Sep 26, 2010

David Fincher v. Apitchapong Weeraseethakul

We started our yearly, beloved New York Film Festival marathon at 11 am yesterday attending a talk with David Fincher, director of the Facebook movie (let's face it, that's how they should have called it) and of Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac and Benjamin Button, among others. Fincher is a smart and astute man and a competent but rather frustrating and uneven director, in my view. I find none of his movies satisfying. He is capable of creating some memorable moments (I love the opening sequence of Zodiac), but in general his movies leave me cold. (I'm dying to see the Facebook movie, though).
Unless you are highly intelligent and charming, if you are in the hands of a unimaginative and boring interviewer, as was the case, it really is not your fault to have to answer inane biographical questions, almost designed to give you an ego trip you certainly don't need. I don't blame him for that. It was interesting to hear he knew he wanted to direct since he was eight and very instructive to know that he did everything in his power to end up doing it, in that practical, no-nonsense American way. He reminded me of a type of American alpha male (many star creative directors in advertising come to mind) that is smart, glib and monumentally cocky in a way that only Americans can be (because only they have the enormous resources they have). That is, each nation is arrogant in its own way, so if you come from the most powerful country on Earth, your arrogance is entitled by that. This doesn't make American arrogance more extreme; quite the contrary: because it knows that it stacks the deck against all others, it has an aw shucks quality, an almost self-effacing, macho je ne sais quoi. So that was my impression of Fincher -- super smart, super calculating, a guy who plays with the big toys, slightly defensive, as if he still needs to prove himself. But I don't get him. I don't get what excites him or what moves him.
By the way, I think he is the perfect guy to make the Hollywood versions of the Stieg Larsson's books (the morbid, violent, grotesquerie suits him well).

Apitchapong, on the other hand, not only had the good fortune of having a limber and funny interviewer (but to be fair, this was the Q&A after the film), but he is almost the polar opposite of someone like Fincher. His movies are the least formulaic films on Earth. He is an extremely original filmmaker, concerned with the symbiotic relationship between tradition and modernity, and the forgotten relationship between humans and other spirits, like animals or ghosts or other beings. His fascinating movies are sort of poetic in a matter-of-fact way, with gentle but sharp humor. He doesn't follow the three act structure and his rhythm can be dense, and his movies are strange and lovely and never pretentious.
As a director from a tiny country, by necessity, he seems very connected to day to day reality. He says he finds his actors in discos. He passes leaflets on the street for casting. He took a picture of the audience. He was wearing a t-shirt that people could buy to help offset the costs of bringing the crew to the festival. And this is the guy who won the Palme D'Or at Cannes this year. But when he answered questions about the film, he let us see how intrincately deliberate is his thought process, and how refined his choices, but without calling attention to himself somehow. And he was utterly charming. Not an alpha male. An artist.

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