With this set-up, it would be extraordinarily easy for the film to slip into crass satire. The subject matter is practically its own genre by now, composed primarily of pretentious low-brow comedies posturing as populist “art” (think American Dreamz), and Interview smartly takes the high road by defying convention and not exploiting its more sensational aspects. There is no bad guy; there is no good girl. Instead, what we have are two extremely flawed human beings who are battling each other for validation and relevance in the increasingly fickle world of information consumption.
In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was assassinated by a muslim extremist, presumably for his controversial film Submission (a ten-minute short criticizing the oppression of women in Islam). In the wake of his murder, actor/director Steve Buscemi decided to pay tribute by completing Van Gogh’s vision of an English remake of his film Interview. Transplanted to the United States, Buscemi’s poignant rendition of Van Gogh’s meditation on media and celebrity attains an of-this-moment urgency by addressing the increasing fever pitch of celebrity-worship in America while also examining the often sadistic relationship between journalist and subject.
Sienna Miller plays Katya, a spoiled American soap star who shows up an hour late for an interview with Pierre Peders (Buscemi), a washed-up political writer for a newsweekly who is more than a little insulted that his editor has assigned him to such a worthless puff piece. What begins as an unpleasant but short-lived exchange between Pierre and Katya in a restaurant eventually turns into a long night of psychological warfare in Katya’s apartment. The ambiguous nature of Pierre’s and Katya’s game of one-upmanship is emphasized as the sexual tension between the two is eventually overwhelmed by a surrogate father-daughter dynamic that Miller and Buscemi deftly handle with layers of delicate nuance.
Katya knows she’s a bad actress, but believes that “one day I’ll be good.” She resents Pierre for his condescension and is hurt by his obvious loathing for her as the personification of an impending pop cultural apocalypse. In this sense, her manipulation tactics are more defensive than malicious; the problem is, one senses that she’s come to rely on these methods in every area of her life (note the angelic smiles she dispenses for star-struck fans and the way she casually lies to her boyfriend over the phone). Pierre’s demons are brought forth by Katya in a more overt way; he wants to hug her, he wants to strangle her, he wants to call her daughter, he wants to sleep with her, he wants to eviscerate her in print. They both have secrets and lies to spare, and, over the course of their extended “interview”, it becomes clear that neither will escape the confrontation unscathed.
As an actor, Buscemi is reliably spectacular. He’s all sardonic wit and bitter quips; his insults have a nasty edge to them that keep the audience from ever completely siding with him. Still, he invests enough world-weary, battered sympathy to combat the understandable impulse to vilify Pierre. Ultimately, this film belongs to Sienna Miller. She plays the young American actress with charismatic conviction while maintaining a knowing edge that elevates her performance above the notion that she could possibly be playing herself. Choices like this and last year’s Factory Girl should guarantee that Miller is more than a flash in the pan, and as she continues to grow as an actress her roles can only get more interesting.
The film’s aesthetic is appropriately grimy; the hand-held digital is reminiscent of recent chamber dramas such as Tape, and similarly promotes an intimacy between the audience and the film that borders on voyeurism. Appropriate, given the subject.
Interview opened at the AMC Southroads this past Friday, but will likely be gone within two weeks (it’s only playing in a handful of venues across the country). See it soon, it’s worth the time.