Serge Bozon • Director of Don Juan
“This film lent itself to the idea of a Don Juan who would not be this figure of swaggering manhood, getting everything he wants”
- CANNES 2022: After presenting his new musical, the French filmmaker explains why he likes to venture into places that we wouldn’t expect of him
Presented within the Cannes Prèmiere section of the 75th Cannes Film Festival, Don Juan [+see also:
interview: Serge Bozon
film profile] is the fourth feature by Serge Bozon. In this interview, the filmmaker breaks the movie down for us.
Cineuropa: Your films always give the impression that you like to venture into places that we wouldn’t expect of you. Why tackle Don Juan this time, and why specifically an inverted kind of Don Juan?
Serge Bozon: For the first time, this was almost a commission. My producer, David Thion, had noticed that La La Land and A Star Is Born worked well and that musicals were perhaps not such a suicidal idea now as they used to be. Because he knew that I liked music, an idea popped into our heads: that of trying a musical film again, much like France [+see also:
film profile] and my medium-length film Mods were. He just asked me to use something that everyone was familiar with as a starting point – something that could be pitched in three words. I thought Don Juan could be an interesting proposition because its subject matter of seduction and addiction to women was very contemporary in relation to what was happening around that time: the Weinstein case and #MeToo, which my co-screenwriter Axelle Ropert had got involved in. It lent itself well to the idea of a Don Juan who would not be this figure of swaggering manhood, getting everything he wants, but on the contrary, he would be defenceless, rather than cynical; honest, rather than manipulative; and above all, abandoned, rather than defiant. We could almost have made a sad film out of it, and I looked into this idea that could trigger a particular emotion. Because in cinema, you usually see women suffering from unhappiness in love, or being obsessed with a love that got away. It’s rare for a man to be given this role.
Nor is it a musical in the generally accepted sense. You have tackled it in an intimate and fairly quirky way.
The film is extremely simple: you could write the plot on a postage stamp. The main theme touches on the question of feelings. And yet feelings, when they are sung out loud instead of being uttered, allows you to unfurl them in a more intimate, more powerful and more poetic way. And with a hero that is so stuck in a rut, his grievances, when sung, could perhaps also have the power to release what had been bottled up before. In the film, there’s this game all the time, like a dialectic between one side of the narrative that’s very dense and minimalistic, and another, looser side of the emotion that comes from the singing. And it’s the same for the dancing, which is a far cry from Hollywood-style moves: rather, they’re movements that are in the register of a romantic sketch or a painful caress. Because the film incorporates the idea of a second chance at love, I found it moving to film the things that could be quite unsettling for a man and a woman who already know each other.
Why did you opt for a mise en abyme of the leads’ profession as actors?
It was the simple idea that the two main characters would really be playing Don Juan versus Elvira. He, a kind of Don Juan in real life, must confront Molière’s “real” Don Juan, and that is echoed throughout the film. They are not outlandish scenes that make your head spin, like in Pirandello’s or Ruiz’s works, where you no longer know where the stage ends and where real life begins, and nor is it in the tradition of films about the theatre, like Renoir or Rivette used to make. In my mind, it’s more in the tradition of German Romanticism, like in Prinzessin Brambilla by Hoffmann, where the hero, who is an actor and who has doubts about his identity, is at the carnival in Venice.
Could you tell us something about your lead actors, Tahar Rahim and Virginie Efira?
On paper, with the character of Don Juan, we risked creating a hero who was a bit too gloomy, plumbing the depths of sadness. Tahar Rahim brought a certain zeal, something frenzied and almost naive to it, while remaining a very ambiguous, and even dangerous, character. Besides, I find that we’ve never seen him like this before. As for Virginie Efira, I found it amusing to make her play several roles because she’s an actress who doesn’t change her image very often, and at the same time give her a leading role where she is more understated in acting terms than she’s used to. It’s all a play on doubts, reflections and hesitations.
(Translated from French)
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