Last week saw the multi-platform release of A Perfect Ending, the latest feature from Nicole Conn, one of the film industry’s leading female filmmakers. From her debut feature, Claire of the Moon, in 1992, Conn has brought a sleek sheen to her sensual, tender exploration of lesbianism in different parts of the world. Peccadillo Pictures put us in touch with Nicole to discuss her motivations and the making of A Perfect Ending.
I was literally compelled to write the script – or more accurately – it wrote me!
Nicole was consumed by a narrative idea suggested by her partner, Marina Rice Bader, the co-founder of Soul Kiss Films and executive producer on A Perfect Ending. ‘From the moment Marina shared this idea with me I was literally compelled to write the script – or more accurately – it wrote me! From script to pre-production to shooting was barely six months. All the problems that riddle any pre-production were resolved by something better taking their place.’
Post-production wasn’t without its issues either, but Nicole was keen to focus on the positive. ‘It had been a few weeks from wrap before I got to see my dailies and start editing. When I did finally get to all the extraordinary footage I had to play with I was giddy.’ A Perfect Ending saw her using ways of story-telling she’d never tried before. ‘The story line was non-linear, which meant there was an infinite number of ways in which to tell the story (and believe me I tried every one of them!) [And] I was using abstract concepts like the ‘white room’ where Paris feels her inconsolable grief. The extreme close-ups became our new cinema language to parallel Pointillism, which became an effective substitution for conventional transitions to move from scene to scene.’
The opening scene is particularly striking in this regard, and Nicole described what effect she intended. ‘I set up the opening to be a montage of visually compelling images that are clues to every part of the film’s twists and turns. By a second or third screening, the viewer really gets to see that all the puzzle pieces seemingly scattered about the floor actually are all prepared to be placed where they belong to complete the whole picture.’
[Barbara] called 10 hours after Marina and I had given her the script crying, ‘I have to play Rebecca. I am Rebecca.’
Nicole revealed that the casting process was the easiest she’d ever experienced. Legendary soap opera actress Barbara Niven (One Life to Live) is the heart of the film as dissatisfied, neglected housewife Rebecca, and was as compelled as Conn to be involved as soon as she read the script. ‘I’ve had the great honor to know Barbara Niven for 25 years – we have been dear friends forever and she’s the most genuine person in the biz! Although she thought she was on the road to retiring from acting, she called ten hours after Marina and I had given her the script crying, ‘I have to play Rebecca. I am Rebecca.’ It’s been one of my greatest pleasures to do this film with Barbara because we had tried to make other projects happen so many times, and to do what we both feel is our best work is like the icing on the cake.’
Jessica Clark plays Paris, the high-class call girl who turns Rebecca’s world upside down. Conn described how Clark’s experiences helped Conn overcome her initial reservations about taking on the model-turned-actress. ‘We connected randomly by fluke on Facebook and she had been at LA’s premiere of Elena Undone. Her partner had told her that night, ‘you need to be in one of their films.’ Honestly, I was very tentative about her taking her on in a feature so early in her process, but that became a moot point after the first day of shooting. Jessica’s instincts are uncanny. Because she’s been in one of the most difficult universes – a super model at 15 – her life experiences certainly prepared her to be Paris, gave her the stature and wisdom of a woman twice her age, and that’s why the pairing of Paris to Rebecca works so wonderfully. They already possess the traits the other should have acquired or needs.’
We asked Nicole how she sees the sexuality of the lead characters, something that’s laudably undefined within the film. ‘I don’t think of Rebecca or Paris as lesbians. I see them identify as straight characters, up until the point they converge. It is their soul-matter as well as their particular broken-ness that draws them together like a magnet. Their unique connection is vital to their process and it is clear that what they bring to and out of one another is profoundly cathartic and finally allows both Rebecca and Paris a path into their deepest cores as well as a path back to true healing.’
… those once-in-a-lifetime marriages of actors to characters that just IS.
The impeccable casting was vital to this narrative journey working. ‘No other actresses (I can’t think of a single actress, including A-listers) could have served these two leads better – those once-in-a-lifetime marriages of actors to characters that just IS. Their chemistry was palpable on set – and as we all watched the monitor I knew we had magic.’
A Perfect Ending is deeply concerned with the subtleties of sex and the level of intimacy that people allow themselves to have with those around them. Nicole was effusive on this point: ‘This is why I was so riveted by this story. The entire nature of the protagonist’s dilemma is about discovering one of the most powerful of all our drives; passion. Passion is experienced in an infinite number of ways and I wanted to capture as much of the nuance and detail (back to the elements of Pointillism) to help paint the whole picture of passion on several different levels.’
‘That is why all the love scenes are protracted and different in their conceptualisation. I really wanted to capture what happens with as much detail as possible the journey from erotic passion (can’t get enough of the other person) and the transition into a deeper fully realised passion; all the intimate details, the lightest touch, a gaze, a specific moment captured in the eyes, again fills out the entire picture.’
Asked how A Perfect Ending feels within the context of her entire career – a full twenty years on from Claire of the Moon – Nicole called it ‘the most ambitious work I’ve ever tackled’. She describes it as a film that has ‘enriched’ her life, taking strength from the highs and lows. ‘I love all my projects for different reasons but trying to be objective I can point out flaws as easily as any critic. But I think A Perfect Ending is a more mature work and as with every film or book I’ve ever tackled, a portion of my own personal experience lies at the core. What I know is that in making this film I finally hit my own personal limitations, which caused me serious health concerns for several months.’
This film also helped me to heal some of my own lifelong personal demons and wounds, creating a rebirth.
‘But in the end A Perfect Ending has enriched my life. I accomplished what I set out to do professionally, but far more importantly, from the film came great gifts: I’ve met so many extraordinary people through this process and made friendships and relationships that are incredibly meaningful for me. This film also helped me to heal some of my own lifelong personal demons and wounds, creating, much like for Rebecca and Paris, a rebirth.’
To close, we asked after Nicole’s future projects. Thankfully, it’s clear that this is a career still full of enthusiasm and drive. Most excitingly, the terrific Barbara Niven is set to work with Conn again. ‘On the lighter side we have Legends with Barbara in a wickedly different kind of role than Rebecca.’ Also on Conn’s slate are a novel, Descending Thirds, an epic ‘60s story of a love triangle which she’s already preparing to film; a film project she refers to as ‘the lesbian Wuthering Heights‘, and the ongoing production of the sequel to her documentary little man, which followed a family coping with a micro-preemie baby.
A Perfect Ending is available on DVD now and can be ordered from Amazon; a stream can be rented on Peccadillo Pictures’ website. Images courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures. Thanks to Ollie at Peccadillo for providing contact with Nicole Conn.