Todd Haynes is the filmmaker “currently most connected to the aesthetics and language of melodrama,” according to longtime fan Ari Aster.
The day after May December opened at the New York Film Festival on September 29, Netflix hosted an Academy screening of Haynes’ latest enchanting melodrama, starring Julianne Moore. Haynes was unable to be joined by his cast due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, including Moore as a lisping suburban Mary Kay Letourneau type and Natalie Portman as a famous actress who had been hired to play her in a film. But the Oscar-nominated “Carol” and “Far From Heaven” director was joined by “Hereditary” and “Beau Is Afraid” director Aster at the Crosby Hotel in Manhattan for a post-screening question-and-answer session . IndieWire shares the exclusive, full Q&A video below.
“I love this movie and when I saw it for the first time earlier this week it really bothered me,” Aster said. “It took almost a day to analyze my feelings and that happens to me in many of your films, like in ‘Mildred Pierce’ towards the end of ‘Veda’ [Evan Rachel Wood] gets strangled, right? Or the scene near the end of “Safe” where she [Julianne Moore] gives her birthday speech, which is a snarl down of all those half-digested platitudes. But she obviously doesn’t understand herself, and that’s something that has never left me.”
“There are so many scenes [‘May December‘] “That stuck with me,” Aster said, recalling moments with “Riverdale” brother Charles Melton as Joe Yoo, whom Moore’s Gracie Atherton-Yoo met and seduced when he was an adolescent and later married. Aster called Melton’s performance “really beautiful” and “devastating.”
“The film puts you in a situation where you are very quick to judge the characters and they have been assessed very early on, and as the film progresses those judgments become confused and the film expands, and at the same time it becomes more and more alienating,” Aster said, nodding to Haynes, who juggles comedy, melodrama, pathos and sexual soap opera by directing the film from Samy Burch’s ripped-from-the-headlines script.
Aster called Haynes “famously film savvy, but by film savvy I mean you.” Films are film savvy. With something like “Far From Heaven,” which is about self-confidence, that’s very evident [Douglas] Sirkian, but your films are always based on other films, on other traditions.”
Haynes and Aster bonded over “May-December” reference points like Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” and “Winter Light” – particularly in a three-minute, uninterrupted monologue from Natalie Portman’s Elizabeth Berry when she finally “transforms” completely into Gracie afterwards. I studied them closely for weeks.
“You imagine Elizabeth as a trusted surrogate who comes from the outside world and that she’s going to destroy this kind of fortress that’s been built around this family,” Haynes said, with Portman’s character now dissolving the Yoos’ marriage 20 Years after the current couple first met. “As the story progresses, trust in Elizabeth begins to waver […] The way people bring such a sense of certainty and expectation that their opinions and their identity politics will be validated in the films we see, this film, this story, the script, for me, has all these places of discomfort and that’s exactly what excited Natalie about it.”
Watch the question and answer session with Haynes and Aster in the video above. “May December” hits theaters on Netflix on November 17th and streams on December 1st.