By Brian Brooks | Indiewire February 11, 2009 at 6:45AM
"It started with this character Parker [Posey] plays about a woman who escapes reality in dealing with truths, and I built the character around her," explained "Happy Tears" director Mitchell Lichtenstein ("Teeth") in Berlin Wednesday afternoon discussing his new film screening in competition as the Berlinale begins its wind down. Based on a short story Lichtenstein first wrote years ago, he expanded the plot into a screenplay that he admitted had "autobiographical elements to it." Starring Rip Torn, Demi Moore along with Posey, "Happy Tears" is the story of sisters Jayne and Laura (Parker Posey and Demi Moore) who reunite in Pittsburgh to take care of their slowly degenerating father.
Shielded from the harsher side of life since childhood, Laura becomes eager to push Jayne into accepting reality. Their father, meanwhile, is blissfully passive about his health and has even taken a seedy lover (Ellen Barkin), much to the annoyance of both sisters. The siblings are also contending with drama in their personal lives, which brings underlying demons to the surface.
"I have a twin brother and we're very opposite, I say we're two opposites of the same coin and I saw the same here," said Posey about the film, which received low-level, polite applause following its press and industry screening Wednesday morning in the Berlinale Palast. "I think that each one of us is looking for the opposite traits the other has, and through their dysfunction, they're able to discover their [mutual respect]," added Moore. The big name Hollywood actress was the object of much attention at the very crowded press conference, with journalists asking her numerous off-topic questions: "How do you like Berlin, Demi?" "Did your husband help you decide to join this independent film?" "Would you ever like to act in a Chinese film?" (answer.... "Yes.") Which director...?
A few times, the moderator had to ask journalists to stay on topic, which is apparently a hazard when an indie production has a Hollywood star on board. But the hordes of photogs and journalists certainly turned out...
So back on topic, Moore commented that the current economic situation has made, in her opinion, studio productions no less risky an undertaking then independent films. "I think every project you step into has an element of risk," said Moore. "It's more important in the company you keep and the stories you tell. I think today working or an independent project isn't any riskier then working for a studio [production]."
"Independent films are able to have more depth," added Posey. "We figured we could expose something as sisters that was a little more complex..."
Still, the indies face the wrath and praise of opinion and chatter on the fest circuit, and a film can reach the proverbial highest peak or the deepest valley within moments after its first showing. "I thought 'Happy Tears' was an embarrassment," one frustrated buyer told indieWIRE today after the screening, venting about the movie. "It's a market film at best."