The 49th International Film Festival of India is all set to open on November 20 with the screening of ‘The Aspern Papers’ by Julien Landais. Having previously directed short films, fashion films, music videos, etc, in the past, ‘The Aspern Papers’ is Landais’ debut into feature films. In addition, the IFFI screening will also mark the world premiere of the film.
Adapted from Henry James’ 1888 novella ‘The Aspern Papers’ which is based on the letters Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote to Mary Shelley’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont, the film follows Morton Vint, a young writer who is fascinated with an iconic poet Jeffrey Aspern and wants to get his hands on the letters he wrote to his mistress Juliana Bordereau and tries to charm her niece Miss Tina in his bid to get them.
Ahead of the screening, Landais revealed that when he came across the film adaptation by Jean Pavan, with whom he had previously collaborated with on other projects, he found it very compelling. “It dwelt on all the things that I love – romanticism, time, free love – and it felt like the right subject for my first feature,” he said, adding that while working on the film he was also thinking of the real story of Claire Clairmont and wanted to recreate that world. Infact, the film, he says, opens with Shelley’s death.
The role of Juliana Bordereau has been essayed by veteran actress Vanessa Redgrave, and Landais states that she was the obvious choice to play this role. Interestingly, Vanessa’s father Michael Redgrave had previously done a theatre adaptation of the same novella in 1959 where Vanessa had played the role of Miss Tina. “When I met Joely Richardson (who plays Miss Tina) for the first time, she told me that just ten days before, her mother (Vanessa) had sent her the book to read and had told her that it would be a great part for her. It was she who told me to send the script to Vanessa,” said Landais.
Actress Lois Robbins, who plays Mrs Prest in the film, stated that her experience in the film was one that she would never have again as an actress for many reasons. She especially raved about the costumes that she got to wear in the film. “The costumes were some of the most beautiful things that I will ever wear in my life. My costumes in particular were from the Dolce and Gabbana couture archives,” she said. Narrating one particular story during the film shooting, Lois revealed that they were shooting in August in Venice and it was quite hot. “I was wearing a heavy cape, hat and gloves and we were shooting in a gondola. After every take, I had to take my gloves off. As the costume people couldn’t come into the gondola with me, after every take, Jonathan (Rhys Meyers, the lead character in the film) would come in and adjust the gloves and cape for me and I was swooning as he is quite handsome. It may have been my favourite day of shooting,” she said chuckling.
Barbara Meier also stated that this movie was special for her. “I’ve always wanted to act in a historic movie and am also a fan of the old Venice. To me the experience felt like time travel where I got a chance to see life back then,” she said.
Landais, who is also an actor, admitted that he did consider acting in the film, but decided against it. A huge fan of European art and history, Landais will continue to explore this genre further. “My next project is an adaptation of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Time. So from the 1880’s I am now moving to 1915, around the time of the first world war,” he revealed.