Justine is coming to Curzon Home Cinema on March 5, promising to bring a realistic, and gritty drama to our screens, whilst exploring the heart-breaking storyline of a young addict. Justine struggles with addiction in all aspects of her life, but the underlying hopeful theme of love constantly tries to break down her barriers.
So, what has it been like releasing a film during a pandemic? Justine was meant to premiere at BFI Flare, but now it's with the online platform Curzon Home Cinema.
You know what, the process has been pretty similar to ninety-nine-percent of every other film that I've ever done because previously the only film that's ever done theatrical was Tucked (2018). Everything else has always been a VOD release. This is the only film I've done where we haven't had a cast and crew screening, I've never seen it on a big screen. When it comes out on Curzon… that is the only way anyone is going to see this movie. We didn't do festivals with it, which was something we really missed and something the film needed as well. Being entirely honest, I'm not sure there's a place for indie films in cinemas anymore, which is a real shame, but that's based on experience, that's based on Tucked, doing 0 numbers at the cinema. But, when it dropped on Netflix and Curzon… Curzon really cares about the movies they put out.
Curzon really supports indie films…
Really! I think they gave us three different time slots for, it might not have been every day, but it definitely played there for three weeks. For us now to be with Curzon on Justine with an exclusive, it's really exciting, I couldn't think of a better partner for it.
Curzon Home Cinema is a great platform to get Justine on!
Yeah! We obviously did have that BFI Flare screening, which would have been 750 people seeing it on a Saturday night on a big screen, which would have been incredible, but obviously that didn't happen. I think we're lucky we still get to put the movie out – it's a movie that an audience would find at home anyway. We're embracing it, we're putting it out there, and it will just take time to find its audience.
What was the filming process like? And why do you think Brighton is a good backdrop for the film?
The filming process was great, I actually really enjoyed it. It was a tough one because we shot in ten days, and there were about twenty-one locations, so there were a lot of location moves, and a lot of shooting the movie outside… more than I'd ever done before. Obviously, when you shoot outside, you lose control. But we got into a nice flow, we used a lot of natural lighting for interior scenes, we didn't spend ages lighting as we wanted it to have this gritty look to it. Not an over-stylised movie. It was just a fun shoot. Normally, I shoot everything in Brighton because if I write my own scripts they're set in Brighton. But this one came my way, written by Jeff Murphy, but it was set in Brighton. For a long period people weren't shooting in Brighton, and I couldn't get my head around it, because Brighton is the perfect place to shoot – it's a city, it's fun, it's vibrant, it's open, it's welcoming, it looks brilliant on screen. And it was probably just myself and Ben Wheatley shooting Brighton movies because we didn't want to go anywhere else… and obviously, now he's doing big Hollywood movies, not jealous. It's fine! Brighton was perfect for a story like Justine because everyone who features in Justine, I feel like I've met a version of that person in real life.
I was going to ask if the story was based on real-life experiences or people in Brighton like Tucked was?
So, Justine was originally written in 2012 and went through a load of different ideas, with other companies attached, but I know Jeff put in a lot of research into alcoholism, etc, and there were versions where she was actually homeless, he'd toyed with a lot of ideas. Jeff is very thorough and plans a lot more than I do! By the time it got to me, it had been developed within an inch of its life, where it already was what it needed to be. I didn't really do any work on the dialogue, I didn't really feel like (as a 31-year-old white straight male) I necessarily was the voice… instead of that we workshopped the scenes, we did three days with Sophie (Reid), Tallulah (Haddon), and Kirsty (Dillon). It was great, it was important for them to give their opinion. It needed more of a female perspective, rather than another guy coming in going “Hey this is what I think!”
Your films explore many serious and arguably “taboo” themes, such as Justine with addiction, Tucked with death, drag queens and gender identity. Is it really important for you as a director to exhibit and discuss these topics?
Exhibit, one-hundred-percent! I think it's really important that we don't shy away from reality and things because they're heavy or taboo. Film, TV, anything creative, is such a powerful platform. I think it's important that we don't turn our back on those sorts of things. With Tucked for example, what I like to do is start a conversation but not finish it. I think with Justine as well, I would say the core theme is addiction; she's addicted to alcohol, she's addicted to her past, she's addicted to the hatred towards herself, she's addicted to be angry against the world, she's addicted to Rachel, she's addicted to love. It's the addictive personality more than just the alcohol. There's more to it than that, and we wanted to explore that without ever really saying “This is one-hundred-percent how it is”. With all of my movies, I don't do that. The characters are important to me in films, but I'm not always trying to make a statement.
What was the most difficult scene to film, and why?
The beach scene, where they chat by the fire, was hard from a practical point of view. It was freezing cold, that whole scene was lit by the fire, you can't control the fire… therefore, you can't control continuity! So you're constantly trying to keep it going! You've got a crew that's cold, and only being warmed up by that fire. You can't see anything, everyone's got torches. That was the hardest scene to shoot, but then it was followed by getting takeaway on the beach!
What was the most enjoyable scene to film, and why?
It's weird, but the beach sequence as well, but before. So, we did this whole sequence where they run into the sea, and in the script, it says “They run into the sea…”… and we got there and we were like: “The sea's about seven miles away!”
When they were running across the beach, I was like wow, that is ambitious!
Yeah, and I'd shout cut and they're still running! I'm like, “Someone tell them to cut!”, and then I grabbed the towels and I'm getting a stitch! But everyone knew it was a nice scene. Justine is very much a movie of moments, and I think if you see those moments and connect with those moments, that the movies a lot more powerful. And I think those are some of the nicest moments in the film.
The film has a very intimate feel, with handheld camerawork and close-ups. Was this to create realism?
Short answer, yes. I think if you look at any of my films, Tucked as an example, especially in emotional scenes, I like to have the camera as close as possible. I like to not have too many cuts in there, I like to have those long takes. I love handheld, it just makes the film feel alive, and it's also practically a much quicker way to shoot. I think the more you cut into something even if the audience doesn't realise it, it takes you out of that moment very briefly.
You called Justine a “heart-breaking love story” on social media, and I think most people will agree. Why did you choose to portray such a sad love story?
I don't think you see enough sad love. Love is not perfect, it's not like how it's portrayed in the movies; it's not all love, sex, romance. I think we wanted to highlight this because it was more pure and honest but makes it hard to sell because people watch movies or TV to disappear into someone else's world for two hours or whatever. But, people have their hearts broken, and they come back and they find love again. And you have to be sad in order to be happy again! I've just come up with that… genius? But it's so important that we show love like this, with awkward moments and those “Hey”… “Hey” *silence* awkward parts. I think it's interesting, and what makes the film different.
And finally, what do you want audiences to ultimately take from the film?
I think it's so hard to say what I want people to take away… it's like, do I want people to watch it and have conversations about the themes that are in it? Yes, and maybe explore things that maybe they've been afraid to explore before. I think I want people to take some sort of hope out of it, and without giving away the ending, I think the end is hopeful, and I see a happy ending for this movie! How other people see it, and how they interpret it, is up to them. I just want people to be able to connect to it and I want people to go on this journey with them. Yeah, have that little bit of hope, all is not lost, and love can conquer all. But, love is not easy and I think it's maybe understanding those truths, that we don't always want to understand, but it's okay to explore those sort of slightly darker and what are considered unhappy themes. I hope they enjoy it, I hope they just connect to it. That's the beauty of art, everyone interprets it in a different way. I think I just want people to get what they want and need from this film!
Justine is available Friday 5th of March on Curzon Home Cinema.