Kinotalks: Written in the Stars—Claude Lelouch
Claude Lelouch recently turned 80. For over 50 years he has thrilled and surprised audiences with an eclectic body of work, including A Man and a Woman (1966), “C’était un rendez-vous” (1976), and Les Misérables (1995). With over 60 directing credits, he has shown little sign of slowing down as he releases a new film every couple of years. His filmic style reflects the breadth of his work, for it cannot be categorized in terms of genre and style as conventional scenes break into musicals, and drama quickly shifts to comedy. A pillar of French cinema, he has a workman’s spirit and an enduring passion for cinema.
His latest film, Everyone’s Life (2017), is set in Beaune in the province of Burgundy during a weeklong Jazz festival. A variety of characters played by icons of French cinema — including Johnny Hallyday (who recently passed away), Jean Dujardin, and Béatrice Dalle — find their romantic lives intertwined due to the forces of the zodiac signs and the spectacle of a show-stopping court case. Bright and fantastic, the film embraces a spontaneous spirit as powerful coincidences change the course of many lives.
Claude Lelouch was recently in Montreal as the guest of honor at the Cinemania Film Festival. Kinoscope caught up with him to discuss his new film and career. The interview was conducted in French and later translated.
Why did you make a film about truth and justice?
Today we spend all of our time judging others and our differences. It is true that we are all very different, and that’s what makes the courtroom such a marvelous spectacle. We all relate to members of the court: the accused, the defender, the judge, those who condemn, and the spectators who amuse themselves witnessing the suffering of others. We live in a paradoxical world full of contrasts. I enjoy the nonstop spectacle of the world, but it is true that many men and women are at war with each other.
For example, thanks to the revelations against Harvey Weinstein, we have taken a huge step forward. In a way, we should be thankful for him; we can now resolve a problem that has been hurting people for a very, very long time.
I believe that we need crisis in order to solve crisis, and we need film stars in order for anything to change. What I’m trying to say is, we are living in a world in which great catastrophes invite greater security. If an airplane does not crash, killing 300 people, we never ask ourselves if something needs to be changed. In our world today, most people are suffering from different forms of injustices, and our injustices form the spectacle of life. So, when we go see a film, if the hero is not suffering, we are bored. We feed ourselves more on the misfortune of others than on their success. If we send out 100 invitations for a wedding and 100 invitations for a burial, there are more attendees for the burial.
The human condition is my favorite subject, and in my films, I try to understand how it works. Humanity still needs a lot of work before it has the power to export itself into the universe, and for the meantime, the earth resembles a laboratory. As people, we still need to form a little bit to resist the shock of existence.
Your film deals heavily with the zodiac, do you believe in astrology?
It is probable — no inarguable — that the planets have an incredible force on our personalities. With time, it has become obvious that the signs of the zodiac are not innocent and that a Scorpio resembles a scorpion. There are troubling similarities between the signs, which means the planets have an incredible force on us. I think it is easy to understand that. Even when it is not 100% accurate, we can still see these distinct characters; for now, we have chosen twelve in which men and women act according to their signs. I really want to believe in it; I think it is good and fun and it reminds us that we are nothing more than a grain of sand in the universe. I believe that it is incontestable that the enormity of the universe would have such an incredible force on who we are.
One of my favorite films of yours is “C’était un rendez-vous.” Personally, as exciting as I find a fast car on screen, in the real world, I find it frightening. Many of your films, including your new one, feature high-speed car scenes. Is it still something that interests you?
“C’etait un rendez-vous” is the film I am most proud of and the most shameful of. In that film, you have everything you should never do in a car but everything you should do to avoid being late to a meeting. I cannot stand being late; it is an obsession of mine in general. I have so many meetings that being late to one means that I am late for all the others. This obsession to always be on time has obliged me over time to commit small infractions. I think it is impossible to live a perfect life, but it is possible to live a clean life. What I mean is that, at a certain point, all of the little tricks and short cuts we take will be met with justice in one way or another.
Within your new film, there is a difference between real and legal truth.
There is an enormous difference! Because the law is obliged to be the same for everyone, but life is different for all of us. So, it is difficult to find justice, real justice. The only real justice is from the divine, given out by God, if you believe in God, and through death, if you don’t believe in anything. I believe that life itself is the world’s greatest screenwriter. All my films are inspired by true stories.
In the film, you cast prominent French attorney Éric Dupond-Moretti as a central character. How did he become involved?
He was the one who initiated the project. One day I went to see him in court; he is one of the greatest lawyers in France today. He is a man I adore, who possesses an incredible humanity. I consider him a friend, so I went to see him plead before the court and during his speech, I had the idea for the film. Afterwards, I went to speak to him and asked him to be in my next film.
He is magnificent! In the film, he is in love with this woman [Béatrice Dalle] but must realize that this whole thing is a kind of metaphor for a man with all the culture in the world who knows less about life than a woman who may not have even finished school, that a prostitute understands life better than anyone else.
I noticed that you recently opened a film school, can you tell me the reason behind it?
It’s been three years since — well I don’t like the word “school” since I never liked school — I started a workshop on cinema that has allowed young people who are passionate and gifted to study it. They learn by assisting in the production of a film — the greatest film school of them all. They work in pre-production, writing, and shooting. It is exactly the kind of workshop I would have loved when I was 16 or 17 years old.
The workshops are also free and we do not ask for any kind of diplomas. Every year we select 13 boys and girls who seem the most passionate to come and work with us as assistants during an 18-month project. It has been a great success, and so far all the students from the first class have found work in the film industry. They are passionate, they are talented, and they have made some fantastic short films — I am very, very happy. The only problem with this kind of workshop is that we cannot take on a lot of students, so I want to try and bring the workshops to a TV channel where I hope they will be screened live so that everyone might benefit from them.
I want to share the two or three little things that I learned because I believe, in life, we only really learn a few things. I want to teach them to young people whom I consider my real children — my real children because they are passionate about cinema like I am. I have seven children that are my own and, with their father working in cinema, it is normal. For them, cinema is ordinary, but for my students, it is a gift.
Among other things, your new film deals heavily with the suddenness of death. Do you think a lot about death?
I believe that death is not like how they’ve explained it to us. Deep down, I don’t think anyone does; if death were as they say, an absolute, life would be unbearable. I think of death as one of the nicest things about life because it forces us to renew ourselves. Death is throwing away everything we may have missed out on. I really believe that the world is built from all the best parts of ourselves, and in death, only the best parts of us are saved in order to create this world and everything in it. I live in a wonderland, where over the past 80 years I’ve encountered many difficulties, but each time I come away happier than before. If we want to be happy, we cannot be afraid.