Monday, April 27, 2009

Une femme mariée, fragments d'un film tourné en 1964 en noir et blanc

Released this past Monday by The Masters of Cinema Series, at the same time as Pialat's La Gueule ouverte: Jean-Luc Godard's long-unavailable-in-a-proper-DVD-edition 1964 masterpiece Une femme mariée, fragments d'un film tourné en 1964 en noir et blanc [A Married Woman: Fragments of a Film Shot in 1964 in Black and White]. The release contains a high-definition transfer of the film, based on a new Gaumont restoration, with new and meticulously edited (removable, white) English subtitles. Also included, and being presented on home-video for the first time ever, is the original 3-1/2-minute trailer for the film (approx. two minutes longer than that listed in the filmography of the Centre Pompidou's 2006 volume Jean-Luc Godard: Documents), created and edited by Godard himself, which was telecined (and is also presented in a progressive, high-definition transfer) at MoC's express request and expense.

Accompanying the disc: an 80-page perfectly-bound book that contains:

— A carefully crafted cover.

— Film-credits for both the feature and the trailer.

— An editorial preface on the release, on "Godard-style" graphic pastiches in JLG-related media collateral, and on the commodification of cinema and physical/virtual "home video" media.

— A short inquiry into the nature and use of "production stills" in media and press.

— A new two-page 'overture' to the film by Luc Moullet (whose new film, La Terre de la folie, debuts next month at Cannes, and which in a perfect world would be the most anticipated work of the festival, alongside Pedro Costa's Ne change rien, Almodóvar's Broken Embraces, To's Vengeance, Tsai's Face, Resnais' Les Herbes folles, Coppola's Tetro, and Hong's Like You Know It All, among others — including Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which features my friend Tina in a small, this-is-just-the-beginning role).

— A new 20-page roundtable discussion on the film, and its relationship to the entirety of Godard's oeuvre from the '60s to the '00s, between Luc Moullet, Bill Krohn (of "Kinbrody and the Ceejays" notoriety), and me.

— A new 21-page investigation into and analysis of the film, by Bill Krohn.

— A new statement about the film by its star, Macha Méril.

— A new and exclusive English translation by me, running 12 pages, of Godard's genius 1978 lecture on the film, and its relationship to Ingmar Bergman's work, to Flaherty's Nanook of the North, to Rossellini's Francesco giullare di Dio, and to the world and the Image at large, as originally transcribed and presented in the long-unavailable and absolutely vital Introduction à une véritable histoire du cinéma.

— JLG's Hitchcock collage.

— The relevant excerpts from Jean Racine's Bérénice, presented in the original French, with new parallel English translations by me.

— Endnotes, featuring remarks by myself and Andy Rector.

Stop at nothing to acquire your copy today.

On a personal note: my own work on the DVD and the book would have been completely impossible without the presence and support of the Google-string-evadable J. C. (who is not Jesus, though she has the same initials) — to whom this release is, at least on my part, in any case, sincerely dedicated.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Ten Films by Maurice Pialat

Today marks the release of the latest installment in Masters of Cinema's ongoing series of the films of Maurice Pialat — with a two-disc package that collects ten of the supreme master's films from the first half of his career. Included, and presented in their original aspect ratios with new removable English subtitles:

Drôles de bobines [Funny Reels, 1957]

L'Ombre familière [The Familiar Shadow, 1958]

Janine [1961]

Bosphore [Bosporus, 1964]

Byzance [Byzantium, 1964]

La Corne d'or [The Golden Horn, 1964]

Istanbul [1964]

Maître Galip [Master Galip, 1964]

Pehlivan [1964]

La Gueule ouverte [The Mouth Agape / The Slack-Jawed Mug, 1974]

Also to be found across the release's discs: a 12-minute video interview from 2004 with Pialat's ex-wife and longtime collaborator Micheline Pialat, conducted by Serge Toubiana; an 8-minute video interview from 2004 with Nathalie Baye; 11 minutes of footage from the shoot of La Gueule ouverte featuring Jean-François Balmer and the late Jacques Villeret, neither of whom appear in the finished film — the footage is accompanied by new commentary recorded in 2005 by Balmer; a 16-minute video interview from 2004 with cinematographer Willy Kurant discussing Pialat's six early "Turkish films" (see above); a 14-minute 1987 film interview with Pialat, discussing the role played by the Cinémathèque Française in his cinema education; a 10-minute excerpt from video footage shot in 2002 of Pialat discussing Maître Galip; and the original French theatrical trailers for the seven Pialat features released-to-date and soon-to-be-released in The Masters of Cinema Series.

The package also includes a 32-page booklet with a brilliant new essay on La Gueule ouverte by Adrian Martin, titled: "Devastation". Small excerpt:

"[I]t is the case that Pialat's films concern themselves, almost single-mindedly, with the fact, the process, the event of devastation. Slow, gradual, irremediable. Devastation of a relationship, a marriage, a family, a community, a way of life.

"Pialat's films lay waste to all of this — not in the spirit of critique (he is not a political filmmaker in that sense), but in the name of a realism, a profound sense that 'this is just the way it is'. Every anchor, every support system goes, one by one. Characters are, by the end, left alone, bereft, inconsolable, untouchable. But what passionate, angry, violent, grumpy resistance in Pialat to this 'fact of life'!
We won't grow old together — that is the emblem of the cry of every Pialat character, refusing to 'go with the flow' of irrevocable devastation. But undergoing it all the same."

The booklet also includes contact-sheet images from the Balmer/Villeret sequence unused for La Gueule ouverte; a brief interview with Pialat from 1973 at the time leading up to La Gueule ouverte's release; and remarks from 2002 by Pialat on Janine and Maître Galip.

Now, here's what's not in the booklet, because I didn't (re)discover it until we had gone to press: a long interview with Pialat from 1974, conducted by Stéphane Lévy-Klein and Olivier Eyquem, on the subject of La Gueule ouverte. Because its absence has been eating up my conscience, and because it's the record of a compelling discussion with the great director, and because every discussion with Pialat is different from every other discussion with Pialat (he never retreads 'talking points' or a single immutable opinion), I've translated the interview, and present it here:


Maurice Pialat on the set of La Gueule ouverte, 1974:

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: The first rough-cut of La Gueule ouverte came in at four hours in length. The distribution print doesn't run any longer than 1h 20m. What happened between then and now?

PIALAT: That rough-cut couldn't be edited in any case such as it is. When I'm cutting shots out, so I can see whole sequences, the reason for it is simply this: it's because I find them bad or I find them good — and here I'm criticizing my way of shooting — because, not having taken enough care to make matching shots, I find myself sitting before scenes that slow the film down, distract and detract from the logical continuity of the narrative. (I'm not saying "of the plotline," as there's not any action, properly speaking.) The film could be longer. The first cut was nearly two hours and those who like it in its definitive form maybe would have even preferred it in that first version. But the whole first section seemed too long to me; you got bored waiting for the next part. Certain sequences messed up during the shoot make for an imbalance. Matching shots became impossible — we weren't able to cut them together with anything that came before.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: You said in a previous interview that you sometimes have problems with matching shots?

PIALAT: Yes, and there are two reasons for this. The main one is that, without a doubt, I don't devote enough time to preparing my scripts. At the beginning of my career, I thought that you could take your time shooting and do as little preparation as possible. To prepare was to get caught up in advance in something literary. Less and less do I think that's the case; with experience, I notice that things which are written out, or which are at least conceived in advance, most of the time get filmed in a more satisfying manner. Unfortunately, I don't have a sense of brevity. As a scenarist, I only have success with chronological narratives which more or less always stem from my own life. I repeat the same thing in several scenes and it's only during shooting that I take notice of this dispersal. This autobiographical inspiration is one of the consequences of Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble [We Won't Grow Old Together, 1972]: in this film, I didn't want to go into what actually took place, I wanted to stay faithful to my memories, and I thought that transposing several scenes or, when all was said and done, concentrating on a single sequence of events very closely (which is, dramatically speaking, the thing to do), came back to orienting the film toward a sort of theater in which I was denying myself. Frequently, I fight to recreate certain events that I've lived through, that seem to me to be moving and strong, and I realize that the emotion was only a product of my imagination and that there's no other way to get it back, and this for good reasons: shortcomings of the director — this can happen; problems with the actors; deficiency in the material allowing the scene to develop; etc. In short, moments that I thought were strong turn out to be unusable. The consequence is that in the editing I'm really very hard on myself, too much so maybe, since I've never had the temptation on one single film to keep elements in that didn't satisfy me. Here, the editing is entirely Arlette [Langmann]. She edited the film all by herself. I had complete confidence in her.

The editing wasn't a technical problem. We were just dealing with a rough-cut of four hours in which a choice had to be made. We made this choice together while working, in particular, on the Parisian sequences, which hardly satisfied us, and which we were resolved to do away with after having taken a look at all the possible solutions.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: One thing strikes me: the suppression of any type of temporal, chronological, reference-point, especially with regard to the character of Philippe. One has the feeling that the film could just as well have been covering a period of 8 days as several months.

PIALAT: That isn't intended. These reference-points exist, but I've shuffled them around. There are even moments where this can pass for continuity flaws. Thus, at the hospital, Nathalie tells Monique: "I'm going on vacation for two months; I'll see you when I get back." And yet it's only much later that Philippe will announce to his mother Nathalie's return. In reality, the dialogue isn't far-fetched: he's lying to his mother for not having told her Nathalie's already been back for a long time, but that she can no longer bear seeing her.


LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: In the editing, do you keep the chronology you've defined at the level of the scenario, or do you end up shuffling scenes around?

PIALAT: I switch sequences around pretty often. Not so much on La Gueule ouverte, but this has happened on occasion.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: At the outset, when you conceived the script, was the radiography sequence already meant to open the film?

PIALAT: Not at all. It was at the editing stage that I decided on it, such as it is. One of the first scenes of the film (where you see Philippe showing up in Auvergne and meeting up with his mother, who shows him her tumor) went somewhere else at this point. If I wasn't afraid to make a film 1h 15m long — I'd even take out one more scene, the one of the encounter with the girl in l'hôtel de passe [i.e., a hotel specializing in 'quickies'], which now falls like a hair in the soup, and no longer carries any big meaning.

La Gueule ouverte [The Mouth Agape / The Slack-Jawed Mug] by Maurice Pialat, 1974:

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: The scene where he solicits a prostitute at night would then become incomprehensible, as she constitutes a repetition of the first girl.

PIALAT: But all this is so weakly connected to what I wanted to do. We don't understand why this guy all of a sudden has sexual problems, whereas in the original scenario these scenes have a precise sense: he'd been involved in several fiascos and he quickly evolved because his mother was coming to her end. He wasn't really a cad, spending his time fucking, etc. It was closer to Turkish Delights [Turks fruits, Paul Verhoeven, 1973] than what you saw!

La Gueule ouverte [The Mouth Agape / The Slack-Jawed Mug] by Maurice Pialat, 1974:

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: There are constant 'side-notes' regarding supporting characters, for example: the old woman in the hospital. Up to what point does it seem important to you to show these people?

PIALAT: That scene, where the old woman gets visited by her husband and his son, which begins with both of them arguing, anticipates the meeting between Deschamps and Léotard, but, at the point of departure, it was just a memory. I had lived a scene close to that one in the hospital. It was during shooting that I noticed that it was pure guignol — not that that aspect bothered me: it was an integral part of my bad taste. What's more interesting is showing people who come to the hospital at the last minute, not knowing what to tell themselves, and in the end blowing up on one another to let off some steam. My father died a few weeks ago. For some time before his passing, when he was getting really ill, I'd go off to the Auvergne frequently, suspending all business; once I was there, we'd say three words to one another.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: There's a scene about which I'd be curious to know whether it was done in one or several takes: it's the one in the kitchen, between Nathalie and the father.

PIALAT: No, that wasn't a single take.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: It's very strange; Nathalie Baye seems to be caught off-guard at one point by Deschamps' dialogue, and we have the distinct impression that a kind of complicity has been established between the one actor and the other.

PIALAT: That's exactly it, but it's a take which, once again, was done at the last moment. Anyway this film is full of this sort of thing. We never stopped having negotiation issues throughout the whole shoot and, while not lacking money, we still had to work with some haste. The hospital scenes — apart from the radiography — were wrapped in a single day; the one with the doctor was done in ten minutes. Each week brought about new problems. And yet I get things going pretty slowly, and they often go on into evening, and when this started to happen, I saw myself putting a stop on overage to avoid additional hours. The scene you're talking about was shot at the end of the day, and the take you saw was the third or fourth. The preceding takes were disastrous. As it so happened, the final one went off like clockwork, and it came out exactly as you've experienced it.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Does it often happen that you succeed with a shot the second or third time, whenever this sort of tension and urgency gets produced?

PIALAT: Yes, it happens because a director's energy, his availability, constantly varies. I'm very irregular.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: You've known Deschamps for a long time — ever since you made your first professional film with him [Janine]. How did you cast the other roles?

PIALAT: I think Mélinand was the only actress capable of holding the role of the mother, which is ultimately really thankless. I brought her on right away, without seeing anyone else. I thought of Hubert right away because I was looking for someone slightly uncouth. Deschamps is the total opposite of a country man (he's roved around Saint-Germain for years), but certain aspects of his personality agreed well with the role. What he does here has, it must be said, little relationship to what he typically does on the screen (and which he prefers, in any case).

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: He's supposed to love — this is a euphemism — to 'compose'...

PIALAT: Early on, I had some difficulty, because he had the tendency to 'make his voice carry'. You'd hear it from all over the place. I liked Nathalie Baye a lot in La Nuit américaine [American Night / Day for Night, François Truffaut, 1973]. At one point, I was hesitating between her and Miou-Miou, but I settled on Nathalie before Miou-Miou was even signed on to Les Valseuses [The Nuts, Bertrand Blier, 1974]. I picked Philippe Léotard at the last minute. For a long time, it was Depardieu who was supposed to do the film.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Did you do any rehearsals?


LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Do you throw people into the shot while only giving them the bare amount of what they need for the scene?

PIALAT: Often they only ever have a vague idea about what it is. Anyway this only bothers professionals, amateurs less so — quite the contrary.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: How does the rapport between professionals and amateurs get established?

PIALAT: The amateurs get on well with the professionals, but the reverse is rarely true. Deschamps really jerked us around. His leitmotif was: "So I've learned one profession, and you make me play a vintner; I don't know how to trim the vine, etc.," which is completely absurd. He was just angry to see the amateurs being better at it than he was!

In general we say that they "forget the camera's there." That's false, they're very aware of it, but if they're acting, it's without craft, without effects. It's not even necessary to cast them in their own roles; you can go very far with certain ones. It is, however, pretty difficult to get them to retake a scene.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Where did the idea come from to film the exit from the church with that slow advance tracking-shot?

PIALAT: Initially, I was just supposed to do a shot in front of this rough, dark church, with people shaking hands with Léotard who, in the end, broke up with purely nervous laughter.

In seeing these places, I changed my mind. Angles have been sought out, and it's at the last moment, in order to pass without a break from the shot of the crowd to the one of the family all around the van, that I did that tracking-shot.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: There are only about two or three other tracking-shots in the entire film, and we mostly notice the one of the departure from the town, which concludes the film as practically the last scene.

PIALAT: For me, the principal problem is avoiding placing the camera in places where it can't materially be located: thus behind a bed, when the bed is against the wall. Here, I went against my principles, since I put the camera in the back trunk of a car. This shot was made at the last minute, and I slightly regret the hurried aspect of the parting in the boutique. I had come up with a longer scene in which Philippe and Nathalie were more insistent on the father coming back with them. We were supposed to stay for a little while in the boutique and when they leave, instead of cutting, we move away with the car. In a certain way, it was a technical hoax, but nothing could better express the sort of abandon that this produced. Once more, we were pressed for time: five minutes later, it was nightfall.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: What's behind the phone call Philippe gets early on, during his lunch with his mother?

PIALAT: It's a call he gets from la Télévision, and which is supposed to hold some implications for later on. In the scenario, there was a scene that followed, where we even found Philippe helping out, and we saw him on the set of a film.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: How do you prepare a plan-séquence [sequence-shot/long-take without cuts] as long as that one — 8-1/2 minutes?

PIALAT: The scene took a lot to produce, to the degree that I decided to retake it three or four times later. But in doing so, Monique and Philippe weren't as good. At the start of production, the actors still aren't broken in, it's difficult for them to shoot in those conditions. Afterward, things go well for the most part. This type of scene rarely poses acting problems, which might seem surprising. Rozier asks me sometimes how I go about things, and is astonished that I don't experience the urge to intercede. Well, I don't! Once, though, on La Maison des bois [The House in the Woods, 1971], I found myself crawling underneath a billiard table to give a signal to an actor to stand up: you notice it in any case, because at that moment he sees me! With my two superstars, during a scene in Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, I had to cut and edit in shot-countershot because Marlène was frightened by the length of her text. And yet you can do anything in those instances — it's always possible to breathe a little in the course of a take.

La Gueule ouverte [The Mouth Agape / The Slack-Jawed Mug] by Maurice Pialat, 1974:

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: How did you do the shot in the attic?

PIALAT: It was a shot I wanted to make for the sake of decor, to give some personality to the house. I had letters from my parents, back from the time of their engagement, certain ones among which were pretty nice: letters of the sort no-one writes anymore. Having forgotten about them, I had to be satisfied having them read a letter taken from the ones the town-folks had confided us with. There were three very long takes where neither Philippe nor Nathalie say anything very interesting and then, I don't know why, Nathalie starts crying during one of the takes. She had to have been down in the dumps, no doubt because I had been a little hard on both of them.

I kept the shot, of course, and I cut it just after the sequence with the injection, with that glance of Nathalie's that turns away from the mother, before she gets up and heads off toward her room.

La Gueule ouverte [The Mouth Agape / The Slack-Jawed Mug] by Maurice Pialat, 1974:

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: You've said that La Gueule ouverte got a little too close to Bresson, adding "alas." What did you mean by this?

PIALAT: I was thinking of its form, which in the end is pretty elaborate. It's a rather cold film, and one whose qualities rely for a good while on its aesthetic. For me, as a general rule, the text and the acting have to take the first position. I'm happy that the quality of the photography is satisfactory, but this isn't what I'm looking for above everything else. There's always too much aestheticism. What I'd like to do some day is a film where we'd shoot in the most natural way possible, sticking as close as we can to reality. My ideal is the single shot in which a point of view is expressed upon a thing being produced in the same instant. As soon as you cut it up, as you start to fragment it, as you come back on it from another angle, that truth slips away, since you're starting over again upon what can only, by definition, be produced just once. That isn't to say I was looking to let cables get into the shot, but there wasn't any particular thought put into the framings. If I liked working with Almendros a lot on La Gueule ouverte, it's because he went further than any other cameraman in the preparation of the natural lighting. In the colors, there are still a fair number of problems; we'll have to wait many years before getting to something satisfying, and, in particular, before doing away completely with those lights, the introduction of which seems to me to be a bothersome artifice.

Dressing a location is, of course, a necessity. You always have to do it at the last minute and too late. If I were shooting in this room, I'd start by moving this table, I'd arrange these chairs in a different manner, and little by little I'd arrive at the tableau, at artifice...

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Let's talk a little about the locations in La Gueule ouverte. How did you select them?

PIALAT: It was really easy. I wanted a big residence, the sort where you wouldn't have to choose any lens other than a 40 or 50mm. In interiors, I like to be able to constantly take characters from the feet up. The house we chose in Auvergne was being lived in; therefore you don't sense the intervention of a set-decorator, which is always perceptible, whatever its benefits.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Is the sound completely direct?

PIALAT: Yes, you hear the creaks, the groans, save for one shot, and that's due to technical reasons.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: And the music, or rather the absence of music?

PIALAT: I didn't want to put any in, outside of that short excerpt at the beginning from Così fan tutte [Thus Do They All, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1790]. Before doing the film, I was careful to use more music coming from natural sources. It's true that this always poses technical problems, not to mention rights issues.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: In its final version, the film is organized a bit around a Paris-to-province commute.

PIALAT: That's right. A double commute in the beginning, since Mélinand, at first, came to see the doctors who then reassured her and gave her balms, with everyone there already knowing she was a goner. She went back home for a month or two and, obviously not having experienced any relief, got worried and came back to Paris. It's here that the film starts, in its definitive version.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: You end up only showing the village a very little bit.

PIALAT: I would have liked to shoot in my own village. The one we chose is more modern. It gave us some decent, interesting elements, a market, for example, that for an instant I thought about using. I also intended to shoot a scene in a brasserie. There Philippe would have discovered, in the middle of the night, a choir. He picked up one of the girls and made love to her in the toilets. There's nothing to regret.

I don't like working across a slew of locations. Running back and forth to shoot is disastrous. I get the best results filming in one precise spot. By the time we wrap up, half the day is spent just with commuting. You have to choose between taking your time and taking your money, on one hand, and safeguarding the essential things on the other.

In a few years, I'll no doubt discover why I'm not satisfied with La Gueule ouverte. With Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, it was just sabotage carried out on the part of an actor. It's not the same thing with this one. Throughout the entire shoot, I wielded absolute power. I could have shot all the sex scenes I was planning between Philippe and the girls, and I didn't do it. It had nothing to do with fatigue; the crew were perfect; as for the actors, you can't ever speak of perfect success, as there are always problems (we're not dealing with robots, or with androids), but the situation as a whole was fine. So there was nothing other than those scenes to shoot, and I didn't do them. How come?

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Maybe there were problems with the acting?

PIALAT: Partly. I had the impression that Léotard had progressively lost the desire to film these scenes, whereas at the outset, he seemed ready to charge like a bull. But here again, it's myself that's to blame.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Isn't it also because the film had deviated toward something else?

PIALAT: Yes, perhaps. We felt quickly enough that we wouldn't attain the desired tone in those scenes. It wasn't enough that Philippe already had that tone in a few isolated passages — he needed it for the entire film. You really feel that the father is a guy who drifts through life, who's always tried to fuck, to get shitfaced. This needed to already be tangible in the case of Philippe. In the end, the perspective of the film veered toward the father, especially in the final scenes. In the original script, the couple, as soon as they've left the village, start having a very violent argument. Up to the end of production, there was the question of doing this scene. Anyway, there was supposed to be one week of additional shooting, but, before setting out upon this, I decided to do some editing. Then while starting the editing, we dreamt of developing the hospital scenes in particular. (I also thought it would be a shame to end on the single final shot of Hubert in his boutique, and I wanted to show more of what a guy can go through, abruptly alone in a house, with the person he loved for thirty years at the bottom of a hole.) That argument scene not having been shot, you feel the friction between Philippe and Nathalie less. There's no longer that violence that I had envisioned. You're supposed to think that this couple, who are already barely holding together, are gonna break things off once and for all. The ostensible subject of the film was the story of a guy who takes things out on other people because his mother is dying, but the actual subject was the the story of a couple already too old, not close enough to one another and who detonate because the man is liberated.

La Gueule ouverte [The Mouth Agape / The Slack-Jawed Mug] by Maurice Pialat, 1974:

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Does a subject like this one, at the current moment in France, pose particular problems with production?

PIALAT: You bet! Already, on paper, while it carried some "commercial attributes," it was difficult to have it be accepted. If I had presented it in its actual form, I definitely wouldn't have been able to shoot it, or rather would have had to shoot it with a pathetic budget.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: When did you come up with the subject?

PIALAT: I wrote it in '71.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Was there an order, at the level of having conceived the project, between the three films you've shot [to date]?

PIALAT: La Gueule ouverte was written after the script for Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, but with the idea of shooting it before, just because I had to wait one year for my two superstars, and because I was bored sitting there with nothing to do. In the end, this didn't happen, in part because I knew that the shoot was going to be a particularly rough one.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: At the outset did you stick to inscribing your films within a precise chronological sequence: childhood, the early part of adulthood, and maturity?

PIALAT: No. If those three films form a triptych, it's not premeditated.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: What's Philippe's profession?

PIALAT: He's — and I was one, among other things — a medical rep. A profession he doesn't believe in, that he does to earn his bread. At one point, he was also supposed to do some theater. I'm bored seeing in half the films out there today characters practicing professions in the humanities: novelist, architect, etc. But, when it comes down to it, I've rubbed out every professional indication concerning him. It's very delicate establishing a character professionally with believable dialogue. In every film, mine included, the characters are rarely anchored in a sufficient way within their profession. In Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, the couple was in an all-consuming brawl, and yet, in the course of a screening for the readers of Elle, I was reproached for showing characters who spend their time napping in the sun. It was entirely the opposite: they have constant problems, and spend their nights in chambres de passe [i.e., rooms in hotels for "quickies"], because they were cheaper. And yet Marlène changed her outfit incessantly, while Yanne sported brand-spanking-new get-ups. If a girl who earns four sous succeeds in being elegant, you have to take pains to create an equivalent for the guy.

At one point in La Gueule ouverte, Nathalie says: "I'm gonna ship myself back out in a box if I stay with you any longer." It's too pat: the weight of that reality needs to be felt more. In the beginning, I wanted to provide her with a precise profession she could be attached to.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Wouldn't this be getting away from the subject?

PIALAT: The real problem is inserting this within given limits, as I have the tendency to elaborate, to go overboard, very quickly. Getting caught up for an hour or two on one meticulously controlled shot is so difficult — every auteur knows it. It's why, nowadays, I almost feel the necessity of shooting with a predefined framework that I wouldn't finesse more than a smidge.


PIALAT: Now, I'd like to make (but I no doubt wouldn't ever get to, for financial reasons) a chronicle of France from 1934 to 1950, that is, approximately from the period preceding the Popular Front to the one following the Liberation. What keeps me thinking about this project is doing it almost in the manner of a simple spectator. I would be in the film, but above everything else it would be the painting of an era. Once again, it would be autobiographical but, I think, having sufficiently taken some detachment vis-à-vis the autobiography, so as not to repeat the errors of Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble. There is, in a certain way, someone who succeeded over Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble: and that's Eustache, with La Maman et la putain [The Mama and the Whore, 1973]. There's what I should have made: a four-hour film, a genuine catharsis letting you puke out your guts. And then refusing the stars anything that might sterilize it.


LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: [What are your thoughts on] collaborative work?

PIALAT: Up till now, I wrote all my scenarios by myself, but you never work in solitude. On La Maison des bois, I worked with Arlette, who rewrote the dialogue, along with Yves Laumet. On La Gueule ouverte, I really worked alone. It's very difficult to find someone who agrees with you, but it's certain that if I had a collaborator who was capable, taking off from my ideas, of building a script that was more produceable than the ones I deliver, I'd be very happy about that, and I'd have a lot less worry during production. This would give me a freedom I don't have, since the writing problems would be resolved in advance and not at the last minute, as is often still the case with me.

I've had the fear of the blank page for a long time. Because of this I wasn't able to write. It was a conditioned reflex: I saw myself as a schoolboy again, before I'd have even come up with anything. I needed a major event in my life to occur for me to decide to write my novel. Now, I feel the desire once again to write and to build...


Saturday, April 11, 2009


Something New

Alejandro Adams' Canary [2009] screens at 9:30pm on Thursday April 16th, at the Anthology Film Archives in New York. I hope other cities around the world soon have the chance to see the picture, so that their audiences too may experience this latest example of an American cinema revitalized by the nascent digital infrastructure. Ten years ago the best of this ambitious stream of moviemakers would have alienated 'indie studio' execs with their intelligence and their unwillingness to compromise god-given talent. These bosses would tell them shut-up-know-it-all and take my notes to heart or don't make a film. This one-sided exchange is, thankfully, no longer inevitable.

Adams makes cinema like he has something to prove and a system to eradicate. The story, as it were, involves "organ harvesting," which sounds punchy on press-releases and gives the bloggers an entré to the work — even though the director's fill-it-as-it's-felt approach to the subject will likely just generate remarks about 'the unusual freedom with which Adams explores his thesis.' To those figments I would only respond that freedom should not be considered so unusual. Premise here is pretense (the organs are MacGuffins), and this pretense allows a mise-en-scène to take root in the documentary-surveillance mode. The images are mostly hand-held, the shots surround the scene and proceed largely without logic, rather to provide, as cuts accumulate, the effect of the events having 'surrounded' the image. This is a flaw (because it brings to mind a friend's comments about the 'anchorless' quality of Naomi Kawase's own découpage) and a virtue (because it's of a piece with the thesis, which in Canary is atmosphere) — take it or leave it. You could say there's something similar here to the framings, cuts, and reframings in Assayas, but that the kinetic quality hasn't developed muscle tone. And this would be half-pithy, except Adams differs radically in his use of an 'acting' style that totally astonishes with its verisimilitude — and poses two questions: (1) Does the acting dictate this 'documentary' style? (2) Who will be the first to apply a quasi-verisimilitude (in the acting) to a 'classical' mise-en-scène of monumentality, of rigorous cuts to reverse-angles or that assemble into montage? (And is this possible, or even necessary?) The exception to the hyperreal performances comes in the form of the jumpsuited harvester portrayed by Carla Pauli, whose artificial demeanor underscores her 'role' as the virus in the Canary-system — the roving agent in ghost-white that activates the structure of 'episodes surveilled' which all begin as discrete vignettes and end in play-death, subtending, let's say, with the vial-expiries of R+J. Conscious theatrical flourishes, then, that indicate a world (the filmrealworld) which will determine itself. Hence "Canary" — a signal of danger's onset, stimulus urging a fast grope for the lifeline.

I didn't want to make the film sound too theoretical, but this is its structure and therein resides its actual thesis: We need hearts. But I implore you to heed this Canary first and foremost because its tour-de-force sound-mix that makes the din of conversation oceanic, because its polyglot characters who interact so beautifully unsubtitled (an aspect quickly becoming a trademark of the Adams oeuvre), because its attention to the nuances of so-specific-they're-authentic domestic ecologies (e.g., the German husband and the fluently-German-speaking-but-American-accented wife who argue about "birthday glasses" and the general upkeep of their San Jose residence), because the high-satirical hilarity of the marketing-brainstorming session, of the Santa-Canary 'funny-guy's' waiting-room interactions with a distracted toddler, and of the TV-relieved palaver between the electrolysised girl-friend duo, all add up to one of the most perceptive and pleasurable American films of Our Late Era. — ¡Olé Alejandro!

Canary by Alejandro Adams, 2009:


ENDNOTE: This recent interview by Karina Longworth with Alejandro Adams is well worth checking out — not least because it gives the impression Adams may be the only American filmmaker currently living who isn't ashamed of sounding smart. It's right here.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

"Kinbrody and the Ceejays"

The highlight of the latest issue of Cinema Scope magazine is without a doubt Bill Krohn's nearly 8,000-word takedown of Richard Brody's meretricious Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard. Krohn's piece stands on its own as a biographical-historical work of amazing breadth, even as it figures as the most clear-sighted and methodical critical analysis of Brody's demented book that I've read to date. This important essay — which, I might add, doubles as an evisceration of the current vogue for the dip-your-toes-in-the-water-and-swish approach to arts writing — is now available online and in full at the Cinema Scope website: here.

It's worth noting that although Brody has now ascended, with the circumstance of his book's publication, to the rank of THE anglophone go-to guy for words concerning Jean-Luc Godard in particular and French cinema in general, he has no involvement whatsoever with the 80-page book that accompanies the forthcoming Masters of Cinema Series release of Godard's Une femme mariée. Simply put, the volume's present-day contributions from Krohn, and Luc Moullet, set a welcome new standard for discussion of the everything that is Godard's cinema.