As you want me

Nicole Garcia on imagination, transformation and Lovers

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Nicole Garcia on Lisa (Stacy Martin) with Simon (Pierre Niney) and Léo (Benoît Magimel): “Lisa is in the clutches of these two men who are not perverse, they both love her in their different ways, but she is in a gilded prison.”
Nicole Garcia on Lisa (Stacy Martin) with Simon (Pierre Niney) and Léo (Benoît Magimel): “Lisa is in the clutches of these two men who are not perverse, they both love her in their different ways, but she is in a gilded prison.”

Nicole Garcia’s Lovers (Amants), co-written with Jacques Fieschi, starring Stacy Martin, Pierre Niney, Benoît Magimel, and with a brilliant score by Grégoire Hetzel was a highlight of New York’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Body language tells us more than the words, as was the case with Marion Cotillard in Garcia’s From The Land Of The Moon (Mal De Pierres).

Lisa (Martin) and Simon (Niney) are haunted by a shared experience in their past when he was a high-end dealer of drugs and she was studying to be in the hospitality business. When they meet again by chance, she is married to Léo Redler (Magimel), who claims to be an insurance underwriter in the travel hospitality field. Rich and prone to collecting, Léo had picked Lisa out from a coat-check job and married her quickly, as though she were an object to own.

Simon (Pierre Niney) and Lisa (Stacy Martin) are haunted by a shared experience in their past.
Simon (Pierre Niney) and Lisa (Stacy Martin) are haunted by a shared experience in their past.

Nicole Garcia’s direction is wonderfully subtle when the concierge at the hotel in Madagascar asks if Lisa would like the “Chinese massage” as she already had the “Thai massage”. All the luxury means nothing and this is the precise moment her former lover appears. Lisa sleeps on a boat while her husband is diving. Limp, like a tossed towel, wrapped in a flimsy green shirt, the utter exhaustion of the life and lies she chose catch up with her.

Next day on the bed she repeats the body posture, that of a dead-tired dog. Back home in their house in Geneva, Lisa is dressed in black like a burglar in her own home, her bracelet resembles a handcuff.

From Paris, Nicole Garcia joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Lovers (Amants).

Nicole Garcia: Happy to see you again!

Anne-Katrin Titze: So am I!

NG: You’re in New York?

Nicole Garcia on Léo (Benoît Magimel) with Simon (Pierre Niney): “Once she is married to Léo she is caught in the fiction that two men are imposing on her.”
Nicole Garcia on Léo (Benoît Magimel) with Simon (Pierre Niney): “Once she is married to Léo she is caught in the fiction that two men are imposing on her.”

AKT: Yes. You are in Paris?

NG: Yes, Paris is not good at all. Maybe we’ll be once more confined next week. It’s a story without an end.

AKT: When we talked about Mal De Pierres, you said “imagination has the function of repairing the things that don’t work in life.”

NG: I can even say more now. Imagination was very active in Mal De Pierres, but in my life, for example, I would say imagination saved me from everything. It may be banal to say so, but it’s even a definition of the artist. A banal definition of the artist. The artist who looks for another way, another path than what a certain reality might impose on him or her. Something that doesn’t quite fit that person and by chance the artist finds another path through imagination. If you talk to me about Lovers, one could say that at first glance one might not see the role of imagination as clearly. In fact, my imagination is very important. It’s a film where again I’m dealing with the subject of love from another angle.

AKT: It might also be that Lisa trains in the hospitality business. She is not an artist. So this might be exactly what she’s missing.

Nicole Garcia: “I have far more confidence to describe a character, far more faith in the body and the gaze also, than in words.”
Nicole Garcia: “I have far more confidence to describe a character, far more faith in the body and the gaze also, than in words.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

NG: I wanted between those two movies to improve my English, but no.

AKT: Next time!

NG: I would like to live a total immersion for a month in New York to improve.

AKT: We’ll meet every day and talk in English, yes. Let’s do that. I wanted to talk to you about how beautifully you use body language. For Lisa especially. There is a moment when she is on that boat or raft and her husband is diving and she looks like a towel that is thrown there. Later you have a scene in Geneva where she is on the bed and she looks like - that’s what I called it in my review - a dead-tired dog. She seems completely exhausted from having to live that kind of life.

NG: That’s interesting! I find that in film I have far more confidence to describe a character, far more faith in the body and the gaze also than in words. In so many films we have characters who comment on themselves and that’s not how it is in real life. In real life we have to look at people’s gestures to guess at their personality to get a sense of what is happening inside and how they may act later. In Lovers you notice those two positions of Lisa. Once she is married to Léo she is caught in the fiction that two men are imposing on her.

Nicole Garcia on Simon (Pierre Niney) and Lisa (Stacy Martin): “It’s a film where again I’m dealing with the subject of love from another angle.”
Nicole Garcia on Simon (Pierre Niney) and Lisa (Stacy Martin): “It’s a film where again I’m dealing with the subject of love from another angle.”

AKT: That is very true.

NG: Lisa is in the clutches of these two men who are not perverse, they both love her in their different ways, but she is in a gilded prison. So you are correct to note that throughout the film her body position is as if she has collapsed. Collapsed all the time because she has lost her own energy. She lost herself in these relationships with these two men. That’s why in the end of the film, though it is a tragic ending in a sense, there is something that is shining. And that is her deliverance, her being rescued from these two men. We find Lisa at the end of the film coming out of the subway in rush hour. She’s back in her own social environment. She’s not in the fancy houses of Geneva, she’s not in the luxury hotels of Mauritius, she has recovered her own energy.

AKT: And her agency. She is finally able to act. I liked so much how you got us to that point, how you’re dealing with omissions. For example, we see the cloakroom, we see her chignon, we don’t even see Benoît Magimel’s face. And then, boom, three years later, there they are. Can you talk about the structuring of the story?

NG: You are talking about the ellipsis between the first and second act?

AKT: Yes, the ellipsis.

NG: That’s what I like in the sense of this narrative, what you call omission allows us to imagine everything that has happened between the very young woman who is working in a cloakroom in a bar on the Champs-Élysées, and who suddenly has become a woman of the high bourgeoisie. We see her ability to become someone else, someone who is to the taste of the man she is now with, this very important Geneva insurance man.

Marion Cotillard in Nicole Garcia’s From The Land Of The Moon (Mal De Pierres)
Marion Cotillard in Nicole Garcia’s From The Land Of The Moon (Mal De Pierres)

And then we have another ellipsis between the second and third act, where Lisa is not transformed. It’s Simon who arrives in Geneva. What I like about these ellipses is that they make the narrative taut. They allow us to feel that tragedy is on the way, they create surprise and they allow us to focus on her. That’s also why I chose Stacy Martin to play the part because you can believe in her as the 18-year-old girl in her little modest home in the Paris suburbs and you can also believe in the transformation that happens in the second act. Not all actresses would be able to do that. Some would look as if they were disguised, whereas Lisa looks as if she’s been dressed like that for all eternity.

AKT: Good point.

NG: I wanted to add a beautiful sentence that Pirandello said - “As you want me.” There’s so much femininity in this “as you want me.” So after Simon leaves, Lisa is not cynical. She loves Léo. Only when Simon comes back, that’s when the tragedy starts. Because Lisa has true gratitude for Léo. She could have died if Léo hadn’t come along. She was so alienated in her love story with Simon. Léo repaired her in a sense with his love, with all that he gave her, his money. And she knows the price of that. That’s why in the third act when Simon says “Let’s leave”, she says “No, I don’t want to go back into that poverty.”

Amants (Lovers) poster
Amants (Lovers) poster

AKT: You have that sentence even in the film “She’s not cynical. People from her world aren’t.” I want to also talk about the costumes you used to show us that. The turtleneck she wears makes her seem like a burglar in her own house, the silver bracelet resembles handcuffs.

NG: Yes!

AKT: With the lockdown and the pandemic and everything being as it is, are you working on another movie?

NG: Yes, yes I try! It’s not a good energy in the city. Everyone is so depressed. I don’t know about New York. People here are very sad. There’s a curfew at six. We might find out tonight that there’ll be a lockdown for the whole weekend or maybe even the government might announce that we’re locked down entirely for a month. Despite all this I have gotten back to work, I’ve tried to find the energy necessary. So I hope to talk to you about this next film sometime in the near future. Even better to come to see you in New York and talk about it. I would really like Lovers to be released so I could come to New York with it.

AKT: I would like that too. That’s also why we’re doing this.

NG: Thank you very much, Anne-Katrin.

AKT: My pleasure.

NG: What is life like at the moment in New York? The front page of Le Monde recently had a photo and said life is back in New York, stores are open, restaurants are open. Are cinemas open?

AKT: They opened a few weeks ago. I haven’t been to a cinema yet. Nor have I done any indoor dining. It’s not as bad as it was but still quite tense.

NG: My distributors want to release Lovers as soon as things reopen, so May, June. But my concern is that people will be more interested in going to restaurants, café terraces. That there may be more of a missing there than to movie theatres.

AKT: I think people aren’t ready yet.

On Friday, March 19, New York City restaurants were allowed to have 50% indoor dining and cinemas since March 5 have reopened at 25% capacity with no more than 50 people per screen. Paris, has Nicole Garcia feared, has gone back into lockdown just one day after our conversation.

Coming up - Nicole Garcia on shoe envy, Sterling Hayden’s fate in Kubrick’s The Killing, working with composers, the number three, and drawing on film noir.

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