Your first time at Cannes was in 1992 with The Sentinel, in Competition. What are your memories of that time?
My memories are wonderful and brutal at the same time. I learned that at the initial press screening the previous evening, the critics had begun hurling insults at each other as soon as the credits began to roll. The next day, at the press conference, a journalist stood up to asked a first question that was extremely aggressive. He said that the film was a scandal. Of course, my first thought was to protect the actors around me. And then, another journalist got to his feet and said "What you're saying is scandalous. The film is admirable!" and people began shouting at each other right there in the room. I was just an onlooker, and said to myself, "Shit, this is heady stuff!"
You were already a member of the Jury for Cinéfondation in 1988. How do you see your role this year?
I like what George Miller said when he described us as students of the cinema. What strikes me is the journey that films make within me. I leave a film with a firm opinion and two days later – because you see so many – it begins to change, to become more refined. Then you learn things from other members of the Jury. The act of sharing helps you learn and that's the best state in the world to be in.
"We are all buoyed up by Donald Sutherland who is astonishing. We are blown away by his energy and his meticulousness. He raises the bar for all of us. He often finishes with a little moral story or a joke. It turns it all into a real challenge. It makes you want to keep up with him."
What sort of films move you?
Films where you're not the same after watching it as you were before. Films that teach you something, that remain with you throughout your life, which mean that you're no longer the same spectator.
Which films have changed you?
There are so many. I'll give you an example of one that terrified me, which I saw as a very young boy: Ordet by Carl Theodor Dreyer. I couldn't understand what I was watching at all. When the miracle happened, I was very afraid. I was brought up a Catholic and saw this film with all these Protestants and that guy who thinks he's Jesus, who manages to bring the child back to life. I wasn't the same afterwards – my view of life had changed.
And your own films. Have they helped you settle scores with your own country (The Sentinel), your family (La Vie des morts), and with your girlfriends (My Sex Life ... or How I Got into an Argument)?
You struggle with your demons. At the same time, I ask my actors to dive headfirst into cold water and I have to be able to do the same. When actors give me their huge talent, it's great, but it's not enough. "I ask my actors to give me something personal, a vibrating musical note that borders on the indecent. You no longer know where the limit between the actor and the character lies.”
"I ask my actors to give me something personal, a vibrating musical note that borders on the indecent. You no longer know where the limit between the actor and the character lies"
What’s your role in the wider film family? You say that you feel something of an outsider.
No doubt I'm a part of it, probably more than I admit. I was touched, for example, when the film world gave me a César for My Golden Days. I was moved. I realised that deep down, I was part of it all in a subtle way. Perhaps it’s because I just can't get over the luck of being able to make films. Between the ages of 7 and 17 I was haunted by the fear of not being able to work in film. I knew nobody in showbiz in Paris. I mourned that for ten years of my life. I was as miserable as anything. I still can't get over that.
Despite the various recognitions you've been given throughout your long career?
No, I'm still that surprised little provincial kid who says "God, they're letting you make a film!" And it's the same with the new one I'm now working on. I ask myself "Is it because of my family, because I'm from Roubaix?" And that still amazes me, perhaps because I'm quite a shy type.