Three Great Things: Antonio Campos

The director of The Devil All the Time on watching Miyazaki movies with his son, Rone's "Room with a View" and Simenon novels.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the release on Netflix of The Devil All the Time, Antonio Campos’ epic midwestern Gothic drama featuring an all-star cast of Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Robert Pattinson, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Mia Wasikowska and Harry Melling, director and co-writer Campos shares some of the things that matter most to him. — N.D.

Watching Miyazaki Movies with His Son
My wife Sofia and I have been very busy during quarantine. I was in the writer’s room working on The Staircase (via Zoom) and she was editing Los Espookys, so we were splitting the days in half so we could take care of our son. There was a big rush to finish The Devil All the Time, which Sofia edited, as we lost a lot of post-production time because of the pandemic. Right now I’m in Chile, where Sofia is from and where we have a little house.

During quarantine, my son got very into watching television. We were very protective of him for a while and kept him away from screens, but at a certain point that wasn’t possible anymore. So, we started him off with old-school Disney films, which he loved. He was not even two and he could watch Dumbo and Bambi all the way through. We progressed from there and it’s very cool and exciting that right now he loves watching the work of a filmmaker I wasn’t so familiar with before, Hayao Miyazaki. He started off with My Neighbor Totoro, and it was so funny to watch him get into that movie, because at first he was very connected to the kids in the film. But when he saw Totoro, he kept covering his eyes, looking away, looking back. He was scared, but he really was drawn to him too. Quickly, he became obsessed with Totoro and would wake up in the morning and say, “Totoro, Totoro,” and we had to put on Totoro.

My Neighbor Totoro.

From there, we introduced him to Kiki’s Delivery Service and then Ponyo, which is the new movie he’s obsessed with. Now, so much of what I’m watching is what he’s watching; I’ve seen parts of Ponyo and Totoro maybe 50 times. It reminds me of when I was a kid, when I would obsessively watch movies on VHS, like Ghostbusters or Back to the Future. I would put in the cassette, watch Ghostbusters through to the end, put in Ghostbusters II, watch that to the end, rewind Ghostbusters, and then watch that again! I loved that experience, and I’m now doing it with him. And Miyazaki movies are really magical. I’ve never seen anything like them.

Rone’s Music Video for “Room with a View”
I’ve been obsessed with the song and music video for “Room with a View” by the French electronic artist Rone, which I’ve been watching and listening to on repeat. The video is so fun, an amazingly choreographed dance which starts off with a theater audience being blown by a gust of wind in slow motion. Then one woman is swept up by some other audience members and starts an incredible dance number that takes them from one space to another. They all morph into one cohesive, organic unit, running across Parisian rooftops and then flying off into space. It’s just such a cool video, and the music is very cinematic. It has all these different movements and you feel like you’re being taken somewhere.

I heard the song for the first time in the video, so I can’t fully separate them in my head. I don’t always think about the video when I hear the song, but the initial excitement came from the visuals and the magic of them, which really grabbed me. If I’m going to try unpack what exactly I’m drawn to in “Room With a View,” I think it is a magical quality, which I also find in Miyazaki’s films. My work tends to be very grounded and The Devil All the Time is very much about believers screaming to the heavens for an answer, and the absence of a response that they get. There is no magic at play, because the film creates a world where the characters are alone and grasping, but at the same time has a narrator who suggests there is a grander design that we are just too caught up in the moment to see. So I think that’s an aspect I’m interested in exploring, something which will get me off the earthly plane and allow me to play in a realm outside of this reality.

The Novels of Georges Simenon
I’m always reading, and Georges Simenon is so prolific that you could read one of his books every week for the rest of your life and probably still wouldn’t be done with his body of work. I really love his novels because they’re short and have these complicated protagonists who outwardly seem like an everyman character, but internally are serious and fraught. Because of its complexity, I always come back to Simenon’s work, and the last novel of his that really struck me was The Train. It’s set at the beginning of World War I and is about a man who fixes radios who gets separated from his wife and children when they have to evacuate their small town. For a month or so after, he has a different life away from them, but then he finds his way back to normal life. The books are short and the vocabulary Simenon uses is so simple, but the ideas are profound and the characters very complicated. I love that mix of simple language and complicated ideas.

Simenon was a tortured person and probably not a very pleasant person to be around. I think he got a divorce from his one of his wives because he could only write ten books a year. He felt like she was slowing him down! That level of productivity – he wrote nearly 500 novels – comes at a cost. I sometimes wish I could be more prolific, that I was creating more, engaging more, but I think as I’ve grown creatively, I’ve stopped trying to be the people I admire and started trying to figure out how to be who I am. I’m not trying to emulate anyone else’s career path or trajectory.

My favorite story about Simenon is connected to how prolific he was. Apparently Hitchcock was really good friends with him and Hitchcock called Simenon’s office one day. The secretary answered and said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Hitchcock, Mr. Simenon has just started a book and he can’t speak,” Hitchcock said, “It’s OK, I’ll wait.”

Antonio Campos’ fourth feature, The Devil All the Time, is now on Netflix. An epic midwestern Gothic drama based on the novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, it features an all-star cast of Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Robert Pattinson, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Mia Wasikowska and Harry Melling. Campos made his directorial feature debut with the Independent Spirit Award–nominated Afterschool, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008, and followed it up with Simon Killer (2012), starring Brady Corbet, and the biopic Christine, starring Rebecca Hall, in 2016. A co-founder of Borderline Films, Campos also produced Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene and Josh Mond’s James White. (Photo by Glen Wilson/Netflix.)