Director Gus Van Sant is a lot like his new film "Restless" – smart, guarded and to the point. Being a longtime fan of his unusually off beat and quirky work, it was more than a thrill meeting the man notorious for such flicks as "Drugstore Cowboy," "My Own Private Idaho," "Milk" and "To Die For." And an eccentric Van Sant you might expect as the helmer of such atypical fare is exactly the person whom I met face-to-face recently one fateful afternoon. A sort of indie hipster with a palpably thick layer of caution (his disbelief when I stated that his underrated 2007 masterwork "Paranoid Park" was on my top ten list for that year was far from subtle!), Van Sant seemed a tad perplexed by the film enthusiasm of yours truly and the result is an interview as weird and wonderful as the man himself. So on behalf of Starpulse, here’s my exclusive one-on-one chat with the Director of "Restless" (which opens Sept 16 in LA and New York from Sony Pictures Classics) who talks about shooting scenes without dialogue, how death and passion for life play equal parts in his body of work and what kinds of things he watches for fun. You won’t want to miss this one! (And stay tuned for my review of the film afterwards!) Here’s the man...
I love the idea of performance of a scene without dialogue, which plays a significant part in this film. Can you talk about how important that technique was specifically for "Restless?"
Gus Van Sant: It came out of the need to sometimes have a scene that’s an exact same scene, but it would be great if nobody were actually saying anything. Because a lot of times like in our movie you could have a scene where they’re just having hamburgers and french fries and maybe you just need a break in the dialogue and you just want to play it as if they’re looking into each other’s eyes, but they're not talking about something else. So it really comes out of that editing desire. There are other technical reasons like if you have a long five minutes scene and the characters do something specific you might need to cut to something you can transition to. But you say things like if only they weren’t saying that line we could just get it done – it’s really for that.
I loved the Kamikaze fighter pilot Hiroshi that inhabits Enoch’s world – was it always in the script that way and what as a director did you bring to that aspect of the film?
GVS: I was pretty much going from the screenplay. I didn’t bring much into it, but yeah Hiroshi always existed in the script.
And casting that role?
GVS: Casting it...I knew this one Japanese actor going to Japan for junkets, Ryo Kase, and I’d met him a number of times going to Japan, so I just offered him the role.
You seem to gravitate to projects with deep character development, where everyone has multiple sides – would you consider this a Van Sant staple?
GVS: Say that again...
Would you consider that a Van Sant staple – having characters that aren’t one-note, but are multi-faceted...
GVS: Oh, I’m not sure. I didn't know that they were that multi-faceted.
I think they are!
Well, death and specifically passion for life in the face of death has also been a running theme through a bulk of your work – is it a coincidence or is it something you gravitate to?
GVS: I mean, there are a number of films that have death as the central theme, in my last four or five films. You know, in this case...I’m not trying to have that part of my storytelling or shy away from it - its just part of what was there.
The underrated "Paranoid Park" was a dramatic and stylistic masterstroke – what were your influences in making the film and ultimately what were you trying to say?
GVS: It was about something...almost like a bad dream. Where the character saw something that he was very frightened by and didn’t know who to talk to. So he just sort of internalized it and left it alone and it existed as part of his paranoia. It was really about how that can make you feel like you’re going crazy.
In a career filled with so many memorable flicks what would you say is your personal high and low in terms of films in your body of work?
GVS: (He stops and pauses for a while) Hmmm...You know, they’re all pretty much the same. They’re all pretty much where you start making them and there’s a finishing point and you release them. And they do resemble each other – there’s not like a ‘this one is a high point, this one was a low point.’
What kind of films does Gus Van Sant watch for fun?
GVS: Somebody was talking about this (Michael) Fassbender science fiction series that was a TV show that they showed and now I want to see it because I didn't know it existed. So something like that would be something that I would search out.
Not odd enough for ya? How about a little film with romance that starts at, of all places, a funeral? Keep reading folks!
"Restless" reminded me a lot of how the upcoming film "50/50" used humor to add levity to the subject of a terminal illness, only in the word of Gus Van Sant the air valve release is love. Told as "Love Story" filtered through the mind of David Lynch light, Van Sant wisely uses his quiet and thoughtful sense of style to help highlight his unusual lovebirds and it breathes fresh air into a tired genre.
Annabel Cotton is a young and vibrant gal with a wonder for life that just happens to also have terminal cancer. Enoch Brae is a closed off young man who spends his time talking with his imaginary friend Hiroshi (the ghost of a Kamikaze fighter pilot) and attending the funerals of those he doesn’t know to get over the passing of his parents. It’s at one such event that these two unlikely pair meet and within their dual dreading, sense of the world and take on life that they start to develop a relationship that in the end makes both become better.
Sounds corny, but under the light yet thoughtful direction of Van Sant, "Restless" is one odd and wonderful journey. Mixing life and death, love and hate, there’s so much not said coming surprisingly from a script with much to say. (Meaning Screenwriter Jason Lew’s knack for the clever written word mixed with Van Sant’s flair for the unspoken is a match made in heaven!) Plus the cast is pitch perfect – from Henry Hopper as the morose Enoch to the magnificent Mia Wasikowska as the inspiring free-spirited Annabel everyone simply feels genuine. (Even "Happiness" alum Jane Adams as Enoch’s frustrated Aunt!)
But in the end it’s the subtle, delicate and careful work of "Restless’s" director that infuses the real resonance here. Life, death and the oddities within – a Van Sant staple indeed.
"RESTLESS" OPENS IN SELECT THEATERS SEPT 16 FROM SONY PICTURES CLASSICS.
Photo Credits: Photos Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics