CANNES, France - Most stars and directors in Cannes show up in slacks or jeans and a black jacket for interviews with reporters. Richard Linklater, however, has been making an Austin-like statement by wearing the same pair of shorts and sandals for several days.
As the festival winds down, he has been something of an anomaly to the French. He has two films (Fast Food Nation and A Scanner Darkly ) in the festival's official selection, quite an achievement. But he's unassuming, laid-back and totally at odds with the Hollywood hype machine. And his approach with reporters, especially those from Europe, is equally confounding.
He makes movies that cast a skeptical eye on U.S. culture. Yet, he steadfastly refuses to join in any invitations to bash America. "I get questions from the French like: 'Why can't America face the truth?'" Mr. Linklater says Friday during an interview at an exclusive resort overlooking the Riviera. "But I love my country," he says. "And the movies that I'm making aren't just about America. These problems cross national boundaries. There are problems like these everywhere."
In Fast Food Nation, the problem is the corporate displacement of the family farm, with massive and sometimes unsanitary feedlots and slaughterhouses supplying the fast-food chains. In A Scanner Darkly, Big Brother government uses its power to "alienate people from others and themselves," he says.
Both display a deep distrust of quasi-governmental corporations, as if we're all facing a nightmare of the military industrial complex, where the only sane response is paranoia.
And in a stance that probably makes his producers cringe, Mr. Linklater doesn't pretend that either of his movies will do well at the box office. He knows that Fast Food Nation will cause a backlash from big-time hamburger chains, which are expected to attack the claims about unsanitary conditions at meatpacking plants.
And he says upfront that A Scanner Darkly is "a strange film. I have no delusions of its being mainstream entertainment."
But he has such a solid reputation in the movie industry that he's able to attract some of the biggest stars to his projects without paying them their usual exorbitant fees. Bruce Willis, Kris Kristofferson and Greg Kinnear joined Fast Food Nation's cast; A Scanner Darkly attracted Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson.
He's still amazed that Scanner, which is based on a Philip K. Dick novel, ever got made. "But once Keanu and Robert came aboard, the script got a lot better in studio eyes," he says with a wry smile.
While Mr. Linklater's two movies share common themes, the production process couldn't have been more different. Fast Food Nation was shot in less than a month and was rather easy, Mr. Linklater says. But A Scanner Darkly had a post-production process that took years, mainly because it's animated through a rotoscoping process.
"Most people think you just shoot the movie and feed the digital print into a computer and the animation appears," Mr. Linklater says. "In reality, we had more than a dozen artists sitting at computers and drawing the characters and scenes based upon the performances. For every minute of the movie, it took about 500 hours of artists working."
He also had to cope with Mr. Reeves, he says jokingly. "He's the kind of guy who'll call you up at 2 in the morning to dig deeper into the character." In response, Mr. Reeves says, "Hey, I thought he'd be up at 2 in the morning." Above all, Mr. Linklater appears to be the ultimate collaborator when making movies, listening to different approaches from actors and creating scenes on the fly. He describes his moviemaking style by saying, "You rock and roll with someone and get a print together."
So what's it like for an Austin dude doing the French Riviera gig? "It's fun," he says. "I've just been doing the European thing, talking about art and movies into the early-morning hours. I enjoy it, but I'd rather be making a movie."