En­vi­ron­men­tal an­guish

In her lat­est, Amer­ica’s ‘”film-maker poet lau­re­ate” Kelly Reichardt is – oh no! – having a go at ecow­ar­riors. “We had to put our own po­lit­i­cal agen­das aside and hun­ker down,” she tells Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

In the new film Night Moves, three Ore­gon-based eco-war­riors, as es­sayed by Jesse Eisen­berg, Dakota Fan­ning and Peter Sars­gaard, watch anx­iously from a small boat, as a car pulls up. The tri­umvi­rate of ac­tivists have just planted a bomb un­der a land­scape-de­stroy­ing dam. But they hadn’t counted on fa­tal­i­ties. Should they re­turn to the scene of the crime and dis­arm the ex­plo­sive? Or should they chalk it up as col­lat­eral dam­age?

There’s noth­ing like an un­ex­ploded bomb to keep an au­di­ence in pal­pa­tions. But it is an un­ex­pected de­vice – in ev­ery sense – to find in a Kelly Reichardt pic­ture. Does she has a favourite use of the trope? “It has to be Bat­tle of Algiers,” she says. “It’s all about the de­tails. You don’t re­mem­ber the ex­plo­sion. You re­mem­ber her lit­tle foot push­ing the bag un­der the chair.”

De­tails mat­ter for Reichardt. Over the past 10 years, she has es­tab­lished her­self as Amer­ica’s fore­most prac­ti­tioner of slow cinema. Her work is far more redo­lent of Ira­nian or Turk- ish art­house, than of any of her compatriot­s’ out­put.

“I do love Ira­nian and Turk­ish films,” says Reichardt. “It’s just a pace I can re­late to. I don’t con­sider what I’m do­ing to be slow cinema. But I con­sider a lot of new films too fast for me. I want to sink in to things. And I always think: ‘can’t you just trust me as an adult? Can’t you stop wav­ing in my face to keep me en­ter­tained?’ So I treat my au­di­ence the way I want to be treated.”

In this spirit, Reichardt con­sis­tently de­con­structs genre and au­di­ence ex­pec­ta­tions: Old Joy is an alt-coun­try bal­lad ri­poste to the men-chil­dren who pop­u­late the Apa­tow bro­mance mi­lieu. Meek’s Cut­off pares back the western to its most arid and tac­tile. Wendy and Lucy is a stalled road trip fea­tur­ing only a girl and her dog. The films have all been crit­i­cally lauded, have played at Sun­dance, Venice and Ber­lin, and won hat­fuls of awards. Reichardt her­self has re­ceived a Guggen­heim Fel­low­ship and is an artist-in-res­i­dence at New York’s Bard Col­lege.

In the­ory, Night Moves, a po­lit­i­cal thriller, ought to be the direc­tor’s most main­stream of­fer­ing to date. In prac­tice, it’s a thornier prospect. The new film’s char­ac­ters, de­spite good in­ten­tions, are a ghastly bunch: Sars­gaard’s H isn’t nearly as smart as he main­tains, Fan­ning’s con­vic­tions are shaky and funded by her wealthy par­ents, Eisen­berg’s Josh is as cold-blooded as he is self-in­ter­ested.

I have a the­ory. Does Josh lose his mind as the pic­ture goes on, I won­der? Is he re­ally con­vers­ing with H or is it all in his head?

“That’s an in­ter­est­ing idea,” laughs Reichardt. “But I don’t think of Josh as having that much of an imag­i­na­tion. He’s kind of this su­per fun­da­men­tal­ist. But a fun­da­men­tal­ist on the left. He has an over­ar­ch­ing con­fi­dence in his ide­ol­ogy and his de­ci­sion mak­ing and in his take on things. He doesn’t think be­yond that.”

Reichardt has a rep­u­ta­tion as an ac­tor’s direc­tor, who has coaxed ca­reer best per­for­mances from Michelle Wil­liams, Will Old­ham, and Zoe Kazan. The process of di­rect­ing Jesse Eisen­berg was a lit­tle more col­lab­o­ra­tive, she says. In or- der to get into char­ac­ter the ac­tor moved into the Port­land farm­ing co­op­er­a­tive de­picted in the film.

“He will ask you more ques­tions than you could imag­ine,” says the direc­tor. “Jon Ray­mond, my writ­ing part­ner, and I went out to the farm, which is owned by friends of ours, to see Jesse. We all went to an ac­tivist meet­ing to­gether and we in­cor­po­rated some ideas Jesse had. That’s not nor­mal for us. We like to stick to the script. But process never stops for him.”

Reichardt’s fifth fea­ture has not nec­es­sar­ily

Left to their own de­vice: Dakota Fan­ning and Jesse Eisen­berg in Night Moves. Be­low: Fan­ning and Eisen­berg with direc­tor Kelly Reichardt

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