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An interview with Stéphane Brizé
Where did you get the idea for this film?
It all started with the simple desire to observe this man, who is absolutely incapable of expressing or receiving the slightest emotion, at a moment in his life when he is terribly vulnerable.
Having reached 50, Jean-Claude senses that he is in the last-chance saloon in terms of building a meaningful relationship. Like some of the other characters in the film, he has a choice to make, which will decide his whole future. It is a choice that will lead to happiness or bitterness and regrets.
By confronting the characters with this dilemma, I observe the unseen reasons that lead them to act in one way, or another, and reveal the paradox of decisions that sometimes contradict one’s deepest desires.
They are characters at various ages in life, who have never learned to love or be loved… that often goes together. That’s the crux of the film and explains the title, which is a kind of declaration of intent whose meaning is the opposite of what it says. As a result of all their deficiencies and traumas, the characters mess up their relationships, suffer, are weighed down by regret at the end of their lives, or would like to say what they feel deep down but can’t or don’t know how to. And yet, often, it doesn’t take very much to unlock all that – a word, a gesture, a little bit of courage. Except that when you never learned to do it, it can feel like climbing Everest.
The questions my characters ask themselves, their desires, urges, fantasies, pain and mental blocks are universal and are rooted in a reality and a daily existence that we could call “ordinary”. But I’m always surprised and delighted to note that, by observing daily life, it is not just the cruelty and brutality of certain situations that emerges, but humour and poetry as well. A bit like in a song by Alain Souchon or Benabar.
Could you describe the main characters in greater detail?
Jean-Claude is a man in his early 50s, very alone, very stiff, weary, with a difficult job that leaves him no room for even the tiniest display of affection. The relationship he has with his son is polite but distant and that with his father is simply painful. But, when we meet Jean-Claude for the first time, his shell is beginning to crack imperceptibly. At some point or another in his dreary day, Jean-Claude always opens his office window and watches and listens to the Tango lessons in the dance school opposite. If it had been a few years previously, Jean-Claude probably wouldn’t have let the music get to him but he’s at a vulnerable stage in his life when anything can happen. Jean-Claude lowers his guard and he finds himself confronted with feelings and emotions that he has never had to deal with. That’s when comedy can erupt onto the screen because I put my character in a situation for which he is absolutely not cut out.
Françoise is a woman who, in my eyes, always finds it easier to help others than help herself. It’s a character trait illustrated by her job as a careers adviser in a local school and by her relationship with her fiancé, whom she spends her whole time reassuring. Her personal desires always take a back seat and that’s what characterizes her.
At the same time, and this is what makes Françoise complex and worthy of our interest, outwardly, she appears to know exactly where she’s headed. But, between what she does and what she feels deep down, there are years of conditioning. She finds herself caught between what’s sensible – her upcoming wedding, making her mother happy, her sister’s words of wisdom – and the sudden, intense emotion she feels when she meets Jean-Claude.
Objectively, it would be easier for Jean-Claude and Françoise to mess up but that idea annoyed me. Without being stupidly optimistic, I wanted to give my characters the chance of breaking free of shackles that had been holding them back for too long.
It’s always very moving to see that even at an advanced age, we are always our parents’ children. It’s pretty much stating the obvious but if your relationship with them doesn’t move forward over the years, the pain remains and can even get worse. At the age of 50, in the dark, respectable suit of an enforcer of the courts’ decisions, Jean-Claude is still weighed down by terrible childhood memories and that is what makes him such an endearing character.
How did the actors prepare for the tango sequences in the film?
When we started prepping the film, neither Patrick nor Anne could perform a single tango step. In that case, there’s no magic wand, you just have to take lessons. As you can imagine, tango is not something you pick up in three easy lessons. It’s very complicated.
So, a few months before we were due to shoot, Patrick and Anne went for private lessons several days a week. I wanted them to learn and feel comfortable with a few basic steps so that their dance scenes together would generate emotion. It’s the kind of thing that’s easier said than done. Claudia Rosenblatt, their dance teacher, made sure that they would bring a certain physicality and spontaneity to the dance scenes, and she soon confirmed something I felt quite intuitively: beyond any technical considerations, something definitely happened whenever Patrick and Anne were in each other’s arms. That was the best way to prepare for those scenes because what I wanted to see on screen was the emotion, a sense of being on the edge of the precipice, not necessarily a perfect tango.
What was your approach to the original music?
The first question is: why the tango? I wanted the character of Jean-Claude to be confronted with something that unsettles him, moves him, shakes his foundations without him realizing why. I soon ruled out macramé and tabletennis, and thought that he should go and take tango lessons. It was a kind of intuition. I’d always thought it was the dance that was best suited to Jean-Claude. It’s very sensual and, at the same time, to my mind at least, not too scary for someone who’s not totally tuned into his body and emotions. Tango also evokes a certain melancholy that resonates well with the character and is just right for my vision of the world.
Once I’d made that decision, I had to plunge into a world I knew absolutely nothing about. First, I had to find out what music they play in tango lessons. So listened to records for hours on end, under the guidance of a few people who are tango connoisseurs. It had to be a tango style I liked that also translated a particular emotion for each of the dance scenes. Gradually, one by one, I found each piece. Several are performed by Carlos Di Sarli and one by Horacio Salgan.
Next, I had to find a composer for the original score. In my mind, it had to be tango and, as often happens, chance took a hand. A long time before the shoot, I met Eduardo Makaroff and Christoph H. Müller, two of the three founders of the Gotan Project. They read the script, liked it and we met to talk about it. We soon agreed that the music for the film shouldn’t be inspired by their personal creations – remixes of tangos with electronic beats like they did so wonderfully on their album. What I liked about them was their sense of melody and so I asked them to keep it simple – a recognizable theme that recurs at various moments in the film with different arrangements – efficient and good, which is probably the biggest ask of all.
Unlike what usually happens, the music was composed before we began shooting because we needed at least one piece for the scenes when Patrick and Anne dance together. We made the most of our studio time to record the rest of the film’s score. What I like about that approach is that nobody felt locked into what was taking place on screen. It was all about getting across an emotion, adding another layer to the story. For me, the result is simply magical, uncomplicated and very moving.
Would you agree that making your second film is often harder than the first?
It’s almost become one of the laws of the business that your second film is more complicated than the first. Not necessarily in terms of finance, more from an artistic point of view. I wasn’t an exception to the rule and I had long periods of doubts before I got down to writing the film. The problem wasn’t writing a movie, it was writing a story I really wanted to tell. In the end, despite all the constraints inherent to any project, I have made the film I wanted to make. Now, unlike after my first film when I wasn’t sure what to do next, I have no shortage of ideas. I just have to put my finger on the one I want to spend two years of my life with.