Coming-of-age films are usually associated with adolescence, but filmmaker Ira Sachs experienced his own such stage in his 40s.
Mind you, a delayed adolescence can occur at different times throughout life for many gay men who have suppressed various aspects of themselves while in the closet.
The 48-year-old director, on the line from New York City, spoke candidly with the Georgia Straight about how his latest film, Love Is Strange, reflects a shift from the internal conflicts within the dysfunctional relationships portrayed in his autobiographical Keep the Lights On to the external challenges facing a long-term relationship. He said this change mirrors his growing self-acceptance.
“All my previous films were about people trying to understand themselves, and that was a real challenge for me, and I think that that was connected to being gay and our generation who learned about love connected to a lot of pain,” he said. “But things shifted in my 40s and I started a relationship at a point at which I was actually ready to be in that relationship, and I can imagine it blossoming with time, and that feels very new.”
This personal growth can be seen in how Sachs delves into the impact events have on inner lives in Love is Strange.
The film finds its catalyst in the topical issue of same-sex marriage, a non-issue in Canada since 2005 but a heated debate still raging south of the border. When NYC couple Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) get married, George loses his Catholic-school teaching position; soon financial pressures force them to sell their apartment. As they search for a new home, they end up staying separately at friends’ and relatives’ places. The new living arrangements spark strains in everyone’s relationships as emotional truths surface.
Integenerational relations became Sachs’s focus when he started working on the film in January 2012. At that time, he went from living alone in a cramped NYC apartment to sharing a place with his husband, their two babies, the babies’ mother, and visiting in-laws.
“There’s a lot of comedy to be found in the interaction between generations,” he said.
Recognizing his own parents as people was also a new development in his life that inspired his interest in depicting an older same-sex couple, which is sometimes overlooked in queer cinema.
“I wanted to make a film that honoured the generation ahead of me and that spoke to what I’ve learned from them and what I might hope for in my life.”
But the film goes beyond just relationship issues, for it’s also about the beauty of NYC, inspiration from Woody Allen films, and how life, like art, is always a work-in-progress.
“I don’t need my films to be perfect,” he said. “I need them to be alive and full of life.”