Viggo Mortensen & Mahershala Ali Drive ‘Green Book’; Willem Dafoe Paints ‘At Eternity’s Gate’ – Specialty B.O. Preview

Universal Pictures

Universal is going limited with Peter Farrelly’s Green Book this weekend. The film, starring Oscar-nominee Viggo Mortensen and Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, is based on the true story of a racist bouncer hired by jazz pianist and composer Don Shirley to drive him through the South during the Jim Crow era. Julian Schnabel’s latest, At Eternity’s Gate, heads out via CBS Films. Starring Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh, the project came together after a visit by Schnabel and the film’s co-writer to Paris’ Musée D’Orsay.

Cohen Media group is heading out with Venice fest title Shoah: The Four Sisters, the final film of late French writer-director-producer Claude Lanzmann. And Wolfe Releasing is giving Anchor And Hope, which it picked up out of the European Film Market last February, an exclusive start in Los Angeles.

Among other limited releases opening this weekend in theaters are Of Fathers And Sons by Talal Derki via Kino Lorber as well as two documentaries from Abramorama, Family in Transition and Under The Wire. Janus Films is doing a 40th anniversary release of Chantal Akerman’s Les Rendez-Vous D’Anna at Brooklyn’s BAMcinematek. Also from Well Go USA is Bill Oliver sci-fi drama Jonathan starring Ansel Elgort, Patricia Clarkson and Suki Waterhouse. And Magnolia Pictures opened doc The Last Race with event screenings across the country, with regular runs beginning in New York and L.A. Friday.

Green Book
Director-writer: Peter Farrelly
Writers: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Sebastian Maniscalco, Dimiter D. Marinov, P.J. Byrne
Distributor: Universal

Veteran director Peter Farrelly ran into writer Brian Hayes Currie three years ago. While catching up, Currie told Farrelly about a new script he was working on. The conversation lead Farrelly into the drama, based on a true friendship that, as distributor Universal describes, “Transcended race, class and the 1962 Mason-Dixon Line.”

“[Brian Currie] told me that he was working on this screenplay about a black concert pianist who went to the South and hired a bouncer who was racist to drive him, but after that trip, they became lifelong friends,” explained Farrelly during an audience Q&A at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which screened Green Book earlier this week.

Green Book centers on Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, who is hired to drive Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a world-class pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South. They rely on The Green Book, a guide of establishments that were safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism, danger, as well as unexpected humanity and humor, they set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.

Writer Nick Vallelonga, whose father is the real-life Tony Lip, met Shirley when he was a kid. As he grew older, he told his father that he wanted to tell the story. “I started talking to my father about it and in my 20s, my father said, ‘If you want to be serious, you have to talk to Dr. Shirley and get his side of the story,” said Vallelonga during the onstage conversation. “It’s such an amazing story, but it took a long time to do it for various reasons. I didn’t need to embellish or add anything.”

One stipulation Shirley gave was that Vallelonga had to wait until Shirley’s death to tell the story. In the meantime, Vallelonga’s mother gave him a treasure-trove of material. “My mother had all these letters my father had sent her and they [described the evolution] of how he came to love Dr. Shirley.”

Vallelonga said that his father also insisted that the story be told without sentimentalizing it. “He wanted me to tell this story but put it all in,” he said. “Both of them had issues — warts and all. My dad said to tell the truth. When their friendship [developed] there was a massive change in my father. It changed how we were brought up and how we treated people. Both of them together affected each others’ lives.”

Vallelonga initially thought he’d go the independent route, developing and shooting the project on his own. “I was going to do it myself and direct with a low budget, an iPhone and a couple of meatball sandwiches,” he said. “Then I brought in Brian and he brought it to Peter and he did such a great job.”

Viggo Mortensen joined the project, followed by Mahershala Ali. The two had met a year before being cast in the film. Said Mortensen about the film and the broader topic of racism: “People may stop saying words but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some kind of [hatred] there. I hope that this movie will make people think about the way you treat people. As a movie, it’s not just a civics lesson or a historical movie. There are a lot of movies that come out that are successful at the box office or critically well received, but [audiences may] not want to see them again. I think people will want to see this again.”

Universal is opening Green Book in select locations and cities this weekend before going wide. Farrelly said he hopes audiences will take from the story a broader context that applies today. “What got me involved is not that they were such opposites, but that afterward they were friends. That’s what I hope people will get from this movie. After talking in this car for awhile, they broke down barriers and got to know each other. I want people to walk out knowing that there is hope if people just talk to each other.”

At Eternity’s Gate
Director: Julian Schnabel
Writers: Jean Claude Carrière, Louise Kugelberg
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Mads Mikkelsen, Emmanuelle Seigner, Amira Casar, Niels Arestrup, Oscar Isaac
Distributor: CBS Films

Julian Schnabel and producer Jon Kilik have been working together on films for 25 years. The idea of doing something on Van Gogh had been an “ongoing conversation,” according to Kilik.

“Jean Claude Carrière and Julian spent a day at the Musée d’Orsay which had a show on Van Gogh,” explained Kilik. “Jean Claude was fascinated by the idea of examining a different version of Van Gogh’s story, focusing on the last two years of his life when he was so prolific, but also going through a very hard time.”

At Eternity’s Gate is described as “a journey” inside the world and mind of a person who, despite skepticism, ridicule and illness, created some of the world’s most beloved and stunning works of art. This is not a forensic biography, but rather scenes based on Vincent van Gogh’s (Willem Dafoe) letters, common agreement about events in his life that present as facts, hearsay, and moments that are just plain invented.

Carrière and Schnabel had a first draft of the script within six months, according to Kilik, adding: “There’s a constant flow of change and evolution. Julian showed the script to Louise Kugelberg, who brought in a whole different physicality to it — how nature can be an antagonistic force. That brought in an important piece to the film.”

Dafoe had worked with Schnabel on the director’s first film, Basquiat, in 1996. “He’s been a friend for more than 30 years. We hadn’t thought of anyone else,” said Kilik. “We knew he’d fit emotionally and physically. You see it in his eyes and that’s why we felt he was the only one.” Financing came through sources in Scandinavia and Japan that had worked with Kilik and Schnabel previously, later followed by other sources.

“Making movies with Julian is a different process,” said Kilik. “It’s an unconventional way of working that follows our personal schedules and timeline on when to activate it or not. It’s driven by our personal experience. When you make independent films and have built a loyal body of work with loyal independent financiers and distributors, you’re [able to have that kind of schedule].”

Once schedules aligned, the project shot over 38 days starting in late September, 2017 in areas of Provence in France where Van Gogh spent time.

“We shot in Arles and at the asylum in Saint Remy as well as a lot of places in nature where he actually painted,” said Kilik. “You can see landscapes and architecture that match up with his paintings. We had a good, strong crew. The line producer, [François-Xavier Decraene] had done a couple of movies with us. With Julian, it’s a free, flowing, organic process. We are used to each other and responsible to other logistical type issues and work within itself. It moved fast. Like Willem says as Van Gogh in the movie, ‘I like to paint fast.’ That’s sort of how we do our projects.”

The filmmaking team showed CBS Films a cut of some footage during Cannes last year. The company then came on for release. Added Kilik: “We hadn’t finished yet, but they came in and added wise input that helped us with the final edit. They hadn’t worked with Julian before, but respected his past work and believed in the Van Gogh story. It was great to have a partner early enough in order to plan for a mid November/early December release [that far out]. That’s why we chose to show it early in Cannes. I think we timed it just right to show there.”

At Eternity’s Gate debuted in Venice and later at the New York Film Festival. CBS Films will open the title Friday at four New York and L.A. locations before expanding to additional select markets on November 21 and beyond.

Shoah: Four Sisters
Director: Claude Lanzmann
Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Shoah: The Four Sisters is the final film of late French writer-director-producer Claude Lanzmann. Cohen Media Group caught the title at last year’s New York Film Festival. The filmmaker, journalist, and author died in Paris on July 5, 2018, one day after Shoah: Four Sisters was released in French cinemas.

“We saw the film last year at the New York Film Festival. As the distributors of Lanzmann’s previous film, The Last Of The Unjust, we knew him and his work intimately, and felt strongly about bringing this meaningful work to an American audience,” noted Cohen Media Group head, Charles Cohen. “Lanzmann’s recent passing, though difficult, has driven us to bring audiences out for this, his final film.”

Composed of four segments, The Hippocratic Oath, The Merry Flea, Noah’s Ark, and Baluty, the film will be released theatrically by Cohen Media Group in two parts.

Starting in 1999, Claude Lanzmann made several films that could be considered satellites of Shoah, comprised of interviews conducted in the 1970s that did not make it into the final, monumental work. In the last years of the director’s life, he decided to devote a film to four women from four different areas of Eastern Europe with four different destinies, each finding herself improbably alive after war’s end: Ruth Elias from Ostravia, Czechoslovakia (The Hippocratic Oath); Paula Biren from Lodz, Poland (Baluty); Ada Lichtman from further south in Krakow (The Merry Flea) and Hannah Marton from Cluj, or Kolozsvár, in Transylvania (Noah’s Ark). Survivors of unimaginable Nazi horrors during the Holocaust, they tell their individual stories and become crucial witnesses to the barbarism they experienced.

“This is required viewing for anyone who feels strongly about Lanzmann’s masterpiece Shoah,” commented Cohen. “We are actively working with the Jewish community…to bring this film to those who honor the memories of survivors in the most personal sense. We aim to make this material accessible to a more general audience as well, which is why we have chosen to present it in this particular format, as two parts running two-hours apiece.”

The film opened Wednesday at The Quad in New York with with an additional limited run at the Symphony Space Thalia, and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall next Wednesday, November 21. The company expects to add markets in the weeks that follow.

Added Cohen: “The stories of these women, spirited and fierce survivors who contemplate their experiences with grace and strength, remind us not only of the monumental disaster of the Holocaust, but importance of honoring the memory of those who endured it.”

Anchor And Hope
Director-writer: Carlos Marques-Marcet
Cast: Geraldine Chaplin, David Verdaguer, Natalia Tena, Oona Chaplin
Distributor: Wolfe Releasing

Wolfe first caught Spanish, American and British production, Anchor And Hope at the European Film Market coinciding with the Berlinale last February. The dramedy-romance will open exclusively in Los Angeles this weekend.

In their mid-30s, Eva (Oona Chaplin) and Kat (Natalia Tena) have a fun and carefree simple life on their London canal boat until Eva, inspired by her exceptional mother Germaine (played by her real mother Geraldine Chaplin), presents Kat with an ultimatum: she wants a child. Kat resists, knowing that it will end the bohemian lifestyle that she’s always envisioned with Eva. When Kat’s best friend Roger (David Verdaguer) drops in from Barcelona, the three of them toy around with the idea of creating a baby together. Kat sees no other way out but to say yes.

“We responded to the authentic performances from Oona Chaplin and Natalia Tena as a lesbian couple and the unique vision and execution from Carlos Marques-Marcet, which made it a great fit for Wolfe’s women audience,” commented Wolfe Content Operations Director Evan Schwartz. “We are also big fans of the legendary Geraldine Chaplin, acting opposite her daughter for the first time.”

Wolfe is focusing its social media to Latin American/Spanish-speaking communities in L.A. The company is also tapping the resources of La Panda, which co-produced the title in reaching core audiences.

“Our messaging also reaches the rabid fanbases of the cast, from Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Oona Chaplin’s upcoming role in James Cameron’s Avatar sequels,” noted Schwartz. “At it’s core, Anchor And Hope is a comedy about a modern family which made sense to take out ahead of Thanksgiving holiday, with a digital rollout to follow over the holiday season.”

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