Af­ter a decade in the bar­gain bin, Nic Cage is back at his bat­shit best in MANDY, an in­fer­nal, mind-melt­ing rock opera of re­venge from cult film­maker Panos Cos­matos. TF meets the team putting Cage Rage back on the agenda…

Total Film - - Contents - Words Jor­dan Far­ley

Nic Cage un­leashed. Cray!

I’m not in­ter­ested in re­al­ity as it is,” chuck­les Panos Cos­matos, the Cana­dian-Ital­ian writer/di­rec­tor with a name nearly as good as his as­ton­ish­ing films. If you’ve seen Cos­matos’ vi­sion­ary 2010 de­but, psy­che­delic sci-fi hor­ror Be­yond The Black Rain­bow, that state­ment will come as no sur­prise. Now, Cos­matos is back with Mandy, a film that blends ul­tra-vi­o­lent B-movie re­venge, ex­tra-di­men­sional ter­ror and an ’80s metal al­bum cover aes­thetic, while gift­ing Nic Cage his best role, in his best film, for al­most a decade.

So spe­cific was Cos­matos’ vi­sion for Mandy that he waited eight years to get it made. “They say ‘don’t put your eggs in one bas­ket’, but I did any­way,” smiles the di­rec­tor, who’s in high spir­its talk­ing to To­tal Film less than 24 hours af­ter his film’s Fes­ti­val de Cannes de­but was greeted with ec­static ap­plause last­ing the length of the cred­its, and be­yond. A shy, softly spo­ken film geek turned film­maker, you could imag­ine Cos­matos and Guillermo del Toro hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions that would spill into the early hours. “It was a mad thing to do in ret­ro­spect, but I was like, ‘This is what I want to make next.’” Thank­fully, Cos­matos found the ideal part­ner in Eli­jah Wood’s pro­duc­tion com­pany Spec­treVi­sion (The Greasy Stran­gler), who gave the far from com­mer­cial film­maker the breath­ing space he needed. Chang­ing PlaCes

But not be­fore the film al­most fell at the first hur­dle, when Cos­matos’ first choice for Jeremiah Sand – the mes­sianic cult leader who abducts Andrea Rise­bor­ough’s epony­mous Mandy – turned the part down. “When Panos and I met, he had seen me in Li­nus’ [Roache] role, as the leader of the cult,” says Nic Cage, talk­ing to TF over the phone with the ice-cool ca­dence of Wild At Heart’s Sailor Ri­p­ley. “I saw my­self as Red, be­cause I felt I had the life ex­pe­ri­ence and the mem­o­ries to play the part hon­estly.”

Set in 1983, the film sees lum­ber­jack Red Miller spend­ing his days top­pling trees in the Pa­cific North­west and his nights cud­dling up to Mandy, a fan­tasy-fic­tion-ob­sessed, prog-rocklov­ing il­lus­tra­tor whose oth­er­worldly mys­tery is em­pha­sised by the un­ex­plained scar run­ning down her left cheek. Cos­matos’ hes­i­ta­tion to cast Cage stemmed from the fact he en­vi­sioned Red and Mandy as a much younger cou­ple, a prob­lem Cage ac­cen­tu­ated by turn­ing up to their first meet­ing in Van­cou­ver “look­ing like Fa­ther Time”, with grey hair and beard from his role in Army Of One. “I was go­ing to play on this theme of age ver­sus youth,” Cos­matos ex­plains.

“It might have been too spe­cific.

The film works bet­ter breath­ing in a more mys­ti­cal way.”

A year af­ter re­al­is­ing his er­ror, Cos­matos cast Cage as Red, recon­ceiv­ing the char­ac­ter as an older, gen­tler soul. “It was a great phone call to get, be­cause I re­ally wanted to work with Panos, and I found him fas­ci­nat­ing,” says Cage, a fan since Black Rain­bow haunted his dreams for a week. “When I first met him, he was talk­ing about his mem­o­ries as a child – how he liked the look of his ac­tion fig­ures if the sun got too hot and the fig­ures melted. And then I thought about Be­yond The Black Rain­bow. There’s a re­ally way-out, creepy shot of this face al­most melt­ing. You see how sen­si­tive he is to those mem­o­ries. The art is com­ing from an or­ganic place.”

With Cage on board, Cos­matos and co-writer Aaron Ste­wart-Ahn tai­lored the part to Cage’s wild at heart sen­si­bil­ity, a screw-loose in­san­ity that film­mak­ers have failed to har­ness since Werner Her­zog last turned Cage’s whack-a-doo­dle dial up to 11 in Bad Lieu­tenant. “When we got him, I started to get re­ally en­er­gised about the char­ac­ter. I ac­tu­ally rewrote a bunch of di­a­logue to have lines that I wanted to hear Ni­co­las Cage say,” Cos­matos laughs. “I thought, ‘This can re­ally have a new life now.’”

Af­ter Mandy is taken by Sand’s sa­tanic cult, Red wit­nesses a hor­rific se­quence of events and re­turns home a bro­ken man. Slump­ing onto the toi­let, his de­spair erupts in a three-minute­long take as he glugs mouth­fuls of vodka straight from the bot­tle be­tween gut­tural cries, all while wear­ing a pair of faintly com­i­cal y-fronts. “When I saw the movie in Sun­dance, [au­di­ences] don’t know how to re­spond be­cause it was a lit­tle bit past the fourth wall,” Cage re­mem­bers. “I wanted it to be un­com­fort­able. I wanted it to be naked in its vul­ner­a­bil­ity.”

Staged in a brightly lit bath­room, this scene stands in stark con­trast to the ar­rest­ing vi­su­als em­ployed through­out the rest of the film. Shot on murky 16mm, Mandy is bathed in ev­ery colour of the black rain­bow – de­monic reds, ethe­real blues and jaun­dice yel­lows. “I al­ways in­tended it to have a colour-drenched, juicy feel­ing,” Cos­matos says with rel­ish. “Black Rain­bow and this film, I made for the 16-year-old ver­sion of my­self that would go to the theatre baked, and com­pletely lose my­self in the boil­ing grain. I’m try­ing to recreate the trance as­pect of a film like Apoc­a­lypse Now, where you’re drawn into this al­tered state of con­scious­ness.” Equally im­por­tant to this ef­fect is Jóhann Jóhanns­son’s stun­ning, apoc­a­lyp­tic, prog-rock in­fused score – the last by the great com­poser be­fore his un­timely death ear­lier this year.

‘i al­ways in­tended it to have a Colour-drenChed, juiCy feel­ing’ Panos Cos­matos

But there’s a rea­son it’s called Mandy and not Red (other than the fact Bruce Wil­lis had dibs). Mandy, the char­ac­ter, drives every­thing that hap­pens be­fore and af­ter her ab­duc­tion. “I wanted a re­venge film that or­bits around a per­son that’s been vic­timised,” says Cos­matos. Dig deeper, and you’ll dis­cover Mandy is a per­sonal piece of work. Both Black Rain­bow and Mandy were writ­ten, as Cos­matos tells it, at his low­est ebb fol­low­ing the death of his par­ents. To­gether they rep­re­sent Cos­matos’ grief, anger and even­tual ac­cep­tance of mon­u­men­tal loss – Black Rain­bow a suf­fo­cat­ing in­take of breath, Mandy a cathar­tic ex­hale. “The en­ergy of Black Rain­bow was very much in­spired by my mother, who was an ex­per­i­men­tal artist and loved na­ture,” Cos­matos con­sid­ers. “But she’s also present in the char­ac­ter of Mandy. And so is my wife.”

Cast­ing Mandy, there­fore, took on mon­u­men­tal im­por­tance for Cos­matos. “To me, she’s the soul of the whole movie. If she’s not mes­meric and in­trigu­ing, then it’s for noth­ing.” Iron­i­cally, Cos­matos found his muse while watch­ing Na­tional Trea­sure. Not the Nic

Cage trea­sure-hunt­ing film se­ries, but the

Rob­bie Coltrane Chan­nel 4 drama, which co-starred Rise­bor­ough. “She was so amaz­ing on that show. And then I’d also seen her in Obliv­ion, where she had this very can­tered pres­ence that re­ally cap­ti­vated me. So I knew she could do any­thing.” dun­geon dePths

Fol­low­ing an avant-garde open­ing hour that’s all at­mos­phere and es­ca­lat­ing dread, Mandy takes a dras­tic turn, mu­tat­ing into an out­ra­geously gory, hugely sat­is­fy­ing re­venge romp. Re­venge, in this case, a dish best served with a scoped cross­bow, a hand-forged chrome axe (in­spired by ’80s fan­tasy film Krull) and a chain­saw so im­plau­si­bly lengthy you could cleave five peo­ple si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Delv­ing deeper into some un­seen nether­world, Mandy ex­ists in its own di­men­sion, where the in­fer­nal and the ev­ery­day over­lap. “Part of the realm of the film is it’s seem­ingly a nor­mal re­al­ity, but then you start to see all these lit­tle facets of a myth­i­cal arte­fact, like the Tainted Blade and the Horn of Abraxis,” says Cos­matos who, per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, is a Dun­geons & Dragons fan. “There is a pos­si­bil­ity of con­jured de­mons in this world.”

The film also fea­tures an­i­mated se­quences, which chron­i­cle Mandy’s meta­phys­i­cal jour­ney af­ter her ab­duc­tion. In­spired by heavy metal comics and Ralph Bak­shi’s an­i­mated Lord Of The Rings, one of the first films Cos­matos ever saw, the heart of Mandy lies in these an­i­mated in­ter­ludes. “They’re about [Mandy] be­ing res­ur­rected in a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion, and driv­ing [Red’s] quest,” Cos­matos ex­plains. “I think of her as a god­dess and Jeremiah Sand as an evil wiz­ard. Un­wit­tingly, he’s cre­ated this en­tity that is more pow­er­ful than he can ever be. And on the earthly plain, Red Miller be­comes a demigod who does her bid­ding.” In Cage’s words, “[Red] starts as a nor­mal man and af­ter he be­comes, es­sen­tially, Ja­son Voorhees.”

As for what’s next, Cos­matos has noth­ing on the cards. But one thing’s for sure: he won’t be stick­ing to this plain of ex­is­tence. “I don’t ever want to make a movie that just takes place in our world. I want to con­tinue work­ing in the realm of hy­brid worlds of imag­i­na­tion.” And what a won­der­ful imag­i­na­tion it is.

mandy opens in cine­mas on 12 oc­to­ber, with a home en­ter­tain­ment re­lease on 29 oc­to­ber.

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