Miss Dior

Prestige issue 260, March 2015

Anton Corbijn

tells the making of Miss Dior, «It’s Miss Actually»

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© Christian Dior Parfums

Coming from an austere world of pastors, director and Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn today acquired an international reputation. Evolving from music to photography and video clips, he tells Prestige his latest, Miss Dior, shot on the French Riviera with Natalie Portman. Immersion in a different and fascinating  universe.

Your Miss Dior film is very successful, very surprising! For me the long version is the most interesting. It is authentic because it mixes levels of reality alternating color and black and white. It is complexe, it also mixes different levels of temporality thanks to the mounting.

Did you enjoy filming on the French Riviera? Did you like the light, the sun? I had the opportunity in my career to go into southern Europe, specifically in Portugal for photo shoots. I already loved the atmosphere and the light there. Light from the south of France is particularly beautiful, rich. I especially remember the beauty of the sunset when we shot the last scene on the cliff with the helicopter. This light was incredible. I like to shoot some shots in bright light, certain things. But, you know, I’d rather shoot my subjects in the shadows … I’m more known for that, filming in dark tones, as I have always done. When I started photography in the 70s, I did the opposite. I took people with a front light, right on their face! But there came a time when I changed, and I opted for the shade, the dark. This gives more grain to the image, and that’s what I like anyway.

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Since your first films, from the video clips to the aesthetic shock of Control, your images have evolved but remained in a style unique to your world. Therefore, when your film for Miss Dior was announced, what a surprise! How have you immersed in a world that is not yours «naturally»? I should already tell you that this is the first time I realize an advertisement, a commercial film. This is the first time that I agree because it interested me to immerse myself in a different world from mine, linked to a luxury maison, to perfume. I have close people around me that are related to fashion. I was interested in going into this universe by making a film. I really wanted to make Miss Dior a separate character, a heroine.

Can you tell us about the story? She leaves her marriage, certainly, but one could almost interpret the story in an Oedipal perspective, that it was her father that she leaves standing there! (Laughs) Yes, but not only her father in my opinion! She left her entire life, symbolized by her father. The story talks about a breakaway, due to escape from all that hinders you in life. Escape from everything we cannot accept. In this spirit, I find our selection of the song «Piece of My Heart» by Janis Joplin really great. I think it is essential to have that voice, these words on the film. To finally add a feminine perspective on my film.

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What is the link between images and music? Since your beginnings, you have always been linked to music … At the end of my forty’s, I asked myself the question why I was always so obsessed with the music I listened to when I was 14 years old. Why is it that I did not evolve? I returned to the Dutch island where I was born, hoping to find an answer. But nothing occurred to me … Since ever it seemed to me that the world I wanted to belong to was different … I lived in a deeply religious universe. Nothing was really inspiring … My father was a pastor, as have been my grandfather and my uncle. It was a harsh world, austere. Music was an escape. We had no television. I remember the day when the Beatles came to Holland, a real revolution! You could feel that society was changing. I took some pictures with the camera of my father at the concert opening. It was then that I knew this was what I wanted to, be closer to the music. I knew nothing about photography, then it became my life since the 70’s-80’s. At the end of the 70s, I went to England. I became a «Portrait and Life Photographer.» Then in the early 80s, I started making video clips. The music was very important to me! I saw too many bad video clips that ruined great songs … I loved music so much that I wanted to make images that made sense. I wanted them actually accompany the music, the sound, not just flatly illustrate the lyrics.

About women … Most of your characters in your films are very intense men, dark, mysterious. Women are in the background and yet you shoot them with great delicacy, nuance too. In the making of Miss Dior, you film Natalie Portman, in the same way that is to say, with details, fetching subtle things. When is a film about a woman? (Smiles) Not the next one … Again, this is a film about a man. Maybe it’s because I’m a man? It’s easier…

Choosing black and white or color always makes sense in your images. Miss Dior, you have mixed the two. Is it for you, black and white refer to reality and the color inspires escape, the dream? Yes, that’s it. But it remains open to any other interpretation. It is rather strange because the color is supposed to embody the reality as for me, the black and white is reality. Since I do not film in digital, I had to choose before the filming of Miss Dior! When I shoot in color, I’m always curious to see the result. For black and white, I always know what I’ll get. The black and white is like second nature to me…

You are now a director and a world famous photographer. Many Hollywood stars want to work with you. How do you deal with the move from the loneliness of the photographer to work with huge film crews? That’s a good question, because these are two really different lifestyles. I am shy by nature, and in this sense, it’s photography that suits me best. It allows me to meet people, but in a more intimate way, more private. On a movie set, I have to go against my natural inclination. But this is an amazing experience to do something with a whole team. For Miss Dior, the team was great, the shooting happened in very pleasant conditions: a nice place, a permanently perfect light.

In the Miss Dior movie, nature is splendid. When Natalie Portman runs, it looks like she flies on a green carpet! Yes, for me, nature is easier to film than to photograph in still life. Especially in black and white, it is particularly difficult. Some artists manage to make beautiful things like Sabastiao Salgado, the Brazilian photographer who is for me a master of still life in black and white. His landscapes are magnificent. Nature is difficult to photograph for me because you can get lost in it. In a film, the movement allows me to clarify this. For the «natural» anecdote, we found a snake just before turning the scene of the running … (laughs)

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© Christian Dior Parfums

For his first commercial film, it was a masterstroke.

And the photo where we see the understudy of Natalie Portman with “Jack Kerouac” tattooed on the shoulder? Yes, this is fine too. The free spirit of the Beat Generation!

Speaking of freedom, is Miss Dior for you a perfect incarnation of a new feminism? like young popstars as Beyonce or Nikki Minaj who claim a new feminism? Yes, it is interesting to see these are women adored by men, in that they project an image that men love and want to see. But yet they say they are feminists. It’s hard to say … For me, this remains the vision of men. What’s great about Janis Joplin for example, is that her vision as a woman prevails. But anyway, it’s a good thing that the «feminist» debate reappears. Few years ago, I did the portrait of strippers in collaboration with South African painter Marlene Dumas. I worked with her on paintings she had done in Amsterdam. I included 4 letter words, which usually suggest something sexual (Fuck etc ..). But I substituted them words in 4 letters I imagined in the mind of these women as Home, Baby, etc …

To conclude on Miss Dior, let’s go back to its creator Christian Dior. He was a kind man, gentle and full of life. This fragrance was inspired to him by his sister Catherine. When Christian Dior said he wanted to make women happy, it was not nothing. «Happiness» was not an empty word for him. I did not know this story. It’s even better that way … Anyway, the word «happiness» is overused. As an exaggerated state of mind … Often this means that people do not want to worry about anything. For me it’s the opposite. Happiness is a state of mind to which I have to direct myself and wish in my heart never really get to destination…