"My CV is pretty eclectic," acknowledges Anthony Fabian, the director, writer and producer of dramatic features, as well as documentaries about everything from Tai chi to racial inequality in South Africa and a docuseries about British legends of the stage and screen.
"Ultimately, it has to do with the human heart," the filmmaker explains of how he chooses projects. "I'm drawn to projects that move me, but also that give me the possibility of making people laugh, and for it to be entertaining as well as moving. My sweet spot is really films that are enjoyable, but — in some way — have some kind of message hidden within the glossy wrapping."
Fabian's latest is Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, which follows an overlooked housekeeper in 1950s London, the titular Mrs. Ada Harris (the Oscar-nominated Lesley Manville), as she sets off for Paris to purchase the haute couture gown of her dreams. "I was very drawn to the character of Mrs. Harris, who is irresistibly charming and delightful, without being twee or saccharin," he says. "And I love her moral compass. She's somebody who's very clear about what's right and wrong. Over the course of the film, her journey is coming into her own power, and strength, and understanding that her secret weapon is authenticity, and honesty, and kindness."
"If I could summarize it more simply, I would say that making movies is really, really hard. So, my aim is to do things that will not be forgotten the day after you watch the movie," Fabian adds. "So, there's something of substance that you can take away and carry with you. And that you might want to look at again, not just see it once, but many times, to find further meaning and further pleasure."
Below, he shares with A.frame five films that he has carried within him and, thus, were influences for Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.
Written and Directed by: Jacques Demy
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of the few films I can think of that I would consider to be a perfect movie. I've seen it... I don't know how many times. And, to me, it's absolutely flawless — there isn't one single mistake anywhere in this movie. And it's also unique, in that it is what you might call "through-composed," so, all of the dialogue is sung. It has some songs — a very, very famous song, ["I Will Wait for You"], which became a big hit — but, otherwise, it has this incredible jazz-inspired and infused score. And all of the dialogue is in this modern-style recitative, almost as if it was like an opera.
It is also very bold in its production design. And the choreography of the camera is largely very long takes, which is really hard to do. So, that's a huge influence. That was the film that I studied most closely when making Mrs. Harris, because Mrs. Harris is basically a musical but without the singing or the musical numbers.
Directed by: Bob Fosse | Written by: Jay Presson Allen
Another film that is a very big influence on me is Cabaret. I studied that closely, particularly for the cabaret sequence in my film, looking at the angles that Fosse used, the lighting that he used, some extreme close-ups, etcetera. But, generally speaking, I think that's one of the great masterpieces of our time. And, again, it's got musical numbers, but it's also narrating a very powerful story.
Directed by: Jacques Audiard | Written by: Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain
In a completely different vein, one of the most inspiring films to me is Rust and Bone, which absolutely blew my mind when I first saw it. I think what it was that gripped me so much was that it had such an incredibly clear and powerful emotional journey, which — strangely — wasn't that of who you thought was the main character, played by Marion Cotillard. It was actually the character that she falls in love with, who is this really callow and seemingly unformed child-man played by Matthias Schoenaerts, who was an absolute revelation. And through love, he becomes transformed, and becomes mature, and he understands what love and relationships are really about and what they can do. As a message, that's so, so powerful to me.
Written and Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Ingmar Bergman's final film, Fanny and Alexander, is a masterclass in filmmaking. It's not only that he also has this element of magic realism — it's the point of view of these two young children. And characters suddenly appear and they're ghostlike. Are they part of the present? Are they part of the past? You're not quite sure — but the lighting in that film is so unbelievably exquisite. Sven Nykvist, the cameraman, is an object lesson in cinematography and lighting. If there's one thing that I took away from that was the power and the beauty of single-source lighting. That's one of the things that Nykvist and Bergman did so exquisitely beautifully. It has this wonderful, epic scale. And I think, if you're making films for the cinema and you're expecting people to leave their sofas, you need to give them spectacle. You need to give them something epic.
Directed by: David Lean | Written by: Robert Bolt
I've always felt an affinity with David Lean. He was an old boy from my school, so we were brought up worshiping him from a young age. I've picked Dr. Zhivago, because it has this unbelievably epic scale. And it has one of the greatest scores ever written by Maurice Jarre, who was David Lean's composer. When I asked my composer, Rael Jones, to work on Mrs. Harris, I said, 'Where are the days when people used to go home singing the score, where there was a tune that became unforgettable and became part of the culture and part of the language? No pressure, but I want you to create something like that for Mrs. Harris.' And, if you think about Dr. Zhivago, there's 'Lara's Theme,' which is one of those instant classic pieces of music that you can never forget.
It has this epic scale. There's the unbelievable beauty of Julie Christie and Omar Sharif, and the wonderful, wonderful performance by Rod Steiger. It's such a rich film that you could just watch it again, and again, and again. And a powerful story about the appallingness of dogma; in that case, the destruction of a whole culture and way of life because of a dogmatic belief.