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Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Faux Amour of the Academy Awards

posted by on March 1 at 15:35 PM

As I learned from this incredibly stupid article that I nonetheless read, Hollywood is the land of “frenemies.”

Global Hollywood is also the land of frenemies, as I have learned from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. The (now Academy Award-winning) director called the regional publicist for his film, The Lives of Others, in a rage after The Stranger published this interview. Seems that the ten minutes or so he spent condescending to American audiences, impugning the moral complexity of his Oscar competition Pan’s Labyrinth, etc., was supposed to be “off the record.” Unfortunately, he tried to convey this information with his mind—or something—because I double-checked the tape and he never requested such a thing. Obviously, we declined to alter the transcript.

Here’s what Donnersmarck wanted to have removed from the web:

Well, I mean, I still have the Rotten Tomatoes score of 95 percent or something like that, so I really can’t complain. There is one film that has a higher score than mine, which is Pan’s Labyrinth.

Which you’re up against for the foreign language Oscar.

Which we’re up against. So was it on your top-10 list, too?

Neither of your films was on my top-10 list, because they both opened in Seattle in 2007. But you’ll be competing against each other for next year’s list.

This is a film that I would expect to be a film for the kind of people who are really into violence or a, you know, a tattooed crowd—but it became such a mainstream success that… it says something about the American audience.

I think that the fact that it’s a fairy tale makes the violence more interesting. It’s not like it’s a shoot-‘em-up action film obviously aimed at a 20-something audience. A fairy tale has explicit violence that people look over.

I think there is a fairy-tale aspect and I don’t mind the violence in the fairy tale, you know, the fairies being eaten by the guy with the eyes in his hand. That’s fairy-tale violence, I agree. But seeing a guy in close-up sewing up a gash in his face. Or a resistance fighter’s leg being sawed off in detail. Or those terrible torture scenes, where that guy’s hand is not in existence anymore—those things I can’t believe it’s a fairy tale. It is very much in the real, here and now.

I didn’t totally feel like those two aspects could be separated. There is definitely a storytelling gloss on the “real” things—they both had heightened tragedy, and heightened violence, and heightened drama, you know, and I don’t think you were supposed to see that as realism.

I will be really interested to see how this film does in Europe, because I do not think that it will do this well. I wonder what the people there who have had so much in the way of real violence in our history will be so willing to accept that kind of violence. Also I think that European people do not have that same belief in it being possible to separate the good and the bad. The captain in the Franco army [in Pan’s Labyrinth], he’s a real demon; there’s no redeeming feature about him—except that he’s good-looking. That’s a romantic view of psychology. [In reality,] [t]here are mixed motives; every villain has a good side, and every good person…

Your work has that moral ambiguity.

I think that’s what life is about, trying to do the good thing even when it’s hard to recognize. If life were that easy we’d all be revolutionaries in the hills, fighting Franco.

I think this stuff is interesting—it reveals a lot about how Donnersmarck thinks about genre, character, and conflict in filmmaking. But it also makes it pretty clear what he thinks about Pan’s Labyrinth and its director, Guillermo del Toro.

So I found it pretty funny when Donnersmarck won his Oscar, marched off to the press room, and was asked:

Were you, personally, surprised? And in a larger sense, do you think this speaks well for the quality of international films? Can you talk about a little bit about what a good year it was for international films?

Oh, yes; oh, yes. The thing is, you know, Guillermo, I think he deserved every single one of those awards. And I agree with the things that people say in there. He is—he is a genius. And you know, I think people often see him as this kind of monster guy. I see him as someone who has so much amor in him. And so, I must say—we said to each other before then—I said, look, if you win, I’m happy with it. And he said, you know, same to you. And so, I, of course, you know, it feels great to have people there who are just so—who you respect so much, you know. Then it just feels even better winning, so, in a way I’m sad for Guillermo, but not that sad.

Yes, it’s commendable to make nice at the Academy Awards, and of course, hypocrisy is nothing new. But male frenemies? Somebody write an article, quick!

RSS icon Comments


Wait, Stephen Colbert didn't invent the word "frenemies"?

Posted by Fnarf | March 1, 2007 3:52 PM

it's from sex in the city

Posted by michael strangeways | March 1, 2007 4:17 PM

I learned "frenimies" from, specifically referring to Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie.

Posted by monkey | March 1, 2007 4:38 PM

Donnersmarck went out of his way to hug Guillermo Del Toro on his way to pick up the award. They were seated a couple rows apart.

Posted by Nat | March 1, 2007 4:42 PM

well, as donnersmarck said himself, "[In reality,] [t]here are mixed motives; every villain has a good side, and every good person..."

Posted by infrequent | March 1, 2007 4:47 PM

Note to Donnersmarck:

Never do press interviews.

Posted by Laurence Ballard | March 1, 2007 7:35 PM

I have to say, I loved both movies, but I did find the violence in Pan's Labyrinth that he mentions (the torture scene in particular) very disturbing, and quite gratuitous. It wouldn't be my ONLY comment about the film, because I thought there was something stunning and unforgettable about it, but I have to say, I agree with what he says here, and I don't think it's all that mean-spirited.

Posted by JMW | March 1, 2007 9:01 PM

In case you didn't notice, I HAD to say those things. It's late here. Forgive me.

Posted by JMW | March 1, 2007 9:02 PM

I liked both movies, and I agree that I don't think the comments in the interview seem mean spirited either. It speaks to the difference between the two movies. Pan's is seeming to have more appeal to American audiences. It's interesting to think about why that is.

It seems kind of obvious Donnersmark wouldn't really like Del Toro's film, it's not his style. It's okay to have a preference, especially as an artist, it's pretty essential. The stuff he said in the interview just let us in on that.

Posted by Emmakat | March 2, 2007 12:59 AM

I've read quite a bit about the Spanish Civil War, and spent some time in Spain speaking with people who lived through it. By most accounts, the Franco supporters were bigoted, uneducated and cruel to the point of sadism. And the people who survived that madness are deeply scared by the atrocities they witnessed. I liked Pan's Labyrinth, and was quite riveted by the imagery, but if anything it wasn't violent enough. The fantasy element serves to mitigate what was, by all accounts, a grotesquely violent moment in the history of Europe.

Posted by Gurldoggie | March 2, 2007 9:36 AM

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