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In competition: "Two Lovers" by James Gray

The film:

Premiering in Competition, Two Lovers by James Gray is the third film the American director has brought to Cannes, eight years after The Yards and one year after We Own the Night. Set in Brooklyn, it stars Joaquin Phoenix, a frequent presence in Gray's films, playing a man named Leonard Kraditor who has returned to live with his family after a traumatic romantic disappointment. There, he meets two women: Michelle, the new neighbor, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and Sandra, the daughter of his parents' friends, a role for Vinessa Shaw. Between these two ladies, Leonard's heart bounces to and fro…

The feature is quite a departure from the director's two previous crime thrillers. According to Gray, "the inspiration for Two Lovers came from a number of sources including Dostoevsky’s novella, “White Nights,” about a man who enters into a platonic friendship with a woman he meets on the streets and develops an obsession with her. I found the novella very moving. It’s the story of a person who is clearly suffering from a type of manic disorder. But what it’s really about is how he deals with love. It’s often very difficult to treat love with a kind of seriousness. It’s usually treated in a romantic comedy format because the state of being in love is, in itself, almost preposterous. Often we are really in love with a fantasy or an obsession.” From there, he began writing a script "about love, about something more personal to me."

 

Press conference:

American director James Gray is presenting his third film in Competition at the Festival de Cannes, entitled Two Lovers. The press conference was held today and was also attended by actreses Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, as well as producer Donna Gigliotti. Excerpts follow.

Joaquin Phoenix could not make it to Cannes because of a gastro-intestinal flu, and sent the following message by email: "I am so sorry to miss the important Cannes Film Festival and so appreciate all the support from the French film community. They helped to finance this wonderful film, and have always been firmly behind James Gray’s films, and I am very disappointed to not be able to participate with my director and co-stars.”

James Gray on writing the script, for his lead stars in particular:
"I’m not happy he’s not here. It’s actually too bad because I think his performance is fantastic. I did [write this for him], did have him in mind from the start. The same thing is true for Gwenyth, and I was very fortunate that they were both willing to submit.”

Gwenyth Paltrow on her character:
"I think we’ve all been at places in our lives where we’ve been without a rudder; we don’t know exactly who we are or where we are going, or we end up in situations that are regretful, or we establish patterns of behavior that are not good for us. I too understand obsession. I just found her so compelling and so heartbreaking, because I felt like she was caught up in this terrible cycle of wanting what was bad for her. I thought she was an incredible character to play… the free-spirited, quirky, lovely girl that she was 10 years ago, and she’s kind of gone in an unfortunate direction… she’s one of the characters that I’ve played that I’ve felt the most close to.”

James Gray on why this is not a romantic comedy:
"I never conceived it as a romantic comedy, but I did intend for a lot of the film to be funny. When you are dealing with a subject like love, there is an inherent preposterous idea that all desire is based on some measure of fetish. It’s very difficult to tell a love story with a serious intent; it’s such a heightened state, almost of delirium, when you’re first in love, it lends itself to acting insane, like the Ernst Lubitsch thing. There was an intent to put some of that into the film. I also greeted that as the challenge of the picture. When I was in college… I was very obsessed with Jacques Lacan at the time, and he talks about parallel lines of desire. And in that way I had wanted a seriousness of intent brought on the subject usually treated in romantic comedies.”

Vinessa Shaw on her character being tragic… or not:
"I don’t really feel that Sandra was tragic. I really feel she brings the light of hope. She’s definitely finding herself. I think my character is really finding her womanhood. It’s a tricky kind of balance you have to create and I think she really wants to love him – she has all the love in her heart – she’s just waiting for him to open up. I think she’s a woman who sees potential and sees the future and is luring him in that direction.”

James Gray on the Hollywood happy ending:
"It is a bit of a mischaracterization of Hollywood movies, that they have always sold you the bogus cotton-candy ending. The most popular film of all time is ‘Frankly, I don’t give a damn!’ and he leaves her at the end [Gone With the Wind]. Hollywood used to be wonderful at the complex ending, at the wonderful storytelling and the multi-layered narratives and that is over… I find myself very much of the American film tradition… I don’t mind telling you that I have very little admiration for what has been going on in my country for the last 30 years… I think it has to do with the economic system, because now the pictures are so large that they have to try to appeal to so many people and the corporate nature of the business dictates a sort of bogus fast-food reading of life… the big business takeover of the movie industry, which has forbidden a kind of textured storytelling.”

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