acting

“Actors don’t interest me, I don’t make a film with an actor, it’s always the people that interest me.” An interview with Guillaume Nicloux at CANNES 2015

Guillaume Nicloux talks about his new film VALLEY OF LOVE that premiered in competition at CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2015

Knight: The last time we spoke was last year at Berlinale where you presented The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, one of my favourite films of 2014. Valley of Love is a completely different film, both in terms of subject matter and tone. If anything, it brings up some themes you drew on in La religieuse. I was wondering what attracted you to this story and how do you decide on the story you want to tell in general?

Nicloux: It’s a bit strange because I have the impression that I’m not choosing at all, I have the impression that it is being decided for me. Then I am free to accept what this triggers in me or not.  The sure thing is that my first visit to the Valley of Death had an enormous impact on me because I experienced something very powerful and very personal there, I saw my dead father appear in front of my eyes. This inspired me to write this story when I got back. And the events in my personal life influenced my conception of cinema. Starting with La religieuse I tried to achieve a more sincere intimacy by getting rid of some formats, […] certain “pretexts”: the conventions of the genre film, the intrigues of the film noir, of the political film, the black comedy – a very diverse universe but always filtered through an unconscious veil of censorship that prevented me from going straight to what I felt in my guts or in my heart that I should do. But I refuse to intellectualise my desires. This is what I do with my students at La Fémis, the film school where I’m teaching. I want to help them get access to a form of “cinema-writing” that is more automatic, less cerebral, in which we allow the moment to guide us towards something more profound that we cannot rationalise but that confronts us with something more violent or more intriguing because we don’t decide these moments. And this is what ends up in the film usually, things that are more profound and more intimate. With this film I tried to respond to this desire and change that I felt in me.

valleyoflove poster

Knight: I suppose on the level of form this translates into a desire to free yourself from the conventions of cinema and create a more liberated form of writing. 

Nicloux: It’s more about trying to have access to a form of intimacy that is more honest and perhaps more direct by getting rid of conventions that sometimes force me to lock my films in a kind of coldness or distance. In cinema I try to lie the best way I can, because this is what cinema is, telling the most sincere lies.

Knight: The theme of your new film is spirituality. Obviously the couple’s relationship takes centre stage but I had the impression that the subject you really wanted to tackle was spirituality.

Nicloux: Yes my experiences in Death Valley triggered a sort of meditation on spirituality. And also my film La Religieuse deals with the same subject but in a broader way, in a pantheistic way in which faith is not dependent on a monotheistic God. Faith is more about being connected with what is around us, a form of giving up control that allows us access to more profound things. These resonances can give birth to things that can touch us in a more powerful way. We accept to be more open if the timing is good or if we find ourselves in a place that facilitates this process. A desert is an ideal place in this sense. Also if you find yourself in the company of people whom you trust and who allow you to be yourself and be true to the story you’re telling, then you’re in for a beautiful and enriching experience.

Knight: You like mixing reality and fiction in your films. In The Kidnapping, you used the real -life persona of Michel Houellebecq and here you’re drawing on the he real-life personas  of Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu.

Nicloux:Yes, it’s in the same spirit of being more honest. The actors don’t interest me, I don’t make a film with an actor, it is the people that interest me. I made a film with Gérard Depardieu as man and Isabelle Huppert as woman. It is them that interest me. The characters belong to the script, they know their characters and internalised them. But when I shoot I’m interested in my actors as people. Making a film is about this troubling balance, this very fine and slippery boundary with a lot of interaction that creates an interesting experience where the viewer asks himself if what he is watching is the real life of the actors of whether it is the story they are acting out.  And how the actors are dealing with the intimacy they experienced 35 years ago.

valley of love 2

Knight: Does this mean that you “negotiated” the script with them?

Nicloux: Not at all, I’m not someone who likes to talk a lot. What I’m looking for is this silent communication where you don’t have to explain things, where you just trust your feelings. The moment you start explaining things you lose the spontaneity of interaction, you lose something magic. And the magic is exactly what you’re looking for when you make a film, you want to be surprised, maybe a little troubled by something that happens, situations that you couldn’t predict, to let yourself be carried away by chance events that maybe shake you a little bit.

Knight: In casting Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu, was your intention to reunite them on the big screen? The last time they appeared together was 35 years ago in Pialat’s film Loulou.

Nicloux:Not really because when I first thought of the film I thought of Ryan O’Neal for the lead role, he is a mythical figure among cinephiles. But gradually my heart opened more and I felt the need to have a stronger connection with the father of the film. And when I met Gérard, the choice was obvious, he became the very essence of the film, this connection that I needed to establish with Mosaic Canyon, with what happened in Death Valley, with my own father.

Knight: Isabelle Huppert has been in hundreds of films, 20 of which were actually presented here in Cannes. Why do you think she is the most popular French actress? And can you imagine this film without her?

Nicloux: She is the most popular actress of this generation. That’s because she is the most accomplished actress, she did a lot of theatre and she worked internationally. She has a very broad range, she can do comedy in France and drama in Argentina. She has this curiosity, this openness, this “bulimia” for discoveries. I’m incapable of imagining another film with someone else. The film is a thing of the past now, I’m already somewhere else. The only regret I have is to have met Gérard so late in life. For me meeting him was very important and I’ll do my best to work again with him in the future.

Translated from French by Dana Knight.

DESDE ALLA – Built Around the Most Magnetic On-Screen Couple in Recent Years, This Golden Lion Winner Premieres in LA Tonight

FILMMAKER IN FOCUS: LORENZO VIGAS

The following interview was taken on September 16 at TIFF2015, a few days after the Venezuelan filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas was awarded The Golden Lion at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2015.

Desde Allá has its U.S. premiere at AFI FEST in LA tonight.

desde alla poster

Knight: I thought we could start this interview with me asking you to reminisce about your beginnings as a filmmaker.You have just been awarded the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival for Desde allá, your first feature film. The film was produced by your friend and collaborator Michel Franco, who by the way told me you two met 10 years ago when you showed up at his house party uninvited!

Vigas: (laughing)  Yes, that’s true!

Knight: But where would you locate your beginnings as a filmmaker?

Vigas: My father gave me a VHS camera when I was 15. My father is a painter and a very important artist in Venezuela, very well-known in all Latin America actually.

Knight: Was your artist father a great influence on you?

Vigas: Yes but not as a painter. He gave me a camera when I was 15 and that was very important, I started making films and made a series of home-made videos. I never thought it could be my profession, it was just a hobby, but a very passionate hobby. Then I went to study biology but I never left the camera, I was always making things. Then I started making documentaries. At the time I was studying molecular biology and I was between science and arts. But I never thought I could make a living in the arts.

Knight: Why were you so convinced you couldn’t? Were you living in Venezuela or Mexico at that point?

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Lorenzo Vigas @Venice Film Festival 2015

Vigas: I actually did my studies in the US, I studied molecular biology in Boston. And before that I was at University of Tampa in Florida. I felt this necessity of telling stories, of expression, and one day I realised that I wouldn’t be able to express myself as a scientist, either as a university professor or as a researcher. I felt the necessity of having an artistic expression. So I did a couple of very short film workshops in New York.

Knight: On directing, screenwriting?

Vigas: Yes, directing, filmmaking workshops. I wanted to learn the practical things. I didn’t want to go to film school, I don’t think you need to go to film school at all. Then I went back to Venezuela and I started working as a director, I was hired to shoot commercials, infomercials for TV, documentaries, just work for hire. But I really wanted to make films. One day I met Guillermo Arriaga, he came to Caracas to give a film lecture at the university where I was shooting a TV documentary series. I told him about this story and he fell in love with it.

Knight: So the idea for this film goes back many years…

Vigas: It’s very old, this was in 2001. But it was just an idea for a story. So Guillermo Arriaga told me, “I want to produce your film, come to Mexico”. When I went to Mexico, I wanted to shoot something very quickly, so I wrote and directed a short film, Elephants never forget, have you seen it?

Knight: No, I haven’t seen it yet.

Vigas: You have to see it because I’m working on a trilogy. This short film is the first part.

Knight: Like a prologue?

Vigas: Yes. Desde allá is the second part. The stories are not similar, but there are through lines. I am obsessed with the theme of absent fathers. This theme is present in the short film, in Desde allá, and in a third film I’m now working on now, it’s called The Box. So I came to Mexico, I wrote the short film then went back to Venezuela to shoot it and to keep working on the screenplay for Desde allá.  While I was writing the screenplay I met Michel (Franco) with whom I became very very close. He was preparing his first film and ever since we helped each other and shared all our projects. I worked and advised him on his films and he did the same on my films. He’ll also be the producer of my next film.

 Michel Franco (Foto AP/Berenice Bautista)

Michel Franco (Foto AP/Berenice Bautista)

Knight: On the subject of your collaboration with Michel Franco, I would say that your filmmaking styles have a similar quality, would you agree? I’m not talking about specific cinematographic choices, I’m referring more to the fact that you both have a very direct and confident style of shooting.

Vigas: Yes, but we’re also very different in some ways. Michel loves static shots, he almost never moves the camera, everything is there happening in front of you. Whereas I move the camera, I intercut. But we have this thing of always avoiding sentimentality. I’m not talking about mise-en-scène, I’m talking about how to approach the work with actors. Also how to approach the story and the lines of dialogue. There are similarities but also very different things. I like to play a lot with ambiguity.

Knight: He does too.

Vigas: Yes, that’s true. That is definitely a similarity.

Knight: I was referring more to your confident and direct manner of shooting, I could tell from the very first frames of the movie that you knew precisely where to put the camera and where to cut, there was no hesitation in the visual story-telling.

Vigas: I hope so! And I think art is about knowing what to take off, getting rid of things. Michel does one take. He can’t get rid of it, he can’t change it. I film more than Michel does. What you saw is a product of eight months of editing. I am very happy with how the film turned out but I had to get rid of a lot of shots. That’s because I like to have choices and to be able to get rid of the ones I don’t like or don’t work. Michel doesn’t like this, he is very sure of the takes he is going to have.

Knight: It’s also about the relation between form and story, your filmmaking style suits your story, his filmmaking style suits his story.

Vigas: Yes, we talk about film form a lot.

Knight: With a static camera you can be very introspective, you’re delving deep into the character, as if you’re trying to see through the character. Whereas your style of moving the camera and cutting faster suggests a more “emotional” camera, very suited to rendering the characters’ emotional state, what they feel as opposed to what they think or who they are. 

Vigas: That’s an interesting observation.

Knight: I’m also curious: what  input did you have on Michel Franco’s films and what input did he have on your films?

Vigas: We have greatly influenced each other. He read my screenplay before he shot his films. So I know there were things about my film that influenced him. And I guess I was influenced by his way of filming. We have a lot of things in common although I can clearly see differences.

Knight: Did you go on set with him when he was shooting his films?

Vigas: No, I didn’t, except maybe for a couple of days. And he was never on my set, he never travelled to Caracas. I did not want anyone near me really, I wanted absolute control.

Knight: How long did it take you to write the screenplay?It sounds like a very long process.

Vigas:  It was a very long process, yes, but then it took longer to make the film.

Knight: Why? You already had your producer.

Vigas: Yes, Guillermo Arriaga had the script in his hands and he wanted to make it in Mexico. Then he changed his mind, “No, not Mexico, let’s make it elsewhere, maybe in Europe.”

Knight: What were the reasons for that?

Vigas: I don’t know but those were very wrong decisions and one day I couldn’t wait anymore, I grabbed the script and went back to Venezuela where I really wanted to make it. But it took me a while to be able to do that, I had to wait for a while before I was able to tackle this project. But in a way it was perfect timing: to make the film in Caracas right now, you can really feel this tension between the classes that plays into the story of the characters. We come from a country where hugging is very important, the physicality of the act is very important. And Armando is this person who cannot be touched, so it is very interesting to place a character like this in a society that loves to do exactly the opposite. It’s a metaphor about what is happening in Venezuela right now. So the film was made when it really needed to be made and the Golden Lion from Venice is a proof of that.

Knight: Talking about Venezuelan society, you said at the press conference that the film is not so much about homosexuality as it is about a “shortage of emotions in our society”.

Vigas: Yes, emotional needs.

Knight: But is this something that characterises Venezuelan society in particular or is it a more generalised feeling?

Vigas: It’s a generalised feeling. And this is a film that transcends homosexuality, it goes far beyond that.

Knight: Hence the title, From Afar or From Beyond.

Vigas: Absolutely.  It’s about emotional needs. If a 60-year old lady would have taken care of the boy, he would have fallen in love with her, so it’s not about homosexuality in a strict sense. It’s about their emotional needs, the fact that they needed each other. And it’s a film about consequences, not about the reasons for things. I think it is more important to see the consequences than to know the reasons of things. And it leaves space for imagination, I think the public is tired of being served everything on a plate. We have to think that the public is intelligent and leave space for their imagination, leave space to connect their psyche with the psyche of the characters. The only way of doing this is not telling everything.

Knight: Being sparse with the storytelling.

Vigas: Yes.

Knight: I was very impressed with the performances of your actors. How did you find them?

Vigas: First of all, I am a mad obsessive about the direction of actors. My crew hated me.

Alfredo+Castro+Afar+Photocall+72nd+Venice+ieni4vtjNEUl

From left to right: Chilean actor Alfredo Castro, Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas and newcomer Luis Silva

Knight: Why, what did you do?

Vigas: Well, not all the crew but some of the crew. I was obsessive about some performance details and having control over their performance. We went very big, we took great risks, it was very painful for the actors. First of all, I did not want the main actors to meet before the shoot, they met on the first day of shooting. I only gave them the lines 15 minutes before we started shooting. So they hardly had time to read the lines that we started.

Knight: Is it because you wanted the surprise effect of them actually meeting for the very first time?

Vigas: Yes, and I also did not want them to be conscious of their character. I did not want them to rationalise their character, what they should and shouldn’t do at any particular moment . So every day we were shooting new scenes and they did not know what was going to happen next. Of course I had to give the screenplay to Alfredo (Castro) because I couldn’t have secured him for the film if I hadn’t given him the screenplay to read before.

Knight: Did you know from the beginning that you wanted the Chilean actor Alfredo Castro for the role of Armando?

Vigas: Yes, he was my first choice. I didn’t know if he was going to like the story but he absolutely loved it.

Knight: Armando is a very mysterious and unpredictable character. Very unconventional as well in the way he behaves and reacts.

Vigas: Yes and he is a metaphor for the lack of communication. I really wanted the film to be about someone who is unable to connect emotionally with people. There is something in me that I wanted to communicate also, it’s a very personal film, a lot of my obsessions are present in the film.

lorenzo and ElderKnight: And Luis Silva who plays Elder, how did you discover him?He’s not a professional actor and he hasn’t made any films before, has he?

Vigas: That’s right. I saw his photo at a casting agency. A friend of his asked him to come to a casting with him. He lives in a very poor and very dangerous neighbourhood.

Knight: Very much like the character he plays in the film.

Vigas: Yes. So he went with his friend who wanted to do a TV commercial and it was him who ended up in the commercial because he has this amazing face. I saw a picture of him and I said “I want to meet this guy”. He was very young, 16 years old. And from the moment I met him and started talking to him, I immediately knew it was him, he was Elder. Luis has this tremendous energy, he’s brutally smart, he’s a monster! But I never put a camera in front of him, never did a casting with him, which was a risk, this was a very big production for Venezuela and we had a famous actor from Chile. We never did a formal camera test but we had a workshop with him and the rest of the kids, his girlfriend and his friends. This was a 3-month workshop and Elder was part of that workshop. So one day before the shoot we finally did a camera test with Elder and we were all shocked, I knew I found something very big. And Alfredo’s reaction to Luis was incredible, I remember him telling me on the set, “This boy is a monster”!

Knight: The thing that impressed me the most about his performance was this almost palpable fear on his face, he looks like a caged bird in some of the first scenes. He is so expressive that you know immediately what he feels.

Vigas: Yes and he’s the same in real life, he’s very expressive and absolutely transparent. He expresses everything that crosses his mind. And in the film he doesn’t speak but you understand perfectly well what his character is about.

Knight: Did you give him any acting instructions at all?

Vigas: No, we explored different emotions. And he gave everything he had, he’s a natural.

Knight: This film is also very much about homophobia, at the beginning there is a lot of hatred that Elder feels towards Armando, he calls him “you old pervert” at some point. I suppose this is still a very pervasive feeling in Venezuela and everywhere in Latin America.

Vigas: Absolutely, Latin America is a place where homosexuality is still very condemned.

Knight: How do you think the public will react to the film?

Vigas: This is going to be very interesting! This is a film that will make people argue a lot in Venezuela and I want this to happen actually. As artists we have the responsibility to create conflicts and divisive opinions. And especially in the current climate in Venezuelan society when the dialogue between the classes has been cut: there is no dialogue between the government and the people, there is no dialogue between the poor class, the middle class and the higher class. Everyone is divided and everyone refuses to communicate. So I hope this film will make them talk about social issues and homosexuality.

Knight: You live in Mexico City now, right?

Vigas: Yes. Well, I go back and forth, I spend half of the year in Caracas, half of the year in Mexico City.

Knight: Is The Box, the third film of the trilogy, based in Mexico City?

Vigas: Yes but it’s not going to be shot there, we’re shooting in North Mexico.

Knight: What is the film is about?

Vigas: It’s about a 14year old boy whose father was killed 10 years before and who finds out that his father was just found in a massive graveyard. So he goes there to recover his human remains. I wrote the script while trying to find the money to make Desde allá, I was going to Europe, Venezuela a lot so I wrote it on these trips. Now the script is ready and we’re shooting next year.

The Girl Who Played with Fire, Got Burnt but Enjoyed It – CATHERINE BREILLAT about ABUSE OF WEAKNESS

Catherine Breillat
Catherine Breillat

The “provocatrice” of French cinema, CATHERINE BREILLAT is someone who likes playing with fire. Known for her unusual casting choices (e.g. casting porn actor Rocco Siffredi in the film Romance) and controversial films with a strong autobiographical slant, Breillat is always fierce at investigating human nature and her own often contradictory impulses, motivations and desires.

Abuse of Weakness is the consequence of a failed attempt at making another film, Bad Love, which was supposed to depict the strange, abusive relationship between a celebrity (to be played by Naomi Campbell) and her secret lover. Not able to resist her penchant for taking huge casting risks, Breillat chooses real-life con-man Christophe Rocancourt to play the role of the abusive lover. This led to the director becoming the victim of this ruthless perpetrator who swindled her of almost €1million even before starting to make the movie.

The film’s title, a reference to the legal charge Breillat levied against Rocancourt, depicts the relationship between the director and this notorious con-man in its most puzzling complexity. The reaction of the audience at its premiere at the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013 was one of total bafflement: people did not understand how such a clever woman as Breillat could have been so naive to allow for this “abuse” to take place. Catherine herself vows that she doesn’t understand how that came to be either, hence her desire to make a film about it.

Below is an interview with the filmmaker Catherine Breillat taken on 16 October 2013 at Mayfair Hotel, London as part of LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013 .

Dana:My reading of the film is that, despite the title, Maud is a very strong woman who likes playing with fire, and she actually enjoys the abuse.What is your reading of your own film?

Catherine: Yes but it is because she abuses her strength, which makes possible an abuse of her weakness, because you have the two. First, she is emotionally fragile like every artist in fact, and also physically very fragile.And she doesn’t want to accept that she is physically fragile. From the first time she says :”I want to love” and I think the desire to love is part of the story, because she is in love with him. Every time they behave like adolescents, it’s part of the relationship, that’s why an abuse of weakness is pleasant, when you live that, it’s delicious, the life of someone who is handicapped becomes delicious. When I’m alone in my flat and I have to wake up and first to stand up and find my equilibrium[…]. It’s very very complicated and dangerous for me, I need concentration. I never got used to suddenly not being able to take off a book from the shelf. If I want to understand really, I just sit and cry.

Dana: But she doesn’t come across as a victim at all, and the impression of strength she gives is stronger than the impression of weakness.

Catherine: Because in my case and of course in the case of the film, to be victim is for the law and also for the reason (?). The reason is that she was a victim, but her character is to refuse to consider herself a victim, either of the stoke, or of him.

Dana: She’s very dignified.

Catherine: Yes, I think so.

Dana: If you could tell us something about the nature of this fascination she has with him.

Catherine: It was very important that he was my actor, because every director of a movie has to be fascinated with the actor. It’s even the reason why I don’t want to see them more than the first or second time. Even Isabelle, I know her very very well, but when I asked her to play the role, I just gave her the script, I had dinner with her and my producer and I never talked with her and her with me. We had no such desire.

66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra)

Isabelle Huppert

Dana: How did you work with Isabelle Huppert and Kool Shen during the shoot?

[When we started filming] the first time I saw Isabelle was for the costume and the second day we shot the photo which is on her book. It’s so fascinating to see Isabelle and Kool Shen together. And the reason I wanted to cast him, it’s because I wanted to transform him in the phantasm of the character I need for my movie. It’s the same for me, for instance a violonist needs Stradivarius but you don’t talk to your Stradivarius. In this case you can have a rehearsal, [but it is important that] actors are not considered as related to anyone but as material to make the movie. It’s a very strange relationship, it’s not because you deny them as human beings, but this is not what you need for your movie. You need the phantasm, not what they are, that’s why I don’t want to see them before, because I want to dream, and not to have too much material life with them. On the set they say my word and not their word, I don’t want to hear them with their word before. The only things that passionate me is to hear my word, to put them in my costume and in this situation, and in this place, and in front of the camera, with the anxiety, and for them and for me to succeed.

It’s also why it’s so fascinating and exhilarating to make a movie, it’s a sort of creative empathy with actors and me and my movie…The movie is mine, it’s theirs, and in fact it is abstract, it’s something […] which has its own existence, it is not a biopic but I direct my actors very strongly, […] but at the same time I choreograph all the time my scenes, in very long shot, so they have to learn the choreography very well because of the focus. If they play beautifully but I don’t have the focus there’s no film. And after, when some shot is incredible, never rehearse the scene, in my opinion. I never never never repeat the scene with the sentiment, the feeling and the emotion with them. Just the place. When I film for the first time, sometimes the first time is so beautiful, so surprising, I want my actors to surprise me and I become emerveillee by them!That is my way of making a film.

Kool Shen small

Kool Shen

Dana: The film is quite a tough watch in places. How was it for you to relive those moments on the screen, and how did you feel watching and making this film?

Catherine: I cried many many times and it’s still very difficult for me to speak on this subject and the character of Maud. So yes sometimes I cry. But I can say “Maud is a transposition, in a sense it’s me but it’s not me”. I don’t know, I can’t speak of Maud, I can direct Maud but my feelings are impossible, and I cry. But on the set I don’t cry. For the actors it was much more emotional than if it was just fiction because Isabelle interprets a character very very close to the director, she knows me very very well, we have been friends for more than 20 years. So yes, there was a lot of emotion  but the most important emotion is the emotion of the film. That’s why Isabelle can be an actress and not a transposition of me. She’ll never accept to interpret me, never.

Dana: Why would she never accept to interpret you?

Catherine: Because it would be “miserable”, “mesquin”, with interest… Just to become somebody in front of the same person. And I don’t like biopics, I hate biopics, it’s easier to make a biopic than to play the person who is filming you.

Dana: So when you were on set and you were directing, were you able to have some objectivity towards the character of Maud?Were you able to see her as a separate character?

Catherine: If I have emotion as a spectator, I don’t care if it is really my emotion when I was in this situation or not, because in fact I cannot remember and understand what was my real emotion in this situation. Yes for me it is also a surprise to see that and is it really true? Or just the interpretation of the script?I don’t care. If the emotion is there, if the movie is good, it’s just that. After all, yes, I am a director and my only only thought is for my film, and more for this one, because everybody knows that it’s very close to me because it is also a story for the tabloids. So it will be more shame for the director if this movie becomes a vulgar pretext to attract an audience. […]And I want to not be ridiculous. In life yes I was ridiculous to live this story. But I don’t want to be ridiculous making this movie, nor a fool of my ego.

MORE…

“All true artists are hated” – an interesting interview with Catherine Breillat in The Telegraph

Taking Sex Seriously – a very to the point article by John Hoyles in MovieMail