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"He's quite a softly spoken and unassertive man who changes over the course of the film, but what I liked about it was that he doesn't become a hero, but perhaps he becomes a fuller person, stronger; he emerges from himself," says the suddenly ubiquitous Fiennes (who also appears in next week's The Chumscrubber and whose autumn release schedule includes Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and James Ivory's The White Countess). In The Constant Gardener, Fiennes again plays a man who loves a doomed woman with conflicting allegiancesin The English Patient and The End of the Affair, she's married; this time around, she's wed to her secretive, dangerous investigative work.
Fiennes's performance in Gardener is an achingly subtle progression of tonal shifts: self-amused gentlemanliness (he adds endearing dorky inflections to his vaunted sex appeal), shakily restrained grief, resourceful outrage (on par with Tessa's, in fact), and finally, a transcendent resignation. "There's a kind of Englishness there, a tradition of good manners and being attentive to other people that's also like a wall, and you feel you will never get in. There's layers of self-awareness, and then a self-deprecating sense of that self- awareness, and on and on . . . and he can see these things, he can laugh at himself." Fiennes apparently can too, gently ribbing your Voice representative for a certain cover line of a decade ago ("WE HATE HAMLET," regarding the 1995 Broadway production of Shakespeare's tragedy for which Fiennes won a Tony).
Adapted from a John le Carré thriller densely tangled with intrigue and double crosses, The Constant Gardener achieves a galloping momentum and raw immediacy familiar from Meirelles's City of Godespecially in the Nairobi-set scenes, where Fiennes, Weisz, and a skeleton crew often maneuvered through real crowds and street life and engaged total strangers in the story. "Fernando keeps it very loose, kinetic; the camera can move anywhere, and he just dives in and uses what's there," Fiennes says. "He has a very strong intuition about spontaneity; he wasn't precious about the script, and Rachel and I improvised quite a bit. He didn't like it when he felt that script and dialogue were getting too present and stodgy in the middle of a scene, and we could toss them out. It became a joke on the set'Too much talking! Talking, boring!' "
A strong polemical component resonates in The Constant Gardener, which condemns (fictional) pharmaceutical giants for colluding with corrupt governments to use the poorest and sickest in sub-Saharan Africa as unwitting experimental subjects for potentially toxic drugs. "A story that pushes people's awareness buttons can only be good," Fiennes says, "and I think Fernando's managed to pull off this level of polemic without it getting in the way of a good story. But I think there's a riskI think many people would rather have a documentary."
Is a fiction film particularly well equipped to do the kind of work we usually associate with investigative or advocacy journalism? "No, I don't think it can be, especially if it has to serve a dramatic narrative," Fiennes says. "Everyone asks questions about the polemical side of the film, but for me it's also about a relationship between two people, their openness with each other, or their decision as a couple not to share, thinking they're respecting each other's privacy. People don't always tell each other what they need to knownot because they've got anything to hide, like a love affair, but because they don't want to invade. Our ability to be honest with each other, to say, I want this or I don't want that, it's all a distant cousin of what happens on the level of social policy, and it's who we are, isn't it? Politics starts in the bedroom."
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