The first fiction movie directed by Billy Bob Thornton for 11 years has been granted a prestigious slot at the Berlinale, which begins Thursday, February 9. “Jayne Mansfield’s Car” will premiere in the competition section at the Berlinale Palast on Potsdamer Platz the following Monday.
The comically tinged drama, co-written by Thornton and his boyhood friend Tom Epperson, is an ensemble piece that stars Thornton, Robert Duvall, John Patrick Amedori, Kevin Bacon, John Hurt, Ray Stevenson, Frances O’Connor, Katherine LaNasa, Robert Patrick, Irma P. Hall, and 82-year-old Tippi Hedren. Shot in Cedartown, Ga., standing in for fictional Morrison, Ala., in 1969, it apparently has little to do with the 1966 Buick Electra 225 in which the titular blonde bombshell was killed in 1967. (Not that it was Jayne Mansfield’s car.)
At a press conference last fall for “Puss ‘N’ Boots,” in which Thornton voiced Jack (as in Jack and Jill), he commented, “Just so you know, Jayne Mansfield is more of a metaphor for this movie. It’s not about Jayne Mansfield’s death or anything like that. It’s mentioned, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s really about how war affects different generations, and about the examination of life and death and the fear and fascination with both.
“It’s tonally ‘Sling Blade’-like,” he said, referring to his raw-boned 1996 debut as a writer-director. “I think there’s probably more humor in it than ‘Sling Blade,’ but it’s once again very dark humor.”
The best description of the film’s story so far has come from Duvall, speaking to Entertainment Weekly: “It’s another Southern tale — it puts Tennessee Williams in the backseat, it’s that brilliant. It’s about a guy in between WWI and WWII who raises a family after his wife left him for an Englishman and moved to England. [Before] the wife dies, she asks to be brought back to Alabama to be buried, and at that point the character hasn’t seen her in twenty or thirty years. The two families — the original family she abandoned and her English family — meet and then things get really interesting.”
Reportedly costing $12 million, “Jayne Mansfield’s Car” is the first of the six films financed from the $120 million America production fund established by Media Talent Group, the management-production firm run by Geyer Kosinski, and AR Films, the Russian company founded by the mogul and producer-director Alexander Rodnyansky in 2009. Media Talent represents the likes of Thornton, Nicole Kidman, and writer-director D. J. Caruso, whose coming-of-age drama “The Goats” (not to be confused with the recent Sundance entry “Goats”) was the second film to benefit from the fund.
Also in Berlin will be one of Thornton’s ex-wives, Angelina Jolie, another Media Talent client. Her fiction directorial debut “In the Land of Blood and Honey” will be one of the films shown as part of the new Berlinale Special format. Instead of vials of blood (they were actually flower presses), the former Mr and Mrs Thornton can exchange tickets to each other’s screenings.