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Interview with Bitter Harvest producer and co-star Tamer Hassan

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Movie Marker’s Kat Kourbeti chats to Tamer Hassan, producer and co-star of Bitter Harvest. Mild spoilers ahead, beware!

Congratulations on the film – tell me about how you got involved in it.

It was an interesting project, and a tough one to make. George [Mendeluk], our director, first came to me as an actor, and then later I came in as a producer as well, so first and foremost what I did was throw myself into research. Hours and hours of it. I play the villain again, as I’m kind of the go-to guy for villain roles, but this one was different because he’s a true life character. He was Stalin’s enforcer, a mass murderer, a truly disgusting kind of person, but you wanna look at why this man became this person. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and you’re the product of your environment, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Those two things are one side of the coin, but the flip side could be, what has this boy suffered, to make him like this?

That’s what I wanted to ask: the scene in which your character drops his facade and is deeply vulnerable. There’s obviously a story there which we don’t get to see in the film.

Of course there’s a backstory. In this case the character was inspired by real historical figures, so I researched people in his position so I can understand him. Men who witnessed their mothers or parents be executed, and were then taken and bred to be ruthless enforcers for Stalin’s regime. I added some elements to that, fleshed it out, and then I spoke to George about the character and my vision for him, and told him that I wanted to find a moment, even a millisecond in the movie, that the audience will have a different look at this man, and maybe feel sorry for him. Because through all the terrible things he does, what is he searching for? Love, companionship. He never wanted to hurt Natalka, he wanted to love her, and thought he could do so by force. And then there is that moment where she poisons him and he hallucinates, and he’s crying like a baby in the corner. I’ve had people say they actually felt sorry for him in that moment, and that his end is fitting, dying in a church which he so despised. A tragic ending for a man who only knew how to get the things he wanted with murder and suffering.

What about the wider historical context of the film’s events? Were you aware of it at all before becoming involved?

I was part of that 95% of the world that had no idea about any of this, not until I read the script. I thought, “how do we not know about this?” I knew some things about Stalin, like most people. “Stalin the Horrible, he had something with the Ukrainians, right? His body count is something like 60 million, right?” It’s so flippant, the way people say “60 million” like it’s nothing. To learn that he created a man-made famine, the Holodomor, which literally translates to murder by starvation and it’s absolutely the worst way a human being can perish, was staggering. When you look at the numbers, it works out to something like 30,000 deaths a day, and Stalin was paying the international press to keep quiet about it. Even his own people, he put a gag on them so no one could talk about what was happening. It was absolutely horrific, and it was heartbreaking for me to read about it. George [Mendeluk] and Ian [Ihnatowycz, producer] are both Ukrainians and they were so passionate about the film, and they kept sending me more and more information and the more I read I thought, “why isn’t this taught in schools?”

That’s why I say this is a must-see movie. Not because of myself, or Samantha or Max or Barry Pepper or the great Terence Stamp, or any of the actors and crew that worked so hard on it, but because it will hopefully prompt people to look into this, find out more about it, see what happened. When you think that we didn’t know about this until the early ‘90s, and that there’s countries out there now that don’t accept that it was a genocide—UK not being one, USA not being one… We’re even thinking about editing it down into a dramatised documentary so it can be shown in schools. Why shouldn’t kids know about it?

The attention to detail on the historical side of the film is remarkable. What was it like to be involved with it as both a producer and actor?

We were very lucky, because sometimes with love stories set in historical tragedies you can lose focus of the big picture and focus on just the romantic side of it, and I’m not a big fan of that. But when you look at this film, even the love story is about survival, honour, dignity, respect, and it feeds into what’s going on as a whole. We screened it in the Ukraine to survivors of the Holodomor, and they said it was so on point, that even the love story resonated with them personally.

We were lucky enough to be able to shoot in Ukraine in the first place, because when you deal with terrible events like this you’re very rarely allowed to shoot where it actually happened. But with this film we were blessed with a lot of support, and with a great Ukrainian crew and cast who came on board and made the film what it is. It drove us even more to know that we were working with people who had heard the horror stories of the Holodomor from their families, and that we had their support in this.

There was a point when I was acting where I thought, these people are going to absolutely despise me… and I was talking to the crew and they said, “how would we tell this story without you there driving it forward?” I was so humbled by that. It didn’t make these things my character was doing alright, but when you have that kind of responsibility, you have to keep it in mind the whole way through. So I decided that I was going to be the worst I could be, bring out that malice that these people’s grandparents faced in their real lives, because I was there for that reason, to drive that story forward the best I could.

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Any stories from the set that have stayed with you?

We’d broken up for Christmas and when we came back we needed the snow. There was four or five inches of it, minus 17 degrees outside, and the Ukrainian crew were throwing hot water in the air and it landed as ice. Miserably cold weather—but we got through it, and as you can see it was a long time coming. It was four years in the making, we just couldn’t get it right because when you’ve got two Ukrainian heads of the movie, our lead financier Ian and director George, they both wanted the film to be perfect. The first cut was, I think, three hours long, and we were battling it out because they wanted everything in. I even cracked a joke about making “Harvest 2”, get all that lost footage in there, make a franchise out of it.

It was at that point we brought in Stuart Baird, who edited Skyfall and Casino Royale, and we had to do reshoots and make dialogue changes so it’ll all make sense. That was tough for me to go back to, because I had to revisit all the dialogue and scenes which were hard the first time but even harder the second. He’s a tough boy, Stuart, and he talks all stern and can come across a bit rude at times, but when you look at what he’s trying to achieve, you realise you’re dealing with a professional who knows what he’s doing, and that it’s time to shut up and do as you’re told.

And it worked!

It did work. It’s been so beautifully received. It’s not a film to be enjoyed exactly, but it touches people. There’s never a dry eye in the cinema. When we did the New York premiere, some big name producers would come up and congratulate us on even making a film like this, because Hollywood just doesn’t do it. The movie industry is no different to the real estate business at this point. But when you have a financier for whom this is a passion project, who is giving you an open cheque to do what you need to, it becomes less business and more art. Hopefully Ian’s gonna make his money back, though I don’t think he was ever driven by that. No one’s going to make a movie like this and expect money to pour in. It was more important for him, and for all of us, to tell this story.

Myself, Chad Barager and Camilla Storey who were the UK producers, we were very lucky to be entrusted to get this right. It was tough at times, because we had to battle each other on what stays in. We wanted to make a movie that is watchable, not just accurate. You’ve still got to find that perfect balance of accurate and interesting, you’ve got to follow a journey, because if there’s no story to keep the audience engaged, they will switch off. So we worked hard to make it engaging, and in the process some of us actors had to swallow our egos and leave some of our best work on the cutting room floor, because it just didn’t serve the film right. Everyone did their part: Ben Wallfisch, the composer, made music that was beautiful; the way it was shot by our cinematographer Doug Milsome; its colour and its grain; the way it was edited; George’s direction—everything blended in beautifully together to bring it to the silver screen.

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Can you give us a glimpse into what it looked like before the edits and reshoots?

Well for one, we had so many different endings! Everybody was sitting around the table, and we all wanted our vision in there. Chad would say something, and Camilla would say something, and Ian would want something else and George as well… but I think the ending we have now is the right ending. There was one where they died, where everyone died. But then, where’s the hope?

Or there was one with me and Max [Irons] where we had this big fight and Max cut me to pieces, and I said “look, my character is a trained general and Yuri is a painter. He would never overpower this man.” But we filmed it, this huge scene that cost a fortune, we had these burning buildings in the background and me and Max were having a fight, very Hollywood style. But it would never happen! So we scrapped it and we gave my character a fitting death, and left Yuri and Natalka to float up to the dragons, maybe. That’s up to the viewers to decide.

Bitter Harvest is in cinemas now. Read our review here.

Kat is a film critic and novelist based in London. She makes video blogs about film on her YouTube channel, Cinescapist TV, and contrary to what her accent might suggest, is not from North America. You can follow her on Twitter and Letterboxd @kourkat.

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Interviews

Sam Claflin and Baltasar Kormákur on the challenges of making ‘Adrift’

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Real-life stories sell. We’re intrigued by the impossible, the gritty survival story. Unconsciously drawn to the fear of nature taking over (and winning.)

Adrift is the adaptation of one such real-life tale of horror. Based on the book written by survivor Tami Oldham (played by Shailene Woodley who also as a producer credit on the film), it follows her sailing trip with partner Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) as they veer directly into one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history. In the aftermath of the storm, Tami awakens to find Richard badly injured and their boat in ruins, drifting across the vast expanse of the Pacific ocean.

With no hope of rescue, 24 year-old Tami has to look deep inside herself to conjure the strength and determination needed to save herself and the only man she has ever loved.

The film was screened on Monday to an audience who held their breath at every twist and turn of the film. The cinematography is gorgeous, the ocean at once breathtaking and horrifying.The joy that came with the freedom of sailing out into the open was swiftly replaced with the terror of being stranded out of sight.

In places, a weak script was held up by two powerful central performances. Woodley is mesmerising as a woman who is forced to grow significantly over a short period of time as the will for survival kicks in. Claflin is enigmatic and devastating, bringing gravitas to his scenes. Once the pace of the film takes hold, Woodley runs with it and carves out a naturalistic approach to what is a very physically demanding and emotionally charged role.

Attending the screening for a conversation on the film was Claflin along with the director, Baltasar Kormákur (Everest). Although having hired several VFX outlets to help work on some key sequences including the storm, Kormákur assembled a skeleton crew and shot most of the film on the open water. ‘I’d never sailed before’ admits Claflin, who talked about the intense sea-sickness that plagued him for the first few weeks of the shoot. ‘I definitely didn’t have my sea legs.’

The crew had to pitch in to get the shots they needed in a short timeframe, ‘we had to consider where the sun was, where the wind was blowing, how blue the water was in the shot. It was a real learning curve to work with nature. Mother nature was the third main character in the film, definitely’ explained Kormákur. ‘It was a group effort to get the shots,’ added Claflin, ‘everyone would help the others out, whether the DOP, catering or wardrobe. There was no trailer to escape to, you’d be passing equipment over your head to get it to where it needed to be.’

The real Tami was on set for two weeks of the shoot, having consulted on the script during preproduction. ‘I was very nervous’ admitted Kormákur, ‘you’re always a bit worried that they’ll come to set and want to meddle. But Tami understood what we were trying to do with the story and she appreciated the film we were making.’

Adrift is in cinemas now.

 

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Interviews

An Interview With Michel Hazanavicius (Redoubtable)

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Why this title, Redoubtable?

I’ve never been very good at choosing titles… I’m a great admirer of Godard, whose choice of titles is always brilliant. I’d even go as far as to venture that he picks the title first, then the film to go with it. The titles of the films he made in the sixties are all the better since each one resembles a possible self-portrait of the man he might have been: Vivre sa vie, Contempt, Le Petit Soldat, Bande à part, Breathless…

The first title I had was The Great Man, but it had a caustic overtone that I didn’t like. It could easily have been misinterpreted. On the other hand, I liked the “Belmondoesque” side of Redoubtable; it’s also reminiscent of Marginal, Incorrigible, Magni que (The Man from Acapulco)… I also like the fact that the word can have a negative or positive connotation: to say that someone is redoubtable can be a compliment just as much as a reproach. Finally, I like the idea of using the gimmick “And so goes life inside the Redoubtable,” even to end the film with it. It gives a little ironic touch that pleases me.

How did you come across Un an après*? *One Year Later by Anne Wiazemsky

Completely by chance. I had to take a train and had forgotten the book I was reading at the time. I looked for one at the station. I found Un an après and immediately saw a film. Anne Wiazemsky wrote two books about her love story with Jean- Luc Godard. Une Année Studieuse talks about the beginning of their relationship, the way this charming yet awkward guy takes his first steps in a great Gaullist family – Anne being François Mauriac’s granddaughter – until the reception of La Chinoise at the Avignon Festival in 1967. Un an après talks about May 1968, the crisis Godard went through, his radicalization, the disintegration of their marriage, up until their break- up. I was very touched by their story: I found it original, moving, sexy and simply beautiful.

Redoubtable has a few elements from Une Année Studieuse, but comes in the main from Un an après. When I contacted her by phone, Anne Wiazemsky had already turned down several offers. She had no desire for her book to become a film. I remember that just before we hung up, I told her it was a real shame and all the more so as I’d found the book so funny. She reacted immediately and said she too thought it was funny but no one had ever said so. And that’s how it all started.

At first sight, it’s quite surprising to see you devote a film to Jean-Luc Godard.

I can imagine, but I don’t consider this film so unexpected or even atypical. Of course, Godard is a particularly complex subject. But one of the things that interested me, and helped me to believe that this film was possible, was that Godard, while being a great artist with a difficult reputation – I’m talking about his films, but also about him, as a character – can all the same easily be seen as a pop culture icon. He’s one of the key figures of the sixties, as much as Andy Warhol, Muhammad Ali, Elvis or John Lennon. He belongs to the popular imagination; through him we can approach subjects and themes common to us all. Love, creation, politics, pride, jealousy, etc… He has also never been bland, never tried to be “nice”. This makes him a complex and human character, which allows a great narrative freedom. I’m not condemned to eulogize him, since this isn’t the response he himself tries to elicit. But mostly, and we tend to forget this, his films – and also, he himself – could be extremely funny at that time. He knew how to charm and was very witty.

It’s striking to see how certain remarks made to Godard after the release of La Chinoise – beginning with the wish expressed by many that he would return to “funny films” of the kind he made with Belmondo – could be applied to you, who are asked endlessly when you are going to make a third OSS 117. The critical and public failure of La Chinoise is not without its echo in the reaction to your previous film, The Search. I imagine this must have crossed your mind…

Yes, it’s true. As a rule, I always try to work on different levels in my films, allowing different levels of interpretation. On the surface, Redoubtable might resemble what I’ve done in the past, an upending of a filmography, not unlike The Artist or even OSS 117, but with a pop touch. I love working this way. And on a deeper level, I slipped in a few personal elements, because there was room.

Besides, and this is essential, it is their love story that attracted me first of all. It isn’t only a story of sex or desire. The destruction of the Godard/Wiazemsky couple arises from a man’s profoundly sincere quest – deeply rooted in its era – for political and artistic truth, combined with a sort of masochistic and self destructive pathology. In his search for ideals and the love of revolution, this man will destroy everything around him: his idols, his background, his work, his friends, but also his relationship, even his name, and will end up destroying himself. And Anne will be the witness of his downward spiral, she will love him as much as she can but will not be able to follow and will be powerless against his self-destructive drive.

Deep down, one cannot blame him. Nor her. But they drift apart in spite of themselves, they can only break up. I found this very beautiful.

To that one can add an original representation of May ’68. The events of May ’68 hasn’t been depicted often in French cinema. I wanted to give it a breath of fresh air, a shot of colour, spirit, joy. It was important because for me these images show respect, in the first degree, for the spirit of May ‘68. If the film is at times irreverent, even if it mocks Godard a bit, I didn’t want to treat May ’68 badly. I could see a risk of accusations of anachronism, or a danger of misplaced irony towards a whole era. To respect that energy, directing the crowds, this youth, these faces, the slogans, seemed to me to be the biggest mark of respect I could show. It is also an opportunity to place a literal, fixed point around which the character of Godard can shift, leaving room for comedy.

Except for the beginning and the end of the film, you don’t show Godard working on set. Why?

Firstly because it’s not a film “about Godard”, it’s a love story. The point was not to make a thesis on Godard, or even a biopic. And there’s something else. A director isn’t a pole vaulter. There isn’t a moment when everything suddenly crystalizes and culminates in some amazing feat. There is no performance. It’s a long, hard slog… And if I’d filmed Godard at work, I would have had to surround him with actors with some resemblance with the originals: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Raoul Coutard, Jeanne Moreau, François Truffaut… I didn’t want that.

The first scene, on the set of La Chinoise, allows me to make the audience accept that Louis Garrel is Godard. That’s all. I don’t ask for more. From this point of view, Redoubtable starts a bit like The Artist: I lay out the rules of the game. First, the image of Godard, with Wiazemsky’s voiceover. Then the image of Anne, with Godard’s voiceover. And it’s only on the third go, at the restaurant, that they are both reunited, as their voices and bodies are reunited. The complete embodiment of Godard takes place after we have seen him, after Anne has spoken about him and after we have heard his voice. Then, after three or four minutes of film, the audience knows that it is a love story that is going to be told, with real characters, but that the form will be freer than in a classic film.

What kind of relationship do you have with the cinema of Godard?

When I was young, I loved Breathless, its incredible energy, its mythical slogans, Belmondo’s brilliant presence… then, I loved the films of the Anna Karina period. Such charm! On the other hand, with Godard, it isn’t such and such film that matters. None are perfect, contrary to what you can say about Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch or Stanley Kubrick. Rather it’s his trajectory one should follow. And this trajectory is unique, constantly evolving, constantly being redefined.

Godard had a charmed first decade: the sixties. Of course, I watched or re-watched all his films of that period. They breathe freedom, and remain absolutely and delightfully audacious and modern. I was struck by one thing as I watched them again: while he refuses the realism one finds in Truffaut, Chabrol or the others, his films leave today an impression of unsurpassable reality. As for the films of the seventies, while I understand the intellectual approach, I have to admit I find them difficult to watch. I see them more as pebbles placed along a road, successive stages along a long reflection that endures to this day.

One could say that Godard at that time turned his back on a certain type of cinema. As a spectator this is a problem for me, but as a director, I can feel only respect for his choice and for his integrity. You also have to remember that France at the time was so fossilized that any revolt, even the strangest, was understandable.

In my view there is a realm where Godard is still relevant today, and it is the image. When he veers away from it, I find him less good. I don’t consider him, for example, a great political thinker.

There is the filmmaker, and there is the man. Both are so intertwined that Godard has often regretted that his media image and his name are more familiar to the public than his films. Yes, and this is something that interested me greatly. Godard isn’t a “nice” man; he has never tried to be. How to direct a film about a destructive and paradoxical character? I could have smoothed out all the bumps and made an entirely positive figure out of him, erected a statue of him, but that would have felt like a betrayal. In his journey, notably during that era, Godard could be harsh, uncompromising, and this had to be shown. He was very violent; he behaved badly in public with numerous people… That said, I had no desire to criticize him or make an a posteriori judgment against him. Even his Maoism. That’s why, early on, I remember making a mental note about giving him, quite literally, the last word. Which is what I did. But in truth, that was one of the challenges of the film, finding the right balance… between the destructive aspect of the character and the empathy I wanted us to have for him. And also between the love story and the comedy; between the formal aspect, the upending of and respect for the characters, and finally between themes that might at first appear slightly elitist, and my desire to make a popular movie.

When did these questions arise? Mainly during the shoot? Or during the writing?

During the writing. After a time, I told myself I had to put the real Godard aside. I had to take some distance from Anne Wiazemsky’s book, but also from biographies, documents, etc… I had to accept a reinvented Godard, admittedly inspired by the truth, but one who had to be my Godard, in any case the Godard of the film. A creation. And to have this creation serve a wider film. It is by the way not the Godard character but the love story that gives the film its dimension. It’s what structures the film. And it’s what allows us to feel empathy for Godard. Anne manifestly loves Jean- Luc, she looks at him with admiration and love. This is very important in a film, that a character who is not a priori lovable, should be loved by another character. It can really break down reservations.

In concrete terms, the film really started to take shape when I stopped thinking like Godard, when he became Jean-Luc for me. A character pretty much like any other. I know this will seem almost blasphemous to some, but it’s what actually happened.

The empathy you mention is of course linked to your choice of Louis Garrel to play Godard.

Of course. First because of his quality as an actor, Louis was able to bring a whole range of nuances to make the character human. But on a deeper level, he carries something in him that makes him credible in this kind of world, with its particular issues, its language. Beyond Godard, it’s clear to see that he understands what he is saying. He has both an elite aspect, very sharp, and a huge comic potential that perfectly suits the kind of popular cinema I like to make. He’s an extremely talented and hard- working actor, and I would say he is someone you love to love. He’s also handsome, which is an asset when playing someone who is supposed to have a real charisma, which is the case with Godard.

You and Louis Garrel don’t see Godard in the same way. Where does the film place itself, in conjunction of your two different points of view?

We split the work, in a certain way. Louis thought of seducing the spectators who love Godard, and I those who don’t, or who – and there are a lot more of them – don’t think anything in particular about him. Louis guaranteed a great respect for the real Jean-Luc Godard, where I tended to twist things a bit more to improve my fictional Jean-Luc Godard. To exaggerate, I’d say that he leant towards reverence and I towards irreverence. But as much as I monopolized Godard, Louis did the same. And my Godard became his. The final result is a cross between the real Godard, Anne Wiazemsky’s vision of him, Louis’ incarnation and mine.

Before I cast Louis, I knew he was a good Godard impersonator, but that’s not why I picked him. In fact I told him that it wasn’t at all what I was looking for. For his part, he was ready to drop the impersonation and attempt a Godard closer to himself. Without any particular intonation, or desire to physically resemble him. But the role was written with Godard’s phrasing, and during our readings, as soon as Louis imitated him, it all became hilarious immediately. I was a fan. We resisted for a while, but quickly it became very obvious. Then, the idea was to keep it to a minimum, to allow the audience to believe in the character, but without trying to duplicate a perfect photo in each sequence. On the contrary, it was necessary to give the actor maximum freedom of interpretation in each situation, and to avoid locking him in. To allow him to go from the private to the public figure, from the comic to the tragic, from love to politics, etc… This is how we tried to let the human filter through the interpretation, to approach the much-vaunted Jean-Luc. To not be obsessed with Godard.

To get there took hours of discussion, and I mean hours and hours! I don’t think I have ever talked with an actor as much as I did with Louis.

How did you choose Stacy Martin for Anne?

Bérénice Béjo acted with her in Childhood of a Leader by Brady Corbet. They were shooting in Bulgaria and I went to see Bérénice for a few days, that’s how I met Stacy. When I started to look for a young actress, Bérénice reminded me about her, I called her and she came to do some tests, and that was that. It became obvious. Stacy looks like a young woman of the sixties. She was born in Paris, but lives in London and spent some of her childhood abroad, she has a very slight accent, and there’s something timeless when she speaks that I really like.

Stacy was remarkable. In the first part of the film, she mostly listens and looks: her presence is essential, but of course, these are not the most exciting parts in the world to play.

But there’s a tragic beauty to her face, something slightly distant, that allows the spectator to tell themselves all sorts of stories… to superimpose a wealth of feelings and nuances. She has the face of a silent actress, a bit like Garbo. The scenes of observation, of listening, became very simple for me. I knew that the character would exist, even without too much dialogue. The film tells the story of her emancipation, and of the erosion of her love for her husband, and so Stacy and I established a progressive loss of her smile. She smiles a lot at the beginning, then less and less, and ends up not smiling at all, until she frees herself from him. The return of her smile indicates her liberation.

To be drawn into their love story, I needed the audience to fall in love with her from the start. To achieve this I tried to treat her like a pop object, and film her as such. And for the first time I confronted a couple, the representation of love and sexuality. It is through her that the film opens to life, sensuality and love. It is her character that tells the story, and it is because she loves Godard, despite all his flaws, that we accept him. She is the fixed point of the film.

You mentioned that Anne Wiazemsky’s book made you laugh. How did you transform JeanLuc Godard into a comic character?

Godard has always been funny: he trips on the carpet, breaks his glasses, mumbles… He’s a bit of a Buster Keaton. But beyond this, the more a man is respected, the easier it is to shift him off track and make him funny. Years ago I walked past Professor (Albert) Jacquard in the street. He was with his wife and he asked if she remembered where they had bought their pork chops last time. That filled me with joy, and each time I think about it, knowing that Professor Jacquard could care so much about pork chops delights me. Louis summed it up very well with a quote from Lubitsch: “At least twice a day the most dignified human being is ridiculous.” I tried to keep this distance from the character, a irony entirely without malice, during the whole process.

The difficulty was also that Redoubtable is not only a comedy, but also a drama. This combination of two genres is new for you…

When I gave the script to be read, the reactions were extremely: some thought the love story was magnificent, others were struck by the evocation of May ’68, others thought the whole thing was very funny… The great challenge of the film was balance, in particular, tonal balance. I looked for it during the writing, I tried to keep it while shooting, then later in the editing room, but you don’t know if you have succeeded or not until the very end, when you see the completed film, and then when you screen it.

If there is a reference here, it’s less Godard than Italian comedy: Dino Risi, Ettore Scola and the rest. Italian comedy is without equal when it comes to the combination of genres. You just have to think of a film like We All Loved Each Other So Much, and in particular the last scene in the parking lot. These films combine empathy and detachment, which for me is a constant source of inspiration. Even if, in this case, I have proceeded a little differently: the detachment is very present at the beginning, then diminishes until it disappears in the hotel bedroom scene. At this stage, it is for me a matter of simply looking at the characters. Only the music introduces a little discrepancy, a little step back.

Talking about comedy, the scene of the argument in the car, when they are returning from Cannes, is a real tour de force.

I love this scene. Six characters crammed together for a sequence-shot that necessitated one and a half days of work. The most complicated thing was to calibrate the timing: the management of time and silence between each line. We had to leave the silences, and also leave time for the silences to respond to other silences. To let the tension settle, grow, explode, wind down, start again… All this has to be extremely precise and requires a lot of time, a lot of work, especially when you have to tune all the actors to the same movement. Of course, it would have been easier to cut, I could have reconstructed everything a posteriori. But I wanted the scene to be a sequence-shot. I worked on the editing live, with the actors. That’s another great advantage of working with actors of this calibre. You can really go into detail, work on what lies behind the performance as well as the timing, it’s a real pleasure. Louis, Stacy, Bérénice, Gregory Gaudebois, Micha Lescot, Marc Fraize, everyone stuck in this little cell, that’s a lot of talent per square meter! What a joy!

Generally speaking I had a lot of pleasure working with the actors. Perhaps because I wanted to do more sequence-shots in this film than in my previous ones, perhaps because I also wanted to do more close-ups, and perhaps also because of the genre, but I feel I have done something different on this film. As if I relied less on the editing, but demanded more on set. I really enjoyed it.

Bérénice for example, who plays Michèle Rosier, even though she only has a few scenes, brings to the film a modernity and an energy that gives it balance. She plays the woman Anne would like to be, and towards which she is leaning. She is self-sufficient, independent, beautiful, and not overawed by Godard. She stands up to him. I loved watching Bérénice play that, I love her energy in the film; to me it’s as if she was saving humanity. I have known for a long time that she is a fantastic actress, but I still love working with her and watching her do things I haven’t seen before. It’s a joy. The character of Banban, her husband, is more unassuming, their couple being a mirror of Anne and Jean-Luc. Micha Lescot brought his nonchalance, his elegant aloofness to the role and did it to perfection. Gadebois plays Michel Cournot. Very different from the real Michel Cournot, who was a charming and brilliant seducer; he portrays a guy betrayed by his friend whom he nonetheless still admires. I don’t know how the real Cournot reacted when the Cannes Festival was cancelled in ’68, but I thought it was very funny to see it from the perspective of pride. Gadebois is such a magnificent actor, who gives depth to any line of dialogue, making it funny without ever any sniggering. He plays broad yet at the same time it’s highly nuanced. Truly impressive.

And there are some actors we haven’t seen much yet. Felix Kysyl, who plays Gorain. He’s very young but really good. He brings out Jean-Pierre Gorain’s seriousness, his sometimes austere radical side, but in such a way that he is never ‘above’ the character, never judging him. And he also has an uneasy relationship to Godard. He is fascinated by him just as much as he fascinates him. Theirs is also a love story, even if more cerebral. Felix played that to perfection. Arthur Orcier, who plays Jean- Henri Roger, captures the hot-headedness of the youth of the time, he has a Parisian cockiness, a bit of a thug, not at all an intellectual. There’s also Marc Fraize, a very funny actor, who plays Emile. He portrays someone completely outside the world of the other characters, and the simplicity and sincerity of his acting creates a spark that ignites a fire with the leads. He only has one scene in the film, but the precision of his acting brought so much. I could go on and on about the actors, I love them all.

One of the film’s principles is that it often – not always – operates as a pastiche. Many scenes revisit moments from Godard’s cinema.

Yes. More than pastiche or revisiting, I prefer to speak about variations or diversions. But it’s not a board game or a test for film buffs. It’s a way of talking about Godard by recapturing and diverting his motifs. This is where the film is a tribute, in its very material. In its playing with the language of the cinema of that era. But also, and this is at least as important, this constant detachment creates space for comedy, allowing me to lighten the storytelling, to relate painful moments in a comic fashion. The film goes back and forth all the time between the narrative of the story itself, respect for the characters, and detachment, be it visual and cinematographic, or straightforward comedy.

You shot on film, as with your other movies.

Yes. The question was more which format. I could have filmed in Cinemascope, as Godard did for Contempt or Pierrot Le Fou. But I wanted to give an important place to the street demonstrations, and these are associated with the televisual imagination, with a 1:33 image. So I opted for a compromise by choosing 1:85. This might not be the most Godardian format, but you have to consider the fact that there’s a sizable difference between us: I reconstitute May ’68, something he would never have done.

As far as the image goes, the idea was to walk in the Godardian world, without ever feeling like its prisoner. When it came to lighting, Guillaume Schiffman and I opted to get our inspiration from films of the mid-sixties like Contempt or Pierrot Le Fou or Two or Three Things I Know About Her… The idea was to adapt them as best we could to tell the story or accompany the film’s situation. For example, there are several types of backlighting in the film, but they are there to serve the story. The difficulty lay in creating a coherence with crowd scenes shot in the street, reconstituted sets, very ‘graphic’ images of apartment, and seaside scenes in natural settings. The collage side of the film probably helps a lot; Guillaume Schiffman’s talent does the rest.

For the set design as well, with Christian Marti, the idea was the same, to be at the service of situation and story. Even if the use of primary colours, red, blue and yellow is probably more constant and more pronounced. The recreation of an era is always a lot of work for the set designers, and even if I am starting to have some experience, in this case it was heavy… in particular, the streets of Paris, where we shot the demonstrations, and that we had to recreate as they were at the time. I’ll take this opportunity to raise my hat to the great work of Falap Aubry, in charge of special effects, seldom identified in my films but crucial to the making of the images.

For the costumes, of course, Sabrina Riccardi, worked extraordinarily hard; the base was also to work on primary colours. But to bring them out, particularly for street scenes, we decided to play with a variety of beiges, greys and blues, a little like in the OSS films. This allowed us to compose the image by moving the extras only, adding a touch of blue at the bottom, or yellow to the right, etc…There is also a whole level of play with the costumes of the main characters, allowing them to evolve visually as they evolve emotionally. At the beginning of the film, for example, Godard is well dressed in a suit and tie, then progressively, his attire deteriorates. Anne starts with a look reminiscent of Claude Jade in Stolen Kisses, very conventional, then gradually catches up her with her times, finishing as a less childish, more at ease woman. By the end she will also start wearing red, the colour reserved for Bérénice at the beginning, as if she was at last finding her independence. These are fascinating games to play but require incredibly good heads of department, and once again I was very lucky to have them.

Towards the end, the argument in the hotel room scene is accompanied by a new voice over. Who is talking? What is the text?

The text about the in finite character of the domestic scene is by Roland Barthes; it’s an extract from A Lovers’ Discourse: Fragments. The voice is Michel Subor, the lead in Le Petit Soldat. There are at least two other winks like this one. We see Jean-Pierre Mocky being insulted by Godard in the restaurant. There’s always been a kinship between Mocky and Godard. And Romain Goupil, who was his assistant, appears as a policeman.

What’s new in this film in relation to your work?

It’s hard to say… I hope I’ve found a new balance between aesthetics and respect for characters. It seems to me that in The Artist, form took over, and in The Search, it disappeared, at least in the sense that I imposed a head-on relationship with the story on the audience. Here I’ve tried to play with several genres, to be free, to blend pure comedy with more complex elements.

Are you expecting some kind of reaction from Jean-Luc Godard?

Before the shoot, I sent him a letter. No reply. Then he made it known that he wanted to read the screenplay. I sent it to him. No answer. I suggested he’d see the film. He had someone reply he didn’t want to see it. That said, it’s not impossible that at some point he will come out with one of the slogans at which he excels. Words that will cover me in shame, and that will make even my loved ones ashamed for me. We’ll see. At the same time I’m delighted about this film, and if I had to choose, I’d rather have a film by me about Godard then a film by Godard about me.

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Interviews

‘Love, Simon’ Interview with stars Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford & Director Greg Berlanti

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Everyone deserves a great love story. But for seventeen-year old Simon Spier it’s a little more complicated: he’s yet to tell his family or friends he’s gay and he doesn’t actually know the identity of the anonymous classmate he’s fallen for online. Resolving both issues proves hilarious, terrifying and life-changing. Directed by Greg Berlanti (Dawson’s Creek, Brothers & Sisters), written by Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger (This is Us), and based on Becky Albertalli’s acclaimed novel, LOVE, SIMON is a funny and heartfelt coming-of-age story about the thrilling ride of finding yourself and falling in love.

LOVE, SIMON is in cinemas NOW Check out the interview footage with the cast and director below and you can watch our video review here

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