Seven Question with Marleen Gorris, director of "Mrs. Dalloway"
by Augusta Palmer
Natascha McElhone and Vanessa Redgrave take turns in the role of Clarissa Dalloway.
Photo Credit: First Look Pictures
Academy Award winner Marleen Gorris’ newest film “Mrs. Dalloway” is an
adaptation of the celebrated stream-of-consciousness Virginia Woolf novel
about a woman’s thoughts preparing and attending a party. For many Woolf
fans, adapting this breakthrough book is sacrilege, but Gorris, renowned
for her early feminist films, “A Question of Silence” and “Broken Mirrors“,
manages to get inside her characters in a uniquely cinematic way. Vanessa
Redgrave stars as the famous protagonist and the screenplay adaptation was
written by Eileen Atkins. The film opened in select theaters on Friday.
indieWIRE: How did getting an Oscar for “Antonia’s Line” affect the way you
work? Were your earlier films made differently than “Mrs. Dalloway”?
Marleen Gorris: Yes, well, obviously in the sense that those earlier films
were made over fifteen years ago with very, very little money and made
under extremely difficult conditions. An example of how difficult they were
comes from the shoot for “Broken Mirrors”: we had this Amsterdam house on
one of the canals. These are very old houses you know – 16th, 17th century.
And that house was gutted, completely gutted. It was going to be redone;
but we were allowed to shoot in there for the brothel scenes, which are
most of the movie. But the house was so old that we started off like this
(outlines a slightly sloping floor with a hand gesture) and, in the course
of shooting, the floor became like that (makes another hand gesture just
shy of being vertical). And the make-up lady had to put blocks on the floor
to get the chair right, things like that. We had no heating in that house
in the middle of February – these were the unbelievable circumstances. That
these kinds of films ever get made is a miracle to me.
But then, by present-day American standards “Mrs. Dalloway” wasn’t a very
expensive film. It was only four and a half million dollars. And you know,
if an American studio had made the film it probably would have been
something like sixty million dollars. So, I think in Europe we manage to
make quality films for much less money and I hope we continue to do so.
iW: I was amazed by the fact that Natascha MacElhone (who plays the younger
version of Mrs. Dalloway) and Vanessa Redgrave (who plays her as an older
women) begin to resemble one another. Which is amazing since I wouldn’t
otherwise have thought they looked anything alike.
Gorris: Nor would I really, but I think that was exactly what I hoped would
happen because, in the beginning, the actors asked me, “Well, we aren’t
going to meet, aren’t we?”
iW: I read that you asked them not to meet or to talk about the roles…
Gorris: Yes, and I thought that that was a much better idea because then
they would approach the role from the inside and that’s actually what they
did, you know, otherwise they would have taken each other’s mannerisms and
approached it off the top of their heads whereas now they went much deeper
and I think that is one of the reasons why Natascha, who doesn’t look the
least bit like Vanessa, at least gives the impression of looking like her;
which is a hell of a lot of work on the part of an actress.
iW: I noticed looking in the credits that there were quite a lot of women
on the shoot, is that something you strive for?
Gorris: Well, actually there were far more people than normal who worked on
this film. Quite a lot of people worked for only one day. And the reason
for that was that the filming actually fell into two parts. We started
shooting and after two weeks of shooting it turned out that the British
producer had no money at all. So everything fell flat on its face and
behind the scenes everybody was frantically trying to get the money
together. Another producer, another bank. And in the end it was the
American distributor of “Antonia’s Line”, First Look Pictures, who managed
to get a bank interested in order to finance it, put two new producers in
place and got the British Screen Fund to put up some money, and a bit of
money from Holland so that in the nick of time we were allowed to continue.
So after those three weeks most of the crew, of course, had dispersed. Most
of them wanted to come back, but some couldn’t come back because they’d
taken on new jobs. So, in the end, I had to work with three of everything:
like three cameramen, camera-people, the most important and the only woman
was Sue Gibson [first female member of the BSC]; but because some days she
was not available I had to get someone else. I had, I think, three DPs but
one worked for two weeks and one worked for the rest, and one worked for
one day. And two of them were men, actually. So this happened with a lot of
these different functions.
iW: So what do you do when you have a financing problem like the one you
had with the British producer?
Gorris: Well, you go berserk. And then you try to save what there is to
save. People are wandering off saying, “Sorry, I’ve got to make a living.”
And it’s quite frankly true, of course. So I was intensely grateful to the
American distributors when they took over, because if they hadn’t I would
never have been able to make that film because there simply was no money.
iW: Has your point of view about male/female relations changed since the
earlier films? “Antonia’s Line” and “Mrs. Dalloway” seem much less angry
about women’s roles in society than your earlier films.
Gorris: For me it was a sort of natural progression from those first three
films to “Antonia’s Line”. Only, I wanted to make my first three films
first because they, at that moment in time, were the most important to me.
And then I was ready to do “Antonia’s Line”. So, for me, it really was a
very natural progression. But there again, some people said, “This film is
so different from your previous ones that we can’t like this; we can’t
allow this.” So, you know, I thought to myself, Well, as a matter of fact
it’s not a question of permitting me or allowing me to make films. I make
the films that I want to make and the audience will see what they do. If
they don’t like it, well that’s okay, they don’t. If they do like it, great. But
I think you should at least allow the artist the freedom of speech; the
freedom to do what she or he wants to do.