2011 Austin Film Festival – Day 3

November 4, 2011 by  
Filed under CineBlog

Sunday provided no breaks in the festival action. In the morning I prepared questions and conducted my first interview with Jeremiah Jones and Marianna Palka from the film “Restive,” which I will get into later on. From there, a friend and I drove just out of town to get some lunch, and it was back to Austin to go see the buzzed-about relationship drama “Like Crazy.”

Like Crazy
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence
Directed by: Drake Doremus (“Douchebag”)
Written by: Drake Doremus (“Douchebag”) Ben York Jones (“Douchebag”)

When the Britain-born Anna (Felicity Jones) and American Jacob (Anton Yelchin) begin their relationship, they know that eventually Anna’s college career will be over and her school visa will run out, sending her back to England. When that day finally comes, she decides she can’t do it, and overstays until she returns to London briefly. When she tries to come back into America, she is denied entrance and Anna and Jacob must face the challenge of keeping their relationship intact when they can’t physically be together.

Jones makes her mark in her American film debut with a very strong performance, one that will lead to many major roles in the future. While her character is eccentric and quirky, her natural beauty and smile light up the screen, as she provides much of what makes these kinds of movies so charming. Her chemistry with Yelchin is also strong, and both portrayals of young adults in love are genuine and believable.

“Like Crazy” is an independent film in its truest sense. Most of the dialogue is improvised and the film was shot on a micro-budget using a Canon digital SLR any aspiring filmmaker could go out and purchase on their own. That doesn’t affect the movie, however, as it is mostly well composed. The improvisation of dialogue perhaps adds to the authenticity. The fights between Jones and Yelchin are very convincing.

As the film goes on, the relationship between Yelchin and Jones begins to feel more like an obligation, and the desire to see these two be together starts to wither. “Like Crazy” is a good relationship drama in many ways, one that deals with long distance relationships accurately and with sincerity. But the narrative stretches itself a little too thin and ultimately leaves audiences with a film that is solid, but unspectacular.

Marianna Palka and Christopher Denham get intense in “Restive.”

Restive
Starring: Marianna Palka, Christopher Denham, Michael Mosley
Directed by: Jeremiah Jones (debut)
Written by: Jeremiah Jones (debut)

In his film debut, former Texas Longhorn football player Jeremiah Jones presents a twisted story of an abused woman who tries to escape the cycle of violence. When Jeva (Marianna Palka) decides she’s taken enough abuse from her husband Lott (Christopher Denham), she takes matters into her own hands. The film follows Jeva and her son as they try to escape from two men (Michael Mosley and Ivan Sandomire) who Lott has sent to hurt them.

One of the more unique things about “Restive” is the way the film unfolds. For the first ⅔ of the thriller, audiences must piece together the film as events happening out of order in small segments. “Restive” also has a very distinct visual style. First-time director Jones shows finesse with very interesting camera movement and angles and a very inspired decision to eliminate most colors, complementing the tone in the film.

There is very little talking in “Restive,” and we see things unfold rather than hear characters talk about them. Because of this, actors are forced to give strong performances without speaking. Nobody in the film does this as well as actress Palka. She strongly conveys reactions to gut-wrenching events and her brave and physical performance stands out above the rest of the cast.

“Restive” is unsettling, to say the least. The characters in the film have distorted moral compasses, and our protagonist spends half the movie being beaten, dragged around and mistreated by men. But somewhere along the line the tables begin to turn. That’s when the film becomes less about violence against women, and more of a game of survival with a new favorite to win.

With a unique style and a fearless narrative, “Restive” is a harrowing film that features a bold, powerhouse performance from Palka and marks the arrival of a truly talented visual director.

Director Jeremiah Jones and actress Marianna Palka at the Austin Film Festival for their film “Restive.”

After watching the film, and at breakfast the next morning I worked to get questions prepared for my first interview. We met in the press room at the Driskill Hotel, and I was pretty nervous, but also very excited that I was getting to try this out. I didn’t let Jeremiah and Marianna know that this was my first interview until we ended, in a moment that I won’t soon forget.

You guys had your first screening on Thursday? How did that go?

Marianna Palka: It was sold out.

Jeremiah Jones: They had to add extra rows, which is always a good sign. And we had the cast in so Marianna was in and Ivan [Sandomire] and Christopher Denham and Connor Hill. It was great. It was great to see everyone and watch the movie with them.

One of the first things about the film I wanted to talk about was the non-linear storytelling style. What made you want to use that as your form of storytelling, kind of piecing it up like that?

JJ: It’s linear to me. That sounds a little off, but that’s how I saw the story. We’re kind of in two different perspectives because when [Jeva] came into town, she kind of needed know the chronological order. How’d you feel?

MP: Yeah, [I had to know] for the characters journey and to understand where she’s come from and how beaten up she is. So certain things –  like for make up – they needed to know at what point she has the chain around her neck and the blood coming out because then for the rest of the movie she has that. We talked to Jeremiah about when different things had happened and what the order was. It’s just amazing to me that in the initial moment he saw it the way it is when you watch it.

JJ: Yeah, it wasn’t a stylistic choice or a storytelling choice.

And was it scripted like that as well?

JJ: Yeah, when it was written I wrote it just like that. There wasn’t like, “Oh, this had this backstory.” It just flowed like that for me. It was really difficult for me to break it back down and put it in order. I didn’t see it that way, but they all needed it.

MP: It was really fun to find out when things happen and know, “Oh this is where she’s at her wits end” or “this is when shes semi-hopeful.” The arc of the character is always super important in a feature film. Some actors write the arc on their wall in their trailer. I didn’t do that because I had Jeremiah every step of the way.

JJ: But there’s no right or wrong. We’ll do Q&As and people have their own idea and that’s the idea of the storytelling. To let them connect with it and then have questions about it. Then some of the Q&As they’ll be arguing in a good way. They’re like, “No, no, this happened” and they are like, “No, no, this happened,” which is good because I think that it’s having them think about what she went through.

So the idea that people are kind of having to piece the movie together as it’s going along…that was something that came as your vision of the film as far as putting it in order for them?

JJ: I enjoy a movie where you have to think. I enjoy a movie that challenges you. I’m hoping that “Restive” does that, but I think that is definitely one of the goals. Marianna is a Scottish actress, and so many of the movies that I call foreign, she doesn’t call them foreign.

MP: Yeah, they’re normal to me.

JJ: I think they challenge you. They are thinkers. I hope that “Restive” is in line with those films.

MP: We just premiered in London and they were freaking out over Jeremiah because they were like, “You’re like a European filmmaker!” and then here in Texas, because it’s his home state, everyone is so proud of him and they’re like, “You’re a Texan filmmaker!” because everyone wants to claim him.

JJ: (Laughs) I think it has an international feel because she’s Scottish and the composer is from Berlin, so the soundscape is from a Berlin composer.

And the music seems to be a really effective part of watching it. Is that something you knew you wanted going in, that style of music?

JJ: Well, I think the first challenge was there’s not a lot of dialogue so she has to talk without talking. So she has to step in and give a performance without talking, without dialogue. And then behind that you’re trying to provide her support in those moments, like just a bag hanging in a room without the (sound effect voice) is not going to be the same thing. And her moving towards it isn’t going to be the same thing. So it’s providing support to those moments.

This seemed like a physically taxing shoot for you, Marianna. How did you prepare for that?

MP: Well, it was amazing because the boys were really tired. The guys we’re like, “I’m so tired,” and I was like, “Really? I’m invigorated.”

JJ: She definitely rose to the occasion.

MP: I didn’t feel tired ever. I was never like, “Ugh, I can’t believe I have to do this!” I loved it. And it was great to work with Jeremiah because he is so physical. I mean he played football so he has this incredible background. He has this high pressure success earlier in his career so he had this understanding of what it really takes to achieve something. So he would come up to me and be like, “Just do it.”

JJ: Yeah, my directing style is “just do it.”

MP: His directing style is like, “You should do it…so you better do it.” It was amazing. And then I would just do it somehow.

JJ: When we were initially casting, Michael Mosley was first and he would ask, “Who’s Jeva?” And then when it all worked out I said, “Hey, Jeva’s gonna kick your ass.” She brings this physical presence, this physical dominance, this wonderful power on screen that’s very believable because she has to do battle with these physical men. I didn’t want a movie where they’re dragging this woman around. Not only does she fight back, but she really fights back. It had to be believable.

MP: They were like, “Whoa, okay, you’re Jeva.” They knew there was so much physical stuff.

JJ: And if you watch the progression, she kind of starts off below them. But as the movie plays on, even in the way she’s positioned, she’s gradually making that shift. That’s power.

MP: It’s so cool. It’s like a feminist film in a way, it’s a humanist movie, you know? It’s like everybody is equal, essentially. They don’t know that they are equal, and they don’t feel equal to one another, but from Jeremiah’s perspective and the way he illustrates it, these people are really equal. It’s a fair fight, it really is.

In addition to all that physical stuff, theres a really raw, emotional performance there, too. How did you tap into that and give that kind of performance?

MP: I felt like I was so connected to the material because of the way I saw her and read her. The way she was written was like a real woman with real problems. There are people in this country and other countries who are in domestic violence situations. So that was really easy for me to connect to, only because I feel for them. I’ve never been in a situation like that and I’ve never known anyone who is in a situation like that, but I can imagine. The way that it was written was so beautiful and authentic that it was really easy for me to get emotionally connected.

JJ: It’s great because it’s a true collaboration. I don’t give her anything to do. She connects to it on her own and she develops that character. There’s no, “Here, hold this…this turns you into that woman.” It’s a true collaboration where we get together and she finds it on her own and then that comes out. And I was amazed. I learned so much by just watching her.

One of the things I liked most about the movie was how it looked. I loved the style of it. I liked that you had some muted colors in there and I was wondering if this was something that you envisioned or if it was a collaboration with the cinematographer or what influenced the look of the film.

JJ: Well, it’s always a collaboration. That’s the goal, to find a team where we can put our heads together and do good work. I think the colors of this movie or the feel of this movie…I didn’t want anything to be warm. So there’s no orange or red or yellow. For me, I like blues, I like greens, any earthy tones, browns…and this fit “Restive.” There’s moments where we use red. I like to pool red, like pools of red in the kids room or in the kitchen, on the floor. But colors had a big part of it. [The film's colorist was] Parke Gregg. He did the color and cut on “Take Shelter.” We sat down for a month and he did a fabulous job. I told him to make it look like dirt. The characters were just so gritty and grimy and wrong and dirty, and we wanted to support that.

I’ve seen that you had a minor in social work that led into this. What parts of that led to developing the story or what did you use from that?

JJ: I didn’t even think about going through school until we really started to talk about domestic violence. It’s something that you studied but I didn’t sit down and go, “Okay, what did I study and now what can I write?” We just kind of wrote it and then we all worked on it together and then looking back it’s like, “Oh wow.” I knew the cycle of violence. I had studied the cycle of violence. And this movie is about a woman who is stuck in the cycle of violence.

MP: What did you call it when instead of killing herself, she acts out on others?

JJ: She suffers from “homicidal ideation.” So she’s stuck in a bad spot and some people consider suicide to remove themselves from that spot. She has the adverse choice to remove someone else and she does that twice in the movie. She thinks that she’s solving things by removing other people. So I would have learned that in school.

One thing I wanted to ask you about are the biblical reference in the film. Was that something you were trying to include as a part of their culture?

JJ: I think it’s definitely set in the south. I think if they had enough conversations it’s definitely gonna come up just being set in the south. But with Michael Mosley, who plays the short haired Braker, I think it’s a peek into his psyche and how he embraces his role. I think he thinks that role is that he has to give God something to forgive him for, which is scary. People would call them hicks or they’d call them rednecks, but they’re all very intelligent. And I think it’s his way of rationalizing his motives and what he does and what he likes to do. I think he knows what he’s doing is not right, but it’s himself justifying him, which is to me creepy.

What are each of you taking away from this film, for you Jeremiah, being early on in your film career and Marianna for such a big emotional role?

MP: Well, I made a film called “Good Dick” a couple years before we shot “Restive” and I remember feeling after I shot that movie that I got everything that I needed. It was my first feature film and everyone was like, “You’re going to lose this. You’re going to lose that. You’re probably not going to have enough money” and everyone was stressing me out so I thought, “Well we’re just not going to get everything” and then we’re going to have to figure it out. But it was funny because after “Good Dick,” the day we were done shooting I was like, “Oh, I got everything I needed.” I really did that well, you know? And the same thing happened with “Restive,” where I came home from being in Crawford for however many days that was and it was the most amazing experience. We got to stay with the producer’s family and we got to shoot guns on our day off. We just got to do lots of really awesome things around that part of Texas.

JJ: We really want to be part of a family.

MP: It felt like that. It felt like we were part of a family and it enabled us to trust everyone and to trust each other and immediately start working. We hit the ground running and so the day that I got back to Los Angeles, I remember having a similar feeling like, “I did it.”

JJ: For a month, it doesn’t get more demanding. She’s climbing up trees, she’s going off cliffs. She carried a child.

MP: [About Connor Hill] He’s a really professional actor. He’s a really amazing little kid actor, I love him. And he sometimes would be like “I’m tired. Can you just carry me back to the start?” So I would be like, “Yes” because I’m not going to say no. I’m in the zone. So anything that’s happening, I enable as much as possible. So I was like, “Yes, I will carry you back to the start if you carry me back to the start.” (Laughs) But I feel like it was more than just the experience of just making this film that has a purpose. This movie is really beautiful for people to watch and to understand the human condition and to understand what happens to a person when they’re put upon like that. It shows how that can be avoided in our society and how women can be more enabled or more informed. But the most amazing thing was just the entire ball of joy around that because we had so much fun making it. When you watch it, it’s a terrifying film. But the making of it was like bubblegum.

JJ: The making of it for me is the best part. I obviously enjoy film. I love watching movies. I like watching this movie. But this weekend if you asked me what my favorite thing was, it’s hanging out with Marianna and Chris. Chris flew in and we hung out on the porch and watched my one-year-old walk around. We probably didn’t even talk about movies. It’s the people and the relationships that you build in these journeys, and that’s why I liked to do it or want to do it. And if I learned anything, we’ll find out on the next one.

MP: I think it’s amazing that he went from football, to coaching, to film directing.

JJ: They’re very similar though. The skillset is very similar. Directing is coaching. Casting is recruiting. And then you’re working with a team of people towards a common goal. You’re motivating them and supporting them to get there, to win. Filmmaking and football are one in the same.

So you learned a lot from football?

JJ: I learned everything. Well you know I had the opportunity to play for [UT head football] Coach Brown. And he’s done well. In that university, you’re around people that are really successful in their profession. They’re there because they’re good. And you go through that system. I was there five years. You learn how they take care of people and how they work to win.

MP: He’s a UT football letterman. They gave him a bunch of letters.

JJ: She’s like, “What letters do you mean?”

MP: Honestly, I said, “Which letters did they give you?”

JJ: (Laughs) It doesn’t work like that.

I purposely did not tell Marianna and Jeremiah that this was my first interview because I didn’t want expectations of the interview to change or give them any idea that I was really nervous. After it ended, I told them that it was indeed my first interview and Marianna made my week by being completely surprised and complimenting me on the interview. All and all, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and it definitely loosened me up for the next interview. Next entry, I will be covering the French silent film “The Artist,” and the new Alexander Payne film “The Descendants.”