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Of Frost, Fantasy and Screwdriver Darts

"Men are always inventing women": David Thewlis and Irene Jacob in Paul Auster's The Inner Life of Martin Frost (Photo: New Yorker Films)

By Annaliese Griffin

Paul and Sophie Auster are expert whisperers. By chance, The Reeler ended up sitting in front of the father-daughter duo last week at BAM’s sneak preview of The Inner Life of Martin Frost, and although they carried on a hushed conversation throughout the first 10 minutes of the movie, it was impossible to scoop the content.

Frost, which officially opens Sept. 7, represents Auster’s first directorial project in nearly a decade. Novelist Martin Frost, nimbly played by David Thewlis of Harry Potter fame, settles into a friend’s empty country home only to have his solitude broken by a beautiful woman. Or muse. Or figment of his imagination. Or character from the story that he is writing. The nestled realities and spiraling plot are classic Auster, but the economy of the direction -- there are only four characters (one played by Sophie), and all of the action takes place at the country home -- somehow simplifies the story into an easily digestible film. Irene Jacob and The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli round out the cast.

Much more The Holiday meets The Muse than Lulu on the Bridge, Auster’s last movie in which the viewer’s confusion was outpaced only by the viewer’s exhaustion, Frost benefits from a sense of humor about itself. The slapsticky elements of a classic farce stud the action: A chair collapses unexpectedly; two characters play a game of screwdriver darts (Auster later predicted that a screwdriver dart craze would sweep the nation this summer). Frost even gently prods the director, albeit in a supremely self-referential manner, when Martin's muse Claire pokes fun at him for writing a book with two characters who share the same name -- even as her last name is Martin. These comic elements lend the movie a buoyancy rarely found in Auster’s films.

During the Q&A that followed the screening, the audience focused its questions on the work of producing the film rather than meandering down the endless paths of meaning in its plotline. Auster displayed the same sense of humor about his work that came through in the film. “Men are always inventing women,” he said of Claire. “Sometimes we grow up enough to ... realize that women are real, too.” After briefly speaking about how to interpret the characters’ actions, he paused and rejected the imposition of any kind of realism: “It’s just so farfetched, I mean, it’s ridiculous.”

Asked how much of the translation from page to screen was his work, Auster said, “The whole thing, crazy as it is, came out of this head. I thought about every shot.” He went on to explain that he originally wrote Frost in 1999 after a German director approached him seeking a 30-minute film for a series. The production company stipulated that one-third of the payments to cast and crew would be released after approval of the film; Auster’s friend and fellow director Hal Hartley had already run into trouble with this arrangement, so he pulled out of the project and put the script on the shelf for several years. Auster went on to use the script as a movie embedded within his 2002 novel, The Book of Illusions. “It’s a real tightrope act to describe films,” he said. “You need enough words to make the reader see the film in their head and few enough to keep it moving.”

Speaking of the adaptation of Frost from short screenplay to film-within-a-novel to feature length film, Auster told the audience: “It’s actually pretty simple: The Inner Life of Martin Frost was always conceived of as a film. It’s certainly not going to be at your local cineplex, but I didn’t make it for that.”

Posted at June 3, 2007 9:33 PM

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