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Aug 31, 2013

[Article] Director Anne Fontaine has a desire for more than sexuality

Provocativeness isn't the point of Adore

The Gazette Film Critic
August 30, 2013

More than one taboo is smashed in Anne Fontaine’s racy new drama Adore, starring Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as a pair of 40-something moms who engage in simultaneous affairs with each other’s son. The film closes the Festival des films du monde on Monday, before opening in theatres Friday.

Based on Doris Lessing’s 2003 short story The Grandmothers, the film follows the paths of Lil (Watts) and Roz (Wright), who grow up as best friends on the idyllic shores of Australia. Decades later, history repeats as the women’s young adult sons surf, side by side, while their moms watch.

“Look at them,” Wright’s character says, in a moment of foreshadowing. “They’re like young gods.”

While aware of the provocativeness of her movie’s premise, Fontaine was more intrigued by the human emotions at its core. The French director (Coco avant Chanel) was enticed not just by the questionable decisions of her protagonists, but by the intimacy of their friendship.

“It’s an original, very unique love story between two women,” she said in a recent phone interview. “In the beginning, it’s this immersive relationship; then, as it continues, that love propagates itself to their sons, making it a foursome. When I read Doris Lessing’s story, I thought it was very troubling, and very powerful.”

Each of the women has her reasons for crossing the line. Roz is increasingly removed from her husband, who is considering a teaching job in Sydney. Lil is widowed, and lonely. The two are inseparable, even after this forbidden new world presents itself to them.

“It happens in a way that is impromptu, but their bond is so great that — and this, for me, was the most disturbing thing — it almost feels natural,” Fontaine said. “That’s how I wanted to shoot it: to make it ambivalent. It’s rich, because they want to go with it, but they know how perilous it is.

“They’re going toward a desire that is not coded or accepted, which can come back and smack them in the face. There’s an element of transgression, even if it’s indirect; but they know it’s something ephemeral that they want to hold on to. They want to immobilize time, their paradise, their youth, their children. There’s a subterranean melancholy in their not letting go of this feeling, of the miraculous Eden they have constructed together. They’re not afraid of the consequences or what it will provoke.”

Beyond the potential controversy of showing older women getting it on with younger men who are virtually their nephews, Fontaine pushes the envelope by portraying middle-aged women in a sexual way, period, and by hiring prominent Hollywood actors to play the parts. While she counts herself fortunate to have found her leading ladies, she was picky.

“It was important that they be very desirable women — ripe, mothers,” Fontaine said. “Today, 45 is like 35 was 20 years ago in terms of behaviour and sex appeal. I was lucky to find two actors who are sexier than most 20-year-olds. There’s a beauty that comes with age, but (the characters) know they won’t be that way their whole life. There’s a fragility, but at the same time a sensuality. It makes it sweeter.”

While Fontaine scored in getting major stars for her film, she was aware of bringing something to the table by offering Wright and Watts an opportunity to step outside the box older women are so often confined to. Their characters are not sex objects, but rather sexual beings with complexity, intelligence and agency.

“You don’t see those kinds of roles, especially in Hollywood,” Fontaine said. “As soon as actresses turn 30, they’re relegated to parts where their sex appeal disappears. I talked about it a lot with Robin and Naomi. They said it’s impossible to find parts like that.”

Fontaine landed Watts early in the production process, and was originally in talks with Julianne Moore to play Roz. When a scheduling conflict prevented her from coming on board, Moore suggested Wright. The director hesitated, initially.

“She always plays these reactionary, depressed, nervous characters,” Fontaine said. “She has a spark in her, but it doesn’t come through in the roles she has played. I met her many times and thought, ‘If I manage to make her smile like she does in real life, I’ll be all right.’ ”

She needn’t have worried. Wright shines in the film, playing alpha cougar to Watts’s beta. The two plunge into their roles, up to and including the libidinous sex scenes, which Fontaine doesn’t shy away from.

“There’s a sexual desire; you have to show it,” she said, while specifying it was about more than just sex. “I wanted it to be an extension of their love, not just women looking for sex with young men. It’s a whole thing, and part of that is sexual.

“There’s a kind of sensuous desire that keeps things moving forward. Even if there’s sadness, there’s also a gaiety, a going toward life instead of putting on the brakes. They’re scared, but they conquer their fear, which makes it dynamic, not dark.”

The key to understanding the story, for Fontaine, came when she had the opportunity to meet Lessing, now 93, who offered some crucial advice.

“She said, ‘When the spectator comes out of the film, they have to want to have been there, in their place. Their relationship is with the desire, not morality.’


bernie said...

This photo is so cool.....thanks for posting.

kidwatt said...

Good article, though I thoroughly disagree with Fontaine. It's quite ridiculous to say that after they turn only 30 actresses no longer are offered parts with sex appeal. Some of the sexiest actresses today--including Naomi--got most of their "sexy" parts after 30.

Richard said...

I agree with you kidwatt, Naomi is amongst those very gifted and talented actresses who grow even more beautiful and sexier after 30. Remember Naomi was 31 when she did Mulholland Drive.