|olivier assayas |
-decoding a digi-demon
Sonic Youth meets
-the new flesh
-crosscurrents (Cold Water)
-loves, labor, loss
(Late August, Early
September, Les Destinees)
-Une Nouvelle Vie
-maggie the cat (irma vep)
-An Injury to One*
-Lost In Translation
-Masked and Anonymous*
-To Be and To Have
-Freddy vs. Jason*
*denotes online-only features
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| || ||reverse shot speaks to Olivier Assayas |
Q: I’ve seen your first three films, Disorder, Winter’s Child, and Paris Awakens, described as a trilogy of sorts, and I was hoping you could explain the underpinnings behind that.
A: I’ve always considered them somehow as a trilogy even if it isn’t exactly—things don’t connect that clearly. They were made in more or less the same format. I shot them in a row on similar budgets. I used pretty much the same crew—same cameraman, same set designer, same costume designer, same editor, and so on. All three are shot in color and processed in the lab to look more black-and-white. And they are all dealing with coming of age, in one way or another, with young actors at the center of the films. Within the three films, even if I was using different actors, somehow I feel you can relate characters in one film to characters in another—there’s a kind of circulation of characters. For instance, the character of Louise in Paris Awakens, this young girl living with a much older man, is similar to the character of Anne in Disorder who was left at some point in the story living with an older man. The character of Gabrielle in Disorder, who was the most serious of the guys in the band who leaves to go into veterinary studies somehow becomes the central character in Winter’s Child. So on and so forth. When I was making them, I sensed the coherence, but I never stopped and said “I am going to make a trilogy.”
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Q: One thing that’s been very common to many of the pieces we’ve received for this issue is that our writers talk about how you move the camera. In these three, it seems that your camerawork becomes increasingly mobile with each successive film.
A: Definitely. In Disorder, the camera was kind of mobile, but in a much less complex way. When I made Disorder, it did have some handheld shots but more tracking shots. The syntax was very much about using handheld, using tracking shots, and using still stuff during long dialogue scenes. But in Disorder, if I remember well, you can see a use of tracking shots which became more systematic when I started making Winter’s Child. When I was making Disorder, I was like a lot of filmmakers making their first film—a little unconscious of what I was doing. I was just trying to do my best. I was putting everything I knew in that film. Nothing was ever as conscious as when I was making Winter’s Child or Paris Awakens, which were both much more considered in terms of style. When I was making those films I knew more or less where I was going. When I was making Winter’s Child, I knew that it was a more classic kind of film so it had much less handheld, all the shots were very designed—I was looking for something musical in the way I was using the shots. When I was making Paris Awakens, the handheld stuff came back. I was shooting in studio which I was not so fond of, and I very much wanted to break this feeling. The way to do that was do something a little more shaky with the handheld camera. If we are discussing that style, it became the most extreme when I was doing Une Nouvelle vie. That film was really the one with the most complex shots, done in the most complex way. It was a formally very ambitious film. The three first films were very narrative, so I was using whatever tool was the most relevant to deal with that situation or specific dramaturgy of the film. Whereas, Une Nouvelle vie has a very strong formal aspect—it’s very consciously a film where its shape is very much part of what it’s about. This is the same with Cold Water, the film which came right after, where I really systematized the use of handheld. It’s the first film I shot in super 16mm and the camera is extremely mobile—it’s really the first film where I fully utilized the possibilities of handheld work.
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Q: I also think of Une Nouvelle vie in terms of a really interesting re-conception of editing. I was at a festival screening where a cut between scenes in the first reel was so violent it caused audience members to leave the theater looking for the projectionist as they’d thought the film had been put together improperly.
A: Well it’s really the one most radical thing I’ve ever done in film. Une Nouvelle vie was not that radical when I wrote it, it just became obvious when I was editing. The beginning of the film establishes some kind of relationship to reality, and so you have characters, a story and then something happens, you don’t know what, and that character [Tina played by Sophie Aubry] wakes up in the middle of another story. And you have no notion of what happened or where she is or what is going on around her, and to me it was a way of putting the audience in exactly the same situation as that character. Her whole world crumbled—you learn later her mother committed suicide, the place burned down, she had nowhere to go back to except to this father who had always rejected her. So she’s so scared, she goes there, takes some pills, and falls asleep. When she wakes up she hardly knows what’s going on or where she is and nothing of the reality that’s going on around her. So when you’re watching the film, you are with her. You are trying to understand what’s going on, you are trying to understand who those people are, you are trying to understand the weird relationship between them and somehow you are forced to create for yourself some sort of fiction around the characters, in the same way she is fantasizing about individuals who are around her. And some of what she is fantasizing is right and some of it is wrong. The same way it is in reality.
Q: Une Nouvelle vie represents this expansion of the camerawork and this sharp shift in the way you’re using editing. Was it this film where you consciously said: “Yes, this is the new direction I want to be going in now?”
A: Yes. I was very conscious when I was making this film—this is my fourth film, I am not going to start to copy myself. Whatever I had wanted to do in that format of the earlier three films, I had done. I was going to take my filmmaking somewhere else, I was going to try new things and take risks. I am going to try things that are not done in the format of French cinema. I am going to experiment in narrative. It was a very conscious move.
Q: I would also make the argument that Une Nouvelle vie is, at least visually, perhaps your film most influenced by the work of Robert Bresson.
A: Bresson was an influence on all of my early films. He was a huge influence on me and there are bits and pieces of Bresson everywhere in those films. But I suppose in Une Nouvelle vie, this is very connected to the way I film Sophie Aubry. I remember sharply that when I was casting the character of Tina, I had different choices in terms of actresses and I could not make up my mind and all of a sudden it dawned on me that she was the actress Bresson would have chosen. And to me she’s very much a Bressonian character. In a strange way Une Nouvelle vie is like the blueprint for Irma Vep—it’s somehow the comedy version of Une Nouvelle vie in the sense that both movies are about characters put in a reality that they don’t understand and who are trying to make sense of the world around them.
Q: Would you say then that Winter’s Child works in a similar fashion as Late August, Early September?
A: Yes, of course. It’s the way I picture my own films—there’s a very deep sense of interconnection between Winter’s Child and Late August. Both films, though it’s something I hadn’t really thought of, come at moments of separation in my life and reflect that. I made Winter’s Child after a separation from a girlfriend I had been living with for ages and Late August is about exactly the same thing. Two completely different films—one is a melodrama, one is a comedy, and somehow I think the deepest one is the comedy in many ways. But they are certainly both stemming from the same emotions. One is made by a more mature person, while one has an intensity that you have of someone who’s younger.