Claude Lelouch • Director of The Best Years of a Life
“I have always regarded myself as an amateur”
by Jan Lumholdt
- CANNES 2019: We spoke to Claude Lelouch about his 49th film, The Best Years of a Life, in which he reunites the man and the woman from his 1966 Grand Prix winner
“Like fine wine, you know? There’s nothing better than life to make you grow.” Once again, Claude Lelouch treads the Côte d'Azur soil that made his name in 1966, when A Man and a Woman scooped the Cannes Grand Prix (the top prize when the Palme d’Or was not in use, as was the case that year). Fifty-three years later, he returns to the Cannes Film Festival to present a love story called The Best Years of a Life [+see also:
interview: Claude Lelouch
film profile], reuniting his two leading actors, who have indeed gone through life and also grown, at least a little…
Cineuropa: When was the idea for The Best Years of a Life born?
Claude Lelouch: In some way, I’ve subconsciously known about it for years... But more concretely, it started exactly three years ago, when I attended a screening of the restored print of the original A Man and a Woman. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée were there, and after a while, I stopped watching the film and instead looked at Jean-Louis and Anouk, looking at each other and at the same time looking at their 50-years-younger selves on the screen. They looked absolutely fantastic. “This I want to film,” I said to myself, and straight after the screening, I also said it to Anouk and Jean-Louis. “No way,” they said; “we’re too old. Besides, who on Earth would come to see a film like that?” And then we made it anyway. The shoot itself took a little more than ten days, and we had had 53 years of preparation before that. So we knew what to do.
The credits mention that this is your 49th film – not a bad number as far as productivity is concerned. This is possibly the result of the original A Man and a Woman – the film that presumably gave you the means to work steadily and also freely.
Absolutely. You know, I’ve always regarded myself as an amateur, even to this day. Being a filmmaker is just too wonderful to be called a job. In effect, those 49 films have simultaneously been 49 holiday trips. And every time, I think, “I have tried out new things.” Right now, for example, I have just shot a film with my mobile phone that you will see soon. And yes, if I step back and look at what has happened and what I’ve done, I’ve always been a free man and a free filmmaker. For this reason, I’ve always refused to work in America. I shall continue to be free, I hope, until my dying breath.
“All love stories end badly,” Anouk Aimée says in the film. “They only end well in the movies.” Could you elaborate on this statement?
Well, I’d say that we don’t know where we come from, and nor do we know where we’re going. It’s the same with the film: we come in after the start and leave before the end. All we have is the present – it’s the only thing that belongs to us. Whether you’re 15 or you’re 80, your emotions can be equally strong, and happiness can hit you at any time. But then we are like spoiled children – we just want more and more. And that’s what makes it end badly. For me, personally, at 81 years of age, I have never had so much fun in my life, and I hope it will rub off a little on the audience as well.
Can you tell us anything else about your 50th film, the one shot with your mobile phone?
There’s a lot of music in it; you could almost call it a musical. The mobile phone is like the camera I have wanted all my life. It’s mainly amateurs who use it, but I think that professionals could also gain a lot from it. It’s incredible and made me feel like I was in my twenties again. I regained my mobility and my liberty compared to all this heavy film equipment we usually have to work with. The movie is called La vertu de l’imponderable – “The Virtue of the Imponderable” – and came out of a workshop activity that we decided to make into a film. That’s all I can say at the moment. It will hopefully say something about how to find happiness within the various problems we encounter from time to time.
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