British opera singer discusses acting with Binoche in a hushed voice
Language barrier? What language barrier? To make the multilingual “Certified Copy,” a French actress, a British opera singer, an Iranian director, an Italian crew and a passel of translators gathered two years ago to shoot a relationship drama set in the picturesque hills of Tuscany.
Director Abbas Kiarostami (“Taste of Cherry”) cast Juliette Binoche and William Shimell as a couple – either husband and wife or complete strangers – engaged in an elaborate mind game over the course of a languid Sunday afternoon.
“If five people see the film,” Shimell says, “they’ll come out of the theater with five different ideas of what the movie is about.”
In his film acting debut, Shimell plays a stuffy intellectual whose latest book questions the distinctions between originals and copies. The opera star says his three-decade career as an A-list baritone was of “absolutely no use” in preparing him for the nuances of a small drama.
“When you perform in a space like the San Francisco Opera or the Met, they’re enormous spaces,” he says. “The people at the back have to see something, so you can’t act in a small way. It was such an enormous relief to make a film like this, because I was able to do nothing, really. It was enough to think the right thought and hopefully that reads onscreen.”
Joking that he got through the filming by “trying not to panic, above all else,” Shimell credits Binoche as an extraordinary scene partner.
“The thing about Juliette is that she is somehow transparent onscreen,” he says. “You can see what’s going on inside her character’s mind. To transmit that to somebody sitting in a movie theater is an extraordinary talent.”
Shimell enjoyed a nonverbal rapport with his Farsi-speaking director.
“Abbas has made several movies before with people with no acting experience,” he says, “so that was reassuring for me.”
Also reassuring: Shimell’s evening ritual.
“I got most of the crew on the gin and tonic,” he says, laughing. “We’d meet at half-past 6 every day at a little bar in the village and go through the gins rather faster than they were accustomed to.”
Bees’ plight in focus
Beekeepers take center stage in “Queen of the Sun.” The new documentary by San Francisco activist-filmmaker Taggart Siegel is the latest in a swarm of movies addressing “colony collapse syndrome.” Recent entries – “Vanishing of the Bees,” “Colony” – all have documented the mysterious decline in honeybee populations.
Siegel’s movie examines the role played by pesticides, high-fructose corn syrup and exhaust fumes. In the context of humankind’s 10,000-year-old honey-harvesting practices, documentary talking head Michael Pollan (author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”) examines the effect of highly mechanized bee factories in California’s Central Valley that confine the insects to plastic hives.
U.S. soldiers might find pen to be mightier
Every soldier has a story, and Hollywood writers are pitching in to help American GIs tell their tales.
The Veterans Writing Project teams movie scribes, including Ben Garant (“Night at the Museum”), Robin Swicord (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) and Evan Wright (“Generation Kill”), with troops who want to flex their writing muscles.
Hosted by the Writers Guild Foundation, the free workshop welcomes members of the military who have had tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. During last year’s inaugural West Coast workshop, foundation executive Chris Brancato discovered that the soldiers brought a broader range of narrative material than he’d anticipated.
“Out of the 51 veterans who participated, I expected 51 war stories to be told,” he says, “but it wasn’t like that at all.”
Instead, Brancato says, “These veterans wanted to get writing tips from the pros. There may be a ‘Hurt Locker’ that comes out of this, but that’s not our goal.
“What we found is, even if you’ve just come out of Fallujah and you’re writing a science-fiction movie set on the planet Zenon, it’s still therapeutic to write.”