Jacques Rivette interviewed by Jacques Aumont, Jean-Louis Comolli, Jean Narboni, Sylvie Pierre.
Translated by Amy Gateff.
Originally appeared in Cahiers du Cinema 204, 1968. Interview conducted July 27, 1968.
What gave you the idea of making L'Amour fou?
The film didn't start with an idea; it's difficult to answer that.
Had you been thinking of it for a long time?
No, it was simply a question of making a film within certain given economic circumstances. Beauregard kept on saying, 'Do you know someone who might have a script that we could shoot for 45 million francs?' I vaguely looked around; I think I even sent him one or two guys, but he didn't like their scripts. So finally I told him I had one. And that's when I started trying to think what could be filmed for 45 million francs. Which meant there had to be very few actors and very few changes of scenery.
In the end the film cost more than 45 million francs. . .
No, not the shooting. It's the editing which took it over the limit. In the end it's approximately a 60 million franc film -- which, for an 'official' production, is still not very much per minute.
Was shooting in five weeks imposed by the 45 million franc limit?
Yes, with that amount it had to be shot in Paris with a small crew, very few changes of scenery and actors who weren't too hard to please. As I had also had a vague but strong desire to make a film with Bulle Ogier and Jean-Pierre Kalfon ever since I had seen Les Bargasses, I soon thought of them, without being able to tell whether the idea of the story about a couple made me think of them or vice versa.
Is it also because of this allusion to Marc 0's company and productions that L'Amour fou is a film about the theatre?
Every time I start to think about a film -- the ones that have been made as well as those which haven't -- I always think that the subject I've got is only going to make a little short film, at the most, and I'm always looking farthings to fill it out, at least to manage an hour and a quarter. That's what led me to think of the theatre.
Then another major reason was that I hadn't forgiven myself for the way I had shown the theatre in Paris nous appartient, which I find too picturesque, too much seen from the outside, based on cliches. The work I had done on La Religieuse at the Studio des Champs-Elysees had given me the feeling that work in the theatre was different, more secret, more mysterious, with deeper relationships between people who are caught up in this work, a relationship of accomplices. It's always very exciting and very effective to film someone at work, someone who is making something; and work in the theatre is easier to film than the work of a writer or a musician.
The main character is a man of the theatre, but to what extent was Jean-Pierre Kalfon really the director of Andromaque? Did he, for instance, choose his actors himself?
Before writing anything at all I had talked about it to Jean-Pierre, because the first thing I needed to know was whether he agreed to the idea of actually being the director. I suggested Andromaque to him, first of all because there wouldn't be any copyright problems and then also because, if we were going to take a classical play, it would be just as well to take one with an archetypal situation so that, even in bits and pieces, the audience would be able to find its way around slightly. He reread it and agreed. And then, yes, the idea was that he would choose whatever actors he wanted and direct Andromaque in accordance with his own ideas. We only had to agree on the actress who would play Hermione, since she was also to play the part of Marta; but actually it was he who brought me Josee Destoop, as well as almost all the others. For Phoenix, he hadn't found anyone, so I suggested Michel Delahaye. It all happened very simply, through more or less chance meetings: it was mainly -- or rather three-quarters -- a question of making up a friendly little group -- which Didier and Claude-Eric joined later spontaneously.
And are you the one who chose Michele Moretti? Or was she part of the group?
With her, it happened just before shooting took place. I had found her very good in Les Bargasses and Les Idoles, I like the way she lived, in relation to the others in the group, but there wasn't any part for her either in Andromaque or in the script; at the last minute, I suggested that she be Jean-Pierre's assistant, and that part turned out to be quite important, even though it wasn't at all planned or premeditated. She is what makes it a major part, because whatever happened with her was interesting. On the other hand, there were parts which were meant to be important which became less so, because they just happened not to work-like, for example, the role of Puck.
Was the only reason for choosing Andromaque the necessity of choosing a play where the audience could orient themselves easily? It seems to us that there are certain analogies, certain correspondences, between the subject of Andromaque and the situation in L'Amour fou. Were these analogies clear to you when you were writing the script?
Of course the choice of Andromaque was not completely naive. The possibilities of analogy -- if I may say so -- between Andromaque and L'Amour fou were so striking even when we reread the play that Jean-Pierre and I decided from the start to avoid any terribly obvious comparisons between Racine and what we were doing. It was really too facile and was becoming rather annoying. During all the filming and then again during the editing, we didn't force ourselves constantly to eliminate every juxtaposition which appeared, but we never looked for them and when they seemed really too obvious or too much of a cop-out, we always tried to break them up. They had to remain two parallel entities, with even the echoes from one to the other remaining accidental. The guiding principle was to let things happen by themselves without ever forcing them, to be there as a witness.
Labarthe was telling us that you used a certain phrase of Renoir's as a motto during the shooting: that the director should pretend he's asleep.
Yes, the three weeks I spent with Renoir filming the programmes for Cineastes de notre temps, right after shooting and finishing La Religieuse, made quite an impression on me. After a lie, all of a sudden, here was the truth. After a basically -- artificial cinema, here was the truth of the cinema. I therefore wanted to make a film, not inspired by Renoir, but trying to conform to the idea of a cinema incarnated by Renoir, a cinema which does not impose anything, where one tries to suggest things, to let them happen, where it is mainly a dialogue at every level, with the actors, with the situation, with the people you meet, where the act of filming is part of the film itself. What I liked most about this film was enjoying myself shooting it. The film itself is only the residue, where I hope something remains. What was exciting was creating a reality which began to have an existence of its own, independently of whether it was being filmed or not, then to treat it as an event that you're doing a documentary on, keeping only certain aspects of it, from certain points of view, according to chance or to your ideas, because, by definition, the event always overwhelms in every respect the story or the report one can make out of it. I always used to find shooting a drag -- something awful, a nightmare. I liked to think about the film before doing it; I liked to edit it once it had been filmed; but the filming itself always took place in poor conditions. This was the first time that the shooting was not only not hell, but was even a most exciting time. And also there was no continuity problem: the original idea of the film led immediately to conversations, with Jean-Pierre, with Bulle, with Marilu, with everyone we met for one reason or another in any connection with the project. All these conversations quite naturally led up to the point when Jean-Pierre started doing readings of Andromaque with people he had chosen. Then, gradually, it became the first day of shooting, when Jean-Pierre calmly continued the readings or began setting things up on the impetus of the previous week's work. In the evenings, we stayed together -- we didn't leave each other's sides for five weeks -- talking, not necessarily about the film but about everything else around it, and everything fell into place; then the next day, filming, we would continue the previous night's conversation. The editing was just a continuation, the same thing with different people, with the editors and sometimes still with people from the film who came along to see me, and the conversation continued. My memory is of one long, uninterrupted conversation. What L'Amour fou was, was a subject of conversation between us; and not necessarily with words; with silences as well, listening to records or going to see a film . . . For example, we all went to see Marnie again when we had nearly finished shooting, and not only did we have the feeling that Hitchcock had already filmed the whole subject of L 'Amour fou and beyond, but afterwards this vision of Marnie integrated itself into the film for us. I think that is how it's fun to make a film; otherwise, it has no interest.
The relationships between people at the shooting and in the film are not necessarily the same -- to some extent it's acting. For example, with Labarthe, we would have secretive little conspiracies, we would agree that he should interview one person or another and go at it in one way or another. Sometimes that wouldn't produce any results and he'd try again two days later from another angle. Similarly, after Jean-Pierre and his cast had been rehearsing for an hour or two while we had been standing around with our arms folded, all of a sudden we decided to set up a little rail in one corner and to film.
But it could just as easily have been fifteen minutes earlier or fifteen minutes later. I intervened as little as possible in Jean-Pierre 's work; in any case, he hated me to. The only challenge was to try to sum up in six days of shooting what should have taken three weeks. Obviously, that had an effect on the film: that's what led us to use, external aids, like for example the percussion instruments. At one point, since Jean-Pierre wanted to make his actors say the lines in a certain way, he started stressing according to the breaks in the ideas, then marking these breaks by clapping his hands, and it only took two days before they went from there quite naturally to the idea of gongs. But if we had really had three weeks, we could have got to the stage where the gongs would have been eliminated, because they were only a means, one stage in the process.
Despite the shortened time, one gets an impression or ripening, or a slow, regular, continual progress in the way the play is directed.
Yes, the shots that I kept, which were only a small proportion of what we filmed, in 35 or 16mm, are put together in approximately chronological order; but one's main impression is of a progression in the fatigue of the actors. At the beginning, they are fresh; they are still under the illusion that they will get to play Andromaque at the end of the week; while three or four days later, they know very well that they never will . . . And they really were frustrated about it, since they'd all thrown themselves into it with a desire to play it for real, before an audience. Luckily for him, Jean-Pierre's part went on, and he threw himself into it that much more completely -- all the more because his directing of Andromaque had suddenly been taken away from him. The others were left a bit at loose ends; they came to the shooting of the rest of the film and wandered around while we continued filming, even if they didn't have any special reason to be there.
How exactly did the filming of the more 'intimate' scenes take place?
The 'theatre' part was to come first, so that Jean-Pierre and the actors could rehearse a little before the shooting started, so that they wouldn't start completely from scratch on the first day. We started out making it purely as a documentary, first trying to get used to the system of filming with two cameras, and it was only after two days, after getting used to the collaboration between the Mitchell camera and the Coutant, having got all the crew and the actors used to each other, filming a lot quietly, from corners, and intervening as little as possible in the work of the play, that we started to bring in 'acted' scenes (Bulle's departure), while trying to keep as much as possible the same documentary spirit; that is, by planning only the outlines of the scene, what the cameras would do, the 'tactics' of the moment to be filmed, but never premeditating the details -- or how the shot should end, which was almost always left very open and depended a lot on people's moods during each take. I only said to cut when there was really nothing else that could be done, and it was often the end of the reel which took care of deciding how to end the shot, instead of me. Then, after that, when we went into the flat, we tried to keep this documentary tone as much as possible; we tried never to hurry things, and the main way we did this was by filming chronologically and by anticipating. That made it possible to discuss each evening the next day's shooting, any points that were still not clear, and any we would try to decide on a bit ahead of time -- at least to plan the basic ideas -- and any we preferred to decide on or improvise during the shooting.
Was the dialogue scripted?
Not usually, and if it was, always at the last minute.
During the documentary scenes of the 'first week', what was Kalfon doing? Was be directing a play, or was be acting in a film?
He was directing a play. The film was an intruder which was keeping him from directing Andromaque as peacefully as he wanted to, interrupting his work and annoying him prodigiously. At the beginning, he enjoyed the interviews with Labarthe but then, after a while, they annoyed him too, because they intruded on his rapport with the actors and forced him to talk in the abstract. But I insisted on continuing to do them: if he was going to be persecuted by the cinema, it might as well be filmed; that made it more interesting.
And Labarthe was trying to put together a program?
He was trying. He had just a little trouble, since he doesn't know the theatre as well as the cinema; he didn't always know what questions to ask Jean-Pierre to get him talking. Labarthe's programme, in principle, is the 16mm film, when it's all put together to its true length (between two and three hours): it is much more serene than the other. It is only of the people working, and never leaving this work, and of them talking about it. . . In the 35mm film, I only kept things which were related to the character of Sebastien.
Were Kalfon, on the one hand, and Labarthe on the other, actually planning to put on the play and the programme?
Jean-Pierre really wanted to do it; he only gave up the idea because he wasn't completely happy with the actors and he hadn't found a place to do it. In any case, he had already directed several plays a few years ago; I haven't seen any of them, and I didn't even know -- he's the one who told me. And it was only afterwards that I learned that Michele Moretti had actually been his assistant for some of the plays he directed.
Where did the idea come from to have Labarthe and his crew make this 16mm doaunentary?
It comes from the television programmes on Renoir, from Cineastes de notre temps, and from my great admiration for most of the programmes in that series. It's an idea that came to me very quickly, for practical reasons: I knew that we would have very little time to devote to filming the theatrical part and from the start I wanted to have a lot of material for editing, which made it impossible to do with only the Mitchell. Then I thought it would be fun to do it with two very different systems at once and to introduce the very crude fiction -- which is not meant to fool anyone -- of the television documentary within the film. The idea of using Labarthe as the interviewer came largely from the role that the character of Marta was to play. She was to have a position; in other words, never to intervene in the dramatic progression, but to be a very strong pivotal character. She therefore needed some background, so we had to give her a past; but since she could never reveal it herself, it had to be under questioning. . . I did take a lot of it out during editing, because it was becoming too systematic.
In the final analysis, this haphazard system of having Kalfon direct a play and Labarthe and Etienne Becker film a programme seems to have been completely premeditated and to play a very specific role.
In the beginning, the idea was just to have as little as possible to do, to get myself as much rest as possible, to have only to chat with people a bit and then sit back and enjoy myself. When I hit upon an idea which got other people to do the work, I was thrilled. Etienne was taking the initiative; he knew that sometimes he was supposed to orient himself in one direction rather than another, but he was really very free: he filmed what he liked by his own methods, sometimes just little bits and sometimes lining the reels up one after the other if he thought it was worth it. And the last three days we filmed separately with the two crews, one after the other, which made it possible to film from midday to midnight and gave Labarthe and Becker more latitude, since they no longer had to take into account other crew's position; that's how we got the best bits of the documentary on Andromaque. There is one part that I only kept very short excerpts of in the film: the nearly continuous rehearsal of the last scene; it lasts more than an hour, and as is, it is really quite good.
So it isn't just a coincidence that Kalfon also seems to bate the idea of interfering, that be seems to want his actors to do everything themselves. . .
That comes from the conversations we had over a period of three months before starting to film, about Racine, about Barthes, about actors, about directing. And we were in complete agreement about this idea of non-interference as our guiding principle; the idea that the director must not only not be a dictator but must not be a father-figure either.
But, apart from these explanations about convenience or laziness, what is striking is the infinite number of combinations the three elements make possible -- the 16mm camera, the 35mm camera and the theatre.
But that's also a lazy man's solution, because all we had to do was to decide from the start on the idea of using these three elements, and then it developed all by itself. In any case, I'm beginning to think more and more that films are decided upon beforehand and that, if the principles you base yourself on are right, then it carries on by itself, developing these principles. If not, if you start out not necessarily with the wrong ideas but, shall we say, with more abstract ideas, it means that you're giving yourself a terrible lot of work every time, to lift a ton by two millimeters, and that this fantastic output of energy only gives a meager result. It's more pleasant to work in such a way that things multiply instead of dividing.
Then you are opposed to Francois Truffaut's theories, according to which the shooting goes counter to the script, the editing goes counter to the shooting, etc. Was there a stage for you where something went counter to what preceded it?
I am not at all opposed to that theory, but instead of saying 'goes counter to', I would rather say 'criticizes'. We spent most of our time criticizing: nothing was ever assumed or taken for granted. When filming a scene, sometimes we did it just as it was planned, and sometimes we changed it completely. It wasn't a matter of being for or against, it was spontaneous calling into question, which happened as a matter of course. In any case, there was actually no idea of separate phases, but rather of a continuity, of successive moments, all different, of the same thing -- moments which, because they were different, always required different attitudes and, because of that, certain adjustments from one to the other.
But you never had this feeling of a battle against or of a grappling with the cinema which most directors have or seem to have?
And which I had myself to a terrifying extent when I made my first two films; that's what made me think that it certainly couldn't be the right way to make films. But this was the first time I didn't have that feeling.
The idea of taking material which is not completely your own and then transforming it and using it in a different way, so that everything has an effect on everything else -- this is very similar to a certain kind of music.
YYes. Well, it's obvious; you can't help thinking of things like that. But I tried not to think about it too much. During the shooting, we tried, not to exhaust all the possibilities there were, because that is useless and impossible, but to use what we could, within the five weeks we had at our disposal, to put across the idea of this great number of inherent possibilities.
Precisely. Faced with this inexhaustible situation, with the 16mm and 35mm cameras, you must have realized very quickly that your film was going to be very long.
No, because I had absolutely no idea what I would feel like keeping when I edited it. Of course I sensed that I wouldn't be short of material to edit, but I didn't know at all what proportion of it I would keep.
How much 35mm had you filmed altogether?
About 25,000 meters. The first end-to-end screening of the 35mm lasted about four hours; then we tightened it up a bit, since the film now lasts four hours and twelve minutes, with about half an hour of 16mm.
Everything that was a tiny bit risky, which went off in all directions, during the shooting, comes together perfectly and certain things appear to be completely pre-meditated, the connecting points between the 16mm and the 35mm, which create a very rich dialectic of sorts , . .
IIt was an easy dialectic to plan. If you start with the fact that you're filming with two cameras, you have a good chance of having good connecting points; but you also get some surprises, which are very instructive. . .
And did you have a clear idea beforehand of the general outline?
The original idea was that here were three weeks in the life of two people. The first work to be done was to talk with Jean-Pierre and Bulle about their points of view and what they thought would be the reactions of the characters they were to play. In the original text, for example, there was a lot missing about Claire, but I knew it was missing. So one evening when the three of us were talking, one of us -- I really don't remember which any more -- after twenty ideas that we threw out, came up with the idea that she should be looking for a dog.
The idea of the dog wasn't in the 30-page scenario?
In the 30-page one, yes, but not in the l0-page one. At the start, the film actually consisted of three sentences, on which Beauregard, and then Bulle and Jean-Pierre, gave me their agreement. I then wrote 10 pages to have a basis for starting discussions; it's at that stage that the conversations with Bulle and Jean-Pierre and the work with Marilu took place. Then we decided to make up a sort of calendar of their life day by day, almost hour by hour, for those three weeks; and it's that calendar which I then rewrote in 30 pages, in a slightly more literary form, so that it could be read. When we filmed, this was the calendar we followed, doing the opposite of some of the things that were written down, if necessary, and changing the emphasis of some things and clarifying others. For example, the scene where Sebastien rips up his clothes came to us during discussions the night before the first day of shooting: I only knew, in a completely abstract way, that at that point we needed a scene which reversed relations between Claire and Sebastien, where the 'madness' which had inhabited the character of Claire would be taken up by Sebastien.
<So you knew what your characters were doing, day by day, But in the film, the fitting in of their respective timetables doesn't alternate regularly; there are long passages only about the theatre or only about Claire, during which one feels that something is happening with the other.
All the construction details were re-studied during the editing; but the film was edited day by day and the idea of the calendar was retained.
Yes, but they aren't felt to be days, more like pure durations of time.
That's why there are only a few indications of dates. Originally I had planned to mark every day, and then we thought that after all it would be good to lose once in a while a precise idea of time and not to have indicators all through, but still to give them from time to time, so that you can feel a deadline coming, like the end of one month and the beginning of the next: the last 'dramatic' day is a 31st and the day after, the 1st, is the day that the circle is completed. But between one day and the next, there is always black leader.
There is still one point when the idea of days disappears completely, to be replaced by the idea of a duration, when we find ourselves in exactly the same situation as Kalfon, and that's when he learns of the suicide attempt of Claire, whom we had forgotten about.
At that point, I didn't want any particular effect; I wanted people either to forget about her or, on the contrary, to think about her and to wonder what she is doing during this long passage when we lose sight of her. There are still little allusions to her from time to time: Jean-Pierre's phone call at the bistro, the fact that she is spending the night at Marta's place. But both reactions remain possible, for different people: that's part of the audience's freedom. I wanted some 'free' spaces of time where people could occasionally forget completely the passage of time and then pick it up again in fits and starts. That's why I kept all the indications of time from the 16mm film, as when Jean-Pierre says 'There are only two weeks left. . .' or 'only one week. . .'. I also tried, at the beginning, to make the audience think they're on board for three weeks, but I didn't really succeed -- this only comes across very faintly. In any case, this time of three weeks is arbitrary too; it could just as well be a picture of what could happen between the two of them in three months.
To get back to the theatre, one gets the impression that the actors haven't completely rehearsed Andromaque, that they are always going back over the same scenes . . .
Yes, it just happened that they rehearsed some scenes more than others because they knew them better. And also there are some that were less interesting for the film. In particular, the fact of coming back again and again to the same scenes created rhymes of sorts within the film: the first meeting between Pyrrhus and Andromaque, or Hermione's entrance. The last two acts are rather sacrificed because they hadn't rehearsed them as much. But none of that was premeditated. What I kept in are the most interesting parts from a visual point of view and with regard to Sebastien, rather than with regard to Racine.
How did you decide at exactly what points to bring in the 16mm?
Whenever I felt like it, without any general rule. The principle is that the 16mm camera is the only one that has the right to see the actors in close-ups.
What we have isn't a film within a film, but the cinema filming the theatre and filmed by the cinema. That creates the curious impression that the 16mm camera is taking the cinema's share over completely and that the 35mm camera doesn't exist except as a transparent filter.
I'm glad that's the impression one gets, because, precisely, the 35mm camera is giving a completely 'cow's eye view' of things. In a strict sense, it's the person who came in on tiptoe, the intruder who doesn't come too close because he'll get veiled at if he comes any closer, who watches from the comers, who looks down from the balcony, always hiding a bit. It has its oppressed voyeur side to it, like someone who can never come up as close as he would like to, who doesn't even hear everything. The Mitchell and the Coutant are two opposite forms of indiscretion, a passive one and an active one, one sly and one bossy; but it's the same idea, that reality is pre-existing, when it is not being filmed, as well as when it is.
That gives a strange effect, because in the scenes where there is a mixture or 16and 35mm, it's the 16mm that comes off as being cinema, with clear sound; and when it's the 35mm, we have the impression of watching a play, of being in the audience. In the flat, because there is only the 35mm, you no longer have the impression of watching a play, of being in the audience.
Yes, that's what I wanted, to some extent, and that's why I tried to make the 35mm cameras as invisible as possible. We only track three times inside the flat, for completely functional reasons. And the whole technical crew felt very oppressed during the whole shooting, precisely because of that, because I wanted the 35mm camera to be nothing but a completely neutral recorder. I had practically no dealings with anyone but the actors; it was with them that I decided which way to take a scene; then afterwards, I would say, 'Let's put the camera here and "Action!", checking a bit to see whether what I wanted to show was in frame. Quite often, towards the end, when we were shooting in a great hurry, Levent even did the framing himself. I placed my trust in the technicians but my dialogue was solely with the actors.
In any case, the role of the 16mm camera wasn't really premeditated. Of course I had seen that it came across as 'cinema'. And I was even sort of pleased when Jean-Pierre talked about having seen the rushes of Labarthe's programme. At one point, I'd even thought of filming him looking at those rushes; then I changed my mind -- since he was saying it anyway, there was no need to film it.
You talk about a film within a mm, but actually it is more a film outside a film. When you see a camera in a film, you usually get the impression that it is an element of the film that you're watching. But here, on the contrary, one gets the impression that there is a generalized sickness called the cinema and that it all centers itself in the 16mm camera. The 35mm camera, which was the intruder, isn't any longer; we no longer 'feel' it, and now it's the 16mm that gives a strong impression of being the intruder.
That is to the extent that the 16mm camera is active, while the 35mm camera tries to be as passive as it can be, with even a hypocritical side to it. From time to time it moves around a bit, but independently of what it is filming, in accordance with a principle which I didn't invent, of setting up the movement of the camera completely independently of what is being filmed and then letting the camera operator take care of adapting them to each other. But as I said, it's an old trick. And I never did that inside the flat.
Moreover, there is a very 'shocking' moment when you see 16mm shots somewhere other than the theatre, at Marta's place. It makes you feel as though it's a scandal, as though Labarthe had entered into the 35mm film; you even wonder for a minute whether he might be Marta's lover.
That was just a little bit that I put in right at the end of the editing; it's the continuation of the interviews with Marta which were begun at the theatre, in the dressing room, then in the stalls and then in the bistro. When I edited, I dropped the interview at her place because it didn't add anything; or rather, it added too much. But I felt like keeping those shots for purely visual reasons. I wanted to have something between Bulle's telephone call to Marta, asking her to meet her, and Bulle going into the bistro; and since it would have been a bad place to have more theatre, it had to continue with the idea of Marta. So those shots were just put in to have a break; obviously, when it was screened, we realized the enormity of it, but since we hadn't really chosen to have it like that, we left it, as something we had just learned.
But uncertainty is still permitted. Every second time I see the film, I get the impression that Labarthe is trying to make his way into Marta's life, that he is making an opening gambit. Then other times I get the feeling he is just there to continue his documentary, because Marta interests him professionally and not because he has noticed that she seems to be unattached at the moment.
Actually, the uneasiness is mainly caused by the fact that these shots are in 16mm and that at this point they concern the 'fiction' and connote 'film', while usually they connote 'theatre' . . .
In any case, it is kept in solely in order to have spaces of time, oppositions of decors and of characters; while the oppositions of material are just submitted to. I couldn't do any more about whether it was 16mm or 35mm, so I had to accept it as a fact which was independent of my will, like the atmosphere or unplanned noise due to using direct sound. All of that is part of the material we have to work from, which we must take as it is.
My only thought during the editing was that certain things existed which had been filmed, that some film existed and that editing consisted in knowing not what you would like to have said but what the film itself said, which might bear no relation to what you had planned. Editing is seeking the affinities which come to exist between those various moments in film, which exist completely on their own. The fact that at one time there was a camera in front of some people, which made them act in a certain way, and everything they may have thought or said or done at that time no longer has any importance. It is dead and gone; the only thing that counts is what remains, and what remains is a crystallization of it, which is the rushes. And I never tire of looking at the rushes; I can spend days and days with them before I start to edit, and the first splice always feels like a sacrilege. Because we are doing them violence in forcing them to be set out in one order rather than another. That's also why I like to take a very long time editing so that there is time to go round and round it and to go back to the shots which have been cut, the re-takes, the out-takes, and to try to understand what they have to say as well. It's the moment when you pass from the stage of raw recorded reality into the dimensions of a film: that's the point where you have the greatest responsibility, because that is when the film -- whether you like it or not -- is going to start to 'say' something. But it, itself, must say it, not me nor anyone else.
For L 'Amour fou, it was very exciting, because on that basis there was enough to play about with for a good long time. I was ready to demolish completely the original order of things -- and some things which weren't really planned for any specific place when we were shooting got moved all around. We had fun moving them about until they seemed to be in place, until they seemed to want to stay where they were. I had started by putting together the main 35mm skeleton in the same order as the scenario, and it was dreadful, terribly boring. Then I waited for the blown-up 16mm without touching a thing, letting the film sleep for almost two months. Then we started out again, reconstructing it little by little on the basis of extracts of the 16mm film; without the 16mm the film couldn't be put together, it was nothing. We might have got there in the end, but we would certainly have had to cut out a lot for it to be worth watching.
The 16mm brought in suspense. And when Louis Marcorelles accuses me of having been a traitor to the spirit of 16mm and to cinema-verite and going over to the Hitchcock camp, he's right. It's actually cinema-verite completely turned away from its deepest nature and placed in the service of an idea of the cinema which may basically be closer to Hitchcock than to Renoir. The suspense brought in by the 16mm made it possible to give the shots back the power they had in the rushes and which they lost in the end-to-end; some shots still didn't get back the strength they had in the rushes. But in every film, whether it is very mise en scene or very documentary, I've always noticed this wasting away of strength with regard to the rushes.
Is that a condemnation or editing?
No, I do think one must edit. I think that everyone has been tempted to show the rushes to people as they are -- Godard, Eustache and Garrel and certainly in the past Renoir -- but for the time being, I still think it would be an unprofitable easy way out and that rushes left as they are would gradually wither away and die.
When you talk about suspense brought in by the 16mm, you aren't just thinking about what relates to the 'fiction', but also about the very nature or the 16mm within the 35mm.
Yes, the 16 kept the 35 going, visually and dynamically. It was a different quality of image and in a different gear. For example, the second week -- which is the part of the film which centers round Claire -- was a complete failure in the end-to-end. And suddenly, by tiny injections of 16mm, it began to have a meaning. It can't really be explained: there was just too much 35mm at once. The only time that the 16mm film would have been incongruous is during the two days that Bulle and Jean-Pierre spend together in the flat: the idea there is to have everything on the same level for half an hour.
For what happens during those two days, had you written something down?
No, nothing. In the thirty pages of the scenario, there was just: 'At this point, there is a scene which will be whatever it will be', or something like that. We filmed "it in one day, at the end of the filming in the flat. We had talked about this passage among ourselves, but not very much; it was a sort of reward we were saving for the last, that we were almost afraid to talk about. At the start, we were going to have two or three days, then we got behind and we only had one day of shooting left, so that it was absolutely wild when we did it. The same lighting for everything, the camera moving about at top speed in all directions, shots where all of a sudden everyone had to hide because Jean-Pierre was moving in a direction that hadn't been planned at all and Levent only just managed to catch him. All we knew was that these two days would be based on the idea of childishness -- two days when they are brother and sister -- regression to childhood. We even felt like going a lot further in that direction, right into scatological humor, with a really childish spirit. There are still a few things left in that vein, like 'kaka-pipi' written on the wall, but it's very slight. We didn't have time to take it further. In any case, the basic idea was: they are four years old. Thinking about it later, it's the idea behind Monkey Business. I mention that Jean-Pierre was full of ideas in that area. He also wanted to pay homage to Laurel and Hardy with a yogurt and cottage cheese duel, but unfortunately there wasn't enough time to film it. They were very tired at the end of all this nearly constant action and, since they were tired, we filmed tiredness, but that hadn't been planned at all. They had used up so much energy scribbling on the walls and rolling in the sheets and demolishing the door! After that, all I had to do was to bring the Mitchell camera over in front of them and film their exhaustion.
At that time, had you seen Daisies?
No, not yet. In any case, it really is the custard pie of the so-called new cinema. Since then I've seen lots of them: Herostratus, The Happening, Sept jours ai/leurs... And yet destruction is the oldest theme of the cinema: it's Mack Sennett, it's burlesque. These are the things you necessarily come back to -- all the more so since we weren't for a minute trying to be original. We were doing what obviously had to be done, what went without saying. They felt like covering themselves in paint, so they did. . .
But all of that is rhythmically punctuated by violent and repeated sexual acts which go against the idea of 'a return to childhood'.
Yes, there were times when Jean-Pierre began to forget the basic assumption. Although, infantile sexuality. . .
In any case, quite often during the film there is a very clear mother-child relationship between them.
Yes, that happened all by itself, like something so obvious that it wasn't worth bothering to plan. We even cut out or decided not to film some things on that these. At the end, when Jean-Pierre is alone in the flat, we had planned that he would actually be in the fetal position, and then we didn't do it because it wasn't necessary.
But there is already an allusion to that in the film when Heney ton plays the death or Orestes. . .
Yes, and -- precisely -- that happened all by itself during the rehearsals. It wasn't worth repeating it.
What do you think or the way the actors play Racine?
I must admit that the fact that Racine is recited in a very abrupt, often awkward
manner gives it extraordinary power. Otherwise, for it to come across, it would have to be played magnificently by brilliant actors. But here I find that there is a sort of brutality in the Racine line which turns up suddenly, hesitantly, when you least expect it.
There is a completely barbarous side to Andromaque itself as a play; it isn't at all a fine and elegant play and all the other clichés one could say about Racine.
Exactly, the play has an extraordinary savagery. At the start, our idea was to take an old stand-by from the French repertory, even though we knew, having read Barthes, that Racine was, well, really something. And then, when we re-read the play, we really found it fantastic; even Dennis and Yves, who at the start would have preferred us to do a play by Artaud, for example, got all enthusiastic as soon as readings began. For Jean-Pierre and myself, this contact of the actors, word by word, with the text, which is marvellous, was a revelation. That's what's exciting in that sort of work: it's when you're forced to follow the lines word for word that you realize each line is full of incredible wickedness and savagery and clarity and daring. He really is a mad writer, one of the great sick authors of French literature.
A true performance of Racine would be just as nearly unbearable as the Living
Theatre's Antigone; but by completely different means, without playing at all on physical actions. And really, what would be ideal would be for the words to have the same violence as the actions in the Living Theatre's plays: words that hurt, that torture. What also struck us, right from the first reading, was to what extent it is a play about regression. It starts with men, who are talking about politics, and continues with women who start to talk about their love problems and then, little by little, the adult characters disappear and the fifth act is really the act of the enfants terribles, which can only lead to childish actions, to suicide and madness. And when Michele and Jean-Pierre talk about the 'unplayable' side of Racine, they really did mean it. They said in front of the cameras what we had been saying to each other every evening.
Had you thought about Hitchcock when you were making the film?
Beforehand, very little. I knew that certain bits should be filmed from a sort of Hitchcock-like point of view, but I thought they would be a sort of nasty tangle quite independent from the rest of the film, and they even frightened me a bit, during and afterwards, because I had no idea whether they would clash with the rest. Apart from which I didn't think about him any more until the day we went to see Marnie again, when we had almost finished filming, when the relations, so to speak, seemed obvious to us. . . But it may be that any film we might have gone to see in the mood we were in would have struck us in the same way. When it's like that, you project on to everything that you come across. . .
<Was this intensity which the theatre has throughout the film, and which almost counterbalances what is going on between Kalfon and Bulle, actually intended?
Yes, I wanted the two things to be as interesting as each other, equally, if possible. The story is about someone who is torn between two places, two separate enclosures, one where he rehearses and the other where he is trying to save -- so to speak -- the couple which he forms with his wife, without anyone being able to tell whether it is because the couple is not working out that the play is not working out or vice versa. In fact, for him, it's all connected; he is caught in a muddle, being pushed into a corner from both sides.
Listening to you, one gets the impression that Sebastien is the main character. . .
IIt's true, he is the central character. But in the same way that there is a balance for him between the theatre and the flat, I wanted there to be a balance between the two of them. But the point of departure was that we were only to see her in relation to him. What we see of Claire is perhaps only Sebastien's own idea of her: there are passages about her, especially towards the end, where one may think that he is imagining it all. In any case, it is necessarily a man's idea of a woman.
For me, what crystallized it at the beginning was the idea of Pirandello's life, because he lived for fifteen years with his wife, who was mad. The scene with the pin comes straight from Pirandello's life. I had read it three months before in the program notes of one of his plays which I'd been to see -- I don't remember which -- She Wanted to Find Herself, I think. Obviously, the same thing that had taken fifteen years couldn't happen in three weeks; it didn't have the same weight or the same meaning, and I didn't feel I had the strength, or even the desire, to make a film where the woman would really be mad. So this would only be a crisis, a bad patch, as everyone has. And that's when it became clear that she would be no more mad than he was and even that of the two he was clearly the one who was more sick. The main feeling was also expressed in a sentence from Pirandello that I happened to find when I was reading a bit before starting to write anything at all, which I had even copied out at the beginning of the scenario: 'I have thought about it and we are all mad.' It's what people commonly say, but the beauty is precisely in stopping to think about it.
This transfer of madness from One character to another comes from Lilith as well.
Yes, of course, but Lilith is a film that cuts across so many preoccupations that we all have. . . I noticed that after a few days. I realized that I was also kind of doing a remake of Lilith. But actually I thought about ten different films. One must never hesitate to plagiarize. There again, Renoir is right.
What function do you give to the three scenes of rehearsals at Sebastien's flat?
I think these are rather important scenes, because it is the intrusion of the theatre
upon Claire, while excluding her even more than the fact that she isn't participating in the play. Not only is she pushed out of the theatre, but the theatre comes and chases her right into her refuge.
Apart from records and the transistor radio, there is only one moment in the film when there is music, just before the end, at a point which is unlike any other part of the film. Did you decide in advance to place it at that spot, when Sebastien is taking a long walk by himself, and only at that spot?
I really valued this passage at the end of the film when Jean-Pierre comes back out, when we should have a feeling of false liberation and then where this feeling of liberation would gradually subside. I would have liked to do some more clever things at that point, playing on changes of location or changes of lighting, night falling. I couldn't. I had to film quite simply Jean-Pierre walking, with a few silly transition shots so that it could be edited. And in any case, it was a musical moment. So I felt like having music there and not elsewhere. On the one hand, I knew it was a film which had to play on total realism of sound, with maybe a few very brief punctuations, which I decided to drop after talking about it to Jean-Claude Eloy, because he convinced me it would just be useless 'boom-boom-booming'. And then, just because there wasn't any music at all, I thought there had to be some important music at some point, because all rules should be broken once, and also, for it to take off, for the passage really to soar, to go beyond the rest, to the other side. . . I wanted this passage not only to have music, but, to borrow a term from Boulez, for the music to be the carrying wave, with the image being a simple accompaniment, almost accidental, with no importance.
That's precisely the impression one gets: that during the filming this passage was conceived as being accompanied by music.
It didn't exactly seem indispensable when we were shooting, but very quickly, as
soon as we had started editing, as soon as I started talking with Jean-Claude. At first, I had planned to have tiny bits of music here and there in the film and then suddenly a great burst, a block of music which would then subside completely at the end. When the music comes, dialogue has already been dead for some time: there was Francoise's telephone call to announce Claire's departure, then the conversation between the two of them at the station, where the degree of reality is already becoming more improbable, and then a few more indistinct lines in the dressing-room, and Jean-Pierre's muttering when he is walking along humming a theme of Otis Redding's. After the music, all that is left is pure sounds, and at the end the cries of a child, which are completely accidental and not at all premeditated, recorded in synch with the last shot. The music had to come not last, but next to last.
In the same way that Sebastien's walk is also a false ending?
Right from the start, this film is full of false endings. It is a film that won't stop ending. That's why it lasts so long.
But there is music at another point in the film: when Sebastien is sleeping, before the scene with the pin, One hears a sort of spluttering.
That isn't instrumental music -- it's Zen priests. And that comes back in several places, but I wanted it to be very faint and it got a bit lost during the re-recording: it really is on the edge of perception, almost like infra-sound. During the titles, for example, the sound of the train changes into Zen priests, with a few gusts of folk music, drops of water, and all these elements going round in a loop. All that is very roughly inspired by Telemusik, obviously. Because formally the great ambition of the film was to seek an equivalent in the cinema for Stockhausen's recent research: this mixture of what is constructed and what is by chance, which also necessarily implies duration. And the other musical 'model' for the film -- but this one is even more distant, unfortunately -- was Sgt Pepper. . .
Was it Stravinsky for Paris nous appartient?
No, Bartok. This slightly decadent romanticism, this aspect which was meant to be grating, was intentional. The origin of Paris nous appartient -- and this may seem a bit pretentious or even monstrous -- was the Budapest crisis at the end of 1956. Just after Le Coup du berger, I'd written some scripts that Rossellini was to produce, of which, luckily, none was filmed, and it's one of those that I went back to and modified completely, six months later, in the spring of '57. It seems idiotic, but because of that, it was connected with Bartok.
How do you now see Paris nous appartient?
I haven't seen it again for a long time and I'm very much afraid of seeing it again. I wanted too much to film it to be able to disown it, but with perspective on it I am very unhappy about the dialogue, which I find atrocious. I still like the idea of the film, including the naive aspects of it; I like the way it's constructed, the way the characters go from one decor to another and the way they move among themselves. I don't even mind the fact that the plot is rather unpolished, but the style of the dialogue and the resulting style of acting bother me prodigiously. I thought when I was writing it that it was counter to Aurenche and Bost, but I realize that it's the same thing -- dialogue for effects, in the worst sense of the term. The lines are saved by certain of the actors; some make them worse -- but they are terribly pleased with themselves, and I can't stand that any more. Even the theatre scenes are conventional and that's what made me want to show the theatre in another way.
In any case, that's nothing special. All films are about the theatre, there is no other subject. That's choosing the easy way, of course, but I am more and more convinced that one must do the easy things and leave the difficult things to pedants. If you take a subject which deals with the theatre to any extent at all, you're dealing with the truth of the cinema: you're carried along. It isn't by chance that so many of the films we love are first of all about that subject, and you realise afterwards that all the others -- Bergman, Renoir, the good Cukors, Garrel, Rouch, Cocteau, Godard, Mizoguchi -- are also about that. Because that is the subject of truth and lies, and there is no other in the cinema: it is necessarily a questioning about truth, with means that are necessarily untruthful. Performance as the subject. Taking it as the subject of a film is being frank, so it must be done.
Isn't that a bit like taking the cinema directly as the subject of the cinema?
There have been many attempts in the cinema to make films on the cinema and it doesn't work as well; it is more laborious and comes off as affectation. It doesn't have the same force, maybe because there is only one level. It's the cinema contemplating itself, while if it looks at the theatre, it is already contemplating something else: not itself but its elder brother. Of course, it's another way of looking at itself in a mirror, but the theatre is the 'polite' version of the cinema. It's the face it takes when it is communicating with the public; while a film crew is a conspiracy, completely closed in upon itself, and no one has yet managed to film the reality of the conspiracy. There is something infamous, something profoundly debauched about cinema work. Maybe it should be filmed in a more critical manner, or a more violent manner, the way Garrel films his 'scene of the crime'. In any case, it's very difficult. Even 8 1/2 stops before the film is begun; the fact that Mastroianni may be about to start shooting his film forces Fellini to end his.
Independently of all that, don't you think that what modern film directors -- or those who have always been modem, like Renoir -- are more and more interested in is something in common between the theatrical setting and the setting as it comes into modem cinema? When you see Persona or Garrel's films, you can't help asking yourself about the setting.
Whether the setting is pre-existent? Whether the film is an exploration of the setting? All I can say, empirically, is that in L'Amour fou, if the decors had been different, everything would have been fundamentally different, and first of all there is an operation of taming and exploring these two decors. We tried to show the flat in different dramatic situations: familiar, strange, tidy, messy, demolished, welcoming, hostile; and on the contrary, to show the theatre decor as completely immobile, since it is totally artificial. We were quite comfortable in that decor, because it was very large and very cozy at the same time. You could feel the lines of force in that place, which I really liked; each time I went back there, I felt good. While in the flat, it completely depended on what you made of it.
At the first and the last shots, with the stage and the blank screen, one gets the impression that the setting is tending to absorb the film, that space is devouring. . .
Precisely: 'Nothing will have taken place but the place itself. Besides that, this beginning and ending were done to tie up the parcel, to try to find a bit of an equivalent -- a purely functional one, based on the theatre -- to the beginning and ending of Persona.
That is also what I still like about Paris nous appartient, the labyrinth that the decors create among themselves, the idea that one brings away from the film, of a sort of series of settings with relationships between them -- some cut off, others communicating, others that are optional itineraries -- and people moving about like mice inside these labyrinths, ending up in culs-de-sac or caught nose to nose. Then at the end it all disappears and there's nothing left but this lake and some birds flying away. . . In that, the setting is very, very different from the setting of the beginning -- unlike L'Amour fou. . .
...with this cyclical aspect in that we see Kalfon listening to the tape recorder at tbe beginning and at the end?
We could have made a film which would simply count off the days of the calendar, from the first day to the last, but I also felt like having it form a circle and the easiest way was the old trick of the flashback.
But which doesn't play the role of a flashback at all . . .
No, purely playing the role of a reminder. It's a sort of homage to Stravinsky, since it's the beginning and ending of lots of Stravinsky, especially The Flood or Canticum, with the beginning and the end being mirror images of each other. Moreover, afterwards, I realized that lots of things mirrored each other in the film; that's why it doesn't bother me in the slightest to have an interval, because that accentuates the mirror effect.
The two days Jean-Pierre spends in the theatre and the two days he spends shut in the flat, the two conversations with Michele, Marta and Puck -- lots of things are echoes of each other. There are even some that I accentuated a bit once I had decided there should be an interval.
That's what Delahaye very elegantly calls the bow-tie structure. Thus, the interval becomes a very important point in the film . . .
Oh yes, for me the most important point is when everyone goes to take a leak.
At what point did you decide on that?
As soon as I saw the first complete rough-cut version straight through. I got the feeling that, physically, it was unbearable. That was also the reaction of the two editors, and I thought it should be taken into account: we realized that we had followed the first hour fine, the second fairly well, that we completely lost interest in the third hour and that little by little interest revived during the last hour. But one hour was completely lost because of physical fatigue. The interval is also the point where we pretend to be nice to the viewer and to give him back his freedom. So he does whatever he wants; if he wants to go away, he goes. And I do hope that there will be people who leave, maybe not quite half the audience, but let's say a quarter or a fifth of them, if only to prove that I was right to include an interval. It should be like in the theatre, where you can leave in the middle -- which I do, very often. On the other hand, I would like those who stay to stay right through to the end; I even think the doors ought to be locked. Going to see a film must be a contract -- an act and a contract. And one of the clauses of the contract is that they have the right to leave during the interval but not at any other time.
Have you tried to shorten the film?
I very soon saw that in any case it would be more than three hours long. But I
think its present length -- four hours and twelve minutes -- is just about the right length and just about the maximum length as well. I have the feeling that there are only five minutes' leeway in either direction, that it would have been wrong to go on longer.
Weren't you tempted to film Andromaque straight through?
At the start, this is what was planned. The actors thought they were actually going to play Andromaque on the last day, after six days of rehearsals; and we were to film it with two cameras. We gave up the idea because the actors weren't ready and, in any case, we wouldn't have had enough film.
Would you like to film a theatre performance or a play?
I think all directors have wanted to do that but no one ever has. But what would be interesting in filming a play wouldn't be filming it but directing it and maybe writing it.
So how do you see La Religieuse between those two films and in relation to the play which you staged?
As a seductive error. At first, I felt like doing it only as an adaptation, in order to get people to know the book; then there was directing the play, and I felt like filming the play and sometimes wanted to see passages of it become a film while still remaining within a theatrical performance. I had even talked to Beauregard about it, but he didn't agree at all; so I cheated a little, which means that for me it remains a film about a play. I wanted to play on the fact that there were some very theatrical passages, which were intentionally played for a theatrical effect, and that sometimes it became more just physical actions and therefore became cinematic. But the edges are too blurred and the theatre passages are more like unsuccessful cinema; it only shows a little in the way the actors play, and especially in the manner of filming, which is very frontal in the 'theatre' parts.
But you weren't able to indicate the presence of the theatre explicitly or at length?
I did it in little things: the three knocks at the beginning, the opening scene where I wanted the spectators at the ceremony to seem like a theatre audience and the ceremony to be filmed as if it were a performance -- things like that. But that wasn't enough; we would have needed twice as much time and twice as much money. It's really a film that suffers from trying to seem expensive, when actually it is a film that was done on the cheap, put together with bits of string, where we were constantly up against financial problems. It's a perfect example of an undertaking where you try to retain your original intentions, but where you end up retaining only one out of ten and that one loses its meaning. The only thing which was fun was the problem of the decors, which were done on the opposite principle from that of Paris nous appartient. We had to completely build two imaginary convents, with bits of walls, corridors, stairways, filmed here and there within a 40-kilometre radius of Avignon: every time Anna goes through a doorway or we change shots, it means a jump from Villeneuve to the Pont du Gard. It was really like a puzzle, with us joining up the pieces with lighting tricks, doors opening, changes of gear, things like that. But the place exists only on the screen, in the film: it is the movement of the film which creates the decor.
The origin of La Religieuse was mainly music, the ideas of Boulez -- though very badly assimilated. The idea was that each shot had its own duration, its tempo, its 'colour' (that is, its tone), its intensity and its level of play. But most of the time I didn't manage to make all these elements clear because we had first of all to keep filming and we really filmed whatever we could, however we could.
One gets the impression -- it particularly struck Jean-Marie Straub -- that the film was worked on a great deal during editing.
No, the editing was done very carefully but very quickly. The real editing was the preparation and the shooting. Afterwards, we put the shots end to end, making sharp, cuts and cutting the sound very short. From the start, I had planned to have very elaborate sound because it would help me to accentuate the breaks from one 'cell' to the next. The original idea of La Religieuse was a play on words: making a 'cellular' film, because it was about cells full of nuns.
How did you work with Jean-Claude Eloy? Before shooting the film?
After shooting. Very closely. I knew basically before shooting that this or that shot would be put to music and would only make sense if it lasted exactly the same length of time as a piece of music. Then, at the movieola, we looked at the film together, shot by shot, and with Denise de Casabianca and Jean-Claude we discussed together the entire sound construction of the film, not only where there was music but also where there wasn't. The soundtrack thus became an entire score. In any case, the idea was that we would try to have as little music as possible, to relieve it with atmosphere, with more or less made-up sounds, with varying degrees from pure direct sound to pure music, with all the other variations in between, such as real sounds mixed together, slowed down, backwards, with percussion instruments, more or less clear, loops of music at varying speeds. And when we really had no other choice, Jean-Claude agreed to write music for that part; the idea being that we would be as stingy as possible with the music, but that there would be music throughout and that its role would become more and more pronounced and clear as the film progressed, with the principal piece of music being just before the end, during the big scene between Anna and Rabal, which is the real ending of the film, the scene where Suzanne suddenly understands -- and where the spoken word is completely caught up in' the music and becomes an element of it.
Did Eloy see his music in relation to a particular shot as forming a global cell, or did he base it on one of those elements of the shot that you were talking about -- timbre, pitch. . .?
He wrote all the music with an eye to this main musical passage (which, in Macles (1), begins and ends it), with the rest all being developments of certain parts of that main passage, written more for one instrument or another, depending upon the shot and also depending upon the real sound which we had, which we always kept, beneath the music. All the sounds were noted and integrated into his score.
There is a marked resemblance between the character of Suzanne as you have described her -- a character who is deluded during nine-tenths of the film and who understands everything at the end -- and that of Claire.
You know, without trying to impose 'Rivettian' themes, one could say the same thing about the woman in Le Coup du berger or of Anne in Paris nous appartient. It was only on the last day of mixing that it suddenly struck me, and I finally understood why I'd been wanting to make La Religieuse for so long, when I realized that it was a repetition of Paris nous appartient: exactly the same subject, with better dialogue! And even Le Coup du berger, as well: in that one, I wanted to try to give as much weight as possible to an everyday anecdote, in such a way that the end would almost be felt to be tragic. It was greatly inspired by Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, obviously; and the dialogue attempted to take its inspiration from Cocteau -- who is the great secret inspiration of French film directors, what Lola, Truffaut, some Godard and now Garrel have in common.
It took me five years to make La Religieuse and I filmed it with much more perspective and coolness, quite certainly, than if I had done it straight away. The idea wasn't to do an adaptation but that there was no auteur at all. More and more I think there is no auteur in films and that a film is something which pre-exists in its own right. It is only interesting if you have this feeling that the film pre-exists and that you are trying to reach it, to discover it, taking precautions to avoid spoiling it or deforming it. And that's why it is so nice to make a film like L 'Amour fou, where we could talk among ourselves about the film the way we would talk about someone who wasn't there but whom we would like to see. After a while, La Religieuse was no longer an adaptation of Diderot at all: I got the feeling that I had so completely assimilated the book that it no longer existed as a literary work -- I was really trying to rediscover Suzanne Simonin. Of course there was a pre-existing text, but precisely, it existed as a text, as a reality which was completely independent of the existence of an author named Diderot; and it was something which had to be accepted with its variations, its reality as a written text, contradicting any idea of fiction (which was, at the same time, connected to the switch from the first person to the third person), all the while knowing that what I wanted to get at was also something beyond this text, as it is also beyond the film. And Anna was the medium for that.
Isn't that a very different point of view from that of the mise en scene of the play?
Yes, I think it came just after the play, as a reaction. I knew from the start that Anna would be playing the part, but it became much stronger with the play, where she saved the whole miserable botched-up show. I had never seen that happen in the theatre. The temptation was to try to do the same thing again in a film, but that wasn't possible; and, doing the film, we suffered from the fact that there wasn't the same excitement as in the theatre. But the film had to be this hostile and disagreeable thing, this machine which imprisons Suzanne.
One feels this commitment in the visual elements, especially the metallic aspect of the color. .
That's the only idea I had of it to start with. I knew I wanted contrasts to be as violent as possible; then again, when we printed, we tried to accentuate the hardness of the image even more. We didn't quite manage, first of all because we would have needed arc lights and also because Eastman color is always very pretty and pastel. We should have printed in Technicolor to have really hard blacks or blues.
One thing which is present in your first three films but absent from L' Amour fou is.. money.
At the start, I had expected the money question to come up, at least for the theatre, and then we were fed up, we felt like going wild. It was obvious to us that these were people who were pretty broke, even though they were lucky enough to live in a fairly big flat -- but I think they rented it furnished. It's quite clear that they are camping there -- and they have a little money because he puts on plays occasionally and she acts from time to time. I had planned to have a guy come and bother her occasionally, and remind her that they'd have to start on such-and-such a date, that they'd have to hurry, etc., but then the idea of shooting these scenes seemed so boring. . .
Tell us about your work with Bulle Ogier. Her acting is very different here from what it is in Marc'O's Les Idoles. . .
I played particularly on her anxiety; I spent most of my time making sure she wasn't too sure of herself, that she hadn't learned her texts too well. Most of the time, she starts with a text -- in which, by the way, there are as many of her ideas as of mine -- a text that she has read a certain number of times, but not completely assimilated. So there were great differences from one take to the next.
A lot of people who have seen the film are very surprised to learn that Bulle and Kalfon aren't a couple in real life.
It seemed to me that it would be impossible to make a film about a couple played by two actors who didn't already know each other quite well; but, on the other hand, I would have found it very difficult to make it with two actors who were a real couple. It was already partially a psychodrama, where they have necessarily given some of themselves and if they were a real couple doing that together, I would have felt very guilty and quite upset. I was lucky that there was a certain complicity between them in real life and a shared vocabulary. . .
Do you believe that the cinema is useful? Or that a revolutionary cinema can exist?
I think revolutionary cinema can only be a 'differential' cinema, a cinema which questions all the rest of cinema. But in France, in any case, in relation to a possible revolution, I don't believe in a revolutionary cinema of the first degree, which is satisfied with taking the revolution as its subject. A film like Terra em transe (2) which does take the revolution as its subject is also really a revolutionary film; it's always stupid to make assumptions, but I don't think that could exist in France now. Films that content themselves with taking the revolution as a subject actually subordinate themselves to bourgeois ideas of content, message, expression. While the only way to make revolutionary cinema in France is to make sure that it escapes all the bourgeois aesthetic cliches: like the idea that there is an auteur of the film, expressing himself. The only thing we can do in France at the moment is to try to deny that a film is a personal creation. I think Playtime is a revolutionary film, in spite of Tati: the film completely overshadowed the creator. In films, what is important is the point where the film no longer has an auteur, where it has no more actors, no more story even, no more subject, nothing but the film itself speaking and saying something that can't be translated: the point where it becomes the discourse of someone or something else, which cannot be said, precisely because it is beyond expression. And I think you can only get there by trying to be as passive as possible at all the various stages, never intervening on one's own behalf but rather on behalf of this something else which is nameless.
But that is something that very often happens, for example in Bergman, even though he is on the contrary very active, a real demiurge.
That's true, but I still get the impression that Bergman is someone who writes scripts without asking himself questions about the meaning of what he is writing. People have often talked about the commonplace elements in Persona, for example; but what is important in Persona is precisely that beyond all those elements which Bergman started off with, he hasn't kept that 'something else' coming through. Maybe it's precisely because he doesn't question what he feels like filming that he does film that way. In a sense, he accepts being only an intermediary; Bergman's films are something completely different from Bergman's vision of the world, which interests no one. What speaks in Bergman's films isn't Bergman but the film, and that's what is revolutionary, because that is what seems to me to question very deeply everything that justifies the world as it is and as it disgusts us.
But don't we then end up back with the idea of an auteur strong enough to let the film speak for itself?
Not necessarily -- I think there are a lot of methods. Bergman's 'genius' is a method, but the absence of genius can also be just as effective a method. The fact of being a collective, for example. . .
Don't you think that's a myth?
No, I don't think so. Of course I know that the effect would have been completely different with Bulle and Jean-Pierre and a different director, apart from any question of talent or anything else. It has nothing to do with that; it's an aggregate of almost physical or biological reactions; it has nothing to do with intelligence. Maybe there is one more point to mention about Bergman: the fact that he works with his 'family', with the same people, that he doesn't write his scripts in the abstract and then afterwards wonder: 'Who on earth could I use? Sophia Loren isn't free; I know, I'll take Liv Ullmann. . .' It's like Renoir, who only wrote scenarios for people he'd chosen beforehand. Maybe it's only at that level that a collective can exist. 'In any case, Renoir is the person who has understood the cinema best of all, even better than Rossellini, better than Godard, better than anyone.
What about Rouch?
Rouch is contained in Renoir. I don't know whether Renoir saw Rouch's films, but if he saw them, I'm sure that, first of all, he'd find them 'stunning', and that on the other hand he wouldn't find them stunning at all. Rouch is the force behind all French cinema of the past ten years, although few people realize it. Jean-Luc Godard came from Rouch. In a way, Rouch is more important than Godard in the evolution of the French cinema. Godard goes in a direction that is only valid for himself, which doesn't set an example, in my opinion. Whereas all Rouch's films are exemplary, even those where he failed, even Les Veuves de quinze ans, Jean-Luc doesn't set an example, he provokes. He provokes reactions, either of imitation or of contradiction or of rejection, but he can't strictly be taken as an example. While Rouch or Renoir can be.
Do you believe that a cinema which takes directly political elements for its theme has the power to mobilize people?
Less and less. I believe more and more that the role of the cinema is to destroy myths, to demobilize, to be pessimistic. Its role is to take people out of their cocoons and to plunge them into horror.
One can do that very well using the revolution as a theme.
Yes, but on the condition that the revolution is just a theme like any other. The only interesting film on the May 'events' (obviously, I haven't seen them all) is one about the return to the Wonder factories, filmed by students at IDHEC -- because it is a terrifying and painful film. It's the only film that was really revolutionary. Maybe because it's a moment when reality is transforming itself at such a rate that it starts to condense a whole political situation into ten minutes of wild dramatic intensity. It's a fascinating film, but one couldn't say that it mobilizes people at all, or if it does, it's by provoking a reflex reaction of horror and rejection. Really, I think that the only role of the cinema is to upset people, to contradict structures which pre-shadow those ideas: it must ensure that the cinema is no longer comfortable. More and more, I tend to divide films into two sorts: those that are comfortable and those that aren't. The former are all vile and the others positive to a greater or lesser degree. Some films I've seen, on Films or Saint-Nazaire (3), are pitifully comfortable; not only do they change nothing, but they also make the audience feel pleased with themselves. It's like Humanite demonstrations. (4)
Obviously, it's difficult to believe in political films which think that by showing 'reality' it will denounce itself.
I think that what counts isn't whether it is fiction or non-fiction, it's the attitude that the person takes at the moment when he is filming; for example, whether or not he accepts direct sound. In any case, the fiction is actually direct sound, because there is still the point when you are filming. And with direct sound, ninety times out of a hundred, since people know they are being filmed, they probably start to base their reactions on that fact, and so it becomes almost super-fiction. All the more so because the director then has complete freedom to use the material that's been filmed: to tighten up, to keep the long bits, to choose, not to choose, with the sound faked or not. And that is the real political moment.
Do you think the film-maker takes a moral position with regard to what he is filming?
Without any doubt, that's all there is. First, with regard to the people he is filming, and then again with regard to the audience, in the way he chooses to communicate to them what he has filmed. But all films are political. In any case, I maintain that L'Amour fou is a deeply political film. It is political because the attitude we all had during the filming and then during the editing corresponds to moral choices, to ideas on human relationships, and therefore to political choices.
Which are communicated to the audience?
I hope so. The will to make a scene last in one way and not in another I find that a political choice.
So it's a very general idea of politics. . .
But politics is extremely general. It's what corresponds to the widest-ranging point of view one can have regarding existence. La Marseillaise is a film that is directly political, but so very different from a film like Toni, which is indirectly political, and even from Boudu, which doesn't seem to be political at all. While actually Boudu is a completely political film: it is a great film of the left. Almost all Renoir's films are more or less directly political, even those that are the least explicitly political, like Madame Bovary and Le Teslament du Docteur Cordelier. I think what is most important politically is the attitude the filmmaker takes with regard to all the aesthetic -- or rather, so-called aesthetic -- criteria which govern art in general and cinematic expression, in triple inverted commas, in particular. One can refine down afterwards, within the choices one has made, but that is what counts first of all. And what counted first of all for us, for Jean-Pierre and myself, him for Andromaque, me for the film, was the rejection of the idea of entertainment, and on the contrary the idea of an ordeal either imposed on or at least proposed to the viewer -- who is no longer the comfortable viewer, but someone who participates in common work -- long, difficult, responsible work something like delivering a baby. But it's a sort of work that always has to be done again, this work of denying entertainment. There is a perpetual co-opting taking place or which always might take place, of the preceding stage, which is immediately taken up from an aesthetic point of view or a contemplative point of view: the prudent distance of people who won't let themselves be caught twice, which is the basic attitude of all Western audiences.
And it is precisely the fear of always being co-opted which makes this desire to deny entertainment limitless. Films like Bergman's or like Godard's are actually only superficially co-opted by this sort of Parisian habit which makes it possible to take films in by saying 'Oh, yes, of course, the theme of the absence of God', and various other stupid remarks like that. This superficial co-opting does oblige the director to go further in the following film, to try once and for all to show that it isn't a question of the absence of God or anything else, but of being suddenly confronted with every thing one rejects, by will or by force.
What do you think of Garrel's films, from that point of view?
In my opinion, they correspond exactly to what one should expect of the cinema today. That is, that a film must be, if not an ordeal, at least an experience, something which makes the film transform the viewer, who has undergone something through the film, who is no longer the same after having seen the film. In the same way that the people who made the film really offered up troubling personal things, the viewer must be upset by seeing the film; the film must make his habits of thought go off their beaten tracks: so that it can't be seen with impunity.
But, precisely, intelligent people who don't like Garrel accuse him of having a conception of art as a 'primal scream' and of making films which aren't very far from Hitchcock's, a cinema of fascination, a hypnotic cinema which, in the end, seems very old-fashioned.
I wondered quite a bit whether one could create a 'distanciated' cinema, and basically I don't think so. The cinema is necessarily fascination and rape, that is how it acts on people; it is something pretty unclear, something one sees shrouded in darkness, where you project the same things as in dreams: that is where the cliche becomes true.
What about Straub?
That's another sort of fascination, which is not contradicted by the intellectual tension he requires, but on the contrary is connected to it -- actually very similar to the great amount of work we sometimes do in a dream in order to follow it. But fantasy is not necessarily fascination; it can have lots of dimensions.
What is sure is that we are attacking a whole conception of the cinema based on communication and ease of communication.
Which is actually theatre. It is admirable, but I believe it's incompatible with what the cinema is becoming; literally, in any case.
But in American cinema there's an abundance of examples -- Lubitsch, the Chaplin of Verdoux -- based on the fact that you could tell people things while seeming. to tell them something else.
Maybe it's everything which, for the time being, seems to be impossible, not because it was harmful or bad in itself, but because it has been co-opted; it's become docile.
Can't we just say, 'because it was ineffectual'.
It really has been co-opted in the same way that Racine is co-opted by the Comedie Francaise. And one can try to save it, but first of all you have to change the rules of the game.
Are you constantly aware of references when you are filming?
No, not at all, really. In any case, not clearly. I just try to follow the logic of what is happening.
Why the title, L'Amour fou?
It's purely a play on words; it's based on the multiple meanings of the word fou. It's obviously in homage to Breton and to everything he represents. It's a nice title.
And what are you doing now?
I'd really like to be able to finish editing the 16mm film on the rehearsals: to have another film as a footnote to the film. What might be fun now would be to watch the film, then to watch the 16mm film, then to watch the film again. I think that would give a different idea of everything that happens in Andromaque, and maybe in the rest as well. It's also the only way to justify the idea of a 'shortened version': propose to the viewer a different angle of vision on the same original reality and see what happens, what that modifies, how perspectives change...
- Concerto for zarb and instrumental ensemble written by Jean-Claude Eloy from the musical elements of La Religieuse, made up of fixed structures, interchangeable sequences and actual trills by the soloist.
- 1967 film by Glauber Rocha. (Ed.)
- Flins and Saint-Nazaire: two major factories where there were strikes and sit-ins in May 1968. (trans.)
- Humanite -- France's Communist newspaper (trans.)
Originally appeared in Cahiers du Cinema 204, 1968. Interview conducted July 27, 1968. Translated by Amy Gateff. Published in this form in Jacques Rivette: Texts and Interviews (British Film Institute, 1977).