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NOSTALGIA Q&A with Ellen Burstyn & writer Alex Ross Perry


NOSTALGIA is a contemplative, reflective exploration of love, loss and memory. The film conceptually arose when Director Mark Pellington reached out to Alex Ross Perry, and said he wanted to make a film in the style of Perry (whose previous works include QUEEN OF EARTH and LISTEN UP PHILIP) – and through that mutual respect, the two decided to collaborate. In doing so, Perry let go of the reigns of directing and had to let his work come to life through Pellington’s visionary lens.

Academy Award winner Ellen Burstyn’s character is introduced via an emotional three-page monologue, which was also the first scene she shot after meeting the filmmakers. This type of filmmaking, though common for Perry, is typically reserved for live theatre. Through the verbosity of Perry’s style, he was also aware in making this film that Pellington works best with imagery – and had to give about two pages of images for every three pages of dialogue. The key to creating the ideal balance was to find these visual character moments within the greater narrative, which they certainly managed to attain. The moderator, film critic and writer Joe Neumaier, describes one particular scene as, “a beautiful moment within a film of beautiful moments.”

In the film, Burstyn’s character has a husband who is both unseen and essentially undescribed, but she was able to make this person, Ned, real to the audience by making him real to her as an actress. Another unique quality of this film is that many of the primary characters meet each other for the first time within the film – whereas so many films rely on preexisting character relationships. This film takes the audience through these character introductions in the same way the other characters in the film are experiencing them. Perry discusses the insurance claims investigator, a character who is used as a vessel in the film to introduce the audience to the primary characters and story – this character, once the film’s world has been introduced, is gone from the film. Perry says that, given a shorter time span in a film, “these moments are actually more important,” since the actor has a limited time to get their full characterization across to an audience.

One notable theme from the film is memory, and objects of memory, and how these objects create emotional resonance in our lives. Burstyn says that some of her personal objects that have this emotional resonance are her statues of icons – Buddha, Jesus, etc. – and depictions of the sacred realm. She tries not to be too attached to material things though, and loves to move things around, let go of things, and experience change.

As far as the characters she’s played, Burstyn says they all come from within herself – she says, “we are each a hologram of the whole human race. We’ve got everybody in us.” She says that occasionally a character from the past will arise to the forefront of her mind and her life, but everything remains within her. As does the memory.

View the full Q&A:

About the film:

In a mosaic of stories about love and loss from director Mark Pellington, NOSTALGIA explores our relationships to the objects, artifacts, and memories that shape our lives. Starring Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn and John Ortiz.

View the trailer:

NOSTALGIA is now playing at Angelika New York, Angelika Mosaic and Angelika Plano, and opens 3/2 at Angelika Carmel Mountain.