Cannes Film Festival 2015

“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.

This Feel-Good Romanian Film From Corneliu Porumboiu is a Real Treat and Rare TREASURE! CANNES 2015 INTERVIEW

THE TREASURE, the latest film from Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu, zeroes in on a literal and figurative hunt for a buried treasure with comedic results. It premiered at Cannes Film Festival this year where Porumboiu was awarded The Un Certain Talent Prize.

The Treasure is screening at AFI FEST tonight. 

The Treasure poster

This interview was part of a round-table conversation at Cannes Film Festival in May 2015. 

Knight: So, a treasure hunt…That sounds like the ultimate Romanian fantasy!

Porumboiu: (laughing) Yes, and there are a lot of stories like that in Romania, the local legends about someone who buried a treasure. It’s linked to the idea of miracle and as an orthodox country we believe in that!

Knight: In making this movie, you initially started from a documentary idea.

Porumboiu: Yes, Adrian who is playing the supporting role in this film, he told me a story about someone his grandfather knew who buried a treasure and we went there with a small crew to find it! But we didn’t find anything! So I thought I should make a feature film and then I’ll find the treasure!


Director Corneliu Porumboiu

Knight: What was the filmmaking process like?

Porumboiu: It was very strange. When I shot the documentary, Corneliu, who is the metal-detector guy in the film, he did not do a very good job with the computer and we were all looking at him anxious but also bursting with laughter. I really had the feeling that we were all lost in that garden and that was the first push to make the movie. So when I wrote the script, I was obviously thinking of the mise-en-scène and how the second plan looks and all that […] but my utmost concern in this movie was the tone. Will I find the right tone for the characters? From the beginning I wanted to have this distance from the story. Because it was very easy to slip into caricature with this film, it’s not like my other films. I’m quite happy with what I’ve achieved. After shooting, I took out a lot of scenes, especially from the beginning. Because the beginning is so puzzling that some of the following scenes did not fit very well into the structure. In the garden where I shot many long scenes, I wanted them to have an internal reason for being like that. After that, in the editing room, you can cut them shorter. But when I’m shooting, I focus on the internal reason of the shot.

Was there also improvisation in the garden scene?

Yes, even if it was all clear from the documentary. We usually rehearse a bit based on the script, but then we change the scenes from take to take. For the last scene we had about 20 takes. and I changed the scenes a little bit from take to take.

All your films talk about the possibility or impossibility of representing reality…

All my stories are about real things that happen around me. And every time I start with the desire of making a “real movie”. But at the same time it’s a convention. So it’s a paradox that I’m living every time. I want to make something “real” but at the same time I know that by structuring it, I’m making something else.

Why is it important to work with elements of reality in your films? All the filmmakers I admire the most did that, the French New Wave filmmakers, the Italian neorealists.

I’m inspired by reality, if I come across a story that at one point is important for me, I have to to tell it in a certain way. It’s a subconscious process, it’s like I want to say that now. But I wanted this film to be like an adventure.

The-Treasure stillIs the main character like a modern Robin Hood?

Yes, there is a suggestion to that effect. But when I was writing the script, it was very important to me that he is forced to give the treasure to the the kids. In the script this scene was more violent, the kids are just grabbing things.

I wanted the character to be in a very fragile equilibrium, he is not happy with his career. As to the kids, in Romania we say all the time that we are the sacrificed generation, therefore we want our kids to lead better lives. There are a lot of people who put a lot of pressure on their kids. When I did the casting, I saw a lot of kids and they all had such a busy schedule, they would come in with their mother or baby-sitter who would say, “At 4pm we have swimming, then we have this”. They looked so tired!

How did the casting for the other characters go?

We have very good young actors. Even the actress who plays the shop assistant in the jewellery store in tho film, she is very good. Between the ages of 25-35, you have at least a dozen very good actresses, and different typologies. Unfortunately there aren’t too many parts for them in Romanian films. But there are a lot of young actresses, it’s crazy what is happening now. But if you go over 50 years of age, it’s more difficult.

Is Corneliu, the metal-detector guy, the same person as in the documentary?

Yes. Although I did a casting with professional actors for this role. I gave the the dvd of the documentary and I told them I’m interested in a certain type of body language, I wanted this character to be like an extension of the machine. And Corneliu showed them how to do it and I realised he was so good that I said to him, Corneliu, you do it! And he read the script and said yes I can do it, it’s easy because I just reply to them! And I think he wants to do more acting now, we changed his life trajectory!

He is an interesting character and he functions like a metaphor for cinema in a way: making an image of a reality you don’t see, a 3D image created in numbers and colours that you have to interpret.

Yes, and it’s like a joke, we have the same name, and I was thinking that he was like an alter-ego for me. At the beginning when he introduces himself, “I’m Corneliu”, it’s very funny. But the scene where they start to fight in the garden was very difficult to shoot. […] There is a certain type of invisible despair in the film. I also wanted to play with this cliché that they will kill each other, in order to build up tension. I wanted to give the impression that they were digging their own graves.

2015 is a good year for Romanian cinema. Radu Jude won the Silver Bear for Best Director with Aferim! at Berlinale. There are two Romanian movies in Un Certain Regard in Cannes, yours and Radu Muntean’s One Floor Below. Is it getting easier making films in Romania?

It’s the same in a way. What is good is that three years ago they started to have the contest for state funding twice a year. Cristi Puiu just finished shooting, Mungiu too, Mitulescu has a movie that will premiere at a film festival by the end of the year, Adrian Sitaru just finished a very good movie from what I’ve heard and he’s shooting another one. Serban Florin is also making a film. It’s looking good. I actually have another project I’m working on now.