By Aurore Duiguo and Gautier Coiffard
“Lucky! We are so lucky!”
That’s what we thought when we got the amazing opportunity to interview French filmmaker Claude Lelouch during the “Rendez-vous with French Cinema” festival in New York City this past March.
Lelouch’s first major success came in 1966, with “A Man And A Woman,” which became an international sensation. It still remains in the public mind. The movie was not only beloved by critics and the public, but it was also honored with many awards. At Cannes, it received the grand prize, the Palme d’Or, which it shared with “The Birds, the Bees and the Italians.” Lelouch himself won the OCIC Award at Cannes. At the Oscars, “A Man and a Woman” earned four Academy Award nominations, for best foreign language film, best actress (Anouk Aimee), best director, and for best writing, story and screenplay written directly for the screen. It received two Oscars, foreign language film, as well as screenplay, for Lelouch and his screenwriting partner Pierre Uytterhoeven, who writes with the director to this day. He co-wrote “Ces amours-la.”
Since “A Man and a Woman,” Lelouch has built his cinema with movies about the love of life. The main idea raised by his “Les Parisiens” -- happiness is better than life itself -- is important to an understanding of Lelouch’s philosophy. Lies are also an important key.
The relationship between Lelouch and the press has never been simple, especially after he left the “New Wave,” and therefore the “Cahiers du Cinéma.” However, we met a very friendly man, open-minded, and happy to deliver his secrets. Our interview with director Lelouch took place in the Gallery of the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center.
Is “Ces amours-la” an autobiographical movie? Are you the little boy hidden in the cinema theater?
Exactly, this is me, this is my own story. This movie is based upon my recollections. The character of the filmmaker that you can see at the end is me. From the beginning to the end, this movie tells my story. And all the other characters are people I met and who had a strong influence on me. For instance, the sequence in which you see a man shooting his friend in the back is based on personal experience. It happened during my military service, in Algeria. Then I realized if someone was able to kill his best friend for a girl, it meant that love was stronger than friendship.
This is one of the major ideas raised by the movie; to a certain extent love can replace everything. Love gives a meaning to life. Every time I have been in love with the cinema or with a woman, all the love I have felt for my kids, those things make me happy. This wonderful and cruel world makes sense only because of love.
Life is a journey in wonderland; life is made up of both joy and cruelty. I never get bored with this fascinating show. I am obviously interested in it and that’s why “Ces amours-là” is very close to my vision of the world.
think our world has plenty of time. The Universe just can’t think like we do, because our lives are limited when the universe has billions and billions of years to act. Consequently, we are very impatient, we wish to accelerate things. I’m sure that with all that time – and all that space – one day, the Universe will be able to create the wonderful paradise we all dream of. But I don’t think that is coming soon. We are now part of a film trailer that one day will be on screen.
You look like the little boy in the film, but we can also recognize you in Audrey Dana’s character. She falls in love many times in “Ces amours-la,” and you had many women in your life. You both seem passionate. Can you tell us more about these similarities?
You’re totally right about that. I was hidden behind Audrey's character, especially because this woman looks like a man. I mean she acts like a man. Nowadays, a lot of women act like this. The difference between a man and a woman tends to be very tiny. It is very interesting to observe this phenomenon.
Except for the sexuality which still remains very different, the daily life of men and women are very similar. Thus, Audrey symbolizes this modern woman who appeared after World War II.
This war was not a good bargain for women because they work a lot since WW II. They also work overtime. Now, they are subjected to hierarchies whereas before they were treated as princesses, queens… or slaves. Before, their living condition depended on their physical aspect. If they were beautiful, they were treated as queens, but if they were ugly, it was a nightmare. Now the situation of women has been reversed. The beautiful women have lost their advantage, and the ugly ones have made a good bargain.
Let’s talk now about the evolution of cinema. I have the feeling this art tends to be a sensory experience. First, image was created to match the sight. Second, sound had been added to match the hearing. Then, filmmakers used 3D to try to recreate the sense of touch. Do you think cinema can still evolve? Filmmakers are trying to develop a method to recreate smell in cinema, aren’t they?
Filmmakers will try everything. In my opinion, one day, cinema will manage to recreate the entire sensory system. But even in real life, we don’t use all five senses at the same time. It depends on our needs. We use them according to our needs. If we would use the entire sensory system at the same time, it wouldn’t make the experience better. Our mind has to focus on one sense after the other.
But do you think that cinema technique can still evolve in that direction?
I think so. Cinema did not say its last word. Cinema is still in evolution, cinema is in good shape. Now, with High Definition, the digital arrival. One day, cameras will be hidden in my glasses and you won’t even notice them. I will shoot you and you wouldn’t know it. Filmmakers are still pioneers, it is wonderful! This is still the conquest of the Wild West but cinema is moving forward. One day, cinema will be the absolute weapon to change the world, it’s obvious. It is ongoing. Today, anyone with a smartphone is a filmmaker.
Yes, you’re right. You can even do a movie with your cell phone.
Absolutely, and you can make it well and get a good movie
Let’s talk now about the short film you made in 1976, “C’était un rendez-vous .” At the beginning of the film, it is written that it has been made without any special effects. But I learned later that the sound of the car was actually dubbed with a Ferrari. So you lied, didn’t you?
I didn’t lie about the image, it was a single shot. But when I shot the film, I was driving the car and I was talking to my colleagues who were in the car with me. I had to talk with them. Thus, I could not record the sound. So I did the journey twice. First, to get the image, and second, I did the same journey with a Ferrari to record the sound.
The first car you drove was a Mercedes, but you did not take the same car when you recorded the sound, did you?
No, I didn't. I took another car, a Ferrari, to have a more spectacular sound.
So do the people lie when it comes to cinema?
Do we lie in life? At some point, you have to embellish what you get. But the important thing in « C’était un rendez-vous » was the image, because it was scary. The aim was to get a scary image. I had to build it, and that’s why I had to be able to talk during the shot.
As a rule, does cinema lie? Do you think a movie can be better if it lies?
The lie is much more useful than the truth, it helps you.
Is the lie useful to reach your goal?
Yes, it is like a loan to a bank. You won’t take out a loan, if you are not about to build a house. And you will reimburse it later. So a lie is like a loan, that you have to pay back at some point. For example, for “C’était un rendez-vous,” I have just reimbursed you, because I admitted I used the sound of another car. But what can they - the poor, the ugly, the people who suffer the most – do if they could not lie? Truth is a luxury which can only be used by wealthy people. You have to be young or handsome or rich or in good health to use the truth. The lie is the weapon of poor people; it’s like a loan to the bank. The poor have to take out a loan, because if they don't do that, they can't build their house. So lying is not that bad. I used the lie before using the truth. First, I tried to make people think that I had talent.
Well you lied pretty well!
At the beginning I wasn’t convinced at all. I wasn't absolutely sure I had talent back then. So lying was very helpful, and you can’t make good movies with just the truth. The truth sucks, it’s boring. It’s like watching a race. The race is much more interesting than the outcome. The truth, oh it’s fucking boring! People who always say the truth, they’re not interesting, they’re not funny! Take a look at people, who tell jokes, they are fascinating. Fortunately, lying is a part of life! And thanks to it, I can tell people like you that life is wonderful.
Now it is my last question, but before that I have to thank you. Indeed, in 2004 you paid my entrance ticket for the movie, “Les Parisiens.” [Note: The film received very bad reviews from critics. Lelouch wanted the audience to judge on their own, so he offered to pay the entrance ticket for all those interested.] So I would like to know how your relationship with the press is in 2011.
I mistrust the press; even though I know that the press is useful, as the lie is. Indeed, they both have the same function. You know, the only thing that matters is the time that flies. In my opinion, it is the only critic. If in 50 or 100 years, people continue to go and see my movies that will be the ultimate answer to all the criticisms. And, oddly enough, people seem to go and watch my movies more than others, so I think maybe I was not as bad as they said.
Authors Aurore Duiguo and Gautier Coiffard are graduate students from Paris who are currently studying and working in the United States. Duiguo is a business graduate who is now studying marketing and cinema. She is passionately interested in motion pictures, and she hopes to find a career in filmmaking, acting, and theater. Coiffard holds an engineering degree and is doing graduate work in cinema and the audiovisual arts. He is currently working as an intern in television production. He received the Cinematography Award for his master’s thesis short film, “Choisis” (“Choose”). He is vitally interested in a career in filmmaking.