Postcard from Cannes #11: A meeting with Bill Murray and friends

·4-min read

There is a time when by some tremendous stroke of luck a press secretary will get back to you and say it’s possible to interview somebody famous, just when you’d given up any hope. Friday, the second last day of the Cannes Film Festival was that day. It was time to meet American actor Bill Murray.

The rendez-vous was given at 10am at the Greek Pavillion, down at the Marché du Film by the water. Why here you ask?

Well, I wasn’t there to interview Bill Murray exclusively about his role as a magazine editor in Wes Anderson’s wacky The French Dispatch, which is running in competition here at Cannes.

Instead, I was there to chat about a very interesting musical project called New Worlds: The Cradle of Civilization, by director Andrew Muscato, a documentary which captures the last evening of a live show of the same name, staged at the ancient acropolis theatre in Athens.

The concept came from Jan Vogler, a classical cellist who met Bill Murray on a plane (as you do). They got chatting and decided to do a series of concerts together alongside classical pianist, Vanessa Perez and violinist Mira Wang.

The show takes us on a poetic journey through time, merging spoken word quoting Walt Whitman and Ernest Hemingway, mixed with pieces of music, jumping from George Gershwin, Van Morrison, Leonard Bernstein and Bach to name a few. And believe it or not, Bill Murray sings!

Murray’s laconic, deadpan style means there are some jokes and a bit of stand up thrown in (the Tom Waits number The piano has been drinking for one), but mostly it’s a tribute to beautiful music in a gorgeous, dramatic setting.

Muscato told RFI that he fell in love with the show, which he felt had the feel of a rock concert.

"The repertoire is so timeless that it fits in to what they were doing when they performed on tour, and much of the material is still timely, considering the context as the world emerges from the pandemic," he says

“There was no better venue to film the New Worlds show than in Athens,” he says.

The performance in the ancient theatre gave all the performers goosebumps.

“I felt like I was being held up to some ancient standard, which I fell a little short of”, Murray laughs, the musicians agreeing with him that the energy in the venue was exceptional on that particular night back in 2018.

Murray was in fine form for the interview, insisting everyone sit together, like one big family. Indeed, this is his trademark, often working in big casts, where he admits he has just as much fun making the films as it looks.

After the world première of the film on Friday night at the Debussy theatre in Cannes, the "band" treated the audience to a surprise live performance.

The group played a tribute to American country and folk musician John Prine who passed away from Covid in 2020.

Then they wrapped up with a rousing cover French singer Christophe’s 1965 hit Aline. “Here’s one for you guys, you lost someone too,” Murray said referring to the fact that Christophe also passed away in 2020.

“The night is young! Go out and celebrate,” he said throwing roses into the audience, to loud applause, and that was that.

Anatomy of a ‘killer’ (winner)

Also on Friday, I had the opportunity to see the film Nitram, by Australian director Justin Kurzel.

A dose of pure, concentrated emotion, but in a different sense to New Worlds. This was controlled power, each scene bringing a sense of foreboding, and a premonition of violence which builds up and diffuses, you never know which way it’s going to go.

The lead character, played by Caleb Landry Jones is a lonely, awkward young man, a little slow on the uptake. He’s a misfit who so terribly wants to fit in, and we see his attempts to make friends and impress others thwarted at every turn.

It is not a film about a disastrous event, even though it’s based on a mass shooting in Australia in 1996, but rather the subtle exploration of a character and the series of events which shape him and ultimately take him to the final step.

An only child, still at home, no job, no perspective on the future except perhaps the prospect of helping his father run a B&B, a project which never comes to fruition and is a key turning point in the story.

We never hear any reference to the real killer, who received 35 life sentences in jail. The director said it was intentional not to draw too much attention to the man himself, but rather the anatomy of a broken person.

We do read on the screen at the end how this event changed gun laws in Australia, if only on the surface.

I walked away from this film with a sense that I had witnessed a quiet form of brilliance, a combination of a solid script, and excellent performances from Landry Jones, his parents played by Judy Davis and Anthony La Paglia and the strange wealthy woman who befriends him played by Essie Davis.

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