LYON, France — Director Michael Mann, a guest of the Lumière Festival, discussed his decades-long career and creative process on Sunday before introducing a restored version of “Heat” never seen before in France.
Speaking with Institut Lumière director Thierry Frémaux and fellow filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, Mann said he saw himself as an auteur, adding: “It’s not about self reflection, it’s about responsibility. Everything, good or bad, the creative choices, whether it’s an actor, the folds in the curtains, the fashion, the music, the cut, it’s all my fault, my responsibility. And that’s what’s always so exciting to me about cinema.”
Turning the discussion to the characters in Mann’s works, del Toro pointed out that his films, whether “Heat” or “The Last of the Mohicans,” often dealt with men struggling as relics in their own time as history leaves them behind. “And they seem to be holding a very intimate set of values.”
Del Toro also said Mann’s works were indelibly linked to the United States. Describing them as masterpieces of American cinema, he added, “I cannot imagine these stories happening anywhere but America. The sense of destiny and history is in every one of your movies, whether ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ or ‘Heat.’”
Speaking about characterization, Mann said: “Drama to me is conflict. Someone in a state of contradiction is always interesting. Someone who is having to fight against a social value system is always attractive.
H went on: “So whether it’s Hawkeye facing an uncertain future and his family already facing the inevitable annihilation of the Mohicans or whether its Frank in ‘Thief’ fighting against a kind of corporatized notion of what makes a crime, these kinds of conflicts are what interest me.”
Mann also discussed the differences between television and film. “It’s very different. On the ‘Miami Vice’ television series, I was executive producer, which is like being the director of 22 hours. Because of the nature of storytelling, you impact socially and culturally in a very effective way. It’s 22 hours that are seen twice, so 44 hours of impact on an audience.”
Mann added that he hated disco at the time he started with “Miami Vice,” a key factor that shaped the series. “I hated the vanities of the ‘70s, the me, me generation, so I wanted to return to a kind of rock ‘n’ roll, harder, mythological value system that wasn’t transitory. And that formed the whole first two years of ‘Miami Vice.’”
Turning back to “Heat,” Del Toro asked the audience for a show of hands from those that had already seen the film, prompting an overwhelming majority to signal that they had.
“If I may say one thing: It contains the most amazing heist scene ever committed to film. … It contains one of the most amazing close-ups in the history of cinema. It’s the final close-up of [Robert] De Niro making a decision.”
The scene, with its complexity and cerebral execution, made Mann a modern master of American cinema, del Toro added, resulting in a standing ovation for Mann.