Last night I went to the US premiere of Gus Van Sant’s new film Restless, shown at the Museum of the Moving Image. To prepare for the film, I watched To Die For and Milk last Saturday and Good Will Hunting on Tuesday. Each film impacted me more than the last, with each film making me cry a little more (I don’t think I cried at all during To Die For, though; after all, it IS a comedy). Restless left me with a steady stream of tears flowing down the side of my face, a sniffling nose and a definite lump in my throat – and yet I was also smiling during the credits. As one audience member noted, Restless had a real “sweetness” to it. (“Not that I don’t expect sweetness from you,” the guy added.)
I think what’s really great about Gus Van Sant’s films is that they often revolve around young people but their stories are handled in a smart way. Henry Hopper, who was 19 during filming, and Mia Wasikowska, who was 20, convey both the confusion of being a young person and the maturity of understanding what real love is. I was reminded of Joaquin Phoenix’s heartbreaking performance in To Die For, except that the characters in Restless show more range.
After the film there was a dialogue and Q&A with Gus Van Sant (who was wearing really awesome sneakers) and cinematographer Harris Savides, who worked with Van Sant not just on Restless but also on Milk (2008), Last Days (2005), Elephant (2003), Gerry (2002) and Finding Forrester (2000). (Savides also photographed one of my favorite films from last year, Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg.) Savides said that his approach was all about simplicity, not to be overly stylized and distract from the film itself. Van Sant talked about his hope and optimism for the future of independent cinema. He mentioned an anecdote about Ron Howard in which Howard said that “every film was a disappointment,” with regard to the final product never being exactly what was originally envisioned by the screenwriter(s). “Is that what they talk about?” Van Sant asked to the laughter of the audience, since it was apparently something Howard had said in conversation with Restless writer Jason Lew. Van Sant disagreed with that outlook, preferring to be positive about his oeuvre. He and Savides also talked about their respect for the films of Frederick Wiseman, Béla Tarr, Terrence Malick and Chantal Akerman (Jeanne Dielman is a particular influence) and the photography of William Eggleston (who has a cameo in Restless as an x-ray technician). Perhaps most interesting of all, Van Sant discussed his predilection for depicting incongruity in his films (like the opening credits of To Die For, I thought), noting that life itself is often incongruous and unpredictable. All in all it was a great night!