|Steve Buscemi||Pierre Peders|
|Directed by||Steve Buscemi|
Theo van Gogh, grandson of Vincent’s brother, was an outspoken, cantankerous Dutch writer and filmmaker who was a sworn antagonist of political correctness. He was murdered in 2004 by a Dutch Muslim extremist incensed at the director’s short film Submission, which criticized violence against women in Islam.
Before his death the filmmaker had intended to come to New York to make English-language versions of three of his movies. His producer decided to honor that ambition by asking three New York-based directors to helm the remakes. Steve Buscemi, Stanley Tucci, and John Turturro were recruited. The project was code-named Triple Theo, and the directors agreed to employ van Gogh’s crew and many of his techniques. Buscemi’s Interview is the first to emerge.
Buscemi casts himself as Pierre Peders, a veteran journalist who has covered the world’s hot spots, from war zones to politics. So his latest assignment, a puff piece on a pop celebrity best known for her bed partners and the fluctuating size of her breasts, has his star reporter’s nose severely out of joint.
It doesn’t help that Katya (Sienna Miller) shows up an hour late for the interview in a Soho restaurant, and then flaunts her celebrity status by wheedling the maitre d’ to be moved to her favorite table (“I feel so exposed here.”) In an amusing commentary on our star-struck culture, the couple being displaced from the corner table is only too honored to be inconvenienced for Katya.
Pierre is not amused. He is truculent and rude, and Katya leaves. But a minor accident shortly afterward outside the restaurant changes the playing field. Pierre is slightly injured, and although Katya is involved only in the most innocent sense, she feels responsible, and brings him up to her nearby loft to dress his wound.
As a device it’s a bit forced, but it serves to bring our protagonists together in an enclosed space, and the game is on. Over the next hour they will spar, confess, cheat, reveal, taunt, betray, laugh, weep, and prowl a terrain of sexual quicksand toward a twist of an ending.
It’s no surprise that Buscemi is good. As a director he has some of that mantle of raw honesty that New York filmmakers of his generation inherited from the late icon of American cinema verité, John Cassavetes. As an actor he has a naturalness so unpolished that it often starts out feeling painfully inarticulate or self-consciously garrulous, and then slips past our guard and into the character he is playing.
The revelation here is Sienna Miller. In earlier movies (Factory Girl, Casanova, Alfie) she’s shown slivers of talent, but here she takes off the wraps. The point of Katya is that she is not the fluff-brained bimbo Pierre takes her for (in the original, Katja Schuurman, a popular Dutch movie star, plays herself.) The challenge for Miller is to access and sell that complexity, and she pulls it off with an arsenal of acting weapons that runs the gamut from feathers to fireworks.
In some ways the movie has the feel of an acting exercise. Although the source material is a movie in another language, it could have been imported from an off-off-Broadway theater loft, and one would not be surprised to see Interview wind up at some future time in a theatrical venue. At one point Katya gives Pierre a demonstration of different kinds of crying that she is called upon to do for her television series. Pierre compliments her acting.
“I don’t know if it’s acting,” Katya shrugs. “It’s more like a trick.”
Interview plies familiar waters in terms of confrontation and gender combat, the kind of verbal pyrotechnics that have distinguished theatrical encounters from The Lion in Winter to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It’s two clever people going at it in a rhetorical mano a mano, probing for the soft spot. It becomes clear early on – I would say from the beginning – that Katya is not the air-head that her reputation advertises. She’s inconsiderate and self-centered, but she handles her public image with a dutiful graciousness, and shows us early glimpses of decency and intelligence that Pierre is not interested in recognizing.
In truth, neither of them fully lives up to the image by which they are habitually judged. One of the movie’s buried thought lines is the relative importance of the worlds its two protagonists inhabit. Pierre’s disgruntlement at this assignment is exacerbated by the fact that there is a political scandal about to explode in Washington, and he thinks he should be there. He is a journalist accustomed to important things, not to the cotton candy of celebrity interviews. But you may find yourself wondering whether the carnival of preening egos, inflated self-importance, and Byzantine deception in the halls of power is really any more substantial than the plotlines of television and the house-of-cards glamour of celebrity.
In a tribute to the murdered Dutch director, Buscemi has placed a van at the scene of the traffic accident emblazoned with “Van Gogh Movers.” As Woody Allen put it in a Sunday New York Times appreciation of the late Ingmar Bergman, “better than to live on in the hearts and minds of the public is to live on in one’s apartment.” But one is not always vouchsafed that choice. With Interview, Project Triple Theo is off to a good start in its homage to van Gogh.
© Text 2007 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be