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"On the big screen, I wanted my mother to be played by Monica Vitti"

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Mathieu Amalric • Director/actor


- We met French filmmaker Mathieu Amalric in Rome, at the Rendez-vous – Appointment with new French Cinema, where he took us behind the scenes of some of the films he’s directed

Mathieu Amalric  • Director/actor

Mathieu Amalric recently partecipated in the Rendez-vous – Appointment with new French Cinema (see news article) in his capacity as director, which is the true calling of this filmmaker who has, on a number of occasions, declared that he became an actor “by chance”. Amalric was at the event with four of his films, all of which he had selected himself: from his debut behind the camera Mange ta soupe, to Wimbledon Stadium , On Tour [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Mathieu Amalric
interview: Mathieu Amalric
film profile
(which won him the Best Director Award at Cannes) and his latest film, based on the novel by Georges Simenon, The Blue Room [+see also:
film review
interview: Mathieu Amalric
film profile
. We seized the opportunity to meet him and find out more about his vision as a director.

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Cineuropa: In an interview you gave a while back, you said that in your opinion a film should not have a social function, and that an artist should make a film for the simple pleasure of doing so. Do you still believe that?
Mathieu Amalric: Did I really say that? To be honest, I try not to make it too apparent. Underneath it all, On Tour has a social function, a lot of people asked me about it after seeing the film: the message put across by these 45-year-old women who aren’t perfect and don’t care about photoshop has something of the political about it. I think the message is more effective if it is implied, rather than being spelled out, i.e. a film “against euthanasia” or a film “in favour of Palestine”. First of all, to do so would make me feel trapped. I also get the feeling that all of that has less to do with cinema and more to do with ideology. This is why fiction works well as a filter. The Blue Room also has something about it, which we’ve reflected long and hard on. The reason why the protagonist is indifferent: a man who focuses all his energy on being successful and then finds himself thrown off course, everything is called into question by what happens in that room, which is, at the end of the day, the thing to be treasured most: the miracle of two bodies attracted to one another.

Why Simenon and why The Blue Room for your fifth film as director?
It was a producer, Paulo Branco, who encouraged me to do it. For three years I had been immersed in Stendhal, working on adapting The Red and the Black. He said to me “stop writing and make a film, do it now, in three weeks!”. So I started looking through my slimmer volumes (laughs). I actually knew this little blue book well, I had already used it for the final scene of On Tour, which has the same feel to it. Then there’s the whole issue of time of memory and time of inquiry, and I thought that film could enhance this. It’s a universal and timeless story. The story needed bringing up to date (the book was published in 1964, ndr) mainly where the inquiry is concerned: we redid the entire legal dossier. At any rate, The Red and the Black will never be made, but it’s presence lives on: the trial scene in The Blue Room captures the sense of detachment felt by Julien Sorel at his trial. I like to think that the work I did on Stendhal has found its way into my other films.

We’ll probably see you again at Cannes in Arnaud Desplechin’s new film, Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (which is released in France on 20 May), the prequel to My Sex Life…or How I Got into an Argument where you return, having aged, to the first role to have brought you a César Award and fame.
We still haven’t had any news from Cannes, but I saw the film at the mixing and it is sublime. It tells the story of how Paul Dédalus, the main character in My Sex Life…or How I Got into an Argument (although you don’t have to have seen that film, it’s not like this is Star Wars or anything) and his first love, Esther, meet, winding forward to the present day in which he is my age. Arnaud and myself share a very close relationship: we’ve been working together for twenty years; he’s a director who’s only gaining in strength, he gets straight to the point. In 1994 he would do up to twenty takes, now he’s a lot quicker and just needs one or two takes, it’s an emotional whirlwind.

In your first autobiographical work, Mange ta soupe, your mother is Italian, played by the outstanding Adriana Asti. How did you choose her?
I thoroughly enjoyed having an over-the-top mother, I wanted to make a comedy. I also sent a letter to Monica Vitti (The Adventure by Antonioni was the first film I saw at the Cinémathèque), I originally wanted her to play my mother. Then I saw Adriana Asti in one of Bertolucci’s films, Before the Revolution. We met and she struck me as a very witty and talented lady.

Any plans for future projects as director, other than Stendhal?
I’m very attracted to the writing of Jean Echenoz, in particular "Nous trois". But for now I don’t have any plans no, I’m enjoying a period of rest at the moment. I love doing commissions, a film for television that I really enjoyed doing was the adaptation of Corneille’s L’illusion comique, for the Comédie-Française. These commissions for French television are excellent, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi redid Checov’s Three Sisters, Desplechin did an adaptation of The Forest di Ostrovskij, and so on and so forth. I’m currently working on something for the Opéra de Paris, which has a new director and has given carte blanche to directors, writers, artists, etc. to create something for the Internet. The project is called "Troisième scène”, and will keep me busy for a while.

(Translated from Italian)

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