Arnaud Desplechin on 'A Christmas Tale’
Widely regarded as one of France’s leading contemporary filmmakers, writer-director Arnaud Desplechin has become known for expansive character dramas such as his 1996 breakthrough ‘Ma Vie Sexuelle’ and ‘Kings
Was the traditionally acrimonious ‘family Christmas’ a jumping-off point for the story?‘Sort of. I tend to write by shaping things around a genre, and in this case it was the notion of “the Thanksgiving movie”. So that became Europeanised to Christmas, where the family gets together under obligation, nothing works between them any more, and you can see the fights building up.’
The fact that the Deneuve character is disarmingly open about not loving her son seems to have caused a bit of a stir – was that a surprise to you?‘Well, in my personal life I’m not surprised by the notion of a mother not liking her kid. I remember the first time I read Freud, I was 25 or 30, and I was expecting it to be about the Oedipus complex. But what I actually discovered confirmed my own common experience, that you also had little boys who loved their fathers and little girls who loved their mothers. In the film, it seems to me that the father, Jean-Paul Roussillon’s character, is the most motherly, while Catherine Deneuve, the mother, is actually the most fatherly.’
Presumably, the richness and believability you bring to your characters starts with the writing?‘For each scene that’s used in the finished film I’ll write another five or six scenes which don’t make it but which help me learn everything I can about a particular character. I never rehearse scenes with the whole ensemble, because I need to preserve some surprise. Instead I work with the cast individually on their characters.’
How do you ensure that the broad selection of camera devices you use never obscures the emotional conflicts in the drama?‘Each time it’s a tool to reach the emotion. For instance, near the opening, where Catherine Deneuve has just had some bad news, I use the iris shot, which is a technique from the days of silent cinema, because I needed to focus only on how she’s trying to hide her feelings from her husband. The device enabled me to catch that moment precisely, so it’s a solution, it’s never a trick.’
With your use of literary quotations, how aware are you of the danger of excluding the less well read?‘There’s a phrase I like which talks about “bringing the words home”, just to use them in a very simple way. Take the scene where the father is trying to comfort his daughter: he takes a book off the shelf and reads the passage which describes how people in search of knowledge are like bees in search of honey. If a single viewer knows that’s from Nietzsche, fine, but what I’m more interested in is the 14-year-old watching the film on TV one night, feeling pretty low, and those words maybe being some sort of comfort – it doesn’t matter where they’re from. If you can touch one single person, then as a filmmaker you’re doing well.’Desplechin and Deneuve will attend a preview of ‘A Christmas Tale’ at the Ciné Lumière on Jan 9, before the film opens at selected screens on Jan 16.
Author: Trevor Johnston
Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.
The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards
Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow
Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.
The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.
Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'
'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.
Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.
The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'
The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.
Read our interview with Michael Haneke
The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.
Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'
Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.
Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us
Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.
Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set
The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.
Read our interview with Tim burton
Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.
Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'
Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.
Read 'Film guilty pleasures'
What will Disney do to 'Star Wars'?
Read about the new 'Star Wars' trilogy
Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.
Read 'When teen stars turn serious'
From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.
Read '50 years of James Bond'
The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.
Read the interview
Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.
Read 'Hilarious horror films'
The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.
Read the interview
We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.
Read about this Autumn's best horror movies
Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.
Read 'On the set of Skyfall'
Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?
The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.
'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’