But it wasn’t until friction over earnings from “Fury Road” – Miller’s lyrical action opus – opened a window that the time came for “Three Thousand Years of Longing.”
“After I wrote it, it was really a question of when to do it,” Miller said alongside its stars, Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, shortly before the film’s Cannes premiere. “It was luck, actually. We had a dispute with Warner Bros. over ‘Fury Road’ and that meant, hey, we can bring this forward.
The unveiling of “Three Thousand Years of Nostalgia” had most Cannes festival-goers on the edge of their seats. What would Miller bring up this time? Could the 77-year-old filmmaker match the propulsive thrill of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’?
That movie, which Miller is about to revisit with the prequel “Furiosa,” had its stunning Cannes premiere seven years ago en route to a slew of Oscars, $374 million in box office receipts and a place on many Best Century lists.
The answer, it turns out, is a singular blend of epic fantasy and chamber drama that gets to the heart of Miller’s own feelings about storytelling. The film, which MGM will release on August 31, was scripted by Miller and his daughter, first screenwriter Augusta Gore. In it, Swinton plays a narratologist named Alithea Binnie who visits Turkey for a lecture on how science has replaced mythology.
After Alithea buys an old bottle from the Grand Bazaar and scrubs it in her hotel sink, a wish-granting djinn (Elba) appears, filling the room. A long and intimate conversation ensues, in which he tells her about his former masters over the past 3,000 years. Using computer-generated imagery, Miller blends mythology and the modern world into a contemplative, historical fairy tale that firmly believes in magic.
“There are people who are great storytellers, who can do it as a performance,” Miller says. “I know I struggle with it. I can’t get up and tell a spontaneous story well. But I can do it in the ultra-slow motion of narrating a film, where I think about every nuance, every rhythm of it.
Miller again teamed up with several of his “Fury Road” collaborators, including cinematographer John Seale, editor Margaret Sixel and composer Tom Holkenborg. But the director felt that in some ways, “Three Thousand Years of Longing” was the “anti-Mad Max” — chatterbox where “Fury Road” was wordless, spread across eternities rather than real time.
Reactions to “Three Thousand Years of Nostalgia” were mixed, but few questioned its ambition or uniqueness.
And for all the eras that it crosses, the film goes until today. The pandemic is seen late in the film in scenes where background actors wear masks. The film’s production was also dramatically shaped by the pandemic. Miller went from filming in a series of international locations to relying on CGI and his native Australia for most of the film.
“When we first started talking about this movie, it was great,” Swinton says. “But now, this year, it’s even more. And I imagine it will be even more next. Your instinct for the wind, which will run and run. It is like a seed that is planted.
For Miller, “Three Thousand Years of Nostalgia” doesn’t just lead to now – it goes beyond.
“It’s a very relevant story,” says Miller. “It’s like a metal detector or a Geiger counter, when something really activates it. You go: ‘Oh, there’s a rich vein here somewhere.’ “
“Time will tell if there is enough in it for other people to respond to. You hope the story becomes someone else’s story and belongs to everyone,” he said .
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
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