"Use your imagination"
by Fabien Lemercier
- Meeting with a daring director who places style at the heart of human discovery
Often reticent to give interviews, preferring that his films speak in his place, Laurent Achard nevertheless accepted to talk to Cineuropa about his latest film Demented [+see also:
interview: Dominique Barneaud
interview: Laurent Achard
film profile], which won the Jean Vigo Prize and Best Director Award at Locarno 2006. It was an occasion to unveil some facets of a multitalented character who is entirely devoted to cinema and distrustful of the conventional rules of the industry.
Cineuropa: Why did you adapt this novel by Timothy Findley?
Laurent Achard: The book is very elliptic and this meant I was free to do as I wished. I found myself using the sensibility of Findley, as well as Tennessee Williams, Balzac, Faulkner or Proust, but it was obviously less impressive. We know from the outset that the film will be a drama when the child says "I want to repeat", words that reveal confusion, a fear of the unknown, but also a desire at all costs to keep together a world that is breaking up.
Why tackle such as difficult topic of a family trapped in a web of unhappiness?
There is always a little hope, but it is a tragedy. I’m not exaggerating. In the diary, I read about murders, infanticides. The film takes place in a very concentrated time frame, over a few weeks before the child kills his parents. When you read that a child has killed his whole family, you are left speechless, there are no words for it. You can try to look for explanations like Michel Foucauld, but you reach a point where you can go no further. It is impossible to do that unless you use poetry.
Does the narrative not give any explanation?
Nothing is explicit in the film, no one specific is responsible. I’m not interested in explaining the madness of the mother or the homosexuality of the brother. Cinema is there to show, not to explain. I took away anything to do with sociology or psychology. Journalists are obsessed with these subjects, but what matters most is form, style. And we can only speak using metaphors, like Buñuel. Filming the acts themselves is of no interest. You have to use your imagination.
Did you easily find the boy who plays Martin ?
At the casting, it was totally impossible to know what Julien Cochelin was thinking, just like the character in the film. Dominique Reymond has an immense presence and Pascal Cervo accomplished the most difficult task of all by playing in extremely complicated scenes.
You use off camera a lot. How did you work visually?
Everything is seen and heard from the child’s point of view. I cannot show things upfront, but I know what is happening around. So, that is what we have to show and we can only use off camera to do that. All children look through the keyhole to see what they shouldn’t see or hide themselves and look without being seen. But they don’t see everything and they don’t understand everything. Visually, I worked in this direction. I tried to film this as precisely as possible, the slighest plan, the slightest sigh is calculated. What is important is how the camera is positioned and who is behind it. If someone enters a room and sits down, we will quite simply do a pan shot. And this is not a lack of style, on the contrary. Why change the direction, by taking a helicopter or putting the camera on a car steering wheel ? None of that would make any sense at all, just like the impostures of Dogma.
Aside from Renoir and Bresson, what are your influences ?
I discovered cinema as a child. I was interested in everything, both the good and the bad films. I had no choice because there was only one cinema in the small town where I lived. One week I could see Zidi’s L’aile ou la cuisse and the next Ferreri’s Rêve de singe. When I came to Paris, I spent all my time at the cinema and I even made my own film library with films by Grémillon, Duvivier, Vecchiali, Pialat, Demy, Rozier, Dreyer, Walsh, Rossellini and Fassbinder, and especially Nicholas Ray. I also like horror and films of suspense: Tourneur, Hitchcock, Bava, Argento, Franju, Carpenter, Haneke…
How do you explain that your film was not pre-bought by any television channel?
Television has now become an industry. Channels want comedies, subjects about popular social topics, about the middle classes, the suburbs. But I film the simple people, those without any important social status who we never talk about. TV channels only show these people in reports and documentaries, but not in features. Yet cinema is not only poetry and poetry says things much deeper and more vast than reports, which always seek to reassure and depict what can be seen.