Bleecker Street releases Ordinary Love at Angelika Film Center and Landmark at 57 West on February 14th, 2020.
NYC MOVIE GURU: When it comes to knowing when to trust the audience's patience, emotions, imagination and intelligence, which of those elements was most challenging to calibrate in the editing room?
Lisa Barros D'Sa: I think that the emotional calibration was something that we felt pretty clear about. In the editing room, what you think about is the patience---the pacing of everything. A lot of conversations in the editing room are about how long you want to hold things, what level of tension you want to create without overdramatizing anything, and the fact that this was a film about being honest about the ordinary moments of people's lives and honoring those moments. Cinema has this great power to magnify those tiny details of life and to reveal their magnificence. So, we wanted to give time for that to blossom onscreen and to feel with those character in the moment--those moments when they're each alone and there's just a slight, unsettling emotion. So, it was drawing that out, but at the same time keeping the propulsion of the story sufficient to draw the audience towards the conclusion.
Glenn Leyburn: I would say patience as well. In the edit suite, we always think of film as being much more closely connected to music in a way. There's compositions and rhythms. Finding the musicality between the cuts is something that we worked a lot on. So, that's about rhythm and pace. That's the thing that you really craft in the cutting room.
NYC MOVIE GURU: It's so refreshing and rare for directors to treat the audience like human beings like you do throughout Ordinary Love. How important is that quality in directors?
GL: Something that we do think about is the audience. It's not just all about us. We think about that journey and what kind of journey we're going to take the audience members on.
LBD: When people talk about the emotional journey of a film, they tend to talk about that in relation to the characters, but our job is the think about the emotional journey for the audience and to sculpt that journey for them. We probably have a horror of overstatement, in a way. And you're right: you can rely on the intelligence of the audience, especially with a subject matter like this. Everyone goes through these stories of grief and loss. Everyone has relationships. We bring a lot to this story. To sentimentalize it or to put our thumb on the scales dramatically would just have felt wrong in many different ways. It's often about pulling back and stripping back and saying, "We really don't need to tell people this again because we've really already told them." Also, drama is about doubt and about wondering and about the questions you don't have to answer in the first five minutes. You can leave things open for people to discover along the way because that's the joy of watching a film. You discover it through all of the different elements of cinematic storytelling. You don't have to tell everybody everything in the dialogue, for example.
GL: We felt that it was important to sort of strip everything back to their essential elements. Once you do that, you also leave space for the audience's imagination and then, hopefully, they can insert themselves into the story more. That's certainly the aspiration.
LBD: You have these two extraordinary actors, Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville, who can convey so much with a look in a moment of waiting or stillness. In the editing room, those moments became so important to build in terms of the emotional storytelling.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like to decide to reveal that Joan has cancer so soon in Ordinary Love?
LBD: It was certainly a question that we discussed about whether you need time to establish the normality of the relationship before you go to this place. It felt important to get there quickly because this was the world of the story that we wanted the audience to enter into. Every aspect of their lives was going to be changed by this and it was about the journey. I think that if we hadn't had such great actors who could establish this world that they share very quickly and the tone of their relationship, it might've been different. Audiences are going to have a sense of where this story is going to go and we wanted time to unfold it gradually and delicately and to build it that way. Spending too much more time on the part of the story before everything happened felt a little bit redundant. I think that it always felt like the right choice to just get going as soon as we could.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you master the skill of exposition so effectively while knowing when the audience has just enough information?
LBD: It's by process of trial-and-error to an extent. It is very much a frame by frame thing. For example, the story of Debbie, Tom and Joan's daughter, there's a storyline about her. It came down to, "When do we show this photograph? How many frames do we show it for? Are we lingering too long?"
GL: Or trimming it by six frames. The whole film was actually about these small micro-adjustments. David Holmes who's one of the producers of Ordinary Love, also did the music and did music for many films. He said that it was the toughest score that he's ever worked on just because one note in the wrong direction and it's going toward sentimentality. It's about finding that tonality throughout the film and not looking or asking the audience for emotion, but earning it. It's all about these fine calibrations all the way along.
NYC MOVIE GURU: You chose to not show any of the physically gritty aspects of Joan's medical procedures. The needle going into Joan was left to the audience's imagination. Which do you think is ultimately more powerful: what the audience sees or what's left to their imagination?
GL: Actually, we did shoot some of that stuff and we cut it. I think that in those cases, the imagination is more powerful.. When you're pointing a camera at Lesley Manville experiencing those things, you have to be sure what you're cutting to to cut away from that. Everything was on Lesley Manville's face. It was telling us so many things and so many emotions. All the story was there. To see a needle was not what was required. Perhaps that would've sensationalized it or put it in an area that we didn't want to film to go to.
LBD: Also, it was important to the story to keep Joan's point of view because we wanted those moments to be inside her head. She doesn't know what's coming next, so we didn't want to be too literal about what's coming next because there's that sense that you're in a world which is going to surprise you and not in a particularly pleasant way all of the time. So, we built a lot of that through the sound design. For example, one of the examples of those kind of scenes is that we had on board with us some real medical professionals who were in those scenes with Lesley. In the scene when she's in the one-stop clinic getting all of the tests done initially, that was a real mammographer and radiologist. So, those professional could take her through the procedures as though she were a real patient. We had them talk her through everything so that she could live it in as close a way as possible which was really great for her ability to sink into the moment as a person would. We pretended as little as possible, I think, so that we could allow that to run. We needed the details around what she was experiencing so that we could be authentic and we could rely on that. We could rely on her not knowing too much beforehand because of how she was shepherded through it. So, what we got with her, I think, is that sense of being on a journey. She's not quite sure where it's going to go. That's the whole story of the film, essentially.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Who do you think is ultimately responsible for opening the window into a character's heart, mind and soul?
LBD: I think that, as directors, one of the things that we try to do is to establish trust between the team of ourselves and the actors and to create a safe space by means of our good preparation and having a good crew around us so that the actors feel like they feel safe enough to do that work. It is their work and it's up to us to help to facilitate that by creating that space. We didn't have much rehearsal time, but we talked through the characters and the emotional journey. We gave them as much time together as they possibly could, but they're the ones who have to do that opening up. It's our job to make that as easy as we can make it for them. Lesley and Liam are actors in the pinnacle of brilliant careers. They're extremely accomplished and make it look effortless. It's a lot going to those places and being that open, as you say, so all credit to them for creating not just those characters, but this invisible entity between them which is the 30-year marriage that they had to inhabit from the first day on set. The first scene that we shot was the first scene of the film when they're together on the sofa talking about the Fitbit. They have to bring to life this 30-year marriage and that's something extraordinary. That chemistry between them was really phenomenal.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Francois Truffaut once observed that a truly great film should have a perfect balance of Truth and Spectacle. I believe that the best kind of Spectacle is the kind that's found within Truth. What do you think?
LBD: I think that that's a very interesting way of looking at it. This felt to us like a film that exploited what's so great about cinema because it can look at those everyday moments and elevate them into a spectacle.
GL: The poetry of the everyday. In relationships, we have those moments of siting in front of the television together and those seem like very nothing moments, but actually those are actually magnificent and wonderful shared moments that are worth celebrating on the big screen.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Joan admits to Tom that she doesn't really know whether she has cancer at the beginning. Is there an unfair stigma about uncertainly and not knowing? Saying "I don't know." is just another way of saying, "I know that I don't know."
LBD: That's interesting about Tom and Joan at that point, isn't it? Because she's living in that state of "something's happening." She knows that something is there that can't be defined yet. She's okay with that and that's the state that she's able to inhabit, but for Tom, he can't deal with that grey area. As he tell her later on, it has to be fact-based. It has to be about the information. That's what he wants to deal with and that's what he's comfortable dealing with. Joan has to exist in this space and she's more comfortable existing in that space than he is.
NYC MOVIE GURU: There's a powerful scene when Tom cries alone in the bathroom. Is his crying a strength? What's wrong with crying?
LBD: There's nothing wrong with crying. Vulnerability is so important as human beings. It's so damaging to any of us to have to pretend that we don't have emotions and that we can't express them.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I think that if Tom were to wipe away his tears at that moment, it would've made him less of a man. What do you think?
GL: I agree. Absolutely. There is that thing of masculinity and not to show that emotion. At that point in the story, Tom was having to be strong for Joan and all that sort of aspect.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that Tom and Joan's marriage would've remained intact if Joan were diagnosed with cancer early on in their marriage instead of 30 years into it?
LBD: What we love about the relationship between Tom and Joan is that this is a middle-age love story about a couple whose relationship is still really vibrant at this point in their lives. They still make each other laugh, they still fancy each other and have a very vivid relationship. At times when they come together, we wanted the audience to feel that it's such a relief and so enjoyable to see this electricity flowing between them again. If it's there 30 years down the line, then I'm sure that it was there 5 years in as well. Ultimately, Ordinary Love is the kind of film that celebrates that kind of connection that we can have with people. Even though it's a journey that we can't be together every step on, it's that connection that keeps them both going.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What does it mean to be a grown up? Aren't Tom and Joan still in the process of growing up?
LBD: We're all the product of all of the experiences that we have in life. As we learn later on in the film, each of them has acquired a certain wisdom about how to live from the things that they've been through. I think that what they've learned in their lives is the value of normality in a way that this place that they got to of equilibrium between them has been so hard-won and they know how precious it is. That's something that many of us maybe don't learn until it's late in life, too late sometimes. They know how valuable those moments are when they can go for a walk together, watch TV and squabble about the Fitbit. They won't make the mistake of underestimating the importance of those things.