Interview: Paul Cox
“The real things in life are to be kind and to be creative. Everything else, forget it.”
- Paul Cox
There is an innate contradiction apparent in the world of Paul Cox, the man who – over the past 40 years – has become one of Australia’s most distinguished international filmmakers. It is a contradiction inherent in the former sentence:
“…one of Australia’s most distinguished international filmmakers…”
Note the reverse italics.
Makers sits with him during the gloom of a late autumn day in the Albert Park office that has long served as his professional, and only slightly more recently, personal home. Across the road, children play in a schoolyard and mums with prams walk by, take away coffee cups in hand. The small gate to his front path is discreet and goes unnoticed.
The second great tell.
For a man who has received both distribution and critical claim across Europe alongside a host of international retrospectives celebrating his extensive ouvre of humanist films (including celebrations of his work at the Telluride, Istanbul and Calcutta film festivals), mainstream Australian awareness around his importance is pitifully lacking.
A travesty when one considers the airplay given to any D-grade celebrity willing to parade themselves before commercial television cameras for the most asinine of reasons.
One gets the feeling it is a travesty that has very much contributed to Paul’s current view of the world that – at times – resonates with a sense of frustrated despair.
Paul: “There are so many people out there who spend their energy on creative bullshit – on things like fashion and what they wear and displaying themselves in that way. I have been making my films for many, many years and they have never hit the jackpot in Australia because they are very European and I have always looked at the world in a global sense. I was probably the first person that made a love story between an Australian woman and a wog, a Greek man (Kostas 1979) and people were wary of that – all the funding came from outside of Australia. Here I don’t really exist. I have the odd fan, of course, but since my transplantation I really couldn’t give a fuck anymore. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all.”
The transplant of which he speaks is the replacement of his cancerous liver (“on Christmas Day, it’s a bit pathetic”), the need for which brought him within days of facing death and has since become the central tenant of his latest film, currently undergoing its final edit. (He is, in fact, drawn out of the editing room the day we visit.)
It has been fictionalised, of course, and its themes broadened, though Paul today does not give too much away other than to say some filming takes place in India (“the earlier years I spent in Indonesia and India were where I grew up”) and – that if more people were conscious of the gift of transplant – many lives could be saved.
In some way it appears as if this could be the film that brings Paul’s lifetime of observance of the internal geography of human spirit and emotion – most often viewed through the behaviours of flawed characters – closer to home.
Not that there hasn’t been other instances of autobiographical influence in his films. My First Wife (1984) is very loosely inspired by Paul’s own marriage breakdown, while the magnified gaze placed on mortality, love, emotional and social corruption and life’s meaning throughout all his films – not to mention his total intolerance for mindless violence on the screen – is deeply informed by a childhood spent stepping over rubble and dead and dying bodies in the Netherlands following his birth in 1940 in to a Europe overtaken by World War II.
But underneath all the shortened patience for the cultural stupidity of modern life (Kardashians anyone?) rests a deep love for people and creative expression – for the possibility inherent in us all as seen in the eyes of a small child before social conditioning and expectation takes hold.
He is the ultimate humanist in that he fully understands mankind’s foibles – our current irrational obsession with celebrity and fame – but continues to love us all anyway: it is there, in his push to keep facing us with ourselves through his films, like a patient father who will (despite our ignorance and faults) forge on ahead, lantern of awareness held high, that he might show us a different way.
Paul: “I take life quite seriously. I think it is a serious matter. When people say, ‘enjoy what you do’, when people ask you to be happy… I think happiness is for fools. How can you be happy when there is so much unjustness? What is needed is a degree of contentment to do your work and be satisfied with what you have. To not want – that is essential. And to be able to give.”