Discovering and forgetting

Jean-Paul Civeyrac on Novalis, Flaubert, Pasolini, Rose Pourquoi and A Paris Education

by Anne-Katrin Titze

A Paris Education (Mes Provinciales)‬ director Jean-Paul Civeyrac: "I had the idea for the film after seeing the Marlen Khutsiev film of which we see an excerpt in the film. It's called La Porte D'Ilitch [I Am Twenty]."
A Paris Education (Mes Provinciales)‬ director Jean-Paul Civeyrac: "I had the idea for the film after seeing the Marlen Khutsiev film of which we see an excerpt in the film. It's called La Porte D'Ilitch [I Am Twenty]." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

When was the last time Novalis (writer of the early Romantic movement and champion of the blue flower) was quoted in a film? Jean-Paul Civeyrac's A Paris Education (shot by Pierre-Hubert Martin, edited by Louise Narboni), starring Andranic Manet (Katell Quillévéré's Heal The Living) with Sophie Verbeeck (Jérôme Bonnell's All About Them), Diane Rouxel (Frédéric Mermoud's Moka), Jenna Thiam (Cédric Kahn's Wild Life), Gonzague Van Bervesseles, and Corentin Fila, illuminates the sundry elements of what actually constitutes education.

Jean-Paul Civeyrac: "I think there's a parallel there with the end of Flaubert's Sentimental Education where the characters say, what we lived that was most powerful, is something that happened before."
Jean-Paul Civeyrac: "I think there's a parallel there with the end of Flaubert's Sentimental Education where the characters say, what we lived that was most powerful, is something that happened before."

The French title, Mes Provinciales, refers to Blaise Pascal's Letters From The Provinces, Bach becomes the music of the girl left behind, Mahler is a shortcut to Death In Venice, the letters by Gustave Flaubert and Pier Paolo Pasolini will forever bring back a friend, while Rainer Werner Fassbinder on a poster above a beer bottle-filled kitchen table blesses a party.

Etienne (Andranic Manet) moves from his hometown of Lyon to go to film school in Paris. He says goodbye to his girlfriend Lucie (Diane Rouxel) with a copy of Wuthering Heights and a promise of love. His encounters in the big city, a rotation of roommates of which beautiful, political Annabelle (Sophie Verbeeck) leaves the greatest impact and new friends at school, among them Jean-Noël (Gonzague Van Bervesseles) change his outlook on life.

Super serious discussions about what films are worth making and Etienne's admiration for his classmate Mathias (Corentin Fila) make him almost completely overlook that he knows nearly nothing about his opinionated friend who always wears the same clothes.

At the Regency Hotel on the closing weekend of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, the director and writer Jean-Paul Civeyrac met with me for a conversation on his latest film and recent book, Rose Pourquoi.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I don't remember the last time I heard the mention of Novalis in a film, in cinema.

Jean-Paul Civeyrac on Etienne (Andranic Manet): "And I do think that at the end of A Paris Education what the character has lived through comes back, reappears as what he has experienced that is most powerful to date."
Jean-Paul Civeyrac on Etienne (Andranic Manet): "And I do think that at the end of A Paris Education what the character has lived through comes back, reappears as what he has experienced that is most powerful to date."

Jean-Paul Civeyrac: Me neither.

AKT: You start with a quote by him. Where is it from?

JPC: It's the very beginning of The Disciples At Saïs. I don't remember the exact quote but what it says is that if you look at the paths followed by men, humans, one is very surprised by the different deviations and turns that they can take.

AKT: Your previous film, My Friend Victoria, based on the Doris Lessing story, was very much about the different ways that one remembers. Certain events can be extremely important for one person and totally meaningless for someone else.

I sensed some of that topic in your new film as well. Things that are of great importance in the education of one person. Those knots that form us. Do you see a link between those two films in that way?

JPC: I hadn't formulated it like that for myself. But I think you are right. There are moments in the present that escape us. But then they come back. So there's that and then there's also moments that were very very important that one experienced in life and that also come back. But they come back in the present.

When Etienne says goodbye to his girlfriend Lucie (Diane Rouxel), she says: "You will forget me."
When Etienne says goodbye to his girlfriend Lucie (Diane Rouxel), she says: "You will forget me."

And I do think that at the end of A Paris Education what the character has lived through comes back, reappears as what he has experienced that is most powerful to date. And I think there's a parallel there with the end of Flaubert's Sentimental Education where the characters say, what we lived that was most powerful, is something that happened before.

AKT: Happened before as always already in the past?

JPC [smiling]: Yes.

AKT: You put together the letters of Flaubert and of Pasolini. Those are the two books recommended and given to a character in A Paris Education. I never thought of Flaubert and Pasolini as a combination. It's a very interesting choice of books.

JPC: I think these are two books that bear witness to a tremendous level of demand, a very high standard regarding life and art. Pasolini didn't like Flaubert. As people they are radically different. And I myself don't like Flaubert as a person. I like Pasolini as a person.

But Flaubert's correspondence - there's a specific short book which is only his letters about writing and about art and those I find extraordinary. I think if you read those at 25 it stays with you for your whole life. I myself don't like Flaubert.

Etienne (Andranic Manet) with Anabelle (Sophie Verbeeck)
Etienne (Andranic Manet) with Anabelle (Sophie Verbeeck)

AKT: That's the point. When you read certain books at that age, they stick with you. I remember reading the correspondence between Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse. I love Thomas Mann's writing. I don't like Hesse that much. In the letters when I read them then, it was the opposite. I wonder how I'd feel now. You connect beautifully in your film the private life in the world with what people read, into the entire culture that forms an education.

JPC: Yes, because I think in the film it's perceptible that books, that art, that films are existential questions. They're not just questions about art or culture.

AKT: Or education. It's not for showing off but means something.

JPC: For me, I don't know quite how to say it, either I continue my education or there's that education from those years that remains. But my relationship to the films or the books? That relationship always stays the same.

AKT: Is that the window at the end of your film? The shot is perfect. You got the exact right timing for him to be at the window for our thoughts to go to different stages - of education.

JPC: The editor of the film is very used to filming concerts, operas, music, dance as well.

Jean-Noël (Gonzague Van Bervesseles): "There are echos in the film not only of German Romanticism but also English Romanticism."
Jean-Noël (Gonzague Van Bervesseles): "There are echos in the film not only of German Romanticism but also English Romanticism."

AKT: What's the name of the editor?

JPC: Louise Narboni. She really knows the musicality of editing in that way and that allows us as viewers really to have our thoughts rest and set down, thanks to that musicality she has.

AKT: Back to Novalis for a second. German Romanticism has as one of the great themes friendship. The idea of how much do you reveal to your friends? How much do you really know about them? That's also very central concerning your main character Etienne.

JPC: I had the idea for the film after seeing the Marlen Khutsiev film of which we see an excerpt in the film. It's called La Porte D'Ilitch [I Am Twenty]. It's the film that the three of them watch there in the bedroom. It's the story of three friends, the Russian film. So the starting point for the film was these three young men and the friendship. There are echoes in the film not only of German Romanticism but also English Romanticism.

AKT: The Fassbinder poster at the party, hanging over the kitchen table is terrific. He is the god of the party. Did you see that somewhere? Did you come up with that with your set designer?

JPC: We came up with it.

Jean-Paul Civeyrac on Mathias (Corentin Fila): "I think he's a little bit the heroic figure of the film."
Jean-Paul Civeyrac on Mathias (Corentin Fila): "I think he's a little bit the heroic figure of the film."

AKT: He's the patron saint of the young filmmakers celebrating?

JPC: I'm very happy that he's a kind of protector of the film.

AKT: The connection I was making earlier about things that are very important for one character and not for another - there's an excellent scene by Philip Roth in, I believe, The Plot Against America. I don't know if you are familiar with it?

JPC: No, I've never read Philip Roth.

AKT: In A Paris Education, the goodbye early on at the train station, when Etienne says goodbye to his girlfriend, she says: "You will forget me." For a second I thought of Hiroshima Mon Amour. At the same time, we are very much in the present, in something quotidian, very normal. It happened several times watching your film - it can be both.

JPC: But Hiroshima it's only that sequence?

AKT: Only that one moment, yes. The "You will forget me." and how it is said made me think of "Like you I forgot." The text and the black and white which at the beginning we are not yet used to.

JPC: What you're saying is that there's very ordinary things and at the same time there's a kind of literary amplification?

Mes Provinciales (‪A Paris Education‬) poster
Mes Provinciales (‪A Paris Education‬) poster

AKT: Yes. And we are free to go in both directions as a viewer.

JPC: That makes me very happy because I felt like I was not a naturalist filmmaker, the way Maurice Pialat might be. I more felt like I was a realist filmmaker, more or less realist filmmaker, but that I needed a kind of distance. A shift so that the reality became a little bit magical, poetic.

AKT: The character of Mathias [Corentin Fila] remains a mystery. He's always wearing the same clothes. We know nothing about his background. I don't know if you agree with me, but he is the figure in everybody's past whom you wish you knew better.

JPC: Yes, of course. But I think he's a little bit the heroic figure of the film. He is the one who crystallises in himself the best things about others and who brings those things to the highest level. And even the weaknesses he has, the other characters don't see those so much because they see him in a very idealised way. And so indeed, a hero does not change clothes.

AKT: Very true. What's coming up next?

JPC: At the moment I don't really have projects. I mean I do have some subjects for future films. But this film and a book [Rose pourquoi] that I wrote that was published in France in November, were both very important for me. And I'm a little bit empty at the moment.

AKT: What is the book about?

JPC: It's a book that tries to explain why a four-minute sequence in a specific film moved me so deeply that it remained with me. The book, it's a 120 short pages about this excerpt from Liliom, the film by Frank Borzage.

AKT: Now I'm so curious. Can you just briefly say what happens in that scene?

JPC: It's a scene between a guy who works in a traveling fair with attractions and so on, played by Charles Farrell and the actress is Rose Hobart. She's playing a character called Julie and they're at the little cafe bar of this fair. And she's very in love with him and he doesn't realise it. And that's it.

AKT: That also makes sense with your film. Again it's the idea that something is very important for one is not at all important for the others. That's life. Thank you.

JPC: That's life.

The uniFrance and Film Society of Lincoln Center's 23rd edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York was held from March 8 through March 18.

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