Tuesday, 22 October 2013

An Interview with Catherine Breillat

In town to promote her new film, Abuse of Weakness, Fohnhouse sat down with the woman behind such films as Romance, Anatomy of Hell and Sex is Comedy to find out all about her latest feature. Cliquez ici pour le lire en français.

Why did you choose Isabelle Huppert for the role of Maud?

Of all the French actresses, she is one of the most intelligent and most intellectual - which is not the same as intelligent - and I really wanted the film to be about the intellectual and the brute: a clash between one culture and another, a weakened body and, not only a healthy body, but physically strong one. That's why I wanted the body of a rapper.

In terms of that, why did you choose a famous actress?

You know, it's very easy to find girls who can act well... yet it’s much harder to find boys who can do the same. It's strange but that’s how it is.


Because I think they’re more timid than the male roles I create; they’re often against them. And then to manipulate and express their feelings in front of a woman... it's more difficult for them - especially really romantic or sexual feelings. There are reasons, though... And girls... I saw a lot before finding one. 200... older actresses... and I didn’t find that.

And the rapper Kool Shen?

I asked my assistant to find his phone number....

You saw him on TV?

No, I wanted a rapper. I wanted a rapper’s body because there’s a this brutality.... I remember watching IAM’s Akhenaton... I wanted to see how he was, but I went with Kool Shen in the end. But I looked on the internet to see which rappers I knew... but I had never listened to their music and they had never seen my films. It was the perfect meeting of the intellectual and the brute. Perfect!

Their group is called Nique Ta Mère, "Fuck Your Mother". JoeyStarr is the other member. It’s a legendary group, the first rap group, very, very, very violent. After I met him I still didn’t listen to music but rather the words he wrote. He writes well, and he’s also not an idiot. He’s far from being an idiot; he’s very, very, very, very smart, which you don’t see. He had a superior intelligence, which I wasn’t expecting at all.

Well, some say that rap is poetry...

Oh, yeah, what he writes is fantastic - an extreme violence, because he speaks about the exact opposite of what I talk about.

Yes, it’s a bit macho, right?

Yes, but there’s some stuff that I write about that’s completely macho [she laughs]. In my films I’m sometimes very macho! I often write in the first person of the man because me, I know myself, I know women, but a man, I don’t know. So I write from that perspective in order to enter into a man’s skin and really know him. Absolutely.

If I'm not mistaken, you have a small cameo in the film...

Yes, I am in it [her face lights up]!

Was it a cathartic experience for you?

No, I decided at the last moment because, at the same time, it’s a stage Maud has to go through that the audience doesn’t see  - where she starts walking with the walking stick like that - because the true story of the abuse of weakness starts after. So I did that bit quickly, and we found that it worked... she’s like a shadow in her wheelchair and my walking past her signifies what she will later become, and that she’ll have a walking stick like me. That’s the rehabilitation. That’s everything. It is true that it’s also a private joke, a bit like Hitchcock [she says laughing]... and it’s also signifying that I’m passing the baton to the actress.

Why the need for the film when there's already a book?

Firstly, I needed money [laughs]... urgently so. Secondly, I have always written books, and while it’s true that the books I had.... I couldn’t comprehend what had happened. I was lost, like in the last scene of the film when she says, “It was me but it wasn’t me." Of course! Yes, it was me, because I did it and kept doing it and kept doing it… but it wasn’t me. It couldn’t possibly have been me and that’s it. We were able to show that in the film whereas the book doesn’t go that far. We can show that on screen, as well as the ambiguity that you don’t have in the book.

And now, do you feel the same?

Yes, it's still me but it's not me. But I’m not in tears because I've been able to take a step back and put things into perspective. On the other hand, I’m the one struggling from day to day to make money, but the person who did that... it wasn’t me. In my life now, though, I'm back directing and doing other things, so I am me, because I’m doing what I am, but at that time I wasn’t myself. But, believe me, I’ve suffered the consequences. Every day I should commit suicide to be honest. If I could trade places with anyone… I swear! I also have all that’s needed to kill myself. I have all the possible means because I'm high on medication. But what do you want? Me, I believe you have to live life to its fullest. Life is killing me on its own. There are two things I wouldn’t be able to live with: to be completely physically dependent – though that may not be far off - and to be kicked out of my own house. That, no way. That’s it. For now I’m just trying to make movies and move forward and that's it.

The film is called Abuse of Weakness but Maud is very strong character…

Yes, but “abus de faiblesse " is a legal term. I was the one who pressed charges. The original character has been convicted of “abus de faiblesse”. “Abus de faiblesse” doesn’t mean that you can’t be strong mentally. It can be physical. A pregnant woman is considered more emotionally manipulable. An abuse of weakness is when someone repeatedly does things and manipulates the victim in a way that is acting against his/her interests. This doesn’t prevent someone from being very strong... and me, more than anyone. Nobody ever in France, an adult, has pressed charges himself/herself - usually it’s the family. At the same time we did three movies, two books... that’s why he was sure that the case would be thrown out. It’s an absolute law! It’s never happened.

But there’s a lot of medication, you know. A lot! It makes you quite euphoric. It makes you do things you don’t realise you’re doing or that you don’t remember doing... and at the same time I was making movies. But when I make films, at first, those around me don’t want to hurt me. They want the best for me. They help me, completely, physically. I am completely assisted. Now I have an assistant and he doesn’t want me to fall. There’s always someone to hold my hand, help me cut my meat, stuff like that... even someone who helps me get dressed in the morning. It's not because I can’t do it myself, but it requires concentration. We all have a threshold for how much we can concentrate within a day, and it's lowered when we're tired... and a movie, it requires so much concentration. That's why someone helps me all the time. It's very easy to make movies, but it’s very difficult to live alone, and so you can be a burden to the person who helps you live alone.

Your films often deal with sexuality, and in this film there’s a moment in which you wonder whether there will be a sexual relationship between the two leads, but there isn’t. You also often talk about the power of women... is this why nothing happens between them? It is the woman's choice?

That’s very, very ambiguous, you know. To be honest, if I refer to my own story, I 've always wondered if he wanted to or not [laughs]... I 've always wondered. Still, he still did some things. For me it’s not even an option with a potential actor. It’s not an option at all. After yes, but not before!

Some say that this is your most personal film to date. Would you agree?

Sex is Comedy is also personal.

So would you say that all your films contain an intimate part of you then?

Yes, in all my films there’s a huge intimate, autobiographical part etc.. I also often mixed this with other stories that are in the news, as well as my own fantasies - I love painting so that inspires me a lot….

Finally, what are you going to do next... another fairy tale?

I wanted to do Beauty and the Beast because it’s one of my fantasies.

The intellectual and brute...



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