A story about a woman with only six weeks left to live isn’t the most obvious choice for a first-time director, but Amy Redford was drawn to it immediately. Already an actress, Redford is following in father Robert’s footsteps by stepping behind the camera, with The Guitar. The film tells the story of Melody (Saffron Burrows), a young woman who gets dumped, fired, and diagnosed with terminal cancer in a matter of hours. With just a short time left to live, she changes her life completely, moving into a massive loft, buying things she can’t afford, expanding her sexual repertoire, and, yes, learning to play the guitar. Vulture spoke with Redford by phone about the film (out today) and the importance of an intoxicated editor.
Why did you choose this film for your directorial debut?
I had been looking to direct for a while, and when I read the script, the images were just coming at me one after another, and it sort of started directing itself in my head. As I was fantasizing about this story, I kept hiring actors in my mind, so I felt like it was probably the right moment.
The film feels very intimate. What was your approach to shooting it?
As you can see in the movie, there are many scenes of her naked. That allowed me to have a closed set, and I liked that a lot, so I just told everybody she was naked for the rest of the movie and nobody was allowed in. I did very few takes; it was a very fluid process. It made it tough for the editor, but I bought him lots of wine.
Do you see this story as a fable?
I feel like it invites a lot of people to think about their lives. It’s about trying to retrace your steps and say, “Okay, how did I become this person that no longer allows myself to love or to feel passion or to pursue things that are new? How did I become so rigidly defined without my consent?”
New York feels very lonely in this movie: Melody never leaves the loft and she has no friends or family. Why?
I think the city reflects back to you the state that you’re in. And when you’re in a place where you feel alone, no matter how many people there are in the city, it just highlights your solitude. Reciprocally, once she starts to have her own awakening, she suddenly has these wonderful intimacies with strangers, whether it’s on the street or somebody that comes to her door.
Melody goes on a materialistic – and in certain ways even hedonistic – streak. Is she an unsympathetic character?
It would be unsympathetic if she stayed in that place of materialism, but she evolves out of it. I think most of us have had moments like that, where we feel like we’re validated by what we own or the people we know and then have to come to a more evolved place. She just does it in a very condensed and more extreme way.
Do you think the current economic conditions will affect how audiences react to a character who maxes out her credit cards because she’ll never have to foot the bill?
One of the things that makes this country great is you can reinvent yourself. But one of the trappings of that is getting so involved in creating a lifestyle that you lose your life. There has been a lack of discipline, and that’s what we’re faced with right now. It makes me think of the film, especially because I feel like it’s about getting back to a more fundamental value system and looking at what you actually need instead of what you feel like you should have.
Did you identify with the story being told in the film?
Very much so. I realized that I needed to stop deferring my happiness and that I owed it to not only myself, but the people around me, to inhabit my life in a different way. And one of the things that has happened is I now have a two-month-old baby, and I got married and I sort of reclaimed my life in a way that makes sense to me.
What would you do if you had only six weeks to live?
One of the things I’ve learned is that you can’t really know until you’re there. I’m different from the character in that I have an incredible support system, and I’ve got a family that’s very enmeshed in my life. I think for most people it’s about being empowered and if you are facing that moment, having the capacity to do it with dignity. Whatever that means.