- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2016

While editing his new film “Love & Friendship,” writer/director Whit Stillman used the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” as a temporary musical score. For the final version of the film, which opens Thursday in the District, Mr. Stillman utilized Henry Purcell’s “March from ‘Funeral Music for Queen Mary’” for an early scene.

That cue too was also used famously by Kubrick in “A Clockwork Orange.”

“I was running away from Kubrick, and I ran right into Kubrick,” Mr. Stillman told The Washington Times of his musical selections.

Mr. Stillman is a District native who now calls Paris home. While he has directed only seven films in his career, he insists it is not from laziness.

“I do work a lot, it just doesn’t always end up being a film, in my defense,” he said.

Mr. Stillman’s residing in the City of Lights allowed for proximity to Great Britain and its centuries of writers — not the least of them being Jane Austen. “Love & Friendship” is based on the romantic writer’s short story “Lady Susan,” centering around the socialite Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) who visits her in-laws determined to find a match for her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark).

In the grand schema of Austen-iana, all does not go as planned as the widow Lady Susan — and her daughter — are courted by multiple suitors of varying quality. Plot reversals, revelations and witty banter ensue naturally.

“I was trying to [find works] that were appropriate for London but not necessarily set in Britain,” Mr. Stillman, 64, said. “I found this and really loved the material.”

Mr. Stillman previously worked with star Miss Beckinsale on the 1998 film “The Last Days of Disco,” a sort of requiem for the finale of the ‘70s as it transitioned into a new decade of uncertainty.

“Kate was one of the only times I’ve sort of written a part for an actress” in two films, Mr. Stillman said.

“Love & Friendship” co-stars Stephen Fry and Chloe Sevigny as Alicia Johnson, an American friend of Lady Susan’s. It was her third appearance in one of his films. Miss Sevigny, a veteran of the Showtime series “Big Love,” first came to Mr. Stillman’s attention in a TV film called “Cold Comfort Farm.”

“I said, ‘This is the actress,’” the director said. “‘Cold Comfort Farm was sort of latter-day Jane Austen. And she did ‘Last Days of Disco,’ and this was sort of a continuation of that.”

The locations of “Love & Friendship” are magnificently captured on film by Belgian cinematographer Richard Van Oosterhout. Ireland doubled for the English countryside, where Kubrick also filmed “Barry Lyndon.”

Mr. Stillman made a unique directorial decision in the film, with an early scene introducing several of the main characters standing on a hillside, with subscript beneath their faces introducing who they are and how they are interconnected. It’s a rather modern narrative device, and one that might be far more at home in a Wes Anderson film versus a Victoria-era period piece.

However, the director explains, it was an artistic choice made due to accident of circumstance.

“We were at this beautiful location that I thought was going to be our main location, but it was too far from Dublin to fit into our production schedule,” Mr. Stillman said. He got in a master shot of the cast members at the location in record time, but since the crew had trudged all the way to such a remote locale, he asked to shoot inserts and closeups of the cast in costume.

“I said while we’re here, let’s take the camera and do a dramatic portrait or these four people.”

One of those four characters was Miss Maria Mannering, played by actress Sophie Radermacher, who was initially hired on solely as an extra.

“It was her only time in the film, but thanks to this idea, she gets feature treatment,” Mr. Stillman said.

Mr. Stillman’s previous films include “Barcelona” and “Metropolitan.” He is currently a producer on the Amazon series “The Cosmopolitans,” and has directed one of its episodes. He says that he has many more dream projects still in the pipeline but believes that, due to his age, many of them will remain unrealized.

“I sort of wonder, the ideas I’ve had, the passions I’ve had — that are not mostly comic — if I should or could carry them off,” he said of potential future films. “Because that voice has the crutch of making it funny. And do I want to something that doesn’t have that?”

Mr. Stillman counts John Ford, Ernst Lubitsch and Robert Altman among his many influences. When aspiring filmmakers come to him for advice now, Mr. Stillman tells them to trust their instincts and to move quickly on making decisions: “If something’s not right, know right away.”

“So much of artistic creation is just exclusion,” he said. “It’s not creating things, it’s just excluding things that really aren’t going to be helpful.”

Mr. Stillman lives by his own axiom. Unlike other period pieces, “Love & Friendship” was shot in a tidy 26 days and runs a tight 92 minutes from opening to closing credits.

“I’ve learned that I really want to shoot short films on a short schedule,” he said. “There can be very good films that run 110 minutes, but 90 minutes is beautiful.”

While the director praises the lifestyle of his adopted Parisian streets, he says that he very much misses his native country, which he admits he doesn’t know very well except for New York, where he lived previously to moving overseas.

“I love being in Paris, but I really love the United States, and I can’t be here very much,” he said, adding that given his druthers, he would like to someday reside in a Southern college town, such as in Milledgeville, Georgia, home to Georgia College & State University.

“People from Georgia laugh when I say this … because Milledgeville is famous for the insane asylums,” the director said with a laugh. “And they say, ‘If you keep carrying on like that, we’re going to send you to Milledgeville.’”

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