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"I'm basically making the same film over and over again," says Ira Sachs, director of the acclaimed 1993 short Lady, 1997 critics' favorite The Delta, and 2005's Forty Shades of Blue, the deserving winner of this year's Sundance dramatic Grand Jury Prize. "I'm interested in how people live double, triple, and quadruple lives within one journey," he continues. "For me, having grown up gay and Jewish in Memphis, it's a perspective that I identify with: to be situated inside and outside at the same time."
Set in his Memphis hometown, Forty Shades observes svelte Russian beauty Laura (Last Resort's Dina Korzun), trapped between a domineering music mogul (Rip Torn) and his newly arrived embittered son (Darren Burrows). For the story, Sachs cites inspirations as diverse as Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour and Satyajit Ray's Charulata. Stylistically, he credits a range of predecessors. "If the first part of the film is modeled after the classically composed early films of Ken Loach, like Kes and Looks and Smiles, by the end, we're in a much more conscious and constructed mode, influenced by people like Fassbinder, where we're looking at the female character in a Brechtian fashion." He adds, "She's in a lot of hallways." After naming other cinematic guides like Raoul Coutard and Maurice Pialat, Sachs admits, "After a film is done, I have the potential to sound pretentious. But in making films, I'm not pretentious." Sachs's longtime producer Margot Bridger concurs: "He's more a collaborator than your classic auteur. He's very good at hearing different ideas and he's really compassionate and interested in people."
Sachs wasn't always such a film buff either, not discovering cinema until 1986, when he lived in Paris during a semester abroad from Yale. "I watched three movies a day and saw 185 movies," he says. "I kept a list. Like a kid collecting baseball cards, I was nerdy enough to count." While Sachs's commanding use of light and frame excelled above and beyond the rest of the Sundance competition, the budding maverick realizes the challenges of maintaining a film career. Unlike the seven years it took Forty Shades to get made, he hopes his next project, a "suspense film," will begin shooting next spring. Based on a British pulp fiction, Marriage follows a delicate middle-aged man who kills his wife to spare her the humiliation of a divorce. And like his previous films, Sachs says, "it's about what you hide and what you show."
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