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Monday, February 17, 2014

Alfonso Cuarón Q&A at FSLC

Alfonso Cuarón at the Film Society of Lincoln Center last Thursday
Photo by Joshua Handler
 By Joshua Handler

Alfonso Cuarón's magnificent Best Picture-nominee Gravity may not be the strongest of the nine nominees, but it is a masterful piece of filmmaking in its own right from a visionary director.  I have now seen Gravity three times.  Each time, the finale leaves me sitting in my seat, breath held, hands gripping my armrests.  Each time, the visuals give me chills.  And each time, I get emotional watching the last part.  Yes, Gravity has its fair share of screenplay issues, but it is sincere and as an experience, it is unbeatable.  Bullock is powerful and sitting through the film's 91 minutes is like riding a roller coaster.  Critics will call any movie a "roller coaster", but this one actually is.  Cuarón and his team have created an unforgettable piece of cinema, and I was lucky enough to be at a screening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center where Cuarón was Skyped in for a Q&A.  He was supposed to be at the Film Society in person, but the snowy NYC weather didn't allow him to come.

Cuarón said that he originally envisioned Gravity as a small film, an intimate story of a woman dealing with grief.  The small film aspect didn't stay for long when Cuarón realized that this project would be a massive undertaking.  Before the idea for Gravity came about, Cuarón was prepping a small road movie with Charlotte Gainsbourg, but that fell through with the 2008 economic crash.

To make it seem as if Bullock was in space (blood doesn't rush to the head in space), Bullock was kept upright while LED light panels and screens circled around her instead of her actually spinning around.  The spinning LED panels were director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki's idea.  Lubezki was at a Peter Gabriel concert and saw the moving LED panels which gave him the inspiration.

Gravity took years to make - 2.5 years to develop the technology and 2 more years to complete the film.  Filming took 11 weeks one summer and a few more weeks the following summer, said Cuarón.  Sandra Bullock trained for five months to prepare for her emotionally and physically demanding role.

With Gravity, Cuarón wanted to explore the theme of adversity and used Steven Spielberg's Duel and Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped (easily one of the greatest films of all time) as inspiration.

This Skype Q&A was led by Film Comment's editor Gavin Smith.  Cuarón's insight into the film was fascinating, as was his sense of humor.  When one audience member brought up scientific holes in the film, Cuarón joked, "It's a movie!"  And a damn good one at that.

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