Chloe Zhao: “I don’t believe in God, but I’m looking for infinity”

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“The public really had to believe that these ten heroes had walked the planet for 7,000 years. And to make everything a very cinematic experience ». Chloé Zhao thus explains the idea she had at the beginning of filming The Eternals, just released in Italian cinemas. A completely different film from Nomadland, the winner of the previous Academy Awards. Yet it is a dream that has come true.

How did your collaboration with Marvel start?
«I wanted to work with them already a few years ago, but I had only done it The Rider (2017). I asked my agent to let them know that I was interested and later, I was contacted by Nate Moore, the producer of the film. I was very excited about the plot. I started working on a draft, which I then shared with Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, to get him to hire me. I think I talked for so long that he had no choice but to hire me … ».

Where did the desire to make a superhero movie come from?
“I grew up reading manga. It’s a little different from comics, but it made me want to tell stories in unusual environments. I was also a huge fan of Marvel movies. So I was curious to meet this group of people, directors, who were behind the studio. And understand how they imagine these stories ».

Besides manga, what has been your biggest source of inspiration?
“There are many films that have inspired me. If you had to pick one, it would be The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick, which tackles the great issues of humanity, through the point of view of a small family. There is also a sequence on the creation of the universe, which I paid tribute to in The Eternals».

His previous films were mostly set in rural America. They don’t have much to do with The Eternals…
“In both cases, they are stories that come from my heart. I don’t have a technical approach to storytelling, I work mostly on instinct. The similarities to my previous films are both visual and thematic. For example, I am interested in our relationship with nature. I also try to deconstruct masculinity, in both women and men. That is to say, allowing the characters to be in contact with their most vulnerable part, to heal themselves and to find themselves. Often they are also very, very complicated human beings ».

In fact the characters have more nuances, and, for example, there is no real antagonist. A revolution for a superhero film.
“The best manga hardly ever have villains. They redeem themselves or eventually change. In Asian culture in general, there are often more gray areas in this notion of good and evil. In Japan and China, for example, ghosts are just spirits and there is nothing evil about them. Here because Captain America: Civil War it’s my favorite Marvel movie, there is more philosophy than evil ».

The Eternals marks a turning point in terms of inclusion and diversity. Is this political aspect as important to you as the artistic aspect?
“We really wanted to reach as many people as possible and honor all diversity. But my job, as I’ve learned with my previous films, is to make sure I’m not doing a “homework”. I want to evoke emotions and, at the same time, be as universal as possible ».

The ecological question is also omnipresent …
“So far, all of my films have been about humans trying to understand nature. In Nomadland nature allows the character to heal himself, and to become one with his environment. In The Eternals, I wonder about our place in the universe. What is our relationship with the planet? Are we really above everything? ».

Why is this topic so important to you?
“I was not raised religiously and I don’t believe in God. But I feel I am missing something, a connection to the universe. As a human being, I didn’t feel I had roots. I was looking for a meaning. What is my life mission? Why do i exist? By injecting spirituality into my films, confronting myself with something bigger, I became a better person. I often think about the moment in The Eternals when Sersi looks at the Earth from afar and marvels at its beauty. Too often we forget to admire it, only to feel it under our feet ».

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