Venice 59 - Out of Competition
by Valeria Chiari
- Latin America, bloody and bowed by terrorists, is the setting for the actor's directorial debut, The Dancer Upstairs, made in Ecuador, Spain and Portugal
John Malkovich a.k.a “the Human Chameleon”. He was last spotted wondering around the Lido area as Liliana Cavani’s Tom Ripley and now he’s back to present his directorial debut, The Dancer Upstairs. The enigmatic actor is in the excellent company of Javier Bardem and Laura Morante, the stars of this Spanish/American co-production... And he’s still carrying around a mysterious briefcase made of white crocodile skin.
Based on Nicholas Shakespeare’s book, The Dancer Upstairs is set in a Latin American country in the stranglehold of violent left-wing terrorist gang lead by the ferocious Ezequiel. We follow the attempts made by an investigator called Agustin Rejas to trap and arrest Ezequiel. Rejas’ task is made even more difficult by the endemic corruption he encounters at every level of society.
Unlike the book, Malkovich never refers directly to Peru’s “Sendero Luminoso”, but rather chooses focuses on Rejas’ personal dilemma: he must decide between the bloody violence of everyday life and an impossible love story. “Before making this film I knew a lot about Sendero Luminoso, but it was the multifaceted nature of the characters that attracted me to this story. That is the story I wanted to tell,” said Malkovich. The film was made on location in Ecuador, Spain and Portugal and was almost five years in the preparation: only an artist of Malkovich’s skill and originality could ever have pulled it off. “Right from the start of my career, I tried to understand the inner workings of a film set. I would follow the technicians around, and often worked on the screenplay and the direction too. That helps the actor because it gives him a deep understanding how and when to develop a character.”
The set of Dancer Upstairs was a complex one, not least because the cast and crew members all spoke different languages. “I love hearing English spoken with a foreign accent. I liked the idea that my actors would speak in a language that was unfamiliar to them and in a country that was not their own,” continued the director.
This was a film that Malkovich was determined to make, come what may. He even turned down an offer to direct one of the eleven short films that make up 11-09, screened as a special event in Venice. “I would never have accepted. History is not told in little newspaper articles but over decades and centuries. I don’t have much faith in the outcome of projects like that.”
(Translated from Italian)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.