INTERVIEW: Local Arcand's "Stardom" Opens Toronto's 25th Anniversary
by Anthony Kaufman
Along with David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan, Denys Arcand is one of the most respected Canadian directors, if not the most enduring. The Quebecois auteur’s credits date as far back as the 1960s with numerous documentary shorts, followed by further documentary work on Canadian politics (“Québec: Duplessis and After,” “Comfort and Indifference“) and narrative comedies (“Dirty Money,” “Gina“) in the 1970s. But it wasn’t until 1986’s “The Decline of the American Empire” that Arcand received some of the celebrity (and an Academy Award nom) that he lampoons in his latest effort, “Stardom,” opening the Toronto Film Festival tonight, a media-savvy, bitterly satirical look at a Canadian girl’s trip through the meat grinder of fame and the modeling industry.
Small, appreciated imports to the U.S. in recent years like “Love and Human Remains” and the critically acclaimed “Jesus of Montreal” (also nominated by the Academy) have established Arcand as one of the foremost filmmakers working up North. With “Stardom,” Arcand’s piercing comedic insights and searing political satire have finally converged in a glitzy send-up that could not be more suited to open (or close, as it did in Cannes) a film festival. indieWIRE’s Anthony Kaufman spoke to Arcand on the eve of the film’s premiere about film festivals, fame, comedy, Canadians, and the media.
indieWIRE: So this is a perfect film festival film . . .
Denys Arcand: Absolutely, I wanted to actually include Cannes in it. I wanted the actress to walk the red carpet with Jean Claude Van Damme, and we almost did it. But for scheduling reasons, it was almost impossible. This is an image that I would have loved to have for my film.
iW: Does the idea of the film come from previous visits to festivals?
Arcand: Yes, the celebrity that I briefly experienced from ’86 to ’91 had something to do with it. Because if you do fairly successful films back to back, you become very hot. And becoming hot means a certain number of things. For me, it was not dangerous, because I was old enough not to be changed by that. I was 35 at that time. But you’d think someone who was 21 or 22 or 23, for that to happen must be scary and very dangerous.
iW: So is there a bit of a concern of hypocrisy, taking this woman, Jessica Pare, this young actress, and putting her on display in the same way?
Arcand: What can I do? To tell my story I needed someone. And I couldn’t afford Cameron Diaz. So I had to go with an unknown. So by definition, an unknown is someone who’s going to walk in off the street. But she’s a very well-rounded person, her father is the dean of literature at a university. She’s got a head on her shoulders, so. . . I don’t know what it’s going to do to her, but that’s the story I had to tell.
iW: Since this film is about celebrity, did you have conversations about what this film might do to her life?
Arcand: I thought I should have this conversation, but I never found the time to do it. It’s a bit presumptuous. I did this other film, “Love and Human Remains.” All the actors were unknowns, and were saying, “Oh my god, we’re going to be world famous because of this film.” But the film bombed. So you’d look like a fool, going, “Be careful, you’re going to be famous.” So you never know. So if it’s going to be a success, then I’ll talk to her.
iW: There’s a satirical element to all your films, but “Stardom” felt more out-right comedic than previous films, do you agree?
Arcand: Depends on the way you receive it. Piers Handling, who runs the Toronto Film Festival, said to me, this is your darkest film, this is so depressing. Gilles Jacob, head of the Cannes Film Festival, says it’s a light comedy, it’s airy, it’s satire. So I don’t know. This is the way I am. I love to laugh, but at the same time, I’m a very serious person. Jacob says, “How can you change from one to the other and totally shift the mood.”
iW: Canadians have a very unique view of celebrity. It’s different from here in the U.S. I think they resist being in the limelight.
Arcand: That’s why they’re so good at comedy. That’s why they own Saturday Night Live. I don’t know what it is. One possible answer would be the distance. We know Americans intimately. I went to movies in New York when I was 18 years old, because we couldn’t see movies in Montreal. So we would be like 4 guys in a Volkswagen and see 20 movies in 46 hours. And yet, I am not a New Yorker. So we have this relationship, but we’re not the same. So the distance and the familiarity makes it possible to be effective as a comedy writer, so you can laugh with the knowledge. You know enough to pick up the quirks, and laugh about it, without being so immersed in it. Comedy needs distance.
iW: Why, for instance, do the Genies not seem to mean so much in Canada?
Arcand: Because they don’t mean anything.
iW: But the Oscars mean so much to us.
Arcand: Nobody in Canada, especially in English Canada, goes to see Canadian movies. Atom Egoyan is famous in New York and David Cronenberg is big in Europe. But in Canada, you’ve got maybe 10,000 people in Toronto who care about films, and get their opinion from The New York Times or . . . no, just The New York Times. So everyone else sees “Gladiator,” because that’s the only movie that’s advertised, and the only movie at the mall, and that’s the end of it. So if you win a Canadian cinema award, it’s fine, because we’re all there together. It’s like a family of about 200 people. I’m there every year. Last year, I gave the prize. Next year, it’s going to be David or Atom, because my movie is up, and they’re not shooting this year. So it’s three people. If you win an Oscar, your life changes, your salary, the film is going to be re-released instantly; this is a high stakes game. The Canadian movies don’t make a profit anyway.
iW: There’s so much talk about digital video these days, and finding content that matches the technology. And I was thinking, if there’s any movie that’s ripe for DV, it would be “Stardom.”
Arcand: You bet. For months, we did tests, we did everything. We were very close to shooting HDTV. If we were shooting next year, it would be yes. Yes, it works, yes, they tell us, it’s in perfect order. But in the bright sun, under completely hot conditions, will it work? And they say, probably. And you’re saying, I wish the other guy would do it first. We saw things that were shot on Sony HD and then transferred to film. And then we saw the same scene on original film and we were looking at it, me and my D.P., and we couldn’t tell which was which. So that’s it. Film is finished. Video has won. But next film, sure. This time, I was a bit scared.
iW: Was it always your intention that the movie be told in various media formats?
Arcand: There was the idea of beauty first, then celebrity. And then in about the second or third version of the script, because I was thinking about these models and I suddenly realized how much I knew about them. I went backstage during Fashion Week in New York and they were all there: Kate Moss, all of them, and I was looking at them and thinking I know everything about these girls. There’s Johnny Depp, he’s going out with so and so, and Cindy Crawford, she’s doing this. And it was like, why do I have all this information in my head? Do I care? Where does it come from? And then I said, it’s from the television. And then it was: this story has to be told on television. It’s their media. That’s why they are famous. It’s organic. They are creatures of television. Without television, they’d be like haute couture models of the 50’s; nobody knew about them.