Whenever I’ve been to a Claire Denis talk, something mysterious happens: it is absolutely impossible not to pay attention. Her scattered words remind me of laundry hung out to dry on a line. As seen in the military milieu of Beau Travail, each piece of clothing is completely autonomous, with its own gravity, and enfolding its own full-blown meaning. Loosely hanging from the rope of language, her words are almost interchangeable. As though you could move the ‘pieces’ of the puzzle around, changing their place and meaning, and they would still fit. Her idiosyncratic language easily results in expressions that are not very linear, but more emotional, as if her mind speaks with symbols. And there is a similar feeling with her films: studies of human behaviour, of people that have just arrived in a place or are ready to leave, their delicate presence follows a poignant abstraction.
Trying to pin down her views during a Talent Campus on-stage interview, I found it difficult to be concrete. Her quotes are by far stronger than a tailored piece.
On being an assistant director: “I really enjoyed it because I like being lazy; to float; to let it go.”
On future: “I always avoid looking towards the future. I am happy to be where I am.”
On career: “Everything I did in my life was by chance.”
On working with Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders: “I felt happy to be with them. They are people who are funny to work with, free in their minds.”
On her debut film, Chocolat: “The script for me was like a small book for children; like images on postcards.”
On her collaboration with her writer, Jean Pol Fargeau: “I went to Marseille for a weekend to meet up with J.P. Fargeau and I ended up staying for a year.”
On working with her cinematographer, Agnès Godard: “She is a companion. She has no fear to try, which is the most important thing in filmmaking." (For The Intruder, Denis and Godard decided to rent and use only two lenses!) "We are both small and shy; people thought we would not make it, and that I would need someone stronger next to me.”
On casting: “Casting is not reasonable.” “People chose themselves in a crowd…” “It is boring if you look for someone perfect who will fit exactly to what’s in your mind. It is better to try to find a person that you connect and you are attracted to. Then you can work out the character together.”
On her actors: “I chose actors that I am attracted to. There is no point of seeing someone you do not connect with every day.”
On Béatrice Dalle: “When I proposed to her the role for The Intruder, I knew she would probably be put off if I’d describe to her the actual storyline. So I just told her she was going to play the queen of the north hemisphere. She agreed.”
On Grégoire Colin: “He was always trying to tell me negative things about himself, so I would not want to work with him. I loved it!” “We are playing like cat and mouse, and I really enjoy that.”
On the reason of making films: “Sometimes making a film is for one scene, not for the whole story.”
I cannot agree more with this last quote.