Blindness: Fernando Meirelles Interview
We chatted to City Of God and The Constant Gardener director Fernando Meirelles about his new film Blindness, based on the bestselling novel by Josť Saramago. Set in the near future, Blindness stars Julianne Moore stars as the only person in an unnamed city not to be struck blind by a mysterious disease. We asked Fernando how he went about adapting such as well loved book and what he thought of the controversy the film has caused with activist groups
LOVEFILM: Was Josť Saramago involved in the making of the film at all?
Fernando Meirelles: Yeah, after I signed on to the project, I went to Lisbon to meet him and I had questions. A lot of questions. We met over dinner and I thought he was going to answer my questions, but he didn’t want to. He said, “This is my book and this is your film, so let’s not mix up things.”
And I really wanted to know a lot of things. But you know in the end I think he was right. I think if he had told me something… I don’t know, about a specific character or event in the film, I would try to follow whatever he would say and not what I was thinking.
LF: Did you share any of your casting ideas at that point? Julianne Moore, for example?
FM: No, not at that point. His idea for the doctor’s wife was Susan Sarandon, who was also in my list because I like her very much, but we wanted an actress who was younger. I think she’s 59 and we wanted like 10 or 12 years younger.
There were three things that he asked us. One, that the film should be spoken in English. The other one would be he didn’t want the story to be set in a specific place. He said, “This is not Toronto or Brazil. It should be very generic. Nobody should be able to identify it. And for the dog with the tears, he wanted a big dog, so we had a big dog. But he hated the dog. So that was bad news!
LF: Were you surprised at the reaction of the National Federation of the Blind in America?
FM: No, it was not a surprise because when we were preparing the film, when they read that this story was going to be shot, they wrote us a letter saying that they didn’t approve of the project. They only would approve the project if we sent them the script so they could revise and correct it. They were very bossy, you know. So we politely answered them that it’s opinion and that every body can have their own opinion, etc., etc., but it’s our film. And so, as promised, before we released the film, they did demonstrations in front of 75 cinemas. To be honest, they missed the point completely. They thought the film tells the audience that blind people can’t adapt to life; that blind people can’t work because they are stupid and aggressive. And it has nothing to do with blind people. It’s about human nature. It’s about people losing their humanity.
FM: I think so as well, but I think this is an older story. It’s really something that we humans… we have. We’re ignorant of ourselves, right? We really don’t know much of who we are. And if we don’t know who we are, we don’t know who “the other” is. We really have this incapacity of seeing what’s in front of us. When we don’t want to see, we really don’t see, right? That’s a bit of what the film’s about.
LF: Rehearsing in blindfolds was a big part of the process, which you personally took part in. What did you learn while confronting what is one of most people’s worst nightmares?
FM: Every week we would take small groups and blindfold people for hours and do exercises on the set. And when we did it, in every group there were always two or three people who, after a couple of hours, would sit down and cry. They really, really couldn’t go on. But for me it was the opposite. It was so, so comfortable. So cosy. The first time I did it, we did a lot of things and then we were taken to a restaurant. We had to eat with our blindfolding, then they said “OK, you can remove your blindfold.” But I didn’t want to. I think stayed in the blindfold for another eight minutes. It was so pleasant, you know, being with myself. It’s so liberating.
LF: What are you working on next?
FM: Right now I’m just finishing a TV series for Brazilian television called Sound and Fury. It’s 12 episodes and it’s going to be broadcast in February. I’m working on a comedy called 20 Something and it was supposed to shoot next year, but I’m taking a break. But the next film for sure will be very light, simple, hopeful and comic.
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