Among all the films at this year’s Tribeca festival, the most stunning one was “State Like Sleep,” a modern-day film noir with all the suspense of a Hitchcock movie. The story, set in the underbelly of Brussels, follows the widow of a deceased Belgian actor who one-year after his death decides to investigate the mystery behind his apparent suicide.
The film’s heroine, Katherine Waterston (“Alien: Covenant,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) portrays a grieving American photographer. Along her quest to discover the truth about her husband, revealed in flashback by Dutch actor Michiel Huisman (“Game of Thrones”, “The Age of Adaline”) she encounters a shadowy drug dealer played by Luke Evans (“The Fate of the Furious,” “The Girl on the Train”). She also meets an enigmatic stranger portrayed by Michael Shannon (“The Shape of Water,” “12 Strong”).
Bringing all the ambiguity together is director Meredith Danluck. I sat down with her to discuss her first narrative feature, her road to Tribeca proving to be just as interesting as her film.
Danluck began as a documentary filmmaker (“Garbage Island,” “The Ride”) and credits the genre with helping her make the leap to narrative film. “From editing hours of documentaries, I learned character, how people look and how people talk. I developed a sense of rhythm, realistic dialogue and story structure. Without those tools I wouldn’t have been able to write or direct a narrative. One step led to the next.”
When asked about the film’s voyeuristic style Danluck responded “It came very organically out of the subject matter. The main character’s grief and emotional arc lined up with the narrative arc of a psychological thriller.”
Since the film recalls a Hitchcockian style I, naturally, asked if the master of suspense was an influence for her. In her response, Danluck quoted director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”) : “a filmmaker saying they were influenced by Hitchcock is like a musician saying they were influenced by The Beatles.”
As to why the film is set in Brussels, Danluck said, “I lived outside Brussels and was always fascinated by the mood of the city. It feels like behind its beauty it’s hiding a secret.”
On being asked about casting Michael Shannon Danluck explained “I saw him on a talk show and he was funny and charming so, I thought it would be interesting to cast someone against type. He brings something to the character that’s very complex.”
Given Danluck’s background as documentarian I inquired what she thought was harder, a documentary or a narrative. “They’re equally hard for different reasons.” She added that her next few projects will probably be narratives.
Regarding the distinction of being labeled “female” director as opposed to just “director” Danluck simply said “I’m a director.”
Judging from “State Like Sleep,” I whole heartedly agree.
Rudy Cecera is ScreenComment’s New York-based contributor. He has covered the Tribeca Festival since 2013 (@RComwrit22j)