In Alice Englert’s debut feature as director, drama-comedy “Bad Behaviour,” which plays in World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival, the Australian-Kiwi actor-turned-filmmaker explores spirituality, passive aggression and mother-daughter dynamics, as well as paying homage to stunt performers.
Englert, who is the daughter of director Jane Campion, has appeared in 20 films and series, including Sally Potter’s “Ginger & Rosa,” Richard LaGravenese’s “Beautiful Creatures,” and Starz series “Dangerous Liaisons.” Englert has directed two shorts, “The Boyfriend Game,” which premiered at the Berlinale in 2016, and “Family Happiness,” which played at BFI London Film Festival in 2017.
“Bad Behaviour,” which Englert also wrote and features in, follows Lucy (played by Jennifer Connelly), a former child actress who seeks enlightenment at a retreat led by spiritual leader Elon (played by Ben Wishaw), while also navigating the close yet turbulent relationship with her stunt performer daughter Dylan (Englert).
“I think I wanted to see what was burning in the pipe,” she tells Variety. “I grew up going to spiritual retreats and I was always really fascinated by the way it felt like this final frontier of the mind, and it’s really beautiful and earnest and also really narcissistic, which is fair enough, because we’re a narcissistic species.”
She adds: “Anyone who’s on that journey is well-aware of the ego trying to hang on for dear life, and, sometimes, it has a lot of really interesting strategies to keep you interested. And I wanted to tell a story about that. Spirituality either feels too good to be true or is depicted as a cult. I think there’s a lot of gray area that has texture and detail I’m really into.”
Englert worked on the film for four years, researching mother-daughter dynamics, reading spiritual books, and mulling on “the stuff that had come to [her] through the osmosis of being around it.” “It just felt so real to me – the characters, the world…,” she says.
The film is set in New Zealand, where Englert spent a lot of time in her childhood, growing up in the mountainous regions of the country. There she was surrounded by people who had “this restless energy,” which is where she found the inspiration for the character of Dylan.
Englert says that in being a stunt performer Dylan “has found almost like a loophole.” It is “a way to make her pain feel literal, that she can heal from it like she can heal from a bruise.” She adds: “The truth is, she deserves stillness, she deserves to be held as well.”
“Bad Behaviour” is, in part, an homage to stunt performers. “I’ve always been obsessed with them because they’re the true unsung heroes of all our greatest adventures,” she says.
She concedes that she did not do all the stunts herself. “I definitely did not do the hard ones. I am not Tom Cruise! … I can do as many drunken forward rolls as you need and I can fall over in all kinds of ways, but I have too much respect for the art form to push it.”
Dayna Grant, known for “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” among other titles, served as stunt coordinator on the film.
Englert is not interested in being both director and actor on every film. “There was a creature quality to Dylan that I really felt like I could hold and embody, and push her into places that I wanted the mother-daughter dynamic to go.”
The producers are Molly Hallam and Desray Armstrong. CAA Media Finance and Verve Ventures will co-represent the sale of North America rights, with Protagonist Pictures handling international sales.