Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker: Catherine Breillat

French auteur Catherine Breillat is best known for her racy and sometimes controversial films, such as Fat Girl (2001), and Romance (1999). 

This fall, she has two films in release: Anatomy of Hell from Tartan USA, on Oct. 15th and Sex is Comedy, from IFC Films, on Oct. 20th.


1. The worst thing in artwhich I have encountered, and avoided—is routine. This idea comes from the “Passage of Door” ritual in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. For me, this is the first golden rule. The absolute rule. All the others follow from it.

2. What reassures you kills you. Place yourself with your back to the wall, at the edge of the abyss. Cinema is The Flight of the Icarus. When you give yourself no choice but to fall or fly, you discover that you know how to fly. It’s a simple law. Initiating the action is what’s complicated.

3. Do the impossible. This is a corollary of preceding. Putting yourself in danger is what enables you to surpass yourself. It is the necessary trigger. I write films for myself that scare me. It’s not because I’m brave; my courage consists solely in setting aside my fear and not giving in to it.

4. Be stoic. The prime virtue of a director is to be stoic. On set, you must always manage to pull it off. Doing that is easy, really. It’s the process of thinking before doing that is so harrowing.

5. A film is only made when you make it. From this truth it follows that you should only reread the script just prior to filming strictly for technical reasons. A script is a tool which allows you to begin production on and look for financing and actors. It specifies the locations, story and dialogue. But the secret meaning, the one I’ve hidden even from myself, is only apparent on the set. Otherwise, there would be no point in making the film; publishing the script would suffice.

6. Each film imposes its own necessities. You do not direct your film, you make it. Or, more modestly, it is made. When the film begins to exist (after two days of shooting), it is directing itself; it imposes its own necessities. You have the impression that it is making itself through you. You are inhabited by your own film. It’s the same with actors. You don’t direct them; you are involved not in an act of authority, but of possession.

7. You are your film’s conscience. I often say that, on set, I do nothing. I do not act, I do not operate the camera or the dolly or the lighting. Everyone else creates the film in its materiality, but not me: I am the film. I am its conscience. This is why I sign it. Making a film is an immaterial and very abstract act; it means projecting the invisible in the visible universe. There’s something magical about that.

8. The choice of actors is the decisive act. Actors are the raw material of the film. Cinema is an art incarnated in the actors’ flesh. I like this essential choice to be the fruit of chance and necessity, because when the actors are there, the dice are cast. The only thing you don’t know is which number will come up, which is of no importance anyway.

9. There is never room for regret. Good or bad, those who make the film are always right, because they are no longer replaceable. They are from the work. Do not look back, because when the film is done, these artists are indistinguishable from this film. If you had chosen others, you would have another film.

10. Adversity is your friend; like the phoenix, you will be reborn from the ashes. This is the second absolute rule. It is always when everything is going wrong that everything is going for the best. That is just how the film takes flight. Fear of failure is the very cause of failure, and when you realize that, your initial inhibition disappears. Adversity suits me; when I have nothing more to lose, I come back to life. This state forces me to finally leave myself, to surpass myself. In fact, it gives me wings and transports me; I suddenly feel incredibly and divinely free. MM

Translated by Robert Gray, Kinograph. Feature image courtesy of Robin Holland. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Fall 2004 issue.

 

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