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A Post-July Future

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AUGUST 03, 2011

There was something so Miranda July-esque in learning that I’d only have 20 minutes to interview Miranda July, and that I’d be sharing those 20 minutes with another person. But … why? I thought. I’m so close. I was reminded of a moment in her debut film “Me and You and Everyone We Know” (2005) when Christine (played by Ms. July herself) approaches a gallery director and asks her to look at a videotape portfolio. Indifferently, the director tells Christine to send it in the mail instead. “But I’m so close,” Christine tells her.

Miranda July, doe-eyed, her hair coyly coiffed in ringlets, has been the subject of increasing recognition in cinema. She makes deeply personal films that marvel at the world and see our tedious everyday realities with fresh eyes.

For her second film, “The Future” — opening August 19 in the Bay Area  — July said she “wanted to move into sadness” and away from the irreverence of “Me and You and Everyone We Know.” July’s debut, where each character in that film is “more of an icon than a real person” — seems lighthearted when compared to her sophomore feature. “The Future” feels more lived-in and spare, just like its comfortable but doomed central relationship relationship between Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) who behave like opposite sex doppelgangers.

There’s a great deal of sadness in the film as July’s characters Sophie and Jason deal with issues of romantic despair and existential crises, all packaged in crisp and lugubrious images. Like her first feature, July serves up a number of postmodern flourishes — a t-shirt that moves by itself, a talking moon, to name a few — and various contortions of space and time that make “The Future” a decidedly riskier and likely more polarizing project. It’s neither as upbeat or offbeat as her debut.

“The humor was so focused on in the first movie … but there were a lot of other kind of queasier themes in it,” she said of “Me and You,” a droll mingling of affectedness and affection, an affection between disconnected people in a disconnected world. “The Future” shares this conceit but with a fatalist tone.

July said that despite self-casting, and that the period where she wrote “The Future “was a “dark time” filled with big changes, there’s nothing autobiographical about this film. “There’s lots of qualities of mine in all the characters, which is hard for people to believe,” she said. “I remember with the first movie trying to explain … Yes there’s some of Christine in me but there’s also a lot of the pervert guy who puts the signs in the windows [in “Me and You and Everyone We Know”]. That’s me too,” she said.

Though details like this make film her most personal medium, July does not want to be known solely as a filmmaker. She’s also an artist and published author of the book of short stories “No One Belongs Here More Than You” (2007). The collection delved into the romantic dalliances of emotionally alienated characters — the kind of things you’d expect to encounter in a July work. This November, she’ll be publishing a nonfiction book about people who post classifieds in the PennySaver, and also about the making of “The Future,” entitled “It Chooses You.”

To add to the list of her multi-talents, July seems to have a perpetual backward glance toward her performance art background, which began with staging plays in high school at 924 Gilman, as she moves forward in her career. “How I orient myself and how I come to know the work is partly by being in it,” she said.

She puts even more of herself into the film with Shirtie, an oversized yellow t-shirt that moves by itself. “I have a yellow shirt also. Mine’s called Nightie,” July said, candidly. “My thinking was that that shirt … predates everything, every boyfriend, my whole career, everything. It is so essentially me that if I were to ever forsake myself and try to flee my soul, my creativity, my life, everything that identifies me, I think my shirt might come crawling after me.” This is what the shirt does to Sophie in “The Future” when she leaves Jason to try on another life with Marshall (David Warshofky), a middle-aged single dad. The shirt is a symbol of “how you can’t actually divorce from your essential self,” July explained. “I used it as a way to externalize the way you haunt yourself.”

July is committed to remaining true to herself. “What makes it interesting is finding a way to do new things that feel like you.” July said. “So I’m actually not trying to do things in a way that doesn’t feel like me. That doesn’t appeal.”

In short, July has clearly developed her own trademark aesthetic. It’s a certain kind of preciousness that becomes something more hard-hitting. Neither of her films could ever be conceived as the work of anybody else. Her influences are not apparent, or at least she doesn’t wear them on her sleeve, so that can only mean a singular cinematic vision is at work. July said it best herself: “I do think, okay, you can do anything in any style, any which way, so really knowing that, what do you want to do?”

Contact Ryan Lattanzio at 

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AUGUST 03, 2011