A few days before the release of his new film “Prisoners” in Switzerland, I met at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich with Canadian Director Denis Villeneuve. For the last month he had been going from one town to another, always in a plane somewhere, to promote his film. That day he was on his way to the Zurich Film Festival for a Gala Première. After a cup of coffee, Denis was ready to answer a few questions about the scenes of the film, the actors and about his future.
Why do you think Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal were the best in their roles in Prisoners?
Hugh Jackman is an actor who is very versatile and has an immense talent. I needed someone who would have the generosity to offer his vulnaribility in its shady parts and a desire to play an anti-hero.
Hugh Jackman is someone in whom in general people have a natural empathy. Spontanly they like him. And I liked the idea to work with an actor who has this power and who brings us on a path where the characters go and come back and become morally extremely condemnable.
I wanted the people who see the film find themselves in a position not where they accept what Keller Dover does, but more that they understand the path.
For Jake Gyllenhaal it is an actor with whom I had worked one time before on a last film, which has not come out yet as it was finished at the same time of Prisoners. He has a great creativity and is able to create characters. He brings a lot of ideas on the table. I needed a creative actor because the character of the detective proposed in the script in the contrary to the other characters, was more the man making the story goes on; I thought something was missing. I worked a lot with the scriptwriter, Aaron Guzikowski, and Jake to expand his character and to create more dimension.
For me the dynamic in the film is really the confrontation between the father and the policeman and I found the policeman was not strong enough. I needed someone who could invade the character and take it over completely to create something on the screen.
Denis Villeneuve finishes smiling and apologizing for his long answer, explaining it can’t be short as they are both extremely talented.
How many times did you turn the scene of the parking when Keller Dover runs after Alex Jones? When did you feel you had the right scene?
Hm, I did not have to do so many shots, I believe 3 or 4 times maximum. For this scene there was a work of choregraphy. If I remember correctly I wanted that the scene functions on the speed, that the father pounced on Alex and that the police arrives quickly. I remember that we had to rehearse many times to find the right equilibrium and the speed I wanted.
In Prisoners, there were some intense scenes of torture, why did you choose not to show how Alex looked physically when the police found him?
I wanted to show the least as possible in this film and to suggest the most as possible. I tried to show what was necessary without that the spectator feels the impact of the violence, the ugliness or how far the father could go.
The film functions a lot like this. There are some key moments which are suggested, that we don’t see and this is something I like a lot. We don’t need to see.
In Prisoners just like in Incendies you keep the spectator stuked to his seat until the last moment. How can you do this so brilliantly?
The truth is the script. I worked with someone, Aaron Guzikowski,who wrote an excellent script. The script was so fascinating and we all got along so well. This is for this reason we were able to reunite all the cast we had. The film is only made of great actors. The mechanism of a thriller, of the suspense in this film was very strong. There was a deepness in the text which made them want to embark in the project.
Really it is all thanks to the script?
Again it all starts really with the script. I am convinced. My work was more to work on the dramatic aspect of the movie. I pulled the film toward the drama more than the thriller. The film is longer than a normal thriller.
“It is really that the script of Aaron was very very solid,” he accentuates once again.
On what project are you working on now?
To go to sleep at home! he says jokingly. I have been away from home for over 2 years and I really need to go back home.
I have 2 or 3 projects on the table but I need to think about them. I don’t want to take a decision too rapidly but before Christmas it is certain because I will direct a film in 2014.
You have been nominated to the Oscars for Incendies, if you were to win for Prisoners or another film, do you think it would change your life?
No I don’t think so.
With Incendies I had never thought that one day I would go to the Oscars. It was a nice compliment. I don’t want to make films for that. Just this year the competition is very tough. I know that I will not be nominated, maybe Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal or the director photo.
Personally no and it should not.
Certainly cinema functions either to make films which make a lot of money or which have good critics. When there are prizes the luck is it gives you more freedom.
It is not a bad thing to win those prizes!
The 153 minute drama with an outstanding cast was filmed in Conyers Georgia. On Thanksgiving day the fate of two families is about to change when their girls are kidnapped. The father, Keller Dover (Jackman), decides to help detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) find the kidnapper. Soon he crosses the line and he goes through hell to find his missing daughter. Will the girls be found? Was it Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who lives with his aunt Holly (Mellissa Leo)? The plot is great with many twists, keeping you on your seat the entire time.
ABOUT DENIS VILLENEUVE
The 46 years old film director from Trois-Rivières in Québec started in 1988 with documentaries. Along the years he worked on shorts. Prisoners is its sixth long feature film. Other of his films are Maelstrom (2000), Polytechnique (2009), Incendies (2010 – nominated at the Oscars for best foreign film) and Enemy (2013 – will be released in Canada and Spain in 2014).