[9 December 2007]
If you didn’t know that Interview was actually a remake of a 2003 Dutch film by director Theo Van Gogh, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an adaptation of a stage play. Both the movie’s style and substance have a certain theatrical simplicity: more than an hour of its slight 84-minute runtime takes place in a single location, as the two main characters work their way through a conversation that is partly an intellectual battle of wits, a con game, a confession, and a test of sexual attraction. When a movie is based entirely on a dialogue between two strong-willed people, all we can ask is that they are interesting and that we can relate to and understand, however marginally, their viewpoints. The problem with Interview is that only the first one is true.
Pierre (Steve Buscemi) is a journalist assigned to write a meaningless puff piece on Katya (Sienna Miller), a B-list starlet famous for her roles on a vapid TV soap opera and in a series of slasher movies. He’s upset that he’s been given this job instead of being sent to Washington, D.C. to cover a breaking political scandal. Katya, on the other hand, is annoyed that Pierre is so clearly disinterested and isn’t even making a token effort to interview her. Their initial meeting in a New York City restaurant is a disaster, and after he’s involved in a minor car accident, Katya takes him back to her loft to get him cleaned up.
And so begins a long, winding argument between the two, although both participants are intentionally cryptic about what it is that they’re arguing about. On the most obvious level it’s about sex. Katya taunts Pierre that he wants to sleep with her and dares him to kiss her. Is she right that Pierre is seriously attracted to her despite ridiculing her intelligence and her taste? Maybe, although Katya, a beautiful young woman who works in show business, probably suspects that the subtext of every conversation with a man is the desire to have sex with her.
Things get creepier when Katya reveals that Pierre reminds her of her deceased father, and Pierre in turn says that she reminds him of his daughter who died of a heroin overdose. These are clearly two damaged people with emotional scars and secrets that they might only be able to confess to a stranger. And then there’s another self-referential level to their dialogue: Pierre admits to Katya that “I know you more by your reputation” (Katya’s response: “You mean by who I’m fucking?”), and likewise Sienna Miller is more famous for her relationship with Jude Law and for being a familiar face in the tabloids after Law’s affair with his nanny than she is for any of her film roles.
Buscemi not only plays Pierre but is also the film’s director and co-writer. His style here is simple and unobtrusive, relying on handheld cameras that remove the sense that we’re watching a film and instead are simply spying on two people. He also employs a high-contrast look to the cinematography that draws out the beauty of New York City and Katya’s loft in particular, which looks like it costs the gross national product of a developing country (among its special features are a giant sink in the living area which stores several large plants and a bathroom wallpapered with vintage erotica). And both Buscemi and Miller are capable of revealing their characters moment by moment, developing them from the stereotypes we’re introduced to at first.
But the more time we spend with them, the more it becomes clear that Pierre and Katya are too strange and too duplicitous for their conversation to have any deeper level than simply skewering the vapidity of most celebrity journalism. We can’t relate to these two characters enough for Interview to work as a metaphor for the claustrophobia of emotional intimacy or as a battle of the sexes. Both of them are natural liars – she’s an actress, after all, and he’s a journalist whose credibility has taken a blow for fabricating stories – but the possibility that they’re being dishonest and manipulating each other only makes the film less interesting. If we’re going to spend over an hour watching two characters argue back and forth, I think we deserve to arrive at some sort of truth rather than just a cheap twist ending that makes us question how much of what we’ve seen was real.
The DVD includes an audio commentary from Buscemi and two forgettable special features titled “Interview: Behind the Scenes” and “Triple Theo: Take One”. The latter highlights the work of Theo Van Gogh, the director of the original Dutch film that Interview was based on, but aside from a brief comment by Buscemi that Van Gogh was killed in 2004, nobody is willing to confront the elephant in the room: Van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim extremist after making derogatory remarks against Islam, and his death unleashed a wave of anti-Islamic fervor in Europe. Maybe the fragile relationship between indigenous Europeans and Muslim immigrants is too complex and weighty an issue to be seriously discussed in a DVD special feature, but it’s nevertheless a glaring omission and a sign that the feature is more interested in promoting the movie than seriously discussing his life and work.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/interview1/