Sony Pictures Classics release After the Wedding at Angelika Film Center and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square on August 9th, 2019.
NYC MOVIE GURU: When it comes to entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually, which of those three elements was most challenging to tweak in the editing room?
Bart Freundlich: Probably, as it always is, engaging people emotionally and affecting them emotionally. I think that that's the hardest especially with a movie like this where there are so many different emotional beats that unless you find a way to syncopate those beats, they bland out. Joseph Krings who edited this movie who edited Captain Fantastic and my last movie, Wolves, is a great editor. The challenge with this was having all those scenes on their own, especially because of the actors, which were really good, but then you put them next to one another and the way they interacted was almost a system overload. The movie was very delicate. Susanne Bier, [the writer/director of the original film], kind of pulled off this amazing feat. I just feel like she did it with wild abandon which was what was so beautiful about it. Taking that on and trying to find a different way to tell the story was sort of daunting. The obvious thing to change was the genders of the three leads, and that changed the backstory for those characters which allowed me a way in to put my own stamp on it. For the intellectual part, I feel like there's a certain amount of information that you need---exposition---and if there's too much exposition, that's kind of my pet peeve in movies. If the exposition done in a clunky way and there's too much of it, you're keeping the viewer at arm's length---they're very separate from the movie. Also, I want to be entertained by movies; I don't just want to be punished. Occasionally, there's a piece of art that feels almost punitive, but it's so profound that it changes me and I love it because of that. For the most part, with this movie, and this was something that Julianne [Moore] and I talked about all the time, we wanted it to be entertaining. There are these big life events that happen. She kept saying, "I love to see movies like this! There's a big wedding, there are relationships, complications, love and betrayal." It's all the "stuff" [of life]. I also wanted to make sure that I didn't hold back on letting you enjoy it like the way you would if you'd go to a wedding and you love the toasts and you love the dancing and you love the food. I think that the more you love life, the more precious it becomes.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Hitchcock believes that some movies are a slice of life and some movies are a slice of cake, but I think that some movies, like After the Wedding, can be both. What do you think?
BF: That's wonderful! It's a "life cake"! Yes, that is true. For this film, hopefully, my hope is that you're sufficiently entertained in order to lose yourself in it and then the information is being given to you at the right speed and in the right way so that you can digest it and then start to feel like you know people in the movie. By that time you get into the emotional engagement that you're already in, so it's almost too late to get out of it because there's a lot of real [emotions]. That's how I felt about Terms of Endearment, Ordinary People and Kramer vs. Kramer when I saw it as a kid. I felt like, "Wow, this is painful, but in a way that makes me feel connected to the bittersweet quality of life. It almost feels expansive for me in a real way. The one element that you can ultimately control the least is the emotional engagement. The others you can almost control and manipulate.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would it be accurate to say that the broken eggs in After the Wedding are a metaphor? I see a connection between that metaphor and the metaphor of the broken plate in Ordinary People.
BF: You're absolutely right.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Broken eggs are harder to fix than a broken plate, though!
BF: They are harder to fix, although Oscar tries to fix them as an artist. I remember when you say that that happened in Ordinary People, and Ordinary People was on my mind during this movie, but I didn't consciously make that connection. I think that in movies that are so much about raw human relationships without a lot of decoration, the metaphor is very valuable. It's a way of not being so direct all the time. Susanne Bier's movie used nature in a big way. She used a lot of cutting away to things. It was a very different style. It wasn't naturalists; it was interpretative. She just cut away to a dead fox in the road or to dead wheat in a field. It was this foreshadowing that was really effective, but I wanted to have my own interpretation of nature and the cycle of life and nature. The metaphor that works throughout, as you identified, is the eggs. It also works as a plot point because it's this thing that Theresa, [Oscar's wife], is guarding. She feels that somehow if she could take this, she could make the family whole again and control her fate. Also, there's the [metaphor of] the tree. It's one of the first scenes that I wrote. It's this behemoth of a tree that has fallen in the storm and roots are all there---it feels like something that went before its time. It feels impossible that it could be ripped out of the ground like that. So, I think that Theresa's fascination with that when she runs across it---she touches the moss--and for a character who's so practical and all about business and moving forward, it's a moment of foreshadowing that there's more going on there for her.
NYC MOVIE GURU: It's so refreshing to see an American drama for adults released in theaters these days. Movies for adults used to rule the marketplace back in the 80's and 90's. If the studio system of the 80's and 90's were around today, wouldn't After the Wedding be a wider release today? It deserves to!
BF: Sony Pictures Classics made my first movie, The Myth of Fingerprints, and now they're distributing this one. So, I think they're the right place because they are so careful. They care so much for their movies and targeting their audiences. The market is so diluted with so much product, so you need a place like Sony Pictures Classics. The list of movies that they distributed through the years is insane when I went back and looked at how life-changing some of those movies had been for me. To embrace the complexity and the commerciality of the film is something that I really value about them. I also feel that having Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams and Billy Crudup, these known actors, in it, it give you another way in. Hopefully, there are multiple ways into a movie. It's like, "Oh, I want to see these two actors at the top of their game face to face!" I've been saying that when they sit across the desk from each other, it's like my Heat moment where Pacino and Deniro are sitting across from each other. As an emotional filmmaker, I just felt like I could not wait to see what's going to happen at that moment.
NYC MOVIE GURU: According to Francois Truffaut, a truly great film should have a perfect blend of Truth and Spectacle. After the Wedding has both, but the real Spectacle is found within the Truth--in the spoken and unspoken moments like during the wedding scene. What do you think?
BF: There are these two key sequences in the film: the wedding when Isabelle recognizes Oscar and you see that no one is saying anything or talking about anything that's actually happening, but you see it all in their faces. Then, subsequently, the next day, when she comes to the kitchen, everything is said. So, it's these actors who can communicate without words and with words. I love to be able to contrast those things and to trust these actors and to trust the camera that we had. It was this big, wide format camera, the ARRI 65, which Alfonso Cuaron shot Roma on. Instead of focusing on these big landscapes, we focused on their faces. We got to see every moment. The Spectacle idea of getting to them pulled back wide and see India from the air, I love that.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Artistically, would After the Wedding work in black-and-white?
BF: I don't think as well. I think that part of the key to making this version of this story was to stay a neutral observer. I think that black-and-white says too much stylistically right now. I love black-and-white films---I love watching Nebraska--but it just says too much as a director for this particular movie. It would be trying to hard where as our camera, we wanted there to be a sort of beatific quality, but also an observational quality. So, to answer your question, I'll go with "No" on that.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which movie do you think would pair well with After the Wedding in a double feature?
BF: I Am Love. The complexity of the family dynamics and the mixture of a great plot with a kind of existential question---you can never go wrong with that! [laughs]