Interview with François Ozon
How did A CURTAIN RAISER come into being?
A few years ago I was wandering round a bookshop and I came across a play by Montherlant with a title that immediately appealed to me: “Fils de Personne”, (No one’s Son). I was intrigued and I bought it. But when I started to read the play I was disappointed and almost fell asleep. However, at the end of the collection there was another, shorter play around twenty pages long entitled “Un Incompris” (A Misunderstood Man). I fell in love with the story immediately and particularly with Pierre’s final monologue. The play seemed simultaneously funny, modern and moving, whilst being written in a classical and poetic style, which elevated it from what might have been an otherwise mundane tale.
Did you immediately think of adapting it for the cinema?
Yes, in the same way I did when I discovered the Fassbinder play “Water drops on burning rocks”. I thought it could be made into a film. And when one of my projects was delayed by production problems, I thought about this piece. I contacted Montherlant’s heirs to ask them if the rights to the play were available and they said yes. They were a bit surprised that I was interested in this unknown work.
Why make a short film today?
I was really in the mood for shooting something. And waiting for a film to be set up when you’re not sure it’s really going to happen is always really disquieting. I needed to get out and work with actors and regain a bit of the lightness I seemed to have lost. And it was a real pleasure to work for a week with a new crew that I’d never met before. I’d forgotten just how many radical economic and aesthetic choices you have to make when you’re making a short film. Knowing that we only had five days to shoot in and a very limited amount of film stock brought back some happy memories.
Why did you change the title?
Because “Un Incompris” is already the title of a very beautiful film by Comencini and because there’s a continual reference throughout Montherlant’s text to performance, theatricality, genres (farce or drama), audience reactions and the critics. I actually learned what un lever de rideau - a curtain raiser - was through reading this play. It’s a little one-act play, often a comedy, written to be performed as a prologue to a play of more classical length and form. I liked the idea of a minor, light text and short films are the same thing as curtain raisers when they come before a feature in the cinema. Choosing this title was also a way for me to pay homage to short films, which I’ve done a lot of.
Weren’t you worried by the theatricality and the length of the speeches?
I’ve always been interested in the idea of theatricality in the cinema and I’ve always thought that the effects of alienation weren’t an obstacle to identification. Of course, it demands definite choices, a special way of directing the actors and above all a lot of work to get over the difficulty of the language and make sure it’s understood. But that’s what excites me about adapting a play, this confrontation with a language that isn’t my own and that I try to appropriate through the bodies and voices.
When I first got people around me to read the play they were sceptical. They liked the story of the young man with his principles, but they thought it was too theoretical and wordy. They said, “Are you sure it will make a good film? It’s not very visual”. It seemed to me that, if we had very good actors, we’d be able to bring the piece to life and touch people. The subject concerns everyone, anyone who, having been in a relationship with someone, has found themselves confronted with dilemmas and compromises faced with the person they love.
How did you choose the actors?
I needed experienced actors who could not only make the text understood but get beyond it, so that we weren’t constrained by it. The actors had to be able to speak the dialogue fluently, and at the same time exist physically. I needed them to bring the text to life on screen in a strong and sensual way so that the audience would be caught up in the story immediately. It was without doubt the quickest bit of casting I’ve ever done. It was so obvious. Mathieu Amalric and Louis Garrel, in the male roles, both seemed to speak in ways that corresponded with the differences between the two characters. Mathieu enunciates very clearly, unlike Louis, who talks very quickly and often eats his words. I thought the two different styles of delivery might be interesting when opposed to one another.
As for Vahina, that’s an old story; I asked her to play a part in 8 WOMEN, but two weeks before we started shooting she confessed that she was pregnant, and as a result she wasn’t able to do the film. She was very upset about it at the time, and so was I. I promised her that one day we’d work together.
The actors look very elegant in their costumes, which have a timeless air.
For me, the film is about ideals, youth, purity and innocence and it immediately made me think of New Wave films. Rohmer of course, but, above all, the romantic films made by Godard in the 1960’s. I wanted a white apartment like the one in A WOMAN IS A WOMAN with a few bright colours that stoodout like the green dress and the red blanket. The stylisation of the costumes, the set and the colours gives the film a timeless aspect. You don’t really know when it’s set. It’s like a world within itself inhabited by people from good families. We had a joke with the actors saying that Louis was our Jean-Pierre Léaud, Mathieu our Jean-Claude Brialy and Vahina our Anna Karina.
Did you change the original script?
Yes, I cut and simplified some of the dialogue. More than anything else, in the play Bruno and Rosette don’t make love, they just kiss, and it’s from that moment that Bruno really decides to finish with her. It seemed to me that if they made love it added more force and modernity to the scene. On the one hand, there’s something cruel about it because Bruno knows he’s making love for the last time with her while she doesn’t, or doesn’t want to know. So it might be said he’s taking advantage of her. We might alsowonder if this young girl wasn’t a virgin and that maybe this was her first time. On the other hand, it added another layer of ambiguity to the text and, above all, something more dramatic. Montherlant saw “Un incompris” as a comedy and Bruno’s character was a bit ridiculous. I find it very moving, and it seemed crucial to me that we should understand his dilemma, that we liked him and followed his trajectory. The fact that he sleeps with Rosette gives his character more complexity and makes him more human.
Did you think how you were going to direct the film when you first read the play?
I wanted to try and film as many sequence shots as possible from the front with very few cuts. The main thing was to follow the characters and not interrupt what they were saying. It was a dangerous choice from the very beginning because the dialogue was difficult for the actors. But it seemed to me that it was the best way to really focus on the text and make it clear. Then there was the fact that we were filming in Scope, a format I’d used before in TIME TO LEAVE and which, paradoxically, works very well with intimate scenes, verbal sparring matches and characters’ internal conflicts.
De Montherlant’s play is subtitled “A Comedy in One Act”, but we can sense the drama lurking behind the comedy. Did you refuse to decide between the two genres from the outset?
I think the film begins a little bit like a farce with a classic one woman, two men situation. At the beginning the discussion is light, almost playful. It could very well be a farce, but the end changes everything. Montherlant didn’t want it to end as a drama, but it seemed important to me that there was a real emotion at the end of the film, to show that the character followed his idea through to the end and therefore inevitably to the very limits of suffering. The three characters gradually take on different dimensions to the archetypes we see them as at the beginning. They suffer and, during the space of an afternoon, go through an experience that changes them and makes them deeper than they seem to be at the start.
The film tackles the theme of punctuality. How are you about time-keeping in general?
I’m personally fairly punctual, and I’m not a “manic clock-watcher” like Bruno. But I’m not as intransigent as Montherlant, who’d suddenly break off an affair because of someone being late. In theory, I find the time you spend waiting for somebody in a love affair exciting, because it favours all sorts of contradictory feelings, which can often reveal a great deal about our inner feelings. They can go from desire to hatred and include contempt or a form of masochism. But it’s harder to have this kind of distance in your work, particularly when you’re making a film and each second costs money.
Interview with Louis Garrel
You’re used to acting in the theatre, but how do you prepare for a film role when there’s so much dialogue?
It’s true that at the beginning, there were so many lines they made my head spin, and I think it may have been the same for Mathieu. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much to say before, even in a feature film. But the unique thing about this piece is that it’s extremely well structured. The writing is very pure and very fluid. I soon realised that the emotions would come by themselves, that I just had to know the lines really well. I was just afraid that the text would become a kind of third character, by that I mean somethingexternal. I had to both respect the text, because the character’s thought process is revealed in the words and you can’t betray that, and at the same time not be too reverential, not venerate it too much, otherwise people would end up not understanding.
How did you work with François?
Once I’d read the script, I said to François: “It’ll be good if we do it, but we’ll have to rehearse it first”. So we read through it a few times and did a couple of rehearsals. When your shooting a film, François pretty much lets you get on with it. The actors are pretty free. But when you’re shooting a film adapted from a stage play, you have to bear in mind that you have less freedom as an actor. The fact that you’re learning the lines makes you much more obedient.
You were performing on stage at night. Did that help?
I was very tired! Acting day and night is a bit like having amnesia or being in a kind of daydream. You don’t really know what you’re doing any more. You avoid thinking about it too much.
This role was radically different to the one you played in LES AMANTS RÉGULIERS, in which your character was much more ethereal and contemplative.
Yes. It’s the first time I haven’t dreamed of being the character I played. In the film, it’s said that he’s someone from another age, and I wondered what that meant. I get the impression that Bruno doesn’t really exist, or rather that the tragedy of this young man is that he’s living in a world that doesn’t fit his morals.
Does it seem improbable to you that someone would risk losing their lover because of their lack of punctuality?
I’m always late, and the moment that I’m not where I should be when I should be is a moment outside the law, it’s really great. I think it’s linked to selfishness, the idea that maladjusted people can get away with anything. Bruno sticks to his principles. It’s a kind of moral intransigence. He doesn’t believe that men and women can be two completely separate beings. He’s intolerant in a certain way. He doesn’t want Rosette to have any secrets from him, he wants her to be a duplicate of himself, someone who thinks the same way he does. He can’t understand that, by being late, she isn’t trying to slight him but to charm and seduce him instead.
Is Bruno crazy, as Rosette says at the end when she becomes infuriated with his obsession?
There’s a sentence in a book by Flaubert, I think, that reads, “Are you foolish or crazy? Your pride would make you say you’re crazy”. Bruno’s a bit proud, so he’d probably say that he was crazy. I think his pride comes from the fact that he sees someone arriving late as a personal affront. He thinks the time he spends waiting is time that belongs to him and that by abusing this time she’s abusing him and his love. At the same time, his argument stands up. You might think he’s being reasonable.
It’s hard to come to a decision, just as it’s hard to say if Bruno and Rosette will get back together again.
That’s the advantage and the disadvantage of being a passionate man. Going crazy because the person you love turns up late is proof of love, but at the same time letting the same person go for the same reason is a terrible failure. Bruno is extremely passionate and passions are doomed to failure.
If he breaks up with someone he loves, then Bruno is a tragic character.
La Rochefoucauld said that we get bored with people who resemble us and irritated with the rest. Bruno gets irritated because he has a certain idea of love, which is where the tragedy comes in, because he’s in an irreconcilable three-way relationship. There’s him, his muse and between them, love. This god, Love, which he has to respect in its pure, ideal form.
Despite the tragic ending to the film, there’s also an element of farce.
It’s true that there is a comic dimension to the film - the scene in which I hide in the bathroom, for example. I’ve never played Feydeau, but I’d love to, so I said to myself, “Play it like Feydeau”. But the failure of the relationship, if there is a failure, is less desperate for the audience because the break-up happens because the guy’s so stubborn and not because of a social reason, such as the character being poor or sick, or her leaving him for someone else. Love is impossible here because of one man’s stubbornness. I get the feeling that there’s a lesson to be learned from this story, as there is a proverb or in a fable by La Fontaine.
Interview with Mathieu Amalric
What was it that attracted you to the idea of making a short film adapted from a de Montherlant play?
As I read the play, I discovered a somewhat forgotten author with an outdated way of writing, and a script that asks the question “should you live with principals or not?”. I liked the idea of embarking upon a project which, on the face of it, seemed bizarre and out of fashion, in which the modernity isn’t obvious as it is in works by frequently staged playwrights like Musset. In this it was up to the actors, with the help of the director, to create and invent the modernity during the filming.
So you didn’t really know what you were getting involved in?
Louis and I were scared stiff, but when I saw the film, I thought, “Hey, it’s good”. It deals with the same problems young people might have today: so and so arrives late, she loves thingummy Deep down, there’s something as trivial about the whole thing as the TV show “Big Brother” with stories that don’t seem to be of much obvious interest. One character says, “If she’s late, hell, I’m dumping her!” and the other one says, “Wait a bit, don’t get into such a state”. It’s all just a question of pride. Except that from the second line, you’re saying, “These people are talking really weirdly”. It’s dangerous to say these lines today. François Ozon likes to take risks and so do I. If there’s no risk involved, I’m not interested.
How did you approach such a difficult script?
You have to learn the lines down to the very last comma otherwise they’re not funny. I read the script several times, I say it out loud and then I type it all out on the computer. I find out how the sentences are structured and then afterwards I write the lines out by hand to learn them and I say them all the time, on my scooter, in the shower After a while the language becomes fairly familiar. It’s like muscles; you have to train them, do push-ups. It was important to respect the text, not to add an “er” or a “then”. You have to try not to be in something naturalistic, which, bizarrely enough, seems extremely naturalistic after a while. It’s really amazing.
You seem to find it easy to be an actor.
Maybe that’s because I never thought of becoming one. I didn’t train as an actor. Sometimes I’m quite stunned when I manage to say the words in the right order and see that my brain’s capable of controlling my tongue. I’m not saying this through affectation. I get more and more frightened before I start work on a film. Before, I used to say to myself, “It’s not me taking the risks, you know I’m not an actor”. But since I’ve carried on working in this profession, I can’t think that way any more when I’m in front of a director. Now I’m taking the risks too.
How did you get on with François Ozon?
I was very curious to see how the “fastest camera in the West” worked! It’s very mysterious to me. He’s curiously calm. He’s the reverse of those directors who hang about for ages. He goes about the problem the other way - he gets nervous when he isn’t shooting. And it creates a kind of openness, because shooting the film isn’t dangerous for him. He’s ready to accommodate the accidents that happen on a shoot. He likes to discover things while he’s filming, to let a bit of mystery happen. He doesn’t try to be bigger than the film. There are things that happen by chance that he is able to use. For example, my character’s beard, his hirsute side.
That wasn’t planned. What does it say about your character?
On the first day of filming I turned up badly shaven and François said “Why don’t you stay like that”. When I saw the film I immediately felt the incredible difference between the beauty of the young couple and my character who’s a bit stooped, a bit wrecked. Bruno and Rosette look like Greek statues. They have alabaster skins, because they haven’t yet abandoned their principles. But my character has abandoned some of his principles, because life’s like that. You can’t go on living in an ideal world. He survives through a sort of cynicism, which has made him into this toad, this statue covered with moss. The physical difference is really striking. We hadn’t thought of him having a beard.
Your character, Pierre, is homosexual, which isn’t the case in the original.
Yes, it comes from one word: “When I’m waiting for a man”. That’s all. It was really important that I didn’t signal or stress that word. It had to seem natural. François and I talked about it, but in the end we didn’t do the version where I say “When I’m waiting for a girl”. We needed to decide whether there was any competition between Bruno and Pierre over Rosette or if, on the contrary, we should favour a kind of ambiguity between the two boys. Maybe Pierre is attracted to Bruno. We can wonder about that.
Whatever the case, he gives him advice and gives him the benefit of his experience.
Yes, he’s kind of like Bruno’s instructor. He’s had to bring him out, teach him about life, because he’s been through the same things. He knows what the younger characters are feeling. He’s probably said to himself: “I don’t give a damn about glory, I will only have pure friendships, I’m only going to sleep with women or men that I love”. All those things that are so deeply moving when you’re young. He looks fondly upon Bruno, but at the same time he must be saying, “You’ll see, mate”. My character, who alsohas a Scapinesque side to him, takes part in his friend’s initiation. He describes the stage he’s going through for him.
As if he were a cynic at heart?
No, he’s just abandoned his principles, he’s aged. In the first part, he copes by being offhand, like a dandy, by his way of being detached from the world. But this detachment turns out to be false in the last scene, where there’s a kind of sadness and the sensation that he’s suddenly concerned by what’s happening.
In your last speech, Pierre tries to console Bruno by saying that Rosette will come back and it will all have been nothing but a classic lovers’ tiff. Is that the moral of the story?
The script and the film are neither moralising nor moralistic, because the ending’s left open. Bruno says, “We’ll see”. A question has been asked, but there’s no one being punished because he’s acted badly. What I think we should really remember is the bliss shared by Bruno and Rosette. They make love, there’s a possession and a strong feeling of desire between them, which they convey really well to the audience. That’s what’s squalid about love, when an incredible moment falls apart right after the physical act. My character expresses a more complicated desire, which is corrupt because he is a few years older and he’s already been stabbed in the heart a few times.
Interview with Vahina Giocante
How did François Ozon present the project to you?
I’d already met François several times and we’d almost worked together on a feature film. I’d wanted to work with him for a long time. He didn’t give me many details about A CURTAIN RAISER, at the beginning. He just said he wanted to bring three actors together behind closed doors. I love his way of surrounding everything in an aura of mystery. And then he presented it to me as a game, as an experiment for us to try out together. He asked me if I’d enjoy having a go at it and I immediately said yes.
The film you almost made with him was 8 WOMEN. It’s a coincidence that A CURTAIN RAISER is also adapted from a stage play.
Yes, it’s funny, I hadn’t made the connection. But in this one I’m the only woman surrounded by two very handsome men. In the end, it was short passage in a woman’s life when she realises that a love affair isn’t a straightforward thing. Through this experience, Rosette stops being a child and suddenly becomes much harder.
And your character, Rosette?
It was a bit different for me, because Rosette’s dialogue is much less complicated. Compared with the two other characters, Rosette is much simpler, much more instinctive and more spontaneous. She has a rather silly side, particularly at the beginning when she arrives with her plaits. It’s at the end that she really comes in to her own, when she rebels.
Does your character evolve both physically and mentally?
Yes, during the film Rosette gradually learns how to be a woman. At the beginning she’s as light as a butterfly. She doesn’t really understand what’s happening between her lover and herself. Deep down, she obviously thinks that things aren’t really as bad as all that. And then things get more complicated and she enters that extremely obsessive refusal to accept people’s lateness. At the same time, I didn’t want to make Rosette Bruno’s victim. It was important to me that we didn’t say “Poor sweet little thing, being chucked out like that”. The problem in a love affair is that we always lay the blame for its failure on the other person, when both parties are really at fault. Bruno and Rosette are equally responsible for their relationship. They’re both responsible, but not guilty.
Rosette is an ambiguous character. She’s both naive and seductive.
She’s calculating, because she’s not always very honest with him, but I don’t think she consciously wants to hurt him. As for being seductive, it’s perhaps the only way she knows how to express herself. She titillates Bruno’s paranoia for her own amusement. She isn’t clever enough to make Bruno suffer deliberately and at the end of the film she really suffers herself. It’s important that the audience should make up it’s own mind about Rosette. She may be a barefaced liar, but she’s touching. It’s one of the things Bruno fell in love with her for and we can understand her annoyance and exhaustion.
Rosette says at one point “I’m fed up with dealing with a madman”. Is she a victim of Bruno’s madness?
People often say women are complicated, but this film turns the cliché on its head. Here, it’s the reverse. Bruno creates complications by his all for the best! Louis Garrel and Mathieu Amalric are both incredible actors. In the film, they manage to captivate us despite the difficulty of the language. In their mouths, the text takes on a magical, poetic dimension.
Because she also participates in the power struggle that goes on between the couple?
They are two young people who are trying to find themselves and this is part of learning about love. A couple probably reaches maturity when it gets to the stage when we no longer need to measure ourselves
against one another or when we understand that it’s pointless because, in any case, we’re radically different or complementary. Rosette and Bruno haven’t understood that. In the end, the film shows that the characters only really get on when they’re in bed together, when it’s their bodies that are talking. Then they’re like a pair of lovers who are attracted to each other although their minds contradict each other and they have completely opposite views on life.
Rosette also brings a comic element to the film with her dress and her hairstyle.
What’s funny is that you get the impression that all the characters are acting in different plays. Rosette arrives from a comedy and finds herself plunged into the Greek tragedy being enacted by Bruno. She doesn’t understand what’s happening to her. As for Rosette’s costume and hairstyle, François knew exactly what he wanted. He did my plaits. And they’re not very well done either, they look a bit weird as if they’re done in a great hurry, but that goes very well with the character and her Pippi Longstocking side.
Are you always late, like Rosette?
No. I’m most definitely the only one of the team who arrived on time for every appointment. I actually said to François that Rosette was a real character part for me. I know the cliché of the actress who always arrives late, but quite frankly, I hate clichés as much as I hate keeping people waiting.