Interview with “Something In The Air” actor India Menuez

India Menuez in "Something in the Air"In her first scene in Olivier Assayas’ new film “Something in the Air,” Leslie, 17-year-old daugher of an American diplomat, is sitting on the grass with some other young people in a park in Italy. It is the early 1970’s. A man is playing the Phil Ochs song “Ballad of William Worthy” on a dobro guitar. Leslie introduces herself to a painter, Alain (Felix Armand). She then kisses him on the upper lip, takes his hand and leads him away. Impulsif! Leslie speaks to him in English and the sudden change of language, along with her striking beauty, heighten this remarkable introduction of a new character in Assayas’ marvelous portrait —a self-portrait in many ways— of activist student life a few years after the Spring ‘68 events that radicalized so many French youths.

It’s also a stunning entrance by the (now) 20-year-old New York actor and artist India Menuez. India’s credentials are almost a four-decade update of the flower child artist she plays in the film: graduate of an alternative high school in New York, member of the “Luck You” Chinatown-based art collective, frequently featured in style blogs and one of Papermag’s “Beautiful People of 2011.”

This summer India will play a rebellious teen in Brooklyn indie filmmaker Dustin Guy Defa’s latest feature, “Sweet Lover.” Defa (“Fever Dream”) says his team auditioned her and, “we fell in love with her. She is an intelligent and genuine actress.” “Something in the Air” opens in New York this Friday, May 3, at the IFC Center. Read my review of the film here.

India Menuez

Photo by David Swanson

Herbert Gambill: I see a lot of similarities between the students in this film and the preoccupations of students today—a renewed interest in political change, collective work, questioning values, a frustration over the delayed arrival of a better world that earlier generations seemed to think was on the horizon. I’m very curious to see what people who took part in Occupy Wall Street will make of this film—will they be heartened by it?

India Menuez: What I understand OWS to be doing is simply creating a broad call to general action. But that makes it seem a bit pointless—which I don’t think it is—because it is a choir of many different calls, which together become a kind of magical confusing song of hope. The issues are multifaceted and each of these facets are respected in their complexity with “never white wash” sticker stamp solutions attached, which becomes part of the confusion but then again gives the movement a sense of being real. I imagine a lot of it being like an elaborate tapestry, the picture we together compose of our world, this collective society, something along those lines—a collection of complicated knots. It’s complicated. Read more

New York Film Festival 50: Pi and Kubrick in the Sky

The opening night film for this year’s New York Film Festival presented the world premiere of Life of Pi, Ang Lee’s adaptation of the beloved 2001 novel by Canadian writer Yann Martell. Introducing the press screening, Lee joked that this project violated all three of the things directors are warned against working with–children, animals, water–add a fourth one, he shot it in 3D. He also noted that it was a challenge for him to make a film about faith. “Life of Pi” is about a boy (Pi, short for Piscine) from India, played by 19-year-old newcomer Suraj Sharma, who is so curious about religion he practices three of them. His father owns the animals in a zoo,  and in one harrowing scene Pi’s father teaches the young boy why he should not be sentimental about animals. Bad times force the family to sail to Canada, along with their animals (which they’ve sold to North American buyers.) A shipwreck puts Pi and a fierce Bengal tiger (named Richard Parker) into a lifeboat together.

The bulk of the film is taken up by Pi’s 200-plus days adrift, trying to keep himself and the tiger alive. The difficulty filming these scenes is what made the novel seem un-adaptable for years but Lee and crew have succeeded brilliantly. Never, for one second–for example–did I believe that the Richard Parker on screen wasn’t a real tiger. (The tiger, in fact, turns in one of the best performances you will see this year!) I’m no fan of 3D, especially since I wear glasses and two pair of lenses make it difficult to watch 3D; the 3D is as good as it gets here but I think the film would be just as visually awe-inspiring in 2D. The scenes of Pi’s inventiveness as he figures out how to keep the tiger at bay and gradually establish a mutual existence are captivating. Occasional fantasy sequences illustrating Pi’s longing for others are poetic and visually stunning. Read more