Let’s talk about the first dose of psychedelia in the movie — that lengthy long take in the opening minutes, which features a dazzling dance number. Given the brevity of this shoot, how did you map out such a complicated sequence?
Believe it or not, I didn’t know at all that I would get it right. Nina McNeely, the Californian genius who choreographed that scene, was recommended to me by Sofia Boutella. She accepted to come make the movie under financial conditions that were not very good for her. But she said, “I like the movie, so I will do it.” And I said, “We already cast almost all the dancers, so can you make the choreography with three dancers coming from many different styles?” She actually likes working with people that are not like robot dancers, but people who have very strong personalities.
When she arrived, she was working on the choreography with 15 dancers for two days. And then, five additional dancers arrived on the first day of shooting, which was a Monday. And so she updated her choreography. We had put a crane on the one side. After the whole choreography she proposed, I said, “Well, how am I going to move the crane above them?” It was like a collective creation done at the last moment.
When people say that it’s the best thing I ever shot, well, I’m only partly responsible because I cast the choreographer and I chose the outfits. But what you see on the screen that’s really magical does not come from me. It’s them, the people that you see on screen.
But you must have told the choreographer something about what you wanted?
I didn’t tell her much. We just had to decide when she arrived between two songs that I had in mind, so we came to decide that was good to start with and it’s a little version of “Supernature” by Corrine. And then, I trusted her. So, here are your soldiers, your captain. Do a good job. And then I will come with my crane, and just like, see what comes out. But I did not tell her what to do.
“Climax” was made in 15 days on a low budget. How has that changed your approach going forward?
I spent a long time on my first movie, which was the sequel to a short film that I did called “Carne.” And I had no money. I shot it over a period of three years, a bit like David Lynch directed “Eraserhead.” I was spending one year there, one over here, over many years. I was totally bankrupt, and I was rewriting the script while I was filming.
After that, I did a movie with no script just with the storyline, and it was three pages long. The whole story was took place in one night. That was “Irreversible.” We shot the movie in chronological order and then I reversed the certain scenes, but the whole pre-production took less than six weeks. The movie was shot in less than six weeks and that movie that I didn’t expect to reach a big audience is still today my biggest commercial success. Then I had this big project in mind, which was “Enter the Void.” It took me six years to get the financing to shoot it, to do post-production it, to re-shoot, and so on. It was so exhausting that I decided I didn’t want to go through a long process for a film ever again. That movie was a commercial failure.
So then I thought, “I don’t wanna make my producers or financiers lose money in the theater.” I did this very cheap movie called “Love,” and then I decided I wanted to make an even cheaper movie so people don’t get involved and can’t tell you how to rewrite it or how to avoid losing money. The good thing about doing these quite cheap movies is that you have much more freedom.
If I thought someone could produce me without controlling the final result, who could give me more days of shooting if I need it — well, I could do that. I don’t want to feel like I’m losing my cinematic freedom listening to the financial involvement of the people and how they need to get their money back.
You have had a longtime reputation as a provocateur. I have to imagine that’s a tough line of business these days.
Society has always been repressive and conservative, but there are some things that felt very natural three decades ago that now seem like dangerous that were not at all just like that 10 years ago. Both in France and in America, it’s mainstream to be gay or lesbian or, you know, pan-sexual. But in the ’70’s on another hand, other things were easier four decades ago. That is the main thing that happened in the western world after WWII — the appearance of sexual freedoms.
But the internet changed a lot of things about sexuality, and it’s kind of out of control. Nowadays, the things that made people happy and felt like the most natural for centuries, now are considered dangerous because they’re linked to animal needs. You can’t say that today’s world’s is more violent than it was 30 or 40 years ago, but it’s definitely becoming more oppressive now.
“Irreversible” had a notorious rape scene. Do you think you could get away with that now?
I’m sure that in real life, the number of rapes is always the same. It’s mostly about how you can represent it the context of a fictional movie. I think nowadays it’s just hard to talk about it. But I don’t think that “Irreversible” could be financed at all today. Part of the issue is financial, because of the way the movie was shot. I did not have a script. I just had the very brief storyline and it was like a bank robbery when it happened.
If I had written the whole script, of course it wouldn’t have been financed. Instead I said, “I wanna make a movie with Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci and Albert Dupontel” — who was very famous in France and in Italy — and it was as if I was going to do a movie with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. If that magic couple of the Hollywood business had said yes to me, then that movie would’ve existed.
Nowadays, people are more careful. Also, because even more in the United States than in France, the world is becoming communitarian and all communities are protecting themselves from the other communities and there is much more paranoia nowadays than before.