Bon Mots with Benoit Jacquot, Director of
by Anthony Kaufman
On the surface, the works of Benoit Jacquot typify what Americans think
of in French film: beautiful young women, sexually-charged moments, and
artful pacing. But this 51-year-old auteur gets at something deeper —
an intimacy and psychological complexity that surpasses mere seduction.
His protagonists grab you. And their daily struggles with life, love
and self are just as captivating as any thriller. Always balancing
intellect with the right level of emotion, Jacquot’s most recent U.S.
exposure comes in “Seventh Heaven,” opening this Friday from Zeitgeist,
the story of Mathilde (Sandrine Kiberlain) a wife who suffers from
fragility and fainting spells and her husband Nico (Vincent Lindon) who
feels inadequate because he can’t please her. Through their journey to
rediscover one another, the two lovers become entangled in a world of
hypnotism, psychoanalysis, and sexual confusion.
At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, one of the Competition section’s
highlights was Jacquot’s rushed entry “The School of the Flesh,”
starring Isabelle Huppert, which was just wrapping when this interview
took place back in March as part of New York’s Lincoln Center series
“Rendezvous with French Cinema.” Prolific as he is talented, Jacquot
says, “All I want is to keep making films, to never cease working. I
like to film, I don’t care what. I can film anything. Animals, stones,
men, women. . .” Restricted by his poor English, Jacquot’s responses
are precise in perhaps the same way his films are. He answers
succinctly and we move on quickly to the next brief, pointed response.
indieWIRE: It strikes me that your film as well as many French films
have a talent for understanding people. Very subtle and incisive,
perhaps more than American films. . . ?
Benoit Jacquot: You mean, more than recent American films. Because
there are many older American films that were very close to people?
iW: Why do you think these French films do it so well, though?
Jacquot: Why? Because it’s an intimate cinema about intimacy. These
films are quite close to people. Stories of ordinary and familiar
people. Not only gangsters and cops.
iW: When you’re directing, what techniques do you use to get close to
Jacquot: I work very much with actors. And then when I know them and
when I know what they will do in the film, I choose where I’ll put the
camera very close to them, to capture everything they do.
iW: So close-ups are very important?
Jacquot: Yes, very much. Yes, I like to be very close. Maybe it’s because I
don’t see as well as I did ten years ago. [Pulls out his glasses]. I’m
obliged to wear glasses now, so my lenses are closer. It’s true. But
my films are better now.
iW: Can you talk about your use of fades in the film?
Jacquot: Because the girl is fading in the film, so my film is fading
iW: Can you talk about the structure of the story. Was the split between
the wife’s story and then shifting to the husband’s important to you?
Jacquot: Yes, it was the first thing I though of when making the story.
I wanted to make a film with two people. Because my last film was with
only one person. I wanted to make a film with two main characters. But
I didn’t want to do it like an ordinary, couple story. I wanted to show
two people together and alone at the same time.
iW: I read in another interview that you are intimate with
psychoanalysis and the French analyst, Jacques Lacan. Is that important
to you as a subject?
Jacquot: Not so much, personally. But it is a common subject for films,
like cowboys or gangsters. There are many films in the Hollywood
industry with psychoanalysts or hypnotists. Psychoanalysis is a subject
of many films, like in Hitchcock films or Lang films. “Dr. Mabuse” is a
psychoanalyst. And many Hitchcock films are with psychoanalysts like
“Marnie” and “Spellbound.”
iW: Do you think the movie critiques psychoanalysts?
Jacquot: No, I don’t want to criticize. It’s not my purpose. But I
think it’s a technique of manipulation.
iW: Similar to directing?
Jacquot: Similar to directing, yes. But directing is not the same
thing. It’s a game. It’s a game with the actors and with the
audience. When I make a film, it’s very exhausting. But I play just
like when I was a child.
iW: How do you create your characters?
Jacquot: I create the characters from the actors that I want to act in
my film. I always choose the actor and then write it. First I had to
know if they wanted to do it. When they said, “Yes,” I wrote the
complete script thinking of them. I do that in all my films.
iW: Can you talk about your work with Sandrine Kiberlain?
Jacquot: I think she’s the greatest actress in France now. I know many
actors that I like very much in France. Right now, I’m shooting a film
with Isabelle Huppert. And Sandrine is at least as great as Isabelle
iW: What about other directions? Do you believe that there is a new
movement of French filmmakers?
Jacquot: It’s true, it’s true. There hasn’t been so many talents like
this at the same time in a long time. There are many very interesting
talents coming now. Arnaud Desplechin, Cedric Kahn is a very good
director, many others.
iW: How close is the industry in France?
Jacquot: I think I’m very lucky. Any French person who wants to make
films is very lucky, because France is, certainly in the world as far as
I know, the country where it’s impossible to not make a film if you
really want to make it. It’s impossible. If you are French and you
really want to be a film director, you can be. Not only the government,
it’s the culture. The cinema is a French invention and there is
something in France which is more cultural than industrial, which allows
the cinema to always flourish.
iW: This movement is coming from films from all regions of France.
Southern, northern, etc. Do you position yourself as a Parisian
Jacquot: Definitely. I was born in Paris. I adore Paris, I live and
work in Paris, so I can’t make truthfully, as if I was from Marseilles.
Robert Deguidian [“Marius and Jeannette”] is from Marseilles and he’s
not Parisian. And it’s obvious that I’m Parisian.
iW: How important is Paris as a location? Could you shoot the same story
in Moscow or NY?
Jacquot: Yes, I think so. I’ve made films in other countries. I made a
film in Venice 10 or 12 years ago, but it was not a good film, so there
you go. Paris is a jacket which suits me. Everything is at my size. I
was born there and I go everywhere with my eyes-closed.
iW: What is the film you’re going to be shooting here? Is it in
Jacquot: Yes, with Catherine Deneuve. Catherine Deneuve wanted to make
a film with me. I’m very flattered. And I gave her a book by Edith
Wharton. And she loved it. And so I did some research and found out
where the rights were. It was an American producer who had the rights.
The producer didn’t have a cast or a director, but a script. I changed
the script. But he was interested to have Deneuve in the film and me as
iW: You’re going to be working with an American producer. What do you
think of the American film industry?
Jacquot: Really, I must say, I like it. It’s not so different from
what everybody thinks of the cinema everywhere. It’s cinema, but at a
very big level. I was very fond of the American Hollywood Studio system
until the 60’s. After, it doesn’t interest me very much. . .
iW: Do you follow any independent American directors?
Jacquot: Like who?
iW: I know Hal Hartley is popular in France.
Jacquot: I don’t like Hal Hartley very much. Yes, it’s interesting, but
it’s too European. It’s like a European clone. It’s European, but less
good. I like very much Scorsese. I like very much James Cameron.