Directed by: James Franco
James Franco keeps churning out films faster than most people can keep track of, and they all seem to have some merit to them, making it all the more impressive. One of his latest directorial ventures is an adaptation of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which premiered at Cannes earlier this year. Franco also co-wrote it (with Matthew Rager), and stars in it alongside Jim Parrack, Logan Marshall-Green, Tim Blake Nelson, Beth Grant, Ahna O’Reilly and Danny McBride.
Set in a fictional county of Mississippi, the film tells the story of Addie Bundren’s (Beth Grant) family, her widow Anse (Tim Blake Nelson) and her five children, as they take her body to be buried in her hometown Jefferson, a town more than a day’s journey away by horse and carriage. It is not an easy journey, and it doesn’t go to plan, as each character deals with her death and their own personal issues differently.
The most noticeable thing about As I Lay Dying, is that a lot of it is in split screen. Often it’s the same scene, just a slightly different timescale, but the idea is too present different points of view, as well as being able to see characters’ expressions at the same time, and makes a potentially dry storyline a little more interesting. It’s quite a cool idea to try, and I think for the most part it works, though it can pull you out of the moment quite a bit, given how it’s not the natural way we view the world. What I liked most about it though, is quite insignificant and very possibly completely unintentional, is the contrast of how sometimes one side of the screen would have an out of focus part of the shot at the edge, and spliced in next to it would be a sharp, detailed image. Split-screen or not though, the film looks absolutely stunning throughout. The director of photography is Christina Voros, who has done the cinematography of most, if not all, of Franco’s directorial ventures.
In terms of performances, everyone does well, however James Franco seems to stand out for all the wrong reasons. Maybe it is because he’s so recognisable now, or that he didn’t give as strong a performance as everyone else, with his focus being on directing as well, but while everyone else, including little Brady Permenter who plays the youngest Bundren child Vardaman, is convincing, he isn’t, which I feel awful saying, because he has directed well.
I’m sure they cut out a lot from the novel to bring it down to two hours, but what they chose to make the narrative of the film works seamlessly, and anything else or more characters would seem unnecessary. It has made me curious about the novel, which I didn’t expect it would. Using split-screen to tell the story was a bit of a risk, but Franco and Voros made it work, and made As I Lay Dying interesting to watch, whether you know the novel or not.
As I Lay Dying screens at the BFI London Film Festival on the 13th & 15th October.
- Preview of The 57th BFI London Film Festival (maahinandfilms.wordpress.com)