PARIS 13TH DISTRICT - Still 1 directed by Jacques Audiard

Paris, 13th District director Jacques Audiard’s overactive imagination leads him to all kinds of different scenarios.

“Imagine this: You’re on the street and you’re talking to someone. And all of a sudden that person takes up their phone to look at a message. Are they making an appointment for a romantic rendezvous?” Audiard asks MovieMaker.

“How about the person who’s running behind you? Are they running on their way to some sort of a romantic tryst?” he continues. “These things could be happening all around you. It creates this whole nervous system of meetings and encounters.”

“If you look at it from that perspective, it’s very exciting.”

This perspective informs how the quartet of young people at the center of Paris, 13th District commingle. The actors had a wide range of acting experience: Lucie Zhang had zero, but Noémie Merlant (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) had plenty.

Audiard leveled the playing field between the quartet (which also includes Jehnny Beth and Makita Samba) through two months of rehearsals.

Lucie Zhang, Noémie Merlant and Makita Samba in Paris, 13th District, from director Jacques Audiard. Photos courtesy of IFC Films

While rehearsals are common, what Audiard staged next was not.

“Three days before we began the shooting, I rented a theater in Paris, and we did an entire run through of the film,” Audiard says.

“We ran through the whole thing with the crew. Everybody knew what to expect. Everybody knew what was going to work, what wasn’t going to work, what needed to be changed,” he continues. “So when we began shooting the following Monday, everybody was comfortable, everybody had built this relationship. And we were able to do the shooting fairly quickly.”

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Paris, 13th District includes a number of sex scenes, and the long rehearsal process included two separate coaches (one for choreography) specifically for these scenes.

To Audiard, though, sex scenes are never necessary.

“We could write a whole history of cinema using useless love scenes and sex scenes,” he jokes.

“I’m very open with the sex scenes that I have in my movies. They’re very full frontal, but they’re not obligatory,” he continues. “The actors have to understand that the sex scene they’re acting is something that’s required, not of the film — not because ‘Oh, now comes the obligatory sex scene’ — but its something that’s required of their character.”

The scenes were shaped by the actors.

“They’ve come to that point where they realize this is how their characters would have acted in that kind of a scene. And so it’s very important that they feel that and they know that, and their suggestions then become part of what that scene is,” Audiard explains.


Noémie Merlant and Makita Samba share an intimate moment in Paris, 13th District, from director Jacques Audiard

Based on the short stories of cartoonist Adrian Tomine (well known for his New Yorker covers), Paris, 13th District had a number of credited screenwriters, including Audiard and also Portrait of a Lady on Fire writer-director Céline Sciamma.

Audiard likes to work with co-writers instead of writing solo.

“It may be some need that I have to distinguish what is purely writing for a literary purpose versus writing for cinema, which requires that kind of collaboration,” he explains.

“For example, Proust worked alone. It wasn’t Marcel and Proust, it was just Proust,” he adds.

Paris, 13th District, directed by Jacques Audiard, opens in theaters Friday.

Main image: Lucie Zhang and Makita Samba in Paris, 13th District, directed by Jacques Audiard. Photos courtesy of IFC