March 10, 2011

Fable makes fine fantasy thriller

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies, Women at 5:49 am by dinaheng

“All sorrows are less with bread,” or so Grandma used to say in the new fantasy thriller, “Red Riding Hood,” which gives an interesting twist to the tale of the red-caped girl who walks through the woods to her grandmother’s house and encounters the Big Bad Wolf.

The earliest versions of the fable can be traced to various European countries pre-17th Century, but in the Warner Bros. film that opens in theaters March 11, director Catherine Hardwicke has taken the tale’s medieval roots and created a film that explores the consequences of our actions on multiple levels.

In the film, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) discovers that her parents have arranged for her to marry Henry (Max Irons), the son of the town’s wealthiest family. But Valerie wants Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), the poor woodcutter she’s loved since childhood. When a werewolf begins attacking the villagers, no one is above suspicion, including Valerie.

“The beauty of fairy tales is that they don’t have only one moral,” says Hardwicke, who also directed “Twilight” and “Thirteen.” “You have a mother who didn’t follow her heart, and is urging her daughter to be practical and not marry for love. That decision precipitates others. It’s like looking at the dark side of ourselves, how do we keep it in control, and what happens when we don’t. When we’re not true to ourselves, it’s always a source of bitterness.”

The cinematography richly creates a world where the forest and mountains are shrouded in mystery, and the village is dark with suspicion and paranoia. The most striking visual, of course, is the red signature cloak worn by Valerie, which is the only place the color red appears in the movie.

“The red cloak can have so many meanings,” Hardwicke says. “Red is the color of blood. It’s the coming of age. You can look at all these different artists who have painted the cloak, and have the girl standing there with a bloody axe. When you’re little, you remember the story of the basket and the girl going to a scary place in the woods. When you’re older, there are sexual undertones going on.”

Hardwicke, who grew up in McAllen, Texas, says she remembers dressing up as Red Riding Hood for Halloween two years in a row. After her mother told her and a sister the story, Hardwicke insisted that her mother sew a red cape for her costume.

The little girl who was captivated by stories went on to study art in Mexico and worked as an an architect before moving into filmmaking.

“I loved architecture and building things, but it felt like people just wanted me to build same thing over and over,” Hardwicke says. “I thought the film business would encourage creativity, but more often than not, people want to do the same thing there, as well. ‘Red Riding Hood’ is the first film where I’ve been able to create the world I wanted.”

She notes that women directors are still in the minority in Hollywood, and says that “Red Hiding Hood” is the first studio film that’s both directed by a woman and shot by a female cinematographer (Mandy Walker).

It probably didn’t hurt that Hardwicke’s direction of “Twilight,” which launched the film franchise based on the best-selling novels by Stephenie Meyer, resulted in a $69.6 million box office take on opening weekend, the highest ever for a female director.

The symbol of fear in “Red Riding Hood” is the werewolf, a mythical creature whose beastly nature hides in human form by day. The director notes that people in Germany were put on trial for being werewolves as far back as 1589.

“Wolves just don’t seem like normal animals,” she says. “The way they hunt is terrifying. The Native Americans and cultures everywhere are fascinated by the beauty and terror of wolves.”

As Valerie discovers, bread may or may not ease our sorrow, but sooner or later, we all have to face the Big Bad Wolf.



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