1. The first time I interviewed you, I asked you how you came to the film business – you answered with a story from your childhood in Africa. You were in a dangerous situation, so your parents put you in a closed metal container and had you repeat your name so that you would stay in it because there were lions around the car and the car would not start. You said that, in this black closed box, you had a feeling of security and then of a certain happiness, a certain well-being. However, the second time, when I had you repeat the story to other people, you said that you were very afraid.
2. I was afraid of suffocating.
3. Yes, and to you it is not contradictory to be afraid fo suffocating and then be somewhat reclusive from the world and thus safe.
4. No, it’s not. I was living in a country where there wasn’t a cinema. People were going to the cinema, there was no VCR, no vidoes, so what I knew about films – since we lived in the bush in south and north Cameroon – was from my mother. She talked to me about films or talked about them with my father as if they were extraordinary memories. She talked about the films they saw or the ones she saw when she was a teenager. And really, I did not understand at all what they were. For me, [films] were something that seemed to be – from their words, maybe – the only thing they missed. They weren’t missing much. They were young and happy. They had been teenagers during the war [so they knew hardship], and [in Africa] they had enough to eat. They lived outside, where money was not very important – a little like Robinson Crusoe. They didn’t miss anything from Europe. Maybe a little, though, since they had a few vinyl records and books. I think that if there was one thing my mother missed, it was films. I was very curious about them.
5. What connection do you see between film and the story of the container that protected you from the lions?
6. Well, actually, it’s a connection I made when you asked the question many years later – this story of me being locked in the container and the lions circling the car that would not start became a legend in the white community in north Cameroon: ‘Ohhh, you’re the girl who was locked in the container with the lions and all that’. It became something of an extraordinary story that, year after year, when I went back to Cameroon, became more and more magical, you see. In the end, I was allegedly trapped for fifteen days! So, after all that, it became sort of a legend, though it was completely untrue. And years later, when I went to the cinema, when I knew what a film was, I thought, ‘Really, what a drama ... what a drama we created at that time.’ But still, I realised something: that I was not afraid of the lions – I think I was way too young to be afraid of the lions and imagine that they could eat us – but that I had a feeling of being isolated, of being in a different time frame, isolated from the stress in the car, from my mother’s fear and that I was in peace somewhere shielded from the stress of others and, thus, my own stress. And time did not have the same dimension. I am going to say this in a crude way: it was like all of a sudden, time only belonged to me, to my dreams. I could interpret the sounds I was hearing, and I did not have to obey the group anymore.
7. So, at the same time, there is a film scene, but you never thought of filming it?
9. You never thought of using it in a film or ...?
10. No. When I made my first film, Chocolat, and I was checking locations in Cameroon, that’s what people were telling me: ‘Oh, but it’s you – the girl with the lions,’ and I was telling myself, ‘No’ – this story can’t be told because it would require special effects I didn’t have, like putting the film camera inside a dark box. And finding beautiful lions like those ones, which aren’t easy to find. No. I had the impression that this scene was much better as just an anecdotal story. And by the way, was the lion episode really the anecdotal seed for what would become cinema in my life? I’m not sure.
11. And it was a scene. It was a film scene, as if someone filmed it, but it was also a scene like you were...
12. ... Yes, like a spectator, sort of a listener.
13. ... At least ... like years later when you’re asked [about cinema,] you answer with this story. And here you just gave all the key elements of your position as a director.
15. ... Who can interpret but who at the same time stays in the background.
17. So your answer bears the mark of a cinéaste who is able to interpret and, at the same time, takes a certain distance in adopting the position of the subject responsible for organising the whole film and finds in that distance some kind of tranquility.
19. Is there a link for you – besides the story of the lions – between the fact that you became a film director and a certain distance towards the world in general that you developed during your childhood?
20. Oh, yes, certainly, yes. I think it is easy to understand, that we were living a little away from the cities, in isolated areas where there were no roads. My father got around on a horse or in an old truck. My mother was a little like a woman on a ranch in cowboy movies, making bread, killing pigs, making ‘rillettes’ and birthday cakes. It was a little idealistic with the kids, the mother, the father and all that.
21. Kids? How many of you were there?
22. Three at the time. My brother hadn’t been born yet. There was – as we say in English – a flaw, a stain on this diamond, a defect. It was not the ranch of pioneers. It was the house of a French family at the end of the colonisation of Africa, so there was a gardener, a cook, a servant who came to take care of the clothes, clean the house, the floor, change the sheets, etc. So there was something abnormal, slightly abnormal. And my parents were very young – they had never had servants. We all felt like it was the norm, but it always made us uneasy. For example, my mother would only let the servant clean tablecloths, dishtowels and bath towels. Anything more personal she would wash herself. She would never leave her bedroom disorderly; she made her own bed, for example. There was uneasiness [towards servants] that I think showed how they felt there. Then later, when I returned to France, I had had, at the same time, a different life experience than other kids had. It was rougher, more adventurous. I had seen many countries. I think I was somewhat envied a little by the other kids in my extended family because I had seen animals like giraffes, elephants, lions, crocodiles. But at the same time, they were a little contemptuous because we didn’t own a house nor had much dough. When we came back to France, we were poor. But maybe we experienced something they didn’t know. We were enriched because of that knowledge, the knowledge that we were experiencing the end of a historical period and that independence was coming.
23. What year did you come back to France?
24. I came back to France after the independence occurred, but when I talk about Cameroon at the end of the fifties, the Independent Movements already existed. My dad always talked about them at home. You see, the war started in 57, so it was a part of us. We were returning to France as a family that ignored all this and didn’t really care. We still talked about the war in east Asia, you see. Not at all what was going on in Africa, but we knew something was about to change radically. The French Empire was ... was ... nothing ... was finished.
25. In addition, your family members were not settlers ...
26. ... No, they were government employees.
27. Your father was a government employee – that’s right. And thus, the second link to film ...
28. The second link to film was to actually go to the cinema. In France, my grandparents took me to Walt Disney films – cartoons – and I had the feeling that I was cheated. From what my mom told me, the films she told me about were stories of humans, stories about men and women, with the problems of men and women, and not cartoons. And I didn’t like [the cartoons]. I have terrible memories of being taken by my grandparents to see cartoons. And I think the first time I saw a film with actors, only then did I understand what a film was. It was War and Peace with Audrey Hepburn.
29. What year was that?
30. I don’t know. It must have been in the Fifties. It was under the biggest tent in the world. But back then we did not see the films when they came out. They were second and third showings, so a film like War and Peace, I suppose, must have been shown often and under the biggest tent in the world, too.
31. I understand very well what you are saying. Funny, I never realised it, but I had the same experience but younger, just around D-Day. I remember my grandfather took me to see Dumbo and a little later going to see Tarzan. I found [the experience] really was not comparable.
32. Exactly, yes.
33. Because cartoons, I would say, were sending me back more to the books that I knew already at the image level.
34. Yes, and you know, I had a subscription to Tintin paid for by my grandfather. So comic books like those by Hergé were important in my life, but I didn’t want to go to the cinema to see cartoons that were even sillier.
35. Yes! And also, I think not sillier, they may not be sillier but rather that it’s another image. It’s a drawing, I think; it’s not an image. I don’t know how to characterise it. You have to admit there is something like the illusion of Reality.
36. Yes, but they’re not serious. In Tintin, even if we laugh with Professor Tournesol and the Duponts, and even if the situations are really outlandish, there is a capacity to follow, to accept that everybody has a personality, that Haddock is grumpy and needs whisky, that the Duponts are cops. It is at least something that looks a little more like life, where each person is unfortunately not simple – they have a past. You feel, for Haddock, that life was not always simple, or he would not need to be gulping down whisky all the time. I found that nice.
37. Yes, ok, yes, right ... but we misunderstood each other there, because I meant that in the real film image, we believe in this reality, at least I think we do.
38. Yes, we believe.
39. Even if it’s Tarzan, for me it was ...
40. Of course ...
41. ... It was Tarzan, maybe the first film ... There are real trees, and it’s a real guy that hangs from the vines, it’s a real monkey ...
42. ... And when there’s a man and a woman. For me, films were more troubling in that regard. They touch each other – they have adult attitudes – even if the films are not rated. Even a kiss, a stroke, a hand that takes an arm, or a hand that takes another hand. It becomes something that is addressed to me and not just something I hide and dream about, but it’s exposed there, on the big screen, and it’s addressed to me, and I can see it. I can see a kiss; I can see a man taking a woman in his arms. I can also tell that they are going to remove their clothes even if it doesn’t show that at the end of the scene.
43. ... Especially in the Fifties ...
44. Yes, but the idea is there, the sexuality is there and [the idea] that there will be something more because, often in films, like in cowboy movies, there’s a kiss, the hug, and then there’s suddenly a kid after that. There is a sort of strange ellipse that exists in films for a young viewer. It is less puritan than the familial unspoken, I think.
45. So, for you, this dimension of the film is important, like seeing something that was forbidden.
46. Yes, to see men and women in intimate situations was even more troubling than seeing someone kill someone else.
47. I was going to ask if it was similar or if it wasn’t the same?
48. No, because when I saw someone killing someone I figured it out – like everybody else – that it was fake, that nobody was killed. [Accurate.] With death, there are people whose death or whose departure I remember – like something that impacted me for life. But what I felt was more powerful because in a film there is no death – when someone died in a film, it was not real. What was more powerful in a film for me was separation. It was the fact that two people who loved each other, or could have loved each other, would not see each other anymore or would lose each other or would go their own way because of a misunderstanding. And when the film ends, there is no proof that the misunderstanding will be resolved, you see ... no ... and that they separated ... separation ...
49. Is Brève rencontre an archetype for you?
50. Yes, yes of course. Brève rencontre is a film that I saw late – a film my mother told me about. It didn’t belong to me, if you like. For example, in Doctor Zhivago – the end of Doctor Zhivago – there are two characters who don’t see each other any longer, she on the tram, he on the Rue de Lee Christie – that was agonizing for me. Something had happened. I know in the end they are killed in each other’s arms. They really kissed in the film. Because in spite of everything a kiss is a kiss in the cinema, no matter what one says. There’s a contract that even if this separation is fiction there are real tears in one’s eyes and perhaps even a bit of glycerine. Personally I don’t care. In any case there is something that is very, very close to a real separation.
51. Would you say there is now, in that way, a separation in your films? Do you think about that when you make a film? I can think of several of your films where I saw that all of a sudden. I see it in 35 rhums, I see it in Trouble Every Day, I see it in L’Intrus, and of course I see it in White Material. Would you say that you think about that when you’re making a film?
52. How can I explain it? I remember when I was a student and Jacques Rivette told me, ‘So, think really hard about something. We can’t kill without thinking about this character in two different ways.’ I told myself I’m not going to be killing all the time. I realized that it’s true that writing a plot is not that simple – that is to say, this one here we’re going to knock off. It’s not that simple. For example, I was almost able to find a romantic necessity for the death in À bout de souffle. The death of a young man who runs down the street to escape from police and who’s shot in the back. He puts his hands on his back. And there’s the face of this young woman who knows that she betrayed him. But if we end with the man’s death there wouldn’t be any meaning; what has meaning is when we end on Jean Seberg’s face as she realises she’s responsible for her lover’s death. So there, yes, I agree with that. It’s crucial that the death not just be [Denis snaps her fingers] macabre but that it has an immense echo in the film – that it be justified. The separation touches me more if I don’t say, ‘We’re going to make a film about separation. Come on, let’s make another film about separation.’ For me it rises like carbonation in a bottle. It rises, rises, rises. It puts pressure on the plot. Often I notice without completely realising it that it was really that that interested me; it was practically the heart of the film. For example I remember when I made S’en fout la mort there are two friends – one played by Isaach de Bankolé, the other by Alex Descas. Their friendship in real life touched me enormously. It was a very beautiful friendship because Alex was shy and didn’t talk. He was quite proud but he said nothing and smoked his cigarettes in silence. And Isaach, he felt completely at home – he was open to the world. He introduced Alex and spoke for both of them. I loved the relationship between these two men. So the plot was written around that friendship. At the end of the film – which was the first time for me there was a death in the plot ... the first time it was necessary to kill off a character – I realised afterwards it was just so one character could tell the other goodbye. When Alex’s character is killed with his fighting cock – he’s stabbed and then killed – Isaach’s character takes him into his arms, takes him into this hut where they live, very gently lays him on a bed they have there, takes a wash basin and a sponge – (that’s really strange, this sponge and this wash basin with the clean water) – and cleans his wounds even though Alex’s character is dead at this point. He washes him and talks to him. It’s a monologue since the other character is dead. He tells him about how they met: they were at his mother’s place, Ray Charles music was playing and they made gratin de christophine – one of Martinique’s national dishes. That moment was a lot stronger for me than the actual death of Jocelyn, Alex’s character: it was a goodbye between two friends. I remember we all had tears in our eyes to a certain extent though perhaps that was naïve because we felt it was a moment stronger than death: it was a separation.
53. I’m going to back up a bit – you said, ‘I was a student and Rivette told me ...’ How did you end up going to film school? Why?
54. Two things happened with my mother. First was her presence, the strength of my mother, and the other, perhaps, was the fact that I had very bad asthma. I still do but a lot less than I used to. Because of asthma I often escaped my father’s watchfulness since he monitored the children and their activities. He made sure that we got up early, that we were active, that we could take care of ourselves, that we never got sick, that we walked to school, that we played sports and all that. To teach us how to swim he’d throw us into the ocean where we couldn’t put our feet down. It was best to be a bit like that. He was a loving father who also loved to punish us. But he loved me a lot – and disciplined us a bit anyway.
55. Yes, because it was a bit the model of the time.
56. Exactly. So as he didn’t have an oldest son – I was the eldest – I had to be both swimming champion and a champion runner. My father had been a champion runner of the 110-metre hurdle. I had no choice but to run and of course I had asthma. Eventually it was my mother who more or less took me to her breast. She said to my father, ‘Oh no, you’re completely crazy. She can’t do that. Look, she can barely breathe.’ So that protected me. With my mother I could either read – because I didn’t go to school and all that – or she would tell me about the films she’d seen. I wasn’t allowed to watch them because at the time there were restrictions. So she told me the story of Hiroshima mon amour – that’s one of my memories. She must have told me about it 20 or 30 times. My father thought it was weird and unhealthy to talk about films. He didn’t like the film and he had already seen it with my mother. It left him totally indifferent, without a doubt. And my mother not only talked to me about the film but she said, ‘I’ve never seen a film like that, told like that.’ I find an interesting parallel between the young French woman falling in love with a German during World War II in Nevers and her later love story with the Japanese architect in Hiroshima with my mother’s past during the German occupation. During her youth one was evidently forbidden to look at a German. My mother always told me that when she took the metro to secondary school she had to avoid meeting the gaze of any Germans. And at the same time, because my mother is a reasonable enough person, she understood very well the story of Le Silence de la mer: that one could fall in love with a German. So Hiroshima was part of her past as well. I imagined actress Emmanuelle Riva perhaps resembled my mother and even might still. As my mother described this Japanese man to me, it was the first time she spoke to me about a man who was a fantasy for her. It was the first time she confided in me that she thought he was a sexy man. She had two children – we didn’t talk like that. But suddenly she told me, ‘This man, wow, really, if I met him tomorrow I’d leave your father.’ So after having spent all of my life being protected this way, in a cocoon in the heart of which were cinema and books, when I graduated I felt the tragedy was about to begin, meaning that I had to finally answer to my father and take my studies seriously. I had to escape from this protection of asthma where I could watch movies, read book and all that because making a career out of the cinema wasn’t even something that I could imagine. My mother spoke to me about Alain Resnais and Jean-Luc Godard, but they were superhuman to me. I had to find a place to escape to after graduation. As soon as I graduated (and thanks to my Literature teacher I succeeded in figuring out how to do so), I managed more or less behind my parents’ backs to prepare myself for film school, without fully realising myself what I was doing. The Lit. professor thought I should do Literature. He didn’t think the Cinema was a good thing for me. For one thing, I was a woman and for another I was thin and fragile. No, he thought I should do Literature.
57. And so for your preparatory studies in film, which school did you go to?
58. Marie la Lune. At that time there was the Lycée Voltaire on the other side of Paris. I lived in the suburbs. I went to the Lycée Voltaire’s exit and there were a lot of boys. It was also a very political school. I discovered the real boys – the Marxists, Leninists, the cinephiles – I discovered everything. Because up to that point there had just been my mother but now there were boys. Deep down that pleased me even more. And then I met a boy who told me, ‘Yeah, come on let’s make a date for noon.’ Little by little I found myself getting led along like that but without being sure of myself at all. It feels stupid to say this, but I did something that was in essence romantic – I got married. Not with a boy from the Lycée Voltaire. I got married to someone who I met elsewhere, who was a photographer and who, knowing my family, wanted to take a photo of me. He thought I was pretty. I didn’t even understand; for me, it was abstract, except one day he came to pick me up at the Lycée’s exit in a car. I say ‘in a car,’ because he had a driver’s license, which meant he was from another generation.
59. At that time it meant something – a car ...
60. And he went to the cinema a lot. So he came to pick me up at the Lycée’s exit. We went to the Cinoche in the Latin Quarter, which I had never been to. And the Cinémathèque, which I had never been to. And so it wasn’t a coincidence, huh? And he took me home one evening and said, ‘Go to film school.’ It was he who ... well, first, we were married ...
61. And how old were you?
62. Seventeen. It was a little shocking for my parents because he was over 30 years old.
63. Were they opposed to this? You were only 17...
64. No, because I think they had more or less given up. I no longer had a brilliant future, so they said, ‘Oh well, at least she’s married, so she can’t get into too much mischief.’ I’m not mad at my parents for that. Since I was a good student and loved Literature, I think my parents had this idea of a brilliant future for me, being a professor or something. My parents said, ‘She’s physically fragile, but she’ll make it.’ And suddenly I also gave up on the only part of me that they’d counted on: my studies.
65. But you didn’t necessarily abandon your studies?
66. Well, I didn’t know that there was such a thing as film school. I didn’t even know what that was. I got married so they ticked the box that said the Literature thing is not going to happen! But nevertheless I found some small jobs in a company that made institutional films for a school in Mali. These were films about learning how to avoid mosquito bites, how to avoid catching malaria – institutional films like that. I still saw some guys from Lycée Voltaire who were going to Nanterre and who made it to l’IDHEC, which had become a completely revolutionary school: there were Maoists, there were Situs; they fired the faculties, they did not want any more faculties, they only wanted people from film to teach.
67. When was that?
68. At the beginning of the seventies.
69. After ’68 then.
70. They told me to take the entrance exam! But instead of a formal entrance exam like it was before, it was given by professionals, professionals like chief operators who were active in ’68. They were still heroes of the film business who were giving the exam, like operators working with Bresson.
71. Still, they were professionals.
72. Yes! But you know when Jean-Luc Godard talks about the professionals of the film business, it is somewhat of a general comment. I was told, ‘Look, he is from Belgium; this is Bresson’s chief operator, maybe you’ll have him on your jury.’ For me it was very, very impressive because all of a sudden I was in touch with the other side. It was not the bla-bla, ‘the film this, the film that.’ They were people who knew the film directors, people who participated in the making of the films. There was Jean Eustache, for example. All of a sudden it was like a curtain lifting, I was entering a different world! So I gave in under the pressure from two friends and I took the exam, but the exam was something extraordinary, because we were put in a dorm for one week isolated from the world. We were 500.
73. Five hundred?!
74. Yes, 500 because after ’68, l’IDHEC had an aura. Today they ask for five years of college education. Back then it was an open house: ‘Come make film!’ There was no little fence at the entrance. [Research required.]
75. Well, it was still an exam.
76. Yes, but now you can only take the exam if you have five or six years of college education.
77. At l’IDHEC, you mean?
78. Yes, today it’s called Femis. Now if you do not have any diploma and you want to get into Femis, you have to go to summer school and you are put in a specific category. You do not take the same exam as the others. Back then everybody was taking the same exam. There were people who were professional photographers, for example. I knew how to take photographs since I was married to a photographer; I like it, but I wasn’t a film bum. There was a guy who was a film critic. I was mesmerised. I thought to myself, ‘This guy takes the entrance exam? But I am nothing.’ So I took the exam and forgot about it! I went to Hamburg, because my husband was hired by a German magazine to shoot a whole series of pictures in Germany. We lived near Hamburg next to the Baltic Sea (the context for 35 Rhums, actually). We had a car, a tape recorder, and since Germany was ahead of France, I bought a Rolling Stones album that had not come out in France yet. We lived isolated from the world. My husband was taking pictures and I loaded the cameras. In November he was done with his work, and we returned to Paris. One of my friends from Lycée Voltaire tells me, ‘Claire! We’ve been looking for you all over the place! (No cell phone then.) Where were you?!’ I said, ‘Huh, I don’t know, I was in Germany.’ He tells me, ‘You made it!’ Only 20 people were accepted and if I didn’t go now they’d give my spot to somebody else since the deadline for acceptance was the next day. To be accepted and not go would be really shameful, so I met with Louis Daquin, the new director of the school (it was his first year), who lectures me and I tell him the truth, that I do not believe it, that I forgot! The exam was extraordinary but being accepted didn’t cross my mind at all! Especially because parallel to this my husband had taken pictures of Peter Brook and his wife, and then Brook invited me to take his classes.
79. Theatre classes?
80. Yes, so I was a student of Peter Brook’s, but I didn’t really know why I was there. So when Daquin all of a sudden told me that l’IDHEC was serious, it’s everyday, you get out with a diploma, I went. It was then that I met Rivette. My first teacher was Pierre-William Glenn who was the chief operator for Rivette. He said, ‘Yeah right, I work with Rivette, so what.’ Juliet Berto was also taking classes. All of a sudden I made it – I was in, in a world where maybe I was going to meet Jacques Rivette.
81. So Rivette was already a first-class director?
82. Yes. For the record in the Cahiers du Cinéma, he was from the group of four, he was considered like the Saint-Just. We referred to him as Saint-Just: The absolute critic. Even if Truffaut, Godard, and Chabrol had started making films, for Rivette it was more difficult. He was respected as ‘the pure thought.’ But Jacques Rivette was a very seductive man, very curious of others. He is still like that. So he spotted me in Glenn’s class one day. He said, ‘If you ever want to work, you could do an internship with us. We would not be oppossed if you wanted to come work a little with us.’ Suzanne Schiffman was also there. One said ‘we,’ there was always this majestic ‘we,’ you see, nobody was playing games.
83. And so you became an assistant.
84. No, I finished school thanks to Louis Daquin, because he required I finish. That counted a lot for me, but Peter Brook thought I was going to play in King Lear, the role of Cordelia and all that. I knew that it was Peter Brook I was interested in, not becoming an actress. So I got my diploma and then Louis Daquin told me, ‘When you have a diploma from l’IDHEC, you can go directly to the Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française [ORTF], you’ll be salaried, you’ll be part of ORTF until you die, you will probably be a director, I trust you. But you will have a regular income.’ Daquin wasn’t crazy; he saw that my husband and I had financial ups and downs. We had issues with rent, for example, Daquin kept an eye on his students. I think he saw a little bit further too, he saw that this marriage was not on track, so sometimes he would say, ‘If you want to come sleep at my home, you can.’ I asked him, ‘What if I don’t go to ORTF? What’s the other option?’ He said, ‘Well, there’s nothing else. You’ll have to wait to get internships in the film business, meet film people. I know some, but since I am a communist, and a part of the communist clique with Sacha Vierny, we’re a bit excluded. I can help you find internships of course, but it will be one, then maybe another one, nothing regular. There won’t be any job security.’ And yet he also told me, in a way you know, I could not really go to ORTF. I really had no desire to go, he also made me understand that there would always be food at his place, you see, whatever happened. Little by little I had internships that Daquin found, he found me jobs, sometimes for a week, sometimes two weeks, they were always good things. He also helped me to be come self-sufficient. And that’s when I met Rivette again, and became his assistant.
85. And all this time you told yourself that you wanted to direct a film yourself?
86. Yes, becauseI was making little films that Daquin sent me, for example he said, ‘Alain Cavalier is putting together something for EDF, won’t you give him a hand?’ And around Jacques Rivette there was no hierarchy, there was no ‘being an assistant’ for lfie, we were all making films together. What counted around Jacques was the film; it was not like an army with officers and rank and all that. There was a group who took care of the film. I think it de-inhibited me a lot. I thought, ‘Yes, this was not at all what I imagined of the “elite,” way above us.’ But I have to tell you; it was not shyness – I was so quiet and even though I was capable of wanting, I had will power – I was incapable of representing myself outside of the others. For example, when I worked with Jacques Rivette, I became a little bit Jacques Rivette. I am exaggerating, but I became the film, and I told myself, ‘How sad it’s going to be when I can’t fusion [sic] with this whole, but I’ll have to be initiating it.’ I thought, ‘How lonely I’m going to become.’ And I was a little scared of that.
87. But still, you wanted to do it.
88. I wanted to do it. But that’s something that today’s young Femis people forget: that I was living on my own without my parents. After being married, divorced, and in the film business, I could not go see them and ask for food. It was impossible.
89. When you said married, divorced ...
90. No, I was separated. I divorced years later. We did not have enough money to divorce. Back then, you had to pay to get a divorce.
91. You still do.
92. We did not have an address, either. My husband was not paying his taxes so the collectors were after us.
93. You couldn’t go back to your parents.
94. Ah no!
95. Today the young can’t do this, because they have not even left their parents.
96. But it was not because I was stronger or anything, it was just impossible. I could imagine the snarling from my dad. I would rather have died, sincerely, when I say die, it’s true. I remember a summer I had nowhere to go; I had no more money. My parents were in Brittany. I went to Brittany for one week, and I told them I wanted to see them, but it was not true. I went there to be fed twice a day. My brothers and sisters knew it; they were spoiling me. And Daquin always knew it. People from this generation don’t realise that back then when you didn’t work, you didn’t eat, you didn’t pay you rent, and so assisting jobs for me were really marvellous! I worked with people I admired and I made money, so before taking the jump and making a film on my own somebody had to tell me, ‘Yes, I will produce your film.’ Back then we did not have the little HD film cameras, you see, so I found this producer ...
97. ... the cameras do not guarantee ...
98. No, but I found the producer, though I did not find this producer right away because the producer, Stéphane, who was the producer for Rivette and Marguerite Duras, went out of business, so I did not find a producer right away who told me, ‘Okay, let’s go.’
99. But you found him. So unless you want to continue to tell the story, I want to switch gears and come back to what you said earlier that you and the crew had tears in your eyes during the death of ...?
100. When Jocelyn died [while shooting of S’en fout la mort].
101. That’s it. Another time I remember you said that in Trouble Every Day in the scene where Béatrice Dalle ... uh ... devours ...
102. Devours ...
103. ... you told me that the whole crew was taken by a sort of ...
104. Stupor ...
105. Ah ... and they were also frantic when you started throwing blood all over. Blood, well ... paint.
106. Yes. It was not a trance.
107. I am not saying it was a trance. I did not interpret this as a trance at all, but is there a certain crossing of the distance of the one who represents – something into which he does not take part – a transition from mimesis to methexis? Does this play an important role? Do you find this in every film?
108. Yes. In Trouble Every Day, it was obviously a lot more troubling, because it’s one thing to write a scene like that on paper. I did not rehearse it, because we knew we could not do several takes, so I told Béatrice and Nicolas Duvauchelle about how it was going to happen, how it needed to be prepared. We explained how the special effects guy would put the little blood pump on her neck, that everything had to be installed including the little piece of flesh there, etc. There were two cameras, and we did one take. I had no experience. I had the word ‘devour’ in my head, but I knew nothing, and I think we shared this unknown with the actors. We had a tube of blood, a little piece of flesh. As long as we followed the stroke of Béatrice’s hand on his body, we could accompany that scene as a crew, but then there was the first bite – even when you read it in the script, there was the feeling that we were trespassing, going over a forbidden line, and I believe I was not the only one who felt that way. It was not funny at all. Not funny like in a horror film where a vampire comes to a girl and sucks her neck. There was something about the ‘devouring’ of the young man; yesterday we spoke about the English word ‘surrender.’ He surrendered, he did not defend himself anymore, this is a strong guy, and all of a sudden he surrenders. I do not make any comparisons of course, but that is what was most exceptional in the film Realm of the senses by Nagisa Oshima, when the man tells the woman to continue strangling him, to go until the end of the strangling, because he can’t stand her to stop and start anymore.
109. Yes, it’s true but the case of Trouble Every Day is particular, because there is this transgression. To take another scene ... when Michel Subor [from L’Intrus] was pulled through the snow by horses; that is quite a tough scene.
110. Yes, it hurts.
111. Yes, it really hurts. When you did it, did it hurt you, too?
113. I was wondering how you shot the scene? Do you tell yourself you can cheat a little bit but not completely?
114. No, you can’t cheat too much. In addition, we did not have any stuntmen; we did not have trained horses. They were horses from a little ranch nearby. Katia [Yekaterina Golubeva] rides well, but pulling two is difficult and we didn’t want to hurt Michel, so we had to be on soft snow not hard-packed snow. Only in the faraway background scene did we use a young man from the ranch with a piece of foam in his back. He volunteered and did it so Michel did not have to do all the takes. But it hurt everybody. It hurt Katia too, because it’s heavy. It hurt, because of the scraped back. Also in Trouble Every Day when the young maid is grabbed by Vincent Gallo’s character in the maid’s changing room, she is stripped of her clothes already in front of the door, and he puts her down on the concrete – in this hotel it’s rough concrete – he rapes her on the concrete. I asked Florence Loiret, ‘Do you want to try to have foam on the floor?’ She said, ‘No, no, no, no, I don’t want to think about these things, I’d rather we don’t do too many takes, only one take.’ So she was really hurt, her back was scraped and the crew knew it, and there was the rape, sure, but there was this position lying on her back with a heavy man on top of her, spreading her leg apart, he was moving on top of her, so her back was hurt. These are terrible, terrible things; we physically felt them.
115. And when it’s not physical, it’s more psychological, like in 35 rhums when ...
116. ... the father and daughter tell each other goodbye.
117. Yes, or when he watches her dance with the boy.
118. I don’t know, I am in Alex Descas’s gaze and I am also in Grégoire Colin’s uneasiness ...
119. Yes that’s it ... there are two ...
120. More than in the young girl, because I know that she knows she is in the converging point of these two gazes, the father’s and the neighbour’s. So I think I am more in the perspective of their gazes and not that of the young girl, that’s what I feel. It’s there, what they both feel and what is so hard for them to tell her.
121. But when I watch the film, I wonder what she feels, what she thinks. She remains indecisive to me.
123. Indecisive or extremely complicated.
124. She in indecisive, and I think maybe she doesn’t want this kiss while her father is looking. I think I would not like a boy to kiss me knowing my father is looking. So she doesn’t want it, but she doesn’t want it, but she doesn’t meanly push him away.
125. Yes, but then she sits down farther away.
126. Then she pulls him back, but it is unbearable for her that her father watches this one kiss, because it is a real love kiss not a little kissy.
127. But I have the feeling that she knows this, but she tells herself she has to go for it.
128. Yes, but I think for a lot of teenage girls, until what age I don’t know, there is a long time of something that is like a ‘give in.’ I think this is for boys as well, but I always for a long time that there’s this first step, you have to give in and it’s not funny. You can’t always refuse, because you have to have a really good reason to say no. And it’s not obvious to accept intimacy even from someone you’re attracted to; I think it’s still a shock. And in addition, if your father is there, you might as well go hide.
129. I’d like to say one more thing about this and link it to what you are saying about the girl who has to go for it, who has to separate: there is a long thread of separation that runs in everything you are saying, and then there’s a sort of succession in the way you tell things. There’s the kitchen, then your mother, then finding yourself all alone. It’s like at each step – childhood, teenage years, then adulthood – there is something that brings you back to isolation and separation. And at the same time, you are looking.
130. Maybe from early on I realised that the idea of family – living with a man to have kids with him – wasn’t out of the question in my head, and to have a man I loved wasn’t out of the question, but my preference was toward a sort of nomadism. (But something that wasn’t nomadism. ‘Nomadism’ is a word in fashion, I hate it.) But also that love stories were portable into work, into films, even passion, even what tears you apart the most in love stories includes the bad times. And to create a family requires that you come home and be a somewhat stable person. I did not know how to do this. I am either passionate or depressed. For me to accept to have kids, I would have had to meet someone so balanced that they were capable of being balanced for two, however I could not take on that responsibility. I was fine not being the one who makes films, but the one who tries film after film to make a better one, not always with good success. But life with a family wasn’t up to me.
131. I understand that very well. I think that we could stay a long time on this subject, because I’ve always been fascinated by people around me who never created a family. I always told myself in comparison to some boys around me: how did these young guys manage to know, while I never knew. I just jumped in and then later thought maybe I wasn’t really made for this. So that is a very complex thing.
132. For a woman the question is slightly different, because a father is one thing, but to be a very bad mother ... it’s ... you see what I mean ... whew!
133. Yes, okay, it’s different.
134. And there’s pregnancy ...
135. Yes, yes, absolutely, but I still felt the possibility of a conflict with what I wanted to do and what I had already started.
136. Making films made a lot of things simpler, because making films puts your family at a distance. To make films, you sleep in hotels, etc ...
137. You just said something in passing about making films one after the other with different – more or less – successes. Do you make a difference between your films?
139. Do you tell yourself, ‘No, this one it’s not as good as ...’
140. No, it’s a continuum, but when a film is done, the frustration is such that you feel like you screwed up or that I didn’t do what I should have. You immediately have to tell yourself, ‘Let’s go to the next, one more.’
141. I wonder if it’s the same experience for everybody who has created something. For me it’s the same thing, when a book is finished, I am not interested in it at all anymore. It’s not that I think it’s bad, I’m just past it and I don’t want to come back to it.
142. It bothers me; I need to let it go.
143. Yes, it’s true. And then that’s what makes it so we can do it again. And also so that we somewhat keep doing the same thing.
144. Of course, yes. When I hear people say, they recognise my films, I go, ‘Really?’ Why? When people tell me this, I don’t even know what they are talking about.
145. I know. The day before yesterday after having seen 35 rhums again, pretty quickly I thought, ‘Yes, it’s true, that’s the way it is in Claire’s films’ – a certain slowness, a certain stillness, almost like the camera stopped. And maybe what differentiates you from others is that you throw several lines, several leads in, if you will.
146. Yes, maybe.
147. Like at the beginning of 35 rhums. There’s him, there’s the girl, there are the trains, there’s René, a man who is going to retire and ...
148. ... it comes together little by little.
149. Yes, it comes together, but we feel left behind. There is you: someone who wants to open this array of leads on purpose, each of them ... and let them go for a while ...
150. In books and films, there are things taht move me a lot, they are life’s rituals: people sharing breakfast, people taking off their shoes when they come in, people who make their beds when they get up in the morning, those who don’t, those that open the window to let fresh air come in, etc. Rituals. I am always told we can’t film rituals; that they are boring, because they happen again and again, but specifically that’s what I love.