It does not look like the previous one
In 2004, in Birthday, Nicole Kidman played a widow convinced that her late husband had reincarnated in the body of a child. Today, Under the Skin tells the odyssey of an alien pacing the Earth played by Scarlett Johansson. If it is easy to establish a link between these two films which wonder about the existence of the soul beyond mutant body envelopes, their opposite visual styles contribute to blurring the tracks: not much in common between hushed New York and shyamalanesque” of Birthday and the gloomy, post-industrial Scotland of Under the Skin. And what relationship with Sexy Beasta flashy English whodunnit released in 2001 with an enduring cult following in Britain, in which red-faced gangsters were terrorized by Ben Kingsley in a Spanish hacienda?
” None, Glazer slices smiling. It’s not the same man who made Sexy Beast and Under the Skin. At the time of the first, I came from music videos and advertising and had never had the opportunity to work with actors. As I loved the script (written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto), I went for it. This shoot was my film school. The film has become very popular but this success is mainly that of the scriptwriters and the actors. After that, I understood that I only wanted to do personal things, works from me alone. These movies are Birthday and Under the Skin. »
However, Glazer does not deny anything, and there is a logic behind it anyway. The proof: Sexy Beast would have made a very good title for Under the Skin.
A star risks it all
The (rare) spectators who have seen Birthday know that Nicole Kidman delivered one of her most impressive performances there, undoubtedly the high point of her career, just before the failure ofAustralia (2008) and the mistakes of the Botox years. Proof of the actress’ commitment was this sensual and disturbing scene in a bathtub with her ” lover “ of 10 years that made American Puritans cringe. That’s how Glazer likes stars: naked, in danger, ready to face the boos of the crowd. Because he learned to sublimate the idols during his music video years? Because he’s a somewhat perverse cinephile filmmaker who likes to sadize sacred monsters? Not quite. Besides, for Under the Skinhe originally had no desire to work with Scarlett Johansson. “The idea of hiring a star seemed contradictory to the projecthe explains. When looking for a comedian to play an alien, the last thing you need is a familiar face. But the economic reality of cinema made me realize that I needed someone known to complete the financing. Little by little, the desire to disguise Scarlett, to make her evolve in the real world, to record her encounters with strangers by means of hidden cameras, all these ideas were born from the ‘constraint’ of having to hire a star. » And Under the Skin to become like Birthday before him, a film “on” as much as“with” its leading actress. “Scarlett is often objectified by those who film her. I wanted to play with it and so did she. »
Scarlett Johansson: “Under the Skin is a film unlike any other”
Kubrick’s shadow looms
If you don’t want to irritate Jonathan Glazer, don’t talk to him about The Man Who Came From Elsewhere (1976), Nicolas Roeg’s SF fable with David Bowie, which maintains obvious correspondences with Under the Skinif only the choice to cast a superstar as an alien. “I like Roeg’s film, I adore Bowie, but I don’t do referential cinema, says the director. Under the Skin had to be a unique experience, a film apart. During the writing, as soon as an element of the script made me think of something preexisting, I rejected it. The only reference I claim is at the very beginning with the alignment of the planets, the ship, the close-up on the eye… It’s an invitation to travel that comes straight from 2001: A Space Odyssey. »
It won’t be much of a surprise for those who remember his clip for The Universal, in 1995, in which the members of Blur were undermined like the Droogies ofClockwork Orange. And if we remember the winks to Shining, Eyes Wide Shut and Barry Lyndon that dot Birth, we understand that the grammar “glazarian” owes much, if not all, to Stanley Kubrick. It’s his totem, his monolith, his… burden? “For an apprentice director, Kubrick is like Jimi Hendrix for budding guitarists. You start the guitar, you naturally want to have the same sound as him, then time passes, you perfect yourself, you develop a more personal style, and you no longer want to be compared to Hendrix. It’s the same for me with Kubrick. The difference is that the nature of my job is that I did my scales in public rather than locked up in my room. Today, I feel like I’ve grown as a filmmaker and I’m now looking for a path that belongs only to me. »
Christopher Nolan: “It would be crazy to compare me to Kubrick!”
It’s not just cinema
If Glazer only recognizes himself as one master, it is impossible not to see him as one of the members of a line of directors who would go from Lynch to Cronenberg, via Gaspar Noé and Matthew Barney. Or visual filmmakers seeking to reconcile the experimental and the general public, and who try to reshape the film material by eyeing contemporary art. From its first minutes (a blinding credits at the edge of a swimming pool crushed by the sun), Sexy Beast thus attempted a big gap between David Hockney and David LaChapelle. Under the Skin, he clearly places himself in the orbit of Francis Bacon in his striking choice to scrutinize tortured, deformed and ultimately overwhelming human flesh. Glazer aggregates very disparate visual registers in this film, from the almost documentary rawness with which he captures desolate peri-urban landscapes to the sophistication of his plastic compositions, like this strange blackish liquid in which the “prey” by Scarlett Johansson.
“That image flashed into my brain in a flash, says Glazer, but it took me years of reflection for this flash to occur. » It’s cinema that overflows and goes beyond cinema, to the point that some of the critics rejected it by singing a refrain “poujado” well known who would likeUnder the Skin especially has its place in an art gallery. Jonathan? “So much the better, I like art galleries… If they are well equipped, it can be a wonderful place to discover a film.” » A way of saying that movie theaters are also a wonderful place to discover his own works of art.
Sexy Beast, Birth and Under the Skin are very special works. And it is its creator who talks about it best!
Sexy Beast, Birthday, Under the Skin. Author of three films in fourteen years, the Englishman Jonathan Glazer, pubard of genius and ex-clipper for Radiohead or Massive Attack, is at the head of one of the most elusive filmos of this beginning of the century. In 2014, when he released his extra-terrestrial film with Scarlett Johansson, the interested party helped us put some order in all that. We are republishing his remarks on the occasion of the broadcast of Birthdaytonight on Arte: the channel continues his cycle devoted to Nicole Kidmanafter Leo, The Others Where The interpreter.
Interview by Frédéric Foubert
Nicole Kidman: ‘I love playing bad guys’