No one will be surprised to learn that from childhood, Ari Aster was passionate about genre cinema. He was also one of those crafty little guys who, at the video store, found a way to slip a horror or action film intended for adults between “for all” productions.
“I was obsessed with movies,” the 36-year-old filmmaker said during an interview he gave us in the middle of a very busy day. The movies that turned me on the most were the most extreme, the most provocative, the most disturbing. »
Often described as the new master of horror cinema, Ari Aster imposed his style from Hereditary, his first feature film. Since Midsommar, it has practically been the object of a cult. If he gladly accepts the accolades of horror film lovers, the filmmaker sees himself more as a director of genre films.
“Before making Hereditary, which is a real horror movie, I wrote several scripts that had nothing to do with this genre. I actually wrote Hereditary because I felt a horror movie could more easily get the green light. To me, Midsommar is more of a black comedy. And then, I would describe Beau Is Afraid as a nightmare comedy, because the story borrows the logic of a nightmare. This description is helpful, I think, because if, as a viewer, you’re not open to that kind of logic, you’re probably going to have a hard time getting on board.
“I’m fine with being seen as a horror movie director, but I know that label will be more difficult to apply to my future projects. »
The nightmarish comedy that is Beau Is Afraid recounts for three hours the waking nightmare experienced by the protagonist, named Beau (Joaquin Phoenix), during a series of events, each more dramatic than the next, which take place in different environments.
At the heart of an abundant story divided into several distinct parts is an intense relationship with a castrating mother (Patti Lupone), on whom the weight of guilt weighs so heavy that the son will have to answer in a public tribunal.
Beau Is Afraid is the result of a rewrite that Ari Aster made from a screenplay laid down almost 10 years ago.
“The first version was written before Hereditary,” he explains. In fact, Beau Is Afraid should have been my first feature film. After Midsommar, the idea came to me to read it again. I found the script still amusing, but other ideas came to me during the rereading. »
Joaquin Phoenix, who always invests a lot in his roles, one day received the script for Beau Is Afraid, accompanied by a letter in which Ari Aster expressed all his admiration for the actor and his desire to work with him, without really more explanation.
“I thought the script could speak for itself,” recalls the filmmaker. We then discussed by videoconference for several months, Joaquin and I, because we first had to get to know each other. I didn’t write the script with him particularly in mind, but very early on the idea that he could play Beau excited me. I knew that it was to him that I would offer the role first. »
Beau Is Afraid, whose place where the plot takes place is never specified (apart from a part taking place in a fictional small town) also has the distinction of having been shot entirely in Montreal last summer. Why did the American director choose the Quebec metropolis as a filming location?
“There are economic incentives here, but many places around the world offer the same kind of benefits. It turned out that Montreal was the place where we were given access to all the resources we needed. Bodies of water, a downtown district, suburbs, in short, we could find it all here. And then, Pawel Pogorzelski, the director of photography with whom I have always worked, comes from Montreal and has lived here most of his life. »
Aware that certain elements can disturb or exasperate, Ari Aster nevertheless wishes that the spectators who will choose to go see his new film come out delighted with their experience.
“The ultimate goal is to come up with things that in some ways can take us out of our comfort zone,” he adds. I try to do it in a compelling and memorable way. »
Although Beau Is Afraid is his most personal work, Ari Aster does not see the protagonist as a candid projection of himself. And rest assured, the filmmaker’s own mother has nothing to do with Beau’s mother!