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Cannes Q&A: Director John Boorman Talks ‘Queen and Country’

The director of “Excalibur” and “Deliverance,” John Boorman was first invited to Cannes in 1970 with the film “Leo the Last,” for which he won the director prize. His latest film, “Queen and Country,” premieres in Directors’ Fortnight.

How has the festival changed since you first attended?
Well, it was very modest and much more intimate in 1970. The Grand Palais didn’t exist yet. I’ve been back a number of times with pictures either in or out of competition, and I’ve served on two juries, so one way or another, I’ve probably been to Cannes at least 20 times. As it’s developed, it really has maintained that potent mixture of serious cinema and sleazy people, plus of course the market, which I’m hoping to exploit this time.

How has the business side evolved since you first attended?
Making independent films used to be much easier than it is today. Pre-sales have virtually disappeared. If you look at “Hope and Glory,” which was 1987, that was quite an expensive film because I had to build this whole street, and we financed it entirely by pre-sales. Columbia bought it for $1 million at that time. You’d be very lucky to get $1 million from any American company today.

What can we expect from “Queen and Country,” which is being described as a sequel to your most personal film, “Hope and Glory”?
“Hope and Glory” was based on my memories of the war during the Blitz. Now, the boy is nine years older, it’s 1952, and he has to go into the army for two years. But apart from that, quite a lot of it is concerned with girlfriends and the awful pangs of unrequited love. It’s very autobiographical.

Was there a specific anecdote or idea you were especially pleased to be able to capture onscreen?
There are several, including a scene about my first cigarette. There were 20 guys in my barrack room and everybody smoked except me. One day, just before payday, everybody was broke and there wasn’t a single cigarette between us. One boy found a parcel in which a jar of strawberry jam had broken and soaked into a pack of cigarettes. The yearning for the cigarette was so strong, it somehow affected me by osmosis. There were 20 guys and 20 cigarettes, and I had one. That was my first cigarette, and it was strawberry flavored.

You and David Lean were close. Will there ever be another?
The last film that David wanted to make was “Nostromo.” He was 80 — my age now, actually — and as he was getting ready to shoot it, he got cancer. I spent some time with him during his last days, and he said something very poignant to me. He said, “I do hope I get well enough to make this film, John, because I feel like I’m just beginning to get the hang of it.” There’s a wonderful modesty about that. I think every director, when he does a new film, feels that the slate is empty.

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