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Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001

How Madden sees things

Director John Madden came late to the "Corelli" project, but that didn't mean he wasn't prepared, as evidenced by the careful, considered comments he made at a Tokyo press conference last week. While Madden may be working with Hollywood's top stars these days -- and few are hotter than Penelope Cruz, with this her fourth film to open in Tokyo this year -- he's certainly not your typical L.A. type. Aside from his unscripted comments and quiet sartorial style (a conservative suit, definitely not Armani), Madden betrayed a certain British reserve in his remarks, noting dryly how being a filmmaker involves "making inordinate demands on people's time, to make them watch a film that you've made." Perhaps we can forgive him for making us gaze upon Cruz and Christian Bale for two hours.

John Madden

On what attracted him to the novel:

I was tremendously attracted to the contrasts in the story; the way in which comedy and farce rubbed shoulders with tragedy and horror. It's quite difficult to adapt as a film, partly because it's so huge and so detailed, and as a book it adopts many points of view. You have to find your own way of telling that, a way that belongs to cinema rather than literature. But it struck me as being a story that could be told really powerfully on film.

On how he directs:

That's an enormous question! (Laughs.) If you want to be a director, you have to want to make people see the world the way you see it. Therefore, you need to have a story that you want to tell. I think you need to feel passionate about it, in order to expect people to pay attention.

Apart from that, I think I just direct on instinct. I have to make the assumption that the rest of the world will react to something the way that I react; will be interested in what I'm interested in.

On the film's themes:

The film is about love and war, and love in kind of a larger context than just romantic love: Love of a father for his daughter; love of a person for his community and culture; two different cultures falling in love with each other. And it's about love as a response to destruction. The notion of survival and continuity is sort of the raw material of the film; the way, somehow, we find ways of continuing despite the forms of destruction we visit upon ourselves.

On shooting his first war film:

One of the things that makes the story unusual is that it's an upside-down war film. It's about a war that isn't taking place, and when the war does arrive on the island, it's in such a peculiar and ironic way, because the war breaks out between two former allies. I very much wanted those scenes to feel confusing and chaotic and desperate, because I think that's what the experience of war generally is. War is a tragic circumstance that we seem to arrive at all too frequently, I think, whose significance we must constantly examine, lest we go there again.

On Penelope Cruz:

I felt incredibly lucky to have found her, or that she existed! She does seem to me to have an extraordinary quality that all great film actors have to have, which is to be able to convey emotion in silence -- which has to do with letting herself be transparent to the camera, letting the camera into her. I think she's extraordinarily artless in what she does. There's no artifice -- her acting is very simple, very true, and felt.

A lot of the film is spent just watching her face, watching what is happening to her heart. And I found I was able to trust that enormously.

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