Audiard on a crazy musical spree in Mexico

Director on changing identity, democracy and drug cartels

by Richard Mowe

Jacques Audiard tips his hat in Cannes
Jacques Audiard tips his hat in Cannes Photo: Richard Mowe
Jacques Audiard:  'The fall of democracy is something that is unbearable for me'
Jacques Audiard: 'The fall of democracy is something that is unbearable for me' Photo: Richard Mowe
After dabbling in English with The Sisters Brothers starring Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and John C Reilly, French director Jacques Audiard adopted a Spanish accent for Emilia Perez in the Cannes Film Festival’s Official Competition.

If his last film Paris,13th District was an austere black and white foray looking at the love lives of millennials now he changes tack completely to deliver a a garishly colourful musical comedy about drug cartels mixed with crime fiction.

It was shot in a studio near Paris rather than on location in Mexico, which he had originally planned. Filming indoors he has said allowed him “to produce more form and gave me more freedom for the parts that are sung and choreographed”.

Audiard, 72, has found himself back in Cannes 30 years after he presented his first feature See How They Fall with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Mathieu Kassovitz, under the banner of Critics’ Week. This is the sixth time he has been in the Official Competition, where he won a surprise Palme d’Or in 2015 with Dheepan, an immigrant drama about a trio of Tamil refugees in Paris.

He explained the genesis of the film, which has taken the festival by storm following a nine-minute standing ovation after its red carpet screening. “The first Covid lockdown did serve a purpose. I read novel by Boris Razon, an editor at Le Monde newspaper,” said Audiard. “There was a chapter about a narcotics trafficker who wanted to change identity. This was not much developed in the novel so I decided to develop the idea in my film. It occurred to me first as a kind of opera and it took time to turn it into a film.

“And why in Mexico and why in Spanish?” he asks rhetorically. “What shocks me enormously in Mexico is all these problems of disappearances, of femicides which are truly a terrible thing. All these regions where we can no longer safely go because they are dangerous. The fall of democracy is something that is unbearable for me. Even if it means making a musical, even if it means singing and dancing, you might as well do it based on a tragedy.”

Jacques Audiard and Karla Sofía Gascón
Jacques Audiard and Karla Sofía Gascón Photo: Richard Mowe

Audiard cast trans Spanish actress Karla Sofia Gascón, 52, in a dual role as Emilia and as Manitas del Monte, a drug lord who has decided to embrace his true self as a woman and will emerge as Emilia. Gascón already has written a book about her gender transition, at age 46, when she had an established acting career and was married with a wife and daughter. “When I read the script I thought that this guy is crazy,” she joked, but Audiard sensibly used her life experiences to create the characters.

The director always likes to keep a distance between the subjects of each of his films. He noted that his father, the late Michel Audiard who wrote more than 100 screenplays, “never considered cinema as an art. For him it was not something that could ever be confused with literature or music. I think cinema is very important. Needless to say, it was a subject of conflict between us."

Karla Sofía Gascón: 'When I read the script I thought that this guy is crazy'
Karla Sofía Gascón: 'When I read the script I thought that this guy is crazy' Photo: Richard Mowe
Audiard, who memorably made the prison drama A Prophet and The Beat That My Heart Skipped, dealing with toxic masculinity, grew up getting his film education in Paris’s myriad cinemas. He was around 15 when he saw Eric Rohmer’s My Night With Maud which had a lasting effect. “I saw it in a cinema on the Champs d’Elysées which is no longer there. It made such a big impression on me that I went back to see it four times … on four successive days.

“It was the first film I had seen in which I could hear grown-up talk somehow. The fact that the words made the situation so erotic. Jean-Louis Trintignant was so strong and moving and Françoise Fabian as well. When I made my first film, See How They Fall, I decided to cast him because I remembered him so strongly from My Night With Maud. There is something educational in cinema I learned a lot which helped to inform my relationships with women and with men. How a man should talk to a woman was something I learned from My Night with Maud and also from other films by Rohmer.”

Judging by the reception for Emilia Perez which has a consistently high score in the various critics’ charts, there could be prizes in the offing from Greta Gerwig’s official Competition jury. All will be revealed at the closing ceremony of the 77th edition on Saturday.

Emilia Perez
Emilia Perez

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