Bertrand Blier • Director
As provocative as ever
by Anne De Gasperi
- The French director presents his 16th film, in competition at Cannes 2003: Les Côtelettes, starring Philippe Noiret, Michel Bouquet and Farida Rahouadj
It’s difficult to place Bertrand Blier into any category. The son of actor Bernard is a cynical moralist, provocatively controversial, a shocking screenwriter and a director with a free spirit. In Europe, his 15 films have made him one of the best French exponents of biting, black humour. He’s pushy, surprising and moving in equal measures, qualities which already came to the fore in his film Les Valseuses, the by now famous story of “three rogues who get themselves mixed up in the rotten side of French society".
The label of misogynist suits Bertrand Blier well, in the same way that his heroines adapt themselves to the cruelty of his language, to the brutality of the words and the shamelessness of his characters, both men or women. The vision of the lost woman, based on the famous Arletty, is out of the ordinary. Bertrand Blier won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film with Préparez vos mouchoirs (Get out your Handkerchiefs). With each of his films he’s imposed his vision on Europe, with his work becoming ever more popular. The paradox about this brilliant director is that he continues his solitary career always avoiding being slotted into a category of French cinema. And he’s been doing this since the era of the New Wave, when he started working in cinema. His film Les Côtelettes, in competition at Cannes (after Tenue de soirée in 1982), continues his never ending polemic, and it reinforces Blier’s incontrovertible reputation as a scandalous author. Les Côtelettes is based on a play and is the story of some "lively, bitter and unpleasant” old men.
How should we interpret this new film where the heroine is probably, yet again, a lost woman?
"In the worst sense. My characters are lost women and so they’re dangerous because we don’t know what they’ll do in the story. I’m attracted to this figure of a tarty woman who goes anywhere, does anything, like a man who drinks, who gives too much of herself and who’s dying from damnation".
How did this woman materialise in your imagination?
"I don’t know. From my early childhood, from a certain attraction for the base, from my reading, from American horror novels, and from my obsessive vision of the lost woman who sparks off men’s desire to save her. In the film Les Valseuses, when Depardieu and Dewaere are separated from Miou Miou, what do they do? They wait outside the prison to give a little happiness to a woman who’s being released. This is a good insight of the psychology of the screenwriter. And it’s the main theme of my development as a director and writer ".
In Préparez vos mouchoirs two men unite and put all their strength into giving a woman the only thing she wants but can’t seem to get: a child. It’s an extraordinary love story and a big success, but then there was Calmos. It caused a scandal and was a fiasco..
"It’s true, it’s a film in dubious taste and it was scandalous because it ends up inside a woman’s sex. So the repercussion is very tough. Fellini, in La città delle donne and Ferreri in L'ultima donna did a similar type of thing. We all want to deal with this subject".
In your stories are the men always in pairs?
"Yes, it’s an old cinema trick, a way of writing. The author has the same good and bad tendencies that we find in the films. The vehicle of two actors gives more credibility and strength to the uncertainties".
In the film Les Côtelettes, alongside Philippe Noiret and Michel Bouquet, two men who are trying to save themselves, there’s an unusual portrayal of death
"At the age of 50, I’ve got cold shivers down my spine just thinking about it. But now it seems to me that if you’ve lived a normal and full life, when death comes it shouldn’t be a problem, as long as you’re spared from illness. Death is the great moment of life and we should deal with it like that. There’s no need to be frightened to talk about it and even less to show it. Death, played by an extraordinary actress, Catherine Lliegel, is present in my film, a bit like in Bergman’s films, but with a more French touch, funny and provocative. At least we can touch her bottom, and this happens in the film".
Does putting your hand death’s bottom give you more time?
"Yes, because she likes it and so we can gain precious minutes".
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