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BERLIN 2018 Competition

Benoît Jacquot • Director

"I wanted to create a game of mirrors"

by 

- BERLIN 2018: Following the screening of Eva in competition at Berlin, Cineuropa met up with Benoît Jacquot, who talked to us about games of mirrors and reversing terms and inevitability

Benoît Jacquot • Director
(© Guy Ferrandis)

Eva [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Benoît Jacquot
film profile
]
, a free adaptation by Benoît Jacquot of James Hadley Chase's novel, tells the story of the complex relationship between Bertrand (Gaspard Ulliel), a former gigolo who becomes a playwright by plagiarising others, and Eva (Isabelle Huppert), a local prostitute who has something irresistibly fascinating about her, despite her disconcerting prosaicness. Cineuropa met up with the director at the screening of the film at the Berlinale.

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Cineuropa: Contrary to what might be suggested by the title, Eva, which appears on screen at the beginning of the film – with a scarlet V placed between the E and the A – the film’s structure is not as triangular as Joseph Losey’s Eva.
Benoît Jacquot:
I wanted to create a game of mirrors, as if these two characters are constantly connected. Without knowing anything about each other (since they meet by chance under somewhat unlikely circumstances), they feel drawn to each other, as if echoing each other. The narrative itself alternates between the two characters and causes them to answer each other, almost musically. 

Despite not being remotely similar, Eva and Bertrand belong to the same world, a world of survival. Everyone powers on through their secrets, which are more or less criminal in his case and intimate in hers, which is entirely different to what one might expect. So not only do they mirror each other, but they mirror themselves, too. They duplicate themselves.

Although most of the scenes are realistic and shot in the day time, in a sense the film remains wrapped up in the unreal atmosphere of the night they meet, which is preserved in a particularly Buñuelian way, by the recurrence of everyday objects (cars, doors, baths...).
The aim was to make a film in which things we often just look at go beyond that. For me, cinema uses the visible to show the audience what isn’t usually seen, in order to add a kind of strangeness to everything that appears on screen, but without the use of special effects. You can derive a certain strangeness from familiarity. If we focus on looking beyond the ordinariness of even the most common objects, or someone we don’t know, we pass a kind of limit that causes a strange and hallucinatory effect.

The theme of the femme fatale is definitely present, but in this particular instance, we seem to be dealing with an homme fatal.
There’s almost an unconscious reversal of terms in this film in general. As previously mentioned, the ordinary becomes strange, in a film that would usually put a femme fatale at the centre of the narrative, but where instead, it’s the man who adopts this role. She is not fatalised, and that’s what’s strange about this film. She does symbolise a sort of fatal downward turn for him, but he’s the one who has something disorderly and poisonous about him from the very beginning, something that is usually attributed to female characters. And that’s how everything is reversed. She’s is older, taking on the role of the man in that sort of couple, but it’s interesting to see it reversed. Eva is played by a woman who is old enough to be the boy's mother, which overlaps with a common theme in tragedy: Jocasta and Oedipus, Phedre and Hippolytus, etc.

Bertrand, who thinks he’s this master manipulator, is more like a toy.
You may think that manipulation is at play in this film, but if there is manipulation, it's a special kind of manipulation. I think the characters are manipulated by themselves, both divided between themselves and each other, and it’s this division that manipulates them, in the sense that things happen without them really wanting them to. They want things, but what they want never really happens to them.

Can you tell us a bit about your next film, which you are due to start filming in March (read the news here)?
It will be a period drama based on an episode in the life of Casanova (played by Vincent Lindon) which he wrote about himself, in French for that matter. The episode takes place in London and is Casanova’s only real failure in love. The seducer par excellence gets knocked back monumentally.

(Translated from French)

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