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Director Marc Forster talks about the significance of locations

01-Nov-2008 • Quantum Of Solace

Marc Lee of The Telegraph meets Marc Foster, the filmmaker behind the new James Bond film Quantum of Solace.

Joining the dots in Marc Forster's filmography is a bit of a challenge. The German director's key works are set in, variously, the death row of a prison in the Deep South, a world of agonised Edwardian gentility, and the socially divided city of Kabul. Now, with Quantum of Solace, the international playgrounds of tuxedo'd super-spy James Bond can be added to that apparently eclectic list.

But look closer, says Forster, and you'll find a common thread. At the core of all his films, he says, is an emotionally repressed character. "The background changes," he says, "but the central figures are very similar - Billy Bob Thornton in Monster's Ball, Johnny Depp [as JM Barrie] in Finding Neverland, Emir in The Kite Runner. Even Bond - there is a vulnerability about him, but he has a hard shell, and he's alienated from the world." They are all characters, says Forster, with whom he finds it easy to identify. And that sensitivity to isolation - something that he traces back to his own itinerant childhood - also goes some way to explaining his boundless admiration for Michelangelo Antonioni's Red Desert.

Set in a bleak, malevolent landscape of sprawling industrialisation, it is the story of Giuliana, wife of a wealthy factory boss and mother of a young son, who has recently suffered some never-fully-revealed trauma. She wanders distractedly through this toxic environment, dreaming of setting up a shop in the nearby town but not even certain what she might sell. When she meets Corrado, a footloose engineer visiting her husband's plant, they embark on a desultory affair.

It is, says Forster, a film that dwells on the seemingly unbridgeable gaps between people. "It's about alienation. It gives you the shivers because the characters are so disconnected from life. I find it quite frightening." Yet, despite its coolness, it is, he insists, a visually ravishing film.

Coming in the wake of the celebrated trilogy of L'Avventura, La Notte and L'Eclisse (1960-62) and ahead of his international hits Blow-Up (1966) and Zabriskie Point (1970), Red Desert is Antonioni's first film in colour. And he achieves some astonishing effects with his new palette. "When I first saw it, it seemed like a painting," says Forster. "He pays so much attention to the framing of the shots and to the use of colour." In making the film, Antonioni even went so far as to have streets, trees and whole fields of grass sprayed with various pigments to achieve a visual intensity that matched the emotional extremes inhabited by his troubled characters.

One strange sequence features a group of friends gathered in a dilapidated dockside shed, where they talk about sex and the efficacy of aphrodisiacs. It is a cold, grey setting, but the walls of the small room they finally withdraw to are painted a vivid, deeply symbolic shade of red. "I like the idea," says Forster, "that they are getting away from the world by retreating to the womb." Antonioni delights in using locations that emphasise the interior anxieties of his characters. Forster takes a similar approach in his filmmaking, and he travelled the world to shoot Quantum of Solace.

"In fact," he says, "there was one place we went to that reminded me very much of Antonioni. We were in the Atacama desert in Chile to shoot at an [astronomical] observatory. This is the driest place in the world, with clear skies 365 days a year, and it's where most of the new stars and galaxies are discovered. The building itself is a vast concrete construction with almost no windows, but it has these L-shaped forms on the outside walls. Very cold, very alienating but at the same time very beautiful." Just the sort of place, then, that Antonioni would have loved to populate with endlessly wandering spirits such as Red Desert's Giuliana, who is played by Monica Vitti, the star of Antonioni's previous three films.

"Her performance is so subtle, so good that it seems as if she's sleepwalking through that movie," says Forster. "Even when she speaks, it's so effortless." The star and director were romantically involved, and Forster believes it's obvious when you watch the film.

"They had been together for a decade, and my feeling is that Red Desert marked a turning point in their personal relationship," he says. "You sense an alienation between them. I wonder how he directed her. Her performance here is very different from her performances in his earlier films, where she was much more active, more direct.

"There's something interesting about the watching woman, that kind of role. Mia Farrow did it very well in Rosemary's Baby, for instance, and so did Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion [both directed by Roman Polanski].

"It's an expressive blankness. There's something haunting about that."

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