INTERVIEW: Love For Outsiders; Jacques Audiard On The Romantic Thriller "Read My Lips"
by Andrea Meyer
(indieWIRE/ 07.09.02) -- Jacques Audiard is a name largely unknown to even the most film savvy of Americans. His first two films, "See How They Fall"(1994) and "A Self-Made Hero "(1995) were scarcely seen outside of the festival circuit, despite their critical acclaim in France. But now the filmmaker, who worked extensively as a screenwriter before turning to directing, has made a movie that should draw the eyes of the world upon him. Audiard has used a characteristically French art-film sensibility to make his romantic thriller, "Read My Lips," co-written with Tonino Benacquista. It's an Americanesque genre film that could only have come from the mind of a Frenchman. The French are in love with the film -- it won Cesar Awards (the French equivalent for the Oscar) for best screenplay, best actress, and best sound -- and now it's time to see what the rest of the world will think.
In "Read My Lips," Carla (Emmanuelle Devos) is a disgruntled secretary with a hearing disability. She is awkward and insecure and desperately waiting for something to happen to her. Enter Paul (Vincent Cassel), the equally awkward ex-con with a cute face whom Carla hires to be her assistant. Bossy chick with lip-reading abilities plus tough guy with a record could only equal dangerous criminal activities and a whole lot of sparks -- and the transformation of two very ordinary folks into film noir heroes.
indieWIRE: Why make a movie about a deaf girl?
Jacques Audiard: From the beginning the idea was to tell a love story between a handsome guy and an unattractive girl. Her handicap came later as a cinematic idea, to emphasize the fact that she's excluded from society. Beauty is subjective: Bette Davis wasn't beautiful, but she was more than beautiful. The handicap was a metaphorical approach to her exclusion.
iW: Then it's interesting to have chosen Emmanuelle Devos, because in the films of Arnaud Desplechin, she often plays a pretty girl.
Audiard: No, in "My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into an Argument" and other films, she plays a pretty ordinary girl, someone abandoned. What I liked about Emmanuelle was that she was a very expressive actress whose physique changes. Sometimes she makes me think of silent film stars. She gets her point across just through her facial expressions.
iW: So, deafness wasn't something that necessarily interested you?
Audiard: Yes, it interested me dramatically. It's an idea that gave me a way to serve the plot. Someone who can't hear has a very specific and subjective universe, which is very interesting, and the fact that she can read lips is almost fantastical. We'd love to be able to hear what people are saying about us. And there's a strong erotic dimension, being able to read someone's lips.
iW: Carla is a person cut off from society and desexualized in the eyes of her friends and co-workers. Yet the audience gets to see a sensuality that the people around her miss. She notices details others might miss: colors, fabrics, facial expressions. She overhears intimate conversations. I love how you created that contrast.
Audiard: She's someone who's very introverted, because of being deaf, and her self-doubt has excluded her. For me, the film is a meeting of two characters who, in different ways, have been excluded. Carla is excluded because she's a woman in a man's world, and she doesn't have a glamorous or particularly attractive physique. She's not really nice or likeable. And she's deaf. Paul has just gotten out of prison. He's working class. He doesn't have a very easy access to words, because in his world, people make noises and gestures. So, these two people who are excluded, and therefore incomplete, meet and together become a strong individual that could be a war machine. They complete each other. The lesson is when you feel weak it's better to create an alliance.
iW: What were your cinematic inspirations?
Audiard: There's a film I mention often, "The Honeymoon Killers" by Leonard Kastle. I think it's an incredible love story. But his film is incredibly tough. It's very violent, but the love story within it is very romantic.
iW: Your film is similar. There's a happy ending, but the path to it is pretty savage. Was that juxtaposition intentional?
Audiard: It's the same thing for me. The idea is that they are people who have difficulty communicating their feelings; they make gestures that indicate what they're thinking. So, we decided they would spy on people and commit illegal acts as if they were making love to each other but without actually doing it. They're people who displace their passion.
iW: You use a lot of extreme close-ups. It's unusual and extremely beautiful. Was that a conscious choice?
Audiard: Like I said, what interested me was that there were two people who were excluded and to try to understand the world from their point of view, to always stay close to them. The film is constructed in such a way that it's not descriptive or psychological. We always enter in the middle of scenes. For me, that was a way to translate Carla and Paul's points of view, the two subjectivities of two people who are excluded from the world, in the world but outside of it at the same time. For me, only close-ups could create that effect.
iW: Did you set out to make a thriller?
Audiard: I wanted to make a film that transcended genre. In the beginning, we say, "Oh, it's going to be a romantic comedy. We're going to watch them fall in love." But the particularities of the characters dictate that the film will lead us somewhere else, to another genre. The fact that Paul is getting out of prison and that he's someone who's dishonest, that's going to lead us somewhere else. Because the principle at work here is "I do this for me so you do this for you," it forces Carla into an experience she's never lived before. So, the film changed form and genre.
iW: There's this secondary story about Paul's parole officer that some might consider unnecessary. What do you think it adds to the story?
Audiard: In the first version of the script there were a lot more characters. And for the actual production, I cut out a lot of characters and kept the central story, including the parole officer and the fact that he might have killed his wife. Why did I keep it? For me, this film was fundamentally a love story. It's about love, the love between Paul and Carla. How is it going to happen? Is it going to happen? When will they sleep together? The only real suspense in the film is when they're going to get to the actual act. And our intention was to talk about love in all its stages. It's strange, but I tried in the various versions to take out that story line, and it worked, but I didn't like the film anymore. It was too straightforward. It was clear, limpid, but uninteresting. What I find interesting is something that moves, that trembles. Just to a certain point, to let yourself be carried by something you don't completely understand, just to give it color, tonality. If I hadn't left in, for example, that scene with the parole officer on his couch, for me those were really important scenes, which gave the film its color, its tone, its music.
iW: The film shows us four relationships that that offer four possibilities for love. In the end, Carla and Paul enter the world of male-female relationships, but based on the other three couples, their chances for survival are pretty bleak. Is the film very pessimistic when it comes to love?
Audiard: Today sex in a movie doesn't pose a problem. A man meets a woman. A woman meets a man. A man meets a man. A woman meets a woman. They go have a drink and next thing, they're in bed. For me, these people were heroes, and heroes don't have a normal sexuality. They have a sexuality that's almost literary. I wanted to put off that moment. The idea we had was that they wouldn't make love for the entire duration of the film, because that's the promise for the end of the film. But on the other hand, it's as if they'd lived four other love stories before making love. We save the best, the simplest, the easiest for the end. Because in the end their only existential problem in relation to each other is to learn to simply give themselves to each other. But life, brutality, sadness, treachery, betrayal -- all that -- they encounter before becoming lovers. That's what amused me. So, the ending is very optimistic. They only have the best to look forward to. It's a love story for me.
iW: With a happy ending.
Audiard: Yeah, that's it. It's as silly as that.