French filmmaker Olivier Assayas is still riding high off the reception to his latest work, “Clouds Of Sils Maria.” In February, the film’s star, Kristen Stewart, became the first American actress to win France’s Cesar Award for her performance. “Clouds Of Sils Maria” seemed to confuse some critics at Cannes last year, but almost ironically, it’s been American critics who have been most receptive to this stageplay-like, mirror-reflecting film about time, aging, and identity. It’s a layered, intimate movie, and had things gone according to plan, last fall, Assayas would’ve changed gears to work on a completely different kind of project.
The director was ready to mount his first American-financed film, the crime story “Idol’s Eye” starring Robert Pattinson, Robert De Niro, and Rachel Weisz, when financiers Benaroya Pictures pulled out at the last minute. The reasons that the film shut down at the time were somewhat cryptic, but obviously creatively and financially motivated. At the time, Benaroya released a statement that claimed “the criteria for financing” was “not being met by producers,” and that they had “[missed] a number of financing criteria deadlines.” Thus, the company felt at risk and pulled the plug.
Asssayas and his producers never really had their chance to respond, so when talking to the filmmaker last week about “Clouds Of Sils Maria,” we had to ask. “It was a horror,” Assayas said. “A long painful horror story. Let’s just say that did it put me off being involved with these kinds of projects in any kind of way in the foreseeable future.”
While the filmmaker didn’t exactly spell out in any specific terms what the disagreements were, he did suggest that the financiers weren’t above board, nor were they on the same page with the filmmakers. Has the experience put him off American productions in general? “Let’s say I’ll think twice about it — the possibilities of making movies in the U.S.,” he said. “The problem is… it’s a different approach to filmmaking and it’s… Let’s say I was involved with those people [the financiers] and I don’t want to be.”
“And making movies is being involved with people I like and who live in a similar world and here I was involved with people who live in a completely different world who have completely different values and function differently,” he continued. “Where I thought there was some kind of common ground, I realized there was zero common ground.”
“Idol’s Eye” was a hugely anticipated project, one that probably would have bowed at Cannes or one of the other major film festivals, and what most fans want to know is, will he ever make this film?
“Mmmm… I would do it if my producer managed if I could get true control of it,” Assayas said, but he didn’t exactly sound hopeful. “If I don’t have full control I would never trust the people who were involved with it. But I will never take those kinds of risks. I would only be involved in that film if I was guaranteed complete security that his is happening on normal, decent filmmaking terms and not in the middle of the madness we went through.”
Asked about what the film would have been like, Assayas stressed what an ordeal the experience was.
“The whole thing is a shame because I think I had the perfect cast and the project was really exciting,” he explained. “It was incredibly frustrating because we were ready and the financier pulled out 24 hours before shooting which is unheard of. It’s something that never happens. And 24 hours before shooting you have all the elements there, all your cast, all your sets you have the whole film in your mind. To me, you know I can watch the entire film in my mind. I know exactly what it would have been and that’s very frustrating.”
Those holding out hope for an Assayas-directed “Idol’s Eye” should note at the end of Benaroya’s original statement the company stressed they retained the rights to the film and were planning on moving “forward with production on the picture after we generate a revised script and assemble a new filmmaking team.” It’s a disappointment, but whatever the filmmaker gets up to next, we’ll be watching.
More from this interview and “Clouds Of Sils Maria” — which opens in limited release on April 10th — later in the week.