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The 2010 New York Film Festival | Olivier Assayas: “I Was A Teenage Abstract Expressionist!”

The 2010 New York Film Festival | Olivier Assayas: "I Was A Teenage Abstract Expressionist!"

On Sunday afternoon, The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Richard Peña interviewed Olivier Assayas (Carlos) in a wide-ranging conversation that featured the director’s thoughts on inspiration (“I am not a cinephile, I prefer real life”) to his time as a young painter (“I was a teenage abstract expressionist!” Assayas said with a laugh), to his thoughts on the poetry of cinema, the role of politics in film, our collective interest in the 1970’s and more. it was a privilege to listen to Assayas talk about the craft and his love of a certain type of filmmaking; always suspicious of questions about himself, Assayas turned his answers outward, toward films and ideas. He showed clips from Inferno by Dario Argento (praising the ability of horror films to evoke a physical response in the viewer), the rousing finale of French Cancan by Jean Renoir (which moved Assayas to tears, as he described Renoir’s quest to capture the vanished world of his father, the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir), Robert Bresson’s under-seen The Devil, Probably (which set Assayas off on an amazing monologue about Bresson’s late-career turn toward politics and the removal of individual power from the democratic process) and Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece The Mirror (if you know the film, Assayas focused on the sequence with the wind sweeping across the meadow, the father’s poem being recited in voiceover, the barn burning down, the son asleep, dreaming of his father’s return.) It was heady, brilliant fun and a great introduction into Assayas’ thinking about cinema. It could have gone on all day, as far as I was concerned.

After the conversation ended, I stumbled into the lobby to find the director talking with Arnaud Desplechin, which was a wonderful surprise. I spoke with Desplechin for a moment and he told me that his plans for making his next film, Psychotherapy Of A Plains Indian, were moving forward; shooting would begin in Topeka, Kansas very soon. “For this story,” he said, “Topeka is Mecca, and this hospital is the Kaaba. If I’m going to shoot, I’m going to shoot in the Kaaba!” Which, of course.

I asked the two to pose for a quick photo and, against the harsh backlighting of the glass walls at Alice Tully Hall, I was able to get a snapshot of two of France’s finest directors in conversation. This, you may have gathered, was my kind of day…

Olivier Assayas and Arnaud Desplechin
Olivier Assayas: THE CINEMA INSIDE
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Alice Tully Hall
New York, NY

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