Visionless Express - Fernando Meirelles director of Blindness
Alistair Harkness catches up with Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles to talk about his new thriller
‘What’s the most challenging thing about making a film about blindness?’ asks Fernando Meirelles, the relentlessly upbeat director of relentlessly downbeat mood-blackeners City of God and The Constant Gardner. ‘Trying to establish relationships between characters. When your characters are sightless, you really can’t rely on looks.’ Based on the novel by Portuguese Nobel Prize winner José Saramago and starring Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore and Gael Garcia Bernal, Meirelles’s new film, Blindness, is an apocalyptic fable for our freaked out times, one that imagines the disturbing implications of a society plunged into chaos when (almost) everyone goes inexplicably blind. ‘For me the blindness is a representation of our incapacity to see what is in front of us,’ offers the director by way of explanation – something the American Federation for the Blind failed to pick up on when they protested the US release last month. ‘I really didn’t understand it,’ smiles Meirelles of their beef with the film (apparently the group objected to the portrayal of blind people participating in a violent breakdown of society). ‘They totally missed the point; it’s not about the capacity of blind people adapting to regular life. It’s about humanity. But we checked into this group, actually, and they don’t do anything. They don’t train people; they don’t have a school... it was really just a PR exercise for their organisation.’
Now 53, Meirelles arguably took a long time to open his own eyes to what was probably always in front of him: a successful film career. Trained as an architect, but falling in love with animation after a brief stint in film school, he started out making crazy gallery installations on a U-Matic video camera, before television beckoned, then commercials. He finally made the move into film at the age of 42, and went global with his third feature, City of God. Released in 2003 it won him breathless comparisons with Scorsese, an Oscar nomination and (comparatively speaking) huge international box-office. ‘I never expected that,’ says Meirelles. ‘I made it for a Brazilian audience, then it got out of control.’ It got things moving with regards to Brazil’s crippling inner city poverty too. ‘It’s getting much, much better everyday,’ Meirelles says. ‘I open the paper now and there is all this good news about the country. That’s a new experience for me.’ Though too modest to say whether he thinks City of God played a direct role in this, he is sure of one thing: ‘Nowadays, middle class people know much more about favelas, drug dealing, crime and the lack of perspective for the young people of Brazil than they did some years ago. Suddenly it is all visible to them.’ You might even say they’ve rediscovered their capacity to see what’s in front of them.
Blindness is on general release from Fri 21 Nov. See Also Released.