Home > iDEAL Focus > Features > Placing the focus on French cinema
Placing the focus on French cinema
By Li Anlan

FRENCH polymath Agnès Jaoui - a screenwriter, film director, actress and singer - and director Olivier Treiner, who won acclaim for his short film "The Piano Tuner," recently visited Shanghai and Hangzhou. Li Anlan and Zhu Ranran met up to talk about subjects such as pressures on young women, cinema icons and the Internet's influence on micro-movies.

Agnès Jaoui

Multi-talented is the word that can rightly be applied to Agnès Jaoui - a screenwriter, film director, actress and singer. Growing up in Paris, she fell in love with writing and nurtured an early dream of becoming an actress.

At the age of 20, while at drama school, she met Jean-Pierre Bacri, her partner in life and much of her work.

Jaoui's career has brought her numerous awards. She won best screenplay for "Le Gout des Autres" - "The Taste of Others" - at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004. Between 1994 and 2005 at the Cesar Awards - the national film awards of France - on four occasions she took the award for best screenplay and twice was named best supporting actress. Jaoui has also received nominations for best director, supporting actress and screenplay.

Jaoui also collaborated with French director Alain Resnais, whose works include the classic "Hiroshima Mon Amour."

Jaoui's next film - which the 48-year-old directs and appears in - is "a unique fairy tale" scheduled for release next year.

Recently, Jaoui visited Hangzhou for French film screenings before traveling to Shanghai to attend a retrospective of her work that ended on Wednesday.

Q: You have many roles: director, screenwriter, actress and singer. What's your favorite?

A: I like to do very different things. Maybe I like writing more. I'm independent while writing; all I need is a pen and a piece of paper. This kind of freedom is very important to me.

Q: What's the most difficult thing about the transition from actress and screenwriter to director?

A: I feel that being an actress is like a child who is free; being a screenwriter is like an adult, meaning you have more responsibilities; and being a director is like a mother, you have to take care of everyone else.

I've adopted two children, one is five and the other 17. They're not little but still ask me for things, and this reminds me of being a director. When we're shooting, many people come to me for this and that, and you have no right to get angry because this is your own choice.

Q: What's Alain Resnais like?

A: I really admire him. He's an artist, always exploring. When he first came to me, I thought he seemed younger than me! He's also a very nice person. I know many great artists who have terrible tempers, but it's very comfortable with Resnais; his works reflect who he is.

Q: Can you tell us interesting stories about working with Resnais?

A: Alain Resnais himself is interesting. He doesn't write anything and when he asks us to write, he gives us complete freedom. Every week we would give him what we've written in the form of a recording, like you hand in homework. He would listen to our script in darkness and imagine scenes and images. If he couldn't think of any, he would come back us, explain this and ask us to redo it.

Q: You and Jean-Pierre Bacri are partners in work and life. What are his qualities that you appreciate most?

A: His freedom. He is the freest man I've ever known; he hates even the slightest restraint of any kind. And he is humorous, intelligent and hardworking. He can make me laugh. Obviously, I love him very much.

We've worked together many times - screenwriting, followed by directing and acting. In the 2004 film "Comme Une image" ("Look At Me") the roles we chose, Lolita's father and her singing teacher, show their relationship changing. Working with such an interesting and smart guy can be full of happiness.

Q: What's the significance of naming that film "Look At Me?"

A: In our society today, many young women are "framed"; the so-called standard of beauty presses them to be as slim as the cover girl on the fashion magazine. I just want to break this stereotype, this image, which seems to be so intolerant toward non-standard. In this film, Lolita lacked confidence because she was once considered to be fat, of mediocre talent, ordinary in people's eyes. But her singing from the bottom of her heart was eventually heard. In addition, I wanted to depict a society spinning around the center of power, to expose the human servility and encourage girls like Lolita to dare say no to the standard.

Q: Tell us about the music in "Look At Me."

A: The music, including background music, was carefully chosen by me. What's more, the singing parts for Lolita's singing teacher, who I play, featured my voice. I had studied singing vocal music when I was younger. I started my career as an actress - so in other words there was a lot of me in the character of Lolita.

Q: You have played a mother in film and are one in real life, what changes did being a mother bring to your life?

A: My next film is for children, and has young actors in it. The children came to our lives quite late - it was something we wanted to do for a long time - so on one hand it hasn't changed my life, I still have my own life. But at the same time, this was the biggest risk we'd taken.

The kind of restraint the society puts on women made me angry when I was growing up, so I don't just want to be a charming woman, or just someone's wife, or just a mother.

For example, when we look at the profile of politicians and artists, the men's profiles don't usually mention whether they have children, but for a woman, this is always something that is noted.

Q: How does the passing of time influence your work?

A: When I was studying theater at the age of 15, I already felt that I was too old, because Sophie Marceau was famous when she was 13 and I wasn't. When I was 17 I went to music school to study singing, because it helped me find confidence.

Actresses get older faster than male actors, so we need to invest in more than just beauty. As a writer, you grow as time passes.

Q: Do you find it challenging shifting from playing intellectuals, such as the music teacher in "Look At Me," to an ordinary housewife in your latest film?

A: Yes indeed! I played little Rachel's mom in "Du Vent Dans Mes Mollets," an ordinary mother. Challenges began when I had to get used to the ugly film costumes and later this tension went to my facial expressions - I had to keep reminding myself to relax!

Q: Do you have a role that you really want to play in the future?

A: I'd like to play a queen, a princess, or even a prostitute - roles that I can't play in real life.

Olivier Treiner

French director Olivier Treiner's short thriller "L'accordeur" ("The Piano Tuner") won him international film festival awards, including the Cesar Award for Best Short Film in 2011.

The film tells the story of a failed musician turned piano tuner who pretends to be blind. Then one day, he witnesses a murder...

The 14-minute movie ends with a cliff-hanger which is open to numerous interpretations.

Treiner visited Hangzhou for the screening of "The Piano Tuner" and other French cultural events earlier this month.

Q: People were curious about the ending of the "The Piano Tuner" - whether or not he died.

A: We decided to leave room for imagination and interpretation either way. I want these 14 minutes left in the mind of the spectators - with visuals, mood and plot made into a tight story with black comedy flair. Almost everyone turns back to the beginning after they've watched it.

Q: What do you think of the relationship between Internet and micro-movies?

A: Obviously, the Internet helps spread short films and makes them popular. Maybe a lot of Chinese people got to know "The Piano Tuner" through microblogs. We get feedback through the Internet too. Also, the Internet helps with the finance, broadening the scope of the audience.

Q: How does French film influence the world?

A: The most important time for French cinema was during the New Wave era in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when directors such as Francois Truffaut, Jean Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol emerged.

Unlike say Hollywood, the French film industry receives government support. The government established the Centre National du Cinema to protect and subsidise film. Among 600 movies shown in France each year, French films form about 50 percent. But there's some distance to go for global audiences to accept French film.

Q: What do you think Chinese movies and directors of the Fifth Generation?

A: What do you mean by the Fifth Generation? In France, we usually focus more on individuals and the film itself. As for Chinese directors, I've only got Zhang Yimou in my mind at present.

Q: What are your impressions of Hangzhou?

A: This is my first time in China and we took a visit around the West Lake. It's wonderful! Also, the Chinese food is so impressive. We had really an amazing lunch and tasted Hangzhou cuisine.

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164