“Imitate the real”
by Fabien Lemercier
- The French director discusses the well thought-out and intuitive method which guided his directing on experimental film Pater.
Extracts from the international press conference where the French director, flanked by his co-star Vincent Lindon and producer Michel Seydoux, spoke about his astonishing and conceptual film Pater, in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival.
How did Pater [+see also:
interview: Alain Cavalier
film profile] come about as a project?
Alain Cavalier: At the start of my film career, I worked with well-known actors, then I stopped for several decades and, in my mind, I always had a desire to go back to that. But there were only two actors I could make this return with: Sophie Marceau (who, moreover, appeared in a photo in my previous film) and Vincent Lindon.
Where is the true and false in your film?
We only try to imitate the real. We pretend to be the French president and prime minister. It’s about studying their exact body language by watching the news and consulting memoirs. In the same shot, reality, i.e. ourselves, and the imaginary, in other words the president and prime minister, blend together visually before viewers’ eyes. We didn’t want people to believe straightaway we were a president and a prime minister. We transform ourselves before viewers’ eyes. This is the opposite of films where right from the outset they say: this is the president and this is the prime minister.
How much of it was improvised?
While we were filming we knew that over the course of the film, there could be a moment of grace where we were just using our own words, constructing our own phrases, and in relation to the film as a whole. We didn’t know where it was good to start or finish, but we picked up the camera and continued a sort of conversation. We had to give the impression it was like a conversation in the kitchen before a meal: informal, easy-flowing, true-to-life, not too long, not boring… But to give this impression, there is much behind-the-scenes work, really hard things, rehearsals, moments of boredom, times when you’re really searching. But we had an aim: to show a familiarity between us like there is in real life and imitate life where nothing is fixed. And it isn’t made up of broad-ranging things, but ordinary things that Vincent and I were experiencing.
What is your film’s political message?
It was very important that the film had a political agenda that wasn’t just ready-made phrases. We picked an issue: seeing as there is a law on the minimum wage, why shouldn’t there be a law on the maximum wage? And we battled it out for 100 minutes. This doesn’t mean that we succeeded in our aim, but we made a small step in that direction. I know everything about political power through playing people who held such power and reading the memoirs of those who rubbed shoulders with them. But I reckoned I held the power here. So any borrowings are unconscious and are not based on specific facts. Vincent and I wielded the power and this means that everyone can wield it; there’s nothing sacred, or difficult or grand about leading and being in control of rather tricky situations.
The film also looks at the father-son relationship.
I was brought up by priests, so there was God the father, and I called the priests "my father". When I went home, there was my own father who was quite strict with me, then I became a father myself and the French president is the father of his citizens in a sense. That’s a lot of fathers, far too many, so you have to fight against them and accept this law.
Do you plan to make another film in the same vein?
I couldn’t re-make something so distinctive with another actor. My return to working with actors was in completely different conditions to those at the start of my career. When I look back at the actors I worked with at that time, the way they spoke, the way I structured scenes and filmed, it all seems light years away. But at times, we rediscover something: we work with an actor because he embodies the best of men. And in the case of beautiful women, we and the viewers celebrate a feat of humanity.