Parallel History of French Cinema: Serge Bozon and Pascale Bodet's "Beaubourg, la dernière major!"

Parallel History of French Cinema: Serge Bozon and Pascale Bodet's "Beaubourg, la dernière major!"
Dmitry Martov

By Dmitry Martov and Larysa Smirnova


The new film by Serge Bozon, L'Imprésario, is scheduled to have its world premiere this evening at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The location is quite appropriate since the film was shot there — within the walls of Beaubourg, just a few months ago, in November of 2010. Before leaping to analogies with a handful of other recent and not-so-recent movies taking place in museums and even sponsored by them (Aleksandr Sokurov's Russian Ark, Olivier Assayas's L'heure d'été and Tsai Ming-liang's Visage), there are a few aspects of L'Imprésario to consider. Rather than a lavish extravaganza, the film is short (45 minutes), shot on video with next to no budget, in about a week, in a "primitive mode of representation" (to borrow Noël Burch's phrase describing the films made before — roughly — 1908, which were characterized by the "autarchy of the tableau…, horizontal and frontal camera placement, maintenance of long shot and 'centrifugality'"). As with some of the "primitive" films, L'Imprésario features two main actors framed tableau-style against a plywood wall (the action takes place in the crudely assembled dressing room). In a way, it is a true "underground" movie, since it was shot literally under the ground, on the "minus one" level of Beaubourg. The idle gawkers and stray museum attendees were free to look in on the proceedings of daily shooting, so crowd noise made a significant contribution to the roughness of L'Imprésario's audio track. (According to Bozon, stylistically, L'Imprésario is much closer to his debut film, the rarely seen L'amitié (1998), than to his most recent and most acclaimed war musical, La France (2007), the winner of the prestigious Prix Jean Vigo). What's more, despite the fact that it was shot in a museum, L'Imprésario is not really a direct result of a cultural institution's opening its door — and its wallet — for the young filmmaker. Rather, it is a peculiar by-product of an even more peculiar event, Beaubourg: la dernière major!, which Serge Bozon co-curated with Pascale Bodet at the Centre Pompidou between November 4 and 14, 2010.

A 10-day program dedicated to the century of French cinema (1910-2010), Beaubourg: la dernière major! approached the subject of film history from a somewhat unconventional perspective. Instead of presenting it as a succession of directors and their films (the auteurist approach) or a sequence of technical breakthroughs, Bozon and Bodet reviewed and interpreted 100 years of French cinema "through the magnifying glass of craftsmanship." This means that each of the participants focused on a particular "simple" craft of filmmaking, such as directing, screenwriting, editing, choosing a film stock, performing color-correction, recording the sound, etc. The final result, however, was not simple at all. Rather, Beaubourg: la dernière major! turned out to be a very dense and multi-faceted program featuring 30 events and 60 invited guests: film directors, actors, producers, critics, musicians, singers and a choreographer. (There is no doubt that Bozon's background in philosophy and mathematics came in handy as he was putting together the elaborate schedule). One could potentially employ a term from current artspeak — "super-hybridity" — to describe the dizzying array of film screenings, workshops, lectures and performances that comprised La dernière major; however, as Bozon and Bodet themselves succinctly put it in the program intro, while RoboCop's slogan was "50% human, 50% robot — 100% cop," the motto of La dernière major could read "0% contemporary art, 0% social sciences, 0% tranversalism — 100% cinema."

The following interview with Bozon and Bodet took place on one of the last days of the program, in a small room in the basement of Beaubourg, while The Residents were conducting a loud soundcheck next door. Appropriately enough, we did talk about music (one of Bozon's passions) but other topics under discussion included Raúl Ruiz and fish, Juliet Berto and a monkey, Wakamatsu and the Maoist period of Cahiers du cinéma, the MacMahon circle and haunted films, primitivism and crate digging, Eric & Ramzy and Erich von Stroheim, Jean-Luc Godard and Nouvelle Vague Incestuelle — in other words, the secret history of French cinema according to Serge Bozon.

Dmitry Martov/Larysa Smirnova: Even after reading through the program booklet and witnessing several of the events, performances, "interventions," we still have difficulty wrapping our heads around this project. We have seen directors taking over museums and galleries before; we have also seen directors being given "carte blanche" and presenting their favorite films to audiences at film festivals or in cinematheques. Yet Beaubourg, la dernière major! seems to be much more than a mere combination of these two practices as it also features lectures, musical and theatrical performances, DJ sets, discussions between the directors and film critics — and all of it somehow revolves, in a relatively formalized way, around the history of French cinema. Perhaps we should start by asking you to explain your idea or ideas behind this project, how did you conceive it and what did you set out to achieve?

Serge Bozon: Of course, neither Pascale nor I have ever done anything like this before. First came the proposition from Beaubourg…

Pascale Bodet: But all they had was an idea for us to occupy this space for 10 days.

SB: Yes, they said that we got 10 days and the whole floor. And then we decided to approach this from a historical (but not patrimonial) perspective: to try to explore a century of French cinema. 10 decades — 10 days. So each of the ten days is devoted to a particular decade, from the beginning to now. But it's not critics speaking about their favorite directors from a particular decade or film historians exploring this or that movement or "wave." We tried to find at least three filmmakers to represent each decade, and for each of these filmmakers, we selected a specific "artisanal" question. And then, for each of these questions, a contemporary filmmaker who could respond to the given question and relate it somehow to the chosen filmmaker of the past. For example, Paul Vecchiali was paired with Jean Grémillon, and the specific question he was pondering was "le don des larmes" [the gift of tears], that is, why melodramas are supposed to make the audience cry and why in melodramas one of the main characters during the climax usually breaks down in tears. So Vecchiali was discussing when this all started, or, as the song goes, "when the tears began to fall."

Or, for instance, Marie-Claude Treilhou was paired with Marcel Pagnol, and their question was about the monologue. Or maybe not strictly speaking the monologue but when a character, instead of saying just a few words to another character, finds the liberty to speak quite a lot of words. Like in Marcel Pagnol's Angèle, when Orane Demazis, who is now a whore in Marseille, is discovered by her first lover, a very strange, shy country boy played by Fernandel, and they have a beautiful long scene in a single room with a bed where he asks her to come back with him.

A more recent young director, Thomas Salvador, who hasn't released any feature films yet but has made several shorts, was considering the work of Jean Durand. Salvador is one of the very few French directors or, perhaps, the only contemporary French director…

PB: …who is very athletic…

SB: …and performs burlesque stuff (falling, jumping, getting hit by heavy objects)…

PB: …severe, minimalist burlesque.

SB: The question we chose for Salvador was "How to write a gag which is not a comedy gag with words, not a situation gag but only a gag of 'destruction'" (e.g. with something, like an armoire, falling on your head). He performed some of his stunts live, here in Beaubourg, and also made, especially for this event, several short movies addressing the following simple question: Usually, in the early, "primitive" movies, when you wanted to give the audience an impression that an actor jumped very high, you would use the reverse technique: an actor would jump from the top to the ground and then you play the footage backwards. And Salvador was trying to find out what would happen if the actor was already doing everything backwards, and then the footage got reversed during editing, so it became "double backwards." Can you exactly recover what was the "regular" movement? Or rather, you get something strange and unusual. So, "double backwards" does not equal "forward." It's not like double negation in logic.


Besides all these "couplings" (one dead filmmaker, one living filmmaker and one artisanal question between them), there were also events that are more like shows — such as performances by [Adolfo] Arrieta or [Pierre] Léon. Arrieta, for instance, was not talking about Buñuel or any Spanish film director — he made a very direct kind of show, with music and dancing, under the direction of Julie Desprairies. And we had several other evenings with musical shows, such as "singing lecture" [conférence chantée] by Barbara Carlotti, Benjamin Esdraffo and Vladimir Léon dedicated to the songs in the French cinema of the 1930s, or a musical on the topic of sex in French cinema of the late 1940s. The latter one was very theatrical because the main speaker was disguised as a woman, while Fugu, who played piano and guitar, was supposed to be her only child, so there was some fiction going on as well…

PB: We don't oppose cinephilic talk, but some of our events happen to stress the "invention" aspect of the creative process (film, music, show) and the other ones take the forms of lecture or discussion.

SB: Luc Moullet only talked. Vecchiali also only talked. Marie-Claude Treilhou only talked as well. But Raúl Ruiz, for example, made a movie especially for this program. The dead filmmaker in his case was Jean Painlevé, one of the first French film directors of scientific movies about animals, fish, flowers, etc. So Ruiz made a movie about fish in the aquarium and dedicated it to Jean Painlevé. It was 52 minutes long, and he shot it right here, in Beaubourg's basement. Also, all of his crew was from Beaubourg. Except for the fish. [laughs]

It was very interesting. The premise of Ruiz's movie was the following question: "Why is it sometimes impossible to count how many fish there are in a single aquarium? Sometimes fish disappear and then reappear in the aquarium — where do they go when they are not there and where do they come back from?" He built a very long speculative narration around this question, about the "uncountable" fish. But usually when you speak about the "uncountable," you mean infinite or infinitesimal. Yet in Ruiz's film, he was talking only about three fishes, maybe four fishes, and what happens when one fish out of four goes missing. [laughs] Jean Painlevé was a scientific filmmaker, but he was also deeply involved with the Surrealist movement, especially in the beginning. For example, in his film La pieuvre the first shot is not of an octopus but of a beautiful woman dreaming in her bed as she receives an octopus on her shoulder, like a nightmare. So, just like Painlevé, Ruiz was able to relate a scientific question to the fictional narrative. Yet still he remained very scientific in the way of organizing the whole movie.

PB: And he introduced himself as a fish…

SB: …with his big eyes, and he was moving his mouth like so … Now he is also much skinnier — he was recently quite ill and had lost a lot of weight, so he's not the old chubby Ruiz we used to know. Nowadays he does actually look like a fish.

PB: And there was also a question of the scale… It was reversed, with animals being huge and people being small, and in his lecture prior to the screening, Ruiz was talking about shifting scales and points of reference…

DM/LS: It sounds like he went back to the style of his films from the late 1970s, early 1980s?

SB: Yes, exactly, with very primitive special effects. Simply brilliant…

And then there were events that were somewhat different. There was a show by René Féret, the French filmmaker, who presented Le manuel d'autogestion [The Manual of Self-Management]. Self-management, because he is producing himself, he is distributing himself, his wife is editing his movies, his children are acting in his movies... So he is completely self-managed (much more than Marguerite Duras or Luc Moullet, both of whom did not distribute themselves). But contrary to what you would expect, he is not a radical filmmaker. He is not at all in the spirit of Marguerite Duras, Jean-Marie Straub or Luc Moullet. So it's interesting to have this radical DIY ethics operating in favor of non-radical work. He made, for example, a very beautiful (his penultimate) film, Comme une étoile dans la nuit [Like a Star in the Night]. During his show, he wasn't talking about another filmmaker, wasn't showing any excerpts from the old movies. He just tried to present a manual: what a young filmmaker is supposed to do to be his own producer, distributor — completely independent, but not from the radical point of view. That's the objective and the source of the quiet and shy beauty of some of his movies.

PB: So our project is about the history of French cinema, but the approach is very loose…

SB: Not loose, but free and spirited, we hope! Yes, it's not at all exhaustive. And there are many French directors whom we adore, yet who are not presented in the program (Jean Renoir, Sacha Guitry, Jean Rouch, Pierre Zucca, etc.). It's not at all a selection of our favorite film directors. What we were trying to do was, in the beginning, find for each dead filmmaker a living filmmaker who has something interesting to say about a particular artisanal question. For Pierre Zucca, we could not find the exact artisanal question or a matching living filmmaker who could do something interesting and relevant. The same for Guitry, the same for Renoir… But the best thing for us was when the guest said: "I will not just talk, sing or show the film excerpts, I'll make a movie!" And that's exactly what Raúl Ruiz, Pierre Léon, Jean-Charles Fitoussi and Laurent Perrin did.

PB: What is happening here is not at all systematic — each guest has his or her own personal way of approaching the subjects. Nevertheless, when you have three or four events a day, it almost gives you a flavor of the decade.

SB: And the mood is very different from day to day. For example, there was a show dedicated to Juliet Berto and the 1960s. It was very peculiar because there were no directors there and no critics present. There was only a live musical/video show with excerpts from Juliet Berto movies, a very brilliant French singer called Marie Möör, Laurent Chambert (a video artist and musician) and Bertrand Burgalat on the keyboards. Evoking her lips, her eyes, the way she always looked a little lost … In the beginning, we did not know what to expect from this arty show: Marie Möör was lying on the floor with a monkey, and the excerpts from Juliet Berto movies were projected on her body. And strangely, Juliet Berto's ghost or presence or way of moving were evoked, and so was, in a way, the spirit and the image of the 1960s.

DM/LS: Okay, so the structure starts to make more sense: one day — one decade, one living filmmaker, one dead filmmaker, one artisanal question between them; then there are also film screenings presented by the film critics, which we are going to talk about it a bit later… But why "la dernière major" — "the last major"?

SB: Because there is an additional aspect to all this. I was also shooting my new movie here, almost every day, on the set built right in the middle of the floorspace, and the set is just a single make-up room. So for these ten days, Beaubourg became the "major" studio, like MGM, Universal, etc. In the 1930s, when one could shoot a film, with its own crew, its own stars and technicians, all working together… Like in a major studio, everyone and everything is connected. For instance, Paul Vecchiali came to talk about Grémillon, then he returned to present his latest movie (Les gens d'en bas, 2010), then he was here again as the producer of Biette and Marie-Claude Treilhou, who, in her turn, talked about Pagnol and showed her brilliant documentary from 1980s about a village in France without television…

PB: And some of the people introducing and participating in the events are performing in Serge's movie. All of the events are also recorded on video and some of them will be part of the Serge's new film.

SB: Yes, I will try to incorporate excerpts of the events into my fiction (I don't know yet exactly how). In my film, titled L'Imprésario, everyone who is participating in these events is managed by the main actor, who is the impresario, played by Thomas Chabrol. A young female journalist, played by Laure Marsac, comes to interview him but she does not know anything about cultural stuff because she is from the economics section of the newspaper; she was asked to replace a sick colleague.


The script was written by Axelle Ropert, who also wrote the scripts of my previous movies and made two films herself, La famille Wolberg and Etoille Violette. The latter one was with Lou Castel who, by the way, was also involved in another event: Lou Castel and Eva Ionesco were reading out loud the classic early Truffaut article "Une certaine tendance du cinéma français" ["A Certain Tendency of French Cinema" (1954)], and then a critic, Noël Herpe, who is very knowledgeable about the French movies of the 1940s and 1950s, was supposed to react to Truffaut's paper, saying things like "that was not actually quite right," "this point could be counterbalanced or enlightened by another example," etc. There was no director at all participating in this event — only two actors and a critic.

DM/LS: Speaking of critics, can you talk a little bit about the last scheduled event, where the film critics of different generations and from different periodicals (Libération, Cahiers du cinéma, Trafic, Les Inrocks, Positif, Le Monde) were supposed to be engaged in "auto-critique"?

SB: The idea came from United Red Army by Wakamatsu, a film devoted to the practice of self-criticism in the radical Maoist groups in Japan in the beginning of the 1970s. In France, during the same epoch (1970-73), Maoism had a crucial impact on film criticism, through the Maoist turn of Cahiers: evictions, public trials, restrictions on certain filmmakers. A crucial impact, but unrecognized. Those were the so-called "non-legendary" years of Cahiers, but at the same time, the comet tail of that incredible decade, when Cahiers, under the leadership of [Jean] Narboni and [Jean-Louis] Comolli, accompanied closely the emergence of all the new world cinemas, most of which are still unjustly neglected today.

So, the initial idea was to go back to this strange time period, a bit suicidal, asking the critics to do not a historical overview but acts of self-criticism, with the idea of them throwing themselves on the floor at the end and staying there. The critics of the younger generations, who had not experienced this revolutionary period firsthand, were expected to give a more general response: What is the blind spot of my writing? But not for public flagellation or out of mundane masochism, because the "errors" of criticism often had, in my opinion, some beneficial side effects.

Here are some examples. When Cahiers, following [Roger] Leenhardt's instigation, razed Ford to the ground in order to sing the praises of Wyler, it seems obviously absurd today, but that's how the question of "filmic writing" (écriture cinématographique) emerged. (And I'm thinking not only specifically about Leenhardt's essays but also about the articles by [Alexandre] Astruc, these two fathers of the Nouvelle Vague forgotten today, who were much more interesting critics than [Pierre] Kast or [Jacques] Doniol-Valcroze). Or, when we read [Jacques] Lourcelles badmouthing Hawks in Présence du cinéma, we disagree, but what Lourcelles says about him allows us to better grasp abstraction that is characteristic of Hawks's cinema.

But, again, the most important thing was to find the proper form, hence the importance of the musical pauses between the acts of self-criticism, pauses during which the band called Haussmann Tree was to play a musical piece, fragment by fragment, constructing it progressively and then playing the whole piece in its entirety only when all the critics were lying on the floor. In one word, a closing event which was not festive but political and melancholic.

DM/LS: You also screened eight films as part of this project, and we've noticed that many of the films can be considered MacMahonian and most of the critics presenting the films were also MacMahonians, writing for Présence du cinéma (Rissient, Lourcelles). Even more interestingly, none of the films have anything to do with the history of French cinema. Seven of them are American and one — Italian. What gives?

(SB and PB are both laughing).

SB: Yes, that's true. When I asked myself what kind of movies I could screen in the Beaubourg's movie theatre (Cinéma 2) on 35 mm, I knew that we already have ten days devoted to French cinema, and it would not be a good idea to screen French films. Besides, if I had selected the French movies, some people would undoubtedly be unhappy with my choices. So I thought it would be beneficial to go completely "outside," especially considering what Henri Langlois wrote in his last article (from 1977): All the history of cinema is just a dialogue between France and America. So I decided to show American films. I also must confess that I, myself, am very close to the tastes of MacMahon circle, so I thought that it would be appropriate to show some rare and obscure stuff — and by "obscure," I mean that these films are not only rare but also have "intrinsic obscurity" — movies with what we call "sentiment de secret," secretness, movies haunted by something hidden… Like films by Jacques Tourneur, Edgar G. Ulmer… And the last people in France who managed to discover such hidden treasures in classical Hollywood history were the MacMahonians. Tourneur was not discovered by Truffaut, Rohmer or Godard. By discovering, I mean not only writing a single article on such and such movie (and in a weekly like Arts, you'll find Rohmer's reviews of movies by Tourneur, Dwan, Walsh, because he had to write a little about everything that was released week after week), but in-depth research, filmography, interviews...  The same for Ida Lupino, early films by Joseph Losey, Don Weis, Vittorio Cottafavi, Matarazzo, Stuart Heisler, Edward Ludwig, Phil Karlson. So it was only natural to choose these movies and to let these people talk because they were the ones who discovered them. And besides, in modern France these critics themselves are very obscure because there was some political controversy in the 1960s as some — but not all, very few in fact — MacMahonians were very right-wing. But because of this heavy political stuff from the 1960s, they are still (undeservedly) looked down upon in France.

DM/LS: People like Michel Mourlet?

SB: Exactly. But I did not invite Mourlet.

DM/LS: Which was probably wise as one of his books is called Anti-Brecht, whereas here you had Pierre Léon doing a musical performance "Our Brecht." [A nearly 90-minute prelude to the premiere of Léon's documentary on Jean-Claude Biette, "Our Brecht" was a concert featuring Brecht's songs sung by Léon, accompanied on piano by Benjamin Esdraffo, against the collage of excerpts from films by Karl Valentin, Ophüls, Renoir, Lang, Barnet, Schroeter and Arrietta running in the background, and directly inspired by one of Biette's key critical texts, "Brechtian cinema?" ("Un cinéma brechtien?")].

SB: [laughs] Yes, but you know that Joseph Losey, one of the favorite directors of MacMahonians, was very close to Brecht and worked with Brecht before he became a film director. And Pierre Rissient, who was the head of MacMahon, is very much on the left. He worked with the blacklisted film directors and helped Abraham Polonsky make Tell them Willie Boy is Here (1970), etc. Even Michel Mourlet now votes for Jean-Pierre Chevènement. So I think that the MacMahon circle was too much obscured by these strange political things. And also I would like to confess that I do like some of the early articles of Michel Mourlet. I also must admit that I am not a big scholar of the French movies — I know American cinema much better than French. From the French cinema, I know classical stuff: Becker, Renoir, Grémillon, Guitry, Pagnol, etc., all the big names. But Jean Delannoy — I've seen zero of his movies, Christian-Jaque — one movie, Jacques Feyder — zero movies. So it was more natural for me to do it this way.

The prints of some of the movies that were screened came from the personal collection of Jacques Lourcelles, one of the main MacMahonian critics. Incidentally, those films were shown without French subtitles. For example, one very rare film by Edgar G. Ulmer, Murder is my Beat (1955). Another film is So Dark the Night (1946) that I myself presented, by Joseph H. Lewis, the director who made Gun Crazy (1949), The Big Combo (1955), My Name is Julia Ross (1945), the B-director par excellence — he made only B-movies, contrary to Jacques Tourneur, and what is strange is that he made either very beautiful movies or very bad movies and nothing in between. The third print belonging to Lourcelles is Strange Impersonation (1944) by Anthony Mann, which was presented by Emmanuel Levaufre. (Emmanuel was in my film La France, playing the rapist; he is also a film critic and on the last day he made a presentation about the resurrection of the science fiction genre in recent French cinema. Earlier, he and Pascale talked with Jean-Pierre Mocky about Jacques Becker's Touchez pas au grisbi (1953), one of the best French film noirs). As for Jacques Lourcelles, he himself presented Treno Popolare (1933), the first Raffaello Matarazzo film (but the print is not his).

[Other movies that were screened included Tay Garnett's One Way Passage (1932) presented by Luc Moullet, James B. Harris's Fast Walking (1982) presented by Pierre Rissient, Samuel Fuller's White Dog (1982) presented by Louis Skorecki and Jacques Tourneur's Canyon Passage (1944) presented by Serge Bozon.]

DM/LS: I know that you yourself are an avid collector, not of film prints but of vinyl records, and you performed several DJ sets during this event…

SB: It may sound a little bit pretentious, but with my DJ sets I also tried to do some history from the musical point of view, starting from the early rockabilly stuff to late DIY post-punk of the 80s, trying to find for each genre (rockab', garage, northern soul, doo wop, highschool, surf, freakbeat, nederbeat…) the most primitive stuff. It goes in tandem with what we tried to do for the history of French cinema: non only to look at, let's say, the primitive serials of Feuillade, but also to try to understand how primitivism is independent of history. By this, I mean how primitivism is "foremost an aesthetic quality." For example, the movies of Luc Moullet are not primitive in a historical sense (because they are recent), but they are primitive in an aesthetic sense (the way of shooting, the way of directing, the way of editing). This (cinematographic and musical) primitive-friendly approach also fits with the "immanent obscurity" of the MacMahonian movies, something very haunted and secret. You don't know where it's coming from; you would think it was shot or recorded ten kilometers under the ground, with people completely lost in space. You get the feeling of them performing or playing "back from the grave" — like Tim Warren of the Crypt Records label called his compilation series, one of the best garage compilations there is. By the way, Roky Erickson, the singer of the 13th Floor Elevators, is a big, big fan of Jacques Tourneur, he obviously feels a close connection with all this ghostly, strange, moody stuff. Or I can mention Miriam Linna and Billy Miller from Norton Records, Chuck Warner from Boston running the Hyped to Death label who is releasing all the great Messthetics compilations, and also the Homeworks compilations.

DM/LS: It's interesting that you mention "Back from the Grave" compilations. In DJ culture, record collecting and the notion of exhuming something "back from the grave", "grave digging" are merged in the practice of "crate digging." We actually consider "crate digging" to be your main modus operandi as a director: finding inspiration in not-so-obvious, unorthodox sources (in the case of La France, Russian war movies of the 1940s and British "pop-sike" and sunshine pop of the 1960s). It seems that with Beaubourg, la dernière major! you continue this "crate digging," archeological mission: reconstructing the history (of cinema) from nontraditional, sometimes forgotten or ignored sources.

SB: Perhaps. I don't know what "crate digging" is.

DM/LS: It appears that with this project — happening in Beaubourg and dedicated to history of cinema — you may, perhaps unconsciously, be engaging in a dialogue of sorts with Jean-Luc Godard, on two different levels. Firstly, the location. Last time, to our knowledge, a director took over Beaubourg was in 2006, and it was Godard with his exhibition Travel(s) in Utopia

SB: Yes, but Godard did not invite anybody. My principle is the opposite. No movie of mine was presented here, no movie of Pascale Bodet or of Axelle Ropert or of Benjamin Esdraffo or of Sandrine Rinaldi… It's not at all the idea of presenting our works. I even invited people "from outside." For example, Eric & Ramzy, a very famous but ultra-commercial comic duo in France, were invited to speak about Erich von Stroheim.

PB: And they did not know at first who Erich von Stroheim was… [laughs] The idea was also to make the opposite things meet, but still in a primitive, under-rehearsed way. "It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it." (cf. "The Medium was Tedium" by the Desperate Bicycles).

SB: Yes, we tried to find some interesting people on the commercial side. Another example: During one of the first days, Marina de Van, who is also more or less commercial filmmaker (she made a film with Monica Bellucci and Sophie Marceau, called Ne te retourne pas) was here to speak about Feuillade and Riccardo Freda, about special effects – more specifically, special effects dealing with faces of women: When you have two women and you superimpose or merge their faces into one, this could be really terrifying…

But going back to your question: Godard invited nobody (like in the beautiful song "Nobody but Me"…). And also we had a very small budget compared to Godard. He had three million euros; we had only 50 thousand euros. And at the end, Godard did not do what he was supposed to or wanted to do. He quit and just showed the maquettes, the rough drafts of what was originally intended. So it was a kind of a nightmare here in Beaubourg, a big affair. But anyway, we love Godard. Maybe not so much his latest movies. We were even supposed to have something about him for one of the events of La dernière major, but it did not happen for technical reasons.

DM/LS: The second level on which your and JLG's "trajectories" seem to intersect is the topic of history of cinema. Can Beaubourg: la dernière major! be considered your response to Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma? Is this "historie(s) of cinema" according to Serge Bozon?

SB: No, because his Histoire(s) du cinéma was a "melancholic" (to say the least) movie, based on editing, and here, it's not a movie; it's a living space with living people trying to do something live — like, for example, Arrietta who, in his own peculiar way, revealed something about his own life and art. The hope was that the invited guests truly engage themselves with what is most profound in their work/life.

DM/LS: Many of the participants of Beaubourg, la dernière major! belong to what we once jokingly labeled "Nouvelle Vague Incestuelle": a close collective of directors, actors and film critics (you, Pascale, Axelle Ropert, Jean-Charles Fitoussi, Pierre Léon, Vladimir Léon,, Benjamin Esdraffo, etc.) who were associated with the now (sadly) defunct film magazine La lettre du cinéma (1997 – 2005), were first glimpsed as a group in 2004 (as spectators in Nô theatre) in Eugène Green's Le pont des Arts, and frequently either act in each other's films or direct each other in their own films. Can you talk a little bit about La lettre du cinéma, about your work as a film critic and its relation to your work as a director, actor (and now, curator)?

SB: No, I can't. This is exactly what I tried to escape in La dernière major. The point was not to talk about ourselves but simply to work, and let the audience judge by themselves. And it would be pretentious: we are just beginning to make movies. Let's wait and, more precisely, wait for the works to come.

Photos by Dmitry Martov: Bozon and Bodet, Arrieta's performance, L'Impresario.


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Notebook is a daily, international film publication. Our mission is to guide film lovers searching, lost or adrift in an overwhelming sea of content. We offer text, images, sounds and video as critical maps, passways and illuminations to the worlds of contemporary and classic film. Notebook is a MUBI publication.


If you're interested in contributing to Notebook, please see our pitching guidelines. For all other inquiries, contact the editorial team.