It’s taken a while to make its way to the States following its premiere in Toronto back in 2010, but Guillaume Canet’s “Little White Lies,” a sprawling follow-up to his arthouse crossover hit “Tell No One,” finally hits select theaters Friday after doing blockbuster-style business in his native France (it came close to grossing as much as “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”).
Calling to mind “The Big Chill,” “Little White Lies” stars Canet’s partner Marion Cotillard and a stellar ensemble cast that includes Francois Cluzet, Gilles Lellouche and Jean Dujardin in a story about a group of friends who decide to continue their tradition of an annual beach vacation despite a recent tragedy involving one of their own.
The drama marks a 180-degree turn from his breathless thriller “Tell No One,” which itself bore few similarities to his darkly comic debut “Whatever You Say.” And up next for the writer-director is his first English-language project: “Blood Ties,” starring Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Clive Owen, Zoe Saldana and Billy Crudup. The film, co-written by “Two Lovers” writer-director James Grey, is set in the 1970’s and follows two brothers on either side of the law who face off over organized crime in Brooklyn.
Indiewire caught up with Canet over the phone from France to discuss the personal drama behind his new film, his cinematic inspirations, the French obsession with James Grey and the lure of Hollywood.
Only three films in and it’s pretty clear you’re not a filmmaker who likes to repeat himself.
No [laughs]. I think it’s about the way I view life. The way I care about movies as an audience member, I like to be taken by the hand and led through different styles and genres. I think it’s very boring for a director to always do the same kind of movies. I like to have the freedom and the opportunity to do a comedy, a thriller, etc. I know that one day I would love to do a musical.
You no doubt must have been offered countless thrillers after making “Tell No One.” Did people try to talk you off of doing an ensemble drama like “Little White Lies?”
I had some great opportunities. The one thing I need is that I need to be a part of the writing process when I’m directing. It’s really where I’m trying to direct the film — that’s where I see the movie. Every proposition that I had, I couldn’t see myself directing the movies because a lot of the work was already done. That’s the main reason why I declined those offers.
And then what happened was, I was working on a personal project and a lot of things happened in my life. I realized I wanted to talk about those little lies that we make to ourselves sometimes because we don’t want to be hurt. We prefer to lie to ourselves or to our good friends because we don’t want to hurt them. I realized that I really wanted to talk about that subject, and that’s how I ended up writing the film. It took me over two months, which is really a short amount of time. I realized I had the film in my mind for a very long time.
Given that you’re personally connected to the story, is there a specific character you most relate to?
No, it’s generally what happens to all of them — not taking the time to live with your family, to live with your friends, to tell them you love them before it’s too late. That’s the main important thing for me. I realized that I was working so much and not taking any time for myself. I was stuck before writing this.
We are a generation that works and works and works. We don’t take the time to spend time with the people that we love. Time is passing so fast that you miss a lot of things. I didn’t want that anymore. Because I lost a really good friend, I realized that working and money were not the main important things in my life. I think it’s a real reflection of who we are today. We’re each living in our own individual world where each person is trying to get ahead. Everything goes by so fast that if you want to be a part of it, you need to go that fast. But because you go that fast, you don’t lead the life you should lead. The film echoes in many ways American hallmarks like “The Big Chill” and “The Breakfast Club.” And “Tell No One” was cited by many critics as a successful homage to the classic Hitchock thrillers. Is it correct to sense a passion for American filmmaking in your work?
Totally. You know I just finished a movie called “Blood Ties.” It’s not the definitive title, but I’m calling it that right now. It takes place in the 70’s, and I’ve always dreamed of doing a movie in that period, like Cassavetes. I’ve always been a huge fan of that kind of cinema. I grew up watching Scorsese and Hitchcock, but also French directors. “Little White Lies” is really inspired by filmmakers like Claude Chabrol, who was doing those kinds of movies.
Like “Tell No One,” “Little White Lies” has a great soundtrack featuring some of the greats, like David Bowie and Janis Joplin. How much of a role does music play in your filmmaking process?
Music is one of the important things for me in cinema. I’m writing in music. Lots of the time the music that appears in the film is the music I’m listening to while writing the film. I play specific songs loudly on the set because I want everybody to hear it. I want the crew to have the emotion of the music in their ear. I want the grip man who is pushing the crane or the dolly — I want him to be in the same space as the music. It helps the actors, too, when they play.
Moving back to “Blood Ties,” I’m so fascinated by the French and their love for James Grey. At the Catherine Deneuve tribute held at Lincoln Center late last year, Grey was one of the speakers asked to pay tribute to her. They’ve never worked together, but she, along with many French cinephiles, is so enamored with him and his work. What’s the deal?
I don’t know why! Me personally I’m a fan of his films. It’s exactly the kind of cinema that I love. It’s the same with Woody Allen. Woody for years hasn’t been recognized in the U.S. the way he is recognized and loved in Europe. What I know is that I wanted to work with him. We met because he had seen “Tell No One,” and he really liked it. He wanted to meet with me one day when he was in Paris. We had lunch and became friends. I told him about “Blood Ties” and told him that I wanted him to find someone to help me on the script. He told me right away, “Pick me!” I couldn’t believe it, because I didn’t think he would work on something he couldn’t direct.
You’ve acted in English before, but this marks your first English-language project as a writer-director. Did new challenges arise in making “Blood Ties?”
Shooting a movie in New York is quite difficult because of all the authorizations and unions. There are all these problems that you don’t have in Europe. Some things are easier to do in Europe, so that was quite a surprise for me to see how difficult it is sometimes to get authorization to shoot somewhere. Also your crews are huge — I think sometimes too big. When you have so many people it’s difficult to do little things. Every time you want to do a little shot, you have to move the entire crew. On the other hand, the American crews are great and work very fast. That was just new. It’s not a criticism. It’s just that it was very different.
Do you see yourself continuing to thrive in the States?
Yeah, why not? I would love that. The only thing is I want to be sure to always have control over the movie I’m making. That’s the most important thing for me. I want to always be the one making the big decisions. That’s the only thing that scares me about Hollywood.