Rachel Weisz, not stuck with The Mummy
Youth <em>(La giovinezza)</em> ***
Writer-director <a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/archives/?q=paolo+sorrentino">Paolo Sorrentino</a> (<em><a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/great-beautyem-la-grande-bellezzaem/">The Great Beauty</a></em>) has made something of a crowd pleaser, a gorgeous consideration of the artistic impulse that yields up its fruits without too much of a struggle. (A little patience may be required while the weaver spins out his threads, but they all wind up woven, and it’s fun to watch in the meantime.) Michael Caine is Fred Ballinger, a retired composer dead set against revisiting the <em>Simple Songs</em> he wrote at the start of his career, even if the Queen of England asks him to conduct them. Harvey Keitel is his friend Mick Boyle, a working director trying to find a satisfying ending to a late-period project starring the woman he made famous decades ago. (At one point, both men contemplate a beauty bearing the title of, yes, Miss Universe.) The treatment of their criss-crossing trajectories (in both art and life) might tempt a certain sort of critic toward a line like, “We make music because we’re alive. We tell stories because we are going to die.” But really, there’s no need for such hifalutin comment, not when an actor in the film says simply, “I have to choose what is really worth telling: horror or desire? And I choose desire.” (See also: the film’s title.)
In Youth, Rachel Weisz plays Lena, the long-suffering daughter of famous composer Fred Ballinger. She had a rough time of it as a kid, what with Dad always paying attention to the Muse and all, and during the course of the film, she suffers another serious blow. But this is Rachel Weisz we’re talking about: even when she’s wounded, she’s formidable.
ML: I think the first time I saw you was in The Mummy with Brendan Fraser. And then that same year, I saw you in Sunshine, this epic drama with Ralph Fiennes. I was terribly impressed that you had managed to excel in two such disparate roles in the same year.
RW: I’ve just been following my passion, and I’ve been really lucky to work with very interesting directors, particularly of late. But The Mummy, which has reached more homes than probably anything I’ll ever do, has brought an awful lot of pleasure to people.
ML: I chuckled when Paul Dano, who plays an actor in the film, complained that all anybody knew him for was the popular robot Mr. Q.
RW: I don’t feel defined by my role in The Mummy. It’s the reality of the commercial reach of something, but I’ve done a lot of other things.
ML: How did you choose this project?
Paolo Sorrentino’s latest, Youth, is every bit as sexy and vivacious and, yes, youthful as this photo would lead you to believe.
RW: Just wanting to work with Paolo. I loved The Great Beauty with a huge passion. He came straight to me to play Lena, and I was very flattered that he wanted me. Humbled and thrilled.
ML: Can you talk a little bit about working with Mr. Sorrentino?
RW: There’s no rehearsal and no discussion about anything — absolutely no analysis. Everything was very instinctive. We rehearsed on film, if you like, which is actually my preferred way of working.
ML: Does that mean a lot of takes for a given scene?
RW: Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t — though he doesn’t do a lot of takes. I often asked if I could do just one more, but he doesn’t do a lot. He directs in a very gentle, unintrusive way.
ML: In the film, you have a remarkable monologue in a mud bath where you tear into Fred for his failures as a husband and father. The camera is so tight on your face, and the shot holds for so long — it would be deeply uncomfortable if it wasn’t so riveting.
RW: It was actually the first scene I shot. It was a night shoot, 3 a.m. I hadn’t managed to meet up with Michael before, so that was where we started our onscreen relationship. I had learned the lines, and at about five to three, Paolo said, “Oh, we will do this in one take.” That’s what it was like working with Paolo: there’s this beautiful, deep pool, and he’ll just push you in. You’ve got to swim, or float, or ride the waves. So I got covered in mud and Michael got covered in mud, and Paolo put the camera right above my head. It’s an unusual thing to do that amount of talking in a film without having the camera cut away. So it was a real performance moment: I had to ride a lot of different emotions and change gears quite rapidly. It was a very unconscious thing; the next day, I said, “We have to reshoot it. I don’t think it was good.” Paolo said, “It’s okay; don’t worry.”
ML: I was struck because Lena is capable of such outbursts of emotion, and yet there, her voice is so controlled, always teetering on the edge of
RW: Paolo wanted it to be a kind of cold anger. I think I tried it once very angry, and he said, “More cold, more cold. Don’t cry.” I tried not to cry, but I think I cried a little bit anyway, even as I tried to stop myself. I don’t know how a director gets you toward the tone he wants, but Paolo manages to do it.
ML: In the film, Fred has been refusing to give the Queen’s emissary his reasons for refusing to conduct his Simple Songs. But after that scene, he gives in and explains himself. Do you think the monologue, where you essentially accused him of smothering his wife with his own ego, had something to do with that?
RW: I hadn’t thought of that. You’d have to ask Michael. But the film doesn’t give you all the answers, and so it can be interpreted a lot of different ways. So I would say yes, you’re right — why not?