"The Disappearance of Alice Creed" opens with a bravura, wordless sequence in which two men plan and carry out the abduction of a young woman. From there the film takes place solely in an apartment and an abandoned building with a cast of only three performers. As the men attempt to extract a ransom from the woman's wealthy father, their clockwork plan spins off-course.
"It was entirely on purpose," said writer-director J Blakeson of the film's terse, oblique simplicity. "I started with the fact it was going to be a contained film before I even had a story. I knew I was going to write a film I could direct myself even if nobody gave me any money to do it."
The crisp, tense thriller, which opens Friday, is the debut feature as a writer-director for English-born Blakeson, 33, who has previously made short films and has been working as a screenwriter in the U.K. for the past eight years or so, where his credits most notably include "The Descent: Part 2," the follow-up to one of the most popular recent British genre films.
His experiences as a professional screenwriter and the frustrations of being unable to transition into directing led him to write "Alice Creed." "I've spent a lot of time working for other people where you have to map out the entire film before you've even started writing a word of the screenplay," he said by phone from his home in London. "Often the magic and spontaneity get completely crushed. Since I was writing this for myself I gave myself the freedom to just start writing and see where it went. It very quickly got a momentum and the characters knew where they wanted to go."
"Alice Creed" was shot entirely on the Isle of Man over 24 days in February 2009 with a budget just under $1.5 million and finished in time to premiere at last fall's Toronto International Film Festival, where it received largely positive reviews. As the production came together quickly, there were only five days of rehearsal with the performers, who weren't even all together.
Martin Compston, who plays one of the kidnappers, was cast only two weeks before shooting started. Gemma Arterton, a Bond girl in "Quantum of Solace" and also recently seen in "Prince of Persia," plays the title role. Eddie Marsan, who received notice for his role as an angry driving instructor in Mike Leigh's " Happy-Go-Lucky," plays the other kidnapper.
"Gemma is such a raw actress, she gives everything," Blakeson said. "And Eddie is very good at keeping his cards very close to his chest as an actor and that kind of interplay between the two of them, him bottling everything up and her letting everything go, felt like a very good fit."
One of the biggest challenges for marketing the film, as Blakeson sees it, is that modern bugaboo of the spoiler. While audiences obviously need to know enough to get them in the door, everything else about the film's twisting power dynamics, the way it constantly redraws its central triangle, he would prefer remain shrouded in mystery.
"Even the title gives a little something away," he said. "There's a girl named Alice Creed and she's going to disappear. Anything beyond the fact it's a couple of guys kidnapping a girl, I think everything else is a spoiler, really. The film has always gone down better with people who know absolutely nothing."
With its spare locations and focus on the actors, Blakeson was conscious of keeping things cinematic, not wanting his debut feature to feel like a filmed play. Acknowledging the influence of writers David Mamet and Harold Pinter and their use of what he calls "language as a weapon," Blakeson said the script became a real balancing act.
"As a writer I'm withholding information," he explained, "and the characters are withholding information about themselves and their motives. In most plays and films the writer is desperate to give you as much information as they can, to get the exposition out.
"Part of the game for me in this film was to get the audience trying to figure out what's going on and who these people are and what their relationships are to each other and what's the real situation behind the situation. The audience thinks they know what kind of film they're in but they soon find out they're in a very different sort of film."
' Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno'
Something of a making-of for a film that never was, "Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno," which opened in Los Angeles on Friday, is a documentary on an unfinished film by the celebrated French filmmaker. Directed by Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea, the documentary reconstructs the 1964 disorganized production as best as possible from the existing footage and through interviews with surviving crew members. Bromberg and Medrea's film joins the circle of movies about messed-up movies alongside others such as "Lost in La Mancha," "The Epic That Never Was" and "It's All True."
Starring Serge Reggiani and Romy Schneider as husband and wife, the original film was to be a portrait of jealousy and martial insecurity told in a bold and expressionistic style, switching between black-and-white and color footage. Given financial carte blanche by Columbia Pictures, the production spun out of control and Clouzot, director of such landmarks as "Diabolique" and "The Wages of Fear," abandoned the project after he suffered a heart attack.
The documentary is both the story of a film about obsession and about a filmmaker's downward spiral. Bromberg sees it as more than simply a DVD extra for a film that wasn't finished.
"I wanted to show what remained of the film," he said recently by phone from France, "and at the same time tell the story of Clouzot going berserk on the set. It was basically telling two stories. It makes a film that's certainly a kind of making-of but it's like an inside view of the creative process for Clouzot."
The original footage was long locked away in a film archive as an extended legal battle swirled as to who owned the rights. Bromberg was only able to secure its use after pleading his case with Clouzot's widow when the two of them became trapped in a stalled elevator together.
Perhaps the biggest achievement of "Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno" is that it is a captivating film in its own right even as it tantalizes viewers with the promise of a great film that was simply not to be, a tease that can never be fulfilled.
"The question is of course would the film have been good or not," Bromberg said. "But we will never know. My feeling is Clouzot was not at the end of his creative process, it is quite possible he would reshoot and reshoot. We cannot say anything for sure."