A good team

Arnaud Desplechin on Grégoire Hetzel, Yorick Le Saux, Deception, Marion Cotillard and Frère Et Sœur

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Denis Podalydès as Philip with Léa Seydoux in Arnaud Desplechin’s adaptation with Julie Peyr of Philip Roth’s Deception (Tromperie).
Denis Podalydès as Philip with Léa Seydoux in Arnaud Desplechin’s adaptation with Julie Peyr of Philip Roth’s Deception (Tromperie).

In the second of my series of conversations with Arnaud Desplechin we discuss filming Frère Et Sœur, starring Marion Cotillard with Golshifteh Farahani and Melvil Poupaud, and working on Deception (Tromperie) with longtime collaborator composer Grégoire Hetzel (Oh Mercy!; Ismael's Ghosts; My Golden Days; La Forêt; A Christmas Tale; Kings & Queen) and for the first time with cinematographer Yorick Le Saux (Greta Gerwig’s Little Women; Claire Denis’ High Life; Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash; Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, and many films by Olivier Assayas).

Marion Cotillard stars in Arnaud Desplechin’s upcoming Frère Et Sœur
Marion Cotillard stars in Arnaud Desplechin’s upcoming Frère Et Sœur Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Arnaud Desplechin’s adaptation with Julie Peyr of Philip Roth’s Deception (Tromperie), starring Denis Podalydès, Léa Seydoux (Bruno Dumont’s France), Emmanuelle Devos, and Anouk Grinberg was a highlight of the 74th Cannes Film Festival and New York’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

“I’m 33 and I won’t say my name” states Léa Seydoux’s character at the start of Arnaud Desplechin’s labyrinthine Deception, and that she met Philip (Denis Podalydès) in London.

We see the two of them. He asks her to close her eyes and describe the room. Could this be a therapy session, we may think. No, he is testing how perceptive she is. The terra cotta coloured walls, the baseball on his desk, the shelves with books by Heinrich Heine and Hannah Arendt, “only Jewish books” as she notes - this is the realm of the writer protagonist in Philip Roth’s novel and the film.

How do we love? We can never really choose how we want to be loved and the honest look at it is disturbing. Desplechin is excellent at leaving questions intact. “I saw. I saw. It’s such a strange story.” “I know. No one would believe it.”

From Paris last month, Arnaud Desplechin joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Deception and where he is with Frère Et Sœur.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You still have to shoot the epilogue for Frère Et Sœur. It will be your first time in Africa?

Arnaud Desplechin on Deception composer Grégoire Hetzel: “He had great pleasure working on his own material …”
Arnaud Desplechin on Deception composer Grégoire Hetzel: “He had great pleasure working on his own material …” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Arnaud Desplechin: As we say in French, Sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve been in Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, but I’ve never been on the other side of the desert. Because the film being with Marion Cotillard, we have problems with the schedule. It will be shot in Africa, in Senegal. So we have a trip there. It’s just a small scene; if the epilogue is small or not, I don’t know. We will have a lot of improvisation and we’ll see what will happen.

We have to go there at the end of March. So we are editing the film without its epilogue, which is about the main character, the sister, played by Marion Cotillard. I’m eager to go there. It will be my first time in Africa. I’m nervous but I’m enthusiastic at the same time.

AKT: And this is another film written by you, compared to Deception, where you have taken so much of the dialogue straight from Philip Roth?

AD: Yeah, it’s strange, I was nervous when we started the film, because Roubaix, une lumière [Oh, Mercy!] was already an adaptation of a documentary piece. After that Deception, I was so happy, so glad, so thankful to film it. It was really a blessing for me to be with Léa and Denis on Deception. But it was an adaptation and very pure. I mean, I didn’t add one line. It’s really all Philip Roth lines. But this time it’s my lines, and I didn’t do that for a while.

AKT: So it’s a return. In Deception, I think you captured Philip Roth perfectly. And Philip Roth is problematic for many people, for lots of reasons. What is it about Philip Roth that appeals to you? We talked about it before when you quoted American Pastoral in Ismael’s Ghosts.

AD: I started to read Philip Roth quite late in my life because I was already 25 or 26. Perhaps I was too serious before that, and too snobbish? Because he was selling a lot of books, I was reading other novels, more obscure ones. I remember the first time that I read Portnoy’s Complaint, I learned two lessons. One was my endless laughing reading his lines. The other that the artist was not on a pedestal, but was with us.

Arnaud Desplechin on Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, starring Tilda Swinton, shot by Yorick Le Saux: “It was so perfect. I mean the film is such a beauty.”
Arnaud Desplechin on Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, starring Tilda Swinton, shot by Yorick Le Saux: “It was so perfect. I mean the film is such a beauty.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

And also and finally, the fact that Roth used himself as his own material. I remember in these days it has been so precious for me because I was writing things and stuff, I was just out of cinema school. And I realized, if I had to do my first film, it had to happen in Roubaix, as Newark was for Philip Roth. I had to be my own material, you know. That’s what I admire in his work, it’s the fact that he is using himself not in a noble way but in a ridiculous way. He is his own material and that’s what is so lovely.

AKT: Grégoire Hetzel is always wonderful with his score for your films. What did you tell him for this one?

AD: For this one I told him, because also of budget reasons - because really it was a low, low, low, low, low budget movie - I hope you can’t see it.

AKT: Made during Covid as well!

AD: Yes, so it was more complicated because of that. Usually I’m harassing Grégoire with my favorite composers.

AKT: Do Bernard Herrmann!

AD: Yeah, George Delerue, Jonny Greenwood! And I told him on this one, Grégoire, it’s finished. We have a section of our life which is done. I’m done with it, now I just want pure Grégoire Hetzel. So I want quotes of all we previously did on the previous films, but just material coming from you. I want my first Hetzel movie and not quotes of other composers. He had great pleasure working on his own material rather than comparing his work to other composers.

AKT: I also like how beautiful you made the film with your cinematographer Yorick Le Saux. You haven’t worked with him before, have you?

AD: No, never, never! And it’s silly because we know each other since, gosh, 20 years. You know, he was so busy, doing all these films in America.

Arnaud Desplechin on the teamwork with Léa Seydoux, Denis Podalydès, and Yorick Le Saux for Deception: “The intimacy of the shooting, the dialogue between Yorick and me and Yorick and Léa, and the fact that Yorick used to be quite close to Denis was really helpful.”
Arnaud Desplechin on the teamwork with Léa Seydoux, Denis Podalydès, and Yorick Le Saux for Deception: “The intimacy of the shooting, the dialogue between Yorick and me and Yorick and Léa, and the fact that Yorick used to be quite close to Denis was really helpful.”

AKT: And elsewhere, I know! Only Lovers Left Alive and Little Women and Personal Shopper and A Bigger Splash and on and on.

AD: And he did two thirds of Carlos, imagine that! Only Lovers Left Alive, it was the first time when Jarmusch didn’t shoot in film. It was in digital and he did it with Yorick and it was so perfect. I mean the film is such a beauty. It’s a beautiful film.

AKT: I think it’s Jarmusch’s most beautiful film, actually.

AD: I do agree. And Yorick was surprised because I loved Little Women. He thought: no, it’s too cheesy, it’s too Hollywood, Arnaud, you can’t like it. You rather prefer the Claire Denis movie, the science fiction movie [High Life]. I said no, no, the Claire Denis is good but Little Women is better, sorry for that.

AKT: I totally agree with you.

AD: And the way it’s done, that is such an art. He’s a wonderful DP. Because of the intimacy of the shooting, the dialogue between Yorick and me and Yorick and Léa, and the fact that Yorick used to be quite close to Denis and he was really helpful. The four of us, we made a good team. I felt more than comfortable with Yorick, he helped me a lot.

Read what Arnaud Desplechin had to say on getting a phone a call from Philip Roth.

Coming up - Arnaud Desplechin on costume designer Jürgen Doering and more on the wonderful cast of Deception.

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