Shedding one’s mask
by Benjamin Magnin
- After two previous acclaimed features, director Lionel Baier mischievously explores the select world of film critics in his new work, Another Man
Cineuropa: Another Man [+see also:
interview: Lionel Baier
film profile] describes the start of a young journalist’s career. In your debut film, Stupid Boy [+see also:
film profile], you also looked at the difficult transition to adulthood. Why?
Lionel Baier: Nowadays, there are no longer many rites of passage that clearly mark the transition from one state to another, although they still exist in other cultures. These rites nonetheless enable one to define onself, reveal one’s personality and shed one’s mask. The question of the characters’ identity interests me. Above all, it’s about showing how people perceive themselves.
What was the starting point for the screenplay to Another Man?
The screenplay is inspired by Swiss painter Félix Vallotton’s novel, The Murderous Life, which tells the story of a talentless young man who wanted to be a painter and ends up becoming an art critic in Paris at the start of the 20th century.
This is combined with a few real-life elements. The character of François isn’t based on one journalist in particular, but rather on fragments of memories from my time working as a projectionist in a Lausanne cinema. After press screenings, the journalists used to discuss the films and their comments always intrigued me a little.
Your previous film, Stealth [+see also:
film profile], was very biographical. Is it particularly important for you to anchor your films in the real?
It’s perhaps a habit that comes from non-narrative films, for I began my career in documentary filmmaking. Before starting work on the story, I put together a folder of sources, as directors do for a documentary. I then use the collected material as the foundation for the scriptwriting process. I like to draw on real-life elements.
Do you improvise with the actors or do you do lots of rehearsals?
I never ask actors to learn the dialogues by heart, but to read the scene through once the night before the shoot. Many changes are made at the last minute. Then we rehearse a lot with the text in hand. There is dialogue that I want the actors to speak exactly as it is written, but on other occasions I ask for their opinion and take their suggestions into consideration.
Do you think it is more difficult to make films in Switzerland then elsewhere?
No, in my opinion it’s easier, for the Swiss film world is in fact very small. It’s relatively easy to get to know everyone quickly. I also think that our status as directors is more protected in Switzerland than in France, where the power is often in the hands of the producer. In Switzerland, there is still a certain respect for filmmakers. And when we want to obtain filming permits, to shoot in the street for example, people are willing to cooperate, whereas in France, everything is very expensive and complicated.
What is your opinion on Swiss cinema?
What I like about Swiss cinema is that it doesn’t exist. In fact, there are multiple Swiss cinemas: Swiss-German, Swiss-French and Tessin. That is its great strength. In the Swiss film industry, I’m constantly reminded that you can be a celebrity in German-speaking Switzerland and a complete unknown in French-speaking Switzerland, and consequently a star in France can be plunged back into anonymity as soon as they cross the Mulhouse border. I really like the fact that our status as Swiss citizens forces us to remember just how ephemeral, small and local it all is.