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Jean-Paul Civeyrac • Director

"I like films where heroism is questioned"


- Jean-Paul Civeyrac tells us about his new film, the superb and romantic A Paris Education, very popular at the Berlin Film Festival and out today in French cinemas

Jean-Paul Civeyrac • Director
(© Carole Bethuel)

We met up with Jean-Paul Civeyrac in Paris to discuss A Paris Education [+see also:
film review
interview: Jean-Paul Civeyrac
film profile
, a charming film discovered at the Berlinale Panorama and due to be released in French cinemas on 18 April by ARP Sélection.

Cineuropa: Did I Am Twenty, a 1962 film by the Russian director Marlen Khoutsiev, inspire you to create A Paris Education?
Jean-Paul Civeyrac: I Am Twenty was recommended to me by a student, I watched it on YouTube and a month later I started writing the script. It must have been in me for a very long time for the film to come out like that – I just didn't know it. I Am Twenty is about three friends and this film came to me straight away, with the idea of ​​writing a story primarily about friendship. Then it developed into a story about film students, which allowed me to talk about things that were a part of my own learning experience, and also what I perceive today in the film students that I regularly encounter, given that I’ve been teaching for more than 20 years now.

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What about the use of time in this story, which spans a year?
This film is set during the first year of higher education and is about the main character’s confrontation with his own ideals, the reality of his films, who he really is. What changed from the point of conception to realisation was that it became a sort of chronicle. I noticed when filming, and in particular when editing, that it was more like a novel, that there were links of cause and effect, which resulted in the film almost changing genre.

The film is also about a boy from the countryside discovering Paris.
It's as if there’s a centre that you come from without knowing that you belong to it. And cinema also acts as the centre of life. You have to find your place when you come from the countryside. It's a classic novel about learning and that's what I experienced myself, so it was very easy for me to imagine it all. I came from a working-class family with no connection to the film industry and arrived in Paris, which I had only visited twice and where I only knew one person. You can't imagine the shock, how different everything was: the hubbub, the metro. La Fémis was like a protective cocoon for me and I noticed that a lot of other people had come from the countryside. We ended being cinephiles, but also with that: we were somewhere else.

A Paris Education also focuses on the romantic education of a young man who is in doubt.
It's a constant in my films: my characters have deep faults. I like it when they’re passionate, but with certain things that undermine them: they doubt things. The film is built on opposites, contradictions and different characters and it’s really this game of opposites that eventually builds a nuanced universe where there are no heroes. I can’t do success story films because I don’t believe in them. I like films where heroism is questioned, in which characters are more ungrateful, more difficult to love, and are supported from within, rather than looked down on. In life, we meet a lot of people like that, we’re also a bit like that ourselves – we’re not necessarily friendly all the time.

Why did you set the plot in the present day but choose to shoot the film in black and white?
If I had set the film in the 1980s, it would have been a kind of historical reconstruction and I think it would have made the film even more particular, a little nostalgic. In contrast, the decision to use black and white came later on. It was my producer who suggested it to me. I hesitated a little because I thought that a film that focused on the idea of cinema itself, as well as being in black and white, might be taken as a tribute to origins of cinema and I really didn’t want that. But I did think that maybe it might reinforce the fictional side of the film, the novel aspect. It added charm and muddled the temporality of the present day, where the layers of past could return, and where the past still lingers. Also, the use of black and white is always more beautiful and richer when you have hardly any money, which was the case with this film.

(Translated from French)

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