Wednesday, March 29, 2006

PAPER Magazine interviews MAGGIE CHEUNG

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

About "Clean" by Olivier Assayas

Can there be life after living through the chaos and excess of youth, or can we expect only reason and order? Can we come to terms with ourselves, or are we condemned to a life of mere survival, as shadows of our former selves?

Society tells us relentlessly to live for today, and offers instant gratification through the consumer goods that it puts at our disposal. Drugs are still the best way of achieving precisely that aim. They give us the peace that we ache for, and give satisfaction, just like medicines, which treat the symptoms and leave the disease untouched.

Yet, living in this eternal present day: that of youth, however extended, that of the unconscious, that of drugs, cannot last. One day, you wake up. Time comes calling.

Time comes calling for Emily, who has lived this adventure to its very edge. She has created nothing, she has never done anything other than to destroy herself, taking self-destructive pleasure in doing so.

She has dragged along with her all those who have been close to her. But one day, this flight: from the present that propels her forward must come to an end.

So then, what’s left? A devastated and and desolate landscape, the ruins of past and forgotten dreams. That same self whom we tried to escape from during all these years, sometimes for a lifetime. But the moment always comes when we have to come face to face with ourselves.

If Emily tries to escape, it’s surely because she doesn’t like herself, because her escape has been a journey, an adventure: because real life is somewhere else. But afterwards? When one comes back? What then? An unreal life?

Or, do we have a chance to reinvent ourselves? What if the only way forward is exactly this: our ability to draw on our own resources to choose between life and death, to be able to recognize and choose the tenuous path that links us to the living, and to ourselves, alive, constantly evolving.

Emily knows that she has to start all over again, that she has to rebuild herself in the most modest way, one step at a time.

Danger is always there, and discouragement too; but when you have nothing and no one, there is no other way.

Background from Olivier Assayas

“Cinema is such a heavy machine. I try to have a lighter touch. It is something I’ve always been trying to find. I think that heaviness is the worst thing in the world and I try to take that weight out of my work. The lightness of touch is what Impressionist painters have and that’s really worth aiming at,” says writer/director Olivier Assayas during the filming of his feature, Clean.

“The screenplay is one of the steps that takes you to wherever the film is leading you,” Assayas continues. “I don’t believe in screenplays as some kind of literary work. The words are a starting point. I am more than happy when actors add whatever they feel. The ideas have to be simple and then they take life through the actors. The words become what they are because the actors lift them up. I rely on the actors and audiences do too. Audiences relate to a film through actors and when you make a film, you have to trust in the actors, believe in them. They are the flesh and blood and the life.”

Clean started with writing a story and characters and then a screenplay. The story is fiction, but it goes back to the desire I’ve had to write something for Maggie Cheung. I wanted to construct a project around her where she is not a Chinese woman in a Western film or playing some archetype of a Chinese woman. In many ways, Maggie is more Western than Chinese and I wanted to create a character that any actress could play,” he explains.

“The character of Emily had been in my life for a while. It predates even writing Demonlover,” he recalls. The story was born one night in Acapulco. Assayas was jet-lagged, unable to sleep, and began jotting down a rough outline of the first act. That is when the character of Emily took shape, but it took a year and half for those notes to become an actual screenplay. “I dropped the idea until a couple of elements clicked together that made sense in a story. It’s not something I can force; it comes very naturally. I had written quite a bit, but I wanted to cut it down to leave the essentials. This needed to be a very simple story focusing on the emotions that related the characters to each other. I wanted to simplify it.”

Thursday, March 23, 2006