Examining family matters

One thing is certain when film director Rebecca Miller gives interviews: She does not respond to personal questions concerning her father and husband. Miller feels uncomfortable, if not annoyed, when journalists ask about the two esteemed men in her life – the late playwright Arthur Miller and actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Just days after her father died last year, Rebecca Miller was at the Berlin Film Festival promoting her latest film, «The Ballad of Jack and Rose,» with her husband, and the film’s main actor, by her side. She refused, consistently yet politely, to take questions about her deceased father. Some years earlier, in an interview for The Observer newspaper, Miller admitted being «totally» influenced by her father, but declined to offer details. Rebecca Miller’s parents – her mother, Inge Morath, was the director of photography behind the film «Magnum» – shared a harmonious relationship. As a trio, they were a closely knit family. Rebecca Miller met Day-Lewis in 1995 at Arthur Miller’s Connecticut ranch, where the Irish actor and the playwright had arranged to discuss the film adaptation of a play. Day-Lewis and Miller’s daughter married a year later in Vermont at a ceremony attended by family and close friends. They now have two children and spend most of their time in Dublin. The 43-year-old Rebecca Miller, according to descriptions, is a charming, creative and multitalented figure. She has already shot three films, «Angela,» «Personal Velocity» – which won an award at Sundance – and «The Ballad of Jack and Rose,» to be screened this Saturday at the Attikon Theater as part of the 11th Athens Film Festival. Day-Lewis will attend the screening, a charity event whose funds will go to Cerebral Palsy Greece. In her latest film, Miller examines the relationship between a hippy father, brought up on counterculture ideologies in the 1960s, and his 16-year-old daughter. The pair’s isolated life ends with the arrival of the father’s girlfriend and her son. Rose, the daughter, feels betrayed and loses control, which leaves her father trapped within his beliefs. A multilayered film, it is based, according to critics, on a well-written script and exceptional acting from Day-Lewis. On the occasion of the film’s upcoming Athens premiere, Rebecca Miller responded to a series of questions, except for one requesting a comment on her relationship with her distinguished father. Jack is a man who has lived a life motivated by environmentalism and other altruistic causes. He has sheltered Rose from the influences of the outside world. How do you characterize this act? I characterize it as an act of love, on the one hand. He loves his child so much that he cannot bear to have her corrupted by a corrupt society. On the other hand, it is narcissistic, because he is forming her as a mirror of himself. Jack is both a deeply moral man and a controlling person. The two things are compatible, I find. Relationships, in general, between parents and children seem to be an area that you want to explore. Do we ever break free from our parents? «Personal Velocity» was not a movie about mothers and daughters. However, the characters’ past, including their relationships with their parents, is a very important component as I try to understand the three women and why they choose what they do. I don’t think it’s possible to understand a character without including their past, especially their family. I think breaking free of the family is a gradual thing and never happens fully because our personas are formed by mirroring the people we first see, our parents. We learn how to be human from them. The only way to be «free» is to become conscious, and that takes time. Looking through the camera, is there any distinction between Daniel Day-Lewis as your husband and as an actor? Looking in the monitor as Daniel was acting, I saw Jack. When I cut, I saw Daniel, my husband. It’s a strange discipline, but that’s our job – to pretend so hard we believe it. You are a highly creative person: a painter, a writer, an actress, a filmmaker. Which of these activities do you enjoy most? I don’t paint or act anymore, those were things I had to abandon in order to give myself over to writing and directing. They taught me an enormous amount, however – painting about thinking visually and about concentration, acting about what the actor goes through and needs. At this point, I suppose I have the most fun directing. I love being around people, the carnival, family atmosphere of the set is a very happy one for me. But writing is a deep, solitary pleasure that I need in order to find what is true about the story. It is the months or years I have spent writing that enable me to trust the script and relax when I am on the set. And also, because I am a mother, writing at home suits my family life very well. Which of your character traits resemble your father’s personality and which your mother’s? My humor is closer to my father’s. My desire to take care of people and my visual sense is probably from my mother. As a filmmaker, do you feel closer to American cinema – in which plot and story are everything – or to European cinema, where characters and personal relationships often surpass the plot? I am a character-driven director, though I love the sensuality of film. I am not so compelled by «talking heads,» with no visual excitement. And I do think films should move, have a sense of urgency, a good story. I am influenced by a broad spectrum of directors from both sides of the Atlantic: Hal Ashby, Martin Scorsese, Truffaut, Bergman, Von Trier and some of the other Dogma directors, and, of course, Cassavetes and Ken Loach – one an American, the other an Englishman, both deeply passionate about character – though Loach is, of course, a very political filmmaker. I think it is a mistake to characterize American film as just about plot and European film about character. You only have to read the list above to see great American filmmakers whose work centered on character. And I have only mentioned a few.