‘A F—ed Up, Queer, Upside Down ‘West Side Story”: Amanda Kramer on Rotterdam Opener ‘Please Baby Please’

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Chosen as the protagonist of the Rotterdam Film Festival’s Focus section, Amanda Kramer will show eight films to the festival audience, ranging from her 2016 short “Bark” to “Give Me Pity!” and this year’s opener “Please Baby Please,” both set to celebrate their world premieres at the festival.

“It’s a funny thing, to be a relatively obscure artist given this very pronounced focus on your work,” Kramer tells Variety. “When Rotterdam was so keen to show it, I was just elated. It felt like I had done something right.”

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In “Please Baby Please,” starring Andrea Riseborough and Harry Melling as a couple suddenly faced with their long-dormant fantasies, as well as a violent greaser gang, Kramer turns her attention to the 1950s.

“When people talk about that time, they usually go for this cinched waist, poodle skirt, preppy aesthetic. What I am drawn to is the sleazier, more underground 1950s that I know existed. New York has always been debauched,” she says, mentioning the works of Julien Temple or John Waters, who also tried to re-imagine the era. “They brought it back into the foreground in a very perverse way. Now, it’s their vision from the 1980s as seen through my vision in 2022.”

While her married protagonists are not exactly innocent, they still follow a relatively traditional way of life. That is, until they start encountering people who have seen – and done – other, darker things, and who introduce them to gender and sexual fluidity.

“Fantasy plays a huge part in this film and in all of my work. Hollywood usually tells you that your film can either be realistic or it can be a fantasy, which could mean anything from a children’s film to Marvel. But there are artists out there who are blending the two, like Leos Carax in ‘Annette.’ This is what I ache to accomplish,” she says. “I went: How can I make my version of a fucked up, queer, upside down ‘West Side Story’?”

Despite diving into erotically charged imagery, often bringing to mind Tom of Finland, Kramer wasn’t interested in making an explicit film. What she was interested in, however, was sexual tension, exemplified by Melling’s character starry-eyed fascination with another man, played by Karl Glusman.

“Not to embarrass Karl, but that’s what it’s like for him in real life. He has this immense beauty that leaves people agog. Harry understood that and every time he looked at him, I would get butterflies in my stomach. I was hoping he gets him!,” she laughs.

“The thing is, I don’t have that much to say about sex. What I was thinking about was idealized love. You look at this other person and even though you are bursting inside, you know that as soon as you have sex – or as soon as I show it on screen – it won’t be as hot. But I do think that one amazing kiss is necessary.”

Encouraging her actors to be theatrical and take risks, as well as play with stereotypes, Kramer also wanted to bring back the allure of iconic screen legends, enlisting the help of Demi Moore.

“She was incredibly hip to the fact that we were going for that Jane Russell, old-school glamour. She was thrilled to try that. Going into a movie like this, it was like: ‘Be a star! Be a sex symbol! Be an object!’ Be all the things that Hollywood used to put a lot of emphasis on. Going into production we would tell people: ‘Be your own James Dean. And be James Dean for the audience.’ ”

But it was Riseborough, also credited as executive producer, who in a way became the film’s other director, writer and editor through her committed performance, says Kramer.

“She is one of the most inspiring humans working in this field. There isn’t anything she won’t try. My goal was to make everyone comfortable on set, so sometimes she was the one guiding me to push her.”

The two will soon reunite, currently developing a project which will see Riseborough play a Holocaust survivor in the 1970s in the American Midwest.

“It’s a sort of a shocking thriller that feels very intimate and it’s just another opportunity for her to be as wild as possible. So many people want to work with Andrea because she is a serious and incredibly dedicated actor, but she also gives her characters a tinge of worldliness that I just love,” says Kramer.

“What the Andreas and the Kate Winslets and the Tilda Swintons of the world provide us with is belief. We just keep on believing and we will until their very last film.”

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