Over the course of 2018, the latest movie from The Eyes of My Mother filmmaker Nicolas Pesce, Piercing, has been making the festival rounds worldwide, and in just a few months, Pesce’s adaptation of Ryû Murakami’s novel will finally be making its way home for fans to enjoy for themselves. While at Fantastic Fest last month, Daily Dead spoke with Pesce about the process of adapting someone else’s material for his newest film, how Piercing is his tribute to giallo movies, and more.
Look for more on Piercing closer to its release!
I would love to start out talking about the material that you worked with here. I know Eyes of My Mother was your own thing, so what was different for you this time, in terms of working with somebody else's material?
Nicolas Pesce: I think that for good or bad, I decided very early on that I was going to do my own my thing with this book. Part of the decision for this book was, I felt like sure, there may be fans of this book, but it's not like I'm doing a Stephen King adaptation where fans would have my head if I ventured off track from the material. I just found that there was a lot of subject matter stuff in the book that I just really liked thinking about and wanted to explore more of, and using the stuff that was built into the book was playing with genre and expectations of genre. He [Ryû Murakami] even self-awaringly refers to Basic Instinct a lot in the book and talks a lot about western thriller tropes and how this story flips all those tropes on its head, which I thought was fun.
I saw an opportunity to do something that was very different than Eyes of My Mother. I didn't get to flex much of my dark sense of humor in Eyes, because it's kind of bleak. [With] this, I saw an opportunity to have something that's really fu--ed up and dark, but more playful and have a little bit more fun with it.
With these two different films now, you've been able to turn certain expectations about your work on their head. Do you feel like this is becoming your earmark as a storyteller, playing around with what we expect as viewers?
Nicolas Pesce: Oh, yes. Because I'm such a movie buff, I really do love stealing from old movies and doing my own thing with some of those concepts. Eyes was my ’50s/’60s American Gothic movie. Piercing is very much my ’70s Italian giallo movie. When you look at other movies that were inspired by giallo cinema, stuff like De Palma's Dressed to Kill, Body Double, Blow Out, they were all these stories about women who are damsels in distress and their one purpose in the movie is to be killed really brutally or get naked. And here's a book that's about a prostitute that threatens sex and violence the whole time and there is no sex and violence.
This story is so set up for Mia's character, where you feel like, "Oh my god, we're watching this girl get victimized? That's horrifying." But it's so not that. She so takes it back, and I think that because I'm such a lover of movies, I like to play with the pieces that are supposed to be there. But, as we talked about before, it's like we've seen everything before as viewers and as fans, so you can't just replicate it. You have to find that way of playing with this idea of, "Here's what you think because I know you're gonna think you know what this is," and then as a filmmaker, I get to use that against you and I think that is really fun.
You really could turn Piercing into a play because of how well the dialogue snaps back and forth and everything like that. Can you talk about working with Mia and Chris and developing that sharp delivery between them in this film?
Nicolas Pesce: I think that there’s this feeling baked into the book and into the movie, too, where no character is ever saying what they think or they’re being honest. They're saying this other thing that we as the audience at a certain point start figuring out what they're talking about. But there's a game to be had of what you're hearing is not important; it's really all about the subtext and it asks you to listen more and to read more in their body language and their expressions.
And, as a result, their performances become so much more important because of how subtle those differences are, and seeing those little turns happen emotionally is what the movie's all about. You get these glimmers of, "Oh, we think we're on the same page." "No, we're not." "We think we're on the same page now." "Oh, no we're not." And I think that that's so fun when you have a movie with only two people and one character thinks one thing is happening and they’re pretty certain they are right, and the other character thinks another thing is happening, and they are pretty certain they're right. It just happens in such a parallel way that both work until they don't. So, there's just something that is really engaging and fun structurally about how that game plays out in this film.
In case you missed it, check here to read Heather's Sundance review of Piercing, as well as her previous interview with Nicolas Pesce and co-star Christopher Abbott.