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Interview: Bertrand Tavernier • Director

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The complexity of guilt and idealism


- Interview with the French director before the international press at the Berlin International Film Festival, where In the Electric Mist screened in official competition

Interview: Bertrand  Tavernier  • Director

Interview with the French director before the international press at the Berlin International Film Festival, where In the Electric Mist [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Bertrand Tavernier
film profile
screened in official competition.

Was it the main character with the contradictions in his struggle for good that attracted you to the idea of adapting this novel?
That’s one of the aspects of Dave Robicheaux which makes him fascinating in my opinion. He’s someone who wants to fight for justice, for good, and against corruption, senseless violence, and many other things.

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But there are also dark sides to him, including his anger and rage against the all-powerfulness of Evil. And this creates a character that I find very interesting and full of contradictions, which makes me feel close to him.

That’s why I like James Lee Burke’s world so much; it’s a complex world in which guilt and idealism play a role. I hesitated between several of Burke’s novels and finally chose this one, which was also the favourite of Philippe Noiret, to whom I wanted to dedicate the film. But this was too complicated due to the rules of the American Guild, so I’m taking the opportunity to do so now.

How did you want to represent Louisiana on film?
What fascinates me about this story is that the characters are firmly rooted in their surroundings. I had to absorb this culture and these locations. I had to manage to film them, not through the eyes of a tourist, of a French director who arrives there by chance, but as if seen through the eyes of local people.

I thus had to learn to love, get to know and immerse myself in this country. I was helped a great deal by the actors John Goodman and Tommy Lee Jones, who immediately evokes the character’s past as soon as he appears on set. It was extraordinarily important to capture that. And it was a terribly difficult job for [DoP] Bruno de Keyser because the light kept changing all the time.

Why did you shift the book’s plot forward in time, incorporating Hurricane Katrina. Was your aim to politicise the story?
You can’t politicise James Lee Burke. All his novels are already sufficiently political and express very strong opinions. Above all, I thought it was a shame to go to Louisiana to make a film based on a book written in the early 1990s and not include Katrina. From the outset, I intended to update the story: this brought an interesting perspective to the characters, in particular Balboni [the Mafia allegedly stole hundreds of millions of dollars after Katrina]. And it also enabled me to avoid shooting in places in New Orleans – such as the French quarter – that have already appeared in many films.

What did Tommy Lee Jones bring to the film?
I like working with actors who are able to bring something that isn’t in the script. When you see Jean Gabin in Jean Renoir’s The Human Beast, you know he’s been driving a locomotive for 20 years. When an actor can convey that without saying a word, it’s wonderful. And Tommy Lee Jones has that ability.

He also contributed to the dialogue and even wrote some scenes which aren’t in the book. He works not only for himself, but also for the other actors, in order to improve the scenes. He’s a perfectionist and he re-wrote some scenes up to 20 times. In all fairness, he should also be credited as co-screenwriter. And he’s one of the rare actors whose first takes I could have used, he was so outstanding. I never shot more than three takes. Moreover, I hate doing lots of takes.

What do you think about the fact that your film will not get a theatrical release in the US?
It will be released on DVD there. The co-production sharing meant that the North American territory went to the US producer. I was given access to the rest of the world through TF1 International. So there it is…

Do you think this is unfortunate?
You can write that. I’ll leave you to form your own opinions.


international title: In the Electric Mist
original title: Dans la brume électrique
country: France, United States
sales agent: TF1 Studio
year: 2008
directed by: Bertrand Tavernier
screenplay: Mary Olson-Kromolowski, Jerzy Kromolowski, Bertrand Tavernier
cast: Tommy Lee Jones, John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard, Mary Steenburgen, Kelly Macdonald, Justina Machado, Ned Beatty, James Gammon

main awards/selection

Berlinale 2009 In Competition

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