Todd Haynes on ‘Wonderstruck’: ‘It Is a Kids’ Movie’

Wonderstruck,” in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, is director Todd Haynes’ seventh feature film, his fourth with Julianne Moore, and his first for Amazon Studios, which backed it along with Roadside Attractions. The film is “weird, wild, and not like anything I can think of,” he tells Variety. It also turns out it’s a kids’ movie.

You’ve talked in Cannes about making something kids would love. Was that always the idea?

It is a kids’ movie, and that’s something I could never have conceived myself from scratch. I think [illustrated novel and screenplay writer] Brian Selznick has some strange line in to the idiosyncrasies of kids that shows them utter respect and is true.

In process of making this movie, by working with kids, working with deaf kids, showing cuts of the film to kids as we were making it, they taught me everything I needed to know about making this film. They will always be more radical and surprising and open than adults.

What I always felt, and the reason I wanted to do it, was that it is an incredibly rich and unique gift for kids. It’s not like anything else kids get and they are totally capable of getting into a movie like this.

Millicent Simmonds was a first-timer and deaf. How would you characterize her performance?

When the sound, the image, the story, and dialogue are all saying the same thing and hitting you over the head, personally I just disengage. When there is something of a mystery, an unfinished sentence, you add the punctuation and it invites you in. I felt that Julianne Moore could do that from the beginning of her career, because we’ve spanned a career together, but to see it in a kid like Millie, that level of mystery, is truly revelatory.

The silent parts of the film had French subtitles at the Cannes screenings. Will they remain in the final international versions?

That was bizarre. That was a mistake and I have to remove them. They were making the presumption that some lines are visibly readable to an English-speaking audience, but it’s too distracting.

There’s almost 90 minutes of score in the film. Was the music more important because of the dialogue-free element of the movie?

It became part of the process of building the film in ways I can’t find any parallels to. We could not put two shots from the black-and-white story together without having music selected first upon which it would sit. Music was the utter foundation for building the film and that was such a unique demand and structuring device for the film, and particular challenge for the composer of the film [Carter Burwell].

You’ve talked up working with Amazon Studios. Do you care about the platform on which your work is released?

I do need to know about the platform and release. I would not have been interested in working with them if there was no theatrical release for the film. That’s absolutely essential to me; it’s essential to them as well.

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