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Brice Cauvin • Hotel Harabati

Couple and terrorism, doubt and instability


Subject to high acclaim in the Forum at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival, the first feature by French director Brice Cauvin, Hotel Harabati [+see also:
film profile
was one of ten European films selected for the "Variety Critics’ Choice" in 2006, to be presented by European Film Promotion at the Karlovy Vary festival.

Sold internationally by Films Distribution, this debut feature starring Hélène Fillières, Laurent Lucas, Anouk Aimée and Julie Gayet, was produced by Mille et une productions. The 39 year-old Cauvin, alongside his work as a director, has also been active as an assistant director for such directors as Nicole Garcia, Pierre Salvadori, Maurice Pialat, Philippe Harel and Romain Goupil. In addition, Cauvin has directed four shorts and a documentary, while also having given lectures on directing at the Femis for five years. We meet the director in Paris.

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Cineuropa: What made you decide to get involved in the making of this debut feature?
Brice Cauvin: The idea was always there, I just had to make it happen. I made my first shorts when I was 22 and my career as an assistant director went very well for me. But one day, I’d had enough of that and started to write a feature. The story of Hotel Harabati is not at all autobiographical, but it is very personal. I put everything that I find endearing in people when I meet them into this film – a mixture of what I find interesting and what makes me laugh.

Why did you choose a story that combines the private life of a “normal” couple with terrorism as its backdrop?
I don’t like that things are told in a straightforward manner, rather implicitly. Deep down, I like to denounce, but in a gentle way because I don’t have the energy of a fighter. I took this female character as a starting point and made her character evolve by creating circles around her. The film’s main theme is that of intimacy, what it means to be a couple. I’m not comfortable with the use of the word "couple" in its literal sense, as the entity of two human beings living together is in a constant state of flux. Instead, I wanted to show how a couple’s life could be based on doubt, difficulties, and not only on happiness. At times, people who live together can lose their way and there are contexts, which encourage this to happen like the one I used in the film: instability provoked by events. They follow a type of global movement bred by terrorism using fear, but this is not the real fear, the real fear is deep inside them, in their relationship as a couple.

How did you manage to talk such well-known actors as Laurent Lucas, Hélène Fillières and Anouk Aimé into playing in the film?
That wasn’t the opinion of TV broadcasters, especially not in those terms. For the decision-makers at broadcasters, Laurent Lucas couldn’t be afraid, he could only make people afraid, and Hélène Fillières could not be maternal. I like these two actors a lot. Laurent Lucas is a great actor. At the beginning, I had written the role for Irène Jacob but she was pregnant and I had to change actresses and re-write the script for Hélène Fillières by revealing some of her hidden facets on the screen. As for Anouk Aimé, I thought it would be difficult for someone like her to want to get involved in a production like mine. But, like the film, which constantly contradicts clichés, preconceived ideas, everything went without any hitches.

Has the enigmatic aspect of Hotel Harabati raised several interpretations? To what degree did you play on this?
I was quite surprised by these reactions. The enigmatic dimension gained in strength during the making of the film and, in particular, during the editing, while it wasn’t present to the same degree in the script. The photos episode, in particular, raises several questions and the film takes on a different hue for each viewer: certain people see in it banal details (a simple error), others a fantasy film. For me, who likes the audience to play an active role, I find it great to have so many variations. This is also why I like using long shots: it allows the viewer to ask questions, to choose, to take what interests him/her.

What are your filmmaking influences?
I really like Buñuel, Truffaut, Atom Egoyan, Jonathan Nossiter and Woody Allen. But I was very influenced by Michelangelo Antonioni whom I was very much taken with during my teenage years. I am also very flattered that my film has been compared to those by Roman Polanski and Michael Haneke. For me, Benny’s Video is a masterpiece of contemporary cinema, an example of intellectual filmmaking that has kept its entertaining aspect.

What are your plans for the near to distant future?
I am working on the writing of a film on a masculine character, a drifter, ideally Lambert Wilson whom I know well. I am also touring with Hotel Harabati, which was already selected at over twenty festivals: Karlovy Vary, London, Edinburgh, Gothenburg, Haifa, Sydney, Seattle... It’s great because this film is a type of miracle. I had an advance on receipts from the CNC and backing from an American patron, but one year ago, right in the middle of editing, the film was taken into liquidation by a production company and I didn’t know what to do. Mille et Une Productions picked up the project, then Dominique Besnehard (former agent and today producer) at the cable channel TPS bought the film. Without him, the film would have never have left the drawing board.

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