Just A Minute With: Todd Solondz, "heir to Woody Allen"

VENICE (Reuters Life!) - Director Todd Solondz has been described as “the true heir to Woody Allen,” for his new movie “Life During Wartime” that premiered at the Venice film festival to glowing reviews and will next play at this week’s movie festival in Toronto.

U.S. Director Todd Solondz poses during a photo call at the Venice Lido September 7, 2004. Solondz has been described as "the true heir to Woody Allen," for his new movie "Life During Wartime" that premiered at the Venice film festival to glowing reviews and will next play at this week's movie festival in Toronto. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico/Files

A sequel-of-sorts to 1998 critical hit “Happiness”, the film returns to the dysfunctional and troubled Jordan family and again uses offbeat humour to tackle tough topics of paedophilia, incest, suicide and depression.

Solondz spoke to Reuters in Venice about the movie and what it feels like to be compared to comedy the master, Allen.

Q: Why did you call the film “Life After Wartime”? While there are references to conflicts going on in the wider world, it is never overtly part of your picture.

A: “It’s always good to catch an audience off balance and there are different kinds of wars. There are of course the wars in the Middle East and Africa and so forth, and of course there are the personal, internal wars that we live with. And the title song is sung by the main character, and it’s not the first time I have named a movie after the title song.

“But as an American it has been a peculiar experience, this war. As we know the history of the world is the history of war, but at this time since, I guess, 9/11 and then 2003, I’ve lived in a country (the United States) where there was not a draft. It was very distinct populations that were going off to fight ... We could be so insulated, so many of us, from the realities of war. We could talk a really good talk about it in New York, but I don’t know anyone, and nor am I connected to anyone who was connected to anyone who was actually involved militarily. I think the movie in some sense is reflective of that.”

Q: The characters in your film elicit plenty of laughter, but it often has an element of humiliation about it. What do you say to critics who dislike that about your movies?

A: “I certainly can relate to humiliation. It’s a good friend of mine. In fact, there are two things I would hope to achieve. One is I hope to survive it and the second is I hope not to be humiliated. I think it’s a little reductive to make that argument but I’m not interested in arguing. I just accept that. I don’t hope to appeal to everybody.”

Q: The film deals with universal themes like guilt, forgiveness and responsibility, but to what extent are you making a film about the United States specifically?

A: “I let you make these distinctions. I taught in Singapore last year for a bit, and the country is comprised of a lot of shopping centers and condominiums. It’s a dictatorship but a dictatorship with a Time Out magazine. It made me think this could be Florida in many ways and it made me think many people, if they could have the AC (air conditioning) of these condominiums combined with the convenience of shopping centers, might forego a lot of liberties that come with democracy. That really could be the American dream in some sense.”

Q: Many blockbusters appear to be critic-proof, but good reviews are important to smaller films, and so far, critics have been pretty good to your film.

A: “Certainly having good reviews is critical to helping launch and sell the film, but ultimately the movie has to sell itself. People ultimately have to embrace it as something meaningful as an experience or to reject it. My movies have never been terribly profitable, and so I don’t have any illusions about this one. But if I were interested in pursuing profits I would be in a different business. I made this choice, and maybe one day I’ll make a movie that will be profitable for people. I haven’t made one that’s very profitable for me.”

Q: How does it feel to be compared to Woody Allen, as in The Hollywood Reporter’s review of “Life During Lifetime”?

A: “His movies make money. His movies play everywhere. If I looked like Tom Cruise they just wouldn’t say such a thing.”

Q: Has Allen’s work influenced your own?

A: “Yes, but he and a million other people. Not to diminish, I’m in awe. There’s no one as prodigious as he in the U.S. and of course he takes great pleasure in making a movie every year. I could never imagine myself doing this every year. It would just never be a fantasy of mine. I just get by. It’s like ‘Oh my God I actually got money to make another movie. It’s amazing. I wasn’t fired. I wasn’t sued. It’s wonderful.”