What inspired “A Girl Cut in Two?
I wanted to make a film about a young woman who tries to survive with her femininity intact, having done everything that she wants to do. So I made her a TV meteorologist in love with an older man, going against societal norms. My concern in this film is with the problem of humanity: the conflict between our exterior and interior selves. One always tries to show oneself to be better than oneself. The whole problem of humanity is to remain oneself. Ludivine Sagnier, who plays Capucine in my film, tries to be herself. She tries to have integrity. She is innocent and pure: she has integrity in that she loves an older man. Sure, it is a pornographic story. I deliberately decided to show nothing of this intimate love affair because spectators would not want to see such a young girl with an old man. To imagine what those two do together is a nightmare! She finishes the film no longer cut in two, but whole. I picked Ludivine because I saw her in Peter Pan. I was sure it had to be her. She expresses what I want a character to express.
Why is the book Capucine’s lover wrote entitled “The Absence of Penelope?
That title says it all! We live in a very masculine universe. Penelope is not important. Women are not important. Ulysses was not thinking about Penelope while he traveled the world. This unfortunately is still the situation of women today.
What about the actual source of the story?
I needed a plot and the line, “I just killed the man who perverted my wife” inspired the film. It is such a great line! I was then inspired by Richard Fleischer’s 1955 film, “The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing.” Fleisher’s film was based on a true event, the story of Evelyn Nesbit, who also was at the center of a love triangle. I like real events because it is proof that such a thing can happen. The screenwriter of my film is my stepdaughter Cecile Maistre, who has been my stepdaughter since she was three. She has been my assistant for two years and we wanted to adopt a book together, so we wrote this film adaptation. She has great talent as a screenwriter. I was the one who thought of the ending–the last image–but she wrote the screenplay.
What would you say is your trademark as a filmmaker?
My specialty as a filmmaker is to charge the relationship between spectator and image. The spectator is drawn into the image, and enters it. But it is only later that the meaning of the image is understood: there are clues in my images that are developed in later shots. For example, an early shot in this movie shows the colors red and black, and then these become real and then Capucine, the young woman, and St Denis, her elder lover, are seen in front of the open trunk of a car. At this moment, she has her hand on top of the car. They take each other’s hands; they caress each other. This image serves later. The spectator understands the relationship between the two later when they see the characters together at the swimming pool.
So many of your films deal with jealousy. Is this theme close to you?
I am not a jealous person, but one of the human dramas is that people tend to translate their insecurity into jealousy. I am fascinated by human nature. For me, human beings have the potential to be in tune with themselves; to express themselves freely and to experience joy. One only has to find the road.
Can you speak about your experience with the nouvelle vague.
The whole time, Cahiers du Cinema was involved with the nouvelle vague, I was married, with kids. The others had serious problems with girls. Truffault was a great pig. He was an orphan , at least sentimentally speaking. His stepfather was absent. He went to see prostitutes and when he got married, he married the society daughter of a distributor, and he asked me: “how does one act with the bourgeoisie.” I said, “Like with others!” Yes, you are right. While my film treats the bourgeoisie, it does not have any critique of the bourgeoisie; they just happen to be the people in the story.
The nouvelle vague films were chaste. The whole thrust of the nouvelle vague was to change rhythm, to change the mentality of viewers. It was an attempt to change inspirations.
What inspires you today?
Television. I am a great watcher of television, because television tells the truth. It shows reality. You watch it, you see reality–as long as you know how to interpret it. Colin Power speaks about the weapons of destruction. Now if he believed what he thought, he would raise his hands higher, rather than keep them low at his waist. In this way, he is “telling the truth.” You just have to know how to read the image. Unfortunately, today’s youth confuses dreams for reality. I would tell them: do not confuse dreams for reality.
No, television did not destroy cinema in France. Cinema is strong in France. Its great virtue is that it exists, thanks to the great idea in 1945 to place a tax on cinema tickets to finance filmmakers. We are overjoyed even about the influx of US films because they give us a revenue! Besides, we live in a Hollywood system of production. The specificity of European films won’t disappear, but it is getting smaller. Americans understood very quickly that cinema is a way to penetrate the minds of people. Today there are many more bad American films being made than before.
Do you watch many films yourself?
I do continue to watch films, but on DVD or on television, rarely in the theaters.
I like to discover films on television. The reality shows are clever inventions: they are a way not to pay screenwriters. One takes nonprofessional actors and pits them together. They are like terrible tele-dramas. Sure some programs show a lowering of culture. That which affects me negatively is “Jeudi Culturel”, the people who want to win millions of dollars. The reflection of many people is basically “I am not there”.
Who is your favorite director?
Billy Wilder. I met him once. I adore him. My favorite cineastes are Wilder, Murnau, Hitchcock, Lubitsch, Hitchcock, Renoir. I also like Bergman. I have strange thoughts about him because he has a side of himself which is formidable, puritanical and absurd. I can also speak of directors who do not inspire me, such as Antonioni. Antonioni talks about things I am not interested in. He talks about the problem of incommunicability. I have never had this problem. I am always communicating. Antonioni’s subject matter actually caught up with him. He could not communicate with anyone, and in his real life, he ended up being unable to communicate, physically. His work devoured him.
What is the most inspiring book you have read lately?
An American collection of short stories by Laurie Lynn Drummond (Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You, 2004). It is about five women police officers who are all pursuing adventures and discovering themselves, in Baton Rouge, Lousiana,. It is a great book. The narrative is so clever.
What is your next project?
It is a story that could have been written by Georges Simenon: it has the universe of a Simenon novel. It is about a man who stages his own death to get insurance, and takes place in a small French city, Nimes. As usual, I aim for a wide audience, anyone whom I can reach. Young, old, cultured, not cultured.
With each new film do you aim to make your best film yet?
I am incapable of making a masterpiece. I try instead to be like a writer who writes many books. One attempts to create something, throughout one’s life, which in total expresses everything one has to express. My work is not autobiographical per se. My life story would take one half hour to tell.