CANNES, France - Shooting the Midwest in monochrome came naturally for Alexander Payne in his father-son road trip "Nebraska."
Payne premiered his black-and-white follow-up to "The Descendants" at the Cannes Film Festival, where the gentle tale drew largely enthusiastic reviews for both its warmth and its colorless cinematography.
"It just seemed like the right thing to do for this film," Payne told reporters Thursday at the French Riviera festival. "I always wanted to make a film in black and white. It's such a beautiful form. It really left our cinema because of commercial, not artistic reasons."
"This modest, austere story seemed to lend itself to being made in black and white," he added.
"Nebraska" stars Bruce Dern as an aging father, whose son (Will Forte) drives him from Montana to Nebraska to placate his father's delusional belief that he's won $1 million from a mass mailing.
Particularly in black and white, it's an unsentimental, melancholy portrait of a decaying American heartland - its drab bars, roadside motels and paint-chipped farm houses. In noting the appropriateness of black and white for such a landscape, Payne called the movie "a Depression-era film."
The approach - never seen as exactly a box-office draw - took negotiating with Paramount, which will release "Nebraska" in November.
"It took some discussions with the studio, Paramount in this case, to get them to agree to let me make it in black and white," Payne said. "We did settle on a budget less than it would have been had the film been in color, but still at a rate I felt comfortable to make a decent film."
The film marks a kind of homecoming for Payne, a Nebraska native, whose recent films have been set in Hawaii (the Oscar-winning "The Descendants") and California (the Napa Valley road trip "Sideways"). Payne's first three films ("Citizen Ruth," "Election" and "About Schmidt") were all in his home state.
"If I weren't from Nebraska, I wouldn't have made this film at all, because I'm sure the script never would have come to me," Payne said, referring to Bob Nelson's screenplay. "If it were called `Iowa,' maybe I would have gotten it."
Payne first read the script nine years ago.
"I had the script for this while I was making `Sideways,' but I was so sick and tired of shooting in cars by the time `Sideways' was finished, I didn't want to make this one right away," he said. "That's why it's been 10 years."
The last notable film in black and white to premiere at Cannes was the 2011 silent film ode and best-picture winning "The Artist." Payne's were from another movie era, though, taking inspiration from Peter Bogdanovich's stark 1970s black-and-white "Paper Moon" and "The Last Picture Show."
"One thing I like about this story is the son wishes to give the aging father some dignity," Payne said. "My parents are in the home stretch and that was very personal to me."