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KEITEL, HARVEY: Three Seasons

"We must travel to understand there is no difference, in terms of humankind and humankindness," Harvey Keitel tells PAUL FISCHER, as he explains why he is so keen to support Three Seasons, a film in which he plays a supporting role as an actor, but a large role as promoter.

What is striking about Harvey Keitel, is that he's a man of passion. After six weeks of shooting nights in simulated rain, Keitel is willing to do what he does so rarely: a press interview. "It's because Tony [Bui, director of Three Seasons) is a special young new talent on the scene, and I feel it's an obligation of us that have come before, to put these young talents forward."

"it's the personal story that is the ship that I sail on as I'm trying to understand a life"

Despite his prominence as one of America's most exciting talents, Keitel remains happy to divide himself between the independent and mainstream movie scenes, though there's no doubt that the 59-year old feels more committed to the former. "I've thought about this for a while and came to a very simple conclusion: in the independent arena, more personal stories are permitted to be told, because the budgets are lower. And it's the personal stories that attract me; it's the personal story that is the ship that I sail on as I'm trying to understand a life."

For Keitel, film is art, and in searching for new and exciting stories, the actor explains the rationale behind his choices. "I look for the same thing as when I read something, some poetry that will touch me, some painting that moves me from here to there, some musical sound that touches me some place I didn't know myself the moment before."

While Keitel seems a relaxed figure these days, the native New Yorker overcame a childhood stuttering problem and adolescent rebellion, and began taking acting classes, eventually joining the Actor's Studio. One wonders whether Keitel looks back on his troubled youth, which he finds in these personal stories, the ones that fuel his passion.

"It's true that I'm always looking for something that leads me into an experience that tells me: I need this. I know that sounds a bit abstract, but that's the way it is." One wonders whether the actor, who had been a marine and seen war first hand, viewed acting as something of an escape from a tough past, or perhaps he merely stumbled onto this unique form of artistic expression.

"a logical step to take on this journey to knowing myself and knowing what life was about"

"I think [acting] was something I was led to, rather than an escape. I think it was an entrance and a logical step to take on this journey to knowing myself and knowing what life was about." And that journey is still being traversed. "People of the theatre are inner-space travellers. It's one thing to go into a rocket ship, push a button and be propelled into outer space. But what is the fuel that propels one into inner space – that’s what I look for in poetry, literature, theatre, cinema, friends and lovers."

Perhaps the closest character yet to Keitel is that of the middle-aged man in Vietnam, searching for his lost daughter or his own lost soul, in Tony Bui's award winning Three Seasons, possibly Keitel's most personal film journey to date. The film weaves three separate stories about four characters in contemporary Saigon and how their paths cross. In the first, a young Vietnamese woman is working for a reclusive writer who has lost his fingers to leprosy. As she sings, her master becomes infatuated with her and finds inspiration in her music, just as she finds inspiration in his words. Second is Hai, a cyclo driver who falls for a young prostitute with high ambitions. Finally, a young boy named Woody sells gum, watches and lighters to passers-by in the streets. In a bar he meets an American soldier (played by Keitel) who is searching for his missing daughter. When Woody suspects the G.I. of stealing his suitcase, he goes looking. What he finds is best left unanswered. "All those people in this film are on a journey to reconcile themselves with themselves, to find a lover, an identity and their self-esteem."

It's the first time an American film has been shot in Vietnam, and for Keitel, this was a moment to savour in this postwar nation. "One cannot help but feel the resonance of the war and this wonderful achievement we've come to since that horrific war. It's a very hopeful sign to me, that we were brought there by a young Vietnamese boy, who immigrated to America when he was 2 or 3 years old, grew up in California's Silicon Valley, highly educated, then returns to his country of birth to write this beautiful story about people's aspirations."

"a demand on us to recognise that we are all of one place"

Three Seasons can also be viewed as a film about cultural divisions, about outsiders, and perhaps Keitel felt like an outsider, being the only Western cast member in Bui's film. "I vividly recall being aware of the differences in our cultures; you could see it economically, the means of transportation, in their market place, and so on. With all that, I was aware of, we must travel to understand there is no difference, in terms of humankind and humankindness. Our only differences are these superficial differences and our political stupidities. Tony's work is, for me, a demand on us to recognise that we are all of one place. We want the best for our children, as every culture wants the best for their children; we need to search for our self-esteem when it has been damaged, as every other culture needs to regain its self-esteem when it has been damaged."

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Harvey Keitel

... in Three Seasons


See Nick Roddick's interview with director


For 20 years Harvey Keitel has created memorable screen portraits, often searing characters that reach within the very underbelly of American society. An iconoclast, an outsider, a true artist, Keitel divides himself between the more personal independent films that fuel his passion, and the odd studio blockbuster. The actor rarely gives interviews, and when he does, it's because he feels genuine commitment to the film, a film such as Three Seasons, the first American feature shot in Vietnam. It was a very philosophical, yet passionate Keitel, who spoke candidly (in early May 1999) to Paul Fischer from the island of Malta, where he's currently shooting a big budget action thriller, U571, co-starring with Matthew McConaughey, Jon Bon Jovi and Bill Paxton.


... in Piano

... in Pulp Fiction

... in Mean Streets

... in Reservoir Dogs

... in Lulu on the Bridge

... in Fairy Tale

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