By Indiewire | Indiewire June 20, 1997 at 2:00AM
Seven Questions for Cedric Klapisch of "When the Cat's Away"
by Anthony Kaufman
Cedric Klapisch is one of a group of prolific new French filmmakers (Claire
Denis, Mathieu Kassovitz, Olivier Assayas) trying to put French film back on
the independent map. Not as simplistic or hilarious as it has been
advertised, his first film to be distributed in the States, "When the Cat's Away" (opening today in selected theaters) is the subtle, sweet story of a
young woman's days living in the absence of her lost cat. Shot with a
combination of improvised and scripted scenes, actors and non-actors, this
Sony Pictures Classics release is really a slice of a Paris neighborhood, one
in which the young and straightforward Klapisch has skillfully captured.
indieWIRE: What are the differences of getting a small film off the ground in
France verses in America? Like how much was the budget, for example?
Cedric Klapisch: It was under a million dollars. But we shot with three
hundred thousand dollars. And then after, we found the money to do the
post-production. For this film, the production company had the money to do
the shooting and then after they asked TV station Canal+ and France 2 to
participate, but that was after the shooting was made. Otherwise, the feature
film that I directed just before they got a lot of money out of it, so they
reinvested the money, so that's why they really let me free with this film.
That's a very special case. Very often, especially for first feature films,
the government has a grant that they give to first time directors. The chance
to get the grant is 5 times every year, 5 people doing a first film. There is
that and the TV stations. Canal+ produces 30% of French productions. Mostly
TV financed. It's complicated, because you have the government, the ministry
of culture, which gives that grant. Then you have the public channels, which
is also the government, but in a different form.
iW: Sony Pictures Classics is distributing your film; it's the first time you've been distributed in America. What was that like?
Klapisch: It's really nice because I went to NYU and I was always expecting my
films to come here. So it's my third one that finally gets to go to the
United States. I'm really happy because, they took a long time to decide.
They saw it at the Berlin Film festival a year ago. They really liked it and
they had to wait, they were waiting to see it again in Toronto to see what
was the reaction there and then it was released in London and then Japan and
then they took a lot of time to decide themselves, because they wanted to
have different reactions throughout the world. I think, finally, they decided
to take it because they think it could work here.
iW: When I saw the film, I expected it to be more comedic. And I think this was because of the preview I saw. Have you seen this preview?
Klapisch: Well, I made it. I guess you're talking about that one. The trailer, you
iW: Yes, the trailer.
Klapisch: Yes, well, it was a choice to do that in the trailer, because at the
beginning I thought no one would go see this film, because it's such a simple
story, and I thought it may be uninteresting to other people. It's so
day-to-day life. It's so undramatic. And yet, in the story, I'm trying all
the time to make things exist, and to be interesting all the time. There's an
author in France who says in the TV news, they're only looking when there's a
plane crash. And the author says, "What's interesting for me is not when the
plane crashes, but when the plane doesn't crash." I have the same kind of
idea whereas I want to show things which don't appear interesting at the
beginning and then they're interesting... I think that's one of the problems
I have with American movies is that because they want things to be
interesting, they enhance the drama of everything and very often you lose the
sense of reality, because planes don't crash every day.
iW: I want to get to this everydayness of "When the Cat's Away", but first I'm interested in American films being distributed overseas and taking over the markets. How do you see it in France, as far as American films taking up screens there?
Klapisch: It's really bad, the situation, I don't have anything against good films,
good American films, of course, but the problem is that bad American films
are taking over, and they take too many screens, and it become a "resistance"
- you need to fight to get 10 screens in Paris whereas any bad American film
will have 40 screens, so it's really bad. And also, culturally it's not good,
because very often, people will know better Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, than any
good French actor. It's unfair because it's not a question of quality, it's
just a marketing thing.
iW: Let's go back to "When the Cat's Away". You incorporated a lot of what was
happening in the moment when you were shooting. I imagine it was very
difficult to stay so open to the moment.
Klapisch: It's true one of the hardest things on the shooting was to be receptive
to everything and to avoid being drowned by opening up. Very often when you
let people give you ideas, at the end, you're totally lost. But I think the
story was so simple, that it gave structure to the film and then I knew
somehow what I was doing, even though I didn't know what I was doing exactly
during the shooting. It was a good combination between knowing what to do and
being open to doing anything. That was hard.
iW: So each day, your set-ups were coming out of what the actors were doing?
Klapisch: It depends on the scene, some scenes were really written, and other
scenes, like, when Chloe is helping moving out her neighbor, it was just
written - she helps Bel Canto move out -- so I had to find ideas. I knew that
there would be people going up and down in one shot like that, but then for
the dialogue, I really tried things. It was not really improvisation, it was
more me improvising with them, as if I was writing the dialogue in front of
them, you know, seeing what was happening. In some scenes, they were really
left alone improvising... In another case, I use very different techniques...
I improvised with the actors one or two weeks before the shooting, and they
came up with ideas and then I videotaped the improvisations for two or three
hours and I wrote a text and used some of the ideas from the scene. But then
I organized the scene so it would work together, so when we shot the scene,
they had the text and stuck to the text.
iW: As far as the camera was concerned, were there the same strategies?
Klapisch: Yes, it was the same thing. We had to find the tone of the film at the
beginning, with the D.P., which never happened before since I storyboard
usually. The first two days were really important to find the right way to
shoot the film. Before we had photography in the neighborhood, we found
things like, how to frame, and how to light, that there would be always
bright colors, in order to show it's a colorful neighborhood and that the
differences in people would be stressed by the differences in colors and that
very often, we use black somewhere in the picture to enhance the colors
throughout the picture. Things like that, we found by taking pictures before,
and then, when we'd be shooting, we had to find ideas that would be in the
same direction. It's pretty easy once you find what's the tone and what's the
style -- you find ideas everyday to support that... We had a craft and a
skill that allowed us to do things in a no-matter way, but being very
professional... I really needed experience to do that, and the D.P. also,
because it looks like it's not throughtout or it's very loose, very
improvised, and in fact, there's really a strong storyline, there's a strong
structure, a strong aesthetic put into it, but it's done in a light way.
It's sort of a strange combination.