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Louis Garrel on Working Through Family Issues with 'Jealousy'

By Greg Cwik | Indiewire August 14, 2014 at 9:29AM

Louis Garrel, the 31-year-old actor and son of acclaimed post-New Wave director Philippe Garrel, achieved recognition for his turn in the 2002 film "The Dreamers," a film Richard Brody described as "Bernardo Bertolucci's moony nostalgia trip through halcyon memories of sex and cinema." Louis first collaborated with his father in 1989, when Louis was only five. In 2005, he starred in his father’s film "Regular Lovers" and has appeared in five of Philippe’s films to date. Indiewire recently spoke to the actor about his work.
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"Jealousy"
"Jealousy"

Their latest collaboration, "Jealousy," has been heralded as a more affable style than the Garrels' previous elliptic collaborations. Shot in a strict budget in 35mm black and white, "Jealousy" delves into family relationships -- on a very personal level. In fact, Garrel plays a struggling stage actor (based on Phillippe's father, Maurice) who leaves his wife and child to be with another woman (Anna Mouglalis), an artist in her own right. Adding another level of subtext, Louis’s real-life sister, Esther Garrel, plays his on-screen sibling. The child in the film is a fictionalized version of Louis as a little girl (Olga Milshtein).

Acquired for U.S. distribution by Distrib Films after screening at the Venice Film Festival and the New York Film Festival, "Jealousy" will hit theaters in New York on August 15 and Los Angeles on August 22. It will also be available on iTunes August 19 and on Amazon Instant, Vudu and Google Play on August 26.

"To make a movie is very stressful, especially when you work with your father." - Louis Garrel

In a lot of ways, "Jealousy" is the most accessible of your collaborations with your father.

The first collaboration I did with my father that was on a regular level ("Regular Lovers") was a great effort for my father because we didn’t have so much money to make a movie. It involved my father, and my mother, and the ex-girlfriend of my father. I became a big fan of my father's work and I was very excited to work with him. And it was a successful. Not a commercial success, but it won the Silver Lion at Venice. Everything was cool. The next film we did was "Frontier of the Dawn" and it was more simple. It went into selection at Cannes. It was not a good idea for the movie. It was not the right place to show it. The movie was not a success, the way it was taken by people in general. And then for the third one ("Burning Hot Summer") I was more stressed than before. We did the movie and I think there something a bit too much in the story. It didn’t work. Then he decided to make "Jealousy" and he gave me the first page and the idea of making a movie with a young girl and telling this simple story about how it can be tragic to have a separation, and about when a man rebuilds his life, and what a woman does when a man goes with another woman. It's full of contradiction. I don't know, I could feel the tragedy in the script, the tragedy and the drama, but I could also feel the tenderness, and the joy that would come, and the sweetness. Philippe is obviously the director of the movies but he’s also a painter. He was inspired by paintings. He went to the Louvre so many times to look at the paintings. So I said to him, "L'aquarelle," which is like, "You use water colors." The way he used light color.

You know in the movie I am the little daughter. So the little daughter is me. I could see that all the actors, in order to work on the film, they had this idea in their head, and Philippe was telling me that the movie is born from his own imagination. But the fact that he said I’m the little girl was to make the movie for children. It was not easy to make because we didn’t have so much money to make it but everybody was very involved. Also, the little girl was very concerned, very complex. It's about a child who sees this aggression in his [sic] own parents, and who can also be happy. All that complex moments that a kid has to live, these kind of experiences. These are the kind of movies I love to watch. And the music, it's like a movie trying to capture being a child. I like it very much.

Eva Green, Michael Pitt and Louis Garrel in “The Dreamers”
Eva Green, Michael Pitt and Louis Garrel in "The Dreamers"

READ MORE: Let Louis Garrel Seduce You in New Poster for "Jealousy"

Some critics have suggested that this is the most personal film that you’ve made with your father. Is that the case?

I think that we made the movie thinking about Maurice, who passed away, like, two years before we shot the movie. The fact that Philippe wanted to make a movie about his father, and the fact that he was asking me to play his father, the spirit of his father…he had his own relation to Maurice, and I had my own relation to Maurice, so this made it very personal as a way of making a movie together. We didn't talk about Maurice. Both Philippe and I knew the thing was about Maurice, the man that he was. The actor that he was because of the man that he was. He was very Romanesque. It was exciting for the other actors.

You’ve said that you think movies should be unbound, and your father has said that he gives the actors room. Is there any improvisation that goes on during filming?

Usually Philippe doesn’t work with improvising. But because we work with this little daughter, who's an incredible actor, a very powerful actor, sometimes when I worked with her I would say, without telling Philippe, "Okay, you can improvise this moment, you can improvise that moment." So she invented so many things. Everything was turning very good because she was there and she was experienced to make a movie. It was as a game, but a serious game. She was doing so well. Because as an actor, sometimes say it's normal to play off a kid or a dog, because a kid in front of a camera is magnetic. I could see she was translating. Her imagination, or her spirit, or her lightness, it was so real, you know, in the movie. For her it was a very serious game, but not stressful. To make a movie is very stressful, especially when you work with your father. You want to think the movie is good. Even when I don’t work with my father I want it to be good. It’s stressful. She was making a movie with lightness. You know, with light. Her presence was very, very, very, fantastic.

You’re working on your own debut as a director. How’s that going?

What I feel?

Yeah, how do you feel?

Very stressed. It's scary. I'm scared. But I'm trying to make a movie. That could be the title: "I'm Trying to Make a Movie." I don't have the money, so first when you try to make a movie you have to be economically pragmatic. So for the moment this is my life. There's a French saying: vendre la peau de l'ours avant de l'avoir tué, which means "Don’t sell the bear's skin before killing it." I’m not usually comfortable to talk about things I haven’t done yet.

Philippe Garrel's 'Jealousy'
Distrib Films Philippe Garrel's 'Jealousy'

"Jealousy" has four screenwriters. That seems like more than usual. Why so many?

Oh, yes, the screenwriters. I think Philippe is very…this is an old tradition of the Italian cinema. I think Antonioni, who can also be very simple in a way, has a very simple problem of communication between a man and a woman. So this is the subject, how a man and a woman can misunderstand their communicating. Even if the story is not a big suspense story, I think we need a woman to writes the scenes for a woman character. This is why the movie is written by three people. No, four people. There's another woman. Small world full of them. For example the scene when she goes to get her coffee, just to go to a man to make love with him. Philippe couldn't get the feel to write it, so he asked a woman to write it. She was the wife of Maurice Pialat (Sylvie Pialat). He asked her, "Can you write me a scene where the woman does this?"

Phillippe shot the film on photochemical film stock instead of digital. Why not shoot digital, if it’s cheaper?

I think Philippe never experienced digital. And also because usually, you know, he loves films. You have all these Americans—Scorsese, Tarantino—they fight to keep the film industry alive because, and also, lots of people love it. Philippe loves the contrast of the film. He loves the object of the film. What the film is doing on the screen. It's very different. Technically you have different contrasts. There's something magical about the film.

You’ve said that this film is a psychoanalytic interpretation of what it is to be a Garrel. Did you find an answer?

(Laughing) I think Maurice, who tried to kill himself at the age of 20 years-old, he tried to shoot himself in his heart, in the opinion of Philippe because he killed someone in the second World War, and he was very, very complicated and had this melancholic guilt. He didn't talk so much about this guy he killed, so maybe what it is is to understand what it is to have killed someone else. Maybe, I don't know. You are trying to kill yourself when you're 20, it's a big thing. If he didn’t fail, I wouldn't be here talking to you. So, this is very strange, to know that my grandfather tried to kill himself. Maybe we did the movie as a way to try and understand what made Maurice want to do this. Maurice tried to kill himself because of love. But the beauty of Maurice is that finally he failed, and he decided to live.

This article is related to: Jealousy, Philippe Garrel, Louis Garrel, Maurice Garrel, Distrib Films , Interviews