A A solitary, real-life experience in an Istanbul hotel room – an imaginary moment of escapist magic – inspired British author AS Byatt to write a romantic fantasy about a genie in a bottle, George Miller revealed after the premiere Cannes of its big screen version.
When the filmmaker, best known for directing the Mad Max franchise, first visited Byatt to ask permission to make a film of her short story, The Djinn in the Eye of the Nightingale, she told him that much of the background detail was true.
Miller, speaking at the film festival on the French Riviera about his new romantic film, Three thousand years of nostalgiaexplained that he had long admired Byatt’s story and always hoped to bring it to the screen.
“When we went to see AS Byatt to ask for the rights, she asked me why I had chosen this story, and I told her it was because it felt real,” Miller recalled. “She replied that everything in this story is true, except the appearance of the jinn. She went to a conference in Istanbul and met many people in history.
Miller’s exotic and dramatic film, made with British stars Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, who joined him at Cannes on Saturday, has divided critics with its playful, unconventional narrative and sense of wonder.
“The original story probed a lot of things that are central to most of the stories we tell ourselves as humans,” Miller said, in defense of his choice. “All the themes seemed to be summed up in this one story.” The 85-year-old novelist Possession was also made into a hit movie in 1981.
Miller, who is currently working on Mad Max: Furiosawhich is due out in 2023 with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, said he hopes some of that “authenticity” stays in his new fantasy film.
While action movie fans may be confused by his decision to tell an Arabian Nights-style fairy tale, Miller said it came from his interest in mythology and allegory. The 77-year-old Australian director, who also signed children’s hits baby and happy feet, said he believes these legends are the foundation of all storytelling and the reason why superhero franchises, some of which are drawn from Norse, Roman and Greek myths, are still so popular. “These stories have lasted and will last as long as they change and morph into something else,” he said.
A chance encounter with Elba solved the problem of casting the djinn, the director added. “The casting was really important because as much as we wanted to be whimsical, we first had to find a way to be as grounded as possible,” said Miller, who co-wrote the screenplay with Augusta Gore.
“While writing I had a good idea of most of the characters, but if I hadn’t met Idris through friends at the Bafta Awards, I have no idea who might have played the djinn. .”
Elba, 49, said he didn’t see the role as that of a romantic hero. “The djinn is quite an imperfect spirit in his desire. He is far from heroic. The actor, who contracted Covid while filming in 2020, said he was drawn to the role because he always avoided to play the same kind of character twice if he could.
Swinton, who plays the female lead of Alithea Binnie, an academic loosely based on Byatt herself in the original story, said Miller first told her about the high-tech film, set in Istanbul and London as well as in the former Queen’s Court. of Sheba, was going to be “a small room of a bedroom”.
“I feel like meeting George Miller, we met a real jinn,” said Swinton, 61, adding that the main thing for her was to keep telling different kinds of stories, both on screen and in journalism.
“Particularly in the last few months we’ve seen that the thing that’s really dangerous is if you only have one story. So we have to keep it all coming, keep it multifaceted and keep it contradictory. It’s possible that when people can’t hear other stories, just one story, then things can really go downhill fast.
“So it seems very appropriate to make this movie now and to keep our eyes, ears and hearts open.”