Excerpts from three articles from the Argentinian press on the occasion of the Pantalla Pinamar Encuentro Cinematograico Argentino - Europeo, where Kenneth Branagh presented The Magic Flute and Sleuth
**Thanks to Isabelle for the translation
In the beginning, some people called you "the new Orson Welles". What do you think of this comparison now?
"I am not a man of his calibre, but I am very glad that I have made 11 films so far... In that sense I prefer not to be like him."
There aren't many actors who have played and produced for the stage, cinema and TV, and who have tried their hand at opera. What have you left to experiment with?
"At this point in my career I am very thrilled. I feel that the challenge is to keep on doing what I'm already doing, but even better. I have much more experience and I feel that I'm living a deep inward renaissance. The challenge is to extend, to enrich my work. I think that making a film about football could be a new experience [he smiles]."
Your last films seem to be a judicious mix of painting of various ages and CGI effects, with complex one-shot takes. It's very different from the simpler style of 'Peter's Friends'...
"Sleuth is simple, but much more serious, austere and modern than 'Peter's Friends'. It doesn't have the warmth which characterized 'Peter's Friends'. Yes, I admit they are very different. What you say is true: I'm more and more influenced by painting, maybe because I spend a lot of time in art galleries. I am very enthusiastic about thinking we can make frames which are different from those we have already seen on screen. I'm doing experiments; I'd like to try out three-dimensional computer graphics. I'd like to get more an more involved in the secrets of 'The Magic Flute' and to find out how far technology can lead me. Hence the opening one-shot take of 'The Magic Flute', which is six and a half minutes long and almost wholly digitalized. However, I want to come back to simplicity, but with all the technological resources."
And in 'Sleuth'?
"I think it is simple, but I suppose that, in each one of my films, I try to find the most suitable style and not to impose one, I try to go beyond my preoccupations, my passions and my interest in painting. That's why my films are all very different."
'The Magic Flute' looks like a mix of Ken Russell and Harry Potter.
"Someone who has seen my two last films told me about two producers. 'The Magic Flute' is my more eccentric and psychedelic film, as if we had shot it on a hallucinogenic drug. It's as if I had headed for the comic, the absurd, even foolery, but also for utmost darkness and depth. Those who pointed that out to me didn't bother to explain that it can be so conflicting. I think they'll never find out the secrets of the 'Flute'... One of those producers who are characterized by their eccentricity and their extravagance is Russell, a music lover. The other one is Michael Powell, who produced 'The Red Shoes'. You don't often find so much imagination in cinema nowadays."
Is cinema turning into an Úlitist art?
"It's a very interesting question. Cinema is evolving impressively fast: it's changing the audience's habits. It's not a matter of generation. I don't know, it may become an Úlitist art, but it will last. I'm determined to go to the cinema once a week at least. It would be easier to stay at home and to watch a DVD. I must be less lazy: I'm incapable of watching a film in a plane. It breaks my heart to see 2 years of work ending on a TV screen with a sound which seems to come from a paper cup."
Is a lifetime enough for such an active artist?
"A lifetime is not enough for anybody. Everybody thinks that, once you have gained experience, you should be 25 years old again, but unfortunately it's not the case."
How do you face the passage of time?
"I'm aware of the passage of time. I lost my parents recently, which forces me to realize how precious time is. I'm 47, and I'm going to try to use the time I have left, whether it's long or short, not only making films but also enjoying other people's work."
You are so productive, is it because you sleep little?
"I sleep now and again. While coming here I had a nice conversation in the car with my friend Jimmy [Yuill] and I went over Cyrano de Bergerac, which I'm going to make for radio in the U.S.A. I take time to sleep, just because I must be fresh so as to be able to enjoy everything.
There aren't many actors who have achieved triumph in Hollywood and who, firstly, go as far as Buenos Aires; secondly, can't get their luggage back in Ezeiza Airport after a long journey from London, because of trade-union measures; thirdly, despite these annoyances, manage to remain kind and in good spirits at least during the first interview they give to the Argentine media, a short time after they first walk upon the Argentine soil. [...] Branagh gives me a warm and relaxed welcome and a clap on the shoulder ; he remembers that Clarin [the newspaper] was in Toronto in September, when while drinking tea he made the decision to do the trip to Argentina.
Dressed in black from head to foot, he says: "Honestly I don't know very much about Argentine culture, cinema and writers. That's one of the reasons why I wanted to come here. But I have been here for such a short while that I have just started getting a shallow overall impression. I'd like to come back with my wife (Lindsay Brunnock, an art director, who stopped working when they got married in 2003). She has a passion for South America in general."
Has she come here before?
"Yes, she came to Argentina and she liked it a lot. And my friend Jimmy [Yuill], who was the acting coach for 'The Magic Flute', who worked with the singers and who featured in many of my films, came here 32 years ago. He came to work as a teacher in the Falklands, he studied for a while in Buenos Aires and then he left."
It must have been in 1975, that is to say long before the war.
"Yes... He loved the place. I spoke with him before I came, and he told me I would be surprised to see how very friendly the local people are. I think that the war and the passivity of the country aren't understood abroad, because one tends to think about Argentina from a different perspective."
You won't stay a very long time here in Buenos Aires, will you?
"No, I'm going to ferret about round here, run all over the place like crazy and that's all. But I aim to come back with my wife, for a month or 6 weeks."
Branagh talks in a calm and gentle voice which contrasts with the impetuosity he usually gives to his characters.
The original 'Sleuth' lasted for two and a half hours, one more hour than your version, but it's not the same with the opera. Why can you shorten a film and not an opera ?
"In 'The Magic Flute' we deleted the interval and we curtailed the scenes of dialogue a lot; they are very much longer in the German original. We didn't keep all of them. For instance, the great English poet W. H. Auden made an adaptation of 'The Magic Flute' and he modified the chronological order. I didn't feel the need for that. I knew that we just had to delete the interval and to shorten the scenes of dialogue so that this three hour piece turns into a two hour and twenty minutes piece."
And, with the same kindness, he presents his best face to the photographer.
[...] Kenneth Branagh explained: "The readiness is all" is not only a line from the end of William Skakespeare's 'Hamlet', but it also introduces the most important line of the play, which is "To be or not to be". And "The readiness is all" means the readiness to fall in love, to get married, to live your life. It means the readiness to live."
[...] "Carlos Morelli - the programming director of the festival - was very modest and told me that Argentina was the most wonderful country, and that the most clever people in the world were in Pinamar. And that I had to really think about coming", Branagh said when he was asked what brought him to these pampas.
Very likeable and in good spirits with the audience, [...] he said: "Never before have I been in a country where people gave me such a warm welcome."