CANNES, France — Robert Redford makes actions speak louder than words in shipwreck drama “All Is Lost.”
He doesn't have much choice. A man-versus-nature tale about a lone sailor adrift on the Indian Ocean, J.C. Chandor's movie has no dialogue, just a few lines of voiceover at the start and a couple of heartfelt expletives.
Redford said he was excited by “the challenge of being solitary, alone, without having the crutch of words.”
The second feature from “Margin Call” director Chandor, “All Is Lost” is screening out of competition at Cannes, where both it and 76-year-old screen icon Redford got a warm reception Wednesday.
The Independent newspaper declared the film “utterly compelling viewing,” while Variety called Redford “superb.”
“I believe in the value of silence in film,” Redford told reporters. “I believe it in life as well, because there's a lot of talk around — maybe too much.”
Silence “forces you as an actor to be completely inhabiting your role,” he added. “If you're not, it's going to show. And that's an attractive challenge.
“It allows you to be totally free and unaware of everything around you except what you had to be aware of, which is the boat, the sea and the troubles that were coming.”
Redford, himself the director of movies including “Quiz Show” and “The Horse Whisperer,” also said he “really wanted to have an experience where I could give myself over completely to a director.”
Chandor — who premiered “Margin Call” at Redford's Sundance Film Festival in 2011 — said he wrote the script with Redford in mind for the role.
Alone on screen for the film's hour and 45 minutes, Redford gives a master class in physical acting. His famous face, as brown and grained as the wood of his yacht, is silently expressive.
Confined to the claustrophobic setting of a damaged and becalmed yacht — and later a tiny life raft — he conveys both the unnamed character's physical struggle with the elements and his deteriorating condition.
While stunt performers were used for some scenes of the movie — filmed in large part on the open sea — Redford took pride in jumping into the physical rough-and-tumble of the film.
“I decided that I wanted to try to do what I could physically myself,” Redford said.
“I thought, well, if I could do some of these action things myself, it would be better for (Chandor) — and pretty good for my ego, so why not?”
Chandor said he relished stripping the actor of “his most beautiful tool besides the jawline — his voice.”
“His voice is this beautiful thing, and we took that almost away from him.”
He also said that silencing an actor with Redford's power as an icon helped give the film a deeper resonance.
“You're taking this person that essentially so many people have a relationship with — their own stories and their own ideas and their own experiences with his films,” the director said.
“I felt as a filmmaker I was going to be able to have all that history that you as an audience have with him, but then he as an actor sort of erases it.”
Redford said the film could be seen in any number of ways — as a reflection on nature and our destructive relationship with it, perhaps.
“I feel the planet is speaking in a very loud voice,” he said, referring to this month's deadly tornado in Oklahoma and other disasters. “Nature has been so savaged that I think there's not a lot left.”
Or, he said, it could be seen as a counterpoint to our hyperactive, technology-driven world.
“I've seen the role that technology has played in driving things faster and faster,” he said. “There's too many people talking too much of the time.
“This film is about having none of that. ... Maybe this film will be seen in contrast. Because there's nothing but the elements. Nothing but the weather, a man, a boat — that's it. Maybe this could be contrasted with all the noise that's out there that I think confuses people.”
Fundamentally, though, he's happy for audiences to form their own interpretation.
“It's kind of existential in a way, because it leaves so much open for the interpretation of the viewer,” Redford said.