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NYFF ’08 | Aronofsky, Rourke Talk “Wrestler,” Folman “Waltzes” With New York

NYFF '08 | Aronofsky, Rourke Talk "Wrestler," Folman "Waltzes" With New York

Wednesday afternoon at the Walter Reade Theatre in New York marked a big day for the 46th New York Film Festival. “The WrestlerMickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei and producer Scott Franklin joined director Darren Aronofsky to discuss the film after its first screening for New York press and industry. The movie, acquired shortly after its North American debut last month at the Toronto fest, will close the NYFF on October 12th. Meanwhile, Ari Folman‘s acclaimed animated documentary, “Waltz With Bashir” made its New York debut as well. indieWIRE was in attendance, and has the highlights.

“Wrestler” Marks Rourke’s Return

“When I’d graduated film school I’d made a list on my Mac Classic, or whatever it was, of some ideas for feature films,” said Aronofsky. “And one of them was called ‘The Wrestler.’ [It] came out of the idea that there had been so many boxing movies that it’s basically its own genre, yet nobody had done a serious fillm about wrestling.” The idea spent a long time on Aronofsky’s hard drive until six years ago when he and producer Scott Franklin (who was a producer on “Requiem of a Dream” and “Pi“) started talking about it. “Scott turned out to be a bigger fan of wrestling than I was,” he laughed. “So [he] started putting together some ideas and eventually the idea of Mickey Rourke came up and that same time we met a writer named Robert Siegel and he started to write to script.”

The film, having its U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival, details the simple and moving story of fictional wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rourke), who is unhappily facing retirement. Eventually shot in just 35 days, it has won significiant acclaim at its previous screenings in Toronto and Venice, winning the Golden Lion for best film at the latter. Aronofksy, Rourke, Franklin, and Marisa Tomei, who plays an aging stripper and Rourke’s love interest in the film, all sat down for a talk after the film’s NYFF press screening yesterday at the Walter Reade Theatre.

Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei on the set of Darren Aronofky’s “The Wrestler.” Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

“I didn’t know anything about wrestling at all,” Rourke admitted. Aronofksy put him on an extensive rehearsal schedule, handled in part by the film’s stunt co-ordinator, Douglas Crosby, an actual judge at UFC fights. Crosby brought in a team of professional wrestlers to help Rourke prepare.

“While Darren was away on vacation for two months, he made me train with these guys,” Rourke laughed. “He had a ring put up in his office and everyday for two hours, Darren made me go to wrestling practice with these guys. At first it really hard and I didn’t get it because I was trained in a different sport. It made it harder to learn wrestling because in boxing you’re taught to hide everything. I would have been better of if I’d never had a boxing lesson… Wrestling and boxing are like ping-pong and rugby.”

“I was so glad when this movie was over,” Rourke said regarding how physically exhausting the process was. “I can honestly say [its] the best movie I ever made and the hardest movie I’ve ever made.” Rourke said he got hurt more in the three months wrestling than he did in sixteen years boxing. “I think I had three MRIs in two months,” he said. “Darren would screech at me that ‘your’e only giving me fifty percent,’ and I was like ‘I can’t fucking move, brother.’ I’m no spring chicken and this would be hard for a twenty year-old to do.”

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Regarding her role a stripper, Tomei also admitted several challenges. “I was [just now] listening to Mickey and I was thinking that there were so many feelings that were similar,” she said. “Although Darren did not put up a strip pole in his office for me.”

Like Rourke’s hired wrestlers, Tomei was given professional strippers to help her prepare and Rourke also helped her considerably. “I was still quite nervous but Mickey made me feel better after the first day I had to do it,” Tomei. “I was waiting to see his eyes when he came in to make sure it looks right. ‘I know you know,'” she remembered saying.

“I remember Mickey with his long blonde hair trying to show Marisa how to twirl,” said Aronofsky as both he and Tomei started immitating Rourke’s lesson. “Actually, [it was he who] taught me,” joked Tomei.

Producer Scott Franklin acknowledged the film’s financing was a challenge, in part due to Rourke’s casting. “Mickey’s comeback as a lead actor… a lot of people doubted him. And Darren and I never wavered in believing in Mickey.”

Rourke wasn’t always as sure about himself. “If I knew it was going to take me fifteen years to get back in the saddle and work again because of the way I handled things, I really would have handled things differently,” he said. “I just didn’t have the tools. Doing things differently this time around and understanding what it is to be a professional and be responsible and be consistent. Those were things that weren’t in my vocabulary back then. Change for me, didn’t come easy. I didn’t want to change until I lost everything. Then I realized, ‘you better change or just blow your fucking brains out’… I thought it was a weakness to change from all the armor I had put on my whole life. I was too proud to change.”

Rourke certainly swallowed his pride, as his performance in “The Wrestler” displays a dedication to his craft few are capable of realizing.

“The Wrestler” closes the New York Film Festival next Sunday, October 12 at Avery Fisher Hall. Fox Searchlight will release the film later this year.

“Bashir” Makes New York Debut

“This film was always meant to be an animated film,” Ari Folman said of his “Waltz With Bashir” after a screening at the New York Film Festival. “I never thought even that there is a chance to do it in any other way. Not as a fiction film, definitely not as a classic documentary film. And when I imagined the film in my mind before I was writing it, it was always with drawn characters… If you look at all the elements you have in the film – memory, lost memory, dreams, subconscious, hallucinations, drugs, youth, lost youth – I think for me the only way to combine all those things in one storyline was drawings and animation. As a filmmaker, I just felt totally free.”

“Waltz With Bashir” director Ari Folman at a New York Film Festival screening of the film. Photo by Peter Knegt.

“Bashir,” which premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, uniquely recalls Folman’s experiences in the 1982 war between Israel and Lebanon through what could be labeled an “animated documentary.”

Folman began the process of making the film by advertising on the internet that he was looking for stories about the First Lebanon War. “We had a very long research [as] more than one hundred people called,” he said. “I felt they were in many ways waiting for someone to come hear their stories.” From there, he wrote a feature length screenplay, mostly based on his personal story. “Then I realized there is no way that the human ear would be tolerant toward location, sound and animation,” he said. “So we shot everything in a sound studio. All the interviews and everything we could dramatize in the sound studio.”

Folman didn’t rotoscope the footage from these sessions. “We didn’t draw over the video, we drew the video from scratch. The video [and the sound were] just a reference.”

The film’s subject matter might limit certain regional possibilities. “Waltz With Bashir” has already shown in Israel, but Folman isn’t sure how possible additional screenings will be in the Middle East. “[We] tried to organize screenings in Beirut but it didn’t work out,” he said. “We’ll probably spread some screeners there so people can do it themselves.”

“I had no intention of making any general statements,” Folman said about the film’s political subject matter. “Only personal. I can say that I think the 1982 war was a completely different war [from Israel’s past wars]. In previous wars, we were always attacked. And going from defense to offense or however you want to look at [is] a completely different story. It was the first time for Israeli troops to invade cities with civilians.”

“As you probably all know from the history of this country,” he compared, “sometimes when you confront civillians in big cities, you don’t want to talk about it. It’s not like battlefield stories that can go into a level of bravery and glory. There’s no glory in entering a big city like Beirut [as he does in the film]… It is a war with no glamor [and one] that people don’t talk about too much.”

“In the end, what matters is when I see a photograph of myself when I was 19 years old,” he said, reflecting on the age he was during the war. “Five years ago, I would feel completely disconnected to the guy I was. And now, if I look at it, I can see this guy in me. In the end, this matters… On a larger scale, though, I can say that since the film was released in Israel four months ago, I can say that my life has changed completely. Not because I travel so much but because everywhere I go I find myself with people telling me all their horrific war stories that suddenly emerged in them after they saw the film. And I have nothing to say to them except, ‘Go make a movie out of it.'”

The film’s final public screening is tonight, October 2, at the Ziegfeld Theatre. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in December.

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