Five years after Mad Max: Fury Road, Miller has brought a very different kind of film to Cannes, where he enjoyed a standing ovation following the screening last night on the Croisette.
Adapted from a 1994 AS Byatt novella, Three Thousand Years of Longing stars Tilda Swinton as narratology professor Alithea who encounters a genie – the Djinn, played by a pointy-eared Idris Elba. The film flips between their conversation in the hotel room and the Djinn’s previous adventures, while he asks her to come up with wishes he can grant.
Miller told the packed press room: “Most stories we tell are allegorical. They’re open to interpretation, depending on who’s watching them. Fantasy stories lend themselves to dealing with much more complex things than, say, a documentary.”
And Swinton pointed out how relevant the film is now, explaining: “The thing that’s dangerous is when you have only one story. It’s when people can’t hear any other stories that things go down the tubes very fast. It’s keeping people’s ears open, keeping their ears curious, it’s just that one story that we have to get away from. It feels very apposite now to make this film about a variety of angles, even the debate about whether it involves supernatural forces or not. It’s that feeling of keeping our ears and hearts open that is really important.”
Regarding his choice of casting in the two central roles, Miller explained that he found it easy to cast his leading woman after meeting Tilda Swinton at Cannes at the 70th anniversary celebrations five years ago. “I thought, she is Alithea,” he said. “But I had no idea who could play the Djinn.” It was his wife and her friend who accompanied him to BAFTA in London for Mad Max who told him, “The only person we want to meet here is Idris Elba.” He told the Cannes crowd: “If they hadn’t done that, I would have had no idea who could play the Djinn.”
Elba spoke of his delight at working for Miller and how they worked together to create a very human character despite his fantastical status: “We wanted to avoid any tropes of a genie, down to how he looks and talks. This is the reality of that Djinn. We tried to make a Djinn that wants to be as human as possible.”
Elba asked that they film the backstory first, so that when his character sat down with Alithea, “to some extent I have been through those experiences.”
Miller admitted, “Until that conversation, ti never occurred to me, but it seems so obvious now. Dancing between the two stories works.”
Of the music in the film, Miller said of his composer Tom Holkenborg: “He’s a polymath, he’s a teacher, particularly about music. He was able to give me insights into that. He’s somebody who is very rigorous intellectually but that never diminishes his intuition.”
Miller confirmed too that the pair are already working together on Mad Max: Furiosa.
In keeping with the theme of the film, Miller was asked what wishes he would make if given the opportunity, and he reflected: “Wishes must be earned in some way. I think heroic figures are the agents of change, but it requires the relinquishing of self-interest, that’s the heroic gesture.”
Elba brought a laugh, asking if he could have “electric Ferrari.”
Also at the conference were the film’s co-writer Augusta Gore and producer Doug Mitchell.
The film is scheduled to be released in the United States on August 31 by United Artists Releasing.