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BIF&ST 2021

Leos Carax: “When I was young, I wanted to make films with music, but music spurned me”


- The Bif&st masterclass leader and director of Annette, which won Best Direction in Cannes, speaks about his project’s lengthy gestation, his actors and his specific work approach

Leos Carax: “When I was young, I wanted to make films with music, but music spurned me”
Director Leos Carax during his masterclass at Bif&st (© Bif&st)

Leos Carax isn’t a fan of analysing his films. And that’s why, as he himself states, Q&A sessions (unmissable events at every festival) should actually be called “QQQ&D”: “questions, questions, questions… and doubts”. Yet the director of Annette [+see also:
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did manage to offer up a handful of answers with regards to his latest feature film, the sixth in a career stretching back almost 40 years which was awarded the Best Direction trophy at the recent Cannes Film Festival. The occasion in question was a masterclass organised as part of the 12th Bif&st - Bari International Film Festival, where the author of cult films such as Bad Blood and The Lovers on the Bridge (here boasting a Federico Fellini Platinum Award for Cinematic Excellence) discussed the lengthy gestation of his project, as well as his actors and his work approach.

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“The project form of Annette first saw the light of day around eight years ago, when Sparks came to me with this idea involving 15 songs. When we later decided that the film would be one big, long song, the musical numbers rose to 80, and we eventually retained forty or so of these. Eight years was the length of time it took us to find the money we needed and the right cast. The film is set in Los Angeles, but it was actually shot in a variety of cities and theatres in Belgium and Germany”.

With regard to the cast and Adam Driver: “Usually, I devise a film with actors already in mind. The casting process is unnatural, it’s better to imagine a film for someone in particular. I didn’t know either Marion Cotillard or Simon Helberg before making this film, but Adam was there from the very beginning. He stayed loyal to this project, even when we didn’t have the money we needed. I don’t normally rehearse with actors before filming, but in this instance, I travelled to New York a number of times to work on the musical side of things with Adam. I met him several years ago during a series called Girls and, as soon as I saw him, I decided he would be a very interesting creature to capture within my lens. There are various levels of ambiguity within this film, which Adam has the capacity to develop”.

“Over the course of my career, I’ve essentially worked with three actors”, Carax adds, “and I’ve realised that I like watching them, both when they’re still as statues and when they’re moving, like when they’re dancing, for example. All the actors I’ve worked with have something animalistic about them in their movements. I’ve worked a lot with Denis Lavant in the past, and he, too, possesses apelike qualities, so to speak. It’s an incredibly interesting characteristic in an actor, in my view”.

And the actors in Annette also had to sing: “All the singing you hear in the film is live, performed directly on set. When Marion sings opera, her natural voice overlaps with that of a soprano. I knew that if I ever made a musical, it would have to be sung live, because it’s a wonderful feeling to make and watch a film in this way, leaving little room for words and giving music the dominant role”.

And in terms of the character who lends the film its title, played by a puppet: “I’m not a huge fan of post-production, so I try to work within the real, within reality; that’s why we used a puppet for Annette. When Sparks suggested the project to me, we didn’t have any clear ideas; it felt like an impossible task. We had to find a kid between 0 and 5 years old who could sing. I didn’t want to use digital effects, and a robot would have been an anti-emotive solution. So we looked for puppeteers in America and Japan, and in the end we found a perfectly suitable one in France”.

“When I was young, I wanted to make films with music, but music spurned me”, the director replies when asked why he’s made a musical. “I thought that the best kind of life was that of a composer, a singer or a musician. I didn’t study film, I don’t know how to act, I don’t know how to make music. For this type of work, it’s important that you surround yourself with people who can provide the raw materials which you don’t possess yourself. My work is a mix of chaos and precision, it all starts with the chaos that’s in my head: I see images, and luckily there are people around me who can understand that chaos and turn it into something specific”.

Lastly, in terms of the distribution of his film via streaming platforms: “The more expensive a film is, the greater number of rich people you need, and when you find them, it can happen that you end up on platforms too. These days, platforms are like Covid: they want us all to stay at home. Cinema actually wants the opposite, but this seems to be the new way”.

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(Translated from Italian)

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