Hope Springs Eternal

Film Comment January/February 2002

FC: In Praise of Love seems to be the film of a man who has found acceptance, but also perhaps that of a sad man.

JLG: Acceptance, yes, absolutely. Sad … no, not this one, other films, but not this one.

FC: Why choose Spielberg as the incarnation of the evils of Hollywood?

JLG: Because he’s very well known and because he directed Schindler’s List. I read somewhere that Oskar Schindler’s widow lives in poverty in Argentina despite all the money the film brought in. Spielberg is a symbolic name.

FC: Apropos Schindler’s List, what do you think of the representation of the Holocaust in cinema?

JLG: You cannot speak the unspeakable; it’s just words. Lanzmann’s Shoah gained a lot from his relentless way of talking, as painful as it was. There have been many films on this subject, some of which even went to Cannes, but they’ve been forgotten. They were premature perhaps. There was a recent one, Drancy avenir [Arnaud des Pallieres, 96], which was very interesting, but nobody went to see it. Others did better because they had a reassurfing way of speaking. As for Benigni, it’s his business if he found that life was beautiful at Auschwitz!

FC: And yet in response to the expression “Never forget,” you say: “Memory has no duty.”

JLG: The expression “Never forget” annoys me. I would prefer to say that [memory] has certain rights and that it is a duty to not forget these rights. Without justice, the work of memory can’t be done. I am for the Hague tribunal on Yugoslavia and Bosnia, a priori. With Israel-Palestine, we’re trying to understand. I absolutely do not understand. I blame, also a prion, the Israelis, or any kind of colonizer. But if I were face to face with it, if we could discuss it, I would try….

FC: Why did you shoot the second half of In Praise of Love in DV?

JLG: To create a contrast with the blackand-white film stock. I shot in amateur conditions. It didn’t bother me, because it was a bit like a home movie. Whether we were shooting on DV or 35mm, the crew was just four or five people and that was enough. The rigor came from the construction, and that created a contrast.

FC: During shooting you said that using a DV camera creates a kind of confusion. Why?

JLG: In 16mm or 35mm, there is a certain rigor. The fact that the reels last ten minutes requires you to think in terms of this constraint. With DV, there is no longer any need of that; thus there is no more rigor and you think you can do anything. You think the camera decides, but the person behind the camera should be much better. Dostoyevsky or Pascal could have used a little digital camera because they were extraordinarily rigorous, but not today’s directors.

FC: Why did you retouch the colors in the digital segments?

JLG: Because I love impressionism, in cinema and particularly in video. What’s reassuring is that electronic tools can’t do what you can do with watercolors, gouache, or oil paint. So I am trying to find a way to create a novel with color, a bit like an impressionist, even if it is somewhat less of a tableau. All that I do is lower the blacks a bit, which television channels don’t like very much, but which you can do at home if you adjust your television. Or rather, used to be able to, since today there are presets on TV sets and by pressing keys, you can move from “cinema style” to “this style” or “that style.” I don’t work with equipment that’s too complex because it would be very expensive and I’d spend the rest of my life learning all the functions. [Laughter]

FC: Did you edit the film digitally?

JLG: No, I cut it all the old-fashioned way. We transferred the DV images to 35mm. Digital editing imposes too many manipulations for my taste. The hand doesn’t have much to do. I like to take the time to rewind and rethread the film during editing. In the so-called virtual, you never rewind, you’re there immediately. The time to rewind, which is vital in relation to the film’s subject, must be lived out. It is precious. You have more time to reflect. I prefer to think while arranging the film cans or cleaning and oiling the Steenbeck, even if the “digital auteurs” undoubtedly laugh at these old machines [laughs].

FC: What became of Juliette Binoche’s voiceover?

JLG: At one point, I thought that it would have lent weight to the reality of her character. Then I thought that it would be enough simply to say that she was going to call. But whether it’s Juliette Binoche or Sharon Stone, it’s no difference. It reminds me of the scene in Sauve qui pent (la vie) when Dutronc announces to his students that Marguerite Duras is in the next room, but we never see her. In fact, she really was there, but she did not want to be filmed-perhaps because of her taste for voiceover in her own films. She came in order to be offscreen [laughs].

FC: How do you place yourself in relation to current French cinema?

JLG: The landscape has changed: there are more highways and fewer back roads. Our vision of cinema seems more and more pessimistic. Pessimism, that was ten years ago. There’s nothing to be pessimistic or optimistic about. On the contrary. But with age and its difficulties, they say that hope springs eternal. The Ministry of the Interior hasn’t banned shooting in 35mm or editing the traditional way, just as it isn’t compulsory to work with Sharon Stone.

FC: In your film, what sort of love are you praising?

JLG: I wish we could consider all forms of love: love between a man and a woman, love of fellow man, love of France, love of things….

FC: What regard do you have today for the women that you filmed with love? Do you keep tip with them?

JLG: When I hear about them, I think about it, but it seems like another life to me. I think they were more disappointed than I was…. For me, it was a sort of mime, a kind of performance. We loved women like actresses. You loved cinema before you loved women. That came later… almost too late. Because when you begin to make films at around 30 well, a little earlier these days, though that’s not necessarily an advantage-there is a difference between your actual age and your age in terms of cinematic approach.

FC: Did the process of directing actresses distort love?

JLG: No, but there was simply a lack of real cinematic complicity. Their interest wasn’t really there.

FC: You end In Praise of Love by citing St. Augustine: “The measure of love is to love without measure.” Would you know how to love without measure?

JLG: I don’t know how to respond…. I present this phrase, I don’t claim to own it.

FC: Where is the “blue sky,” since you use Bataille’s title in your film?

JLG: It is to be able to continue. If you can still make a film or two thanks to some friendships, so much the better. The friendship of a few well-placed people, the friendship of my banker. . . . He was hardly born when I began working, but he is still nice.

Translated by Alice Lovejoy. ((C)magazine Epok/Fnac)

Interviewed by Jean-Yves Gaillac, Tissy Morgue & Jean-Philippe Guerand

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