The information visibly unsettled him for a fraction of a second, even though bodily nuances are significantly easier to detect in person than during a virtual interview. Especially when it does not last more than 15 minutes, top time.
Movies about truffles aren’t that common, and director Michael Sarnoski admits he himself was “vaguely aware” of the picking of this very rare mushroom, an essential ingredient in Pig, his first feature film. I wasn’t going to ignore the existence of Scams (2008), by Kim Nguyen, at the crossroads of science fiction and psychotronic comedy, and which starred Michèle Richard. Even if I took care not to pass on this last information to him.
It is therefore not as a connoisseur that he ventured into this field, seeking rather to grasp some of the mysteries that surround those for whom it is a real passion. To the point of being a danger to others. “I learned that some pickers set up on the balcony of their house with a weapon and are ready to shoot anyone to protect their dog or their pig, underlines the scenario writer from Los Angeles. They don’t want them to be stolen, because these animals are worth a fortune. This brutal reality has long superimposed in his mind the image of a lonely old man looking for truffles in the woods, accompanied by a pig.
A few years later, this vision took shape in the person of Nicolas Cage, a unique and excessive actor, for a long time in imposing Hollywood productions (Face/Off, Snake Eyes, National Treasure), always ready for intense challenges (Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, and more recently Mandy and Color Out of Space). He does it once again in Pig, completely espousing the abrasive temperament of Rob, a misanthropist with the paces of an itinerant, refugee in the middle of the forest and in complete isolation. He sells his truffles to the young and arrogant Amir (Alex Wolff), his only contact with the outside world; the vulgarity of this young upstart and that of his car reinforce Rob’s conviction that he made the right choice. Until the day when robbers get their hands on his pig, forcing him to travel to Portland, Oregon, to find him. However, this city is for him a real minefield, place of painful memories.
From start to finish, Nicolas Cage literally takes it all in the mouth, and a murky scene of hand-to-hand fights is reminiscent of those who punctuated Fight Club, by David Fincher. But the quest for the one whose illustrious and tragic past many do not suspect appears to others to be totally illusory: why comb Portland from top to bottom in search of a pig, however gifted he may be? This quest hides many more, and no one will come out unscathed. Not even Amir’s shiny car.
A dirty movie
Even if it is far from overshadowing the stature of Nicolas Cage, the famous pig of Pig It is no less impressive, and its very presence raises the inevitable question of the management of animals, domestic or not, on a film set. “I would like to tell you that it was fantastic and without problem, concedes Michael Sarnoski, but honestly, it was a real challenge. Fun, yes, but a challenge. Because the beast, who won’t win a beauty contest, and won’t risk being featured in another adaptation of EB White’s famous novel, Charlotte’s little world, imposes a lot, the time of a few scenes.
“For budgetary reasons,” emphasizes the director, “we couldn’t afford a pig trained to play. While walking through the farms around Portland, we managed to find one. What we could do is call him by name to perform certain movements, and all he cared about was eating. So, ask him to jump in a bed… We were able to arrange a lot of things during the editing. “
He never blames the madness of the character of Nicolas Cage, at the heart of another adventure where the actor seeks to go to the end of himself, and of his physical capacities. It is hardly surprising to see him take on such a role again, but was Michael Sarnoski when he agreed to shoot with him? “As this is my first fictional feature film, regardless of the stage, I went from surprise to surprise,” he laughs. From our first meeting, the nervousness dissipated because he had understood the script. We shot everything in 28 days, in several different locations, and he was right every time, without taking more than two takes. “
Behind the technical challenges that stood before the actor, other themes emerge, both delicate and familiar. Meditation on unresolved grief and the courage required by radical life changes (filmed in the fall of 2019, the film displays an astonishing post-pandemic resonance in this regard), the figure of the father looms, a quest embodied by Alex Wolff and whose character gradually succeeds in revealing something other than his futility.
Michael Sarnoski makes no secret of the impact of his father’s death as a child, and if Pig does not tackle this subject head on, he knows what it costs, as an individual and as a creator, when sadness takes all the place. The three male characters who dominate this story, including Amir’s father (Adam Arkin) for a few poignant scenes, carry this sadness that eats away at them from within. “Each is in a way a reflection of the other two,” says the director. Pig presents different ways of integrating grief into our way of seeing the world. Some people need truffles, and pigs, to achieve this.
Pig, by Michael Sarnoski, premieres Friday, July 16.
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