Interview with Fernando Meirelles

Fernando Meirelles is a man in demand. The renowned director of City of God, Constant Gardener and Blindness, is in town to present his new film, 360, starring Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz, which opened the 55th BFI London Film Festival yesterday evening.

Following a press conference and photocall in the morning, JungleDrums’s Sofia Serbin de Skalon met Meirelles at the May Fair hotel where he was atending a round table discussion with journalists from 5 different nationalities. This seems appropriate given that 360 is framed around a series of interconnecting stories linking characters from different countries.

Meirelles, when he finally arrives, is vivacious and charming. He sits on a velvet sofa and we gather around him. He’s full of energy, shifting constantly in his seat, twisting around to look at each of us in turn, gesticulating with his arms, overflowing with enthusiasm and vitality. It is hard to believe he’s been at it since early this morning. As the conversation gets underway, you realise just how incredibly busy he is. He mentions one project, then another, and talks about the role that chance can play in the choices we make. It was this idea of chance that attracted him to the script of 360. The film opens with a young Slovakian woman talking about her decision to embark on a new career: “A wise man once said, if there’s a fork on the road take it. He failed to mention which way to turn.”

Meirelles says something similar: “I think you take forks everyday. Sometimes you make a little decision that will change everything, you decide to go to a bar instead of a restaurant and meet someone who will change your life. It’s like the way I got involved in Constant Gardener. I was in London, walking on Greek Street with a friend and saw Simon Channing Williams (Producer) who my friend knew. We sat down and had a coffee and he said he had a script and that I should take a look. That was Constant Gardener. If I hadn’t walked on Greek St that day I wouldn’t be here today. “

360 begins in Vienna and weaves through Paris, London, Bratislava, Rio, Denver and Phoenix incorporating an international cast that includes Slovakian, Russian, French, German, British and American talent in a series of inter-linked stories.

“This was my biggest fear when I got involved. I was always afraid of the film being like a short film festival. Every story is a different place, a different language and with a different tone, so the transitions from one story to the next were very well thought out: they help to feel that this is just one thing.”

Meirelles, along with his casting director, carried out an extensive search in order to find the right actors from each country, and in the film there are many dialogues when they speak in their native language. Meirelles says this was not a problem when it came to directing “The only one who didn’t speak English was Vladimir Vdovichenkov. He had a translator, which was hard. But even when I’m directing the actors to speak in their own language, you know when a take is good. There’s something about the body language.”

Earlier in the day Meirelles had answered a question about the reactions to his films and how they vary depending on the country they’re seen in. He discussed his experience with his last film Blindness, released in 2008, which flopped in the US and Europe but succeeded in places such as Korea, Mexico and his home country, Brazil. He admits this was a consideration when he has to decide what to include and what to leave out of 360:

“There was one scene. It’s cut, not the way in which I’d like, but this time I was convinced by the Brits. It’s the scene with Jude and Rachel when they are in bed. They are talking about getting a dog. I liked the tone and their behaviour and the emptiness between them but there was something in the dialogue that the Brits just couldn’t take so it had to go.”

The interwoven multiple stories in the film bear similarities to other ensemble films such as the collaborative Paris Je T’aime and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu’s Babel. Like Babel, three are subtitles for the scenes in which languages other than English are spoken. Given that both Meirelles and Iñarritu are from Latin America I ask whether this is an influence on their filmmaking.

“I’ve never really thought of it that way, but I guess the fact we don’t come from the big centres of the world, London or New York, makes us see ourselves as something else, something outside. But we can also see better, it gives us a different perspective. In Brazil we have so many different cultures, Korean, Japanese. Italian. It is a bit of a melting pot. It is not as cosmopolitan as somewhere like London, but there is something interesting in Brazil, every wave of immigration that came during history, after one or two generations, they were completely mixed. In Brazil we don’t have national conflicts or ethnic conflicts, the conflicts are social: if you are poor or if you are rich. In that sense City of God was a journalistic film. It showed two societies in one country.”

Asked if he will make another Brazilian film, Meirelles mentions the novel Devil to Pay in the Backlands (Grande Sertão: Veredas) a classic of Brazilian literature, often compared to James Joyce’s Ulysses and written by João Guimaraes Rosa which Meirelles has always dreamt of bringing to the big screen. But he also says that he’s afraid the novel is so great, that he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to make the film. For now, his eyes are on his next project, Onassis, a biopic of Aristotle Onassis based on the controversial novel Nemesis, by British writer, Peter Evans which will, no doubt, bring him back to London.

Like the subject of his films, Fernando Meirelles is global in his nature. This is how we live today.

by Sofia Serbin de Skalon

You can find all the Latin American films showing at the BFI London Film Festival here: jungledrumsonline.com/whats-on/cinema/latin-american-films-at-london-film-festival

Trailer for 360:

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