Steve Buscemi’s ‘Interview’ (Movie Review)

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Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Used with permission.

Steve Buscemi’s new film Interview is a fascinating experiment that, to me, proved a likeable failure. I found its characters strangely vapid, which might be the point, but is still kind of harrowing to watch.

I liked Interview anyway. It’s an interesting document for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its cross-breeding of simplistic narrative structure with innovative filmmaking. It’s got the soul of a stage play but filmmaking chops that make it visually arresting; maybe it’s the My Dinner With Andre of its sex-obsessed, celebrity-craving generation. At times the characters feel like refugees from Melrose Place, but I still found myself hanging on every word.

The film opens today at the Embarcadero and UA Stonestown  in San Francisco, Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley, and points east (Century 5 Pleasant Hill), south (Cinearts Palo Alto, Santana Row San Jose), and north (Sequoia Twin, Mill Valley).a.jpg

Buscemi plays Pierre Peders, a war correspondent with scars from Bosnia and other battlefields around the world. He’s pissed as hell that he’s been assigned to profile bubbleheaded TV actress Katya (Sienna Miller), who usually gets more coverage for who she’s sleeping with that week than for her acting ability. She shows up at a NYC restaurant an hour late for their interview, even though her loft is only a few blocks away. Pierre chases her away with his bitchy attitude, and hops into a cab while Katya storms off. Sadly, Pierre’s cab driver recognizes the world-famous Katya walking down the street and freaks out, getting in an accident and injuring Pierre. Katya, feeling guilty about having caused the accident, takes Pierre back to her loft to put ice on his cut head and maybe, just maybe, finish the interview.

Once back at the loft, the two start to drink heavily, always a great idea when in a professional situation, especially when one of you has a possible concussion. Locked in a conversational chess match and representing what they believe to be two opposing universes — Katya the defensive optimism of the entertainer, Pierre the self-righteous pessimism of the “real” journalist — Katya and Pierre fight and spar and occasionally grope each other. Pierre snoops, looking for an interesting angle on the bubblehead; Katya tries to play the role of journalist, asking the questions and looking for Pierre’s scars. She finds more than a few.

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If that sounds sort of contrived… well, it seems even more that way in the flick. I forgave it because Buscemi and Miller are so impossibly likeable in their friction, and because the characters are archetypal in their modernity. It’s all very romantic, two people who hate each other — who actually represent worlds that war with each other — forced to be civil without being civil and, in fact, being nasty bitches to each other.

But ultimately, Pierre’s problems, and Katya’s, felt as shallow to me as a plot on Katya’s prime-time soap opera. If you run with it, it’ll seduce you, and I watched as closely as I study an episode of 90210, without laughing. But ultimately it felt like this just ain’t that deep.f.jpg

That said, taken as something of a B-movie, Interview is an invigorating investigation of what are the archetypes we work with. It may be shallow, but far from being a cheap soap-opera that pulls its stock characters from the fifties and sixties, it feels as 21st-century as it looks (and it looks, by the way, gorgeous). But the 21st century is a poorly-blended smoothie of antique innocence and retro-cool, and Interview feels like a mash-up. It’s worth seeing for what it means, as much as for what it is.

Even if it weren’t an interesting film to begin with, Interview is notable because it’s the first entry in the Triple Theo project. Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh (great-grandson of Vincent van Gogh’s brother of the same name) was murdered in 2004 in Amsterdam by an Islamic extremist because of Van Gogh’s religious (or, more accurately, his anti-religious) views. Shortly before his death, he had embarked on a project to remake three of his Dutch films in English, with a New York City setting. Interview is the first; Stanley Tucci is taking on number 2 (Van Gogh’s Blind Date) and John Turturro the third (Van Gogh’s 06, which will have a new title in English).

g.jpgOne of the things that made Van Gogh an important influence on film was his use of handheld cameras (in this case, three) all running at the same time to capture multiple angles on the same performances. That technique was duplicated here, and members of Van Gogh’s team (including his cinematographer, Thomas Kist) were used on this picture. In addition to making the films more cost-effective to make, it appears to have allowed them to cut the number of takes, something you can feel in the spontaneity of Buscemi’s and Miller’s performances.

Despite, or maybe because of its main characters’ ultimate vapidity, Interview is an interesting and actually enjoyable experience, with all the things I love about most about indie movies (not least including gratuitous drinking and smoking… there just isn’t enough of those in American movies these days).

But watch the filmmaking more closely and there’s some truly interesting stuff going on. Interview isn’t perfect, but it’s worth a look.

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Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Used with permission.

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