George Miller premieres ‘anti-Mad Max’ follow-up at Cannes


Some seven years after his smash hit “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Australian director George Miller has finally returned with his much-anticipated follow-up movie “Three Thousand Years of Longing.”

Miller premiered “Three Thousand Years of Longing” over the weekend at the Cannes Film Festival, the culmination of a journey that began 20 years ago when Miller first read English novelist AS Byatt’s story upon which the film is based, “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye.”

But it was only when frictions over the profits from “Fury Road” – Miller’s operatic action opus – opened a window that the time came for “Three Thousand Years of Longing.”

Director George Miller poses during a photocall for the film “Three Thousand Years of Longing” at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, Cannes, France, May 21, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

“After we wrote it, it was really a question of when to do it,” Miller said alongside his stars, Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, shortly before the film’s premiere in Cannes. “It was lucky, actually. We got into litigation with Warner Bros. on ‘Fury Road’ and it meant that, hey, we can bring this to the fore.”

The unveiling of “Three Thousand Years of Longing” had most Cannes festivalgoers on the edge of their seats. What would Miller conjure up this time? Could the 77-year-old filmmaker match the propulsive thrill of “Mad Max: Fury Road”?

That film, which Miller is preparing to revisit with the prequel “Furiosa,” made its blistering premiere in Cannes seven years ago on its way to an armful of Oscars, $374 million in box office receipts and a place on plenty of best-century lists .

The answer, it turns out, is a singular blend of epic fantasy and chamber-piece drama that goes to the heart of Miller’s own feelings about storytelling. The film, which MGM will release on Aug. 31, was scripted by Miller and his daughter, first-time screenwriter Augusta Gore. In it, Swinton plays a narratologist named Alithea Binnie who is visiting Turkey for a conference on how science has replaced mythology.

(From L) British actor Idris Elba, British actress Tilda Swinton and Australian director and screenwriter George Miller pose during a photocall for the film

(From L) British actor Idris Elba, British actress Tilda Swinton and Australian director and screenwriter George Miller pose during a photocall for the film “Three Thousand Years of Longing” at the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, May 21, 2022. (AFP Photo)

After Alithea buys an old bottle at the Grand Bazaar and scrubs it in her hotel sink, a wish-granting djinn (Elba) appears, filling up the room. A lengthy and intimate conversation ensues, in which he tells her about his previous masters of her throughout the last 3,000 years. Using computer-generated imagery, Miller blends mythology and the modern world in a contemplative, history-spanning fairy tale that he resolutely believes in magic.

“There are some people who are great storytellers, who can do it as a performance,” Miller said. “I know that I struggle with that. I can’t get up and tell a spontaneous story well. But I can do it in the ultraslow motion of telling a movie, where I think about every nuance, every rhythm of it,” he explained.

Miller teamed up again with many of his “Fury Road” collaborators, including cinematographer John Seale, editor Margaret Sixel and composer Tom Holkenborg. But the director sensed that in some ways “Three Thousand Years of Longing” was the “anti-Mad Max” – talkative whereas “Fury Road” was wordless, spread across eons rather than in real time.

Reactions have been mixed to “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” but few have questioned its ambition or its uniqueness.

Director George Miller poses during a photocall for the film

Director George Miller poses during a photocall for the film “Three Thousand Years of Longing” at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, Cannes, France, May 21, 2022. (AA Photo)

And for all the eras it spans, the movie reaches right up to today. The pandemic is seen late in the film in scenes where background actors are wearing masks. The film’s production was also dramatically shaped by the pandemic. Miller shifted from shooting in a series of international locations to relying on CGI and his native Australia for the bulk of the film.

“When we started talking about this film, it felt very right,” Swinton said. “But now, this year, it’s even more. And I imagine it will be even more the next. That instinct of yours for on the wind, that’s going to run and run. That’s like a seed that one plants.”

To Miller, “Three Thousand Years of Longing” doesn’t just lead up to now – it goes beyond.

“It’s a very relevant story,” said Miller. “It’s like a metal detector or a Geiger counter, when something really activates it. You go: ‘Oh, there’s a rich seam in here somewhere.'”

“Time will tell if it has enough stuff going in it that other people respond to it. You hope that the story becomes someone else’s and belongs to everyone,” he said.

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