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Interview with Arnaud Desplechin on "A Christmas Tale"
A Christmas Tale gives the impression of enlarging the diptych of Kings and Queen, your most famous film, to a choral dimension. Does this film have a continuity with Kings and Queen?
No. I dream of each film as independent. It is not the story of two isolated persons, but of one family. What was enjoyable in Kings and Queen was to go to the limit of tragedy and burlesque without one perceiving whether it is drama or comedy… I find this mixture, whilst attractive, is often also unsettling. With A Christmas Tale one is anchored in reality, in Roubaix, and this reality acquires a mythological dimension.
Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman) seems to be a major referent point.
Overwhelming even. Unfortunately I know the film very well. It’s one of the most beautiful in the world. With Eric Gautier (the cinematographer) we posed the question about our legacy in an almost light-hearted way. He had the same feeling I did as regards the beauty of the lighting in Fanny and Alexander. We pondered the shifts from warm tones to blue tones and the choice of lenses. We watched the film in detail: both the television and theatrical versions. It’s now become part of my genes! I come out of that film.
There are very strong counterpoint effects between the characters: Junon and Abel, Henri and his sister Elizabeth…
The couples are all very tender. It is Abel and Junon who set the tone. They get on well. It disturbs their intimacy to have their grandchildren over. She complains about it, too. They are lyrical together, as when Abel whispers sweet nothings to Junon in front of the firework display, or when he recites erotic poem to her. Sylvia and Ivan also get along together. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is very alone. She says it: her love for her mother has taken over everything. Henri and Faunia are very much in love: he is unpalatable when he makes a spectacle of himself, but with her he walks a straight line.
The characters sometimes address the camera directly, notably in introducing the scenery (as in Kings and Queen). Was this foreseen at the outset?
Yes, it emerged very quickly. Because the characters are all narrators at some point in the film. The character engages the camera and says: look, this is how the story went… Then tells the story from a personal point of view. Each is convinced that they are the hero in the film.
The film evokes tragic themes with grandiloquent words: filial recognition, banishment. Does the repertoire of tragedy come to mind when you’re looking for solutions?
Bourdieu is well versed in Greek tragedy. I am more familiar with Shakespeare or Strindberg.
The end of the film takes up again the address to the spectator that concludes Shakespeare’ play: ‘If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended, That you have but slumber’d here.’ You have directed ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
Many segments of the film echo the play: the ending, the prologue, the performance in the castle, Simon’s transformations. I realized it after four months of editing! It is a sign of a lack of preparation. Ordinarily, I become aware of these slip-ups much earlier. I cultivate what ought to be, I brush the rest aside. Because films are made for people who will never read A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Read also our review of "A Christmas Tale"