‘It became totally irrelevant if I was a man or a woman’: Jessica Woodworth talks about working with Geraldine Chaplin on ‘Luka’

“I knew from day one that Geraldine Chaplin needed to play the General,” says director Jessica Woodworth of Charlie Chaplin’s daughter playing one of the central characters in his latest drama, “Luka,” which will have its world premiere in the Big Screen Competition at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

“However, not because I am a woman,” emphasizes the director. “This has nothing to do. In fact, my intention was for her to play a male character, but our working relationship is so strong that I told her I couldn’t do a movie without her. In the end, she became totally irrelevant if she was a man or a woman.”

The film is inspired by Dino Buzzati’s classic novel “The Tatar Steppe”, and stars Chaplin and Jonas Smulders, a former European shooting star, as the title character. “I studied Italian literature in college and lived in Italy for a while,” Woodworth says of how she first came across Buzzati’s story. “It’s the kind of book that calls to your soul and stays there, echoing through you over time. And it has always stayed close to me in some way. It became something of a continuing source of fascination and I had this great desire to transpose it onto the screen.”

“From the moment I decided to adapt it to the screen, I had already made several decisions: an era that was going to take it to the future,” continues the director, who has set “Luka” in a futuristic world, parched by water. reality. The other decision that was made early in the project was to shoot it monochrome. “From day one, it was black and white. There was no discussion. The sensations you get from black and white are completely different from color, it transposes things into a kind of abstraction.”

The beautiful Sicilian locations are captured on vivid 16mm film, another decision made early on by Woodworth, who shot two of his previous films (“Khadak” and “Altiplano”) on 35mm. Making a movie, he says, is a “slow and cumbersome process” that brings cast and crew together in a way that was vital to his last film. “‘Luka’ required a degree of mobility that I call oxygen, as if they were asking you to breathe, the camera crew needs to breathe with the actors, they have to be agile, there is an interaction between these bodies, the lens and the camera. So , 16mm was naturally more flexible and allowed for that dance between the protagonist and the camera.”

“I work very closely with the actors,” Woodworth says of his process, which also includes a focus on acting over dialogue. “I only confirm the dialogue on the day of the shoot, which is very daring. Maybe reckless. I find that it actually brings the most truthful performances. And I really encourage them to always open up their minds and see things from different angles.”

“Luka” marks Woodworth’s first solo directing credit since his debut in the 2002 feature “The Virgin Diaries.” All of her other films since then have been co-directed with Peter Brosens, who is serving as an executive producer on his latest film. The decision to be a sole director arose from practical issues: both Woodworth and Brosens could not be away from home for long periods of time. “I developed it through the years on my own and [Brosens] he was closely involved every step of the way. I also speak Italian and this project stems from years and years of commitment to Italian literature, it was a very natural evolution.”

Bringing “Luka” to Rotterdam seemed natural to Woodworth. “I am convinced that it is the perfect platform. We’ve been there with all our other movies and this is a Dutch co-production, so it’s almost like home territory. And we’re looking forward to it because it took a long time to finish because we were looking for the right tone and structure. It is a great festival and we know it well. Also, I think the audience is very honest and very expressive, and that’s great too. It’s a great radar to have where you can feel the pulse and how the film is perceived, which is not the case everywhere. In Rotterdam, it is the case”.

As for what’s next, Woodworth says she and Brosens have already begun development on their next project, “The Grass Sings,” a movie about “a girl who can hear the grass.” Will the project bring her and Brosens together as co-directors? She doesn’t know yet. “Maybe. We’re sure to build it together. I was also invited to direct a different project, so we’ll see. As you know, co-productions take a long time, but we’re here to stay.”

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