Director says ‘Barney’s Version,’ debuting at Venice Film Fest, took decade to make

By Sheri Jennings, AP
Friday, September 10, 2010

Director: ‘Barney’s Version’ took 10 years

VENICE, Italy — ‘Barney’s Version,’ which made its debut at the Venice Film Festival’s last main day, spans four decades in the life of a flawed man and took 10 years to reach the screen.

Richard J. Lewis directs the film adaptation of Canadian author Mordecai Richler’s comic novel, with Paul Giamatti playing Barney Panofsky and Dustin Hoffin as the character’s father, Izzy.

Producer John Landis was friends with Richler, who died in 2001, and said a decade was needed for turning the 400-page book into the movie.

“He was the enfant terrible of the Jewish community in Canada because he made fun of them,” Landis told reporters of Richler. “He perfected the art of satirical wit, but he is making fun of them with a soft glove.”

Director Lewis said he felt pressure “every day” in adapting the much-loved book to film. “There was a lot of pressure to be sure the essential nature of the book was translated to the screen and to be sure the love story was succinct,” he said.

That love story involves Panofsky’s third wife and true love Miriam, played in the film by Rosamund Pike. The relationship serves to transform Panofsky from a rather reprehensible and obnoxious individual into someone human and generous.

Giamatti plays Panofsky as essentially a self-depreciating, self-destructive, low-grade television producer with a foul mouth who is also a possible murderer, and often drunk to boot. “I just followed the script and I tried not to get in the way of it and screw it up,” he said.

Perhaps most notable among the film’s on-screen antics were the scenes between Giamatti and Hoffman.

“If he needs to get deeper in the scene, he turns it inside out. It becomes like a Picasso painting, and you follow him. He knows what he is doing,” Giamatti said of working with Hoffman.

Giamatti described one key scene where Hoffman corrected Giamatti’s misinterpretation of a scene in which Panofsky wants to tell his father he is getting a divorce and ask his advice on doing that.

“I said a line, and he said ‘I don’t believe you.’ He pulled it out of me. What the scene was really about is that I wanted to tell him about the woman I was in love with. And I didn’t know it.”

The festival ends Saturday evening with the awarding of the top Golden Lion and other prizes.

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