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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Chatting With Dito Montiel, Director of Boulevard, Robin Williams' Final Film

Posted By on Thu, Jul 16, 2015 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge STARZ DIGITAL
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The opening scene in Boulevard immediately conjures an uncanny feeling — or, as Freud put it, Das Unheimliche. We know that Robin Williams died on August 11, 2014, but there he is on the big screen, waking up wearily at dawn — aged and graying — but nonetheless alive. If you have any affection for Williams and his body of work, it’s impossible to not be drawn in. It’s as if we’re watching a hyperreal document that’s captured some of his final movements, feelings and thoughts. The camera itself seems to be an extension of his character’s halting and hesitant soul.

The plot is familiar: Nolan, an older, closeted gay man finds a younger man, Leo, who acts as the catalyst for his coming out. He drifts away from his wife Joy (played with a soulful, furious despair by Kathy Baker), his work and his best friend. What works well in the film is the lack of trite climactic scenes. In fact, Boulevard is an in-depth character study of the anti-climax — because the real drama has already happened off screen.

We spoke with Dito Montiel, the film’s director over the phone. He’s the former front man for the punk bands Gutterboy and Major Conflict. But you’ll probably be more familiar with his Channing Tatum films Fighting and The Son of No One.

click to enlarge Dito Montiel - STARZ DIGITAL
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  • Dito Montiel
Did you adjust the final cut of the movie after Williams’s death?

No. We had finished the entire film and had even made a few cuts based on his thoughts. For a while there was the scene where he's talking to his father at the hospital. I had taken it out at first because I wasn't sure it was necessary. I had such a hard time imagining that the character could actually say that he was gay to his father. I loved the scene and in the end, Robin and I had long talks about putting it back in.

There are several scenes in which Williams looks in the mirror. Those moments carry more emotional weight now.

When Williams is in the motel, he goes to the bathroom to get a bandage for Leo. Robin kept coming over to me. He was very conscious about Kathy Baker's role. He didn't think that the feeling should be, "Yay, you came out and you got away from your wife and you're living the real life."

​When he looked in the mirror in that scene, I remember he was very aware that he wanted to see Kathy in that mirror. He wanted to look in that mirror and be reminded of Joy, his wife, every time he looked at the younger guy. We had long talks about it, “That's you at 23.” When he looked at Leo, the feeling was: You can't believe you're in this room with him; you don't know what to even do with that. It's almost like an alien. That motel room was such a hard door to walk through for Nolan.

Kathy Baker has a moving line near the film’s end about not wanting Williams to go.

​Kathy Baker didn't want the role to just go under the radar, that she was this evil woman with this poor, trapped gay man who needs to come out. She wasn't standing for that, and she would come over to me and say, "We have an unwritten agreement, and he's breaking it." I loved that thinking. I said, "You're right, he is."

What did Nashville lend to the production?

When we were looking for a location in Nashville, we found this house to film in and it was perfect for camera angles. The husband and wife who owned it actually slept in separate bedrooms. The wife came in and asked what the film was about. I said, "It’s about a marriage." I didn't want to tell her the whole story because you never know if they're going to say, "No, you can't use our house." Two days later she came to me crying after she read the script. She said, "My husband came out two years ago. We stayed together because we love each other very much. We have separate bedrooms now, but we're together." I thought, Oh my God, what a strange thing for us to run into for this film.

The camera’s tracking movements enter each scene as if they’re slowly uncovering Nolan’s private life.

The cinematographer was Chung-hoon Chung. The minute I met him everything about it felt right. He had just done Stoker, a film also shot in Nashville, with Nicole Kidman. The movement was very slow and very premeditated; it was plodding. I had just seen it and I said, "I love the camera movement." I was thinking of films I love like Crimes and Misdemeanors, where the camera is just hanging around, doing very little.

You’ve got Man Down coming out later this year, a big budget sci-fi thriller which seems more in line with with your earlier films. Why did you choose to work on a quiet film like Boulevard?

Everything I've ever been a part of has usually had something to do with friendship and the passage of time. It's two things that seem to stick with me. In this one, it was the husband and wife friendship, and those complications. That's been a through line to everything I end up being a part of. When I was making A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, I really loved shooting a couple of scenes with Chazz Palminteri and Shia LaBeouf, where they stood looking at each other not knowing how to say, "I love you," from a father to a son. I always like shooting those scenes so much. 

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