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Paris on His Mind

After Philadelphia and Beloved, Jonathan Demme lightens up a little.

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The Truth About Charlie, starring Thandie Newton and Mark Wahlberg, is your first film in four years. What else have you been doing?

Developing material -- you know, basically draining my energies from my real work. All that stuff gobbles enormous amounts of time. Finally, during movie night at my office, I saw Charade. I remember loving this high-style mystery thriller in high school, and seeing it brought out the closet Francophile in me. I took my obsession with the French New Wave, mixed it with this fabulous story, and finally had the picture I knew I needed to make.

Stanley Donen made the original Charade in 1963 -- how did you update the script?

I couldn't do the Cary Grant–Audrey Hepburn ingenue thing. So I turned the script around: Have the guy fall for the girl. That's fun, because as he's falling in love, he's betraying her every step of the way.

The film feels like an homage to every classic Parisian film ever made.

It became a melting pot for things I love most about movies. This is escapist entertainment, a high-style nod to Donen, and it's also a riff on Hitchcock. I love that Charade was made in Paris in 1963, the heyday of the Nouvelle Vague. Around the corner, Godard could have been walking down the street with a handheld camera. I wanted to do it like the New Wavers would have done it. There's a Shoot the Piano Player homage. Agnes Varda plays a woman at a flea market. And Anna Karina, the greatest female personification of the French New Wave, sings a song that she wrote for the film.

Do we have to wait four years for your next?

I hope not. I'm finishing a documentary called The Agronomist, about a Haitian radio journalist who was assassinated two years ago. I'm also involved in something with Richard Price: an urban thriller with supernatural overtones for Jodie Foster. I just want to keep tap-dancing between heavy and light films.

The Truth About Charlie
(Universal; October 25)


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