Cinefile Review



Cinefile Review Q&A with the Director, Gareth Jones

Gareth Jones, the Director of the acclaimed feature, Desire talks to Cinefile Review’s Graham Eley ahead of the Wales One World Festival.

GE:  Desire is very literary in its approach, do you consider the written text to be the most important aspect of the film?

GJ:  DESIRE is a wordy film, there’s no doubt. It has to be. With only four actors, two kids and one house, you need to keep the ball in the air. This doesn’t bother me, I planned the film that way. The spoken word, as a vital element of film dramaturgy, has been consistently downgraded under the influence of television’s pale pretence of sociorealism, the only version of reality now generally acceptable on screen. As my jaded screenplay writer says in DESIRE: 'If you're staying here for any length of time I won't have you talking like a soap script. We all do it nowadays but there have to be limits.' The way we speak is as much a part of character definition as costume or gender and our speech patterns vary more than we think. They certainly should do in any work that aspires to more than slavish rehearsal of presumed norms. National traditions vary, but one cannot imagine French cinema, for instance, granting the license to inarticulacy that is worn here as a badge (or fetish) of authenticity often associated with class values. My grandfather was a tanner, the son of miner, and few have spoken more intensely, precisely and intimately than he did. Listen to radio interviews and you'll find there is enormous vitality, coherence and poetry in our spoken language. The anxiety of making oneself understood is part of the stress of modern living, which you cannot convey adequately through characters who abandon all effort to express themselves in an inarticulacy often bequeathed them by lazy or inhibited writers. The real cost of inarticulacy was brilliantly conveyed by The King’s Speech, which explores this very issue. Language is also unfortunately a weapon, and characters identify themselves by the way they fight. The voiceover in DESIRE is literary in flavour, I admit, but this corresponds to the writerly preoccupations of my character. His thoughts invite criticism, doubt and irony, but they also help locate his inner striving. Cinema should invite us to think, as well as free-float.

GE:  Auteur theory remains very influential notwithstanding years of post structuralism.  Do you think that the screenwriter receives adequate credit in general? 

GJ:  The screenwriter is scandalously undervalued in the industrial process and whenever I direct my own work I try and remedy this. However brilliant the realization of a film, the script (as Hitchcock reminds us) is everything. It is quite wrong that a director who has not directly contributed to a first draft should assume the auteur credit ‘A film by’ merely by virtue of having assembled a ‘production draft’. The screenplay writer’s fate can be various but little in current industrial practice is calculated to bring out anything approaching genius. Having served his time on the writing team of a long-running soap (in which his wife still acts - badly, in his view), Ralph is seeking a form of redemption as auteur that will almost certainly be denied him, as no one ‘in the current climate’ will fund his film. Except, as we know, the film (or at least a film called DESIRE) has emerged from his despair. 

GE:  We found all of the performances in Desire very real.  Would you like to comment on the way that the actors brought the characters alive on screen? 

GJ:  I am grateful to you for this comment, as nothing would have saved the film (no costumes, sets or landscapes) had the performances been mediocre. I love working with actors, I admire what they do and I enjoy immensely the business of creating living, three-dimensional characters from total pretend. Just like a kid, really. My actors all entered into the game and, thankfully, it worked. A large dose of hidden humour certainly helped. So did rehearsals, followed by a demanding schedule. There was no time for nerves and very little for retakes. So what you see is what you get. Scripts can be overdeveloped and shoots can be overlaboured. Perfection often comes at the price of spontaneity. How often does one leave the cinema feeling slightly flat? That might be because the life has been squeezed out of performances by the tyranny of the camera. Actors should be watched, not surveilled. Ideally we should forget the camera completely. If only for this reason (another being lack of space), I never moved the camera but chose to intercut instead. Remarkable how good old-fashioned montage can lure one in, where wobbly handheld ‘vérité’ simply alienates. With only four characters on screen it was also essential to trace their development arcs in detail. With such a taut canvas, the unfolding psychology drives the narrative onwards and creates suspense. Ralph, in the hands of Oscar Pearce, is both vague and devious, vulnerable and duplicitous, his stratagem overtakes him and he gets far more than he bargained for. Daisy Smith as Phoebe gives us a power-mum papering over the cracks until she strips the plaster off her life completely. Néné understands English far better than she speaks it and has a hidden agenda that tragic-comically inverts any hint of exploitation by this monstrous but thoroughly normal family. We have let ourselves be cowed by sociological curses like ‘dysfunctional’ and other forms of modern superstition. We’re so scared of disapproval that we fear to look the gamut of human behaviour straight in the eye. The language exchanges between English and French are also vital to the film’s theme. Anyone who has fallen in love with a foreigner will know how sexy the business of language can be.

GE:  What impact do you think that WOW has had in promoting world cinema in Wales? 

GJ:  In the ten relatively short years of its existence WOW has made itself an indispensable portal for world cinema in Wales and has found itself an inquisitive and open-minded audience willing to be persuaded. I started my career directing theatre tours in the mid/late 1970’s and I know that Wales has one of the most demanding audiences in the world. I also know how much hard work it is, and I salute WOW’s founders and its many friends and helpers. 

GE:  How important is the film festival circuit as a credible alternative to theatrical distribution? 

GJ:  I think the two will always complement each other. Success on the film festival circuit can create commercial crossovers, but not often enough for my liking. Frankly, the dominance of generic fare in commercial distribution is so monolithic that creative cinema would die without the festival circuit.

GE:  Are you able to tell us anything about your future plans? 

GJ:  I’m developing another film of my own, this time set in Wales. I’m also adapting a novel about Holocaust survivors arriving in Israel for a Berlin-based company. And our company Scenario Films runs the European training programme Babylon all year round.  I like working with other writers, directors and producers. It protects one from Ralph-syndrome. 

Festival screenings:

10 March 2011 (plus Q&A)

Chapter Cinema, Cardiff

11 March 2011 (plus Q&A)

Aberystwyth Arts Centre