Discussing French Cinema with Its Creators


Axelle Ropert's Miss and the Doctors

As Rendez-Vous with French Cinema continues, Film Comment has interviews with some of the directors behind this year's selections.

Up first is their interview with director Axelle Ropert on her latest film Miss and the Doctors.

Despite appearances, the basis of the story is very documentary. I come from a family of doctors, so I know their way of thinking. I really like the medical milieu, which is a great springboard for fiction. I also know Paris’s Chinatown, the film’s setting, because it’s where I live. You never see the neighborhood in French film, though it’s a great setting for a movie. So I was inspired by the conjunction of the world of medicine and a neighborhood I know like the back of my hand. On a more cinephile level, there is a category of film I like very much, but which I don’t quite know how to describe. The French critic Louis Skorecki refers to them as films that have a domestic charm, a neighborhood charm. The major reference for the genre is a minor movie for which I have a lot of affection: Garry Marshall’s Frankie and Johnny, with Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino. It’s a little neighborhood film with a delightful love story between two adults, set in New York in two or three settings. It’s like a song you would find on a jukebox.


Tahar Rahim in Rebecca Zlotowski's Grand Central

Rebecca Zlotowski discusses her unique way of crafting a cinematic romance in another interview. Zlotowski's film Grand Central stars Tahar Rahim and Léa Seydoux as two lovers employed by a nuclear power station.

We were writing a love story that took place during a war. A big love story with cannons and everything, set against the backdrop of the Spassky-Fischer chess game during the war in Bosnia. It was a very bad script, I would never have shot it. But the basis for the project was a love story in hostile times. I was interested in the hostility of love, the idea of love as a danger or a threat, not as something tender which you’re supposed to welcome with open arms and which consumer society sells you as an objective. I wanted to show love in a nearly baroque, sickly manner, as a symptom of a serious illness that you don’t quite know how to get rid of once you’ve caught it. So there was always this idea of a hostile world. I wanted to create real heroes, to reconnect with a tradition of heroism, rather than depict anti-heroes or mediocre people you can easily identify with. I wanted real heroes you have to try a little harder to identify with. And I wanted them to be in contact with death and danger every day.


Emmanuelle Bercot's On My Way

Loyal Film Comment readers may recall an interview director Arnaud Desplechin conducted with Catherine Deneuve (star of this year's Opening Night film, On My Way) in the November/Decenber 2008 issue. When asked whether she was more interested in actors or directors, Deneuve gave a rather honest answer.

Actors have never had a hold on me, strangely enough—with the exception of Marilyn Monroe. It’s always been the film first. As a teenager, I was not a fan at all, I fell into film by coincidence. My sister was the one who started off working in theater, the classical route. My first ever part was alongside her, with me playing her sister… For that reason I always felt a little bit in the margins, until I met Jacques Demy. That’s when I realized that cinema could be something else, when I started a [professional] relationship with someone who really wanted me, for this particular film: when it stopped being a coincidence.

Serge Bozon's Tip Top

Director Serge Bozon, whose latest film, Tip Top, stars Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Kiberlain (and is co-written by Axelle Ropert, director of Miss and the Doctors) discussed with Film Comment the various ways we identify with art.

The worst thing about cinema today is ghettos. A film’s audience often recognizes itself in the film. I wanted to make a film whose audience was unidentified and that did not have that art-house/prestige or non-art-house/no-prestige distinction. Slapstick helps to equalize things. Frances Ha is the exact opposite of what I want to do. People see it and tell themselves, oh great, we’re post-students, we’re vaguely marginal, we don’t make a lot of money, but we’re fragile and touching and we all have artistic desires. The relationship to the audience is very demagogical. It’s an insider, nostalgic film, with a very negative relationship to cinephilia and the New Wave used as pleasant identifying signs that rub you the right way.

Bertrand Tavernier's The French Minister

The French Minister, the closing night film of this year's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, is directed by BAFTA-winning director Bertrand Tavernier. Speaking with Film Comment, Tavernier made a humorously poignant comparison between politicians and filmmakers.

That was what attracted me to the story: that the politics of individuals are more important than their behavior or their crazy way of talking. Politicians can only be judged by their effects—not by the way they dress, talk, or scream, or the fact that they contradict themselves, say stupid things, or sound emphatic and arrogant. They can be all of that if, at the end, the result is terrific. In exactly the same way, some directors can seem nasty or mean; others want to change their screenplay whenever they meet somebody. But in the end, something will happen, and it will be great.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema runs through March 16 with many in-person appearances by the films' directors and cast. Schedule and ticketing information can be found here.

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