Cédric Klapisch attended Edinburgh International Film Festival to promote his latest film, Paris - now out to own on DVD - which presents a portrait of the city through the stories of its inhabitants. Jennie Kermode caught up with him to ask a few questions.
JK: Paris is a fascinating film, and very cleverly written. When you set out to create it, did you plan to tell the story of the city or did the characters come first?
CK: It was really about the city first. Then I tried to find ideas for stories in order to talk about the city.
JK: Did living abroad change the way you perceived and related to the city?
CK: I went to New York when I was 23 years old and I stayed for three years there. When I came back I knew more what French culture was and what Paris was because I saw it through others' eyes. Probably the same thing happened when I made the films L'Auberge Espagnole and The Russian Dolls, when I chose to shoot in different cities, including London.
JK: Is it difficult to present Paris now when it's been filmed so many times? Is it difficult to say something new about it visually?
CK: I don't think so. I think that really, what's great about Paris is that every year you can make a different portrait because it's changing all the time, and it's the same thing in other big cities. There's a culture of images of Paris, in photography and films, and the way Paris was shown in the Forties or with the Nouvelle Vogue or in the Eighties, it's different every time. I think that the director's style is also important because it's not a question of showing the same place, it's really how you show it and how you perceive it. So I'm sure that you can still do a movie every day and have it be different.
JK: One of the things which interested me about your approach was the way you brought together characters from different social backgrounds, and the African characters as well as native French characters. Was that important to you as a means of talking about different aspects of Paris?
CK: Yes, of course. It's really because the city is now made up of people from different social backgrounds and different geographical backgrounds, and a city is about mixing cultures. To make a portrait of Paris today I couldn't really avoid talking about immigration and I couldn't avoid certain clichés about Paris like tourism or fashion or being intellectual, things like that. What's interesting for me is the mix of everything. Even though those people don't really mix and their backgrounds don't really mix, the city is about trying to mix people together.
JK: I really liked the opening sequence of the film, where we rush through Paris and see lots of different things. Was that something which you planned from the outset, or did you put it together later on?
CK: It's something that I gathered after the movie. It was planned beforehand but it was really done after the rest of the movie was done. I try to focus less on the writing and more and more on filmmaking, so it's really during the editing that I conceived the film. In this movie the writing really meant organising the stories together so there was architecture for the whole project. It's really during the editing that the pace was found and that everything was brought together to make one story.
JK: Was there a lot more material from the separate stories that you ended up discarding?
CK: Yes. I shot more material for every character and I had to really cut it down to make it work. During the editing a lot of things didn't work because they didn't fit together.
JK: One of the things I loved about your characters was the way that Philippe is worried about seeming normal, about being too normal. Do you think that's something which a lot of people secretly fear?
CK: I think that, maybe especially for men, being normal is frightening and that you try to escape yourself in order to believe that you are doing something exceptional or that you are someone exceptional. What I discovered about myself is that being normal is kind of a privilege that you shouldn't be afraid of. Because being normal is really about sharing that with every other human being.
JK: The film covers a lot of different moods, with comedy and tragedy blended together to give an overall impression of what life is like. Does that kind of complexity make it hard to get a film made? Does it make it hard to pitch?
CK: It's true that it's difficult to pitch that kind of story but I don't think that's a problem because I think that pitching is a Hollywoodian concept and in Europe we have different ways of thinking. The story is about complexity so of course it's hard to sum it up. For me, a film which is close to that is Short Cuts by Robert Altman, and how can you pitch that? It's just impossible. Because the idea is to talk about complexity and that fact that the city is about complexity.
JK: So finally, can you tell us anything about the project you're currently working on?
CK: I'm just starting to write something and it's more of a comedy than this movie. This movie, as you say, is really about mixing comedy and tragedy or being right and being, um, not right! The next movie will be more of a comedy because I feel I've never done that and I want to explore that.