Home The Washington Diplomat July 2008

Maddin's Musings

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My Winnipeg' Takes Bittersweet Look Back at Canadian City

The latest offering from Guy Maddin, “My Winnipeg,” is a pseudo-documentary look at the acclaimed filmmaker’s sleepy, cold Canadian hometown. “I’m a Winnipeger. I might as well just buy a burial plot there and just admit it,” Maddin quipped during his interview with The Washington Diplomat “I’ve always tried to keep things dreamy,” Maddin said of his directing style. “I’ve always been a little bit discombobulated and disoriented. Every now and then I’ll have this sort of moment of clarity that doesn’t always feel good.

“I kind of like what we all do to ourselves to get past the fact we’ve done things we’re not proud of — the repression mechanisms that we use to cast a big blanket of forgetfulness over our lives while we’re awake,” Maddin continued, explaining that dreams have a tendency to bring out truths we like to avoid during the day.

“It almost seems that what you’re really up to is more evident to us in our dreams, where some odd melodramatic malformation starts making you feel more uncomfortable or accusing you of things,” the director mused.

Appropriately enough, “My Winnipeg” is a dreamy homage that paints a conflicted picture of Maddin’s hometown, with all its good and bad points. “There’s almost more truth in uninhibited distortion of dreams than in our waking life where we can sort of tell ourselves, ‘I was in the right when I really hurt someone’s feelings’ [or] ‘All’s fair in love and war,’” the director said, concluding that in dreams, however, “your conscience makes itself known to you.”

Firth Looks Within for ‘Father’

In New York, The Washington Diplomat spoke to British actor Colin Firth (“Pride and Prejudice,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary”) and director Anand Tucker (“Hilary and Jackie”) about their new film “When Did You Last See Your Father?”

Firth plays a son recalling his relationship with his father on the eve of his father’s death. The calm-speaking Firth explained how he chose the part: “It was one of my favorite books. It was a no-brainer that I’d want to be involved, particularly in his hands — with Anand — and with Jim,” Firth said, referring to Jim Broadbent, who plays his the father. “How bad did this have to be not to want to do it?”

The actor did have reservations though about his own part. “I was concerned that there wasn’t enough definition and focus…. He’s a first-person character. He’s not written with the same specifics. He’s a witness. There’s something that seemed passive to me which made it difficult.

“But actually, there was everything to play for,” Firth added. “The way the book was written so beautifully — and the script for that matter — you’ve got all this interior stuff to work with. I don’t know how the guy walks and talks, but I know what’s going on in his mind.”

As for the director, Tucker explained that “the toughest part of movies like this is that it doesn’t really have a plot. There’s no McGuffin [plot device]: guns under the bed, or a heist to plan. What’s going to keep anyone watching for 90 minutes? That’s the challenge — how do you turn these very interior, emotionally driven kind of films into something that can become a cinematic experience?”

But somehow Tucker managed, with the help of a solid script, although next time he may go for something simpler. “That’s the biggest challenge — not having a plot to work with,” he said. “One day I’ll have some guns and some cars and some girls. Bring it on!”

British-Bangladeshi ‘Brick Lane’

The Washington Diplomat interviewed British director Sarah Gavron and Indian actress Tannishtha Chatterjee in New York to discuss their new film “Brick Lane,” about a Bangladeshi woman’s journey to reconcile her identity after leaving her family in Bangladesh for an arranged marriage in London.

“Obviously, I was an outsider to this community. I couldn’t have made it if I didn’t go in and work very closely with the Bangladeshi community,” Gavron began. “There’s something about documentaries that trains you in that, as journalism does, you get to know a world.”

Gavron added: “The casting was a real challenge because no one had cast a film quite like it. You couldn’t pull out the old list of actors…. There isn’t a tradition of acting in the Bangladeshi Muslim community. It was a case of standing in the streets, going to youth clubs, talking to people’s families, finding out how the children would feel and how they won’t.”

Although Chatterjee’s initial meeting with Gavron and the film’s producers didn’t go as smoothly as she’d planned, she was eventually cast in the lead role. Explaining that she had arrived in Bombay at 2 a.m. and had to meet with Gavron at 8 a.m. that same day, Chatterjee recalled: “I had no time to go through the synopsis. I was really tired, so I wore jeans and a T-shirt and just went like this.”

When Chatterjee found out the film she was reading for was based on the novel “Brick Lane,” she became excited and nervous. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I look so wrong for the part,’” Chatterjee said, although she impressed Gavron enough for a call back the next day.

But the director was concerned Chatterjee looked too young to play a mother of three, so the actress gave it her all the next day. “The next time I met them I tied my hair into a bun and wore a sari. I convinced her that Asian skin doesn’t age so fast, so I can play a mother of three kids.” So with the look in place, “Brick Lane” got its mother and Gavron got her star.

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on November 29, 1999