All of your films have a similar two-shot of people sitting in the backseat of a car and staring out into the middle distance.
Oh, my God.
It’s not a bad thing!
I mean, I could make the list myself. Like characters opening windows or something. But it’s nice to hear that people like it, because it’s really part of what excites me about making films as a whole, and it’s what I enjoy about the filmmakers who I admire the most like Bergman and Truffaut and all that. It’s this feeling of entering a house where you have different rooms and levels and you can move freely from one place to another, and they are different spaces and inhabited in different ways, but all connected to each other.
Maybe I’ll never do it, but for the first time I’ve started considering a film where I would actually reuse the names of my previous characters. It’s something Bergman did a lot in his films, with the last name “Vogler.” I never thought that I would do it, but suddenly it’s starting to make sense. At some point I realized that the characters you create really live within you, and sometimes you just want to see them again. Maybe you have to something more to say about them. Why not?
It’s always been tempting to imagine a sequel to “Goodbye, First Love” that follows Lola Créton’s character through the next phase in her life. But perhaps that’s just because we’re long overdue for a new Lola Créton movie.
She’s doing some stuff. She has such a strong interiority. She’s not really made in the way that most actresses are made. I’ve always been attracted to that kind of performer, like Roman Kolinka, and Aarshi Banerjee in “Maya.” All the actors I work with never become famous, because I tend to go for people who have very strong personalities, but are also very restrained. In that way I feel very disconnected from most people’s tastes these days. People want performance, they want things to be obvious and underlined. For me, it’s really more about what’s under the surface.
Your characters are often defined by their dislocation; they’re too searching and conflicted to give some kind of big Oscar speech. That’s why Aarshi Banerjee is such perfect casting — she seems to intuitively understand your approach.
To me, it was almost like a miracle that I even met her. I was ready to not make the movie if I couldn’t find the right girl. I wanted to cast that part very early, before the film was even financed, because I knew that if I didn’t find her that I wasn’t just going to take any girl just to have a girl. I had a fantasy of Maya, and I didn’t know if reality would answer up to it. I spent months looking for her, and I received all these videos o girls who looked too much like actresses to me.
Bollywood star types?
It didn’t really make sense to send me girls who had made a lot of films, because I was asking for people who were only 16 or 17, but still they were all very self-aware and sophisticated. And then at some point I received this video of Aarshi. On the one hand she’s extremely beautiful, dedicated, and everything else I could hope for from a potential Maya. But at the same time she was also so raw in her own way. She was simple and straightforward in the way she talked to the camera, and there was an innocence about her. That is the one thing that I really look for in actors, whether they’re professional or not professional. I can find innocence in [“Bergman Island” star] Mia Wasikowska, for example. Some people just have it.
And you’re halfway through shooting “Bergman Island” with her?
Yeah, I shot half. There’s a film within a film. It’s a complicated. I shot the part with Mia and Anders [Danielsen Lie] and Vicky [Krieps], so I really shot half of it, but I just have to finish it. I’m so excited to go back to Fårö. I love being there so much. It’s like I’m addicted to that place. I’ve been going there several times a year since 2014. So for me it’s about finishing this film, but also actually just going back to where we’re shooting it. I’ll finish shooting it over the summer, but then I want to have a holiday, so I don’t know when it will be done. I’m not even sure we’ll be ready for Berlin. So at least not before 2020.
Is the film-within-the-film shot like a Bergman movie?
No, nothing is shot like a Bergman film.
Has it been frustrating that “Maya” has yet to secure American distribution? If Netflix showed interest, would you be willing to sell it to them?
I mean, like any director I guess I would like my film to be seen by as many people as possible, just because you don’t make the movies only for yourself. You make them hoping that people will connect with them, and that’s what gives meaning them it. But you can never anticipate the life of a film, and it’s good that it can be surprising. I wrote “Things to Come” on the side, as I didn’t really want to make a film that was inspired by my mother. I felt that it was going to be a burden to make that film; I thought it was the darkest and most depressive thing I’d ever made. In the end I really enjoyed making it, and it became my most successful film.
“Maya,” to me, was my most ambitious film. I felt like I was really taking a lot of risk. I know how important the film has been to me, in my own process as a filmmaker and also as a person, for more reasons than I can explain here. And then, after all that, it may not be released in the U.S. Of course I would prefer for my art to be released, but as long as I can continue making my own films and expressing myself in the way that I want to without being oppressed by the market. And that’s easy to say, but not easy to do. I find it extremely important that I still have the freedom to go from one film with unknown actors, to a film with more famous ones; I need the freedom to move from one place to another. I can’t afford to be trapped.
It’s easy to imagine how that freedom might be especially important to you, because it feels like when you have an idea for a movie, it’s something you have to exorcise and get out of your system before you can move on with your life.
It’s really bad. This is the question that I’ve been wondering about these days: Is that a strength or a weakness? Is it something I should change? Should I adapt? Of course, I can’t compromise on my inspiration or on what my films really are about. I would honestly rather kill myself than make any compromise with that. But sometimes I wonder if I should be smarter about it. The other day Louis Garrel told me that I should “Move on with a mask.” That I should hide myself. He meant that I should do what I want, but pretend that I’m somewhere else in order to protect myself.
I’m not doing that. I mean, I’m not. But if I could be smarter and make the films I want but also find a way to make them look… I mean, I’m too sincere. Or, I don’t know, too radical. I think maybe it’s a weakness. I’m incapable of inventing a more viable or economical approach, the way that Rohmer used to do. He would do some films that were incredibly personal, but they would also be cheap. That’s how he was able to make films that were actually successful.
Not to disagree with Louis Garrel, but your process seems to work.
It’s just that the response to the films can be really violent in France. They don’t cost very much money compared to 90% of the productions out there, but they’re still not cheap. I shoot on film. I have a lot of locations, and that means more time. Sometimes I just think about how far I’ll be able to go before people actually make me stop. I just got this feeling that I didn’t have before. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up and become more aware of the reality of the world, but I used to be totally unconscious of what’s around me and what kind of films people actually want to see. I mean, just look at what films are winning César Awards.
Now I feel really like “Bergman Island” is almost a miracle. I feel very lucky that this film could be financed. And I just wonder if I can continue making my films, you know, Like that? For how long? Because I start feeling guilty for the people producing them. No, I really do. You have no idea the kind of risks a producer takes.
Sometimes I really feel like I’m going to kill the producers and I already had a producer dead. Not because of me, obviously, but I mean, I know that producers can actually commit suicide. So I think about that when I make my films, especially “Maya.” They took so much risk. It took so much energy for me, but also for everybody around me to make these films. At some point I just wonder if it makes sense to continue, you know?
But there’s no other way!
I’m just like Gabriel. When his mother asks him if he wants to go back to the war, he says “It’s the only thing I know.” So that’s the truth. This kind of filmmaking is the only thing I know to do — the only thing I can do.
“Maya” is currently seeking U.S. distribution.