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Arnaud Desplechin • Director

Crossing boundaries


- Arnaud Desplechin explains to the international press why he set off on the adventure of Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian)

Arnaud Desplechin • Director

Surrounded by his actors Benicio del Toro, Mathieu Amalric, Gina McKee and Misty Upham, and his co-screenwriter Kent Jones, French director Arnaud Desplechin explained to the international press why he set off on the adventure of Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) [+see also:
film review
interview: Arnaud Desplechin
film profile
, filmed in the United States, in English, and unveiled in competition at the 66th Cannes Film Festival.

How did Georges Devereux’s book enter your life as a filmmaker?
Arnaud Desplechin: I had already used short passages in Kings and Queen [+see also:
film profile
. The book has followed me for a while now. Why? Because of the title. In a bookstore, when I saw the title, Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian, I knew it was made for me. I opened it in the middle and stumbled upon dialogues, like a play, between a patient and his analyst. It wasn't so much the theoretical part that fascinated me but rather this dialogue between the two men. I think this has to be the only psychoanalysis for which we have every session on record. We have a man, Jimmy, and we delve into his soul. It is like reading a novel. We are presented with the first “Hello” exhanged between two men who do not know each other, until the last “Goodbye”, and the men won’t see each other again. I thought that the dramatic strength of this dialogue was a good subject for a film.

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Does the “foreign” origin of the two main characters make the story even more interesting?
It lies at the very heart of the movie. One is from Montana, the other from France, and they find each other in the middle of nowhere, in Topeka, so they have no choice but to become friends. Neither one of them is really American, one because is Indian, the other European. In the film, they learn how to live in the United States, and at the end, they begin to become American. But what really counts is that Devereux is a psychoanalyst who worked with the “native” community. Freud sometimes said that psychoanalysis should perhaps be reserved, alas, for the middle-class. For adventurers like Devereux to cross that barrier and say it should be available to everyone really moves me, because he looks at patients from an Indian reserve with just as much respect, dignity and acuity than if they came from Vienna in the 19th century. I hope it is my way of looking at my Indian characters, as if they were straight out of books by Thomas Hardy. During the editing, as I watched Benicio, I thought about Jude the Obscure. I wanted to give characters who come from humble backgrounds the same nobility as Thomas Hardy’s characters. 

This is your first American movie, in English. What did you think of the experience?
I always think about Renoir’s saying: “Nothing resembles a shoemaker from India more than a shoemaker from Paris”. Of course, there are small specificities, especially a very American way of dealing with actors. But these are very minor differences. It is mainly about putting together a film. So I tried to stay away from the exoticism trap. I wanted to adapt this book and it could only be filmed in the United States. We worked under relatively difficult conditions, with a short filming timeframe, and a reduced budget. But it was very easy for me to explain the French habit of filming on location rather than in studios, and to be as respectful as possible, in the spirit of the New Wave, of what really happened.

You quote John Ford and François Truffaut in the film. And your staging is also much more classical than it is usually is. Why?
John Ford and François Truffaut are filmmakers I think about from dawn to dusk. I saw The Grapes of Wrath again last week and it never ceases to impress. The simpler staging is firstly linked to the practical conditions of the film’s production. So I simplified and mostly focused on the intrigue. What was my task? To have equal empathy towards the psychoanalyst and the analysis. By simplifying the production, I could focus on the two men and what could be born of conflicts or friendship between them.  

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