Fred Schepisi creates, revels in humanity of ‘Words and Pictures’ 

click to enlarge Words and Pictures
  • Juliette Binoche, left, and Clive Owen play troubled teachers who get into debates — and who find each other — in director Fred Schepisi’s “Words and Pictures.”
Asked why he made “Words and Pictures,” a film about seemingly ordinary people — a troubled writer and a struggling artist who are teachers at an exclusive prep school — director Fred Schepisi answers that the subject’s lack of popularity in cinema these days is the very reason he was drawn to the project.

“There’s some good stuff out there, but most of it is extremely crude, obvious and doesn’t interest me, I guess. This had substance and other things going on, and realistic situations you can still have fun with,” says the filmmaker, whose credits include “Roxanne,” “Plenty” and “Six Degrees of Separation.”

He also found it delightful to work with Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, pointing out that there was “no star stuff” on the set in Vancouver, British Columbia, which doubled for New England.

Even better, he got what he calls “a bonus” in Binoche. The actress, who plays an artist suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, actually painted the bold, high-quality abstract pieces in the movie, and there are evocative scenes showing her at work as she deals with physical limitations resulting from her character’s condition.

“It was most freeing, I didn’t have to fake the art,” says Schepisi, who adds, “My wife’s an artist. I get an awful lot of inspiration from art.” He also points to how, even back in his first feature, 1976’s “The Devil’s Playground,” he set up shots referencing famous painters, such as Monet.

Yet the words in “Words and Pictures,” which opens Friday, can be attributed to Owen’s character, an alcoholic English teacher. While he’s charismatic in the classroom, his glory days as a popular published writer are behind him, and outbursts around town have put his job in jeopardy.

Schepisi says he enjoyed filming classroom scenes with the students — played mostly by appealing young people from Canada who were refreshingly normal and non-Hollywood types — and unexpectedly became aware of “just how much technology has taken over,” certainly since screenwriter Gerald Di Pego worked as an English teacher for a short time.

But change is something Schepisi craves, mentioning that the only thing his films have in common is “humanity.”

“I don’t like to go down the same roads,” he says. “I like to be made nervous. If I’m not on sure footing, I hope that I will learn something along the way and get it right in the process.”


Words and Pictures

Starring Juliette Binoche, Clive Owen

Written by Gerald Di Pego

Directed by Fred Schepisi

Rated PG-13

Running time 1 hour, 45 minutes

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Leslie Katz

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