“It will be a strange experience,” says Australian filmmaker Michael Rowe as he prepares to direct his first English-language film, psychological drama Rest Home, in Montreal.

Rowe’s screenplay follows a security guard in a retirement home whose life spirals out of control when he catches his wife with a lover, pushing him to the brink of insanity.

It’s a Canadian-Australian co-production between Serge Noël’s Possibles Média and Trish Lake’s Freshwater Pictures, with investment from Screen Australia and Quebec’s SODEC fund.

Rowe has lived in Mexico City since he landed there 19 years ago when he was 23 with $76 in his wallet, motivated by what he drily terms as a mixture of “youth and stupidity.”

After earning a crust variously as an English teacher, journalist, screenwriter and teaching screenwriting at a film school, he wrote and directed Año Bisiesto (Leap Year), a zero-budget drama shot, entirely in a shabby apartment in Mexico City in 17 days.

The tale of an intense and increasingly violent relationship between a lonely freelance journalist (Monica del Carmen) and a philandering sadist (Gustavo Sánchez Parra), it won the Caméra d'Or prize for best first feature at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

The film had many admirers including Gael García Bernal, who offered to produce Rowe’s follow-up, Manto Acuífero (The Water Table aka The Well), the story of a seven-year-old girl whose parents are hooking up with new partners after a bitter divorce.

When Rowe spoke to IF on the line from Mexico City last week he was putting the finishing touches to the film which will premiere this month at Mexico’s Morelia International Film Festival.

The chance to make Rest Home happened after the filmmaker met Canadian producer Noël at a Mexican festival two years ago. Noël asked if he’d like to make a film as a Canadian co-production. Rowe said yes, although at that point he had no script or funding. Noël gave him $5,000 from his own pocket so he could start on the screenplay and Lake got involved.

“Everything I write is autobiographical although there is a lot of fiction in there too,” he says. “I wanted to go back to working in English again. I was a bit rusty; I often had to go to a dictionary.”

Melissa George and Canadian Roy Dupuis are attached to play the leads and shooting is due to start in the first half of next year. Pyramide International is handling international sales,  Rialto will distribute in Australia/New Zealand and Mongrel Media/Film Option in Canada.

Rowe is a no-frills director, favouring a style of cinematography which he describes as “rigorously minimalist,” with very few camera movements. “In filmmaking you need two things: a good script and really good actors,” he believes. “It’s about telling the story. Directing is not rocket science.”

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