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English filmmaker Michael Winterbottom takes an optimistic view of life in contemporary London with his latest film, Wonderland, made on a shoestring and shot on hand held cameras. As he tells ANDREW L. URBAN (in Cannes), the film is about connection between people.

Michael Winterbottom is a Cannes film festival natural; he's not schmoozer or a glitter-bug, he's not a powerbroker and he's not a trend follower. He's a unique filmmaker, the sort of director Cannes is always really all about, if only the shine would not overshadow it - as it were. He's English, understated and serious about his work - although his zipped-to-the-neck short sleeved blue top should not be taken as an accurate symbol of his nature. He is younger than you might imagine, with short brown hair - and a relaxed persona that is the antithesis of pompous.

"shot in his home city, London"

His 'document' drama, Welcome to Sarajevo was a gutsy, emotional war story. This time, he is in Cannes with something entirely different, a film shot in his home city, London, a film still about people, but in vastly different circumstances. Although a far cry from the DOGMA films of von Trier and Co, Winterbottom's Wonderland is true to that spirit, by shooting on hand held cameras, with a small crew, largely improvised scenes, no lights, no slates, no extras (except the real population of London's streets).

Set in London over the long Bonfire Weekend, Wonderland follows three generations of one family as their separate paths cross each other. Mum and Dad are marooned in a loveless marriage. They have three daughters, Nadia, Debbie and Molly. Molly is about to have a baby; Debbie has a nine year old boy but still wants to spend her nights on the town; Nadia is looking for Mr Right.

"The heart of the film is all about these individuals - even among seven million other people in London. It's about how people make connections - mostly via family - and it seemed to me the generational issue was important. When a baby is born it changes what you feel about all the people around the baby and makes it all more complex.

"I like the idea that you can have an emotion as intense about people comforting their son after his walkman is stolen - and the idea of having a wide screen, and having Michael Nyman's magnificent music to accompany it…."

"I felt music could provide a counterpoint"

When Winterbottom first showed Nyman some footage from the film, Nyman expressed surprise that the director wanted "something as big emotionally - I felt music could provide a counterpoint, and wanted to use it as a way to connect between characters. I wanted the music to point towards the emotions - even the small details of their lives. Their emotions are worth our attention," he says.

This musical focus is well exemplified during the crucial birth sequence in the film: "Yes, the music there is intensified - it suggests the fulfillment of the potential of a better world." If this is Winterbottom at his most optimistic, the way he shot Wonderland in the streets of London is equally upbeat, "giving up a lot of control and hoping to find something to reveal … which you want to reveal."

Gina McKee, who stars as Nadia, remarks on Winterbottom's approach with Wonderland, calling it "liberating". But she adds, "the converse of that is you feel much freer, so I had to be careful not to demonstrate!" McKee was familiar with Nadia's 'territory' and knew 'the look' - hence the iconic hairdo with two little tufts of her dark hair gathered like little horns (but further back on the head) which accentuate her uniqueness. "It's not uncommon for someonme working in Soho," she explains, sitting in Cannes with the hair-horns gone, but her large blue, sparkling clear eyes catching the pale blue of her V neck long sleeve cotton top.

McKee's Nadia was - like all the characters - created by 'structured improvisation' and the film is notable for some stylistic flourishes, ranging from slow to fast motion.

"a dreamlike and a subjective quality"

These were devices Winterbottom used in giving the film its dynamic, observational tone: "We did a lot of observational stuff and wanted to find a way of breaking out of the characters to include other people in the street and get glimpses in windows … to find connections. So we tried to break away from documenting a character. It sort of has a dreamlike quality and a subjective quality. In editing, the decisions were made on a broad level, on the basis of 'is this more interesting' - by minutes, not seconds."

Winterbottom says that ultimately, it's not his "responsibility" to sum up the film. But he wouldn't describe it as 'a slice of life' - "Slice of life has a connotation of low key feel - the idea was to make it bigger than that."

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Michael Winterbottom


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