Inside a killer

Cédric Anger on monsters, alienation and Next Time I’ll Aim For The Heart.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Guillaume Canet with Next Time I’ll Aim For The Heart (La Prochaine fois je viserai le coeur) director Cédric Anger
Guillaume Canet with Next Time I’ll Aim For The Heart (La Prochaine fois je viserai le coeur) director Cédric Anger Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Cédric Anger wrote two of the films in the 20th Anniversary of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, both starring Guillaume Canet. Next Time I’ll Aim For The Heart (La Prochaine Fois Je Viserai Le Coeur), he also directed, and André Téchiné's In The Name of My Daughter, aka French Riviera (L’Homme Qqu’on Aimait Trop), co-stars Adèle Haenel and Catherine Deneuve. Both films take place in the Seventies.

Guillaume Canet as gendarme Franck Neuhart: "He is not the same guy in daylight. He is a man of the night."
Guillaume Canet as gendarme Franck Neuhart: "He is not the same guy in daylight. He is a man of the night."

Next Time I’ll Aim For The Heart is neither a crime thriller, nor a horror movie, although it is about a serial killer and resembles F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens) in the approach to character. How music can transform a forest into a church through scoring with Grégoire Hetzel, who also worked on Mathieu Amalric's The Blue Room (La Chambre Bleu) and Arnaud Desplechin's Kings & Queen (Rois Et Rein) and A Christmas Tale (Un Conte De Noël). How do you slightly change a movie star's face for maximum effect? Can terror and beauty co-exist? Anger gave answers to some of his film's remarkable mysteries.

In the Oise region of France, during the winter 1978 to 1979, a serial killer by the name Alain Lamare was on the loose. His victims were young women, strangers he happened upon while driving around the small towns on frosty rural nights or afternoons off from his job as gendarme. Canet's character is based on him and renamed Franck Neuhart, a German name, phonetically signaling both a new heart and new hardness. Neuhardt is also the name of the protagonist in a novel by Emmanuel Bove from 1928 about an unexpected love story.

Anne-Katrin Titze: It takes a while before we catch the protagonist's face. The surroundings and the movements tell us about this man we will get to know so well. Can you talk about opening your film with objects, such as the David Hamilton poster or the half-eaten banana with a bullet inside?

The mystery of Canet as Franck Neuhart: "For me it was like a fantastic movie - it's like Nosferatu."
The mystery of Canet as Franck Neuhart: "For me it was like a fantastic movie - it's like Nosferatu."

Cédric Anger: First, I think it was a good thing for the audience not to see Guillaume's face at the start of the movie. You know, as an actor in France he is a big star. So to make the audience interested in the character I had to make him appear slowly. To make the identification easy. If we gave Guillaume's face in the first shot, I think people see Guillaume Canet in a role, in the part of a serial killer. They see Guillaume Canet first, not the character. I prefer them to see the character first. For me it was like a fantastic movie - it's like Nosferatu. He is like a vampire, like a monster in his apartment. So we wanted him to appear in a fantastic way, a gothic way. It's like a ghost, more mysterious.

AKT: That's very interesting to look at his apartment as a vampire's castle. He has that military tent in one room where he sleeps - I didn't think of it while watching, but it makes perfect sense as a haunted castle.

The film is most chilling when his behavior is off just enough to alarm those around him and normal enough to stay within the boundaries, without any consequences.

CA: All these details were in the true story but I think the character is from the night. He is not the same guy in daylight. He is a man of the night. It's a genre film but in the tradition of the fantastic as in silent movies. When you have the monster appear in a silent movie, you do it slowly. Lastly, we are going to see a movie that is a portrait of that man, a behaviorist portrait, not a psychological one. It was interesting for me to have the camera want to find him, but he escapes. She wants to touch him, but he escapes.

AKT: It's funny how you called the camera "she" right now!

Ana Girardot as Sophie: "She is an outsider of the world, not normal. She has something mysterious, too."
Ana Girardot as Sophie: "She is an outsider of the world, not normal. She has something mysterious, too."

CA: Yes, because after five minutes of the movie we are with him and never let him go. It was important for me not to find him in the first shots of the movie, but to search for him.

AKT: We do get the sense that we almost got him and then he escapes again.

CA: The movie is based on movement. At first, the girl on the poster and the banana are the beauty and something dirty. It's in the mind of the character. He is obsessed with beauty and the ugliness of the world, also with order and disorder. Elements of contrast.

AKT: He chooses the extremes.

CA: The day and the night, the forest and the town. The film is based on a lot of extremes mixed in the brain of the character. He didn't know that where there's beauty, there is deception, too. He has a very idealistic view of the forest.

AKT: There are a lot of films that feature a forest in this year's Rendez-Vous festival. Yours is possibly the most beautiful one, with the most frightening character stalking in it. I believe Eric Rohmer said that every film has its colour. Your film is petrol, blueish green. Which means the light is not part of this dichotomy you were talking about. It's not black or white but a very in-between color. Talk about nature a bit!

CA: You speak very well about it. The character has a very strange feeling with nature. It's like a house for him, a church too, sometimes. It's a way to escape the police and something magical, in the end with the deer. He knows exactly what's going to happen, he is like a magician. He is obsessed to be someone. He is like a nobody.

Franck Neuhart writing a letter: "At first, the girl on the poster and the banana are the beauty and something dirty."
Franck Neuhart writing a letter: "At first, the girl on the poster and the banana are the beauty and something dirty."

AKT: He writes this line in a letter, "I am a killer, I despise recklessness." Is there recklessness in nature?

CA: You know, the letters that we used are the true letters [by serial killer Alain Lamare]. The movie is a portrait of the killer. The character is not sympathetic but I chose to make a movie of the mind and the feelings of a serial killer. Even more the feelings than the mind. I think it's the portrait of a man we can't understand.

AKT: And you make us be with him all the way. The self-flagellation and the spiked wire he wraps around his arm also have religious connotations. I was terrified and I loved it - and I am not usually a fan of horror or serial killer stories, which your film isn't.

CA: It isn't. Serial killers in movies have rituals and they like to kill. That guy doesn't like to kill. He decides to do it. It's a strange serial killer who says to the girl, "be careful, I will kill you." The pain that he suffered himself was interesting for me.

AKT: The decision to kill is similar to his decision to peel the eggs and drink the beer in one gulp in the bar. He doesn't seem to like doing that either.

CA: He is sometimes very warm and sometimes very nervous, sometimes he is cynical, sometimes romantic. He is a lot of men in one man. It's as if he was in a war with something but he doesn't know his enemy. Because the enemy, I think, is himself.

AKT: You decided to change the names. Did you call the killer Franck Neuhart in reference to the novel by Emmanuel Bove or because of the German connotations?

Franck Neuhart on the loose: "He is obsessed to be someone. He is like a nobody."
Franck Neuhart on the loose: "He is obsessed to be someone. He is like a nobody."

CA: It's because of Emmanuel Bove. He is my favorite writer. The feeling of every-day pain in Bove's books. What we do with the camera and the music in the action scenes is not to make an action movie but to make the audience feel the pain of the character. In Bove, the pain is everywhere, every day and I think the character is worrying about his work as a gendarme, he has feelings of the body, he wants to exist. And he decides to exist in a bad way but it's his choice. He decides to be a serial killer. That was interesting for me. Not a trauma as a child or some explanation.

AKT: You show the parents but not in that function. They make a joke that he doesn't have a girlfriend.

CA: In reality, he was a good-looking guy. He could have a girlfriend but he never had one.

AKT: Speaking of looks, did you do something to Guillaume's face for the film? It looks mask-like.

Canet's features are filmed in a way that makes them almost flat, which, when combined with the gendarme's behavioural disorders, give Neuhart the eerie quality of a man who had his soul photo-shopped out of him.

CA: We had to find something for the audience so that it's Guillaume but it's not Guillaume. We decided to make him play very nervously with the tongue on his teeth [inside the closed mouth - Cédric demonstrates it for me]. And we [he pushes his ears forward] did this to his ears, just a little. All throughout the shoot he had something behind his ears.

Guillaume Canet with Catherine Deneuve in André Téchiné's In The Name of My Daughter written by Cédric Anger
Guillaume Canet with Catherine Deneuve in André Téchiné's In The Name of My Daughter written by Cédric Anger

AKT: Wow! I was discussing it with a colleague and we thought maybe some silicone. Because of the Seventies' clothes, he also looks a bit like François Truffaut.

CA: A little bit. I know what you mean. We can remember Truffaut shooting with that kind of jacket.

AKT: Sophie [Ana Girardot] is a very interesting character, someone we don't get to see often in movies. She falls for the serial killer because her own life has so much turmoil and pain.

CA: Life for him is fail, fail, fail. He can never accomplish anything because he got his secrets. There is this room where he sleeps. It is not possible for him to have someone in his apartment. Something touches him in Sophie because she has secrets too. She is an outsider of the world, not normal. She has something mysterious, too. They are a little bit blind to each other.

She says, he is the most gentle, most perfect guy, or something like that. In that scene he is shouting and makes her cry. She doesn't want to see him really. She prefers the idea of Franck. It's the same thing with him - he prefers the idea of the girl, not the reality.

AKT: Before I forget, please tell me about the placement of the music.

CA: For me music doesn't have to tell the same thing as the screenplay and what you see on the screen. It was a way to reveal the feelings of the character. I told the musicians and the great composer, Grégoire Hetzel, for the scene in the forest with the little brother, that the forest is a church. When he is arrested by the other gendarmes, I told him, it's like a funeral for a queen.

AKT: Hetzel also did the great score for Mathieu Amalric's The Blue Room.

CA: Yes, and [Arnaud] Desplechin's films. We have to use music different from the action to tell other things.

More tortured by his disavowed possible sexual identity than by brutal acts of murder at close range, Neuhart belongs to the Norman Bates dynasty of silver screen serial killers.

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