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Competition "Never Let Me Go" Interview with Mark Romanek (Director) (10/30)

Competition "Never Let Me Go" Interview with Mark Romanek (Director) (10/30)

"Never Let Me Go" Interview with Mark Romanek (10/30)
©2010 TIFF

"Never Let Me Go," director Mark Romanek's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's bestselling novel, stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield as childhood friends who grow up in a special English boarding school where the students are cultivated to fulfill preordained and disturbing destinies in a society that looks like ours but is different in one very fundamental way.

---The story is from a bestselling novel. What were the specific challenges you faced in turning it into a movie?

Well, it was beautifully adapted by Alex Garland as a screenplay for starters. But the specific challenges, I think, were that it's very delicate emotionally. The tone of it is very unusual. It's a science fiction story ostensibly, but there are no overt science fiction tropes in it. There are very few other films that are like that, so we didn't have many references. There was, maybe, Tarkovsky's "Stalker," or a little bit of Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451." So I couldn't really rely on other films to go to as a reference point.

---Did you add or change anything to what was presented in the original novel?

Alex did an excellent job of selecting the right scenes in catching the essence of the novel. He's a novelist, as well, so I think he understands how to deconstruct a novel and then put it back together in another form better than someone else would. There are a few small but significant changes that were required. We added a few things, but we were all bonded in our common love of the book and wanted to be faithful to it. But just like all these types of adaptations, the film needs to feel as if it has a life of its own.

---You mentioned science fiction. The story takes place in our relative past but is in an alternate reality. Was that something you had to pay special attention to?

I was treating the science fiction as subtext. What's original about the tone of it as a futuristic concept is that it's set in an alternate past. But the emphasis of the film is the love story. I was just focusing on making a love story. I felt the science fiction ideas were implicit and created a certain amount of tension, strangeness, just by their mere existence. I didn't have to emphasize them visually or in any other way. Ishiguro writes with deceptively simple sentences. I was trying to capture some of that deceptive simplicity in the visual grammar.

---The movie is set in England and is very grounded in English culture, but do you think this story could have taken place anywhere else?

I suppose it could have, but I don't see what the advantage would have been. Ishiguro selected England, but he still retains a strong Japanese sensibility in his work. He was raised mainly in England but grew up in Nagasaki until he was six years old. One of the things that's unusual about this book and his other books is the way the Japanese sensibility becomes hybridized with wherever the books are set. This is sort of an English-Japanese sensibility. I think those two things create a symbiosis that's interesting. It's a lot about repressed emotion and denial of one's stronger urges to rebel or escape one's fate.

---What has been your sense of the audience's reaction to the movie, especially people who are unfamiliar with the book?

To be honest, it varies. People who connect with it, whether they've read the book or not, are very deeply moved. People are gutted by it and are weeping profusely at the end of the film and are unable to speak. I think it holds a mirror up to your life and asks a lot of disturbing questions, and if they're not comfortable with that some people seem not to connect with it. I find that the majority of people who have read the book and seen the film are very happy with the adaptation. They feel that it's faithful in its essence. People who haven't read the book approach it the same way that I did when I read it for the first time. All these small mysteries are revealed and there are twists and surprises. They seem to enjoy it.

---You said you see it as a love story. Is it also a cautionary tale?

It's cautionary, but not in the sense that it might show the terrors of bio-technology; or cautionary about the notion of using one's brief time here wisely. It's about these larger issues of our mortality and that we have a limited time span. The film asks you to consider the questions of what becomes important to you when you can't push that notion to the back of your mind any longer. If you're lucky you're only here for 80, 85, 90 years. I think Ishiguro is saying that the things that are important are love and friendship and treating people ethically and with respect. These are the things that are truly important, and we forget that very easily. And that's what he's cautioning us against: to not forget these things.

---Were the three principal actors your first choices?

There were, actually. Because the book is so beloved and because the adaptation was so good, we had quite a large selection of young actors to choose from. These were absolutely our first choices. When we all saw Carey in "An Education" we knew that we'd found the perfect Kathy. I had seen Andrew Garfield in a film called "Boy A," which was an extraordinarily good film that not a lot of people saw, unfortunately. But his performance in that film was as astonishing as Carey's was in "An Education." He's an amazing young actor. And then Keira approached us when she found out that Carey had been cast in the film. Her agent called us and said, "Have you cast Ruth yet?" She was keen to work with Carey. They're friends and she admires her work as an actor.

---I had formed a certain image of Keira Knightley, but her work here didn't fit that image at all.

She's wonderful in it, and I think she really relished the chance to play an antagonist in a less glamorous role.

---The three actors you got to play them as children resembled them quite a bit.

I was pretty strict about that. Obviously, we needed great young actors. They had to carry the first twenty minutes of the film. I find that in a lot of films that doesn't always work well, the hand-off from younger to older.

---It's difficult to pull off.

Especially with such unique individuals that we have here. But I really pushed for that. And my casting director, Kate Dowd, was very patient and looked at thousands of kids. They not only had to be terrific, but they had to really resemble their older counterparts.
©2010 TIFF

---The movie is sombre but not oppressive, which seems like a difficult balance.

Ishiguro writes about these very sad, disturbing situations, but he writes them so beautifully, and he writes them with a gentleness. He delivers the message gently. So I wanted to mirror that with the film. I felt if it were not aesthetically beautiful it would be too bleak an experience. But it didn't feel right to film it in vivid colors. Everything in the film is old and hand-me-down and shows the passage of time. Their clothes are clothes they received from charitable donations. I didn't see that there was any other choice, but I wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing. And I think the music is quite beautiful, too, and helps make it not completely depressing. I find it quite moving and hopeful at the end, inspirational in the way Kathy so bravely just accepts her position in life, accepts the fact of her mortality. It's a very graceful example to follow.

---Is that what you think people will mainly take away from the film?

I've heard many people say they've called loved ones or relatives they hadn't spoken to in many weeks or months (after they see the film) because one forgets to cherish loved ones and family and friends. We take these things for granted. We forget that all this time is very precious. So if it's a gentle reminder of that for people, of how precious and short life is, then I think that's more than you get from a lot of films.

(Interviewed by Philip Brasor)

Never Let Me Go

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KEIRIN.JPThe 23rd Tokyo International Film Festival will be held with funds provided by Japan Keirin Association.TIFF History
22nd Tokyo International Film Festival(2009)