Olivier Assayas visited Budapest for a special screening of Paris, je t'aime, to which he contributed a segment starring one of his favorite actresses, Maggie Gyllenhaal. I sat down with director, who talked about his involvement with the omnibus-film, mentioned two exciting movies, he is working on, and also shared some promising news about the possible appearance of his early, unavailable films on DVD.

- Most of these omnibus-films that look interesting beforehand turn out to be pretty horrible. Why do you think Paris, je t'aime works and the others don't?

- I'm not so fond of Paris, je t'aime. To me a lot of the stuff in the film is very conventional and I'm not so fond of the postcard side of Paris it presents. I'm perfectly okay with being part of it but I can't say that the film is some kind of spectacular achievement.

- How did this project come about? How did you personally get involved with it?

- There was this producer called Emmanuel Benbihy, who has been working on it for ages and the film was to happen ages ago, with different filmmakers involved. Actually, he first contacted me six years ago because he wanted Maggie Cheung to direct one of the segments. I put him in touch with Maggie, she wasn't interested and that was the end of that. Then he came back and asked me much later. He has been asking a million people. Through the years the project evolved in all directions. At some point the whole thing stabilized; he found someone to finance it, so he came back to me and asked me again, if I was still into it. At that time I had finished Clean, and in terms of timing, it made sense, so I said "sure, I will do it". At the time I thought it would never happen, and weirdly, it ended up happening. But I had very little connection with anybody else involved. Some of the filmmakers I knew, some of the technicians involved I knew, but there hasn't really been any discussion between the directors. The only discussion I had with Emmanuel was extremely misleading in terms of the global approach to the film. Whatever he told me, ended up being completely false. He did not know then, but ultimately the things went in a completely different direction.

- What changes were made?

- He had this conception of the movie as one narrative. He gave complete freedom to every single filmmaker to do the story he wants, inspired by this specific area in Paris. But then he was inventing one global story, a story of one girl looking for... I'm not sure what, maybe a musician, who would pop up here and there between the films. So there would be one broad story, which was about this girl, and all the other segments will somehow connect through her and the people she met. So he would use characters coming from this or that film...

Fotó: Bujdosó Bori [origo]

- There's a little bit of that at the end...

- Yes, tiny bits are left. But he shot like half an hour of it. I've never trusted it would go that way because it made no sense to me. I thought there was very little chance it would function as a whole; it was obviously going to be completely off balance. I had absolutely no notion of what the film would feel like. The only people I've discussed it very briefly with were Vincenzo Natali, who was shooting right after me and Alexander Payne, who was working with Denis Lenoir as a cameraman. Denis is an old friend, he's been the cameraman of most of my early films.

- There is a little scene in which Elijah Wood appears in your film...

- Yes, and also two actors from one of the segments that was discarded. I cut two minutes out of the party scene, because they dropped the whole logic of using actors from all the segments. The complete version of the movie I did is much longer, it's close to ten minutes, it includes those to actors in the party scene, and basically the shots are a little longer. The version in the film to me is very speeded up.

- So two whole segments were cut?

- Yes, two segments did not make it into the final cut, I'm not sure why...

- Probably because the film is pretty long already...

- I suppose, because it was to long. They were very concerned that the film does not go beyond 110 minutes. I know that was one of the concerns from the start.

- Does the neighborhood you shot your segment in have a special significance to you?

- To me it's more about the experience of working again in a very familiar environment. Because the previous films that I've made, meaning Clean, Demonlover, and Les Destinées sentimentales were all movies that were made in very different environments, either outside France, in Canada, etc. Even the parts of Clean that were shot in Paris was never much my neighborhood. Whereas the early films I did were all shot in places I was familiar with. So somehow doing this little segment was a way of going back to things I had been doing in the past and just try to figure out if it still worked for me or not. And the answer is, I suppose it still does work for me in the structure of a short film. I don't think I would want to shoot a whole feature within that small circle.

- Why did you choose an American actress for the lead part, and why Maggie Gyllenhaal in particular?

- When I was trying to figure out what kind of story I wanted to use for that film, it was more or less when Sofia Coppola was shooting Marie Antoinette. And she was shooting in my neighborhood. So every night I went home, there were all those trucks and blocked streets, a big circus of heavyweight filmmaking. Somehow naturally the notion of making some kind of comedy around a similar shoot came spontaneously. Maggie Gyllenhaal is an actress I've liked for ages... I could have used Kirsten Dunst, actually, I asked Kirsten Dunst to do it because of the Marie Antoinette-connection but she wasn't available. Then I thought maybe the best way to go is to go for one of my favorite young actresses, so I asked Maggie.

Forrás: [origo]
Assayas and Gyllenhaal during the shooting of Paris, je t'aime

- The lifelike way the party scene is shot is distinctive to your work. How do you create the atmosphere on the set that produces these realistic results?

- It's about not rehearsing so much, not rehearsing at all, actually. Creating some kind of climate of confidence between the actors and myself, meaning they trust me, meaning they would be willing to take the risk of doing things that are little bit off-balance and trying things they would not try under other circumstances. Often doing very long takes and leaving some space for improvisation. Changing things from one take to the other, trying to stop things from becoming stiff. Trying to get rid of any kind of mechanics within the shot for the technicians and for the actors.

- The people in the scene were extras or friends of yours?

- Mostly extras, because I don't think it's fair to your friends ask them to do that kind of thing. When you do those kinds of scenes, you have to choose the extras very specifically. I cast the extras very carefully; often I use people from the crew because they are not intimidated, they have a job, etc.

- Instead of the usual classical score music, you use really cool songs in your movies. How do you choose the specific songs to underscore certain scenes?

- Somehow it's the best way I have found to give specific moments, specific scenes in my films the feel I'm looking for. I try things. Often the things I had in the back of my mind, that I'd been planning to use, don't work. And things that were like the opposite or I would not have thought of in the first place, all of the sudden, function. It's really weird, images either absorb music, you just put it there and it's like as if it has always been there and it's completely impossible to imagine it any other way. Or it just rejects it. And you never know. I don't like working with musicians because with a musician I can't go through with the same process. When I use songs, I try ten songs, and then the eleventh song will be the right one. With a musician, I can't reject the music ten times. We can make some minor changes but then I'm stuck. It's like with acting; you write a line, you write a scene, you imagine this is the right way to do it, you don't discuss it with the actors, and the actors do it in some completely different way, and all of a sudden it makes complete sense, and it's better than anything you had in mind. Somehow it's the same thing with music. There's something you like and the way it connects with a scene brings something that's unexpected brings a different layer to the whole moment. But it's completely instinctive.

- So you usually choose the songs during the editing?

- Yes, it's when I'm editing. In specific situations it can be written in the screenplay. In Irma Vep there was this Sonic Youth song and it was written in the screenplay because I knew that at that moment, in that scene, I needed the song. It had a very specific dramatic purpose. Or when I made L'Eau froide, I pretty much knew exactly which songs I wanted to use because the songs become the screenplay at some point. Every single scene was within the rhythm, within the specific mood of that specific song. In those cases it was completely built in.

Forrás: [origo] Forrás: [origo]
Virginie Ledoyen in L'Eau froide

- What kind of music are you listening to nowadays? Have they found their way into your new film?

- I listen to too many things, and to completely eclectic stuff. For the last few months I'm in the process of listening to a lot of English folk-rock from the seventies, which I had been listening to when I was a teenager. But I doubt it will be in the next film. Or maybe it will, I don't know.

- Could you tell me a little about this film you're making now, Boarding Gate?

- It's a thriller, I suppose. Not exactly your classic thriller but fairly within the framework of the genre. It stars Asia Argento and Michael Madsen. It's in English. It's my first film that's completely in English. We shot half of it in Paris and half of it in Hong-Kong and I'm in the middle of editing now.

- Do you have a lot of projects in the planning stages or you just do whatever catches your fancy at a certain time?

- Usually I make one movie at a time but in this case, for some reason, I have different things going on.

- So you know what your next film will be?

- Hopefully. There is this movie I was supposed to do earlier, even before Boarding Gate, and we had to switch the projects because the financing on the other one was not happening the way we wanted it to happen. But now it should be shooting in the spring. It's very much a French film. It's the most French film I've done for quite a while. And it's with Juliette Binoche.

- Is it frustrating for you that some of your films are not available on DVD even in France?

- Totally. Sadly, it has to do with my bad relationship with Bruno Pésery, who was the producer of some of my early films. He produced Les Destinées sentimentales and there were very complicated issues around that film. After that we just decided we will not going to work together again and one of the consequences is that he has been sitting on the two previous films we made together. One of them, hopefully, is going to surface again because we did a new master. That's a movie called Paris s'éveille. But basically there is two of my films that are totally unavailable and it pisses me off to no end but I can't do much about it.

- L'Enfant de l'hiver and Une nouvelle vie, right?

- Yes. With L'Enfant de l'hiver the problem is that it belongs to Paulo Branco. Paulo is a great producer and a great person but he's completely a mess. And the film was done in such a complicated co-production system that I have no idea who has the rights, people who have the rights don't even know about it or don't care, you just lose touch completely. Once in a while, Paulo says he wants to do it, or maybe one day he'll sell his catalogue because he'll go bankrupt. Or maybe he already has, I don't know.


But the trickiest one is Une nouvelle vie because Une nouvelle vie is a movie that was initially much longer and I ended up cutting 25 minutes out of that film. And I've kept those 25 minutes. So whenever there's a DVD, I want to reconstruct the original version. I'm not sure I will put the whole 25 minutes back in but I will certainly add like 15 minutes of material. So it will be some kind of a "director's cut". And I'm very eager to do it. But, of course, it can only happen whenever Bruno Pésery decides that the time is right for the world to see that movie again.

- Are you overtly concerned about how your films do commercially?

- I have to be. It's always better for you if your films do well. Not so much in terms of the film itself but in terms of the next film. Once the film is done, it's done. You've done your best, it's there, it's on the table, and it's not yours anymore, it belongs to whoever wants to discuss it. The problem for me is the support I will have from the industry for my coming film. Besides, I've always been concerned with connecting with some kind of audience because when you make films, it's what it's all about. And I think it's been a problem with a lot of independent filmmakers who are perfectly content with only connecting with some kind of cinephile circle or independent film framework. You show the film at a film festival here and there and it's shown in art houses. But if you are happy within that system, you end up being disconnected from the younger audience. You get disconnected from what makes movies lively, with people who relate to cinema as some kind of modern contemporary art form. To me, it's always been part of filmmaking to try to connect with the real Saturday night, 8 o'clock type of multiplex audience. I've always assumed that that audience is as smart as the art house crowd and there's no reason you can't address them with material that is challenging. I think it's the industry's view that audiences have an extremely limited notion of what a movie could be or should be. I've always considered the audience to be as smart and educated as myself or anybody who's involved in making the films. Why wouldn't they react to something that is not totally mainstream?

- Have you seen any good films lately?

- The last movie I really liked was Miami Vice. I like Michael Mann a lot, and I'm very fond of the film. It has uneven things in it but I'm pretty impressed by the film.

Ferenc Varga