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“My films reflect where I am”

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Robert Guédiguian • Director

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- VENICE 2017: Robert Guédiguian comes back to the Venice Film Festival with The House by the Sea, but not on his own; he tells Cineuropa why he keeps working with the same people

Robert Guédiguian  • Director
(© La Biennale di Venezia - foto ASAC)

In The House by the Sea [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Robert Guédiguian
film profile
]
, presented in the Venice Film Festival’s main competition, French director Robert Guédiguian (known for The Snows of Kilimanjaro [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Robert Guédiguian
interview: Robert Guédiguian
film profile
]
 and The Town Is Quiet) once again surrounds himself with regulars Gérard Meylan and Jean-Pierre Darroussin, and his wife, Ariane Ascaride. Together, they look back in time – all the while listening to Bob Dylan

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Cineuropa: Why do you like working with people you already know so well?
Robert Guédiguian:
 It’s more than just pleasure: it’s my life, my philosophy and my way of doing things. It might not work for other people, but it works for me, because I have always liked being surrounded by other people. I guess my films reflect where I am in life, and we are all the same age, so they speak with my voice and I speak through them. We share the same values, the same vision and political views. It’s our 21st film together, and we are already working on another project. With them, I always feel free to invent new stories. 

Were they involved in the script?
The division of tasks is still very strict. They are the actors, and I am the screenwriter, the director and the producer. But it’s a bit like osmosis – you can’t help being influenced. We see each other all the time; we go on holidays together. Our bond is so strong that it would be hard not to have them at the back of my mind. It actually happened to me once that I decided to make a film with a completely new cast. In The Last Mitterrand, I worked with Michel Bouquet, who is a wonderful French actor. It went very well, the film got good reviews, and it was shown at Berlin. But nobody wants to talk about it! It’s almost as if it was made by someone else – someone who just happens to share my name. I guess I did it just to prove to myself that I could.

In The House by the Sea, their participation feels even more special. After all, it’s a film about the past.
I wanted to think about where I am nowadays, ponder how we were and how we have changed. That’s why I decided to use this self-reference in the film – the footage from 1986’s Ki Lo Sa? It’s quite funny because back then, I actually pirated the Bob Dylan song you can hear in the background [laughs]. So I’ve finally paid for it now, almost 30 years later.It’s touching for me to go back and see that footage again. But there is also something almost diabolical about it because unlike photos, film always gives you this impression of being alive. It’s a great way of connecting your past and your present. 

Would you say that the film answers some of your own questions?
I don’t think it has anything to do specifically with my life. Also because when you decide to say something about the passing of time, you inevitably start looking for mentors, but not only in cinema, because Chekhov was always on my mind, especially The Cherry Orchard, or Ozu with his Tokyo Story. All of these masters spent their lives trying to deal with this particular theme. But when it comes to cinema, there is nothing more general or more universal than time. I needed to flesh out this idea, to focus on little details like a sentence here and there, or the way my characters dress. Otherwise, I would just be boring the viewers with my musings. They had to share the emotions of the characters. Their presence had to be felt – they had to be there in all their physicality.

You mentioned The Cherry Orchard. Just like in Chekhov’s play, The House by the Sea is also a story about a certain place.
I wanted to shoot the film in one specific place. Méjean is very small, but open to the world. In a way, it feels like the whole world is surrounding it. Although it’s close to Marseille, the city that I used to know and that I portrayed in my first film has changed completely. It has disappeared. Now it’s trying to change and restructure itself, so I am always looking for places that remind me of what it used to be like when I grew up: reminders of that landscape from my childhood. That’s what I am searching for right now, so I am looking back in time after all. In a way, we all are.

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