Behind the Screens: Ralph Fiennes and his erotic battles

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Cathrin Schaer, a New Zealand journalist living in Germany, blogs from the 61st Berlin International Film Festival

Today's big-name film to premiere at the Berlinale, one of the biggest film festivals in the world on this week, was Coriolanus, a Shakespearian tragedy, that actor Ralph Fiennes also chose to make his directorial debut with.

And it wasn't just the name of the film, there were plenty of big names in this film.

Vanessa Redgrave plays the mother of the errant Roman general, Coriolanus (who is played by Fiennes himself) and the handsome Gerard Butler plays Coriolanus' sworn enemy.

The play was adapted by John Logan, also the screen writer of Gladiator and The Aviator.

And strangely enough, although the movie was smart - it had to be: everyone was talking "iambics", basically that's the rhythm of a lot of Shakespeare's verse - the questions at the press conference were as silly as ever.

It may have been an "English as a second language" thing but who in their right mind gets up in front of a room full of around 200 journalists and camera people, grabs a microphone, has a camera pointed at them and then asks Gerard Butler, who is probably best known for films like 300 and a fair few romantic comedies besides, whether this was much of change and whether he liked it because it was something, um, a bit more intellectual?

There was a sort of quiet, collective groan from the panel of interviewees. Butler just laughed.

"Something intellectual is always challenging for me," he joked.

Thankfully after that, Redgrave, who is incredibly beautiful at the age of 74, took over giving one long, rambling answer after another to reporters.

"You search for the inner rhythm," she said referring to how one makes a more complex script sound natural.

"It's a bit like a sonar. If you can find that, then it [the script] will come out of your mouth as if it was yours. And that is the way we all work, actors. You listen - with your tongue, with your heart, with your eyes - to each other. And that is very important."

Crikey. Butler looked a bit dazzled too.

"I talked to your daughter about it at dinner one night," he said, addressing Redgrave. "And I said: "where does it come from?" And she said, "I don't even know if she knows what she's doing."

"But listening to that answer, I think she does," he said admiringly.

Ralph Fiennes, who is generally regarded as one of the finest British actors and whom the rest of us may know as Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies, also talked about why he had set the film in the modern day, swapping sword play for semi-automatics.

Already inspired by Baz Luhrman's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and another theatrical production of Julius Caesar in London, in which he had previously had a role, Fiennes explained that,

"I kept on seeing images in the newspapers and on television, which seemed to come from this story. War in Chechnya, riots in Paris and over the last few years, huge economic upheaval. I felt more and more that the world around us was the right setting for the film."

Fiennes also talked about the erotic nature of some of the fight scenes.

"As Coriolanus you need a good competitor, I needed a good, strong masculine male to embrace," he said, smiling. "The erotic element is very apparent in Shakespeare's story. So I felt that the battle should be suggestive of something close to some kind of love making."

The Sound of Shooting

Oh, and in case you're wondering what that racket is, it's not a football game. It's just another photo call.

After the press screening of each of the films competing for the Golden Bear, the most prestigious prize at the Berlinale, whichever stars of the film happen to be in town head across the road for a photo call and a press conference.

You actually feel quite sorry for them at the photo call. They have to stand in a small corner while a crowd of around 50 or so camera people about five feet away jostle one another behind ropes and yell - seriously, yell - out their names. You can hear from two rooms away.

Today it was: "Vanessa, look over here, luv."

"Oi, Vanessa. Oi!"

"Vanessa, over here, over here."

"Vanessa, Vanessa!"

Over and over again. It must take a toll on one's nerves. Guess the stars are used to it though.

The photographers' victims turn obligingly from side to side (so that everyone gets a front-on picture) and smile as though there was only one photographer. It's quite an admirable skill.

A 3D Journey to the Beginning of Art

Also in Berlin today, more 3D madness. Well, perhaps not quite madness but certainly another couple of interesting takes on this new medium.

Tales of the Night, or Les Contes de la Nuit, by French director Michel Ocelot, is basically comprised of a charming bunch of fairy tales invented by three story tellers - a young couple and an older bloke - who morph into the characters in their stories, then act them out, in a theatre late, late at night.

As we travel through time and space, the stories feature dancing porcupines, a magic drum, a giant iguana, a talking horse and lots and lots of princesses, both good and evil.

And all of this is acted out by cut-out paper silhouettes. It's like looking into one of those little peep boxes, or dioramas, and seeing intricate shadow puppets moving around on several layers of scenery.

And while the best creatures were shaggy and rustled around as though they were made out of fifty brown paper bags, it is a bit hard to know why this had to be made in 3D.

Ocelot, who has also made a music video for Bjork, told The Hollywood Reporter that 3D is fashionable right now.

"The film industry needs to find a way to bring audiences to movie theatres. It's more of a technical trick than a revolution," he said.

And although the 3D undoubtedly adds an extra dimension to these enchanting tales, this movie would have been just as cute without everyone having to don funny looking sunglasses again, or get those funny red lines on the bridges of their noses.

The same is not at all true for the latest documentary by legendary German director Werner Herzog.

During this 95 minute wonder Herzog takes us to where art began, in 3D - and by art, we also mean music and even film.

His miniature crew were only allowed into the Chauvet Cave in southern France, where the oldest cave paintings known to man were discovered in 1994, for an hour or two at a time.

Herzog calls it a "sealed off time capsule". And you do wonder what the 3D technology will bring to this experience. Will we feel claustrophobic? Will it be like going into the caves ourselves? Will it be like an action adventure come to life?

None of the above actually. But somehow it's better.

The first freaky moment comes at the entrance to the cave when you see a series of red blotches on a far wall. They're hand prints. People just like us were here - 30,000 years ago.

One chap, a scientist explains, even had a crooked little finger. The camera then lingers lovingly on the ancient drawings of cave lions, bears, mammoths and woolly rhinos.

Those artistic cave people knew their way around a bit of charcoal. And various experts talk about what it all means: apparently this could have been some of the first art ever, the moment when humankind first got in touch with his, or her, spiritual and creative side. Pretty cool, basically.

But in typical Herzog fashion (if you don't know his documentary work, then 2005's Grizzly Man and 2007's Encounters at the End of the World are excellent places to start), there are plenty of quirky interludes.

Including the archaeologist who used to juggle and ride a unicycle in the circus, another scientist who insists on playing The Star Spangled Banner on an ancient flute made of vulture bones and a sniffy French perfumer who may eventually be given the task to recreate the smell of the caves, if a replica is made as a tourist attraction.

Possibly what's best about the documentary though are the questions it poses about the interconnectedness of humans and nature, the role of art in our lives and whether our dreams have really changed that much, in all this time - or whether, possibly, we just forgot about some of 'em for a while.

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