The fast-flying repartee of movies like Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1941) still inspire today’s directors looking to create smart films about relationships. One of them is Paul Haggis, who returns to the interlocking storylines structure of Crash for his new film Third Person, starring Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, James Franco and Mila Kunis. Where Crash concerned the ripple effects of racism in society, Third Person shows how love binds people together – even those who have apparently never met.
Third Person is a melodrama in many respects, but Haggis balances seriousness with humour in the manner of several directors who inspire him: Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel, Pier Paolo Pasolini and filmmakers of the French New Wave such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. Haggis, though, especially cites Howard Hawks’ Hollywood screwball comedies as an influence – particularly in the sexy dialogue between Neeson and Wilde. It’s a high bar to aspire to and technically demanding: Haggis notes that the screenplay for Hawks’ His Girl Friday runs to 170 pages of dialogue even though it’s only 92 minutes long.
In the latest instalment of Flashback, Haggis talks to BBC Culture’s Alison Bailes about these influences on Third Person, and how old films can still yield fresh perspectives for contemporary filmmakers.