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On the Scene: Q&A with 'Southland''s Richard Kelly at Cannes

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173911__smg_lIn a typical sequence from Southland Tales, writer-director Richard Kelly’s sci-fi-ish follow-up to his cult smash Donnie Darko, Justin Timberlake lip-syncs to The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” in a futuristic arcade, as a chorus line of peroxidized blondes lying in a line of Skee-Ball lanes kick up their heels behind him. Timberlake, as a sniper-narrator named Pilot Abilene, has a dark ring of blood around his shirt and a scar around one eye, and the musical number climaxes when he pours a beer over his head.

So the movie is out there, yeah. The rest of its 160 minutes features Sarah Michelle Gellar and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (pictured), Seann William Scott, and several past and current members of Saturday Night Live in a willfully confusing apocalyptic sci-fi comedy epic that imagines life in 2008, not long after a nuclear weapon has exploded in Abilene, Texas.

The movie premiered here at the Cannes Film Festival last Sunday. It went over badly. People hate it. With a few exceptions, the reviews have been eviscerating, with what seems like an emphasis on the word “incomprehensible.” The movie doesn’t have domestic distribution yet, and, given its reception, Southland Tales seems unlikely to be shown in America in its present form.

Where does the guy who made Donnie Darko – which had its own troubles making it to theaters after its rocky debut at Sundance in 2001 – go from here? We asked him in Cannes.

addCredit(“Sarah Michelle Gellar and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: George Pimentel/WireImage.com”)

What has your week been like?
It’s the exact same thing that happened with Donnie Darko. The film follows the same formula as Darko,only on a bigger scope and scale. That was always the design of it: Itwas intended to be this epic L.A. story, and the complicated nature ofthe narrative – the sense of it being science fiction, a very densecombination of politics and philosophy and science, delivered with areally kind of subversive sense of humor featuring pop stars – was veryintentional. So obviously we’re pushing buttons, and provoking people,and that was our intention. That’s what we wanted to do. The only thingthat’s disappointing or frustrating for me is just that I don’t knowthat the film will be seen in the United States. Maybe it will, butpotentially it could be shown with almost an hour of it missing. Idon’t quite know what that film is.

You surprised at the vitriol of the reaction?
No, actually, inretrospect, not at all. Again, it’s exactly what happened with DonnieDarko. So it’s like we’re used to it. This time, we’re just like, “Beenthere, done that.” I just want to make sure that the film is given achance to be analyzed properly and digested. Because the nature of thefilm is that it’s incredibly complicated. Intentionally so, becausethat’s the nature of our dilemma, which is really complicated too. Ifsomeone were to detonate a nuclear weapon in Texas, and we woke upafter that event, we would have a chaotic, challenging puzzle ahead ofus. And that’s the movie. It’s a chaotic puzzle.

So no distributor is going to release the version that played here?
Thatseems to be what I’m hearing, that seems to be the consensus among allthe people I’m communicating with. I just don’t exactly know what’sgoing to happen after here. I don’t know if this version will ever beseen again or what, but I’m proud of this version and I definitelystand by it, and I guess eventually on DVD there could be two versions.I don’t know; we’ll see what happens. We’re still working it out.

Getting the film made in the first place was a struggle. It soundslike you’re not anxious to repeat the experience on your next film.
Ijust don’t know if I don’t have the energy anymore. It took five years,and I don’t want to take five years between each movie. I want to makemore than six movies in my entire life. However long I live, I wanna beable to get as many movies out there as I can, and this whole fiveyears thing, and having to fight and struggle for so long, I’ve kind ofhad it, I’m over it, you know?

So will your films get more commercial from now on?
I think theyalready are commercial. I think people might disagree with me, but Ithink that Donnie Darko is very commercial. It’s done extremely well onDVD, and it could have done extremely well in theaters if it wasmarketed properly. Same with this film. I think this film has greatcommercial viability. I just wish there were maybe people who were alittle less risk averse in the sense of giving it a chance to find anaudience in its existing condition.

What do you say to Donnie Darko fans, to make them keep the faith?
Uh, that I tried. [Laughs] I tried. And hopefully they’ll get a chance to see it at some point.

Originally posted May 26 2006 — 6:48 PM EDT

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