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The genteel provocateur

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Sophie dancing
In "The Future" Miranda July plays a dance instructor who with her boyfriend attempts to fulfill her life's ambitions in 30 days. July also wrote and directed the film. Her character decides to create a new dance every day for a month, but it doesn't go well.
Image courtesy Roadside Attractions

Writer and film director Miranda July has one of those minds which find ways of examining everyday subjects in new ways. And she often gets quite disturbing results. July talks about her work tonight at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis as she introduces her new movie "The Future."

Miranda July is an unlikely provocateur, which is probably why she is so good at it. She's a slender woman who wears carefully considered outfits. She stares in a disconcerting way, almost as if she's been startled by a random thought, about say "The Future," the concept, not the film.

"Well, I like that the second we start talking about the future you are automatically talking about people's hopes or their fears, you know?" she said. "But pretty much never anything real."

Because the future never arrives?

"Right," she said, "And so even though it's such a kind of mundane common word, it immediately puts you in a sort of interior, esoteric space." 

And that brings us to July's film "The Future," and the talking cat.

"They said 'We'll come back for you Paw-Paw' " a raspy feline voice intones in the film.

"Paw-Paw. That's what they called me. And they called each other Sophie and Jason." 

"The Future" which July wrote, directed and in which she performs as Sophie and the voice of the cat, revolves round an earnest, self-absorbed and not very bright couple who decide to adopt an older cat, who has been given a month to live. 

Miranda July
Miranda July looks at the world...
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"The cat sort of becomes that responsibility that is looming from them," said July. 

Then Sophie and Jason learn the cat might live for another five years. 

"We'll be 40 in five years," says Sophie.

"Forty is basically 50, and then..." Jason begins.

"That's it for us," Sophie finishes his sentence.

"God, I always thought I'd be smarter," says Jason, shaking his head. 

They can't adopt the cat for a month, so they decide to quit their jobs and fulfill their life goals in the next thirty days. They learn a lot about themselves, and each other, although not  really what they expected.

The story is funny, sad, and sometimes disturbing as it touches on love and loneliness in a big city. It becomes a sleight-of-hand critique of modern mores.

Asked whether she is a provocateur in daily life July again flashes that startled look and smiles.

"People aren't supposed to notice that," she said. "They are supposed to be laughing and enjoy it and then, it just kind of happens before they have a chance to react to it, or resent it." 

Sophie and Jason
Miranda July and Hamish Linklater as Sophie and Jason, the hapless couple in "The Future."
Image courtesy Roadside Attractions

But many people seem to appreciate July's provocation.  Her first film "Me and You and Everyone We Know" came out in 2005. It was an indie hit in the US, and even bigger in Europe. 

In it July starred with Minnesota native John Hawkes in an off-beat exploration of modern family life. 

July naively thought it would be easy to raise the funds for a second film, but it wasn't.

"I would go into these pitch meetings sort of leading with the talking cat. I'd be like 'First of all you are going to love this, because there is a talking cat!' And it's only really now when I do these interviews and people are like 'So that's a risky move!' I'm like 'Oh wow, so that's why this was so hard!' " 

Ultimately she found all of her funding in Europe. She thinks that's ironic given "The Future" is a very American story.

"The Future" hits US theaters in mid-August. In addition to events like the Walker appearance, July has put her mind to other ways of publicizing the film. 

Keeping with the themes of the movie, she came up with an online prognosticator on the film's Website. 

"There's a wheel there that you can click on, like a spinning, colored wheel, and if you focus really hard and concentrate on your essential dilemma a response to it will appear."

July has written the thousands of possible responses herself. The provocateur struck again in a studio demonstration that was derailed because the response was so raunchy as to be unprintable. What was remarkable though was, like July's prescient films, the prognosticator worked. It answered our questions.