Louis Garrel’s Pas de Deux


Often playing the part of the brooding romantic, Louis Garrel has made his mark as the darkly handsome pin-up of French cinema. The son of bohemian artists (actress Brigitte Sy and filmmaker Philippe Garrel), the Paris-based actor, who made his debut as a child in his father’s film Emergency Kisses [1989] and jumpstarted his career in Bernardo Bertolucci‘s erotic May ’68 drama, The Dreamers [2003], follows up a long line of plum roles with a new pursuit—directing.

His feature debut, Two Friends, which had its U.S. premiere at Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series last week, riffs on the classic two-guys-and-a-girl film in the manner of François Truffaut’s three-hander Jules and Jim [1962]. Co-written with writer-director Christophe Honoré, the script follows Clement (Vincent Macaigne), a movie extra, as he falls in love with Mona (Golshifteh Farahani), a prisoner on partial release working at a sandwich stand in the Gare de L’Est train station. When she breaks it off and breaks his heart, Clement’s friend Abel (Garrel) swoops in to make things right between them, and, inevitably, starts his own romance with Mona.

Interview caught up with the affable Garrel earlier this week in New York to discuss his “manifesto of immaturity,” putting Paris onscreen, and bringing back the melodrama.

COLLEEN KELSEY: You’ve done short films before, but why was it the time to transition to a feature?

LOUIS GARREL: I think it has a lot more to do with impulses. Here, I had the impulse to describe Vincent Macaigne, who’s the actor, as well as Golshifteh Farahani, who’s the actress. Golshifteh, for instance, was a star in Iran and has now been in France for five years, basically in artistic exile. She had been in a Ridley Scott film and gone to a festival and refused to wear the veil. Iran basically said to her, “You’re not welcome.” All the films that she made outside of Iran, in my opinion, whether they were French films, or I think she was in a Lebanese film, she was always asked to bear witness and represent the condition of women in the Muslim world. So, when we started the shoot of this film I told her, “Your country in this film is cinema, and you are bringing all the admiration you have for Marlene Dietrich, for Romy Schneider, for Sharon Stone, all of this you’re bringing it to this film.” In the film by Asghar Farhadi, About Elly [2009], she had such power, such strength, and I wanted her to bring that to the story of a young woman living in France.

So, to get back to your question, “Why did you make this film?” my impulses often are to film people that I care about, that I love. Because I really care about these two people I wanted the film to be long rather than short. I come from a cinema family. My father is a director, my grandfather was an actor, and in a way, it was so expected that I make a film about a ménage à trois. I told myself, “You know what? I’m gonna go where I’m expected. I’m gonna do exactly what you what think I’m gonna do. I’m gonna do a ménage à trois movie.”

KELSEY: Is this film about cinema for you? Two guys and girl is almost its own romantic genre.

GARREL: It’s kind of like if you’re singing the chorus of a very popular song except it’s a cinema chorus. Even in France people said this is a very French film, but I don’t think that’s true because the theme of the ménage à trois is a cinematic, universal theme. Just for fun, I tried to make a list of films where there’s two men and one woman and I realized there’s films like this everywhere. One could even say the original thing of the ménage à trois film is Jules et Jim, but, in fact, the real matrix for that is Lubitsch’s Design for Living [1933]. That’s the real one. So, even Jules et Jim is taken from something else. I’m sure you can even find ménage à trois in medieval tales.

KELSEY: Well, aside from the ménage à trois, it’s really about these two guys’ relationship with each other, their bromance, if you will. They’re not who you would think of as typical heroes…they live on the margins. How did you want to characterize them?

GARREL: So, there are two things. First of all, I felt like making a kind of manifesto of immaturity. In other words, the pleasure of being immature. [laughs] A part of it is, at the moment, there’s a fashion, or maybe you could call it a necessity, in French cinema to make social films, which is to say films in which the characters are defined by their social context. Since I knew I was going to make a film that was purely about emotions, and I knew that I ran the risk of being accused of amnesia relating to the social film, to prevent this I decided it would be good to have characters who were on the margins of society. These are characters for whom love is really the only way to know that they’re alive.

In a sense, what I did was de-contextualize them on purpose because I knew that the principle objective of my film was to be a sentimental or an emotional study. What I did was kind of like subterfuge. The kind of gamble of the film was that I wanted to make a dramatic comedy with this clown duo, where they reinforce each other in their friendship despite the fact that they constantly tell each other, “I wish you weren’t like that” or “I wish you wouldn’t do that.” But, in fact, they can’t function without each other.

KELSEY: When did Christophe come on board as a co-writer?

GARREL: At first I had written a treatment of the film that was a lot more dramatic and Christophe told me, “Try to put in some comedic elements.” Christophe really pushed me to do that. As an actor I’ve played a lot of gloomy, romantic leads and even though I might not want to recognize it, I actually really have a sense of humor. Christophe pushed me to play with that and to put that in the film.

KELSEY: Well, the balance between the comedy and the somewhat tragic storylines is very precise.

GARREL: Since there’s no real suspense in the narrative of the story, I knew that I had to constantly alternate between dramatic and comedic scenes so that the viewer be like, “Oh, what’s the next scene gonna be like?” I knew that was the thing that would maintain people’s attention. So, I don’t know if I succeeded in doing this, but what I wanted to do was find something that was in 80’s films, for instance, by André Téchiné or Leos Carax, and what I liked very much about those films is that love was at the center of the those films. Love was kind of like a burning, or a race that gave movement to the whole film. These love-melodramas have become a little bit of unfashionable now and I wanted to get back to that. I think that what people abroad want from French film, inside French film becomes our worst fear, “Oh, another film about love!” But paradoxically, that’s what people outside France really want from French cinema.

Also because I’m Parisian, I wanted to show a Paris that I don’t see at the movies, so I spent a lot of time looking for places that have never been filmed, for streets that have never been filmed because there’s a thing about Paris, where it’s kind of like a charming music box, this luminous cocoon, like those things that have fake snow in them that you turn upside down, do you know what I’m talking about?

KELSEY: Snow globes?

GARREL: I wanted to find that aspect of the movie. Paris, though it’s a very famous city, it’s very small, so people always tell themselves, “We’re gonna love each other in Paris.” [laughs] It’s very weird. It’s like people always go to Paris for their honeymoon. It’s like they think because the distances are closer, it’s much warmer. “We’re gonna love each other.” But I kind of like that idea, you know. It’s even like Woody Allen, the way he talks about Paris, bottle of wine, etcetera, etcetera. There’s something about Paris, people just don’t have anything else do there but love each other. That’s kind of the world’s imagination of Paris in cinema. Of course, Paris isn’t like that, but when you make a film about Paris, you also have to integrate and take into account this international imaginary vision.

KELSEY: What was your approach to directing yourself in the film?

GARREL: First, of course, I was very scared, but it eventually wound up flipping to my advantage. Since I was in the scenes, since I was acting, there were times where it was very cold and people were freezing. The fact that I was there, I could kind of give the energy and lead them and motivate them. But, this is the point where I realize that Charlie Chaplin was a genius. For him to have such mastery of his narrative, his direction, and his acting…He was certainly one of the greatest actors of all time. When you realize that, that’s when you realize how much of genius he was. I knew it before, but I no longer doubt it. [laughs]

KELSEY: So, are you working on another film that you’re planning to direct?

GARREL: I’m trying, but it’s very hard work for me because I’m not a writer. At the end of the day you do have to write a short novel beforehand, called a script, before you can make a movie. So, I’m trying.