Mike Mills: “All of my movies are about communicating with someone I really love”
The director explains how fatherhood shaped his latest film and how creating space is an integral part of his creative vision.
FFrom Thumbsucker’s turbulent adolescence to the rediscovered family of 20th century women, Mike Mills creates thoughtful portraits of complex relationships. The same goes for his fourth feature, C’mon C’mon, in which radio host Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) forges a bond with his nine-year-old nephew Jesse (Woody Norman) after family disputes have them. reunited.
LWLies: Beginners and 20th century women are very ingrained in your family experiences. Is it the same for C’mon C’mon?
Mills: It definitely started with my child, Hopper. There are a lot of scenes of things that have happened between me and my kid, but it’s a little different this time because it’s the first time I’ve dealt with someone who is alive and someone. one who is a child. I had to find a way to create some distance, like the uncle part of the story, and the idea that Johnny and Jesse don’t really know each other. But there are some nuggets that are really my kid.
The strange spiritual craziness of writing means that you are not in control of what is going on and things to come and you don’t know exactly why. The way I work with actors, I need them to make it their own. So I do all I can to give them. Woody is not my child, but there is something beautiful about this exchange, with him bringing his soul and his psyche, his story, his timing and his humor. Take my version of my own kid and run with it.
How did Hopper react when you explained that you were going to make a movie about your relationship?
My child has never met my parents and has not seen any of my films. They consider me to be the mother of my child [Miranda July] be very good filmmakers, but Wes Anderson – there’s a real director. At one point, I told them about my parents and those movies, and I said something like, “A human being is a crazy, complicated, fluid, ever-changing, multilevel, contradictory cosmos,” and in each of those movies, if i can get just one slice of it, i’m really lucky. But that’s only a slice. There is so much more going on. When I said to Hopper, I said, “I’m thinking of making a movie that starts with us” and they said, “You mean when a person is really huge, like a cosmos, and you don’t get than a slice? So Hopper fully understands what’s going on.
It must be nice for Hopper to have this movie to come back when they’re older and see this version of them.
Yeah, it’s as much Woody as Hopper, but who knows… You know the whole story of Christopher Robin and his daddy?
Christopher Robin hated his father, hated all the Winnie the Pooh books. He thought they had stolen his likeness, his name and his childhood. He never wanted anything to do with them, didn’t want to talk to his father, all of that. So it’s my great fear, that something like this will happen. I hope Hopper doesn’t care too much. Hope they understand the love that was there and how much I loved my time with them. But I also hope they’re their own filmmaker and think, “Daddy, you were cute, but I’m making much better movies now. ” That’s the point.
You mentioned a moment ago the process of collaboration between you and your actors which is an integral part of your films. What time did the actors enter the creation process this time around?
I wrote the whole script and thought I was done, but I never really finished. I am always looking for a way to improve it. I wanted Joaquin, but you can’t think you’re going to have Joaquin. I have friends who worked with him, I know from Spike [Jonze] how hard it was to have Joaquin. So we met and he very kindly told me he didn’t know how to do him justice; so no. And I completely fell in love with him. Fortunately, he was interested in the field. I kept him engaged, and we kind of hit it off. I think we made each other laugh, it’s that simple.
Finally, he was sitting here in my house, and we were reading the script over and over again, with me playing all the other parts. Totally intimidating. But we would feel it from experience, and one of us would have a question every few inches of text. We just kept working on it, questioning everything. It was awesome. I haven’t done that much with Gaby [Hoffman], because by the time she got on board, I had already done it with Joaquin. But Gaby and Joaquin were my first choices. I have loved their work for many years and never knew one of them so it was a good thing.
“For me, remembering is one of the most valuable human behaviors. And to remember something together is love.
There is this incredible intelligence and warmth, but also the weariness of the world in Woody Norman’s performance. You really understand him as a full human being. It’s like looking at a 40-year-old man inside the body of a nine-year-old.
You described it very well; that’s what it’s like to be with my child, and many other children, as an adult. Developmentally, they are different, but they are no less so. This is one of the themes of the film, with the other children we interview and with the character of Woody. The premise of the film develops enough to treat children as fully valid, legitimate and equal. I think our culture does so many things that this is not the case; we make kids cute, we make kids stupid, we make kids simple. And they’re none of those things.
C’mon C’mon is so much the families who want to understand each other, to be seen and heard by each other. A lot of it is also down to the sound design of the movie and the fact that we’re constantly being asked to listen to the city, breathe, and just be there.
It’s only sound, but also space. I love the Wim Wenders movie Alice in the Cities, and there is a lot of space in this movie. A great hero for me is Erik Satie, I love his piano pieces – being able to walk between notes and not being sort of dominated by the music. I try to make Satie movements at all times. There is this movie of [Ermanno] Olmi, The Fiances, which is amazing. There are no tight strings in this film. Everything is rather casual, like a fabric. It’s part of the editing, of the sound; wanting to hear real things. My blender, Zach Seivers, has a soft touch and is a true naturalist. There is actually more sound added in this movie than in my last two movies combined.
And you worked with Aaron and Bryce Dessner again, after collaborating on “I Am Easy to Find” by The National.
Yes, fortunately, they are very patient because it is a long process. You know, in some ways I think they understood the movie better than I did. The sweetness and the heart. I was trying to move it around to do other things and they were like, “You can relax, Mike, you can make it this very smooth and minimal thing.” When I hear it now, I feel like I hear the sound of Johnny and Jesse together. The sound of their relationship. Emotions and sound are really linked.
What did going to these places and meeting all these kids give you a glimpse of what it’s like to be young in America right now?
In the movie, you hear something from every kid, but we did a 40 minute interview with each of them, so that’s just the tip of every iceberg. Sometimes it’s a little bit misleading… The girl from New Orleans who says she wishes she could change her anger, it’s a pretty funny moment, but what makes her angry in real life is incredibly tragic and intense. We did these interviews almost every day throughout the shoot. We started with a list of questions, but the conversation always took turns. The film production is often “Go go go! Get Get Get! ‘ but it wasn’t that – it was practicing ‘being’.
There’s a really lovely moment towards the end of the movie where Jesse says to Johnny, “Am I going to remember all of this? »Do you think that every film you make is an act of conservation?
Holy shit yes. For me, remembering is one of the most valuable human behaviors. And then to remember something together – it’s love. It’s as intimate and meaningful as it gets. Because the memory is screwed up. It is not a fact. It’s very fragile and fluid, and a lot of my films come from memory, so I spend a lot of time trying to remember. But the more you try to remember, the more it goes. All of my films are about me communing with someone I really love, who really confuses me, and that’s a real mystery. I’m trying to understand them a little better. It’s presenting a version of myself to someone I love and trying to keep it in my best light.
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