Written & photos by: Julia Siegel
My last day at the Montclair Film Festival couldn’t have been capped by a better film selection. Based on the Philip Roth novel, Indignation made its Northeastern debut at the MFF on Saturday, May 7. After the film, there was a nice Q&A session with director James Schamus and actor Ben Rosenfield.
Prior to the screening, I was able to quickly interview Rosenfield. It’s always a great opportunity to talk to any actor, but I was particularly excited to talk to Rosenfield because he is from right here in Montclair! We didn’t have much time at all, but Rosenfield was nice enough to answer a bunch of quick questions for me. I started off by asking him, “What does it mean to you to come back home to Montclair and have your film starring in the Montclair Film festival?” Rosenfield replied by saying, “It’s really cool! It’s so cool because this festival has really taken off over the past few years since I moved away, so it’s like really cool to come back and there’s this really amazing film festival here. And, it’s a New Jersey story too so it feels like an appropriate place for the film to be.”
Staying on the topic of the MFF, I asked Rosenfield if he had ever attended the MFF before. He said he did a talk at the festival last year, making this year his second time attending. I followed up by asking him what differences he sees in the festival from last year to this year. Even though Rosenfield didn’t mention any specific changes, he did say, “Well, I think every year the programming is getting stronger and stronger. I think the town has a great infrastructure for the festival, so it’s cool to see all these interesting films getting played in all these theaters.”
Since his new film was about to start, I had to ask what his favorite part of working on Indignation was. Without thinking, Rosenfield replied, “I think it was the writing, James’ [Schamus] script and Philip Roth’s book. The text was really great.” This answer peaked my curiosity, so my final question was, “What was so good about the writing that that was your favorite part?” Rosenfield gave a good answer by saying, “I think it’s the dimension of the characters, and the world of the story.”
Believe it or not, that whole interview lasted just over a minute! Immediately following our interview, Rosenfield took the stage with Schamus and MFF Executive Director Tom Hall to introduce Indignation. The film takes place in 1951, right in the heart of the Korean War. It follows college-bound Marcus (Logan Lerman) and his struggles to fit in at a small Ohio college, which is much different than his life in Newark, New Jersey. Marcus tries to overcome the conservatism and anti-Semitism the college forces upon him, while dealing with his own sexual frustrations when he falls for Olivia (Sarah Gadon), the only girl on campus who gives him any attention.
Upon arriving at the college, Marcus is assigned a room with two other Jews, as the college assumes that this would be the best due to his heritage. Rosenfield plays Bertram Flusser, Marcus’ roommate who is obsessed with classical music, Shakespeare, and theater. Rosenfield does a good job capturing the extravagance of Flusser. His scenes are light hearted and fun, which was warmly welcomed in between the more serious tonality of the film. Marcus has a rocky relationship with his roommates, but it’s apparent that he has no idea that they actually care for him. Marcus’ downfall is his pessimism; he doesn’t know how to accept love in any form, whether from his parents, friends, or Olivia.
Indignation is able to cover some pretty heavy topics in less than two hours. Quite a few of the hot-button topics appear in a wonderfully shot and acted sixteen-minute scene towards the middle of the film. Marcus and the Dean of students discuss Marcus’ peculiar behaviors, leading Marcus to lash out. To me, the film can be summed up by this one scene. The central struggle of the film is laid out nicely for all to see. As an intellectual coming-of-age tale, the film depicts Marcus’ memories of college in a brief and fulfilling manner.
Schamus made his directorial debut with Indignation. He told the audience that he loves Roth’s novel and wanted to do this adaptation properly. Schamus consulted with Roth from the inception of the film until the final cut, which even got Roth’s stamp of approval. One audience member asked Schamus if he had a grand vision for the script and if the final cut was the movie he had originally pictured. Schmaus told the audience that as a longtime producer, he had worked with many first-time directors that made the mistake of making the movie that was in their head, not the one that the actors interpreted. Schamus knew that he didn’t want to make the same mistake, so he gave the actors and crew the liberty to depict the script the way they felt it should be. According to Schamus, the film wouldn’t have turned out well if he had forced everyone to comply with his thoughts. The basics of his ideas are still visible, but he was very happy with the way the cast embraced the characters and made it their own.
As the Q&A showed, Schamus was truly happy to make this film and loved his cast. He said that he really enjoyed working with such young talent, as he turned and smiled at Rosenfield. Most of the Q&A centered on Schamus, but Rosenfield had a chance to give his thoughts on his role and how Flusser impacts the film. Indignation is an interesting independent film that will surely make a splash with audiences when it hits theaters on July 29th.