Joanna Hogg was very nervous as she showed her mom her latest movie, The Eternal Daughter.
he writer and director of The Souvenir Films had again scoured her own life for material and inspiration.
Here she wanted to do something about a woman her age, mid 60’s, and her mother on a journey together.
It would be a ghost story in a way, with talks about memory, regret, life and happiness.
But she never got a chance to talk about it with her mother, who died while Hogg was editing the film.
And she’s feeling a little fragile just hours before the world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival as she sits next to star and lifelong friend Tilda Swinton, who plays both mother Rosalind and daughter Julie.
Hogg isn’t the only one who feels this way, either. This is the kind of film that gets under your skin.
And nobody is quite sure if they will survive the interview with dry eyes. (Spoilers: they don’t).
“Maybe we’ll all cry together,” Hogg said.
“I have tissues,” Swinton replied, handing one to Hogg.
“She was so looking forward to seeing this film. She loves ghost stories — loved ghost stories,” Hogg said.
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“I was never brave enough to tell her what the film was about. But she probably knew because she was very intuitive.”
It’s something Hogg has pondered for many years.
2008 got off to a bad start, but then she was encouraged by Swinton’s portrayal of mother Rosalind in the Souvenir films. They wanted to dig deeper into this woman who was in England as a child during World War II.
In Daughter Forever Julie took her mother back to the large estate where she lived during the war, now a hotel, and asked her about her memories, with the idea that it would be made into a film.
The original idea was for Swinton to play Julie and cast another, older actor for Rosalind. But Swinton had another idea – what if she just played both?
“It turned out to be a very different movie,” Swinton said.
“It wasn’t about a relationship between two people. It was about something far more profound and mystical and psychiatric and more painful. It got a lot deeper.”
Swinton, whose mother died a decade ago, often spoke to Hogg about surviving the loss. Then Hogg suffered the same after the shoot. Although her mother was in her early 90s, she came as a surprise.
“As I was making it, I wondered how I could show her,” Hogg said, wiping away tears. “As a daughter, I’m sitting here still feeling very guilty for what I did, that I was kind of struck by lightning, that I did something bad.”
This fear, which she felt then and now feels even more deeply, became part of the fabric of the film.
Julie also feels guilty about wanting to make a film about her mother and says it feels like trespassing.
Swinton can also refer to this. Both are artist children of non-artists of a past generation.
“That alone is a burden,” Swinton said. “Joanna and I share this feeling of deep shame. The idea of being so vulnerable and exposed and having some kind of emotional connection with the world feels so transgressive and so treacherous.
“We’ve felt it all the years we’ve been doing our job. So today we are a mess.”
They even occasionally wondered if the film would mean anything to anyone but them. It was so personal.
But like many great films, the conversations and fears displayed in The Eternal Daughter may be their own, but the specificity also makes it universal.
On set, the small crew would also bring their own stories into the process. Everyone was personally invested, which Swinton says is rare when dealing with such “emotionally expensive” material.
“It was still so joyful,” Swinton said.
Hogg continues: “Yes, the darker the film, the brighter the shoot. (Ingmar) Bergman was an example of this. He had a great time shooting.”
Then, of course, there were the logistics of filming long conversations between two characters played by the same actor.
Hogg and her cinematographer made what Swinton called a “radical filmmaking decision” not to shoot the typical over-the-shoulder angle that establishes an audience in the scene, but to simply shoot Julie and Rosalind individually.
Sometimes Swinton shot full days as Rosalind and the next as Julie, and sometimes it was half days with a switch in the middle.
“The ability behind it was quite remarkable because it changes shape and switches from one character to another every day without any gimmicks,” said Hogg.
“It was oddly symbiotic and pretty simple,” Swinton added.
As with all of Hogg’s films, there was no traditional screenplay. The conversations are impromptu, which allowed Swinton and Hogg, who converses with Swinton off-camera as Julie or Rosalind, to follow their noses.
“Joanna’s way of working, and the way I’m now absolutely committed to her way of working, I find to be the most inspirational and responsive way of working that I can imagine,” said Swinton. “I hate working differently now.”
“I find it extremely inspirational to ask yourself what you would say next,” Swinton continued. “It’s a revelation.”
However, the editing was “pretty complicated,” weaving together thousands of hours of improvised material.
With each film, when it’s finished, Hogg says goodbye and lets him out into the world.
Set in competition in Venice, The Eternal Daughter will be screened at several more festivals before A24 finalizes a release date.
“Hopefully it’s a gift for people. We really opened up,” Hogg said. “And our parents would be appalled.”
Swinton quickly added, “Isn’t it? Maybe not.”
Then, as if rehearsed, the two lifelong friends said in unison, “Maybe they wouldn’t be.”
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/movies/joanna-hogg-and-tilda-swinton-discuss-mothers-memory-and-the-eternal-daughter-41969051.html Joanna Hogg and Tilda Swinton discuss mothers, memories and The Eternal Daughter