Montreal writer-director Noël Mitrani plays on viewers' preconceptions in his thriller The Kate Logan Affair: 'Each time you think the film is going in one direction, it goes in another'Noël Mitrani has some theories on suspense. The Montreal writer-director put those theories to the test in the screenplay for his second feature, The Kate Logan Affair, and he passed with flying colours.
Not only did his script garner interest from producers within 48 hours, it also attracted the attention of American actress Alexis Bledel, of Gilmore Girls fame. She signed on to play the lead role of a rookie police officer who gets herself in a pile of trouble.
The film is a slow-burning thriller set in western Canada. Bledel's character has an affair with a mysterious French insurance broker (Laurent Lucas) - whom she initially mistakes for a serial rapist - in town for a conference.
One night, after an unfortunate accident, they find themselves on the run. Where they're running to and who should be afraid of whom aren't revealed until the film's dramatic climax. In between, we get taken for quite a ride.
"They're two people who were not meant to meet," said the Toronto-born, Paris-raised Mitrani, who has called Montreal home for the past six years. "He is from France, she is from Calgary, and when they meet in this small town, it creates something explosive. My intent was to show these two people who work within the system - they're they last people you'd suspect (of deviating from the straight-and-narrow). But two stable people can create instability when they meet."
Mitrani earned a PhD. in history from La Sorbonne before going on to study cinema for two years. While he is an avid history buff, he also brushes up on film by reading biographies of directors and watching one to two movies a day. He used his cinematic acumen to his advantage in crafting The Kate Logan Affair.
"I had fun playing with Hollywood conventions," he said. "I wanted to shoot pretty, slick images, and use the clichés that spectators have in their heads to manipulate them. I took great pleasure (in that). Each time you think the film is going in one direction, it goes in another. When I write a script, I make a point of always surprising people."
Mitrani went to Cannes with his first film, the 1999 short After Shave, set in a suburban supermarket; his 2006 feature debut Sur la trace d'Igor Rizzi won Best Canadian First Feature Film at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The idea for his latest film started with the title character.
"I always dreamed of doing a portrait of a policewoman," he said, "one who is young, immature, inexperienced - but I didn't want it to be obvious. I wanted her to be more than an adolescent, but not yet a woman."
Bledel was immediately drawn to the project by the opportunity to play such a complex character.
"She's so dark," the actress said, in a recent phone interview from her New York home. "I had never played someone who had to be as tough as her, to be a cop and think the way she does. She comes from such a competitive place, trying to prove herself. And she has this underlying anger from her family life . She's sensitive - maybe too sensitive. To make up for it, she has to act tough."
While he gives his actors lots to work with, Mitrani also holds back. One of the great qualities of The Kate Logan Affair is the way in which it draws you in, and strings you along without revealing its intentions. If there is a turning point that foreshadows the film's outcome, Mitrani prefers to keep it a mystery, even to himself.
"As a director, I can't pinpoint a specific moment," he said. "If I do, I kill my work. If I choose a specific moment, it will be obvious because I defined it. So I can't define it. I can only say it's between here and there. All of the people (I know) who have seen the film have identified a different moment - which is perfect. It means the spectator is participating. For me, the best films are where half the film is written in the spectator's imagination."
He credits his approach to ideas gleaned from both Alfred Hitchcock's strategies of suspense and the Coen Brothers's sense of the absurd. But though he thoroughly enjoyed crafting his web of intrigue, he says his film begins and ends with his main character, who embodies his idea that immorality is a fact of life, and evil is not always punished:
"I can do my job to perfection, but it can only work with good actors. When I look at Alexis Bledel - I made a whole film for her character. I love her deeply; she came into my life and she will never leave. She brings me great artistic satisfaction because she expressed something profound in me through her attitude."
The Kate Logan Affair is playing in theatres now.