Un air de Precision: Cedric Klapisch's "Family
by Laura Phipps
French director Cedric Klapisch’s second U.S. release, “Un Air de
Famille” (Family Resemblances) comes close on the heels of “When the
Cat’s Away,” replacing spontaneity and improvisation with meticulous
planning and structure. “Un Air de Famille,” distributed in the U.S. by
Leisure Time / Cinema Village, won three 1997 Césars: Best Screenplay,
Best Supporting actress (Catherine Frot, who plays “Yolande”) and Best
Supporting Actor (Jean- Pierre Darrousin, “Denis” in the film).
“Un Air de Famille” follows the trajectory of a small family reunion in
a French pub, during which everyone learns a bit more about each other
than they ever really wanted to know. Shot on Cinemascope in a
carefully constructed set, the film both re-creates the stifling
dynamics of family relations and offers subtle visual escape routes via
background windows and mirrors. Based on the play by Agnes Jaoui and
Jean-Pierre Bacri, the film retains all of the original stage actors,
including Jaoui and Bacri, who play two of the family’s grown children.
indieWIRE: What aspect of the film did you feel you had the most control
over when transcribing it from a play to a movie; what aspect did you
have the strongest imprint on as the director?
Cedric Klapisch: Well obviously it’s more toward the visual part.
That’s the most important thing, and also directing the actors.
Although they had done the play for almost a year before I started to
work with them, we had to change everything in a very small way in order
to make it a movie. So I changed very small things but in fact it was
big things, in terms of acting. So I
think it was those two things, but otherwise, they wrote the dialogue,
they wrote the story.
iW: And you kept to that pretty faithfully?
iW: And what about you, what do you think changed the most, from the
play to the movie?
Agnes Jaoui: I think that in a movie we are closer to the character, it
may be deeper; it may be more . . . hard. Because when you see someone
far from you falling down, you can laugh. But if you are close to his
eyes and he falls down, maybe it’s less amusing. And the important
thing was to choose the moment when you have to be close, to see the
look of the people, and I think he was really good at doing this. And
also, really, to direct us. We asked him to do the movie because we saw
his first movie and really the remarkable thing was his very good
directing of everyone in the cast, even the very small ones — and with
Jean-Pierre Bacri, as we are actors, we appreciate it a lot. And we
were not wrong because when we worked with him, it was a really great
feeling being in his hands. We could trust him. He was really precise,
and he has a good sense of music.
iW: I wanted to talk about one scene in the movie which I found the most
powerful, the scene when Denis and Yolande are dancing, especially the
shots when the family is looking on through the window. How did you
decide how to shoot this scene? What’s going on emotionally?
Klapisch: Well it’s the only moment where people–well, the two
characters–let everything go. Everything is very tense, there’s a lot
of pressure among the family, and it’s the only moment where all the
pressure goes out. In terms of directing, it’s the moment when the
camera is hand-held. It was very restrained and contrived, the way I
filmed the whole story, and there I tried to really be loose, and let
everything go. So I think that you can feel that when you see the
Jaoui: For me when I saw the movie I had the feeling when they stop
dancing that it was very… érotique? [Pants and heaves] As if they
made love with the body.
Klapisch: That was the idea, that they have a physical relationship by
the end. All the family are behind the window, so they are framed; and
it’s the opposite, that they are really stuck in their position.
iW: I also wanted to talk about Denis. He was sort of a transformative
element, and he’s the only character who’s not in the family.
Jaoui: For Jean-Pierre [Bacri] and me, it was “la parole de l’auteur:”
the purpose of the author; with my character maybe. And in fact he’s a
kind of hero; a modern one, and not a very expansive one. We wrote if
for this actor [Jean-Pierre Darroussin] because we’d already worked with
him. It’s always pleasing to write for precise actors.
iW: Did anything change with the character in the movie version?
Klapisch: It was very close, but. . . when you direct a movie, it has a
lot to deal with the small details, because it’s really the sum of small
details put together that makes the movie. So it’s really small
adjustments that I made in the film, and what Agnes said at the
beginning: that the play was maybe more funny but it was too funny, or
only funny, and I think the movie is more cruel and more dramatic, and
because we used close-ups, it’s more emotional also, closer to the
character. And with his character it was like that so the only change
is that he’s a much less funny character than in the play, so he’s more
iW: The flashbacks, with the music and the characters as children: how
and when did you decide to put those in?
Klapisch: It was her idea, in fact, the flashbacks.
Jaoui: We wanted to show that even we have the same childhood, we have
different memories and different perceptions of this childhood. My
character in the movie thought she was really free from her family, and
discovers this night that she was not: that in fact, she reproduced the
same rules that her mother told her: the bad son, the good son. . . And
so this was the purpose of it.
iW: Tell me about the bug-zapping machine. That was metaphorical?
Klapisch: Yes, of course. I did it to put visual things to add the
ambiance of the cafe, the miserable ambiance. So I added a lot of
things which are there just for the ambiance, because I really needed to
add things that would bring noise, visions. And I saw that in the in
the south of France, this kind of killing machine. It’s very cruel, and
the cruelty makes it funny. Every time we see a bug dying, it’s very
funny. And I think it’s the same kind of humor that there is in the
iW: The ending has this glimmer of hope, and then you realize that
nothing really changes. Do you mean to suggest something closer to
hope, or to despair, or was it simply ambiguous–or all of the above?
Jaoui: In fact the end changed from the play. In the play, it was just
the phonecall, and he says “hello,” and we knew it was Alice, and I
spoke with another screenwriter, a Russian one, who said, “I would have
never done the final. . . I would have preferred it without hope.”
Klapisch: It is ambiguous and it’s meant to be ambiguous, because I
think life is ambiguous, and it’s a sum of good things and bad things
and it’s always a fight between the two. At the end it’s just that
because it’s really about change. Can you escape from your family or
are you stuck with the values of your family? And so there’s no real
answer to that question. People can change, people can’t change. . .
it’s just a question of showing that. The whole movie is also ambiguous
about what’s funny and what’s sad, and that’s why I used the lighting.
It’s very contrasting, very. . . “claire obscure”. . can you say that?
Because the tone of the story in the movie is “claire obscure”: it’s
really a combination of light things and deep things and funny things,
and hope and. . . and the opposite of hope.
iW: “When the Cat’s Away” was also distributed in the U.S. How do
people react to your films here compared with in France?
Klapisch: The reaction’s exactly the same. I was in Seattle
yesterday–there was a screening at the Seattle Film Festival, and it’s
the same reaction, which is really strange. It’s really nice to see
it’s the same reaction. Of course you lose something with the
translation, and yet I think the translation is very well done, and
people react exactly the same way. Everybody can relate to this film
because it talks about family–I think it’s a very essential story.
It’s kind of sad to see how America deals with foreign films in
general. It’s difficult.
iW: To distribute.
Klapisch: Yes. And for bad reasons, I think. Because they say that
it’s because the American audience is not ready for it–it’s not true.
When you see the difference between other countries, like Japan, like
Australia, like any country in Europe, the way they can accept films,
you don’t really understand why America is so closed to foreign films.
iW: What are your future plans?
Klapisch: I’ve been working on one script for three years, and I’ve
been waiting to raise the money, and finally in Cannes I got the
financing for it, so. . .
iW: What’s it about?
Klapisch: It’s about the future. It’s an anti-science fiction movie.
It’s a comedy about the fact that the future is not going to be like it
is in science fiction movies.
[Laura Phipps is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.]