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Q&A: ARNAUD DESPLECHIN, director of
A Christmas Tale and Kings and Queen


SS: You’re talking about very contemporary films.

AD: I’m trying to.

SS: Many of your contemporaries would be reluctant to do that. Why are you willing to reference and draw attention to your peers?

AD: I was reading an American magazine interviewing Coppola a few months ago, and he was paying tribute to Woody Allen, whose production is amazing. The studios would never let a guy produce so much. I remember when I was still snobbish, and I didn’t like Woody Allen movies, thinking, “Oh, he’s for adults.” I realized later in my life that that’s what happened to Bergman. People started to say that Bergman isn’t the serious thing — the serious thing is Dreyer. As if Bergman’s cinema is not as good. Perhaps that belongs to the cinema itself, the fact that we’re always weeping about the good old times. Even in the silent era, in the 1920s you have texts where people claim we lost everything. “It was so good in 1905, but after that…” [Laughs] I started to get bored with that. For me and for my writing, what I need is to train my appetite. Like exercising my body, like jogging. I’m training to learn to be hungry for the contemporary world and contemporary cinema. To learn how to admire. It’s not a moral task, it’s a joyful task.

SS: What other directors are  you excited about, other than Anderson?

AD: Jia Zhangke. Really amazing. I just don’t understand how he’s doing it.

SS: The Michael Mann film Public Enemies recently opened — are you interested in him at all?

AD: Whether I like it or not isn’t important — he’s a very important director. He has a vision. So I can’t miss any of his films.

SS: Are you interested in his work with DV?

AD: That’s why I want to see it. My friends in the snobbish, intellectual French magazines that I read worship Miami Vice. Okay... [Looks incredulous] I saw it twice — just to check, because the first time I didn’t get it. So I saw it twice. [Laughs] I admit perhaps I’m not an intellectual. Also I think his film Thief is not that bad, but it’s just okay. Collateral is a great film. The script is great, the acting is great.  Recently I saw Antichrist

SS: The Von Trier film. What did you think?

AD: It’s perfect. I mean, it’s nice — it’s his best work in a while. But all of the journalists have been so mean.

SS: He asks for it, you know.

AD: But come on, it works. First of all I love all films that involve witches, like The Witches of Eastwick. Come on, it’s good stuff. With Antichrist, I think the love story is great, Willem Dafoe is really great. The love story, it may sound ridiculous, but it’s nice, they love each other. The guy is a doctor, his wife is a witch and he’s trying to help her. I just liked it. The video texture that he got is the best that I’ve seen from him. It’s not that far from Benjamin Button: the simple story, a woman and a man with something quite mysterious and magical in the middle.

SS: I know you like Tarantino as well.

AD: I’m looking forward to the new one [Inglorious Basterds]. Funny, even with Wes Anderson, we’ve discussed Tarantino. It’s a generational thing. I love that Wes wants to be amazed by Tarantino. He’s learning. At one point or another his name pops up. Once again it’s something new. You have to see it. Instead of recreating the good old days you’ve got a new thing. You don’t know how to look at it, you don’t know what to do with it. Good, bad, you have to deal with it.

SS: Do you watch films differently now compared to when you were younger? Do you miss watching more instinctively?

AD: Remembering the kind of films I loved when I was twelve or fourteen years old, I’m ashamed. I had such bad taste. [Laughs] I’m sure I had a lot of pretentious ideas about what should happen, trying to enforce onto the screen my preconceived notions. But now I’m analytical all the time, with everything. I can’t see a film with my gut. I see with my eyes, and they’re close to my brain. It seems that when I was 8 or 10 years old I would think, "Okay, I’m going to love this thing because it’s trendy," or whatever. Or dislike Woody Allen because it’s for the bourgeosie. Okay, cut the crap: Is it good or bad? It’s a simple question.
 
SS: Is there a film that you still think you’re supposed to like but just don’t?
 
AD: Perhaps because I’m older there are a lot of things I don’t get. It’s bizarre. Maybe I didn’t like it because I was drunk or whatever, or maybe I wasn’t ready for it. Let’s check it again and give it another chance. When I was younger I was so anxious that I felt obliged to make a judgement. I remember a line by a critic who wrote something like: The Departed was the best Scorsese film since The Aviator. I think that’s great. Because each of Scorsese’s films are his best film. After that, the question of whether you like it or not is not relevant. If you didn’t like it, other guys will. Even today I still don’t get Gangs of New York. It’s a shame, I’ve seen it five times, and the thing is waiting for me. One day I will love it.

SS: You’re so generous.

AD: I realized recently that I miss Fellini. I grew up in world where I could go and see a Fellini film. I was thirteen years old, and why did I love Fellini so much? Because there were naked women, obviously, and it was really terrific. It was funny, it was strange and it was so beautiful. Pure dreams. And you could see it just as a show. I was so lucky. Then I realized that because he’s such a great admirer of Fellini’s Roma, Scorsese tried to make his New York, his roots, in Cinecittà. Which is a bit absurd, but perhaps I would love Fellini’s movie less if I hadn’t seen Gangs of New York. It’s so brilliant to depict his New York as Fellini’s Roma. Who am I to judge such a film? Once you understand what a director tried to achieve, in a way he achieved it. He did it, it’s not in my mind, it’s up on the screen. I’m starting slowly to like it, yet perhaps for some part of me it will never work. But that’s fine. In general, perhaps I won’t like the whole, but there’s always something valuable in a film.

 

 

 

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