Wim Wenders doesn't hold back when explaining his choice of location for his latest film. "Montreal is one of my favourite places on this planet," he says, sitting in an Outremont theatre, in between takes.
The film is Every Thing Will Be Fine, an angst-filled drama that the German director is shooting in 3-D and that stars James Franco. "I've been here regularly over the past 30 years. I have many friends here, and Montreal is one of the few places I feel homesick about if I haven't seen it in a while. Now I have a project to shoot here."
Written by Norwegian writer Bjorn Olaf Johannessen, Every Thing Will Be Fine is about a writer recovering after a car accident in which he inadvertently kills a young boy.
The film, which will be shot in Montreal this month and in nearby Oka, Que., in February, has Franco playing the tortured protagonist, as well as Charlotte Gainsbourg (I'm Not There), Rachel McAdams (Midnight in Paris) and Marie-Josée Croze (Barbarian Invasions). It is also, notably, Wenders's second foray into 3-D filmmaking; his 2011 tribute to German choreographer Pina Bausch, Pina, was nominated for the best documentary Oscar. The elegiac film served as a reminder of why Wenders is regarded as visionary; it indicated that he's a 3-D pioneer, actually using the new technology for greater artistic means.
His new film is worlds away from a sensuous dance film such as Pina, and it's also far removed from a lot of other notorious 3-D spectacles, like Avatar or Prometheus. But if anyone could create an intense, intimate emotional experience out of 3-D, Wenders – a director famous for capturing human experience rather than empty spectacle – would be the one to do it. He is acutely aware that people will be watching the results, given that Every Thing Will Be Fine is about the inner emotional turmoil of its characters – not the aliens or comic-book characters usually associated with 3-D.
"Three-D is completely underrated, underused, and I feel like the possibilities haven't been explored yet," Wenders says. "It can be a fantastic tool for a dramatic story, if the story has a relation to space. I like the idea that we can play on things that are happening within the actor."
Wenders proves he's no snob as he heaps praise on James Cameron's Avatar, the landmark 3-D blockbuster. "I loved it. It was a groundbreaking movie – a visionary movie that was followed by not many others. At the time, we had already shot Pina, so we couldn't learn much from Avatar. But in Germany, many cinemas, even independent ones, had opened up to 3-D. That meant when Pina came along, we were able to open the film up not only in a dozen theatres, but in 50 or 60. Avatar was a great thing for us."
When that film opened to huge box-office success in 2009, many predicted it would mean almost every movie released would ultimately have to be in 3-D, an outcome many saw as catastrophic. That sugar high was followed by a crash, in which studios rushed to get substandard 3-D films on screens, deflating the spectre of 3-D as the future of cinema.
Given Wenders's long and illustrious history of capturing a complex range of emotions on the big screen in his own unique language (most notably Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire), it's an important moment for 3-D.
Long regarded as an actor's director, Wenders says it was his choice to cast Franco, whom he calls "one of the greatest actors of his generation." Franco, for his part, says he loves Wenders's directorial style, something he describes as "very easygoing, but precise, never in an overbearing way. He doesn't always say that much to me, but that's a good thing. If it's working, the best directors don't need to say anything. That's the way it's worked so well with Gus Van Sant, Danny Boyle and Harmony Korine."
With that, Wenders and Franco returned to the set. "I'm very excited about the possibilities that working in 3-D provides," Wenders concludes. "I don't think 3-D has been properly tapped into. And I intend to tap into it."