Filmmakers On Cinema: Arnaud Desplechin

By Tom Hall | October 30, 2008
Arnaud Desplechin Photo by Tom HallArnaud Desplechin at the New York Film Festival

In the first of an ongoing series of chats with directors about their influences, Tom Hall talks with Arnaud Desplechin about the films that shaped his love of cinema.

So much of what we hear about films is centered on the here and now, the disposability of cinema reflected in the temporal immediacy of each new film.  Every day, filmmakers begrudgingly step out from behind the camera to sit in anonymous hotel suite in front of a well-lit backdrop and discuss their latest films, how great everything was, how proud they are of their colleagues and themselves. But how did they get here? How might cinema itself have contributed to the creation of the artist?

I recently sat down with Arnaud Desplechin in New York City for the first of an ongoing series of conversations with working filmmakers about the influence of the cinema. Desplechin, in town for the New York Film Festival to promote his latest film A Christmas Tale, was gracious enough to take a moment to discuss the role that film has played in his own development as an artist. 

What is the first film you remember seeing?

Fantômas (dir. André Hunebelle, 1964) with Jean Marais and Louis De Funes. We had to leave the theater, because my older sister was so terrified. And I was pissed to have to leave this place!

Which film made you interested in a career in cinema?

I can’t quote a film; it was the cinema itself. Ten Commandments, because of the SFX? The Hitchcock movies I saw on my grandparents TV? No, it was the idea of the cinema.

We’ll name 5 directors and want your thoughts on each of them:

Milos Forman

I could join the army to fight for a film as great as Valmont or Ragtime. If one day, I could manage to do the quarter of what Forman achieved in these films…

Francis Ford Coppola

I spent ten years thinking each day just about him. He has been my deepest influence. Gardens of Stone and Peggy Sue must be the 2 ones which move me the more. Is it because they are secret films? These are films that are not celebrated, but which are perfect to me.

James Caan in Francis Ford Coppola's 1987 Gardens of Stone

James Caan in Francis Ford Coppola's
1987 Gardens of Stone

Frank Tashlin

Even if I'm French, he hasn't been that important, because I loved John Landis so much. Tashlin was a master for my father, but Landis was a master for me.

Ingmar Bergman

I don't know any director who stood in such a brotherhood with the all world. The audience, his characters, his actors… Beyond his gigantic talent, he had an absolute brotherhood with everything that is human. There was nothing cruel with him, but this capacity to accept what's most frightening, humiliating, brutal and mysterious in a human being. He never judges anyone whom he's filming; he looks at them, straight as a brother, and to me, one of the very best storytellers who ever existed. 

When he died, as a cinephile, I had one regret: I don't think he ever met Scorsese. And these 2 men have this amazing gift: to transform anything into action. Which is the definition of cinema, isn't it? 

Ragtime

John Cassavetes

It's not laziness, but I don't speak enough English to give you the proper answer. Even in French! Cassavetes seems sometimes hidden under so many clichés, that it's quite hard to re-appropriate his wonderful films for ourselves. Let's say that, far from the bullshit I can hear about him in the world of cinema, I keep his films in my heart, as a secret treasure. 

Which actor would you like to work with that you have never worked with before?

I would love to write the right part for Emmanuelle Béart. The American dream? Rachel Weisz and Winona Ryder, for sure!

Which film do you wish you could have made that was made by someone else?

Alas, I'm not able to do Ragtime. Perhaps, one day…

What are you working on next?

There is another project, a spy movie. It is about this bizarre, cold world we live in today, it is very much about this time. I was very moved by [the tragedy of] September 11th; the world has become so strange, especially Europe. This would be going back to something like La Sentinelle, but with a lot of action, and it would be examining the changes in Europe, whatever that is. What is Europe now? This is something I’d like to explore, and I think the best way to do it is to use spies, this secret world, to examine it.

Tom Hall

Tom Hall is currently the director of programming at the Sarasota Film Festival. He has his personal blog at The Back Row Manifesto and is also a contributor to the film criticism site Hammer To Nail. He is the former program director at the Nantucket Film Festival.

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