Ode to Pearl


Michael Winterbottom Breaks New Ground With’Mighty Heart’

The unsettling film “A Mighty Heart” is based on Mariane Pearl’s memoir about the kidnapping and execution of her husband, journalist Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal, by Muslim fundamentalists in Pakistan in 2002. The Washington Diplomat interviewed the film’s remarkably versatile British director, Michael Winterbottom (“Road to Guantanamo,” “Jude,” “Welcome to Sarajevo,” “The Claim,” “24 Hour Party People,” “Code 46,” “9 Songs,” “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”), who explained how the project fell into his hands.

“Originally, Dede Gardner, Brad Pitt’s producer at Plan B [Productions], gave me the book. But that was quite a long time ago,” Winterbottom recalled. The in the spring of 2006, Pitt called the director and expressed interest in making the film.

“We went down to meet with Brad, Angelina [Jolie], Dede and Mariane. We spent about three days talking through the project,” Winterbottom said. “Dede had given Brad ‘Road to Guantanamo,’ so he’d seen ‘Road to Guantanamo.’ He was interested in us making the film, but kind of in the way we normally make films.”

So “A Mighty Heart” became a co-production between Plan B and Revolution, Winterbottom’s production company. “It gave us a lot of room to go off and try to make a film in the way we normally work,” the director noted.

Winterbottom said Pitt wanted to make “A Mighty Heart” like “The Road to Guantanamo” “in terms of trying to shoot it in the real place as much as possible, making it as simply as possible, trying to keep to the real story.”

In fact, Winterbottom had shot in Pakistan for a previous project. “We were in Pakistan when Daniel Pearl was killed. We knew what it was like at the time. I think all of these things were factors,” Winterbottom said. “Being there, you’re more aware of it, obviously, and more shocked by it in a way. I’d been there in the autumn of 2001 as well, when [Daniel Pearl] was reporting because he came to Pakistan just after Sept. 11. When you hear someone’s been kidnapped like that, it makes you think of things you’ve done.

“It was a surprise. Pakistan is a tricky place, but not a place where that sort of thing happens all the time. So that made it more shocking.”

Francis Veber Returns to America French writer-director Francis Veber (“The Dinner Game”) is no stranger to the United States. He was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing “La Cage aux Folles,” and the seasoned veteran has had a number of his French comedies remade by Hollywood (“The Birdcage,” “The Man with One Red Shoe,” “The Toy”), where he’s also dabbled in directing (“Three Fugitives”). At the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown, The Washington Diplomat chatted with Veber about his latest work, “The Valet.”

Surprisingly youthful and vigorous for a man about to turn 70, he is quite elegant and charming. Veber expressed awe when I brought out my tiny red Creative Zen Nano. I explained to him that it’s an MP3 player that also has a microphone. “I’m amazed,” he said. “When I was young, I was a journalist. I never had anything like that.”

Veber then recounted the genesis of “The Valet,” in which a world-famous model pretends to be the girlfriend of a porter to defray suspicion from her actual lover, a top CEO whose wife saw a photograph of the two together. “The idea came because I wanted to punish a billionaire, you know. Very often, those people are very, very, very rich … a bit contentious. They think that everything’s for sale. So I had the idea of a man like that, a Donald Trump type, that had a wife who was dangerous because she was part of his business. And a mistress … the twist of a supermodel was an extra danger for him [because of] the paparazzi. At the same time, this billionaire was bitten by a little man in the crowd.”

Veber explained how he got his cast: “Well, I used to work with Daniel Auteuil. He was in ‘The Closet.’ I think he’s one of our best actors in France—maybe our best,” he said. “I was surprised to learn that Kristin Scott Thomas speaks fluent French. She has lived in Paris for a long time. She was married to a French doctor. She’s such a good actress.

“And for the rest: Alice Taglioni, the supermodel,” he continued. “It was a very tough casting in France. Most of our actresses are small. We don’t have like here—a six-foot beautiful girl. I think she has Italian roots, but she’s blonde. She can be a supermodel, and she’s a good actress. It was a gift from God because we don’t have many of them in France. I’ve looked at real supermodels, and many of them can’t perform.

“And Virginie Ledoyen. Actually, she has a lot of fans. I was surprised to see that. She was in ‘The Beach’ with [Leonardo] DiCaprio,” he said. “So I had a kind of dream team with this film.”

About the Author

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