In “Spencer”, available on Amazon Prime Video, Kristen Stewart embodies a moving Princess Diana in an ingenious and different biopic by Pablo Larraín. Meeting with the director.
In his cinema, director Pablo Larraín has already revived historical figures, such as Pablo Neruda and Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis. In Spencer, he is interested in the fate of Lady Diana. Far from being a classic biopic, the film depicts the tensions between the princess and her in-laws during the 1991 Christmas celebrations.
Poignant, poetic and anxiety-provoking, the feature film shines with the staging inspired by its filmmaker, but also with the interpretation of Kristen Stewart. She signs her best role. Whereas spencer receives praise from the industry and the public, meets the man behind the camera.
AlloCiné: Princess Diana is a fascinating figure, subject to many literary or cinematographic works. In spencer, she has never been shown so tormented. What did you want to reveal about her through this biopic?
Pablo Larrain: Like everyone else, Diana had her own demons, her own desires, her own sadness. This film explores the anxieties she was experiencing during those days. When the spectator discovers it in the film, it is already broken. However, I refuse to show why, to film the origin of this malaise. On the contrary, spencer is a film about consequences. Here, what matters is the purpose of things and explaining how it will extricate itself from this environment.
I also wanted to show that it’s not just a mother who protects her sons, she understands that she can act and learn from them. She can lean on her boys, even if they are small. I speak as a father and I think it is possible to ask your children for help. In the film, she understands that she can have a life alone with them, far from this family, from this institution and in this way, she will find her identity.
The film is a real experience, like all your previous projects.
The script by Steven Knight is excellent, but we wanted to go beyond a classic structure and traditional dramatic stakes. The important thing here was to build a tone, an atmosphere. It’s one of the hardest things to do in film.
In reality, spencer is a film that doesn’t really have a plot. Some basics are laid in the first 15 or 20 minutes, the time to understand what the film is about and what are the issues for this character. The real plot is more internal and more of an existential necessity to move forward.
When I think of the films I like, I mainly think of their atmosphere, not really what they tell me. The biggest job for spencer was to create that particular energy.
Many viewers and critics compare spencer to a horror movie. What do you think ? Is this a problem for you?
On the contrary, I think horror is one of the greatest art forms. I use another word, which is panic. I wanted to be on the edge of this emotion. This panic is not permanent, it occurs at specific times, as in the dinner scene.
What is interesting is not really knowing the genre of the film. To know if spencer belongs to drama or horror, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how viewers perceive it. Everyone’s point of view matters.
We all have a preconceived idea of who Diana was. The film will be different for everyone, depending on everyone’s relationship with her. It’s an incredible exercise in cinema, whether the reviews are positive or negative. Each reaction becomes very interesting.
In spencer, the camera is in perpetual motion. How did you construct this language between the camera and Kristen Stewart?
Most of the time, we had very tight shots of her. Besides, we never stopped shooting a scene until we had a single shot of her very close. During editing, it allows us to choose when we should approach her.
It’s essential for this movie, because that’s how we get into the perception of the character. You can observe what is around her and, at the same time, you are looking at her. This creates a double mirror effect. There is a real interaction with the public.
The photography of the film is sublime and it is signed Claire Mathon. A Frenchwoman whose work is recognized and highly appreciated in the profession. How was your collaboration?
Claire Mathon is a very calm and discreet woman. In the beginning, we shared ideas, photos and we talked about films. It took us time to really understand each other. But once we hit it off and understood each other, it was just fascinating.
I had never worked with a female cinematographer and she changed the way I see filmmaking. She has another way of approaching texture, color and staging. She can create things that we can’t describe and that’s what’s most important in cinema.
Spencer’s trajectory is impressive. The film receives numerous awards, as does the interpretation of Kristen Stewart. What memories do you have of this shoot?
This film is a fragile and dangerous object. Every day on set was a victory because at any time the project could fall through. It is a very pleasant feeling to escape disaster. AT every time you walk into a set it feels like the first day of your life. There is nothing guaranteed.
Interview by Thomas Desroches, in Paris, December 1, 2021.