Martin Donovan likes Collaborator nicely twisted
Wait, what is this? A low-key, witty, performance-based film with a complete absence of epileptic camera work, some political content, an enigmatic conclusion, and no Stan Lee cameo? How’d this thing ever get made at all?
“Well, I‘ll tell ya, it doesn’t get made in the U.S. of A,” says Martin Donovan with a wry laugh. “It got made in Canada because of my permanent-resident status, which opened us up for tax breaks and all the other kinds of funding you can get. I don’t even fully understand it; my Canadian producer could explain it.”
Since we don’t have Mr. Donovan’s Canadian producer on the phone, let’s just give thanks to the mysterious financing channels that have brought Collaborator (opening in Vancouver on Friday [July 13]) to the big screen. As Donovan points out: “The business has migrated towards the top-heavy, tent-pole films, and all the talent has really migrated to television. The golden age of indie films in the ’90s has been replaced by the golden age of television, really.”
He’s right, for the most part, but then there’s Collaborator. Donovan’s first film as a writer-director might remind viewers of the string of films the actor made with Hal Hartley, back when the latter was saving American independent cinema some two decades ago. Most of the film’s action, for one thing, takes place between two men, in this case a loser called Gus (an outstanding David Morse) and a slightly smug but declining New York playwright, Robert Longfellow (Donovan).
The twist here is that Longfellow is being held hostage by the grizzled ex-con in his own mother’s house, where Longfellow has retreated to find himself and perhaps reignite things with an old flame (Olivia Williams). Donovan’s premise then goes precisely wherever you expect it not to, ending up as a film—as executive producer Ted Hope told an audience in New York—“that’s about everything.”
“I was in first grade when Kennedy was assassinated,” Donovan says. “I was six years old, but I remember it. I remember Bobby Kennedy; I remember Martin Luther King; and I remember the riots. All that stuff was happening with Vietnam being the huge, monstrous thing hanging over all of it, and I spent the rest of my life trying to make sense of the world. In particular, as I’ve come to realize later in my life, it’s really about trying to understand the nature of power, and where the political and the personal intersect. For these guys, these middle-aged white guys, all the stuff that seeps through the film is the raw stuff of that postwar American period.”
Sounds heady? It is, but nothing in Collaborator is necessarily what it seems—it could just as easily be a film about Longfellow’s creative drought—and Donovan’s touch is light enough to float all the film’s jostling themes. The humour is equally light, and Donovan concedes that if you don’t get it, “the film might feel over earnest.” But come on: you’d have to be pretty thick to not get a film that has the great and too-long-gone Katherine Helmond (Soap, anyone?) in a supporting role.
Watch the trailer for Collaborator.