The Green Knight – David Lowery: “I see cinema as a metaphysical art form”

Meet the director, while The Green Knight is available today.

Who is David Lowery? A vegan, an atheist, an ex-mustache, a hipster, a friend of Casey Affleck, a quadra, a Disney director, an arty and indie filmmaker. Difficult to put your finger on the enigmatic guy, who without apparent effort pleases the most informed moviegoers (The Lovers of Texas, A Ghost Story) and the general public (The Old Man and the Gun, Peter and Elliott the dragon and soon Peter Pan and Wendy). After three years of silence, he returns with The Green Knight – broadcast in France on Prime Video -, inspired by a 14th century Arthurian poem. The story of Sire Gauvain (Dev Patel), Knight of the Round Table, faced with the challenge launched by the mysterious Green Knight. Life, death, temporality and storytelling: First went to ask David Lowery what was going on in his cinema.

How is a film born in your house? By an image? A theme ?
David Lowery
: Most often it is the combination of an image and a question. But this is not a rule: for The Green Knight, I just visualized a wide shot of a knight on a horse. It all came from there, the aesthetic of the film then developed naturally during the writing process. And sometimes it’s just a storyline idea. Here: I’m working on a script for a sci-fi movie right now, and what keeps me going is the central idea. A really twisted, complex, weird thing … that I have no idea how to synthesize in a movie! I research while writing, I don’t have a clear story in mind every moment. Anyway, I never know what the three-act structure will look like. It’s always something much more abstract than that.

All your films have in common to reflect on storytelling, to question what a story is and how it is told. Is it something very conscious about you?

Interesting. That’s right, and it’s no accident that a lot of my films contain long scenes in which one character tells another a story. But not in this one, since the main character has not experienced anything, he just has no story to tell. It’s a way to go against what I usually do. And at the same time, it’s a film about someone looking for a quest, so it’s necessarily about storytelling. Let’s say I’m very conscious of my goals when I write, but when I reread my scripts I sometimes wonder if I really knew what I was doing. I believe a lot in the unconscious in cinema, in the intentions that manifest themselves in a subliminal way when we write or film something. So I let all that can be born be born. On The Green Knight, I realized during the editing that there was a lot more to the script than I imagined. But in my opinion, it comes much more from the depth of the poem I am inspired by than from me!

The Old Man and the Gun and A Ghost Story were carried by very strong theoretical discourses on their own subjects. The Green Knight breaks free from this meta-reflection. Why ?

Because there was no question of subverting the Arthurian genre or looking at it with a critical eye. There is something ironic about A Ghost Story which is totally absent from The Green Knight. A Ghost Story is an exception in my filmography. Maybe with The Old Man and the Gun, I was entertaining a discussion about the very genre of the film, and what Robert Redford embodies. But in The Green Knight, I am limited by the boundaries of this world, even though I try to punch a few holes in the structure. There is a scene where I wanted to bring the characters to life in a contemporary house and have them wear today’s clothes. The bias seemed acceptable to me in the context of the film. But I resisted, because it was an anachronism for the sake of the anachronism, and it would have damaged the universe we worked so hard on. I would have opened the door to a theoretical discourse that the film did not need.

Looking at your filmography, divided between Disney films and works intended for a niche of cinephiles, you might think that you are following the “one for them, one for me” strategy to the letter. But I have the impression that it’s something else that drives you …

I can see very well why it can give this impression, because it is obviously a reality for some directors. Except that the two studio films I made with Disney are just as personal, if not more, than the others. Peter and Wendy [son prochain long métrage Disney], it was the most important movie I could shoot at that time in my life. Truly. Afterwards, I know where I set foot and what the constraints are: I make a film for children and so that families can share a moment together. And for that, I am given a very substantial budget and a hundred days of filming to carry out my vision. So what ? I am absolutely not ashamed of it and I do not feel like I am selling myself. It’s even necessary for me as a movie buff who loved loads of big entertainment movies. And if I do my job well, I even believe that experience makes me a better director. Because I would have learned new techniques and other ways of expressing myself there.

So your creative process is the same for an independent film and a studio film?

With the exception of the tools and the budget at my disposal, it is strictly the same! I cannot draw a line between the two. They’re made of the same wood and I feel like I’m going the same way every time. And I love the idea that stories that mean so much to me can be told under the banner of a studio like Disney.

Does the image that critics and the press send of you, that of a gifted pioneer, influence the way you shoot, your radicalism?

No, and I am unable to tell you if this is a good thing. I don’t read reviews or articles about myself. If I see my name on the internet, I immediately close the browser. I consider my two best films to be A Ghost Story and my short film Pioneer. It’s the pinnacle of what I try to do as a director. But I don’t want to think about it too much … For example, I had already shot The Old Man and the Gun when A Ghost Story is out. And I’m not sure I could’ve made this movie after A Ghost Story, because of all the positive feedback. The pressure would have been too great. All of this reminded me not to be too conscious of things, otherwise I would be unable to follow my whims as they deserve. I prefer to be honest with myself: if I have an idea, I will follow it and see what comes out of it rather than stick to what people expect of me. Thinking too much about how audiences will respond to my work would ultimately force me to try to please someone who doesn’t exist.

When does your very particular management of temporality and the length of shots come into your staging?

It’s something that is both very written and very improvised. Let me explain: I can have precisely detailed a scene in the script, and decide when filming to double its duration. And usually what makes me change my mind is a combination of the location – which inspires me more than I thought – and the performance of the actor or actress I’m filming. What you have to understand is that what drives me as a director is to touch the existential crisis of a character, or at least to challenge the spectators on what they expect from the experience. cinematographic. I see cinema as a metaphysical art form whose limits I want to test, discover what can be put into images and which I could not express in words. Time management in the cinema is fascinating, because it can arouse a very strong emotion as well as put the spectators in an uncomfortable position. I have the impression that all our existential troubles lie in our relationship to time. And I like to use this material so that the cinematic language responds to my own obsessions.

You spoke of cinema as a metaphysical art. Don’t you approach all your films from the angle of this question: what does it mean to be alive as a human being?

It’s a very valid interpretation, but I don’t know if I would put it that way. I actually always evoke the question of existence: ” What do you want to accomplish before your last breath? What do you want to leave behind? Finally there, I turn it in an extremely pessimistic way. (Laughs.) I like your wording. I try to move towards that. To live the present moment. It’s hard, because I spend too much time thinking about death. You look at things from an angle that I can’t seem to see … I envy you!

The Green Knight, available on Prime Video.

The Green Knight: David Lowery makes us lose our minds [critique]

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