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    ‘Spencer’ | Anatomy of a Scene

    Film directors walk viewers through one scene of their movies, showing the magic, motives and the mistakes from behind the camera.Film directors walk viewers through one scene of their movies, showing the magic, motives and the mistakes from behind the camera. More

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    Kristen Stewart’s Princess Diaries

    Kristen Stewart has sometimes been accused of just playing variations on herself, as if that isn’t half the reason we’re drawn to movie stars. In “Twilight” (2008), she brought a specific and sullen appeal to a heroine conceived as a blank slate for female readers; later, in “Personal Shopper” (2017), when Stewart traded her polo shirts for a rich client’s shimmering dress, you could see both the star and the character regarding her new look in the mirror: Is this me? Could I make it me?At first, her new drama “Spencer” would appear to be a sop for the sort of moviegoer who’d demand a more rigorous transformation from the “Twilight” actress: Directed by Pablo Larraín (“Jackie”), the movie is a psychological portrait of Princess Diana as she unravels, then rallies, over a three-day Christmas holiday. Instead of hiring a British actress, Larraín chose Stewart, a contemporary figure of California cool who met me on the day of our interview wearing a brick-red pinstripe suit, her jacket sleeves rolled up to reveal a small constellation of tattoos.The 31-year-old actress who sat opposite me on a balcony at the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood may not have looked like the obvious pick to play the people’s princess, but a funny thing happens as you watch “Spencer”: The distance that initially seemed so vast between the two women will close to the point where it seems like the canniest casting ever. Stewart, after all, knows a thing or two about a life lived in the public eye, the scrutiny leveled at a high-profile romance, and the private moments snatched away by paparazzi.Stewart gave her all to the movie, studying Diana’s posture, mannerisms and accent; the resulting performance, potent and provocative, has thrust her to the front of this year’s crop of best-actress Oscar contenders. “I used to think that I needed spontaneity and anxiety to propel me into something truthful and that if I had too much control over it, it was immediately going to become fabricated,” Stewart said. “I just didn’t have the confidence to hold that and be like, ‘No, you can design something.’”But Larraín had that confidence in her.“She’s like an actress from the ’50s or ’60s,” the director said. “What she’s doing for the story can be at a very grounded character level, but it’s elevated to a poetic level that creates an enormous amount of mystery and intrigue. And that’s probably the best cocktail you could ever find for a performance on camera.”Stewart as Princess Diana (opposite Laura Benson) in a scene from “Spencer.”NeonStewart knew that taking on “Spencer” would be a challenge, and in the days leading up to the shoot, she even developed lockjaw as she ceaselessly practiced her British accent. But once she was on set, finally channeling Diana, her fears melted away: “At the end of week one, I was like, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever done. This is the most alive I’ve ever felt.’”Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.What was your first impression when Pablo pitched “Spencer” to you?He was so sure that I should do this, and I thought that was audacious and crazy because it just doesn’t seem like the most instinctive, immediate choice.Did he tell you why it had to be you?He was like, “There’s something about Diana that we’ll never know. You make me feel like that. I’ve seen your work, and I never really know what you’re thinking.” And I feel that way about Diana as well. Even though I feel this overwhelming attraction to her spirit and her energy, there’s something that’s disarming about her. I want to hang out with her. I want to race her down a long hallway. I want to, like, meet her kid.Still, was it a natural step to say yes to this movie?The only reason that you work as an actor for this long is to try and outdo yourself every time. This one was just the proper step up that I couldn’t really say no to. It was ambitious and attractive, and I was like, “If I can’t do that, then I’ll just stop and direct movies instead.” And it’s fun to imagine a larger conversation. It’s fun to imagine if you’re capable of holding that.What emerged of Diana as you researched her?There were so many layers to read. There were so many ways in which she tried to reveal herself, that weren’t necessarily in the form of a direct sentence. She wasn’t allowed to be like, “I’m dying, and he doesn’t love me.” I think the way she expressed herself is so interesting because there are so many lenses between you and that communication.It’s like, to not acknowledge that every single person in the world is sitting here on this balcony with us is wild. We have to pretend they’re not because we’re being nice to each other. Which is nice! But also, we’re talking to everyone in the whole world right now.And I’m asking you to be vulnerable with me, as though what you say won’t be chopped up, reblogged and retweeted by people who aren’t here.You roll the dice, definitely. One could write a very long paper on the exchange between a journalist and an actor. That’s obviously not why we’re here, but yeah.Though Stewart knows something of what Diana experienced with paparazzi, the actress said she was never told “to sit and stay in the way that was so damaging and dishonest.”Ryan Pfluger for The New York TimesBut it kind of is. Diana had to be incredibly savvy about her image and the way it was used, while still radiating utter authenticity. Actors are required to do the same.Every way that we reach out toward each other has to be designed from an interior place. Therefore, it’s a form of manipulation. You want someone to understand you; you want to make someone feel the way that you feel. It’s sad to think about her in general because she’s just the most coveted, loved and also rejected, self-hating person. Those things shouldn’t go together.Unless some of it is cause and some of it is effect. Do we respond to her in a way that causes a little bit of that? When she’s called the people’s princess, does that imply a form of ownership?Of course, which I think she probably tried to cultivate. I think she had to reach out to get any sort of warm acceptance, when obviously at home she felt invisible and unheard and stifled and cold. She was looking sort of everywhere she could for that kind of love. She was the first royal in the entire history of them to reach out and touch people physically, in their face, without gloves on. That rocked people to their core.How did you square some of her contradictions?There were people that were like, “She would never use profanity.” And then other memories would be like, “Oh, gosh, she just came in swearing.” So you can’t know her. With famous people, you hear someone go, “I met them once and they’re not very nice,” but it’s like, “Were you asking them how their day went when they were coming out of the pisser? Maybe they weren’t nice to you in that moment.” People love to have one experience sort of sum up an entire human’s personality. You just have to take everyone’s perspective and shove them together and kind of figure out your own.You’re clearly speaking from personal experience. But in other interviews I’ve read, you demur when asked to draw a direct line between your time in the public eye and Diana’s.Five Movies to Watch This WinterCard 1 of 51. “The Power of the Dog”: More

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    Whether Dancing or Still, the Body in ‘Ema’ Tells the Story

    In Pablo Larraín’s unsettling film, Mariana Di Girolamo stars as a dancer who finds freedom through reggaeton dance.Ema is the oddest of things: a dancer with a passion for setting things on fire. In “Ema,” Pablo Larraín’s film, the title character has a particular look, too: bleached hair slicked back so severely that it appears to be shellacked to her head. That hairstyle, hard and impenetrable, is like a coat of armor, which makes sense. Ema is made of ice. Until she dances.Set in the coastal city of Valparaíso in Chile, “Ema,” now in theaters and on Amazon and other digital platforms starting Sept. 14, tells the story of a couple, an older choreographer and a younger dancer — Gastón (Gael García Bernal) and Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) — who adopted but then abandoned a Colombian boy named Polo. The reason they give up the boy turns out to have something to do with fire; he’s fond of it. It’s not hard to draw conclusions about who might have encouraged him.Ema is a member of her husband’s experimental dance company, and it’s no secret that she has lost interest in it — and in him. Her obsession is reggaeton and its dance, which she relishes for its aggressive sensuality; outside of the dance studio with her friends, her body is electric as she lets her limbs fly and her hips shake. Gastón is not impressed. To him, reggaeton is music to listen to in prison, “to forget about the bars you have in front of you.”Their generation gap is apparent as Gastón continues: “It’s a hypnotic rhythm that turns you into a fool. It’s an illusion of freedom.”Moving like a unit: A scene from “Ema,” with choreography by José Vidal.Music Box FilmsIs it? Who is Ema? She gave up her son, but seems to want him back. She’s a seductress who carries — and uses — her body with steely, precise intention. While her inner world is a mystery, it’s clear what reggaeton allows her to feel: free.Dance is the key. But unlike so many films and television series of late, it isn’t a superficial layer tacked onto the story. In “Ema,” Larraín, the director of “Jackie” and the coming “Spencer,” has given dance, or movement, a leading role. It’s also a means to an end that extends beyond conventional choreography: How can dance bring Ema closer to freedom? Whether she is alone or with her friends — a collective body moving as one — her physicality spreads across every scene. And she doesn’t even have to be moving: Her inner vibrations are just as lucid in stillness.Because of that, the film, with its dreamlike score, is something of a dance, too — floating, gliding and then, all of a sudden, turning on a dime. “Ema” is an action film, but not in the conventional sense: The body is the action. And while there is dialogue, words add up to less than the deliberate pacing of each scene and the poetic power of Di Girolamo’s frame.In a magnetic solo at the port, dusky light envelops Di Girolamo’s silhouette as she stands with her back to us and her legs wide apart. Her right arm, bent at the elbow, is raised, her hand in a fist. Rocking her hips, she swings from side to side as her arms open and close. It is hypnotic, but she’s no fool. She’s strong and tenacious; you sense the tension leaving her body through her dance.Di Girolamo in a dance scene at the port in “Ema.”Music Box FilmsAs she picks up the pace, walking with purpose and changing direction, her back undulates and her angled arms carve through the air to an imaginary beat. Moments later, she’s on a carousel ride, but there are echoes of her dance: As she grips her horse’s pole, she sways, dipping from side to side; she’s almost relaxed.Once she stops moving, her expression changes: Her thick brows frame a stony face. She is catlike with the kind of stare that makes you feel invisible; at the same time, she dances as if you were invisible. She’s beyond needing an audience.Di Girolamo is not a trained dancer, though she studied flamenco for a few months as a teenager. Her mother decided she would be better off doing that than being in therapy. “It was literally a therapy for me,” Di Girolamo said in a recent Zoom interview. “It gave me the necessary tools to be empowered and to continue ahead.”But she does love to dance. (Her husband is a D.J.) In “Ema,” she had tools to help her body acclimate to her character: One was the hair, which helped her to see Ema as an energy — like the sun, like fire. “She’s very hypnotic, and in some ways she’s very dangerous or destructive,” Di Girolamo said, “but you also want to be close to her.”“She’s very hypnotic, and in some ways she’s very dangerous or destructive,” Di Girolamo said of Ema, “but you also want to be close to her.”Music Box FilmsThe other was her training. Di Girolamo worked closely with the Chilean choreographer José Vidal, whose company appears in the film. Mónica Valenzuela was also part of the choreographic team, and her focus had more to do with the reggaeton moments. “I think Pablo wanted more of a nasty movement that I wasn’t apparently quite able to find,” Vidal said with a laugh, in an interview. “So she came to add some spice. It’s not like there is phrase one, phrase two — it is a mix of all of the materials.”Vidal’s choreographic approach involved studying Di Girolamo’s mobility: the flexibility of her spine, the range of her arms. He then turned that into a language. “More of a street dance, reggaeton sort of thing,” he said. “But it never came directly from that. My intention was, OK, we’re going arrive there. But we’re going to arrive there coming from an inside place.”The process began with immersive work that helped Di Girolamo to “connect into herself, into her emotions, into her structure,” Vidal said. “How does it feel to move here” — he patted his chest and swayed his shoulders — “and what connects you with each emotion? It was never about making her imitate or repeat something directly.”Vidal on the set. To choreograph for Di Girolamo, he studied her mobility and turned it into a language.via FabulaDi Girolamo also had to blend in with the professional dancers in Vidal’s company. The opening scene features an excerpt from his “Rito de Primavera,” inspired by “The Rite of Spring.” To dance in it, Di Girolamo studied ballet and Pilates. “I don’t have very good posture, so we worked on it,” she said. “I had to understand the limits and the possibilities of my body.”That led her to find Ema’s physicality — her rhythmic, weighted walk and the way she invades space both to intimidate and to get what she wants. “Dance was very important for me to understand how she seduces the other characters,” Di Girolamo said. “It’s the tool she has, and she’s conscious about that tool.”She spent a lot of time on the floor breathing. Vidal called it an initiation into the body, into the movement. In addressing her posture, Vidal focused on opening her chest, which in turn paved the way to showing her tasting freedom, even being vulnerable. There’s a reason the scene at the port feels so fresh and spontaneous.“I remember it was very cold, and Pablo said, ‘Mariana, now you have to improvise a dance scene,’” Di Girolama said. “I was like, what? But I started dancing. I used the same steps of the choreography, but I deconstructed them. I’m not very good at improvisation, but if I have some tools, some things that I know, I can do something with it. I kind of deconstructed the choreography to make a new one.”It wasn’t easy. “I was very nervous,” she said. “It’s like singing. It’s a very personal thing. It’s like a window of our souls.” More

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    ‘Dune’ and Princess Diana Biopic to Debut at a Starry Venice Film Festival

    Hollywood blockbusters are back on the program after a less celebrity-driven edition last year, but the event will still be far from business as usual.“Dune,” Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated science-fiction epic starring Timothée Chalamet, and Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer,” which dramatizes Princess Diana’s decision to divorce Prince Charles, are among the movies that will premiere at this year’s Venice Film Festival.The festival, scheduled to run from Sept. 1-11, will also see the presentation of new films by Pedro Almodóvar (“Madres Paralelas,” starring Penélope Cruz), Ridley Scott (“The Last Duel,” with Matt Damon) and Jane Campion (the Benedict Cumberbatch-starring “The Power of the Dog”), as well as Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, “The Lost Daughter,” based on a novel by Elena Ferrante and starring Olivia Colman.The star-studded lineup, announced at a news conference on Monday, suggests that this year’s festival will be a more glamorous affair after last year’s scaled-down pandemic edition, which featured few celebrity names.The presence of some Hollywood blockbusters on the program shows that “Americans have emerged from the lockdown and they are ready to restart,” Alberto Barbera, the festival’s artistic director, said at the news conference.Some of the most anticipated U.S.-funded movies will appear out of competition, including “Dune,” the latest attempt to adapt that Frank Herbert novel following efforts by David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Scott’s “The Last Duel,” starring Damon as a knight who challenges his squire, played by Adam Driver, to a duel after his wife (Jodie Comer) accuses the sidekick of rape.“Halloween Kills,” the latest movie in the “Halloween” horror franchise, will also premiere out of competition. It stars Jamie Lee Curtis, who will receive the festival’s lifetime achievement award.In the competition, Almodóvar’s “Madres Paralelas” (“Parallel Mothers”), about two women who meet in a hospital where they are about to give birth, is one of 21 films that will compete for the Golden Lion, the festival’s main prize.It will be up against Larraín’s “Spencer,” starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana; Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” about a sadistic ranch owner; and Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter,” about a gambler caught in a revenge plot.Five of the 21 competition films are directed by women, Barbera said — down from eight last year. “It might seem a step backward, but that is just a partial point of view,” he added. Female directors appeared to have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic more than their male counterparts, he said, adding, “I really hope they will have a comeback.”Bong Joon Ho, the director of “Parasite,” will chair the competition jury that also includes the British actress Cynthia Erivo and Chloé Zhao, the director of “Nomadland,” which won last year’s Golden Lion and went on to win the Academy Award for best film.This year’s festival may see the return of blockbusters to Venice, but it will still be far from business as usual. Roberto Cicutto, the festival’s president, said at the news conference that rules introduced last year to limit the spread of the coronavirus, such as compulsory seat reservations and masks for indoor screenings, would likely continue.In line with Italian government regulations coming into force Aug. 6, anyone attending screenings, or even eating indoors at the festival site, will be required to show proof of having received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, a recent negative test result or a certificate showing proof of having recovered from the illness in the past six months.Italy’s government announced the requirements this month as virus numbers rose across the country. On Sunday, the public health authorities reported new 4,742 cases. That is far down from this year’s peak of over 25,000 new daily cases in March, but the rise in cases has caused concern in a country that the pandemic hit hard last year.“This year, we hoped we could be more relaxed,” Cicutto said. “For the time being, it isn’t so. But we continue to hope.” More