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Closer - Whether you like it or not, it's authentic; it's the real deal, and it doesn't pull its punches

Feature by: Jack Foley

"WHEN you've given up on love, you've given up on life," states Patrick Marber, writer of Closer, from the comfortable environment of the library at London's Charlotte Street Hotel.

Yet such a sentiment is a far cry from some of the views expressed by the protagonists of the film - dialogue which includes such choice phrases as 'now f**k off and die, you f**ked up slag'.

With this in mind, it is reasonable to assume that Closer isn't your typical Hollywood romantic tale.

It may star some of the most attractive leads of the moment - Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Clive Owen - but it is a far cry from Pretty Woman, Alfie or Garden State.

The foursome in question play sexual predators; people who are led by their desires rather than any notion of loyalty or honour. They believe in love at first sight and are ready to spend their lives looking fot it.

Hence, when obituaries columnist, Dan (Law), meets charismatic dancer, Alice (Portman), on a London street, he is smitten from the outset, only to fall for the charms of a recently-divorced photographer, Anna (Roberts), who first encourages and then spurns his advances.

When Dan inadvertently sets Anna up with randy dermatologist, Larry (Owen), however, he does not count on the sexual shenanigans that follow - as first he cheats on Alice with Anna, and then finds that Larry may have done the same with Alice.

The fallout from each relationship is depicted in a verbally explicit and uncompromising style that has caught cinema-goers off-guard, but helped to earn Marber a Golden Globe nomination for best screenplay - with an Oscar nomination almost certain to follow.

"I think the thing I'm proud of about the film is that there aren't many films - either independent or mainstream Hollywood films - that are like this; it's of its own times," he explained.

"And whether you like it or not, it's authentic; it's the real deal, and it doesn't pull its punches.

"It's a film-makers film and I love it for that. He [director, Mike Nichols] hasn't sold it out; it's just what he wanted to make. And very few films these days, that you see, do you feel that there's a sort of artist's hand at work.

"There have been some responses to the film that just go 'they are black, they are evil, they are vicious psychos at war with each other', but I feel those people are watching a different film from the one I see.

"I know it's a film and all of that, and it's a Hollywood film, but it kind of feels like this sometimes, when you're in pain and it hurts, and you're desperate - or are about to cross some moral line and it's so seductive and you just do.

"So I find it surprising when people go 'oh, it's got nothing to do with anything I've ever experienced!' I tend to think, 'well, what have you been doing?'"

Marber first developed the screenplay for Closer for the theatre in 1997, following the success of his first play, Dealer's Choice. He had previously been a stand-up comic.

In theatrical form, the play quickly became an international hit, produced in more than 100 cities and over 30 different languages across the world. It won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play and garnered the London Critics' Circle Award for Best New Play and the New York Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play.

Yet while it isn't strictly autobiographical, it does stem from personal experience.

"I was once unfaithful to someone, I can admit that, and someone was once unfaithful to me, and it hurt, so it's autobiographical in that respect, emotionally, but there is no prototype of Alice, and I'm not Larry and I'm not Dan," he confesses, candidly.

The success of the play, however, prompted inevitable film offers and he even met with Mike Nichols in 1999 to discuss the possibility of adapting Closer to film.

"I said 'let me think about that' and took a couple of years... I was never going to give it to anyone else, but I just needed to get the play out of my system and start thinking about it as something completely different.

"The irony was once I'd said 'yes', he said 'but I kind of wanted to do it like the play'. Whereas my assumption was, 'ok, can I live with ripping up the play and turning it into something completely different?'

"It took me two years to go 'yeah, I can', and then Mike goes 'well, actually, I want to be completely faithful'."

The wait, however, has been worth it, as Nichols has faithfully crafted a film that bears comparison with the best of his previous work (The Graduate and Carnal Knowledge) and which has placed Marber and the film's stars on the verge of awards success.

True to form, however, Marber is incredibly modest about such achievements.

"I know I can't possibly win! I'm just going there for the fun, but I'm not writing a speech," he admits.

"Because you just know, as a writer, that I didn't really write one of the five best screenplays of the year. There were lots of brilliant screenplays; I was just one of the lucky ones who got nominated."

And while Marber adds that it's 'very nice' to have been recognised with such nominations, 'it's not the glory of it' that provides him with the biggest high.

"The thing that really excites me is the people I've worked with over the years," he continued.

"To have worked with Steve Coogan when he was just starting out and to have been involved in all that, and The Day Today was fantastic; and to have Ray Winstone and Phil Daniels in my first play and then to have made a film with Mike Nichols - it's the people that you feel excited about."

So with this and Closer in mind, it seemed fair to ask Marber whether he considered himself to be an optimist or a cynic when it comes to love, especially since viewers may well have him pegged as the latter after they have seen the movie.

"Yeah they would and they're wrong. I'm a happily married man and I think to get married you have to be optimistic.

"And I've been with the same person for a long time - we've been together for years. So yeah I'm completely optimistic. You have to be, because when you've given up on love, you've given up on life," he concluded.





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