Toronto Film Festival 2013
San Sebastian International Film Festival 2013
Mill Valley 2013
Toronto Film Festival 2013
San Sebastian International Film Festival 2013
Mill Valley 2013
The Face of Love is the story of a widow named Nikki (Annette Bening) who, several years after the loss of her husband, meets a man (Ed Harris) who looks exactly like her deceased husband. Suddenly, a flood of old feelings rush back to her: she's met the love of her life. Again. The film is a romantic story filled with humor, surprise, and reflections on the mystery of love surrounding us. Bening and Harris star, with an important supporting turn from Robin Williams as Nikki's confidante and would-be lover. Jess Weixler and Amy Brenneman also co-star.
Offering a thread of romance that's sexy despite the unsettling psychology underlying it, the picture holds strong appeal for older auds that is greatly enhanced by a top-shelf cast … Annette Bening captivates with Ed Harris ruggedly irresistible as the object of her fantasy. - The Hollywood Reporter
Annette Bening and Ed Harris bring a potent sense of conviction to director Arie Posin’s compelling psychological love story, “The Face of Love.” … Bening registers each tremulous shift of emotion as Nikki moves from disbelief to determination to sudden embarrassment at the absurdity of her actions. But the director proves just as intent in his scrutiny of Tom (Harris), who finds himself immediately drawn to and moved by this lovely, fragile woman … Posin remains sympathetically attuned to his heroine’s every move…and treats her compassionately while dealing honestly with the fallout. - Variety
The movie's engrossing atmosphere is undoubtedly heightened by Bening's impressively subtle performance … an uncommonly adult romance certainly marking an impressive effort from director Posin. - Reel Film Reviews
It’s consistently surprising: Creepy and involving and goosing you with empathetic jolts of tension…the movie gave the Toronto audience some of the best nervous laughs of the entire festival. There are movies…that remind you of why you go to the movies in the first place – to be moved by strange and preposterous emotions. - The Boston Globe
LABORS OF LOVE
How far would you go, for a second chance? How much would you risk to resurrect your first love?
That’s the question that confronts Nikki. Her happily married life is shattered when her husband Garrett suddenly drowns during a Mexican vacation. As years pass and Nikki adjusts to raising their teenage daughter on her own, Nikki gradually comes to grips with her loss… or does she?
A chance visit to an art museum affords her the opportunity to see Tom, a local art teacher, frustrated painter—and the perfect double of Nikki’s beloved Garrett, now dead for five years. Aware of the dangers of tempting fate but unable to stop herself, Nikki pursues Tom, meets him, befriends him, and falls in love with him, never sharing the uncanny secret that drew them together. The long-since-divorced Tom discovers in Nikki a friend, lover and muse, as her devotion rekindles his passion for life and for his art.
For Nikki, this love is perfect, or as close-to-perfect as possible to the love she shared with her husband, save for her well-founded fears of what others in her life—her daughter Summer, her close friend and neighbor Roger—will say when they discover her secret… and it’s a secret that can’t stay hidden for long in a fast-moving relationship. Tom, oblivious to his uncanny resemblance, is quickly drawn closer to her. Nikki must confront the consequences of her extraordinary choice, even as she seeks to keep her charmed “second chance” alive. When the characters are forced to confront the unbelievable truth, the result is an explosive love story that pushes its heroine to the brink of sanity.
Unfolding with the simplicity of a timeless fable, but speaking with an unmistakably contemporary voice, Arie Posin’s LOOK OF LOVE is the work of a gifted young storyteller grappling with the most fundamental questions—of love and loss—that life has to offer.
Before the credits rolled, before the director said, “action!”, before the financing, or the cast, or the script was in place, LOOK OF LOVE was born from a woman crossing the street.
“It was about five years after my father passed away,” recalls writer-director Arie Posin. “She came over one day and said—it’s almost word for word what Nikki says in the movie—‘You know, this funny thing happened to me today. I was walking across the street and I saw this man coming towards me who was a carbon copy of your father. I had my glasses in my hand, and I started to put them on and then I didn’t put them on.’
“And I asked why not, and she said, ‘I knew it wasn’t him. I knew it wasn’t your father, but I was shocked. I was standing in the middle of the street and to see this man coming towards me… it just felt so nice. It felt like it used to.’ And that moment stuck with me. I started thinking about it, dreaming about it, even. And that eventually led to this whole story. What if she had tried to find this man again? And what if they met? What would those conversations be like? And what would happen if they were to fall in love?”
When Posin shared the story with producer Bonnie Curtis, who had produced his 2005 feature debut, “The Chumscrubber,” her response was unequivocal. “I told him, ‘You have to write that. You absolutely have to write that,’” shares Curtis. “The story really caught me. I thought it was such a wonderful idea, and I really related to it, too, wanting to recapture something that you’ve lost.”
Curtis felt strongly enough about the concept that she engaged a co-writer to assist Posin in developing the story. “At the time,” she recalls, “we were developing a project with Matthew McDuffie, and we thought that Matt would be a great fit to work with Arie through the process. They started working on it, and I think we had a draft within about six months.”
McDuffie’s response to Posin’s story was equally direct. “I just said: I dig it. It’s that emotionality. When people die, they’re just gone… there’s no phone call that you’re waiting for, there’s nothing. To have a second chance like that would be so extraordinary, just a different dimension. So that’s really where it started, for me, and that was what was attractive about it.”
“I had read a bunch of scripts of Matt’s,” notes Posin. “He’s just is a phenomenal writer, of deep sensitivity and drama and character. So we started out the way you start any relationship, just kind of dancing around each other… Matt lives in New Mexico, so we’d have these long phone conversations and then we’d start sending these long e-mails back and forth… What about this? What about that? What if this happened?”
“We started with broad strokes,” confirms McDuffie. “As soon as Arie had laid out the basic premise, I thought, ‘Well, she has to have to have family, and they have to find out what she’s doing.’ So that was sort of the first element we shaped it around. It was helpful knowing exactly where we had to end up… or at least where the second act had to wind up.”
Over the course of the writing process, however, the story’s ultimate conclusion remained a mystery. “Even as the script was evolving,” confesses Posin, “we had no idea how it was going to end, because we didn’t enter into the process with any preconceived notions about how this kind of story was supposed to end. It was just this open question. We really had no idea, even as we got closer to the end. It’s only when we actually got there that we saw it. Based on these characters that we had created, this woman and this man, it became obvious to us that there was one true way. There was only one truth for how that relationship would evolve.”
For that inspiration, the writers drew on some of the classic love stories of both stage and screen. “Like all great love stories,” Posin continues, “there’s something in between them, there’s something that keeps them apart. In “Romeo and Juliet,” it’s the families. I remembered hearing this interview with Sydney Pollack where he was talking about “The Way We Were,” and the story as being about a guy who has everything and a girl who has nothing, and they’re so different in so many ways and yet they fall in love, but they have this thing that keeps them apart. So that’s what we had in our story. Nikki doesn’t tell him that he’s a double, and she’s falling deeper into this romantic nostalgia.
Meanwhile, he’s really falling in love with her and yet he doesn’t know the truth. And so the whole time you feel the two them just steaming towards a cliff. What’s going to happen when he finds out?”
For McDuffie, that process of organic discovery of the story was invigorating, and allowed the two writers’ complementary strengths to emerge. “I’m not trying to be nice to Arie,” McDuffie laughs, “because I don’t have to anymore, because we’ve finished with this script. But the collaboration was very good, because we seem to have the same sort of emotional taste, or storytelling taste in terms of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to reveal, and how we try to wring the most out of a moment. So that was marvelous. It was a great back-and-forth. I think my strengths are maybe more based in character and what an actor needs, whereas Arie has this innate feel for cinema and pacing.”
With a finished draft, the writers continued to refine the story while Curtis worked with her new producing partner Julie Lynn to use the script to reel in top-notch talent. Curtis and Lynn first worked together on the Oscar-nominated “Albert Nobbs.” Their producing styles meshed so immediately and organically that their future collaboration was effectively presumed by both of them; says Lynn, “there was no discussion, really, surrounding the fact that we were never going to make a movie without each other ever again. I just said to her, ‘So, do you want to read something else?’”
Curtis admits to some trepidation when initially sharing LOOK OF LOVE with her new partner. “I was worried, you know? I really hoped she liked the script, because Julie is always going to tell you the truth. So if she came in and didn’t like it, I was worried, ‘oh no, what am I going to do?’ But she loved it and we skyped with Arie from our dingy little trailer in Ireland, so he could meet Julie and we could lock down all the financing, etc.”
For her part, Lynn is unabashed in her passion for Posin’s story. “These movies aren’t being made for people so much anymore,” she observes. “It’s a grown-up romance for people that aren’t playing games, or skateboarding, or needing to see a lot of special effects. We were really excited to make a human story with some of the great actors that are available to us and whom we love.”
“When I got the script,” recalls Annette Bening, “I knew that Julie Lynn was producing it, and I had done a picture with Julie. I didn’t know Arie, but I just read the script very quickly. I don’t know, maybe it was just a sort of coincidence that the timing was right, but I was touched by the story. I was moved by it. I thought it had a lot of layers to it, so I thought maybe it could be something I might want to do.”
For Ed Harris, who had earlier signed on to the project, the news of his new co-star redoubled his enthusiasm. “What got me excited about it,” he reveals, “was the chance to work with Annette, actually. I did a play at the Geffen a couple of years ago, and she was a doing a play in the other theatre there, and so I got to know her a little bit. I’ve always admired her a lot, and the story was kind of a romantic kind of thing, which I don’t get a chance to do too much. So I thought it would be fun.”
For the crucial role of Roger, Nikki’s friend, neighbor and would-be suitor, the team approached Robin Williams, who Curtis knew from her days working alongside Steven Spielberg. “He’s probably one of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with,” says Curtis. “I met Robin when I was twenty-three or twenty-four years old. We did the movie “Hook” together, which was about a three-year shooting schedule, so we all got to know each other really well. I called up Robin because I thought, for this part, that he would just get this guy.”
After she sent the script to Williams, “he called me up and he said, ‘well, now Ed has the really good part,’” Curtis recalls, laughing. “And I agreed, ‘yes, he does.’ And then Robin said, ‘But I get this guy. I get Roger, and I can do it. I’d love to try, at least.’ And that was really it. He was absolutely precious.”
For his own part, Williams was deeply moved by the genesis of Posin’s story. “He told me that he based it on an actual occurrence that happened to his mother, seeing a man who looked exactly like his father and how that affected her, and that he’d built it from that which is kind of beautiful. The tone very sweet. At the same time, there’s great depth and sadness. This stuff is very passionate, and very palpable.”
The pieces were finally in place, including the casting of Jess Weixler as Nikki’s daughter Summer and Amy Brenneman as Tom’s ex-wife Ann, shooting was set to begin in Los Angeles in April 2012. For his second feature effort, Posin had every reason for optimism--the cast and crew he and his producers had assembled had collectively received 20 Oscar nominations, including two wins. In the early stages of preparation, Posin made clear with his actors where the story’s values lay. “‘Truth’ has been the keystone word of this whole adventure, even through the shooting of it,” he declares. “In the first meetings I had with Annette and Ed, I said to them, ‘I’m not going to ask you to do anything that you don’t feel is true for this character in this movie. Because there’s a big idea at the center of the story, it has this conceit, and so it has to be executed with a total fidelity to truth, or else it just becomes a fantasy.’ So we always tried to keep it real.”
For the actors, that freedom to co-create the characters in the service of that truth was one of the great virtues of working with a writer-director. “I mean, Arie wrote the script,” observes Harris. “It’s always kind of fun to work with a writer-director, because they obviously know the material inside and out, they spent months or years, working on it and have a particular vision for it. Arie’s a relatively young filmmaker—he’s only got, I think, a few films under his belt—but he has a real idea of what he wants this to be. But he’s also open to suggestions. I mean, Annette and I both felt very free to ask about certain changes, or let him know when something might feel like it’s a little too much, maybe, or if there’s an element of a scene that isn’t working right.”
Annette Bening concurs: “Arie is just delightful, and open, and very intelligently thoughtful about everything he’s written. It’s his creation. It’s something personal that he feels very strongly about, of course. But he’s also flexible and open. He wants to hear everything from everyone, but he has enough confidence that he can listen and take in everybody’s ideas, but articulate his own approach. So that’s been a real pleasure.”
On set, Posin’s seriousness of purpose goes hand-in-hand with a lightness of touch. “He’s got a great sense of humor,” Bening continues. “That’s so important, because we take it all seriously. Because of course, you have to take it seriously. I love what I do. I feel so lucky to do it, and yet, if you take it too seriously, you get into trouble and the work gets into trouble. So he’s got that great sense of humor, even about things that are very, very important to him.”
Having their director’s trust to find their own path to their characters brought out the best in the small cast. “Chemistry is always an unknown quantity,” observes Posin, “and nothing I can take credit for. You cast the best actors you can, and then you hope that they’re going to get along and in this case, we see it every single day. The level at which they play, they raise each other’s game. They make each other better and you can see the respect and the compatibility on screen. I mean, their chemistry just explodes out of the screen. Literally, on the set, everyone sees it, everyone talks about it.”
The performers describe the dynamic in similar terms. “I had admired Ed for many years,” Bening says of her co-star. “But I was so struck by how available he is, as a person and as an actor, that I just found myself watching him and listening to him. I mean, he’s so present, he’s so in the moment, and approaches everything that we do together intelligently. So we both felt very comfortable, and that was a joy. It doesn’t get any better than that, as an actor, in terms of wanting to be with somebody else who’s as generous and as he is, very professional and constantly surprising. He’s always doing something different, always going through things carefully and thoughtfully. He has so much experience and skill, the he can just do the work without anything distracting him.”
Bening’s praise backs up her director’s intuition. “When we were writing the script,” recalls Posin, “the only person I ever pictured for the roles of Tom and Garrett was Ed Harris. I thought, ‘we’re really in trouble if we don’t get him.’ Ed is a full ‘body and soul’ actor. He has to create two characters, one of whom, the husband, we’re with for a very short period of time, just for the opening minutes of the movie. Then having created that image of the husband, he spends the rest of the movie playing against it. For each of the characters, his voice seemed to come from a different part of his throat. His posture is different, even the shape of his face, somehow. When he would walk on set dressed as Garrett, as opposed to Tom, it would feel like there was somebody completely different there. But that’s the genius of Ed Harris. He brings all of that to it, and it’s an amazing thing.”
Having Ed Harris in your movie pays off even beyond the performance onscreen. “Ed brings that sort of matter-of-fact, let’s just tell it like it is, uber-prepared approach. And he makes a mean lasagna,” reports producer Bonnie Curtis. “No, really. His lasagna’s really good.”
For Posin, the privilege of directing Bening was likewise exciting. “Annette has a sensitivity and a crystal radar for truth that’s unmatched,” he observes. “Her ability to find the exact truth in a moment and yet play it sixteen different ways makes me wish—really, this is actually true—makes me wish that for some scenes, I could put five different takes into the movie. I wish I could put in a little subtitle saying, okay, here are five different versions of this moment. Enjoy them all, because they’re all great.”
Posin’s co-writer, Matthew McDuffie, evinces the same awe in watching the cast at work. “It was remarkable,” he recalls. “First off, Annette is like Yo Yo Ma. I mean, she can carve it out of the air. She was delivering these lines—even just reading them around the table—and I felt like, ‘How? How do you do that?’ And then she and Ed would do these improvs, trying to find the moment, trying to find the line. And they would just bat these lines back and forth. It was really a master class, just watching them perform. Even calling it performing doesn’t feel right, because it was so drenched with authentic emotion. Really, you’re just watching them behave. It was marvelous.”
Like Harris, one key to Bening’s work is rigorous preparation. “Especially when we’re doing these small independent films,” notes Julie Lynn, “we don’t have a lot of time, and everything’s completely out of order for the actors. But one thing that is amazing about Annette—and I’ve noticed this on both movies I’ve done with her—is that no matter where we are in the shooting schedule, she knows exactly where her character is, exactly what has happened just before, where it’s going to go, what her mindset is, what her emotional framework is… I mean, we’ve paid her hardly anything to do the movie, she’s bought lunch almost every day for the hair and makeup crew. That entire attitude, you can’t put a value on it. You just want to bottle it up and take it on every movie.”
Bening’s sterling reputation even proved to be a kind of challenge for one of her castmates. As Jess Weixler, who plays Nikki’s daughter Summer, discovered, “I realized right away that I needed to try to spend time around her before shooting started, because otherwise I would be looking at her like she is the amazing, incredible Annette Bening, and not like my mom who I’m, like, over, and moderately bored with, the way you can sometimes see your parents. So as soon as we had a reading, I asked Arie if I could stay around while they took apart the whole script. I just wanted to be like a fly on the wall.”
As one might expect, Robin Williams brought a different dynamic to the set. Producer Bonnie Curtis recalls the sense of relief and release that came with Williams’ arrival: “Robin showed up at exactly the right moment on the film,” she says, “and he did incredible work for us. We were about four weeks into five, or five into six, wherever we were, we didn’t know. And Robin shows up, this breath of fresh air, telling jokes, making the crew crack up, chasing Annette around the farmer’s market with a giant radish… It was this perfect way of realizing, okay, we can get to the end of this, we can get to the finish line. Robin’s here.”
Williams’ lively on-set energy isn’t the only element he brings to a shoot. “He is very, very focused on doing good work for you,” Curtis continues. “It’s all about, ‘Are you okay, boss? Did I do okay, boss?’ He is very earnest and hardworking; he showed up and did incredible work for us.”
In shaping the role of Roger, Posin counted heavily on the natural warmth that Williams brings to any role, and the generosity the audience naturally feels towards the actor. “It’s everything that he brings with him,” the director explains, “all of those great movies and all that humor… In terms of casting the character, Robin brings such a sweetness and a genuineness to the story and to Roger that you come to care for him very, very quickly and you understand why he’s been a friend of Nikki’s.”
Posin expands on that point in considering all three of his leads. “We’re talking about three of the greatest living actors that we have,” he observes. “That’s a very small set of people, and all three of them are in it. They’re phenomenal as talents, but then also, they are all real people. Particularly in Hollywood, not only among actors, but just in life, you encounter all kinds of people who live behind walls and masks to protect themselves. But these are three very authentic human beings, inside and out, and that was really important to me.”
A passion for authenticity is likewise at the heart of the film’s approach to its location. “I’ve always wanted to see a great love story set against Los Angeles,” says Posin. “I live in Los Angeles. I’ve fallen in love here. There are many, many people on the set in front of and behind the camera who have fallen in love in this city. It’s a beautiful place,” Posin reflects. “It has so much to offer visually, emotionally, artistically, that we really ended up spreading this movie almost like a blanket all over the city.”
Producer Julie Lynn likewise relished the opportunity to make the most of what the city had to offer. “One of the really fun things for us was showing cultural L.A., art L.A.,” she attests. “We had unprecedented access to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and that was a really big deal. They’ve had people film there in small chunks before, usually when they’re closed, but we were there for four days and there was no place that we asked to go that their incredible team didn’t accommodate.”
“And in fact,” Lynn continues, “because the museum was live and people were there visiting the whole time, it felt a little bit like we were our own art installation. People would say, ‘What’s going on there? Is that Annette Bening, Is that Ed Harris? What’s happening?’ It was almost like its own kind of performance art… People were just flowing in and out of the movie. And of course, the crew was very nervous. We had reminded them, ‘Hey, carry everything extremely carefully. Because, y’know, Monet can’t paint another one.’”
Everyone involved is quick to point out the extraordinary skills of the crew, which pulled together to create extraordinary production value within the limited schedule and budget of an independent film. Cinematographer Antonio Riestra has been nominated for numerous awards in Prague and his native Spain, and shot “Pa Negre,” Spain’s entry last year into the Academy Awards. “Antonio is an amazing cinematographer,” declares Posin. “He brings genuine sensitivity and an amazing eye that infuses every frame of the movie. He brings a real beauty and a truth to the light… When we met, we really bonded over our love for the light in L.A. The lighting is just beautiful… it has mood and atmosphere and character. That’s such a difficult task, to get the world around the character to somehow reflect what they’re experiencing inside, and Antonio does that beautifully.”
Four-time Oscar nominee Jeannine Oppewall (“L.A. Confidential,” “Pleasantville,” “Seabiscuit,” “The Good Shepherd”) served as production designer. “I’m not the first to say that Jeannine Oppewall is a genius,” avers Posin. “It’s been said many times. Jeannine brings a wealth of experience, and the best taste I’ve ever seen. On a movie like this, when you’re dealing with a limited budget, everyone ends up contributing something. For our character Nikki, Jeannine was able to furnish the house with a lot of her own personal furnishings. She went around to each of our houses and picked out things that would work in different locations. She picked out the art… All the art on the walls either belongs to people in the movie or belongs to local artists who are friends of Jeannine’s. In every scene, you see all the thought and talent and beauty that goes into every set and every space.”
Costume designer Judianna Makovsky likewise earned Oscar nominations for “Pleasantville” and “Seabiscuit,” alongside her colleague Oppewall, and earned a third nomination for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone;” most recently Makovsky designed for the 2012 blockbuster “The Hunger Games.” “She’s an incredible costume designer,” states Posin. “She kind of creates this virtuoso alchemy between what I’m thinking, her own very strong ideas about what the costumes should be, and the actors who arrive with their ideas, especially with actors who are often Method-driven and all about working from the inside out. She’s deeply invested in who these characters are and then translating that to how they would dress.”
That craftsmanship and professionalism are key to the film’s artistic success, and it’s a fact that’s lost on no one. “Even now,” notes Posin during post-production, “in editing the whole movie and watching the progression in terms of costume, production design and lighting, you can really feel the story evolving in this beautiful, natural way. It’s everybody’s contribution. Not only their talent, but in a lot of cases, their actual things. Their clothes, their furniture, their paintings.”
“When you’re working with such very, very experienced veterans,” reflects Annette Bening, “the work is everyone’s work. And it’s an extraordinary privilege to share this with a group that works so closely, and with so much care. I mean, that’s a real measure of talent, how much people care. That’s nothing that you can ever make someone do. You can pay someone more, you can give someone more time to do what they’re doing, but you can’t ever make someone care. That’s something people bring and that’s what great talent has… It’s part of what great talent is. And nothing is more gratifying than working alongside all of our designers and department heads and crew… Everyone working on it just cares so much.”
Bening’s sentiment—echoed by other members of the cast and crew—suggests a profound interweaving of art, craft and life: To make an effective motion picture about falling in love requires its creators to fall in love with the film, itself. “I believe strongly that it’s never too late to fall in love,” says Arie Posin, “and that’s the feeling of this movie… There’s this beautiful thing that happens when you go to a movie theater. Everyone comes in alone, as strangers, and you have this collective experience where you realize you’re not alone. When you laugh at something and everyone else is laughing at the same time, it’s this wonderful feeling, like we share this common humanity. So to me, that would be the most rewarding thing, to see this movie with an audience and have that experience.”
Julie Lynn picks up that thread: “One of the things that I love about what the movie is about is that even after you’re grown up, you’re not done growing. You find new ways to fall in love with the people, some of whom you already love, some of whom may be new. Or we’re still learning how to follow our muse and to do the thing that we’re excited about doing. For Ed’s character Tom, it’s about painting; for us it might be about making films in a certain way. For someone else it might be pursuing something they’ve never thought to pursue before. There’s this idea in our culture that once you reach maturation, you’re kind of done. I feel, at its heart, that LOOK OF LOVE is about not being done. We still love, and we still grow, and we still hurt, and we still break through our boxes that contain us, and life is exciting all the way through.”
If there’s one tenet the story holds close to its heart, it’s the inseparability of love and loss. “I think it’s about loss,” reflects Bening, “and also at the same time, about what can unexpectedly happen that’s delightful and surprising and enlivening. Sometimes as we’re hiding ourselves away, life suddenly offers something to us. Sometimes we’re there and available to take it and sometimes we’re not, so I think it’s about all of those things. It’s funny how things can be juxtaposed that don’t necessarily make sense, but that’s often how we experience our lives. The most prosaic thing is up against the biggest thing, and both of those things can be happening at once. I think that’s part of what this story is about.”
In discussing his personal approach to writing the story, Matthew McDuffie touches on an inspiration dramatically akin to Bening’s insight. “I remember when my mom died,” he recalls, “and I remember as they took her out of hospice, how the attendant said, ‘we’ll take good care of her.’ It was in Mississippi, so it was this humid day, and there were some woods behind the hospice and I swear to God, I could count every leaf on every tree in that entire wood. And that’s kind of what this piece should be about… that life—it sounds cliché, I know—but life is such a gift, and when you do lose someone, it becomes more valuable, you’re hypersensitive to life. It’s that preciousness, I think, that’s what I really want an audience to walk away with.”