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CANNES 2019 Directors’ Fortnight

Nicolas Pariser • Director of Alice and the Mayor

“In cinema, it’s better when a film has two legs”

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- CANNES 2019: French filmmaker Nicolas Parisier discusses Alice and the Mayor, unveiled at the Directors’ Fortnight of the Cannes Film Festival

Nicolas Pariser • Director of Alice and the Mayor

Discovered in Locarno in 2015 with The Great Game [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Nicolas Parisier has shown his second feature, Alice and the Mayor [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Nicolas Pariser
film profile
]
, a very intelligent and offbeat political comedy, at the 51st Directors’ Fortnight of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival.

Cineuropa: After The Great Game, you once again address the topic of politics in Alice and the Mayor, though in a very different way. Where does this strong interest in the subject come from?
Nicolas Parisier: First of all, I’m very curious about politics from the angle of competition between parties, and I’m almost addicted to TV political programmes, debates, and columns. Secondly, I happen to have written many scripts for short films, and the first to have been financed were those about politics. Then, when I decide on my next film, I often make the decision based on the one that came before. That’s why Alice and the Mayor was thought out according to The Great Game, which dealt with the corridors of power, secret plots, all pretty troubling things. I read that it was good, but still a little strange to make a political film that didn’t really pay attention to ideas, to the right, to the left, etc. So I thought I would do the opposite: I would stay in the political world, but without this thriller sensibility, and I would talk solely about ideas. Besides, the first sketch of the film was only a series of dialogue scenes between two people talking about politics. And the film’s real topic is the way their particular relationship constructs itself as they talk only about politics. 

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Why focus on the mayor of a big city and on a young philosopher?
The mayor is because I wanted someone who is the boss of the executive branch; not a minister, not a deputy, but someone who is the king in his field. I didn’t want Paris, nor the President, so the best thing for me was a small king, in his small kingdom, with his small Versailles — so, the mayor of a big city. I had actually worked in Lyon before and it’s a city I like a lot. Regarding the idea of philosophy, it’s because the film’s starting point was to create something similar to a tale by La Fontaine, like The wolf and the dog, with two very opposed personalities. My two characters are someone who has a calling but who doesn’t think, and someone who thinks a lot but who doesn’t know what to do with their lives. I wanted to see these two paradoxical sensibilities collide. 

How do you avoid a manichean approach and represent the political life with accuracy?
It’s a thin line and you have to be careful not to fall on either side. I had two main rules. The first was not to make fun of any of the characters, even if I sometimes show grotesque situations. All the characters, even the most antipathetic ones, must have their reasons and be defensible. Then the character of Alice, who allows us to enter inside and discover the city hall through her eyes, was to never occupy a position of superiority regarding what was going on. Though she is an intellectual and hears people talk a bit of rubbish, she should never feel better than them. 

There’s an intellectual side to the film, but you opted for the angle of comedy.
For me, in cinema, it’s better when a film has two legs. There has to be one wise leg — in this film, it’s Orwell, La Fontaine, Rousseau, etc; we talk about things seriously, and I try to shoot without pretension, in a rather rigorous style. But there also needs to be a popular leg and here, I chose the boulevard theatre of Sacha Guitry, one of my favourite directors. I looked for a balance between the two.

To carry so many conversation scenes, you must have needed two excellent actors.
There are directors who can create very good films with fragile or amateur actors, but that is not my case at all. In order to succeed, I need great performers, strong on a technical level and who also have great charisma, a personality, a photogenic quality. The film was born from a desire to work with Fabrice Luchini; I wrote this film for him and I’ve been admiring him for a very long time. In front of this kind of Roland-Garros world champion, there needed to be another high-level actor like Anaïs Demoustier, someone capable to throw the ball back to him, who could keep up with him, so that there could be a beautiful game.

(Translated from French)

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