Catherine Breillat • Director of Last Summer
"Political correctness means not thinking things through"
- CANNES 2023: As intense as ever, the French filmmaker offers some food for thought about her new film, which explores the love between a stepmother and her teenage stepson
With her 15th feature film, Last Summer [+see also:
interview: Catherine Breillat
film profile], unveiled at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, Catherine Breillat returns to the Croisette for the second time in Official Competition, after The Last Mistress [+see also:
film profile] in 2007, and signs her first film in ten years.
Cineuropa : What attracted you to the Danish film Queen of Hearts [+see also:
interview: Gustav Lindh
interview: May el-Toukhy
film profile], which you freely adapted?
Catherine Breillat : The lie. It's a dizzying, spectacular and unprecedented plot device. But in this incredible lie, the couple's truth still emerges, and that's why the protagonist almost manages to make her husband believe that he's the guilty one for believing his son. It's a vertiginous manipulation. Anne's character is a great criminal lawyer, and in France criminal lawyers lie to defend their clients: deny the evidence and make a jury believe it.
Your film is much less explicit than Queen of Hearts. Why is that?
I didn't want to repeat what I'd already done and I wanted my protagonist not to be a predator, not to have this kind of sexual desire but a much more subtle, much more invasive and above all more insidious attraction that was more in the realm of: we couldn't have resisted either. I like to make people lose their sense of right and wrong. This film is a bit of a textbook case of how the same scenario can have a completely different meaning depending on the director. All the scenes with the same lines are different: that comes from the embodiment. For the character of Théo, I wanted a young man (Samuel Kircher) who was absolute adolescence, with transparency, purity but also harshness, and also the upsetting side of adolescence. As for the character of Anne (Léa Drucker), she's not a woman in heat, she's a cold woman, even when she comes, and there's no freedom of the body in the film. There is, however, something going on in the physical love, but it's not exactly pleasure. There's a lot of solitude and I was inspired by Caravaggio. Painters don't make mistakes, but we mustn't forget that cinema is all about the frame. A head tilt like that is bourgeois love, with her husband. With Theo, it's a dream, so we went more towards ecstasy, just like in the painting St Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy. You can't invent something like that, you have to be a genius, which I'm not, so I copied Caravaggio.
Did you enjoy going against the grain of political correctness on the issue of consent with this film?
I have never been politically correct and I never will be. Political correctness means that we don't think, that we don't really look at reality, that we are locked into narrow concepts that have nothing to do with human diversity and its poetry at heart, to prevent people from living. And when that becomes doxas, an ideology of good and evil, it's the Savonarola of thought and it leads to fascism. And now it's beginning to look like fanaticism. There are laws to determine what is a crime and what is not, that's enough, and we mustn't let self-righteousness force artists to think well. If they do, they'll be conformists, and being an artist means creating, not conforming.
How do you view your reputation as a filmmaker of the body and provocation?
I think it's society that smells musty and I'm subversive. I want us to reconsider the things we have established in a way that is harmful, including our mental construction. I'm willing to be controversial, but not scandalous, and certainly not sulphurous.
(Translated from French by Margaux Comte)
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