“Achieve poetry without needing to say a word”
by Domenico La Porta
Cineuropa: This is the first time you’ve made a film with an actor of Gérard Depardieu’s calibre. Was it more challenging?
Gustave Kervern: We were better prepared. Gérard likes to shoot films quickly. We took this into account. We usually shoot without a script, but for Mammuth [+see also:
interview: Gustave Kervern, Benoî…
film profile], we did more advance preparation with more location research, more preliminary ideas for framing, even before the actors arrived. We had more written notes as well. We still didn’t go as far as a traditional screenplay, but we didn’t want Gérard to get fed up while we were dealing with the technical side.
Other than that, we put everyone on the same level. Gérard is an actor just like Bouli Lanners, Yolande Moreau and all the others, whether they’re professional or non-professional for that matter. There’s no preferential treatment. We’re just as welcoming and nice to everyone.
Benoît Délépine: Working with Gérard is really great. He knows all about technique since he’s worked on 400 films throughout his career. You don’t have to tell him much. He knows what has to be done and in the end he directed his own character.
His character calls to mind Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler: his haircut, overall strange appearance, the scene at the meat counter, his social background and nostalgic comeback. Are these deliberate references?
Kervern: No, not at all. I hadn’t seen Aronofsky’s film before making Mammuth. I saw it afterwards and it’s an excellent film so, even though the similarities are unintentional, the comparison is flattering. We didn’t have much choice when it came to Gérard’s look. He didn’t want to change his hairstyle, even though he’s done this often during his career. We needed an ageing biker look, which was incompatible with his usual haircut. The wig and other additions were found at the last minute. It was very difficult imposing all that on Gérard, but it was important for him to change because his character also changes in the film.
Was it easy to convince him to do the rather risqué scene where he’s in bed with another man?
Kervern: We still think of Gérard in Going Places, so even though he hasn’t done that type of thing in recent years, we hoped he still had the guts for it. We like a “sexually direct” approach and he was aware of this. He chose to make a film with us by giving his whole self, without being paid. He trusted us. It’s a big mark of respect and we’re grateful to him for it.
The film has a distinctive visual style.
Kervern: People say to us: “Your film’s image quality is lousy”. They expect to see HD everywhere. That’s the exact opposite of what we want. This film stock is called reversible. It’s never been used in cinema. It’s very hard to work with and I don’t think we’ll use it again, as it made life so difficult for us, especially at the colour grading stage. It was a real nightmare but we’re pleased with the result.
Délépine: For us, it was somewhat the equivalent of black-and-white in colour. We wanted to achieve poetry without needing to say a word. But don’t get me wrong, we’re not aiming for aesthetic effects with crazily ambitious shots and acrobatic camera movements. The film is beautiful, but not overly aesthetic. At least, that’s what we hope.
You have an unusual way of representing old people in your films, by making them do or say surprising, sometimes shocking things.
Délépine: They’re our heroes. The mere fact of giving them the chance to do irreverent things is, in our opinion, a major mark of respect towards them. They don’t give a damn. They’ve gained great wisdom. They give their bodies wholeheartedly. This is truly an artistic act on their part. In a sense, Depardieu is like that. He’s an old man. He has nothing left to lose.
Kervern: I think they’re beautiful, never pathetic. It’s like Gérard in the film. He often joked about his body when he saw himself like that on screen, but we thought he was magnificent. He’s a big fat lion, but a total lion nonetheless.