Tuesday, May 4, 2010

WELCOME opens via Film Movement; interview with star Vincent Lindon

It's not just America that's experiencing some trouble with immigration.  Throughout Western Europe, immigrants act as ready-made Rorschach tests on the populace of the country to which they come. WELCOME, a what-to-do-with-
'em saga that was nominated for ten César awards this past year (while winning eight international festival awards), is a smart heart-tugger that does not draw tears as much as make you look at the situation from all angles: that of foreigners and natives, as well as that of those who police the immigrants and others who protect them.  

Vincent Lindon, shown at right, who also stars in the upcoming Mademoiselle Chambon (to be released next month) and on whom could be bestowed the mantel of Jean Gabin, is wonderful in the lead role, as a swimming coach who gets involved with one of the foreigners and -- for reasons nicely textured between altruistic and self-serving -- finds himself ensnared in events and feelings he would neither have expected nor chosen.  

Lindon does the "working man" about as well as anyone in memory (hence the Gabin reference), and Welcome proves no exception to this rule.  The actor brings an odd kind of grace to his heavy hand and heart; his character is in the middle of a break-up with his sweetheart (well payed by Audrey Dana, of Lelouche's Roman de Gare, who is shown above, with Lindon), and so is probably more vulnerable than usual.  The third wheel is newcomer Firat Ayverdi, below, who plays Bilat, the 17-year-old Iraqi Kurd who is bent on reaching London to reunite with his sweetheart.

These three, and all of their co-workers, friends and city dwellers from police to social workers, collude, intentionally or not, to help and hinder Bilat's quest.  Breathing and swimming enter the picture in surprising ways, pushing the plot along and providing reasons for its taking the direction it does.  Director and co-writer Philippe Lioret (shown below), uses his fine eye to show us the beauty of the everyday and he has the sense not to push too hard in any direction.  Consequently a genuine feeling of surprise runs through the film, rather than the coerced inevitability that so many of these immigrant movies, happy or sad, seem to possess.

You can't call Welcome -- ironic title, that -- a feel-good movie, except in the sense that a movie done well can't help but make you feel good on some level of artistic appreciation.  What I call a mainstream/arthouse film, it should be perfectly accessible to any viewer who can read subtitles (or understand French). Film Move-
ment, who rarely offers anything less than a very good film, seems the proper venue for its distribution, and so is opening this Friday, May 7, in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.  Film Movement members, in fact, have already received it as their February film (an inducement to join); the DVD will be available for sale or rent later this year.

TrustMovies met with Vincent Lindon during the Rendez-vous With French Cinema series from the FSLC last March, on an afternoon when industry, press and guests had a delicious lunch in one of the grand rooms of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue Services Culturels - Ambassade de France.  Lindon, like any good "working man," seemed fit, full of spirit and even eager to talk -- which given the number of interviews these stars juggle, cannot be particularly easy.  Below, TrustMovies' questions are in bold, while Lindon's answers are in standard type.

I’ve seen about 15 of your films over the years -- I know you’ve made a lot more, but I don’t think we’ve been able to see them over here – and one thing that has impressed me is how little dialog you sometimes have. So much is expressed via face and hands and movement. And even though you often play a working man, you have amazing delicacy.

Yes! But have you noticed how, in real life, when you are in love, or when you are very angry with someone, there are no words. I expect it is the same for me and you and a lot of the people on the planet. After the first kiss, it happens that you feel like you are going to fall in love. Afterward, we want to put our head on the shoulder of each other. We can sit like that a long time because we...  we really don’t know what to say. It is as if we do not know the words, so we just want to stay close like that. And until we know what to say, the longer we are like this, the better it is.

When we are angry, it is the same. We may shout, but we also can sit very still, and angry, or we stand up and walk and we pick something up from the desk and (Lindon begins giving me a visual demonstration) and we just do this, all without words. In movies, sometimes -- say a movie is 1 hour and 45 minutes – well, we cannot stretch the time to make it real, because if we do, that small scene is going to take 45 minutes.

And bore the audience to death.

Yes! So very often we don’t speak. Sometimes, in a restaurant, two persons don’t say anything for even two or three minutes.

But you are also very good when you have to use words. I’ve seen you in several movies where you do talk a lot.

But I prefer now, getting older and older, I prefer not to speak. Just to be. I don’t know the word in English: In France, we say Incarner

As to “incarnate” the role?  Embody?

Maybe, yes!

I am probably not the first to say this, actually the NY Times said it, too. -- but I said it first on my blog! -- (Lindon laughs) You seem to me to be the one actor who can take on the kind of roles that Jean Gabin used to play. Do they say that in France?


So I am not the first.

But in the United States, you are the first!

OK -- good!

And I am very proud. I love Jean Gabin. I love him. I love Robert Mitchum, too. There are very few that I am crazy about. (He thinks a moment) James Cagney! I love him

Oh, yes, you remind me of him, too! I wonder, do you also sing and dance like he did?

No. But I do love James Cagney. And I hate Humphrey Bogart.


I hate him. I know his work, and I do not like his movies. The real one for me is James Cagney, then Edward G. Robinson. But Humphrey Bogart is very far away from them. I also love Cary Grant. …. There is not so many actors that I dream to be like.

That’s plenty – you’ve named a lot of good actors. 

When you read a script and then you actually film the movie, are you often surprised at the result on the screen?

No. It is very often exactly that, with a little bit plus or less. But it is what I expect.

I am probably guessing here, but is this because the French film industry is more closely knit, with a little bit better communication between actors, and between actors and directors?

Yes, Oh yes. We speak a lot. We get lunch and dinner together and speak on the phone and go with the children on Sunday for a walk -- for three, four five months before shooting. And the director is on the set and not in some van with 25 screens. No, it is very human. We don’t even have the money to have a big van with 25 screens. Sometimes we go in the same car to go back in the house. Sometimes we even drive each other. Or I say, can you drop me at my house? It’s very…


Yes, and when I go back to my house, and if I want to call the director at night at 10pm, then I call the director. It’s not like here in American: "We only have 12 hours to play and if you want to tell me something, you have to call my manager." I am not saying that it’s better or not better. But it is more… French.

For example, I met Ridley Scott in Cannes, when he was about to do a new movie: A Year in Provence with Russell Crowe.

I think they called it A Good Year, with Marion Cotillard, right?

Yes.  I did not want to do this movie, but after we spoke for half an hour, I really liked Ridley Scott. So I went up to the office, where the casting director said to me, “Oh, Vincent, can you read the script quite rapidly, and then you call me back and tell me if you like it, or if you have some things you don’t feel good with, and then I will say this to Ridley. I will give him a report."  And I said, "What? You will speak to Ridley for me. I cannot talk to him myself?" So she tell me, "No. But before the shooting in Provence we will make a big reading, and then after, Ridley can see each actor for 15 minutes, in which to talk." I thought, you are fucking crazy: I get 15 minutes with my director? No, no: If I do a movie with Ridley Scott, I want to speak with my director when I need to do this. I want to speak with him, I want to know about his wife and children. I want to know if he prefer red wine or white. If not, I don’t do that job. I prefer to be baker or lawyer. I don’t care. And Russell Crowe: I will see him for just ten second before action, and five seconds after the cut. Russell Crowe in the US is not more than I am in France.

Now, I love American movies, but what I think is that it is too difficult for me -- a European guy -- to work in the U.S.

Maybe this is why most European stars do not translate to American films that well?

To make an American film, you are obliged to speak English very well. Even then, the most you can hope for is to get a part where you play the lead and must play a Frenchman. You do this once, and then you go back. I would like to be able to speak English like an American guy because there are a lot – a lot – of American directors I would like to work with: Scorsese, Woody Allen.

In looking through all the movies of yours I have seen, one that impressed me a lot was Chaos.


In that one you play a kind of villain role, but you never really play a villain role because you always make the man better than that. And when you play a hero, he’s is never quite a hero, because you always make him less, and more real. (Lindon nods, yes) Also, La moustache. Was that a difficult film to make? Did you know what was going on in that movie?

No. Nobody did.

Good, because we didn’t either. But we enjoyed it.

I loved the script, but I am not able to tell you something about that script. Just... just that I know I like it. It is like when you are standing in front of a painting, and you like it, but maybe you don’t know why.

You have worked with Emmanuelle Devos several times, too.

Ahhhh. Yes, and I go back to Paris tomorrow night, and I start shooting another movie with Emmanuelle! My third one. I love her!

Those Who Remain, the film you did with her, was another really, deeply-felt movie. But let’s talk about Welcome, which Film Movement will release soon. We need films like this in America because we have a similar immigrant problem that you have in France.

Yes, with Mexico.

And also many of the Central and South American countries. But it seems as though Americans don’t like movies about immigration. Or about Iraq, either. We don’t want to see them.

Do you feel that, with the change in electing Obama, that there is a big change in the minds of people?

(TM sighs, and shakes his head, no)

Are you proud of your President?

No. Not so much. I voted for him, and I had hope. But he is a politician. Just like they all are. Aren’t they? Aren’t they all basically just politicians?


Are you proud of Sarkozy?

No. I hate him! But I was proud of Chirac. I am proud of a President that says, We are not going to do the war.

I was proud of him, too. I wish Blair in England had said that -- and that America had said that. It seems that now -- we don’t know what is going to happen, of course, but Obama seems to suddenly have been goosed into action of late.

Everybody had said that to me. In the last two, three weeks, it seems. But he is still better than Bush, right?

Yes, anyone -- anything -- is better than Bush and his group.

You know the one I really like? Bill Clinton! He made a good image for your country.

We nod in agreement (about the image, if not the reality), 
and while I don’t know what is going through 
M. Lindon’s mind right now, mine is suddenly filled 
with the memory of better times -- in France and in America.

We’ll have more of this interview, and where it takes us in terms of his next film -- Mademoiselle Chambon -- when that movie opens next month.

All photos above are from Welcome, courtesy of Film Movement.


AL said...

Fine review and fine interview indeed - is there a better interviewer in film in the US? PBS just ran this film and your review makes a perfect cap for it.


James van Maanen, said...

Hey, AL -- long time no hear! I suspect there ARE a few better interviewers in film in the US, but I have to admit this IS a good one. Lindon makes a great interview: He's accessible, smart and eager -- so this makes it much easier for those of us holding the microphone. Glad you liked the movie, too. As usual with Film Movement, that company has picked another winner.

AL said...

I'll believe you if you can name another interviewer that is a)as well informed by reviewing so many other movies so attentively and honestly including those that the subject has made b) pays so much real attention to the interviewee without shoehorning himself into the picture unnecessarily c) gives only his relevant and considered reactions to the interviewee and his/her work, d) sets up a genuine rapport which gives the interview a real sense of friendship based on art appreciated and an understanding of striving for quality in art which demands real work and aspiration, and e) asks questions concerning all this in ways which genuinely respect and bring out the subject. It ain't Charlie "Look at me I have an opinion too which I will now expound while pretending to ask a question" Rose, that's for sure. It aint any of the New Yorker culture mavens that's for sure. It aint anyone in film at the Times who interviews on Times Talk in their patented pally wally resolutely middle brow let's not worry about anything difficult what did you have for breakfast when you met the director style. It is basically the intelligent appreciator making it easy for the actor or director to discuss his work without any media politics or commercial pressure getting in the way.



James van Maanen, said...

Wow, AL! Really? Maybe I should be doing more interviews, while trying to live up to your criteria above. Sometimes I make it, sometimes not. In any case, your points are all well taken -- worth keeping in mind when I and others try our hand at interviewing.