Robert Redford and Jane Fonda show their love for each other at the press conference for Our Souls at Night
Based on the novel written by Kent Haruf and adapted for the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber (The Fault in Our Stars), Our Souls at Night is set in Colorado and begins when Addie Moore (Jane Fonda) pays an unexpected visit to a neighbour, Louis Waters (Robert Redford). Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they’d been neighbours for decades, but had little contact. Their children live far away and they are all alone in their big houses. She seeks to establish a connection and make the most of the rest of the time they have. Directed by Ritesh Batra, the film reunites Fonda and Redford as an on-screen couple, famously captured in films like The Chase and Barefoot in the Park. The cast also includes Judy Greer, Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruce Dern and Iain Armitage.
Robert, you wanted this film, you acquired the book’s rights and produced it. Why?
Robert Redford: Thank you. Because I felt that the way the film business was, it was towards the younger audience, and few opportunities that would satisfy the older audience. The second reason is that a love story always has a life. The third reason is that I wanted to do a film with Jane, we haven’t in 37 years. I wanted to do one more before I died. We have a history and I thought it was a chance to make a film that would satisfy our genuine age.
Congratulations for the film and the golden lions for lifetime achievement. What’s the most important issue for you today in 2017? Do you feel hopeful for America?
RR: Well I don’t want to get into politics which means I can hardly answer your question. If I talked about the current situation we’d get into politics, not the reason why we are here. The only thing we can count on is hope for the future. We can put our minds ahead for the future. There isn’t much hope now.
Jane Fonda: I think the most important thing is saving the planet, which means we need a lot of changes, especially in our country. We all need to do everything we can to avoid the climate disaster.
RR: There’s only one planet and we got it chewed up for development and profit. If we care about future generations, children and children of children to come, we have an obligation to preserve what’s left of this planet.
Has the American dream become an even bigger lie than when you said it 20 years ago?
RR: I don’t know if I’m the one to answer that. The American dream involves Americans, the entire population. We should have a questionnaire for the public at large. I’m not the person to answer that.
How was it for you to fall in love again, 50 years later?
JF: I’m gonna answer that. That’s why I wanted to make this film. We haven’t worked together in 37 years. The Sundance institute was just beginning, what Robert created has changed American cinema in the most profound way. I not only love him as an actor, producer and director, this is a man who had a profound effect in the American cinema. I always was in love with him in all the movies. I made this one with him because I wanted to fall in love with him again. This movie is about “it’s never too late” if you are brave, and willing to take risks, and make a leap of faith. You can become what you are meant to be even if you haven’t been before. [applause]
You trusted a young director for this story of older people, Ritesh Batra.
RR: It has a lot to do with what Sundance is about. One of the things it’s about is that if you have success – I’m talking about myself – then I have choices to make with that success. I can continue with it and put my energy into it, or I can turn it around and use it to create opportunities for the people and that for me feels better, it enlarges the focus. Americans are known for the word independence, and sometimes we lose that value. So we take the more independent boys and give them a chance. We create a mechanism to give other filmmakers a voice. Before the festival, Sundance was a lab process, in the 1980s. We took experienced people, colleagues of mine, cinematographers, to come to this place in the mountains, and create a profile, a plan for new filmmakers to develop their skills. We’d help get their films made. The studio-artist relationship controlled the mainstream, so we created a festival to let filmmakers show their works. Once it did that, I realised we had two opportunities: for the filmmakers and for the audiences, because these films wouldn’t be available in the mainstream. Along came a lot of filmmakers who were given an opportunity. Ritesh came to our process many years ago, we premiered The Lunchbox, his film made in India. When Our Souls at Night came about it was a chance to give an opportunity to him. So, you can speak!
Ritesh Batra: I’m a proud product of Sundance. When we connected again, primarily for the pleasure, I was a big friend of the writer Kent Haruf. We tried to shoot in Colorado and we were all in harmony about the material. I loved the opportunity to work with these great actors.
How do your characters in this film compares to those in the 60s?
JF: This film is actually similar to Barefoot in the Park. It’s different but the dynamic was somewhat similar. My character, Addie, she’s the spark plug, she says “let’s do this”, she moved them forward, he lags behind. There was that similarity, a lot of fun. We played that young love and now we play old people’s love and old people’s sex. The director cut the sex scene too soon. Or maybe it was you Robert? Maybe you didn’t like it?
RR: It wasn’t me!
JF: I love the sex scenes! He’s a great kisser. [laughs]
RR: Our first film was The Chase…not Barefoot! 1965. The first time we came together. I can only speak for that moment and how that moment extended to now. From my point of view, things with Jane have always been easy, have always fallen into place. Didn’t need much discussion, it was something between us. And it stayed that way since that time.
Yours are great understated performances, do you still get impressed by young talent?
RR: Did you hear Jane?
JF: Yes I can hear! [laughs]. I saw Schoenaerts in Rust and Bone and I thought: “Oh my gosh, this cannot be an actor, they found somebody in South of France.” I was so thrilled when the director told me I’d have worked with him. I learned from him. Very understated and very full. It was great. Give him my love when you see him.
Old-age love. Does it change over the years? And cinematically, was it your agenda? Marigold Hotel proved there’s an audience.
JF: How does romantic love change once you get older? [laughs]
RR: Just increases.
JF: I think we get better. We are braver: what the heck do we have to lose? I know what my body needs. You know your body better. On a lot of sexual levels it gets better. And I think although we never actually see sex in this movie of ours – god [laughs] – I think it’s great our characters want it and they are profoundly together.
RB: The sex will be in the DVD’s extras
JF: I’m in Grace and Frankie, I’ve already had three lovers in that series. It was fun! I’m so happy we are giving a cultural face for older women. Yay Netflix
The separation isn’t very hopeful though.
JF: Ritesh why don’t you answer that question?
RB: When you put something out there it’s not mine anymore, it’s yours now. When I was making it I though it was very hopeful so it’s yours to take away from what you take away from. In life don’t fight technology and don’t fight your children, that’s what my grandmother said.
The irony of technology in the end was hopeful enough.
JF: In my mind my son gave me an ultimatum: “If you see him again you’ll never see me and the grandson again.” There was no choice
Women are stronger than men, especially at the end of life. In this film and in life too.
JF: With great difficulty!
RB: Jane and I were fighting so much I thought we were getting married. I think the most fun we had was the week before the shoot. We were in a hotel, in a ballroom, three of us, playing with the screenplay. We were rehearsing and Robert told me something about a scene and in my head I was thinking: “I’m in a room with Robert and Jane Fonda… it’s a great idea, let’s do it.”
You approached intelligently the relationship between older people. Why doesn’t she take Robert with her?
RR: Jane can answer.
JF: I think it’s for Ritesh!
RB: Thanks. I thought Matthias’s unspoken attitude towards Robert moved me on the set. I think the thing you mention will happen in the future. It’s great you have your own thoughts, you take the film and write the rest of the story. That’s our attempt to stay with you and we are happy it stayed with you.
Jane, so you were really in love during Barefoot. And maybe it was mutual… and you were both in a relationship at that time. Did that influence with your characters’ relationship?
RR: There are spoken and unspoken things. The unspoken things carry a certain weight to it.
JF: When I was doing my preparation, his character was having an affair with a teacher, an Indian woman. I started fantasising about him then. Louis (Redford’s character) was a fantasy in my mind for a very long time. I never told you that?
RR: You didn’t.
JF: There’s a lot I didn’t tell you about the preparation for the movie.
RR: Does it all have to come out here?
JF: Yes it has to.
Can you tell us more about your first impressions back in the 60s?
RR: Something very natural occurred when we met. That I think – from my standpoint – it created a very natural rhythm that didn’t require much talk or preparation. We just took it from there. It stayed.
JF: I remember the first time I spent some time with him. We were at Paramount pictures. We were walking down the corridor in the admin building. All the secretaries were like: “Oh my god there he goes.” And I though: “Oh my god this man will become a huge star.” You could feel it by the way women responded to him. It was very exciting to work with him at that early stage.
RR: And that never changed [laughs]. I’d like to say something about getting older. When we are young we don’t think about that. When I was young I was very athletic, I never thought about it. Then you realise you have to start being careful. And I find it hard to deal with it. But if you aren’t careful, there will be harsh consequences. You have to give up certain things about when you were young that you didn’t think of. It creates restrictions and it’s kind of sad.
There’s a change from the book: the son takes the mother away rather than the mother making the decision, to make up for her past failures. Why did you do that?
RB: Sure. I think it’s a good question for our writer Michael as well. We thought that every bit of decision making we should shift from the secondary to the main characters. He tears his mother away. During the shoot we felt like we wanted to give them agency and that it would benefit the movie.
Michael Weber: I agree with you, it was a small adjustment. The hard thing about adapting is that you can’t preserve all the parts of the work. Addie earned that agency in the book. She had to make the choice about the future rather than someone else making it for her. It’s not black and white in the book, though.
JF: I’m sure you experienced that you haven’t been the parent you should have been, loved as much, you never get over what you didn’t do, it stays in your heart. If you are lucky enough to be given a second chance, that overrides the love with a man, someone who is not in your family. If I had a chance to try and make up for what I didn’t do, that’s where I’d go. When you die it’s not about how much money you made and how many awards you got, it’s about whether your children and friends loved you. I had to seize the second chance to be the mother I couldn’t be.
RR: When we were young we were thinking about ourselves, what to do with our lives and careers. It takes a while to make the adjustments for your children because you are so busy thinking about yourself. As time goes on you realise the responsibility to take care of them. Give them love, humour, adventure and then to let them go. If you are so busy with you career there’s a tension between looking after yourself and your children. I didn’t think about the children until it was almost too late – what can I do? Can I retrieve it? Can I bring it back? And that creates a dramatic tension, and this film has that.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photo: Laura Denti
Our Souls at Night is released this autumn on Netflix.
Watch three clips from Our Souls at Night here: