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CANNES 2012: Philip Kaufman Talks Tumultuous Romances and Trying Out TV With 'Hemingway & Gellhorn'

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire May 24, 2012 at 4:13PM

It's been almost five decades since Philip Kaufman first came to Cannes with his 1964 debut "Goldstein," an indie comedy co-directed by Benjamin Manaster. In the time since, his varied work has encompassed wide-ranging themes, from the multiple Academy Award-nominated test pilot saga "The Right Stuff" to the 1978 sci-fi classic "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" to the NC-17-rated period drama "Henry & June."
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Your first film, "Goldstein," premiered at the festival in 1964. Any thoughts on how the festival has changed over the years?

We can have this discussion better after I'm back! But I was there 48 years ago with my first, the smallest film at the festival, an independent American film financed for a very small amount of money. It was shown in a section called Nouvelle Critique. and it shared a prize with Bernardo Bertolucci's "Before the Revolution."

Then it was a much simpler place -- it was all about filmmaking and not so much about the glitz and sparkle and bling of what Cannes has become. It went back to that era of independent films, European films -- French New Wave was the exciting thing in the air. It was great. I'm looking forward to being there again. I was back once or twice passing through town during the festival trying to raise money for "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," but really didn't participate.

Alongside the premiere of "Hemingway & Gellhorn," you'll also be leading a Master Class at the festival.

I'll be in discussion with Michel Ciment, who's one of the most respected critics in France. He's going to be showing excerpts from six or seven films that I've done, and I'll be discussing them, leading up to a section from "Hemingway & Gellhorn."

"Then it was a much simpler place -- it was all about filmmaking and not so much about the glitz and sparkle and bling of what Cannes has become."

Hopefully some of the techniques and themes that I've worked on in the past will lead into this new film, whether it's stylistic, or in themes of sexuality, writers -- "Henry & June," the Marquis de Sade in "Quills" -- or films about individuals trying to stand up for certain values. Tom Wolfe's concept of "the right stuff," part of which was grace under pressure, came out of the Hemingway "code." We'll be talking about style and cameras, but we'll also be discussing "Hemingway & Gellhorn," which will be screening for the first time a few hours later.

"Hemingway & Gellhorn" is, as you mentioned, about writers, but it's also about filmmaking -- you even see Gellhorn filling in as a foley artist at one point.

I know! [laughs] Joris Ivens [who directed "The Spanish Earth" and is played in the film by Metallica's Lars Ulrich] was a documentary filmmaker, but those early, primitive techniques are so relevant and interesting to young people who want to be making films.

The idea of the muse haunts the film -- the sense that part of the pair's conflict is based on both of them needing to pursue individual creative goals, instead of one existing to support the other.

You feel early on in their relationship that they would never leave each other. It was a marriage deeply based in literary feelings and a similar viewpoint of the world. They were incredibly passionate together. But wars turned the world topsy turvy -- the Fascists were winning. [Gellhor] felt she had to leave, and that was the beginning of the tensions that started tearing them apart. Hemingway had his other problems, with alcohol and having his entourage, certain things that began to transform him.

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There's that basic theme of her learning, particularly in Spain, about how to behave in combat, how to keep your head down, what you do. Hemingway was so into the specifics of how you behave under pressure and in action. He teaches her, in a way -- the guru and the student. But in the end the student surpasses him. She carries that banner of the Hemingway code, the manly code now embodied in a woman.

That's part of the story, but it's also a theme I find very exciting, the student and master. When we did "Rising Sun, it was the senpai and the kohai, Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes. Those relationships between people whether you learn the good or the bad -- Jesse James and Cole Younger [in "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid"], the Marquis de Sade and the Abbé, Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, those themes have always interested me.

This article is related to: Television, TV Interviews, Interviews, Cannes Film Festival, Philip Kaufman, HBO , Hemingway & Gellhorn, Clive Owen, Nicole Kidman






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