Claude Lelouch on Howard Hawks's Bringing Up Baby and his own La Bonne Année as films to watch to cheer you up: "Very good choices!" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
The Cannes Film Festival is gearing up for tomorrow's opening night screening of Arnaud Desplechin's Ismael’s Ghosts (Les Fantômes D'Ismaël) starring Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marion Cotillard with Louis Garrel and Alba Rohrwacher, and a score by Grégoire Hetzel. Claude Lelouch with Un Homme Et Une Femme, starring Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant, in 1966 had won Palme d'Or honours and with Pierre Uytterhoeven, a Best Screenplay Oscar.
Mr and Mrs Gallois (Charles Denner and Judith Magre) with Simon (Jean‑Louis Trintignant) in Le Voyou: "One must learn how to detect cheaters."
Driving with Fanny Ardant, Dominique Pinon, and Audrey Dana in Roman De Gare, Abbas Kiarostami and cars, Un + Une in India with Jean Dujardin and Elsa Zylberstein, criminals in Le Voyou, Lino Ventura and Charles Gérard in La bonne année as "the story of the last macho", constructing films like westerns, and that when you "pet a cat, it's like you're praying", were embraced in my conversation with grandmaster Claude Lelouch.
Anne-Katrin Titze: When I wanted to be cheered up, there were two films on my personal rotation: La bonne année and Howard Hawks's Bringing Up Baby.
Claude Lelouch: Very good choices!
AKT: Could you talk a bit about the friendship in La Bonne Année?
CL: It's a film about friendship but it's especially a film about the women's revolution. It was a time where women were demanding equality with men. It was a period where women had become conscious that men were a little bit old-fashioned and that it was time to say so. So it's kind of the story of the last macho.
Simon with Françoise (Françoise Fabian) in La bonne année: "So it's kind of the story of the last macho."
This was a period that I knew very well. I've always made films based on my observation on the mood of the moment. This was a film that corresponded to my relationships with women at the time. I was trying to express what they wanted to say to me. I've always considered that women are like a more successful version of men. So I've always made films for women. This particular film was my homage to women because women made me become a grown man. They taught me everything that I know.
AKT: I like very much in your films that people have professions, they have jobs, they work. They are not ethereal specters. Is it true that Jean-Louis Trintignant was supposed to be a lawyer in Un Homme Et Une Femme?
CL: It's true.
AKT: And then he became a race car driver? How do you pick your professions?
CL: Well, I think our profession is our main occupation in life. If we're lucky enough to like our job, we're on vacation our whole life long. If we don't like our job, we're always working. As for myself, I've never worked a day in my life because when I'm making cinema, I'm on vacation. Even when it's complicated. When it comes to A Man and A Woman, when we started working on the film there were many possibilities.
Simon (Lino Ventura) with Charlot (Charles Gérard) in La bonne année: "It's a film about friendship but it's especially a film about the women's revolution."
Trintignant's character could be a doctor or a lawyer or he could be something athletic. I liked the idea of him being in an athletic profession because that would mean he'd be someone who takes risks. Athletes take risks. And Trintignant told me that he would love to play a race car driver. I said that that's something I would love, too, because I share that passion. We both love cars. So the film is an homage to the automobile.
AKT: Merci Simca! [a reference to Le Voyou] You do have a lot of cars in your films. And a lot of action happens while people are driving. I am thinking for example of Roman De Gare - everything happens traveling, going from one place to another.
CL: There are as many cars in my films as there are horses in westerns. My films are constructed like westerns or like sporting events. And my favorite home is my car. I could live in my car. It's an extraordinary space of freedom. When I'm in my car, I'm alone and I can also see others. And those other people don't bug me. I can watch them.
Whenever I'm writing a film, I write the film in my car. It's my favorite office. It's like a control tower. I think I probably drive 50 - 60 thousand kilometers in a year. And those are the best times in my life. It's time that I spend with myself but I can see others.
Jean‑Louis Trintignant is Jean-Louis in Un homme et une femme: "And Trintignant told me that he would love to play a race car driver."
AKT: I think Abbas Kiarostami said something similar. He has cars in all his films.
CL: On top of that, the other thing is that when you're driving, you can talk to someone and you have the courage to say tough things.
AKT: Because you don't have to look at them?
CL: Because you don't have to look at them, you can say the most horrible things. The most terrible thing is to tell a woman you're leaving her when you're looking at her. For cowards, the car is a great, great thing.
AKT: But you have to be the driver? It could be dangerous.
CL: No, if you're the passenger, the driver has to look at the road.
AKT: Still, don't shock them too much.
CL: It's not the words that are important. It's the gaze.
AKT: To backtrack one second, do you have any horses in your films?
CL: A little bit, but not too much. But all my daughters are horse riders.
Anne (Anouk Aimée) and Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant): "When you're driving, you can talk to someone and you have the courage to say tough things."
AKT: I did notice dogs in your films. You like dogs?
CL: Yes, because my dogs take me for a God!
CL: The cats - the cats themselves are the Gods. When you pet a cat, it's like you're praying.
AKT: Your film Un + Une takes place in India. Why did you choose India?
CL: If an extraterrestrial, if an alien landed on earth it would be good if he landed in India. He would save a lot of time. Because you can find everything on earth in India. It's a magical place because in India the differences between people are less important than in other countries.
The distance between rich people and poor people is not just a distance, it's an ocean. But people will explain to you in India that lives where you suffer are lives where you learn. Suffering is accepted as the best school. And that's very close to my philosophy.
Huguette (Audrey Dana) in Roman De Gare: "The most terrible thing is to tell a woman you're leaving her when you're looking at her."
AKT: You need to explain some more! Why suffering?
CL: Because everything has a price. Nothing is free. The most important currency in the world is suffering, whether it's physical or moral suffering. You can pay rent with money. Money is not the most important thing. Everything that you obtain in life that's important is through suffering.
The most important currency is suffering. That's how we acquire everything that's important. I grew up in suffering, in pain. I know what it costs, how I grew from that. Success makes you stupid, an idiot. And suffering makes you grow.
AKT: The characters in Le voyou and La bonne année can be tricked because they think they can get something for nothing. This philosophy of yours has been in place for a while?
CL: I grew up in suffering and I thank suffering because over time I suffered, whether it was physically or psychologically, that's what made me grow. Life is a game. It's an extraordinary game. The only problem, as with all games, there are cheaters. And one must learn how to detect cheaters.
Anna (Elsa Zylberstein) with Antoine (Jean Dujardin) in Un + Une: "It's a magical place because in India the differences between people are less important than in other countries."
That's why I've made many films about voyous, thugs or criminals. These allow us to focus on the cheaters. It would be a paradise to live if we were able to detect cheaters. The problem is that there are more and more cheaters and fewer honest people nowadays.
AKT: Alternative facts?
CL: It's the cheaters that prevent life and the world from functioning properly. And the world will become more and more difficult for cheaters.
Read what Claude Lelouch had to say on dreams, entertainment and his remarkable career.