Interview with ‘Madame’ director Amanda Sthers

Amanda Sthers is a playwright, screenwriter, novelist and director to her second feature and first English speaking movie, Madame.  Her impact on literature has seen her 10 novels translated in 14 countries, with one of her plays Le Vieux Juif blonde  still studied in at Harvard University today.  We were delighted to spend time with her during her recent time in Sydney.

Why did you choose the SFF to show Madame?

A: So first, Australia would the the first to release a movie. Toni Collette has a big part as a star in Australia. When Sydney offered to screen it, this made sense, and also it’s a good balance because. you’re very open minded in seeing American movies ad European movies. It’s not completely American, not completely French so it would fit in and you could understand it well.

You’ve written novels before. Do you think of an actor or actress in mind when you write or does it come to you naturally?

A: Not all the time. In this particular movie I thought of Rossy De Palma because she asked me for a play 7 years ago and I told her I couldn’t write on command but if I just find something that could fit to her, and as soon as the idea popped in my head I figured it would be great for Rossy, so I wrote with Rossy in mind. And little by little I pictured Toni would be amazing but it’s kind of a fantasy, with Harvey (Keitel) also, they’re legendary actors, very hard to get. So I tried it, but really I didn’t expect to get them on board. I tried it like you tried to play lottery (laughs)

And I won!

This is your second feature. Do you prefer the process of writing a movie or is it easier to write a play or a novel?

It’s not about what’s easier, it’s about what subject fits better. When you write novels, you’re the only person who can mess it up or succeed. There’s no other persons, you’re alone, and it’s probably what I deeply love most, what’s closest to the ambitions I had when I was young to be a novelist, but what’s great about a movie is that writing a script is just the first step and then you have so many other talents in addition to yours who make you want to be better. Like, all those people working together is a movie. It’s pretty hard to take all the credit when you’re the director because you’re picking up a great team and you’re trying to have them give the best again but it’s more like a managing process, you know? I like to work with a team and to work with suchh talented people, and I think when you’re alone writing in your room to have everyone sharing the same dream is kind of nice.

I noticed the cinematography in Madame is almost like a love letter to Paris in a way. Toni Colette’s character moves there to improve her marriage and Rosy De Palma’s character moves there to support her daughter. Do you think the movie is trying to talk about the reality of falling in love with Paris?

It’s mostly the idea of what Europe is, the idea of what America is. As terrible as it is, we all still believe in the American dream nowadays that exists. No one can move from a social class to another in the US, it’s so impossible, you don’t have access to education and those paths, and it’s becoming worse and worse. The new colour of skin is money. It’s terrible to see what capitalism can make worse.  We also see France as this romantic city, and at the end it’s just kind of a museum and I wanted to play with old traditions and twist them. And I wanted to show what I love about my city which is not only people playing music in the corner of the street (laughs). A Woody Allen movie that I love, he always shows Paris as this cliché city that tourists still imagine, which is reallyParis in the 1930s.

So I think as a Parisian I wanted to show my city.

Are we talking about Midnight in Paris?

Midnight in Paris is meant to be the old Paris which are like that too. Paris is not like that anymore.

You’ve gone from Paris to Israel for your next feature. How do you go from that shift as a native to Paris to setting a film in a whole other country?

The story leads me to Israel for the next movie. It’s a story that I wrote 10 years ago in a novel about a guy who stated a pig farm. It needed to be provocative and funny and political. There’s also Brussels and New York.

I think it’s hard for people in our generation to think of ourselves as citizens in only one country or town, because we grew up with so many different influences. We have access to all the cinemas around the world, we have access to all the cultures, and I think working with actors from Australia and America and Spain, it felt right to me. It’s like I’m not looking only at one type of movie, they’re all people that I loved and I think putting them together in the movie is a great thing.

Do you think it’s good to have these “wordly” movies, because you don’t want to get stuck being in a narrow view of your own country. Perhaps having a cosmopolitan approach opens ideas about race and culture?

Kind of, but I think it’s stupid to say there’s a French cinema, or a German cinema, like they’re different types of people doing different types of movies. I sometimes feel closer to Japanese directors! It’s more about, “what is your vision of life?” We cannot think of ourselves like that. Every other thing is open to multiculturalism and multinationalism, because you can’t realistically think that you’re part of one culture. With the internet, you can order everything from everywhere. I remember when I was a kid, and people were flying to the US, I’d say “can you bring me back this pair of sneakers?” Now the only thing that really changes is landscapes and political points of view so I think you can figure out where you want to belong to and I want to belong to an open minded world.

Is it possible to make an Australian movie with elements of Italian cinema?

There’s movements, there’s thing about culture that you’re closed to. You have those movies where laughter and tears are mixed up, but not as part of a genre as such. I think the only cinema you can really identify is American cinema because there’s only really one way, one recipe, so it’s the less interesting cinema nowadays. They need fresh blood. US television is mostly where you can find new ideas and experiments.

Did this inspire you to become a director?

I directed a short movie when I was 19, so it was always in my DNA but its more that I wanted to tell stories and I have different ways of doing that. Cinema is the thing that strikes people most. It’s hard to have a movie done, it’s a fight all the time! At the end it’s a great way to address people as literature becomes less accessible. I still believe and have this naïve vision that a movie can change a life. They certainly changed mine!

Madame will be released August 17.

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