The ghost of Theo van Gogh hovers through the remake of his 2003 film "Interview." From his crew to his camera work and the tiny homages to his memory in the film, van Gogh's presence is constantly felt. A lesser film would buckle beneath the weight of a martyr's memory, but it is a tribute to Steve Buscemi and van Gogh's original work that "Interview" surpasses its weighty premise.
Van Gogh, a successful director in the Netherlands, was slain in 2004 for his outspoken critique of radical Islamism. His films and views were so threatening to fundamentalism that his murderer stabbed a note to his chest after shooting him eight times and slashing his throat. At the time of his death, van Gogh had planned to remake three of his nonpolitical films in English and recast them in New York. Now, his longtime collaborator, the producer Gijs van de Westelaken, has teamed with a number of New York filmmakers to bring this vision to fruition. "Interview," directed by Mr. Buscemi, is the first product of the collaboration known as Triple Theo.
The film not only takes its premise and plot from van Gogh's 2003 film, but Mr. Buscemi has also made use of the director's crew and unique camera style. Van Gogh, with his director of photography, Thomas Kist, developed a technique involving three digital cameras. While one camera trains on each of the main characters, a third focuses on the middle ground and larger shots.
With a cast of two, the result is a very intimate study. All of the Triple Theo films focus on the battle of the sexes by spotlighting only two main characters and pitting them against each other. In "Interview," the face-off is between a celebrity sex symbol and a reporter assigned to profile her.
Van Gogh's original film cast the Dutch pop star Katja Schuurman as a playful satire of herself. Mr. Buscemi, who also plays the reporter, has retained the name of the female lead, but cast Sienna Miller as an American B-movie star known more for her sex life than her acting prowess. Katya meets political journalist Pierre Peters (Mr. Buscemi) for an interview, but calls it off when she learns that he finds the assignment to be beneath him.
A typically cinematic event leads the pair to spend the evening in her loft, where they alternately spar and connect. It is not an original premise, with hints of sadism, selfishness, and incest informing the plot.
But the intelligence of "Interview" is in its restraint. Unlike so many opposites-attract films, "Interview" ends with the same characters it begins with. Though Katya and Pierre connect and share various intimacies, the film does not scramble to resolve the conflicts established at the outset. Katya remains a spoiled celebrity, Pierre a hopelessly selfdestructive journalist.
Ms. Miller, whose reputation preceded her film roles in America, has been plagued by negative gossip and disappointments at the box office. Though her early work was well regarded in England, she was already a gossip column fixture in America before any of her work appeared here — which makes her an ideal candidate to play Katya.
Alternately envied and reviled for her fashion sense and love life, Ms. Miller was mocked for her "It Girl" status before it was even established. Her performance in "Alfie" was overshadowed by her relationship with co-star Jude Law; "Casanova" was sunk by a half-baked script, and her efforts in "Factory Girl," as the original "It Girl," Edie Sedgwick, were wasted on a film caught up in its own hype. Finally, in "Interview," she makes a case for herself.
More than once, Pierre declares, startled, "You're beautiful." It is a resigned admission from a person who had considered himself unmoved by her brand of celebrity. But in person, there turns out to be something special about her. And in the lighting of "Interview," it is possible to see why Ms. Miller initially became a success. Despite her jerking mannerisms and forced spontaneity, there is something physically enticing about the starlet. "Interview" showcases her scrubbed good looks and teases the audience with the raspy lilt of her voice.
Mr. Buscemi, in relief, looks better than he has in years. Alcoholism becomes him. His world-weary reporter is a portrait of subtle flaws. The washed up journalist resents his assignment to cover Katya as well as the shortcomings of his own that put him there. Determined to make her feel as small as he feels the assignment is, his insults only reflect back on himself.
But the two are joined by their blemishes and feel a strange affinity for one another. As they alternately swipe and cede control of the situation, "Interview" slides back and forth between the micro- and macrocosm of their world. Each step Katya and Pierre take toward each other has the potential to be used against them later on. Often ignored but everpresent is the supposed feature that Pierre was sent to write.
And while each unveiling of their secrets has a cathartic element, they could turn out to be caustic. (Wisely, "Interview" never lets the pair fully succumb to the intrinsic pressures on two people sharing a cinema screen in tight focus.) But their flirtation is well worth watching.
There are a few missteps and miscalculations along the way, but "Interview" more than makes the case for reworking van Gogh's films. This particular story is mostly apolitical, but it remains difficult to disregard the implications of the director's untimely death. The tiny tributes interwoven throughout "Interview" only draw attention to this discord. An autograph seeking fan named Theo, a delivery truck emblazoned with the logo "VAN GOGH," and an intimate photo of the director framed in Katya's apartment only serve to highlight the incongruity between the intimacy of this portrait and the significance of the artist's death.
It would be invigorating to see a project carry on the political work that invoked such fear in the extremists who wanted van Gogh dead. But hopefully Triple Theo will revitalize interest in his entire oeuvre — or at the very least, inspire the release of his original films stateside.