An interview with Louis Garrel. The actor, who plays Jean–Luc Godard in Michel Hazanavicius’s Le Redoutable, discusses his move away from cinéma d’auteur, of which he is a leading figure. Didier Péron
— “For ten minutes in 1968, just ten minutes, nobody gave a damn about saving film. There was this other life that was so much more important. Back then film was for the bigwigs, France at its most rancid, the sleaziness of the Champs – Élysées, ten –a– penny plunging necklines, the unfunny stuff Audiard was writing, bistro banter, sexist, not clever at all … Godard, Bergman, they’re the ones who rescued film from that.” Philippe Garrel, for these are his words, recalls an era he experienced first – hand. He was 18 when he made his first full – length feature, Marie pour mémoire, in 1967, the same year Godard, already lionised / despised, released La Chinoise with Anna Karina and Jean–Pierre Léaud as overagitated Parisians going round in circles in an apartment papered with slogans from Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. Philippe Garrel, a ten–stone Rimbaldian weakling, all velvet jacket and jabot, recognised Godard as the one who could “push understanding to its limits”. There was revolution, or revolt, change at the very least, that bust France and its old ways wide open — a country under the austere guardianship of General de Gaulle, imprisoned by the glorious dust of military exploits past; there were the truncheon blows and, for Garrel who came through ’68 in existential ecstasy, electroshocks in a psychiatric hospital. 1967–2017, fifty years on, Saint–Germain– des – Prés, Louis Garrel, the director’s son, born in 1983, parks his scooter outside a café. He’s a regular there. The waiter behind the bar shakes his hand, and we perch at a table outside. Tall, undoubtedly handsome but completely unpretentious, natural and relaxed, eager to cut to the chase, Louis Garrel is and probably always will be escorted by the memories, hopes and traumas of an era he never actually knew. “I just can’t get away from May ’68!”. In 2003 he shot Bernardo Bertolucci’s The
Dreamers in which he, Eva Green and Michael Pitt form an erotic triangle, holed up in a Parisian apartment while the sounds from the maelstrom below float up to their shuttered windows, encouraging them to break free of every taboo. Two years later he played the romantic, milk – white hero of Regular Lovers, his father’s fresco on those days of barricades and anti – establishment slogans, such as the now – legendary “It is forbidden to forbid”, “Beauty is in the streets”, “I don’t want to waste living earning a living” and “Be realistic, ask the impossible” .
“Now I really love wearing a mask, whereas previously it had always seemed impure, bothersome.”
Louis Garrel was at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for Redoutable, the latest film from Michel Hazanavicius
( OSS 117 : Cairo, Nest of Spies, The Artist ), which was entered in the official competition. It’s an adaptation of Anne Wiazemsky’s memoir, Un An Après, in which the actress, the granddaughter of François Mauriac, relates the time of her brief marriage to Jean – Luc Godard. She was twenty, Godard thirty – seven, when, in January 1968, they set up home together in the Latin Quarter. A young girl from a bourgeois family, far less politicised than her husband, she would experience from within the crisis following which, and after an increasingly radicalised inner journey, Godard would refuse to put his name to his films, would eschew the star system and the media world to become part of the redder–than–red Dziga Vertov Group that he and his comrade Jean – Pierre Gorin were forming. Hazanavicius’s film looks back at the period to mock its sometimes skewed ideology, portraying the maker of Breathless as an insufferable bloviator who spends his time haranguing his friends ( and smashing his glasses ) over a revolution which, as far as they can see, shouldn’t deprive them of the comfortable lives this intellectual happy few lead. The least one can say is that Redoutable was given a mixed reception at Cannes, by French critics in particular who dubbed it a rather frivolous pastiche and, more seriously, pointed to the fact the film defends mainstream entertainment over the avant – garde, whilst being slavishly referential to Godard’s visual and stylistic devices of the time. Is this Hazanavicius’s strange attempt to exorcise a figure that looms too large? Louis Garrel admits he initially turned down the role, but was then sent the script: “I really liked it, because I could see how we were drawn into the story in this most intimate way, how the love affair was heading downhill because, all of a sudden, Wiazemsky was seeing the man she loved and admired take a direction she couldn’t grasp, and realising she either had to get onboard or get left behind. There’s this short – circuit between private and political, an interesting moment which, I think, was also a way of coming back to this whole May ’68 thing with wry hindsight, in a way that’s not in the least nostalgic, like a comic book twenty – year – olds today would get.”
Head shaved to resemble Godard’s balding pate, tinted glasses, a lisping Louis Garrel mimics the film –maker, although the film is never staged with any attempt at realism. There is something deliberately unfinished, something that doesn’t quite fit, thus leaving room for irony which the actor likens to that of Mastroianni in 1950s’ Italian comedies. “I’m so convinced by what I think of Godard that, watching the film, I’m not concerned for him. The quarrel between those who think he’s a charlatan and those who hail him as a genius is over. He’s part of art history, whether he likes it or not, he can’t escape the legend of everything he’s invented, challenged, proclaimed, etc. Yes, Michel [ Hazanavicius ] probably did make the film from a given standpoint, namely that of someone who admires Godard but resents the fact that he dropped narration for the abstract or the purely experimental, that he stopped communicating with classic production, with actors and the audience, and plunged deeper and deeper into his own world.” However much he denies it, by agreeing to do Redoutable, by becoming this impertinent, unbearable, fatuous Godard, Louis Garrel further distances himself from the galaxy of smouldering young actors, one of its brightest stars drifting from film to film with the brooding detachment of a man forever associated with the past, his father or Jean–Pierre Léaud, the symbolic godfather who gave him his Tibetan baptism into dandy – esque sanctity. “One day, this guy told me, ‘You, you’re an underground actor.’ [ Laughs. ] For a long time I was what you might call an ‘autobiographical actor’, meaning whatever the character was going through, I acted as though it were happening to me. I don’t mean I was trying to become that character, but rather to seek a form of truth, the same kind of ‘dizziness’ I experienced at 14 when I saw Maurice Pialat’s Le Garçu: you don’t know whether it’s Depardieu the actor laid bare in the film, or whether it’s his portrait of the director, or if it’s the director who is reinventing himself in his actor. There’s this amazing sleight of hand which, I remember, made me believe in life because all of a sudden I was enjoying it so much, and that meant incredible things could happen.
“For a long time, I was what you might call an ‘autobiographical actor’: whatever the character was going through, I acted as though it were happening to me.”
“It all fell into place with Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Lau
rent. As Jacques de Bascher, someone very different from me, I wore this little moustache, and I started to see how in the end wearing a mask was a good thing, whereas previously it had always seemed impure, bothersome, and I wanted to have nothing to do with it. Now I love it, it could even become a kind of goal, the idea of shedding your own skin to get into someone else’s. The ultimate example, to my mind, is Sean Penn in Harvey
Milk by Gus Van Sant. It’s sumptuous. How did he do that? This testosterone – fuelled giant who no longer has the same voice, the same eyes, the same gestures, you’re convinced he’s been moisturising for the past twenty years … And that playfulness. I feel as though before, I was making films for an in – crowd of movie buffs who could share them and imagine we were all in on the same secret. Maïwenn’s film ( My King ), Nicole Garcia’s film ( From the Land of the Moon ) and
Redoutable are all out in the open for everyone to see. There’s less of the floating between life and the work, which is so consuming. It’s more about the artefact, the catharsis you find in theatre when you’re seeking to convey something beyond your own self.”
Listening to Louis Garrel, it’s easy to forget the good–looking heartthrob, an image certain roles have played up to the point of exaggeration, transforming him into a pouting Narcissus. His conversation, like his reading matter, spans an astonishing range of subjects. He goes from chuckling evocations of the quarrels that went on between Guy Debord and Philippe Sollers to the biography of Robespierre he’s reading — he’s playing him in the French Revolution drama that Pierre Schoeller (The Minister) is currently shooting in Paris — then happily chats about Julien Gosselin’s theatre work or the films of Hou Hsiao – hsien. He’s the intellectual celebrity, and on this turf, apart from Isabelle Huppert, it’s hard to imagine who could match his indefatigable curiosity, or his cerebral as well as visceral desire to be part of the game. “Staying an actor isn’t simple,” he repeats. Honestly Louis, we’re not too worried about that. VOGUE HOMMES
Crèpe de Chine and viscose shirt and cotton T–shirt GIORGIO ARMANI
Cotton trench coat and shirt BURBERRY
Wool coat and trousers LOUIS VUITTON T–shirt and belt, actor’s own Stylist’s assistant GIOVANNI DARIO LAUDICINA