Following the first screening of “Nobody Wants the Night,” director Isabel Coixet and stars Juliette Binoche, Rinko Kikuchi and Gabriel Byrne led a memorable press conference that quickly put us Berlinale-goers in our places.
From the start, the Spanish director, known for films such as “Elegy” and last year’s “Learning To Drive,” was no bullshit. “You want to know the truth,” she’d say after each posed question. She then candidly delves into the problems she faced making her latest endeavor, problems with the rhetoric surrounding female directors and problems with the industry in general. “Nobody Wants the Night” may have opened the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, but Coixet in the flesh truly got things going.
Following the film’s world premiere, Indiewire had the opportunity to sit down with the filmmaker to further discuss the conference, her distaste for working on studio productions and what’s next.
To jump right in, yesterday at the press conference you were saying how the feminist dialogue in this industry is very circular and doesn’t have a lot of movement. Can you explain that a bit more?
I said that because, well, now I’m living in Brooklyn and I read the New York Times everyday. They had these three long articles in the New York Times and I have the impression that the more you talk about the lack of female directors the more it feeds the world and the idea that there are very few female directors. As a director, the only thing I can do is work as much as I can and I’m trying to help as much as I can young directors. I produced a short film with a girl, a very talented filmmaker, Jennifer Cox from Austin. It’s all I can do. But, we need action. I think all these statistics are good to have, but I think it’s very dead end. And also, 20 years ago I was here with “Things I Never Told You.” It was my first film, the first time I came to Berlin. And they were asking me the same questions and by now I’m so over it. That’s why yesterday, I tried to have a less politically correct approach. I tried to put in some sense of humor, because if not, it’s repetitive. And I hate repetition. I do just three takes because if not I’m always bored.
Do you think this ties in with your keenness on collaborations, working with people and actors that you keep around? Like Sarah Polley and now Rinko Kikuchi?
This is my second film with Rinko. I discovered her in “Map of the Sounds of Tokyo.” I think she’s one of the most beautiful creatures on Earth. And also the most exquisite. She’s a hell of an actress. I think she’s a very underrated actress. I saw the last film she did, at Sundance.
“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter”! How incredible was that movie?
How incredible was that movie! And how incredible was Rinko in that? Out of this world. So for me, every opportunity I get that I can work with her I will do it. And Sarah Polley. What can I say? Last time I saw her I was in Toronto in September. I saw her and every time I see her I feel she’s my family. She’s so talented and brilliant and fun and easygoing. I would work with them anytime. With her, a short film. I’ll do whatever with her. With Juliette, I have to say, we had a project 10 years ago. One of those very interesting projects. We met, we talked a lot, and then the producer disappeared. So we’ve been wanting to do something together. And when, Miguel Barros, the screenwriter, sent me this script, I thought, “I’ll do the film if Juliette wants to do it. Because I don’t think there are many actresses in this world who could do what she does in a film.
Between this film and your last, “Learning to Drive” — and I don’t know if this is a conscious endeavor — you seem interested in characters that are not so Eurocentric, in cultures that are not American, European or white. Is that something you’re interested in exploring?
Yes. Totally. And I have to say, particularly with this film, I felt closer to Allaka, Rinko’s character, than Josephine. I think it’s really important to be aware of all these people who are not from the western culture. They have things to teach us and I’m always curious when you have simplistic portraits of people from a western point of view, from the Inuit world, from the Amazon world, or from Senegal or Chad. I think the world would be a better place and we see ” the other” not as the enemy. We see the other as someone who is not so far from us. I always try to see in the world, and in my films, what is the thing that makes us closer. Focus on that.
Do you think that part of that effort has to do with your casting? The casting is very color blind. You didn’t hire someone who was Inuit, but it doesn’t matter when you have someone who captures that essence.
I know some people will say, “Why didn’t you use an Inuit actress,” but I know Rinko and I knew from my heart that she would be able to pull it off. For me, this is incidental. Of course, some Inuit will say it’s not incidental, but I have to say the Inuit people I worked with who saw her, the way she moved, the way she speaks. I think she created this character and did it from her gut and did it very very well. As you said, this is the sixth time I’ve worked with Jean-Claude Larrieu, my director of photography, I think we made a good team. I’m a camera operator. He’s the director of photography. We have an understanding. It’s much easier that way.
Now that I know a collaboration has been in the works between you and Juliette Binoche for over 10 years, can you talk about the experience of actually getting to work with her?
She’s a force of nature! First of all, she’s one of the most intelligent and beautiful creatures on Earth. She’s fun, she’s dedicated. She’s smart. And also, when she says “yes” to a character there’s nothing that will stop her. She’s fearless. You need a fearless actress to play this character. This is a character, who at the beginning, you’re like “what the fuck? What the fuck is this person doing there?” She’s not afraid to portray someone who at the beginning is really not sympathetic.
And tell me about the issues getting this together?
I know it’s hard to condense that, and you talked a lot about it yesterday.
You realize, in the last years, the titles before the title of the movie, they are longer and longer. Like, “with the collaboration of” and you have like 10 people, 12 executive producers. Well, this was the only way. It’s a Spanish, Bulgarian and French co-production. We had a crew that was Bulgarian, from Spain and we had to shoot in Norway because there’s a place called Finse. It was the only way. We had to be there. We had to be in the cold. We had to be in the snow. But we just had money for 2 weeks there. We were shooting everyday, Saturday and Sunday too. Then we went to Bulgaria, and we recreated the cabins in the studio… For me the challenge was to be very focused about where we were gonna shoot, be very conscious of the editing. And for some scenes, they started in Norway, continued to Bulgaria. For me, this was the most challenging shoot of my life. I was editing at the same time because I needed to be. It was the only way to have some continuity, not only in terms of lighting, but in terms of what they were feeling, what the force they were carrying was.
Although you had these constraints with money and time, would you still prefer it over the lack of freedom you might have in a bigger budget production? Do you prefer the intimacy of this even though it’s crazy, difficult, and challenging?
Yes. I will never ever again work for a studio. I did it before and it was a nightmare; it almost ruined my career. And I have to say, when you have a big company, even if it’s a small film, because a big company ruins it. They change the editor. They change the music. They change the effects. And they ruin a film. I rather do my own film than having people from a studio do it. I rather make my own mistakes. In this film I had to say it was difficult. Sometimes, we needed more time. But I prefer to make a film like this in the conditions we had, if I have freedom.
Can you tell me what you’re working on next?
I’m working on two projects. One is a film based on a script I wrote, based on the novel “The Bookshop” by Penelope Fitzgerald. It happens in a live village in England in 1959. It’s a beautiful story, one of those novels that when I read it I felt the character was me. I’m not English, I’ve never lived in England in ’59, but it’s me. And I’m fighting now and working and doing everything I can to make this movie. Also, I have this beautiful project called “This Man, This Woman” with Penelope Cruz and Diane Kruger. And it’s a script written by Federic Raphael, the guy who wrote “Two for the Road” and “Eyes Wide Shut.” It’s a beautiful story about marriage. If these two films happen I will be very happy. If not, you know, again I fight. That’s what I do. But, I always remember what Dennis Hopper told me. I directed Dennis Hopper in his last film. And one of the last things he said to me was “Isabel, forget whatever they tell you. It’s much better to make a film that not to make a film.” I always remember that.