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The artistic triumvirate of Jonathan Demme, André Gregory, and Wallace Shawn update Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder, a modern classic about a successful, egomaniacal architect who has spent a lifetime bullying his wife, employees and mistresses – who nonetheless wants to make peace with himself as his life approaches its final act. Wallace Shawn gives a tour-de-force performance as the cruel, yet guilt-ridden architect, working from his own translation of the Norwegian text. Jonathan Demme’s direction is based on the near-legendary production created for the stage by André Gregory, over a period of more than 10 years. Lisa Joyce plays a sensual, mysterious young visitor who turns the household upside down, much to the consternation of Julie Hagerty, perfectly cast as Shawn’s neurasthenic, long-suffering wife. Scandinavian angst -- reinterpreted by New York’s finest.

USA • 2014 • 127 MINS. • ABRAMORAMA


“Gregory and Demme have turned A MASTER BUILDER into…a dream play, and have made it once more madly, bitingly, chillingly alive.  Brings the genius of Ibsen to the screen in a way I never thought was possible.”
– David Edelstein, New York Magazine 

“Modestly scaled but potent.  You don’t need a high tolerance for dour Norwegians to get a kick out of A MASTER BUILDER…you may get more out of this adaptation than any other.  Demme…takes a spare, direct approach to the material.  His economy pays off in quiet eloquence.  And Shawn, with his trademark two-tooth smile, is marvelous.”
– Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice 

“As both an actor and a playwright, Wallace Shawn, at his most audacious, goes for the jugular, but in sneaky roundabout ways… Playing a woman who is part angel and part witch who stands up to Halvard, (Lisa) Joyce is a seductive, forceful screen presence.”
– Stephen Holden, The New York Times 

“Of all the recent reimaginings of Ibsen’s work, this new film is the only one to fully capture the dreamlike quality floating through the text.  The film unfolds with ease, keeping the focus squarely on the actors themselves.  Demme’s understated presentation enlightens our understanding of a classic work of drama.”
– Craig Hubert,

“The dynamic duo behind MY DINNER WITH ANDRÉ and VANYA on 42ND STREET take on another classic of the stage… With Jonathan Demme replacing the late Louis Malle at the helm, this terrifically performed version of The Master Builder… channels the rage, joy and delusions of an aging architect’s final days. A dense and occasionally poetic chamber piece… Shawn acutely conveys a character whose wickedness, which can be both flagrant and underhanded, is as towering as the weakness that consumes him during his last breaths, painting the portrait of a man who’s both remarkably self-consumed and constantly racked by fear and guilt. (Lisa Joyce’s) scenes opposite Shawn are among the film’s richest, filled with a mix of lust and loathing, while creating a sense of disembodiment that will haunt the final acts.” 
– Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter


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A MASTER BUILDER: Q&A with Wallace Shawn, Jonathan Demme, actor/stage director Andre Gregory, and actors Lisa Joyce, Julie Hagerty, and Larry Pine.

(Recorded July 23, 2014) A MASTER BUILDER

Film Forum