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Christopher Nolan On Why He’s ‘A Pain in the Ass to Everybody’ On His Sets — Cannes 2018

Christopher Nolan believes in doing things for himself, his way.

Christopher NolanChristopher Nolan photocall, 71st Cannes Film Festival, France - 12 May 2018

Christopher Nolan photocall

Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock

As Cannes director Thierry Fremaux sought to bolster his auteur lineup this year, he brought in Martin Scorsese to open the festival with his “The Aviator” star, Cannes jury president Cate Blanchett. The New York filmmaker also introduced his Film Foundation-restored 1946 Cannes Classics entry “Enamorada,” Emilio Fernández’s Mexican revolution romance starring icon María Félix, who became a favorite of Jean Renoir and Luis Buñuel. “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler showed his blockbuster at the Cannes outdoor cinema on the beach, and submitted to over 90 minutes of friendly grilling from American buddy Elvis Mitchell.

But the biggest crowd showed up for “Dunkirk” writer-director Christopher Nolan, who made his first foray to Cannes for a lengthy public conversation and a screening of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Katharina Kubrick, Keir Dullea, Christopher Nolan and Jan HarlanChristopher Nolan photocall, 71st Cannes Film Festival, France - 12 May 2018

Katharina Kubrick, Keir Dullea, Christopher Nolan, and Jan Harlan

James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock

Nolan will introduce a Sunday 70mm Cannes showing of a new print of Stanley Kubrick’s movie with the director’s daughter Katharina, her uncle Jan Harlan and star Keir Dullea on hand. The occasion had a personal resonance for Nolan, who said his father took him to see a re-release of “2001” in London when he was seven.

That’s when he learned that “films can be anything,” he said. “What Kubrick did in 1968, he simply refused to acknowledge that there were any rules you had to play by in terms of narrative.” Here are some Nolan highlights.

On Batman as Bond

“Bruce Wayne doesn’t have any superpowers other than extraordinary wealth,” he said. “But, really, he’s just someone who does a lot of push-ups. In that sense, he’s very relatable and human. I think that’s why I’ve gravitated towards Batman, because these are stories that are operatic, and appealing in their larger than life nature. But they’re based on very relatable human beings, and there’s a very fascinating, very primal figure at their heart.”

“We mercilessly pillaged from the James Bond films for certain aspects,” Nolan said, admitting that Gotham’s ingenious gadget creator Lucius Fox is much like Q. “But I think if I made my version of James Bond, ‘Inception’ is far more guilty of that than ‘The Dark Knight.'”

On Batman Villains

Nolan assigned each of his Christian Bale Batman films a different genre, defined by the villain. Origin myth/hero’s journey “Batman Begins” was designed to be a standalone, as Nolan had no sequels in mind at the time. “So the villain, Ra’s al Ghul, is a mentor turned enemy.”

heath ledger the joker

“The Dark Knight”

“The Dark Knight” (2008) is “a crime drama in the mold of a Michael Mann film like ‘Heat.’ So the Joker was the ideal adversary, a terrorist, an agent of chaos set loose,” he said. “And for ‘The Dark Knight Rises” (2012) with Tom Hardy, “we chose the realm of this historical epic, the war film, with Bane as a militaristic foe.”

On Self-Reliance

“I think it was Stanley Kubrick who said that the best way to learn how to make a film is to make a film,” he said. “I didn’t go to film school and I always made my own films. and when you’re making films with friends on a shoestring, you have to be able to do all the jobs yourself… So on the larger films, I knew enough about every job on the set to be a pain in the ass to everybody.”

And he doesn’t deploy second units on his films: “To me, if I’m the director, I have to be shooting all the shots that go into a film.”

His powers of observation are everything. He doesn’t even use a monitor on set.  “I stay by the camera,” Nolan said. “I want to see where things are in a three-dimensional space.”

Show the Movie in the Format It Was Shot

The audience gamely tried to navigate Nolan’s wonky tech jargon on color gradation and 4K UHD. “Films that are made in an analog way ought to be presented in an analog way whenever possible,” Nolan said. “Film still stands as the best analogy for the way the eye sees. For my purposes, I find it to be the most immersive and emotionally involving tool for drawing the audience into the story.”

Forget the Past

“I’m someone who has mercifully had a very untroubled life,” he said. “You’re not making films about your own direct experience.” Film Twitter reminded: “The Nolans’ brother has been a prison here in Chicago for several years for murder and tried a escape almost ten years ago but was caught. There’s a screwup in every family.”

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