’re in a larger movie [like “The Green Lantern”], it’s easier, but it’s deceptive because you can fall asleep. It definitely feels like you’re on a vacation in a big movie. In a Kelly Reichardt movie, running from scene to scene, from shot to shot, there’s a lot of work to be done as actors. There’s not a chance to do five takes because she’s got other things to do, and we only have 20-something days to shoot it.”
After about 30 minutes of introductions from fest programmers and government officials in hasty Spanish, the screening began and Sarsgaard and Gyllenhaal hit the road. But later, at the industry after-party in Cancun, I learned that, apparently, some sort of jewel heist had gone down in the area, and local police were shutting down the highway to search every car at three discrete checkpoints. Sarsgaard and Gyllenhaal’s private van was among them. It was like the 2013 Cannes Film Festival all over again. Los Angelinos, imagine the 101, the 5 and the 405 being shut down, and you get an idea of what a sticky jam everyone was in.
More from Sarsgaard after the jump.
Sarsgaard on the anxiety of acting:
Acting takes a toll on actors. A lot of people think the want to be an actor. It is very nice and we are frequently very well paid and you get to go to wonderful places like this. But if you go like this for long enough, you will feel sad, and if you pretend to kill people all the time in movies, you’ll be accessing a part of yourself that doesn’t feel very comfortable. Even if you pretend to fall in love with a beautiful woman in a movie, you might fall in love with that woman and then have to go int your life. Acting takes a toll. Look at Heath. It has taken a toll with a lot of people in more subtle ways so my advice, always, is take care of yourself as you do it.
On advice for Jesse Eisenberg, about to play Lex Luthor in “Batman vs. Superman”:
I have a lot of advice for Jesse Eisenberg. A lot of great artists work with anxiety, anxiety is part of what fuels them, they’re looking for relief from their anxiety, they’re looking to express their anxiety, Jesse is not just an actor, he’s a playwright, I’ve seen his work. He writes pieces in The New Yorker that I find very funny. Jesse works from a place of intense anxiety. I work from a place of intense anxiety, as many of us actors do. My advice to him in playing a villain, in a comic book movie, would be to entertain the teenager in you, to put a young version of you next to the camera and make sure that he’s having a good time, and make sure that you’re having a good time. I had more fun doing “The Green Lantern” than a lot of other movies. You should make sure the young version of yourself has fun. These films are for young people.
On balancing work and home life:
My wife is also an actor and I think that makes life a lot easier. The way that we work, with my wife being an actor also, is that when she works, the whole family goes with her, including me, as long as I’m not working — and I try not to be working. When I work, the family doesn’t go with me. So frequently I don’t have my family around me when I’m working. There’s no home to go back to. I go back to my hotel and being the only person, there’s no one to share it with.
On accessing the darker parts of yourself as an actor:
I was raised Catholic and taught by Jesuits. I was an altar boy. I remember from a very early age, really being interested in trying to understand the evil parts of life, and understanding them as parts of life. I was very much influenced by the words of Christ. It was a big deal to me when I was a kid. So I considered people who do bad things part of the fold. I looked for the part of myself that wanted to do bad things, so that stuff was not difficult to me. It’s just a part of reality. But if you’re supposed to be having the love affair of your life in the movie, at the end of the day it’s a lot harder to let that go than it is if you’ve killed ten people. That’s easy not to bring home; it’s much harder to let go of positive feelings than negative ones. At least for me, and I’ve played a lot of very violent people, and I think I’ve been in touch with violence.