Relationships, in all their glory, and gore, have provided ample creative material for writer/director Derek Cianfrance. His cinematic debut "Brother Tied" (which screened at Sundance but never found distribution), looked at sibling loyalty. 2010's "Blue Valentine," wowed critics and audiences with its unflinching portrayal of a romantic relationship long past its honeymoon phase. Now Cianfrance turns his lens to the deep ties that connect fathers and sons in his latest, "The Place Beyond the Pines," which opens this weekend in LA. The film stars Ryan Gosling as Luke, a motorcycle stunt driver whose life takes a sharp turn after discovering he has fathered a son from a casual relationship with Romina (played by Eva Mendes). Luke turns to crime to take care of his new family, eventually getting caught by a rookie cop (Bradley Cooper), who is also a new father, in an explosive moment that will change both of their lives, and the lives of their sons.
I notice this film, like "Blue Valentine," is being described as "gritty."
I think ugly things are beautiful, I think beautiful things are beautiful too, but I don't think beauty is relegated to what is shiny and on billboards. I don't relate to those things, to this perfection all around me. I relate to human flaws, I relate to what's wrong with things. I feel like humans are not perfect; God is perfect, and I feel like movies and ads are made in the image of God, of perfection, and it makes me feel so lonely, that I don't fit in with these people. The things that make us unique as people, is our flaws. So I try to celebrate those on screen.
So, no happy endings?
I just don't know about endings. I like open endings. I like endings where characters live off into the world and then the audience becomes active participants in the imagination of the film. And that the characters can go off and live their own lives. I like an ending like in "The Searchers," or "Five Easy Pieces," where these characters drift into the distance and then the lights come on in the theater and they're somewhere - where did they go? And it's up to you, or you, or you, everyone can have a different idea and they're all valid. I feel like my favorite movies are movies that seem to change when I watch them. They're like friends or something. You go and watch them over time and they transform. And of course, I know the films aren't transforming , I'm changing as a viewer, but they're made with a certain openness, that allows you to participate in that. I always feel a little bit of an allergy when I see a movie, and the lights come on and I think the exact same thing as everyone. I like being respected enough to have my own thoughts at the end of the movie and experience. It's personal, so deeply personal.
What drives you to capture relationships so realistically in your films?
I've tried to observe my life and consider my observations, and then reflect on them in films. That's my purpose. Ever since I was a kid, I never understood why we all had these smiling family pictures of my family on the wall. I came from a great family - my parents were awesome - but we weren't sitting around smiling all the time. And I'd go over to a friend's house and his parents would be beating each other up upstairs, and they also had pictures of them smiling on their walls. I never understood why we were putting these images out into the world of things that weren't true, that weren't honest. This facade, it felt like a shell to me....I don't think love is just about smiles. I think you can fake a lot of things with smiles. I think love is more about the culmination of every emotion. So I want to make films that are rife with everything: with fears and successes, and hopes and dreams and failures, and vulnerabilities...everything.
In a recent interview, Ryan Gosling described his character Luke, as "a melting pot of masculine clichés."
I think he's responding to his choices as an actor. He called me a few months before we started shooting and said: "Hey D, how about the most tattoos in movie history?" And I said, "OK, you want a lot of tattoos?" And he said, "Yeah, and I want a face tattoo." I said, "OK well look, if I was your parent I would tell you 'don't get a face tattoo,' but you're the guy, so you can do whatever you want." And so he put this fake face tattoo on and he was walking around and he comes up to me one day, and he's like, "D, I think I went too far with the face tattoo." And I was like, "Well, that's what happens when you get face tattoos, you regret them and now you got to live with it for the rest of the movie." And so any scene he went into that he thought was going to be a cool scene, all of a sudden there was shame, which to me was more true to who the character would be. He thought the guy would be full of muscles and cool, full of tattoos, but all of that strength, all of those masculine clichés that he was talking about, turned out to be just bad choices, and faced with the fragility of a child, gave him nothing for that. Did not make him a man at all, in terms of what was most important, which was being a father.
It's powerful to see this heavily-tattooed character holding an innocent baby.
Yeah, that was the moment. Those choices that he made were right on. It showed a character who didn't really think things through; they were very impulsive choices. But there's this moment when he sees the baby, and he's covered, he's soiled, he's stained, and this baby has no marks, and he has to hold the baby for the first time, and it made me feel like what I felt like when my wife was pregnant with our second son in 2007. How could this baby come into the world so pure, and I've made so many mistakes and I don't want him to have all my mistakes. I want him to carve his own path in life and make his own legacy. Why does he have to have mine? So that moment when Ryan holds the baby with the tattoos - it was a clear visual of my feelings.
"The Place Beyond the Pines" opens this weekend at the Landmark Theatre in LA. To hear more of KUSC's interview with Derek Cianfrance, tune into Arts Alive, Saturday, March 30th at 8 AM.