Monday, May 24, 2010

Stéphane Brizé's MLLE. CHAMBON opens; Q&A with one of its stars, Vincent Lindon

The exquisite new French film MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON has been co-adapted (with Florence Vignon, from the novel by Eric Holder) and directed by Stéphane Brizé, who a few years ago, gave us the quietly entran-
cing Not Here to Be Loved.  M. Brizé has given us an ever better, though just as quietly entrancing, film -- this time using two of France's best actors at the very top of their form: Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain. A movie with minimal dialog, but never obviously so, it relies on the moment-to-moment response of the two actors, who are simply marvelous at expressing their inner selves while appearing to camouflage their feelings.

This deeply-felt film -- about a maybe/almost/not-quite/OK-then affair between two people we come to care about very much --  is filled with widescreen images of both nature (including us humans) and commerce, life at home and at school -- all of it full of the occas-
ional jogs of surprise that reality, when captured in a good enough approximation, will offer. Other than what he shows us moment-to-
moment, Brizé, seen at right, drops only the barest hints of any background (the title character's family, for instance) but those few prove quite enough to help create a full character who, as portrayed by Ms Kiberlain, remains as vulnerable as she is mysterious, right through to the very end.

One of the most precious gifts of Mademoiselle Chambon is the way in which it rises above conventional morality and traditional values by first honoring these quite genuinely but then giving priority to the individuals and their humanity. Post-press screening, I -- and it seemed, many of my peers -- found the film particularly worthwhile. I think you will, too. We can all be grateful to Lorber Films for picking this one up for distribution.  It opens this Friday, May 28, at New York’s Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Cinema Village.

TrustMovies was able to interview Vincent Lindon during his time in New York for the FSLC's annual Rendez-vous With French Cinema this past March.  Portions of this interview were posted last month when Lindon's film WELCOME opened in New York.  But as much of the talk centered around Mademoiselle Chambon, it seems appropriate to run these again, along with the new material.  Below, TrustMovies' questions appear in boldface, while M. 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 than, but I don’t think we’ve been able to see them over here – and one thing that has impressed me about Mademoiselle Chambon 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 show 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 remember – and I suppose 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. Until we know what to say, the longer we are like this, the better it is.

When we are doing an angry scene, it is the same. We may go two or three minutes between the same sentence. 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 of all this) 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, because if we do it as in real life, that scene is going to take 25 minutes.

And it would bore us 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. And that is what the director wanted to do in the movie. I remember when the director told me at the beginning of the movie: Imagine she is Russian and your are Swedish. And the only three words you know together are yes, no, and thank you.

So you did this going into the movie?

Yes, and so everything then goes by the eyes, and by how you move, because there is no language.

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

Yes, 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. (To embody, to incarnate)

As to “incarnate” the role?

Maybe, yes! I don’t like to play a role. I like to be the role.

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 could take on the mantel of Jean Gabin. Do they say that in France?


So I am not the first.

But in the United States, you are the first!  And I very proud to do this. I love Jean Gabin. I love him. I love Robert Mitchum. There are very few that I am crazy about. James Cagney! I love him, too!

Oh, yes, you do remind me of Cagney! I wonder, do you sing and dance, as well -- like he did?

No. But I do love James Cagney. And I hate Humphrey Bogart.
I hate him. I know him, 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: Last Year in Provence with Russell Crowe. 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. You put me in the United States and I will be Russell Crowe.

Now, I love American movies, but what I think it 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 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, too. 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. Those Who Remain, the film you did with her, was another really, deeply- felt movie

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

All photos in this post (except that of M. Brizé) 
are from the film Mademoiselle Chambon.

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