The BFG is ‘closest I have come to telling a love story’, says Steven Spielberg

The director landed at the Cannes Film Festival on May 14 with his Roald Dahl adaptation, The BFG (Big Friendly Giant).

Director Steven Spielberg at the Cannes Film Festival. Reuters
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Steven Spielberg, a giant in the world of cinema, landed at the Cannes Film Festival on May 14 with his gentle Roald Dahl adaptation The BFG (Big Friendly Giant).

The film – about a young orphan (Ruby Barnhill) taken away by a friendly, big-eared giant (Mark Rylance, who won a supporting-actor Oscar this year) – marks a return for the director to the kind of magical fable he has largely moved away from in recent years. It is also his second film with ET writer Melissa Mathison, who died last November, and he dedicated the film to her.

“It’s a love story that children have for their grandparents. It’s a love story that grandparents have for their children,” Spielberg said at the festival on Saturday. “I think this is probably the closest I’ve ever come to telling a love story.”

Sitting between his young star and his new favourite actor – Rylance will also star in the director's next two films – Spielberg said enchanting fantasies such as The BFG are just as important as more realistic tales.

“The worse the world gets, the more magic we have to ­believe in,” said Spielberg. “Hope comes from magic and I think that’s what movies can give ­people. They can give people hope that there will be a reason to fight on to the next day. Hope is everything to me.”

Spielberg acknowledged his interest has drifted to historical dramas such as Lincoln and last year's Bridge of Spies, but said making The BFG was liberating.

“It was revisiting something that I’ve always loved to do, which is just to tell stories that are from the imagination,” he said. “It brought back feelings I had as a younger filmmaker.”

The BFG, which drew warmly respectful reviews at its Cannes premiere, is largely faithful to Dahl's 1982 classic and was made with the author's estate (he died in 1990). Producer Kathleen Kennedy obtained the rights in 1993 and turned to Mathison to write the script.

Spielberg described collaborating with Mathison again as “a wonderful reunion and a very bittersweet time, as it turned out, for us”.

Dahl was famously anti-­Israel and some considered him anti-­Semitic. Asked whether that was an issue for him, Spielberg said he wasn’t aware of it, and was only ­concerned with adapting a book he ­frequently read to his seven children.

The BFG, which Disney will release in July, played out of competition in Cannes. Spielberg was last at the Cannes festival, on the French Riviera, in 2014 as president of the jury.

Rylance, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Rudolph Abel in Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, performs as the Big Friendly Giant through motion capture. The actor will also appear in Spielberg's upcoming sci-fi thriller Ready Player One, based on the novel by Ernest Kline, and play Pope Pius IX in the director's The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara.

Spielberg described Rylance as not only a new collaborator, but also a close friend. He called Rylance's transformation from the quiet Abel of Bridge of Spies to the whimsical colossus of The BFG as "one of the most astonishing experiences I've ever had in my entire career working with anybody".

Above all, the director sounded no less enthralled by movie­making at age 69.

“This is something I’ll be doing for the rest of my life,” said Spielberg.