November 23, 2010
Avarice, murder, love and lunacy
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“All Good Things,” slated for a Dec. 10 release, is based on events in the life of Robert Durst, son of a real estate tycoon. Durst was suspected of murder, though never tried, when his wife disappeared in 1982.
Director Andrew Jarecki explained that the writers fictionalized the characters for the film, so that the Durst family became the Marks family, including David Marks (Ryan Gosling), his wife, Katie (Kirsten Dunst), and David’s father, Sanford Marks (Frank Langella).
The story follows David as, after his wife’s disappearance, he eventually lands in Galveston, Texas, where he lives in a $300-a-month apartment and pretends to be a mute woman. He befriends a drifter named Melvin Bump (Philip Baker Hall), who seems willing to help when David’s old friend Deborah Lehrman (Lily Rabe) starts pressuring him for money when she is contacted by the police and asked to be a witness in their reopened investigation of Katie’s disappearance 18 years after the incident. Before she has a chance to meet with the authorities, Lehrman is found murdered in her home. Soon afterward, Bump is found dismembered, and David is tried for his murder, but is not convicted.
Jarecki is the director responsible for the highly honored documentary “Capturing the Friedmans,” which dealt with a father and son imprisoned on charges of child sexual abuse.
“I’m certainly interested in monster stories,” Jarecki said. “I’m interested in people who have been portrayed in the media as these burlesque characters in some way, or in somebody who’s viewed as being insane or a diabolical criminal, or somebody who’s been seen as a sex-crazed maniac.
“For me, what’s interesting about those stories, usually, is that you understand that these people who have these remarkable histories also had a mother and also had hopes and dreams as a child, and had plans for themselves and expectations that they were going to grow up and do something great in the world.”
While Jarecki didn’t feel this project would be well served by being done in a documentary style, he did undertake the kind of extensive research that he conducted for “Friedmans.”
“We made enormous numbers of lists of everybody who had anything to do with the story or who could shed any light on the characters,” Jarecki said, “and that could be somebody that’s a schoolteacher of one of the people in the film, or it could be somebody that was a detective that investigated the murder.
“Maybe it’s just our background as documentarians, but my creative partner Mark [Smerling] and I said that the first thing we ought to do is try to understand the story. People you talk to in Hollywood will say that somebody has written an article about it already if it’s a big case or a famous story, and so all you have to do is go buy the article, and then you can write the screenplay from the article. But we said we didn’t know if that was really going to satisfy us, because what we’re trying to do is get to some universal truth,” Jarecki added.
While both this film and “Friedmans” deal with Jewish families, Jarecki said he doesn’t think the essence of “All Good Things” is in any way exclusively Jewish.
“I think that’s an aspect of it, but there’s certainly a universality to this story that has more to do with class and worship of things like power and money, perhaps to the exclusion of love and faith.”
Love is very much at the core of “Barney’s Version,” which depicts some 40 years in the life of Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti), a seemingly average man, as he goes through the various stages of life we all experience: births, marriages, deaths. The film begins its Los Angeles engagement Jan. 14, with a one-week Oscar qualifying run that starts Dec. 3.
Giamatti described his character as a very particular kind of Everyman who is driven by an uncontainable degree of passion. “I think he’s got this enormous amount of romantic vitality and energy in him that he doesn’t know how to control, and he tries to fit into a box, into a much more bourgeois, middle-class box than he thought he was probably going to fit into in his life, but he does. And I think he’s just bursting at the seams all the time with this kind of romantic view of things and this vitality that takes hold of things all the time, but he lives in a civilized world, so he can’t be an animal. He’d like to be, but he can’t be, so there’s a lot of tension.”
The film is based on a novel by the late author Mordecai Richler and is primarily set in the Jewish community of Montreal, Quebec. It is a world that producer Robert Lantos described as rather isolated from the mainstream.
“There’s a lot of overt anti-Semitism, historically, in Quebec society. It’s not palpable like it was when I first moved to Montreal and started living there. In 1963, it was still around. Now it’s kind of gone more underground to the extent that it’s still there. But there’s a history of that that doesn’t exist in America. It doesn’t exist in the rest of Canada, either,” Lantos said.
According to Lantos, Richler was the enfant terrible of the Jewish community in his youth because he kept making fun of the Jewish elite, while in the novelist’s more mature years he took on the Quebec separatist, nationalist movement. The producer first encountered Richler’s work when he read “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” which was compulsory reading in high school in Montreal. When he saw that book made into a movie, he realized that he, too, could make films. His relationship with Richler was formed in the early 1980s, when Lantos produced the adaptation of the novelist’s book, “Joshua Then and Now.” The producer credits Richler with being a seminal influence on his own life and work.
“He was the most loyal friend you could possibly have. He was a loyal father and husband. He was somebody you did not want as an enemy, because he was incredibly vengeful, and would never, ever, let a grudge go. He would hold on to grudges for life. He had an extraordinary dry and wonderful sense of humor. His knife cut real sharp, and the pen was his knife. So, if he went to town on a character, he would carve him up like the finest sushi chef and spare nothing. Mordecai was a wonderful satirist, one of the great satirists of all time, and he wrote about that which he knew,” Lantos said.