“I’m interested in understanding the conflicts and complexities of identity,” says Ira Sachs, “and how a person can play many different roles in their life at the same time.”
Whether it’s a gender-bending performer in his acclaimed short “Lady,” a half-Vietnamese, half-black hustler in his debut feature “The Delta,” or a Russian woman on the arm of a powerful man in his latest “Forty Shades of Blue,” Sachs says, “I want to know how these identities shift based on desire and experience.”
Steeped in literary theory at Yale and the racial politics of his Memphis hometown, Sachs has a unique identity himself, probably one of Tennessee’s only gay Jewish auteurs. His films mix an intimate, elegant naturalism with a socially charged atmosphere. And his influences on “Forty Shades of Blue,” he says, include British social realist Ken Loach, New Wave cinematographer Raoul Coutard and French maverick Maurice Pialat.
Also referencing films such as Bunuel’s “Belle de Jour” and Satyajit Ray’s “Charulata,” the movie focuses on a woman’s awakening to greater love. “The film was inspired by my relationship with my father’s girlfriends,” explains Sachs. “These were women from very different backgrounds than me, who would reveal themselves over time in ways that I would grow to love.”
The movie was also generated by Sachs’ impressions of Memphis. “I have an intimacy with that city that is just deeper than any other place,” he says. Though he left the music capital nearly 20 years ago (for New York, where he worked as an assistant to the director on “Longtime Companion”), Sachs returned to his roots to shoot “The Delta,” a dreamy, evocative drama that competed in Sundance’s ’97 competition.
Shot with non-professional actors on a shoestring budget, “The Delta” seems amateurish compared with the $3 million budget and talent he employed for “Forty Shades of Blue.” His cast included Rip Torn, Russian thesp Dina Korzun, Darren Burrows and Danish thesp Paprika Steen (“The Celebration”).
Sachs’ longtime producer Margot Bridger notes, “He’s become more confident.” And though working with Torn was filled with “constant challenging, constant pushing,” Bridger recalls, “it never got Ira off his rocker. He was completely able to absorb it.”
Sachs is already prepared to tackle his third feature, “Marriage.” “It’s about a married middle-aged man who falls in love with another woman,” Sachs says. “But he’s so gentle that he can’t humiliate or hurt his wife, so he decides to kill her instead.”