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David Cronenberg and his muse Viggo Mortensen talk ‘Crimes of the Future’ and living in the present

Source: The Toronto Star.
Found By: Chrissie

Thanks to Chrissie for bringing us this piece. Excellent interview by Marriska Fernandes at the Toronto Star:

It’s easy to see why prolific Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg and his longtime collaborator Viggo Mortensen often work together: they have a shared sense of humour, a calm demeanour and a fatalistic view of life.

'Crimes of the Future' premiere, Toronto - 30 May 2022
'Crimes of the Future' premiere, Toronto - 30 May …
Image Chris Young.
© The Canadian Press.
Ahead of the North American premiere of his film "Crimes of the Future" in Toronto earlier this week, the duo sat down for with the Star to talk about the film and their long-standing collaboration. Within minutes, it was clear they have a strong camaraderie that's led to a familiar shorthand with each other. When asked what draws them toward this partnership project after project, Toronto-born Cronenberg quipped with a grin, "Over the years he's gotten cheaper."

One might assume that the Canadian icon is edgy and dark given the films he makes, but his demeanour was quite the opposite. He was calm, cool and collected, polite with a dry sense of humour that can catch one off guard.

Cronenberg and Mortensen have a friendship and partnership that spans almost two decades, evident in their witty comebacks and easy rapport. New York-born Mortensen has starred in three of Cronenberg's films: "A History of Violence," "Eastern Promises" and "A Dangerous Method."

The pair last worked together on Mortensen's directorial debut "Falling," where the roles were reversed and Cronenberg had an acting part.

"I was well prepared," Mortensen, 63, said of their time filming his debut. "The Toronto crew was very nervous when he walked in. But then he tells them some jokes in very poor taste and then they realize, 'Oh, he's actually an idiot,'" he joked.

Cronenberg, 79, spoke about the understanding that they have as filmmakers and friends, "We are professionals, unbelievable as it seems, so it means that we can say no to each other. If I offered Viggo a role, and he really feels he's not right for or doesn't connect with it, he has to be able to say no, and I am not going to be shattered and think he's not my friend anymore. And the reverse is true. If Viggo had a project or a script that he wanted me to direct, I would have to say no if I really didn't want to do it. So there's that respect and that professionalism despite the tomfoolery that we enjoy."

When Mortensen, a three-time Oscar-nominated actor, first read the script for "Crimes of the Future," which Cronenberg wrote and directed, he told him, "this is essentially a classic film noir story and I really like it."

Cronenberg's return to his body horror roots

Cronenberg is arguably the master of the body horror genre (some would say he owns the genre), which was evident in his cult classics like "Shivers," "Scanners" and "Videodrome."

"Crimes of the Future" is a return to the maestro's early days as a body horror filmmaker. The film made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it earned a six-minute standing ovation from the audience.

Also starring Kristen Stewart and Léa Seydoux, the movie is set in a future when people's bodies have begun producing new organs, pain is non-existent and plastic is consumed in place of food. Mortensen plays Saul, a performance artist, who develops new organs inside him, which his partner Caprice (Seydoux) tattoos while still in his body and then removes in front of an audience.

The human body has always been a through line in Cronenberg's work and he believes that as a filmmaker you have to be obsessed with the human body.

"I'm an atheist; I don't believe in an afterlife so I accept that this physical presence is what you are. To me, the body is where it all starts. As a filmmaker, what do you photograph most? You're photographing the human body. That's your subject and through that you explore the human condition. So to me, a director who's not obsessed with the human body is not really a director. That is my point of view. Really, that's your subject," he said candidly.

Mortensen shares the same sentiments about the body, connecting it to mortality, adding, "There are different ways of looking at your life and your body, and there's different ways of getting older or dealing with illness. Some people become extremely depressed, irritated, angry, resentful, and they don't really come out of that. Then other people can be irritated about it but have a sense of humour and make the most of it.

"If you can't make fun of yourself and your journey to the end, and all the things you go through, then it's going to be less enjoyable of a ride."

Cronenberg thinks of himself as a "classic existentialist and that there's an absurdity to human life, but that doesn't depress you, it actually should make you laugh. It's something that you could use as a source of strength actually."

Cronenberg isn't out to shock audiences

While there are some uncomfortable and disturbing scenes in the movie — the opening scene involves the death of a child — the film is a social commentary on humanity, creativity, technology and climate change. Like most of his films, "Crimes" is equal parts ambitious and thought-provoking, a dark satire meant to entertain and start a dialogue. Cronenberg had predicted that his film would make viewers walk out of screenings at Cannes and a few attendees did. But shocking views has never been his intention.

"I don't ever think I'm shocking anybody. I know that seems naive or even hypocritical but honestly, with the death of the kid at the beginning, I'm a father and I have four grandchildren, but the murder of a child by his mother … is that a shock? Or is it just a dramatic possibility? I read about it every other day. Some mother has drowned her kids. It's strange and disturbing stuff.

"So I'm really saying to the audience, I have had these ideas, these visions, these narrative possibilities, and some of them I find disturbing to me, some I find troubling, some amusing and provocative. So I'm inviting you to come along with me and share my reactions or maybe you'll have a different reaction to these. So it's really more of collaboration with the audience," he explained.

Mortensen liked the film's commentary on censorship and repression. "There was one aspect of the story that I really liked when I first read it, apart from the film noir aspect, which was the idea of censorship and how people are afraid of what's new, whether it's movies or technology. There seems to be a tension between people being hungry for new things and then, on the other side, people being afraid of it and defending themselves against it. That tension inevitably leads to repression from the authorities."

British-Canadian actor Scott Speedman, who stars in the film as a mysterious, radical leader, said in a separate interview, "It's a very classic David Cronenberg movie, a body horror movie that isn't just a gore fest. It's very much a character-based movie about two people trying to figure it out. Really, it's a love story between Saul and Caprice."

Fear isn't part of the equation

The film is a deep, dark dive into the themes of creativity and performance art. Asked what their fear is when they put their work out there as filmmakers and artists, Cronenberg joked, "It was falling down the red carpet at Cannes" while Mortensen quipped it was that nobody would show up for their film.

Cronenberg said he doesn't have any fear. "If people don't respond or they reject it, that's just part of the deal. That's part of the contract you have with your audience that you will offer them something and they will react, and they could have a negative reaction. But that doesn't induce fear, though."

Mortensen said he's confident about the film. "I would only be worried if in my heart I felt it wasn't a very good movie, then I'm worried that other people might feel that way too. But I don't feel that way. I liked the movie. I think it's really well-made and thought-provoking. I think that David ended up doing what he wanted to do and more."

The Cronenberg effect

Mortensen once said that Cronenberg is one of the most uniquely gifted filmmakers today. "I take that back," he said when asked to elaborate. "He wrote that for me and I regretted saying that." Cronenberg laughed and adds, "I forced him to say that."

Mortensen feels the added layers in Cronenberg's movies are what draws fans. "I think because audiences — whether they love the movie or are somewhere in between — recognize that there is original thinking going on, that he's not showing images or writing dialogue purely for effect, that there is something underneath and they know they're going to go on a ride. They know that if they see the movie again, they're going to see even more layers to it."

Cronenberg wrote the script for "Crimes of the Future" in 1998 and didn't change it at all when it came time to finally directing it in Athens during the pandemic. "It's as valid as ever now and it leaves the audience with room to think for themselves," Mortensen said. "There are not many filmmakers like that; there's certainly not many movies, even ones that I like, or when I see them a second or third time, that I find more to be interested in, more to think about in terms of what's going on in society or even my own life."

Speedman, who grew up in Toronto, described Cronenberg as "the most quietly confident director I've worked with. He's very gentle, sweet, hilarious. He's a rascal too, which I love. He creates that atmosphere on set, no matter how dark or weird of a movie it is. He's not an edgy dark guy."

Cronenberg's legacy

Canadian actor and filmmaker Don McKellar, who also stars in "Crimes of the Future," said he wouldn't have pursued his career if it wasn't for the famed filmmaker; he is "the example of a career in Canada."

Cronenberg said he is happy to be an influence but doesn't think about his legacy.

"It really pleases me when young filmmakers come and say that I'm the reason that they're in film. It's very satisfying when somebody like Julia Ducournau says that I really influenced her filmmaking and she won the Palme d'Or last year. It's very sweet. But honestly, as a card-carrying existentialist, when I'm dead I don't care. It's irrelevant," he said.

A long time ago, one of his goals as a director might have been to become an adjective, like Felliniesque — at which point I reminded him of the term Cronenbergian. He smiled and said he prefers "Cronenburgundian," adding, "I can't deny that it's pleasing, but I don't have a goal in terms of legacy."

Both Cronenberg and Mortensen share views on being present and not thinking about the future. Cronenberg's mantra is a simple one: "Be here now. It's not an easy thing to do to be living in the moment and not worrying about the past or the future. It's a lot of work, but be here now."

Mortensen added, "I think the fact that we can die tomorrow is a stimulus. It gets me out of bed and it gets me going."

The pair's potential next move

It's clear that there will be more to come from this duo. "I'm hoping Viggo offers me a role," Cronenberg said with a twinkle in his eye. "It's a Western and I need to learn how to ride a horse.

"As a kid, all I ever saw was Westerns," he added. "I mean, from 'Hopalong Cassidy' to 'The Durango Kid.' When I was a kid in the '40s and '50s, every other movie, every other TV series was a Western. It's hard to believe that now because it's such a discredited genre, sort of like it's racist, but to be in a Western that would be fabulous." He turned to Mortensen: "We've never talked about it before, but I'm going on the record."

© Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. Images © The Canadian Press.

Another Nice Article

Source: The Globe and Mail Inc.
Found By: Chrissie

Thanks to Chrissie for bringing this our way. Another nice article - this time from the Globe and Mail.


David Cronenberg is not the sicko you think he is

'Crimes of the Future' premiere, Toronto - 30 May 2022
'Crimes of the Future' premiere, Toronto - 30 May …
Image Chris Young.
© The Canadian Press.
by Barry Hertz

David Cronenberg is not some sicko – though everybody seems to want him to be.

Actress/collaborator Kristen Stewart admiringly calls Cronenberg's films "deviant art." Critics repeatedly praise the filmmaker's "gut-twisting" sensibility. And there is an entire online community of fans trading on fevered anticipation of what perverted nightmares the King of Pain might deliver next. Perhaps this sicko-cinema reputation can be traced back to the early '70s, when journalist Robert Fulford infamously slammed Cronenberg's Shivers as "sadistic pornography ... a disgrace to everyone connected with it – including the taxpayers." Which is possibly the best-worst thing a young Canadian filmmaker could be accused of producing during the country's tax-shelter boom.

But while Cronenberg's movies are grossly extreme and/or extremely gross – bodies break and bend, flesh is pulled and peeled – they are not devised by some sadistic psychopath hiding out in his Forest Hill house of horrors. David Cronenberg is an ordinary 79-year-old Toronto artist who walks to the corner store to buy milk and bananas. Or so says David Cronenberg.

"In my personal life I'm pretty bourgeoisie, mainstream. Nobody notices me or cares. I understand what Kristen means, but it's hard for me to think of myself as a deviant," the filmmaker says with a laugh. "In terms of the work, it's all natural stuff. Within the film community, maybe it's not considered mainstream. But for me, it's normal. Doing a biopic like A Dangerous Method is more deviant to me than doing Videodrome."

Cronenberg is back in Toronto this morning after spending a month in France, a good chunk of it at the Cannes Film Festival, where his new movie, Crimes of the Future, made its world premiere. The film, a darkly hilarious noir about a performance artist named Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) who grows new organs inside his body while humanity comes to terms with the mysterious disappearance of pain, was tracked not only by its polarizing first wave of reviews but also by a curious game of film-fest number-crunching. Such as: seven, the length in minutes of the film's standing ovation. And: 15, the number of walk-outs, presumably from audience members who could not bear to stomach the film's fascination with stomachs.

As with everything Cronenberg, though, reality is less disgusting. The walkouts were reported from Crimes of the Future's press screening, which typically has journalists flitting in and out due to competing obligations. During the movie's actual Cannes premiere inside the Grand Théâtre Lumiére, there was just one walkout: Cronenberg, who had to go to the bathroom. He came back, too.

"The walkout reports are, you know, whatever. I mentioned [before the premiere] that I thought it might happen, so everyone locked onto it," the director says today, sipping coffee inside the decidedly non-sicko Shangri-La Hotel in downtown Toronto.

"David loves playing into that, it speaks to his quiet confidence," Scott Speedman, who costars in Crimes as a quasi-antagonist to Mortensen's character, says in a separate interview. "A lot of the headlines out of this movie are all 'crazy gore fest.' But that's not what I see."

It isn't hard to understand the gross-out expectations, whetted by the digital lips of a Film Twitter left insatiable. Crimes of the Future is Cronenberg's first film in eight years, arriving not long after the filmmaker mused about retiring altogether. Also, in the time since Cronenberg released his 2014 Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars and today, the world has inevitably changed, arguably becoming more unhinged in the process. In our increasingly religious devotion to celebrity, apocalyptic chaos,and the merging of the organic and the synthetic, it is as if the culture has finally caught up to what Cronenberg has been saying in his films all along (in Crimes' specific case, a very long time ago indeed – the script was first written in the late '90s, titled Painkillers).

Add the rise of instant online discourse, allowing an entirely new generation to latch onto the filmmaker's prophesying, and we've become little sickos ourselves.

It is at this point that I quickly, futilely introduce Cronenberg and Mortensen, who is joining his director for today's round of interviews, to the "Sicko Haha Yes" meme – an old cartoon from the satirical Onion website picturing a sadistic creep, which has over the past few years morphed into extreme-online shorthand for fans of the Cronenbergian shock-cinema canon. Thankfully, neither the director nor his leading man have ever heard of the gag, again confirming that Cronenberg, the Filmmaker, and Cronenberg, the Reputation, exist in entirely separate realities. His work is a product of his, and not our, environment.

"Well, I wouldn't let this guy into my film. But yes, I have no idea what this is," Cronenberg says while studying the image on my phone with a wry smile. "I do, though, consider Viggo totally deviant."

The two continue to gently rib each other, mirroring the pair's long and fruitful professional relationship. Crimes of the Future marks Cronenberg and Mortensen's fourth collaboration – fifth, if you count Cronenberg's cameo in Mortensen's directorial debut Falling – and it feels like the most symbiotic. As Saul, who practices his internal-organ art with a monk-like devotion, Mortensen more than once seems to channel a lovable imitation of his own director. Given that Saul laments the pain that his work is causing him – an echo of what Cronenberg told me three years earlier, describing filmmaking as an art requiring a willingness to "suffer" – just how much of the director can be found in his new-old creation?

"I'm going to defer to Viggo here," Cronenberg offers. "He's said, controversially, that this is my most autobiographical movie. I have no idea what he means by that ..."

"Well, it's a good headline," Mortensen picks it up. "Saul is entirely different than David, but there are certain things about his intellectual approach that reminded me of David. There's also a certain putting oneself out there, physically and emotionally. You also might think Saul is a hard person, uncompromising. But then you get to know him and you realize there's a tenderness, and a commitment to his art."

"Also, I tend to cut my stomach open and offer parts of it," Cronenberg adds.

"That's obvious," says Mortensen. "But he doesn't heal as quickly as Saul."

In that way, David Cronenberg's Crimes of the Future could be read as a metaphor for the challenges of making a David Cronenberg film. The movie contains plenty of talk about the importance of Saul's "star" power, the expectations of "shock," and the inevitably of becoming "self-referential." Then again, Crimes is just as easily understood as a climate-change treatise, with its emphasis on rot and decay. Or it's a hardboiled noir pivoting on double crosses and secret agendas. Or maybe a romance, with a beautifully squishy love story between Saul and his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux). Or perhaps an organ is just an organ. And as a director, Cronenberg muses, you continue to offer those up to the world until you're dead.

"How many do I have left? God only knows," he says. "I do have to keep myself alive. But beyond that, I didn't think I would be making another movie, that was certainly true."

Hopefully, Cronenberg's insides are still sufficient enough to get through his next two projects: The Shrouds, a thriller starring Vincent Cassel (Mortensen's costar in Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method) set to film next year, and Consumed, a long-gestating adaptation of Cronenberg's own 2014 novel, which he is aiming to get off the ground with Crimes producer Robert Lantos.

"Each time we work together, it's been hard to raise the money," says Mortensen. "On A Dangerous Method, [producer Jeremy Thomas] came halfway through the shoot saying, 'Good news, we can finish the movie,' I didn't realize we only had enough money until then to only finish the week."

"Part of it is happenstance – you hit the right groove and people are more encouraged," Cronenberg replies, noting that it took 19 separate entities – government funds, private investors, distributors – to get Crimes financed. "The world economy also affects independent movies. If you have some oligarchs investing in your films, well suddenly that becomes a thing. That's what brilliant producers like Robert face. It's not about knowing where the bodies are hidden, but where the money is hidden."

As for whether Cronenberg is still, like Saul, willing to suffer to make The Shrouds, Consumed and Sicko-Meme-knows-what-else, the director plays the happy victim.

"I seem to be willing to suffer because it's also fun. Working with Viggo and a whole new world of actors perks you up," he says. "These things keep you going – and allow the suffering to not hurt quite so much."

© The Globe and Mail Inc. Images © The Canadian Press.

Cannes Press Conference Video

Found By: Colette Hera

Thanks to Colette Hera for bringing us the press conference from Cannes yesterday."Crimes of the Future"

© Festival de Cannes (Officiel).

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Last edited: 31 May 2023 15:42:13