I have problems, aesthetically and otherwise, with Clint Eastwood’s new film Hereafter, which I saw at Toronto.
Every movie has its own just compensations. In Hereafter, Cécile de France’s performance provides just the ticket. She is reason enough to see it and ponder what is being said and felt. The Belgian-born actress plays Marie, a beautiful, tenacious French journalist haunted by a near death experience. The story forms one of the three intersecting stories in Peter Morgan‘s script.
The movie opens, in fact, with a startling and thundering ecological disaster whose elaborate visual effects and computer generated imagery are opposite the film’s largely, calm and restrained inner rhythm. Vacationing at the southeastern Asian tourist destination with her producer/lover, she is trapped in the tsunami.
She survives, though she remains damaged by the filmy, almost milk white silhouettes of people, “visions or hallucinations,“ that crossed her consciousness at the moment she nearly went to the other side. Returning home to Paris, she takes a sabbatical from her work after her on-air performance noticeably declines.
Unfairly unknown in this country, France is quite good at conveying the vulnerability and unsettledness of a talented and gifted woman who’s slowly unraveling. The film is a tough sell, and seems the least commercial of Eastwood’s late period work (even lacking the marquee name of Angelina Jolie in The Changeling).
I hope, at least early on, the talent involved, Eastwood, Morgan, Matt Damon, executive producer Steven Spielberg, allows the film to gain some kind of traction. France is likely to be a beneficiary.
I had my own chance to cross paths with Cecile de France, and she talked about the film, Eastwood, her own intimations of mortality and what it means. (She has just in the last couple of weeks from Liege, Belgium, where she just completed filming of the new film by the Dardenne Brothers.)
Light Sensitive: Had Clint seen you in one of your other films?
Cécile de France: I don’t know. I don’t think he ever saw anything by me before. I just did an audition, a monologue, with the casting director. Clint trusted his casting director. She auditioned like 15 actresses or so in France, and … they choose me (laughs).
Light Sensitive: The tsunami sequence is quite elaborate. Could you talk about the physical demands of shooting it, whether it was done after principal photography, and how much was done in a water tank, the studio and computer generated?
Cécile de France: We did it very quickly in one day. We did it in Pinewood Studios, in London, for all the underwater scenes. The time was separated in two, for the dark one, and the green screens when my head was above the water. The third part was done in the real ocean in Hawaii, with big waves, which was crazy. It was one hour in the ocean, one day in the tank. I did all of my own stunts. I delivered all of the scenes.
Light Sensitive: What were the dynamics of the Paris scenes, particularly the French language scenes, because Clint doesn’t speak or really understand French.
Cécile de France: No, he doesn’t speak French at all. It was very simple. I was waiting to know whether we were going to shoot in English or French. About three weeks before shooting, the script was in English, they said: ‘You can translate your own lines in French.’ I was surprised because it’s a big responsibility. I was happy because it’s better for an actress to play with her own words.
On the set, Clint had the translation and he knows exactly what I’m saying, but he also offered me a lot of freedom. He trusts you so much and lets you do what you want to do because he’s an actor, too. He knows exactly what he wants you to feel. For example, in the scene when I talk about Francois Mitterrand, that’s my line. I wrote it with one of my friends. This man trusts everybody, all the members of his crew and all of his actors, so he just let me do it. About two weeks after, when he saw the rushes, he said he loved it.
Light Sensitive: I guess it’s appropriate, given the French took him much more seriously as a director.
Cécile de France: He chooses clever subjects and he dares to shoot it as he wants to and not following the Hollywood rules. For example, in the film, for me the European touch is the use of silence. He takes his time, the breath, the pause, and that’s very European. But there’s also a lot of movement and choreography. When I saw the film, the camera is in perpetual motion. He really takes his time.
It’s very brave and the fact he kept the French language, because it’s well known how American audiences don’t really want to watch movies with subtitles. Clint did the same with Letters from Iwo Jima. For us French speakers, it’s very rare, too, but it’s also believable and realistic and it’s good for us.
Light Sensitive: Did you read a lot of literature about people who had near death experiences?
Cécile de France: I read a lot of testimonials from people who had near death experiences, and I read a lot of people, like Elisabeth Kubler Ross. Most people know people who have these kind of experiences, which was very interesting for me, because it’s a huge mystery and I love mystery. It’s like the film. It does not change my mind. After you’ve seen the film, you don’t think about Heaven.
Light Sensitive: How did you go about physically, emotionally, projecting the Marie’s inner turmoil?
Cécile de France: She’s upset and she’s completely overwhelmed that her life has been turned upside down. She can’t talk about it with somebody else, and everybody thinks she’s out of her mind and she can’t really find the words to describe her sensation. It’s very painful; she loses the job that she loves. It’s very close to other sensation. It’s a real relief for her. When she knows that she’s not crazy, she decides to continue her research on the subject. She’s trying to fulfill her life, give meaning to her actions, find happiness, different concepts regarding her new goals and she will profit. It’s a journey of discovery. In the end she profits; a beautiful life is waiting for her at the end of her journey, so it’s a little bit romantic.
Light Sensitive: Are these issues or thoughts you’ve grappled with in your own life?
Cécile de France: For me death is part of life, and I’m very open-minded. I’m very tolerant. I prefer not having an answer. I don’t have an opinion. I think it’s good that we cannot control everything. Because as human beings, we always want to control everything. It’s not our domain. It’s better to be open but not all the time wanting to control. I don’t have an opinion. I just want to enjoy the present. I’m not preoccupied by this kind of thinking, but I’m very curious to see if science can explain it. Is it real or not, if it’s not a neurological thing or not.
Light Sensitive: Do you think about what being in a high profile American film directed by Clint Eastwood and playing opposite Matt Damon, what that might mean for the rest of your career?
Cécile de France: For me the most important to have three criteria: a very good character, where I can enjoy myself; a script that I need to fall in love with; and a director who impresses me and somebody I want to work with. I don’t care if it’s in America, Europe, Africa or Asia. If this film opens more doors, that’s cool.
(Filled with mirror images and water, conflating one with death, the other rebirth.)