Saturday, January 26, 2008

Blindness (Pt 1)

Portugese fluent readers may already know what's coming up in these Blindness posts but those of you who are, like me, limited to one or two other tongues, will want to read on. I've had loyal TFE reader Felippe send me a rundown of what's going on over at Fernando Meirelles Blindness blog. What follows is a mix of his paraphrasing with my editing and commentary --if I'm obviously taking over the text is in red.

Meirelles (well known for City of God and The Constant Gardener) has been documenting his film adaptation of the great novel of the same name by José Saramago (one of the best I've read in the past several years). I'll try to tone down the spoilers but some will undoubtedly escape.

But before we begin, a bit more on the movie: Meirelles has enlisted a heavyweight cast and team, including his City of God cinematographer and editor (both of whom were Oscar nominated alongside him for that breakthrough film). The new film stars Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore as a doctor and his wife and the film is about a blindness epidemic, known as the "white sickness". The doctor being one of the first humans to fall ill to it. Don McKellar (who also wrote the screenplay), Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover, Sandra Oh and Alice Braga have supporting roles. The Miramax film is due in theaters in August... perhaps chasing the Constant Gardener release pattern?


Post 1 Meirelles informs that they'll be filming for seven weeks in a prison in Tonto. He also tells us that he tried to buy the rights to the novel back in '97 but Saramago wasn't selling so he opted to make City of God instead. He doesn't know why the author changed his mind but when Meirelles got the rights he secured international financing to prevent Hollywood studio interference. Smart move! If you've read the book you'll know that it's quite unHollywood. To give you a picture of how relentless it can be, lets put it on a Cormac McCarthy curve: it's a smidgeon bleaker than No Country For Old Men but quite a lot happier than The Road (which is also going before cameras soon)

Post 2 Lunch with the author. Saramago, is described as tall, healthy and lovely. Saramago says that the Cão de Lágrimas (the dog in the book) must be big, and he is very pleased to hear about the casting of Danny Glover. Meirelles said that Danny Glover and Jose Saramago are quite alike (???) Meirelles thought that Saramago would not be interested in the film adapatation because he once said that cinema destroys imagination. As it turns out he is interested in this film and wants to know when he can see some of it. The other lunch guests are lost in translation. Only Meirelles and Saramago speak Portuguese.

Post 3 SPOILERS Julianne Moore is shocked (upset?) to learn that she has to film one of the books most harrowing sequences (a rape followed by a murder) out of order. Through his head-phone Meirelles hears Julie preparing for the scene: breathing heavily, then crying, then crying desperately. In the first shot she was carried away by emotion, screaming her text. Everyone was shocked (including Mark Ruffalo) and carried away by Julie's emotion reacted in a similar way. Unfortunately that was not the tone that the director wanted for the doctor (Ruffalo), so they had to redo the scene. To keep Julie in the mood for the scene, the director opted not to fix the mic problems they were having. In the end, they did the scene at least eight times. Meirelles chose Moore's fourth take, and Ruffalo's eighth. Julianne got the right tone easily, Mark took a bit longer. Oh, Mark you troublemaker! Kidding, we love. You really shouldn't still be waiting for that first Oscar nomination.

Post 4 In this post Meirelles discusses charisma. "Where does it come from?" The director cites Sandra Oh as an actor full of it. He did not know that she was an actor when they first met but he was with her presence. She asked for a small role in Blindness, so they wrote a few lines for the character Minister of Justice. He said that the minimal role became a great role, that is the power of a great actor like Oh. Meirelles also mentions that he expands the role of the pharmacists assistant (played by Mpho Koaho) due to the actor's charisma. Now, if only Meirelles could time travel back to 2004 and beef up Oh's role in Sideways. It's still sad that she was so ignored while the rest of the cast kept winning honors.

please note: as it turns out Twitch Film has translated this Portugese post "on charism" in full --if you want more details on it, is here.

Post 5 The prison shoot in Canada is over. That was the most difficult piece dramatically, but technically easy. The shooting in Montevideo and Sao Paulo will be harder because they will outdoors. The production hired an actor instructor to do a workshop for the extras that will be playing the blind. Meirelles doesn't want the movie to look like a Night of the Living Dead remake. Hee. I'm glad Meirelles has a sense of humor about this thing because, like I said: B-L-E-A-K. But just to prove my point, let's do one more.

Post 6 In which Meirelles wants there to be more fecal matter everywhere. more s%*! The director wasn't happy enough with the amount of excrement in the set, so he asked for it to be a lot messier. I can smell an art direction nod, coming can't you? But in all seriousness... it's one thing to read disturbing things in a novel. It's another to see them visualized. I'm fearful of how much we can take when I think of just that tiny bit of onscreen excrement in The Savages which was completely disgusting. A whole set filled with it? Oh dear. He then discusses civilization, and says that after reading Blindness, he thought of society as a complex but very fragile entity. He is also retaining the books choice to not give the character's names (i.e. "the doctor", "the doctor's wife", etcera). Once they can't be visually distinguished because they are all blind they don't need them. Meirelles is working to emphasize the character relationships in the film, while trying to avoid making a tear-jerker.

Continue on to part 2
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21 comments:

Derek said...

Thanks for the translations! I didn't know anything about this story, but it sounds quite interesting.

Robert said...

Damn, this is gonna be bleak. Nice post though.

filmfan said...

Julianne and Mark and Meirelles will ROCK.

Anonymous said...

palme d'or maybe?

steve said...

So pumped for this.

I just finished reading Saramago's The Gospel According to Jesus Christ... it was wonderful, if you're looking for a follow-up.

NATHANIEL R said...

Saramago actually wrote a sequel to this book called SEEING but i haven't talked to anybody who has read it yet

Rural Juror said...

Thanks! I cannot wait.

Anonymous said...

A) I love that charisma post. There we know who's gonna win the Oscar (Forget it, Winslet. Try supporting for The Reader).

B) I love the way Meirelles is absolutely anti-hitchcockian (I love Hitchcock, too). He enters the set and makes a lot of experiences, incorporates improvisation from actors (gotta love Gael García Bernal here) and tries a lot of alternatives. The post about editing is superb.

c) Too bad we don't have full translation for all the posts. I am not also a Portuguese-native speaker either (I have been living in Brazil for 3 years), but, even with my broken Portuguese I can see he is a great writer with a very bright sense of humor. I'd like him to publish this and that The Constant Gardener blog, maybe a DVD-extra.

- cal roth

Anonymous said...

1) Danny Glover and Saramago are alike because they're both very big man and full of energy.

2) Julie is upset

3) Yes, he didn't know Sandra Oh.

4) In this post 5, Meirelles says that actors were using blind contact lenses. Meirelles helps Ruffalo to walk a long way, only to discover Ruffalo was faking it. Meirelles couldn't realize the joke even from a 20 inches distance. Ruffalo for the Oscar!

- cal roth

John P. said...

It's kind of interesting to think that Don McKellar might finally get Oscar traction. He's either written or acted in essentially every Canadian film ever made and I figured he would be better known by now.

Anonymous said...

Loved the novel. I'll be very interested to see what Gael García Bernal does with his very nasty character. Thanks for the translations.

david m

Vinícius P. said...

Ok, my english is very bad, but...

Meirelles did not know that Oh was an actor YEARS ago, when he met her in Cannes - beside Alexander Payne.

NATHANIEL R said...

oh gotcha.

Anonymous said...

David M, according to Meirelles, Bernal's performance will be essentially comic, like a irresponsible spoiled boy after smoking some pot - his cluelessness is supposed to be both charming and scary. This change from the book has something to do with nail-painting. Wait and see.

-cal roth

pivo (from rio, brazil) said...

If it keeps Meirelles' curse of ONLY 4 Oscar noms per film, I'd predict La Moore(leading actress), Danny Glover(supporting actor - his first nomination!), adapted screenplay and editing. But art direction?... Remember "Children of men"'s recent snub. Maybe in the Film Bitch Awards...


P.S.: Speaking of 9th Film Bitch Awards, Sandra Oh and Gael Garcia Bernal look antecipated threats in the cameo fields.

lawyer tony fernando said...

I love fernando´s blog activities, ha , when he was shooting his latest movie he mentioned how it was the casting process to get his Teesa, he mentioned Kate Winslet´s beauty, Eva Green´s attitude and that Natalie Portman refused to read the lines of Teesa to him, he also mentioned Sarah Polley as well. So Nat who´s translating this to you?

Middento said...

thankyouthankyouthankyounathaniel!!!!

Anonymous said...

from cal roth:
"This change from the book has something to do with nail-painting. Wait and see."

Wow, that is surprising and has me very curious.

thanks, david m

M said...

THANKYOU! I finished the book last night and I found the whole blog thingie but had no idea what it said =)

amir_uk said...

Wow, didn't make the connection that Blindness is an adaptation of the Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago's novel. Officially cannot wait for this now. I love The Constant Gardener more and more as time passes, though still not a fan of City of God.

I hope Ruffalo is nomination-worthy, my god he is overdue. And Moore obviously. And I love what he says about Oh - she really intrigues me as an actor. This is all so exciting.

beth said...

For the poster who mentioned Seeing... It is a sequel I guess...but not in the typical sense. It's like 4 years later, and it's not until about halfway through the book that the events of Blindness are mentioned. Still, it's as amazing as the first... And I bawled like a baby at the end. :(