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[InC-terview] Back to Burgundy director Cedric Klapisch!

By Say Peng  /  29 Nov 2017 (Wednesday)

Cedric Klapisch is a veteran French screenwriter and director. His early short films won awards at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and his features have also been recognised internationally. His 1996 film When The Cat's Away won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival. Several of his feature films have won Audience Awards, demonstrating the mass appeal of his films. Klapisch's latest outing is no different. It is a relatable and accessbile tale of family set in the world of wine and vineyards.

Why did you want to tell this story set in the world of wine and vineyards?
CK: Because for me, the wine was a metaphor about family. And it was a good way to speak about how time passing is a very important thing in the relationship with your parents. It’s a lot of question of time and how you transmit things like not only the heritage, but also the values you transmit to your children or the values you get from your parents. I wanted to show the relationship between how the grapes and the vines grow and how the children grow up. So it’s really comparing how nature works to make wine and how a family works to make a child become a teenager and then an adult, and then the adult has children. It’s really trying to compare nature and men.

What stood out most from your film are the performances. Every director has a different way of directing actors. What’s your way?
CK: I went to an American school when I was 23 years old. I went to NYU Film School in New York. Probably it was there that I learnt a different way of directing actors than what exists in France. If you’re talk about jealousy to three different actors, they will play jealousy in three different ways. I start with the actor. I try to know the actor I’m working with well. By knowing the actor really well, I can concentrate on his character and developing his character. For me, you have to write the character, but you also have to know the actor and try to get the connection between the actor and the character.

Could you share with us a moment where an actor had trouble performing a scene and what you did to try to help her?
CK: In the film, what I think is particular is that it can make people cry and it can make people laugh. Both are difficult to act. For emotional scenes, Poi Marmai, when he is with his father who is in the hospital dying, it was difficult for him because he has his father but he lost his mother. And for him to play that, it was related to the loss of his own mother. It’s complicated then because… it was good that it wasn’t his mother in the film, because then he has to invent something which is fake, because otherwise, it’s too personal. But I think I tried to drive him to go… because very often, the actor does not dare to be intimate with himself. Like a barrier. I have to break the barrier, so that there are raw and real emotions about things that are personal. It’s completely the opposite for comical scenes where, for example, Francois Civil in the cellar where he is with his father-in-law and he wants to shout at him and say “Fuck you” to him but he doesn’t dare. So every time he starts a sentence, he doesn’t finish the sentence. And for him, it was hard to play that because it was very written. Every sentence is not finished. But there is a logic to starting a sentence and starting another sentence. It was hard to play that. Then, I think that because it is a comical scene, it’s more of helping Francois to have the right rhythm. If you don’t hit the right rhythms, it’s not funny. According to the scenes, how you help the actor is different. Like for Ana Girardot, when she was playing in the party, when she’s drunk, it was hard to keep the drunk way of talking. And when we say that when people are drunk, they don’t have consonants. They don’t pronounce words, so she had to keep that and play her character, so it was very technical.

What was the most challenging scene to do?
CK: The group scenes of people doing the harvest or when they were at the party. We had to organise the party. There were 70 people. And we had to organise the extras and the actors. And we had to keep the energy of people partying during the 3 days of shoot and to fake that they are drunk. That’s really hard to do. Because there is really nothing worse than people who act drunk badly. I really wanted it to look realistic, which made it complicated for the extras and actors. 

You started directing at 25 years old. As a 56-year-old director, what advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?
CK: To be patient, first of all. I do think that time has a lot to do with it. Directing is related to culture, to curiosity, books, painting, photography, music. The more you know things, the better you can put them into a film. Probably the best advice is to make things. I like the Nike advertisement: Just do it. Because I think when you make something, you learn a lot from your mistakes. So it’s better to do things badly, and then to realise what mistakes you’ve done and to compare that with the films you like.  

What’s your favourite wine?
CK: My favourite wine is the most expensive in the world. It’s the Romanee-Conti. It’s a Burgundy wine. I’ve heard a lot about this wine and I tasted it during the shooting. It’s crazy how it’s incredibly good. 

Back to Burgundy is currently showing at Shaw theatres and The Projector.
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