Interview with Jean Eustache

Photo: Alix Cléo Roubaud, Portrait de Jean Eustache, 1981 © Fonds Alix Cléo Roubaud

An interview with Jean Eustache conducted by Philippe Haudiquet and originally published in La Revue du Cinéma, no. 250, May 1971. Translation by Ted Fendt.


PHILIPPE HAUDIQUET: You’ve made four films that to me seemed to indicate a personal path in our cinema. Now, you want to do something completely different. Where does this break between the films you directed before and the last one come from?

JEAN EUSTACHE: I decided to break with the films that I was making because they were suffocating me.

PH: Why were they suffocating you? Wasn’t it a kind of cinema that had already broken away from the system, as much in terms of how it was made (production and direction) as by its choice of subject matter?

JE: Yeah, but as I was working more in an artisanal manner, I didn’t really feel like I was challenging the system. Instead, I felt like I was always doing the same thing but, above all, it’s less in relation to the cinema than in relation to myself that the problems were presenting themselves. Each film was making life more difficult. When I’d finished one, I was always thinking I was going to be able to see things differently, to live a little better, and it was the opposite that was happening, I was living worse and worse...

PH: From what point of view? From a financial point of view or from the point of view of what you had wanted to make or express?

JE: Well, I was making films in a very egotistical way, to be able to free myself in some way and to try to live a bit more casually. In fact, I had, instead, a heavier and heavier weight on my shoulders. That’s why I was shooting so few films. I was thinking a lot and, between the films that I was making, a certain number of ideas would come to mind that I’d abandon along the way. I would only finalize one of them about every two years. And, each time, I didn’t manage to find a path that let me live and work at the same time because, for that, making a film that means a month or two of work every two years isn’t sufficient. And then, every time that I attempted something, I wasn’t managing to go further in the chosen direction; I felt like I had to change direction.

PH: You mean you were disappointed with the results? Unsatisfied?

JE: But you’re always a little disappointed, you always hope to do better. You achieve something and, yet, you had hoped it would be better... Most of the films I’ve done have pleased my friends, have been pretty well liked around me, which cut off my need to make something else immediately. If I had only been met with incomprehension, I would maybe have insisted, I would maybe have fought. Since everything was going simply outwardly, since people liked them, each time I thought I’d achieved my goal, but, at the same time, by my own standards, I wasn’t very satisfied, however I told myself: since the main thing is fine, since they say so, it should be enough...

PH: It seemed too easy to you that your films were liked without any problems?

JE: That’s it, I didn’t really try to do better. And, at the same time, as I was going to the movies less and less and I was very disappointed when I did go, I was very happy to be outside what was being done everywhere. In the end, I no longer felt like being a filmmaker, like making films. And the questions that I was asking myself for more than a year came to this: why do we make films? What is it for? I found myself in the most total confusion and I considered giving up movies. I had always enjoyed working on other people’s films more than my own. For what is in other people’s films, when I edited them, I felt like I thought more deeply about them, that I brought more to them. The work I’m most happy with in cinema is that which I've accomplished on other people’s films and not on my own ones...

PH: Which films, for example?

JE: Well, I’ve edited quite a few shorts and two features, Marc’O’s Les Idoles and Moullet’s Billy the Kid. I really love that work.

PH: Do you mean that you enjoy handling film, and other people’s film more so than your own?

JE: Yeah, I think that I do better work, that I can bring more to it, if I even can bring something to it.

PH: But I believe that the time for reflection that you gave yourself, while being very hard to live through, bore fruits in that each new films of yours seemed more rigorous than the previous one to me, deeper...

JE: That’s a way of saying that I was “erasing” more and more and that there were fewer and fewer things in them. My first film, Du côté de Robinson was a mess, though I like it, but it was a mess because in every first film, everybody puts every idea that comes to mind in it. You’ve never said anything before so you want to express as many things as possible. That can still produce a rather interesting result however uneven it is. The second one was Le père Noël. It was already a lot less successful than the first one; there was, mixed with the rest, that documentary side that’s now become predominant. It was an entirely written and planned film but it was very “smoothed out,” as if I already wanted to limit myself in my means. And, after that, I believe I let myself be fooled by a certain easiness. What I did, in fact, is very easy: “to erase,” to put less and less of myself in the films and to lean more and more towards a rough style. It was a matter of “erasing.” I tried to deny the film’s “auteur.” I should specify that I threw myself into movies with, in my mind, the idea defended by the old Cahiers du cinéma for a long time: “la politique des auteurs,” there aren’t films, there are only auteurs... In the beginning I was convinced about the truth of this idea and the filmmakers I liked did too. But, as soon as I started to shoot, I automatically questioned this. Of course, as soon as you're shooting, you often do the opposite of what you were thinking of doing...

PH: But these documentaries that you made are still very rigorous and very honest in relation to reality. I mean that you don’t manipulate it, or you manipulate it as little as possible. For example, in La Rosière de Pessac, the way you look at this young girl and at the reality around her is very interesting in that we see this young girl move through this provincial, quaint and pathetic, reality with dignity and composure - as if it didn’t shake her. It seems to me that there’s a point of view there... What do you think?

JE: I know... I was complimented for that. It’s a thing you let people say, in the absence of another explanation... But I find it deceptive to talk about a filmmaker’s “point of view.” First, it’s really easy since all films, as bad as they may be, are always the product of a “point of view.” Then, this notion of a “viewpoint” which would miraculously have the power of transfiguring reality, I put into question in Le cochon, by shooting in complete directorial collaboration. With Jean-Michel Barjol, we each chose a complete crew, including a DP, an AC, and a sound mixer. And, without consulting each other, we filmed the same event at the same time. Since we were near each other, we each vaguely saw what our friend was doing; we didn’t fall over each other to get to the same place, we tried to position ourselves, but Barjol shot what he wanted, as he wanted, and I did the same. This all happend really fast since it involved filming a real event at the moment it was happening. Sometimes we even split the work, for example, when there were things happening in two different places. But it had to be done quickly. In any case, it had nothing to do with the fact that I would have been able to have two crews and say, for example, to one DP, “You come here,” and to another, “You go there.” No, it was nothing like that and we would have then been able to do, at most, two films on the same subject, which maybe wouldn’t have been uninteresting, but it wasn’t the idea behind the film, that would have been “artistic.” Two points of view on the same event. That’s precisely what I refused to do. Instead, we mixed the footage and edited the film together. As for the length and the amount, there’s maybe 49% of him and 51% of me, or the other way around. You’d have to measure. I’ve never had the courage to do that. You’d first have to know his shots from mine and that isn’t as easy as you’d think.

PH: Okay, let’s leave aside the notion of a “point of view,” for its rigidity, but the choice of documents?

JE: What happened with Le cochon had at least one result: you can no longer, I believe, talk about a filmmaker’s “point of view” after this film. Insofar as it was shot by two directors who aren’t alike, I don’t see how one could talk about an “auteur” or of “co-auteurs.” It also has to be understood that I really liked Barjol’s films and we perfectly understood each other insofar as we didn’t even try to understand each other. That went without saying. Each of us did what we wanted while shooting. Then I edited the film.

PH: But maybe that's it? Earlier, by the term “point of view,” I meant that there isn’t only the way of considering reality and directing it, but the fact of choosing, of selecting the material. It’s you who edited La Rosière de Pessac and Le cochon. That’s surely not an accident?

JE: To talk on a less elevated level, I’ll say that I really like editing. When I realize that I haven’t worked for a while and I go see a friend in an editing room, it always makes me want to work. It’s happened that I’ve shot some films - it’s the case with Le cochon and a bit for La Rosière - because of a desire to edit because I enjoy handling film, doing that work. And, since I wasn't being offered anything, I made those films for that reason... Okay, it’s less glorious, but it’s also interesting.

PH: Why do you think it’s less glorious? I think that editing is equally a creative stage...

JE: I think so less and less myself. In the past, I only believed that it was the logical step after shooting, one operation among others. But not anymore. And it’s somewhat thanks to the work I did with Marc’O that I believe this. I saw him shoot Les idoles, there were quite a few discussions in the evenings, he talked about actor-creators, crew-creators. When he was setting up shots, the actors rehearsed and Jean Badal crated magnificent lighting in certain scenes, which, I think, brought a lot to the film. Before, I thought that the director should absolutely control everything, that he should be the absolute master, make himself obeyed at his beck and call. Since then, thanks to Marc’O, I’ve realized that it was Renoir who was right in what he said and always practiced, namely that you have to, on the contrary, let yourself be devoured, absorbed by the actors, which seems really obvious, but also by the whole crew and, then, to digest everything and reconstruct it. Contrary to Bresson and other filmmakers, I think that it’s with the contributions of the others that a film can be brought to fruition... So I thought - why not? - that the editor could also be a creator since every member of the crew could be one. At a given moment, I thought that the editor could also fight with the director and with the film for something else. With Marc’O it went very well. I like Les idoles a lot. However, I think that I made quite a few mistakes, maybe because I was too free while editing. Now, I would do it better. But, in the end, at the time I was rather happy with what I had done.

PH: To put it differently, you had ideas and it was in practice that these ideas were tested and questioned.

JE: That’s right. But, today, I find, in fact, that all that isn’t very important because, from my first film to Le cochon, I think I’ve successively closed all the doors, and Le cochon might be my ultimate attempt because it was no longer the application of a recipe that I was maybe the only one to apply, but it was still a recipe. Already, from La Rosière, I felt that I was fooling people, that what I was doing was very easy and came from an intrinsic fraud.

PH: But how do you think you were fooling people?

JE: I wasn’t expressing anything. I was making my films in reaction against something. Instead of making films like other people, I was making them to act against others, to make the opposite of what other people were making. I did La Rosière in opposition to TV shows, TV news. And Le cochon as well.

PH: What about TV shows bothers you?

JE: What bothers me in TV shows is the “channeling”: as soon as a common man, who has his own way of speaking, is allowed to talk for five minutes, he finds himself “framed” by speakers who sum up what he says in a specific codification that is that of television in France today. Interesting people can be given the chance to speak, but it’s killed at the same time since they’re put in their place and, in 4 hours of TV, if a person says, for 20 minutes, sublime things, it no longer has any importance because what’s been said is “channeled”: it’s suggested that they’ve been given the chance to speak, but it’s an illusion. So, it’s in revolt against this state of things that I made La Rosière de Pessac in which I myself didn’t talk but I tried to leave the viewers in front of an event - not exactly as if they were witnessing it since once an event is filmed it’s no longer the same thing as when you really witness it, being that it becomes a spectacle. So, La Rosière was both the end of something and the first step in another direction, but I didn’t know where it went. In any case, I’ll say it again, what preoccupied me above all was the question, for what and for whom are films made? If it’s for fun, I find that it’s a very good reason, the best that I’ve found up to now, not having found another yet...

PH: What do you call “fun”?

JE: Fun? Well, there are people who feel the need to take a vacation or who have one of Ingres’ violins, if they work all week...  Before, quite a while ago, I was seeing 3 or 4 films a day, I was going back to see the films I liked 7 or 8 times, and I could completely lose myself in these films, only think about them. Now, I can’t anymore, I watch films worse than an ordinary viewer. I have as much trouble seeing a film as reading. I think about other things. Sometimes, when you're reading, you suddenly notice that you were absent minded and you have to start over. For films, it’s the same thing. I see something and I don’t know what I saw. I have to go back to know, because I have a vague impression of something, but nothing more...  But, to go back to your question, if I tried to make films for “fun,” the actual direction wasn’t a part of the enjoyment, it was, instead, a considerable effort and, in fact, a lot more difficult than enjoyable. Above all due to the lack of money. The first two films that I shot, with actors, might have been very enjoyable to do but, for financial reasons, the undertaking was very perilous. Then, for the documentaries, I had less need for money. I shot La Rosière and Le cochon in a day each, but I still had to do an hour long film in a day. That requires effort, spending considerable energy in a short amount of time. I caught up with myself a bit while editing. Okay... But, still, I find that these films, whatever is interesting about them, come from a clear conscience. You’re very happy when you do the opposite of what others do, when you do better, when you think you do better or when people say, “It’s very good.” And, in fact, it’s demobilizing.

PH: But, still, doesn’t anxiety let go of you?

JE: No, it moves a bit. Paradoxically, you notice that you’re not understood at all. I would have been better understood if they had told me that it’s bad or it’s worthless. Because I would have maybe tried to prove more, to go deeper. Instead I was thinking, “I’ve got a hell of a nerve and they’re still being fooled...”

PH: But, apparently, a film like Le cochon wasn’t unanimously liked by viewers at the Festival de Tours. Certain people liked it, others hated it...

JE: There’s a misunderstanding there because, in Le cochon, you only see flesh for 50 minutes. Obviously there are viewers who can’t go through that. I understand them very well. No, that’s not what it’s about. I’ll say it one more time, the fundamental question is: what purpose does cinema serve? That’s what there is after many years where I see that I didn’t understand anything, where I laughed at what I was doing. I don’t know if I understand better now but I’ve taken a certain number of irrevocable decisions, at least for the moment... For the first time, I feel like I’m seeing a bit more clearly. First of all, parallel to the “erasing” that I tried to do from film to film since the beginning, I wanted to be “revolutionary,” in other words to not make steps forward in cinema, but to try to make big steps backwards to return to the source. The goal I was trying to attain since my first film was to return to Lumière... I’ve always been against new techniques. Maybe I’m “reactionary,” but I believe it’s “revolutionary.” So, there’s a misunderstanding to clear up. I’ve been against the techniques that have now brought the cinema of Lumière to TV because I find that the process that led from the first film to TV news reports and to the current cinematic virtuosity (I’m talking about TV because I see a lot more films on TV than in theaters) comes from a degradation that painting has known, that others arts have known, and that need, at a certain stage, an internal revolution like the “impressionists,” and not to make a step forward, but to return to the point of departure.

Basically, I have the feeling that cinema has lost its way, that there only remain capabilities, signs of what it was. In this spirit, I’ve always refused to make my cameraman's work easier, so I’ve never had rails for tracking shots or a dolly, I’ve always had, not a gyro-head tripod that is easy to use, but a rigid tripod whose balls don’t roll very well... In fact, I’ve wanted the camera to be fixed and that even with the greatest desire in the world it isn’t able to move at all. And that, I didn’t know it, but it’s one of the most important things I've learned.

PH: Doesn’t all that mean a static quality in the images?

JE: But, in Lumière’s films the image is never “static”!

PH: No, right, it’s very lively...

JE: When the camera moves a lot it’s maybe to compensate for something else. It might be to make it seem like something is happening or in order to “make a movie.” But, if you shoot, you don’t need to make a movie, it makes itself. As soon as the camera is rolling, movies make themselves on their own. If you’re obliged to run with the camera, something really isn’t working.

PH: But, then, don’t you think there’s a contradiction between what you’re saying, one the hand, and editing, on the other? If movies make themselves on their own, isn’t editing useless?

JE: That’s really my opinion. I’m denying the “artistic” part of editing. Besides, I deny, in cinema, everything that might come from art. What I want is for cinema to be a pure and simple recording of reality, without any subjectivity intervening, getting mixed up in it...

PH: However, “subjectivity” still intervenes, for example in the choice of a subject...

JE: It intervenes if you film, “the arrival of a train at La Ciotat Station” instead of at another station. On that level, yes. But, for my part, I wouldn’t know how to explain exactly why I took one subject rather than another.

PH: But in your last film, for example?

JE: We’ll go back to it... There are realities I want to talk about beforehand: when you make very low-budget films, production questions can be pretty much resolved, with an infinite amount of problems, no doubt - they are never really resolved - but while shooting, getting by with them, you can maybe manage to do something in an individual, artisanal way. What isn’t resolved at all, however, is what comes next, survival, how to live if you don’t have money and how to continue to make films if you want to, but especially how to live. I think it’s very nice to make films for fun, but you can’t stay there. For several years, that’s been the whole question. When I was making films, I found quite a lot of pleasure in showing them, to put myself into question through them: of course, each time I was taking the risk of being booed, of having tomatoes thrown at me, or to be congratulated. But I can no longer stand that game, even more so as I’m beginning to be used to it. No one’s ever said that many bad things about me, they’ve instead said good things, certain people said bad things, but not enough in my opinion or not enough seriously, it never bothered me. When people didn’t like my films, it stayed at that, they never proved to me that I was making mistakes... And, then, they didn’t make me doubt myself, they weren’t convincing enough to really make me worry. In short, it wasn’t constructive, I didn’t take it into consideration, I wasn’t too sensitive to what they were able to say. But I was sensitive to the following fact: you go to a lot of trouble, already personally, and then materially, to make a film. You give “private” screenings, you show it at the “cinématheque” or somewhere else, you try to fight for months, either with a distributor or with an exhibitor. With a lot of trouble, you manage to release your film for 15 days or a 1 month in a theater. And all that, which involves a lot of effort and money, doesn’t bring back one cent. I’ve been lucky to have a prix à la qualité(1) for all my films, which allowed me to continue, but the problems still always came back to this: you’re on a tightrope. I had to make short films and not features because, without that, I risked losing the benefit of what I could hope for. All this was held by a thread. So, for several years, I’ve found myself in a completely provisional situation, in the situation of a beginner, or even someone who isn’t yet a beginner: before really being with it, you’re in a situation where you have no money but you know you’ll have some soon, you know that, if you manage to get in, the problems will be resolved, you’ll be able to work as you want to and finally live comfortably. And what happened is that I got used to not living comfortably and not working like I wanted to. I let myself get caught in this trap to the point of no longer being able to go out because my situation was simple: it was enough that I had, every year, one good, small idea that allowed me to direct an original short film and I would be able to survive like that for a while, ignoring that I was completely out of the loop. In other words, with Le Père Noël a les yeux bleus, I let myself get caught in the system, or, rather, in a system that was parallel to the other one, a system of recuperation, with a clear conscience, that you thinking you’re doing in order to eliminate everything that could challenge the cinema. In fact, this system isn’t made for that, it’s made for helping, but, at the same time, it is demobilizing. Personally, I shouldn’t complain, I got subsidies, but, for those, it was necessary to have a rigor that I don’t have. We have a tendency of setting ourselves up in this system. So, in the end, I find myself for sale. I’d willingly sell myself to the highest bidder.

PH: What do you mean by that?

JE: I’m for sale since I want to make films, meaning a rather useless thing in a country’s production. So I’m for sale... Maybe it’s in countries that are more capitalist than our own that “artists” are saved (I don’t like that word, but I haven’t found another), but where they are also paid a higher salary, where they are allowed to live better, in Hollywood, between ‘20 and ‘40, for example... It was, still, something other than the small, stifling life you can lead in Paris...

PH: But don’t you think this life was mythical, reserved to just a few, and not for everyone in movies?

JE: Of course it was reserved for just a few people, but, now, nobody benefits from it anymore, so, if you have to choose between a few people and nobody, if there are a few people who are lucky. That said, after Le cochon, I once again found myself faced with the problem: abandon films or do something else, but what? I don’t know how to do anything else, I’m not wise enough yet to give up everything, to work the earth or work in an office. So, suddenly, I wanted to try something, to make a big gamble on several fronts: to direct a certain kind of film, meaning one that only has a relationship to cinema (or with TV) because it uses exposed film; an ideal film, meaning the first film for TV or cinema.

PH: Why the first film?

JE: It would be, in an ideal country, and for an ideal television, where everything worked right, the prototype for a film, the Numéro zéro. It’s something like L’arrivée du train en gare de La Ciotat. Maybe cinema could advance from this film, I don’t want to talk about the subject or about this film, I would like to stick with general ideas. I think that the surprise that the film constitutes is a lot more important than its content. So I called this film Numéro zéro, I shot it last February with no money. Okay, we’ll get to the financial questions, it’s nobody’s business, it’s my problem, but I’ll still return to them. So I tried to make a film that wasn’t expensive, like the very first films. And I thought - it had already occurred to me with La Rosière and Le cochon, but I was, still, somewhat taken in by a certain technical profusion - so I thought that at the time of the first film, the rolls were very short in the camera. In addition, the camera was fixed and they filmed what happened in front of it. But, as the rolls were all short and they weren’t edited, in other words they hadn’t yet thought of editing, the films were short, they lasted the length of a roll of film. So, I thought, when they wanted to make a longer film, first they glued the film together, but they also used two cameras, the second starting when the first stopped, and eventually a third one to cover, if necessary, the event. After which, the film was put together end to end. It wasn’t editing, it was filming an event in its full duration. I thought that these cameras had to automatically be next to each other, facing the subject, and I don’t see what tortuous mind put a camera on the other side to film the reverse shot or the first camera’s point of view. I think we were too quickly in the shot/reverse shot or the modification of viewpoints. So, I wanted to make a film whose length was longer than a roll of film. For this, I took two cameras that I put side by side and I filmed something very simple: when the first camera’s roll, which had 120 meters of film, got to 90 meters, we started the second camera. The first roll finished, we reloaded the magazine and, when the second roll got to 90 meters, we restarted the first camera, and so on. This allowed for a rather long event to be filmed without a break. The film Numéro zéro lasts between 2 hours and 2 hours 10 minutes, I don’t know exactly how much, 2 hours and 5 minutes, maybe? It’s 2 hours and 5 minutes of shooting that are projected in 2 hours and 5 minutes...  Okay, there’s nothing original about that, it’s really banal but, for me, this banality represents more than all the “artistic” research I had thought about or whose results I was able to see in the last several years. Yes, this declared game, this willed powerlessness and this mechanical recording, I find much more interesting than all the artistic creations and research that I’ve ever thought of...  Moreover, for the first time in a long time, I’ve had personal reasons for making a film, a bit like I had for my first film or for Le père Noël a les yeux bleus. Which shows maybe (at least, personally, it’s how I explain it to myself) that it’s always films that you do for personal reasons that innovate and not the ones you do for technical or artistic reasons. Those ones are prisoners of the system. It’s when you make use of cinema that you invent and not when you serve cinema. And it’s why, finally, I disown La Rosière and Le cochon. There you go. I called this film Numéro zéro to show not only that I was starting over from zero but that I considered that before, what I did, I was fooling myself. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m still me, I have a soft spot for the films that I did before, I’m not going to burn them or put them in the trash while saying, “how awful!” But I disown what I did before this Numéro zéro. First, because I put far too much time into making a film, and especially in thinking about it (it’s not normal to spend two years thinking about a film project: it may be, but it’s impossible in the society, in the world we live in. You can’t let yourself spend too much time thinking because you’re all alone). Maybe in France there exist “cinema research” services where people who think are able to be supported in a certain way but, as I’m not considered a researcher, I’ve always been rejected by this kind of service. Yet, I’ve tried, I’ve proposed projects that have always been rejected for not presenting research characteristics. I no longer try, it’s not worth it, it’s a conversation for deaf people: I pretend that I do research, I’m told no, so...? As my representatives are appointed by the government and I’m not a researcher, they are certainly right. I don’t want to be polemical. I have to get by on my own. I don’t want to say that the world is poorly made, I don’t want to change the world, I want to make films.

Okay. To go back to my undertaking, I felt the need to make this film and I made it. To tell the truth, I made it with a certain, perfectly precise goal. My idea was to have one screening of it. Meaning that, at the same time that I got the idea to make this film, I thought of the viewers who would see it, since it would be made for them and I wanted to stay there: to make a film that concerned no one other than certain friends or, in any case, a very small number of certain people who I would show it to. So I made this film very naively, thinking that the very fact of making a film, and this one in particular, would be important for me. Now that is essential, I’m tempted to leave aside this aspect of things because it’s too personal, but it’s what is essential. And the goal that I was pursuing, lamentably, I failed at.

PH: Why?

JE: For private reasons, I completely failed.

PH: But if you claim, like this, that you failed, you have to try, if not explaining, at least to enlighten us a bit how...

JE: I made this film in order to prove myself to myself and to lay out around me certain ideas that have nothing to do with cinema, that concern my private life. Okay. And not only did I not prove anything at all, but today I find it utopian to have hoped that making a film could modify anything in my life. But, on the other hand, as I shot and edited this film - there were 10 days between the day I shot it and when I screened it - I understand quite a few things, notably that, for the first time, I immediately wanted to shoot something else, the next day or two days after I shot this Numéro zéro and I was, in a way, liberated, meaning that, to speak trivially, I no longer wanted to make good films. I want to shoot, I no longer want to make good films, whereas before there was still this kind of vanity that made me want to make good films. This idea completely slipped my mind. I don’t mean that I want to make anything, trashy films for example, I simply want to shoot.

PH: Do you mean that the act of shooting is all that counts for you? The activity that this represents?

JE: Yes, making films. And for me, not so that films exist. But let’s go back to the important things. I had thought of directing this film for a single screening and then locking it up. Besides, now, it doesn’t matter to me that this film, finished, is interesting or not. Before, I thought that I was still making films for the largest number of viewers, and the only one that had a large number of viewers was La Rosière de Pessac because it was on TV. Now, I’ll say it again, it doesn’t matter to me. The new thing is that this film that I just made, I showed it to 8 people. I had invited 10 and, as it’s hard to get 10 people together at the same time and in the same place, only 8 people came, which is a failure because the screening was an important element of the making of the film, as important as the film itself. You can’t always succeed 100% of the time... Anyway, I put the film aside...

PH: Yes, but the fact that the film exists, meaning that you set up your cameras, then put the rolls end to end in order, that depended on you, you had a certain control there. The presence of the audience is another story. So the notion of failure seems very relative. Don’t you think?

JE: But, precisely, in this undertaking, I didn’t censor the film in the sense that, for all the reasons in the world “artists” (what a repugnant word!) censor themselves... However, I censored the audience, I chose a “delegation” of people to see it. I showed the film as it was, apparently “un-showable” to a very small audience. Okay, maybe I’m in a full-on utopia, but, for the moment, I’m not looking to be in reality, I’m looking for something else; I find, in any case, that there’s something new in the fact that I’m not wearing gloves, that I’m taking the gloves off, rather, because, until now, even when I put personal ideas in my films, which I’ve always done, I always put gloves on to hide these ideas, whereas, for Numéro zéro, I didn’t put on gloves, I put in everything that could bother me and bother everyone on any grounds. And I censored the audience instead of the film. Then, after the screening, which was supposed to be the first and the last, I thought that this film wasn’t so invisible...

PH: It wasn’t the last screening, but the only one...

JE: It was the final step in the making of the film, the last “splice,” in a way... Following the screening, I thought that this film wasn’t “so invisible,” that I was maybe mistaken and, from there, I started to think of the second path that I’m going to talk about now. This film isn’t a film like the others, it only is in the sense that it involves exposed film, but it isn’t a film like the ones shown in movie theaters, whether they are first run, in a multiplex or neighborhood cinema, or on TV. But I realized that, as long as a film has one viewer, even one, it exists, whereas, as long as it isn’t seen, it doesn’t exist. Which, of course, doesn’t say anything about its quality... And it’s after the screening, considering that the film exists, that I begin my action, I want the audience to feel concerned with the film. So I called such and such a person, saying, “I screened my new film, 8 people saw it, but you, you didn’t see this film because, if I have private screenings for friends who would bring their own friends, if I screen my film at the 'Cinématheque,' in the 'Director’s Fortnight,' at gatherings of filmmakers, and gatherings for this or that, well, the people who, by generosity or interest, are interested in cinema or in what I do, will see it.” After which, the film will be able to age and die peacefully, no longer concerning anyone. So, I decided the following thing: I’m no longer showing this film because it’s up to the audience, I mean, the people who want to see it, to act. For my part, I don’t want to do anything more. With my first films, I made the mistake of doing everything, not only directing those films, but going through the trouble of showing them, in other words inviting to see them people who maybe didn’t want to see them. That no longer works, I was mistaken for years, and I’m not the only one, so I’ve had enough, I’m putting an end to that game. My last film doesn’t interest me anymore. I wasn’t at the screening and I don’t want to see it. If people want to see it, if people feel concerned, they can do something. That’s the goal of my undertaking.

My friends said to me, “How do you want your film to be defended if it hasn’t been seen?” But I don’t want it to be defended, I want people to fight to see it and not to make it seen by others. I don’t want critics to fight to get the public to see it, as has been done for years for films reputed to be “difficult,” I want them to fight to see it themselves. Things need to be put on an individual and concrete level, and to do that I want to act completely within the capitalist system, meaning that I’m speculating: for the moment, this film isn't worth much, it’s worth what it’s worth, I don’t know how much. 8 people saw it, I don’t know if they’re saying good or bad things about it; let’s say that the worth of this film is close to zero. What I want is that with time, like with the stock market, the day when the “shares” go up, I can sell. So, what I suggested to myself, what I have to make known with this interview or aloud, and what I’m not hiding from myself, is that I’m putting this film up for sale. I’m selling the rights to this film for a certain price for a length of time that isn’t determined, for 10 years for example, and for the whole world. This isn’t a film anymore, it’s no longer a “cultural” or “artistic” thing, it’s a product that I’m selling. For the moment, its worth is equal to zero, no one is proposing anything to me. But I’m going to try making the price go up, I don’t know how to make the price go up, but I’m going to try finding a way and I’ll sell this film to whoever wants to buy it, however they want to use it because, for my part, I won’t get mixed up in whatever it is. It could be cut into pieces, cut into 8 pieces, lengthened, shortened, shown in theaters, on TV, or somewhere else, I don’t want to know what will be done with it. The guy who designs cars doesn’t think about the driver who will drive it because he would be too unhappy.

PH: But is that really the same thing?

JE: I want it to be the same thing. The driver can change a fender, steering wheel, which will maybe hurt the guy who invented the car, but too bad. If someone buys and see my film, he can do what he wants with it, I don’t give damn.

PH: Okay, but doesn’t that contradict what you told me earlier, “this film is my life, it’s a part of my life”?

JE: But the fact of making a car, that’s also part of the life of the guy who invented it: he spends a certain number of months or years creating a prototype, and, then, he delivers it to the masses and he doesn’t want to deliver it to a chosen group, he delivers it those who buy it.

PH: I’m not convinced by this comparison between cars and films...

JE: Before, I also thought this comparison wasn’t possible, but this idea is also part of the clean conscience of “artists,” and I also want to deny that, because it’s a prison, it’s trip you get stuck in, it’s what stifles you, and it’s what stifled me. I know that this maybe creates an uneasiness, but I’m not functioning anymore, I was taken in by this uneasiness, I had been sensitive to what’s called “artistic property.” Now, that’s over...

I made a product and don’t want to know anything else. I’m putting this product up for sale, people can come and make proposals to me. But, for the moment, I’m not a dupe, it isn’t worth much, I’d really be naive if I thought the opposite. In any case, now, I think that I can shoot. Oh, I can’t shoot very easily, as I'd like or as I breath, but I can still shoot immediately if I have some money. I’m looking for some to make a film that will be called Numéro un because, from now on, even if they have to have subtitles, I’m numbering my films. I made Zéro. I’m going to make Un, Deux, Trois, Quatre. I’ll take the time that’s needed. But I’ll make them according to the same principle, which has nothing to do anymore with traditional production methods: it’s the fabrication of something that I put aside, that I show to a very small committee, that maybe I’ll enlarge a little. Maybe I’m going to have 15 people for Numéro un, 20 for Deux, I don’t know, it’ll depend on my mood but, then, I’ll shut them away and I won’t show them because, if I show them anywhere, what happened every other time will happen again, namely that something is stolen from me. You don’t have to be scared of saying it. When people see my films, giving me nothing in exchange, I’m robbed. The film’s subject isn’t important to me and it doesn’t matter if my thoughts, my life, my image, what I film or I don’t know what, are robbed from me, it’s all the same to me, because you feel a certain pleasure being robbed in this way. But I’m also robbed of money that I’ve given to make my films and I’m given nothing in exchange, I find that it’s the world on its head. That, in this society, the creator is robbed and the consumer is the robber, it’s the world on its head.

PH: But it’s because, in fact, you’re the producer of your film. What if you weren’t?

JE: It can’t be any different as far as I’m concerned. And it’s not my fault: I’ve always tried to get a producer without ever managing to do so. No one has ever wanted to risk a cent on me. I’ve also not had the choice. It isn’t a question of rigor on my part, I haven’t been able to do anything else. So, whether the world is upside down and needs to be turned right side up, I’m not responsible but, my for my part, I’m not in on it anymore, even if it costs me as much to not show this film to friends or people that I value, as for them, maybe, the fact of not seeing it at all. But it’s the only guarantee of the undertaking I’m embarking on. At the moment, I’m looking for money to make Numéro un, then, if I manage to do it, I’ll go on to Numéro deux, etc...

PH: But always following the same principle? I mean: you make a film, you show it to x number of viewers, and you shut it off until someone proposes to buy it and show it?

JE: Right. I was told I was utopian, but I know it and it’s all the same to me, I’m waiting for the value to go up, like in the stock market...

PH: Do you not think that in France, in 1971, you are practically alone against millions of viewers. There are friends who support you, morally more than anything else, but you’re alone in front of this mass because, at the most, everyone or almost everyone doesn't take cinema seriously...

JE: I agree. But I defined my position as utopian from the start. I don’t know where I’ll go, but I know where I am. Whatever the price of my attitude, as there’s a financial problem - spend money making films and keep them without getting anything back - this position is, for me, the only one possible, and not even from a moral point of view, it’s my only chance of succeeding at something. I don’t have a choice. If I show it, I won’t earn more money and the film will be like dead, ineffective, whether or not it is liked. I want out. One of my films, Le Père Noël a les yeux bleus, was liked, according to what I could read and hear in film clubs and theaters where it was shown. The release of my films in theaters or underground theaters has cost me money. I don’t want to talk about money, but, still, you have to...

PH: Absolutely. When you talk about cinema, you have to talk about money...

JE: You have to talk about that only. Okay. I’ve always been glad people like Le Père Noël. I said to myself, “Here, I didn’t do it for nothing, I tried expressing something and people understood it.” So, Le Père Noël was liked by certain teenagers, which really pleased me. Besides, this film was conceived from my own memories, I felt very alone, an adolescent, and I wasn’t finding myself at the movies or elsewhere: so I made this film out of this frustration and I was very happy when 16 or 17 year olds, who maybe didn’t know exactly why, found something in it. And then, there were also people my age who remembered their adolescence and even the oldest people sometimes, but there was, in the first place, those who it spoke to now. And that was a huge joy for me... But I’m not a “Good Samaritan,” I didn’t make this film to help others, but to live. I was delighted my film was liked this much, but I still need to live.

And to use pretentious language, while admitting that I brought something, no one brought me anything in exchange, in any case, so it’s like I was robbed and suffocated at the same time. I gave something until I was suffocated, until I was destitute, until I had nothing more to say and nothing to do. And nothing in exchange. It’s was like vampirism. I sucked my own blood. My blood was pumped out and that’s all, I was left there. So, I reacted, I don’t want any more, so be it...

PH: What are you going to do now?

JE: I’ve got several projects and, it’s very banal, I’m looking for money to finalize them. And for the first time, I’m not looking for a producer because I won’t be part of any scheme anymore.

PH: Do you mean that from the moment when you go to see a producer you enter into a scheme?

JE: Yes. I’d like to see producers or anyone else but I won’t be part of any scheme anymore. I’m asking someone to gamble, I want the money entrusted to me, not a lot, because my films don’t cost much, but I want it entrusted to me, without thinking about immediately getting it back. There’s a film that is called Numéro zéro that isn’t going to bother anyone, but if another one exists, and then another, and again another, it will begin to weigh down. And the prices will rise. At least, that’s what I anticipate.

PH: So, precisely, don’t you think that there’s a fundamental ambiguity there? Other people before you died at this game and without there even being a gamble at the start. For example, as Van Gogh painted paintings no one really cared, but when he died, and only then, his work began to be important. Later, the “values” of Van Goghs started to go up.

JE: Agreed. But since I have children, I’ll arrange to make a will so that everything isn’t lost, that they have an inheritance...

PH: But for how much would you sell, for example, your Numéro zéro?

JE: For the moment, I’m selling the rights for the entire world and for ten years for ten million francs.

PH: Why that price? Have you arbitrarily fixed it?

JE: Yeah, I fixed it arbitrarily because I have about 5 million in debts at the moment... And then I need 7 or 8 million to make Numéro un...  I think that if an industrialist 0r any viewer buys the film from me, he can gain money. No joke! If he sells it to 2 or 3 French language TV stations or if, 5 or 6 years later, he re-sells it to do other things, he can really gain money. So 10 million francs seems a pathetic amount. Numéro un will cost 7 to 8 million. The results would have to be taken into consideration, but I intend on selling it for 20 million... It will be in color, of a not-yet-determined length and it will maybe have certain commercial aspects, based on the old criteria. Films can please for misunderstandings or for reasons rather far from the ones they were made for.

PH: It seems to me that when you talked about a utopia or a utopian project earlier, you laid your cards on the table.

JE: Yeah, but I wanted to have made a film before talking about this project. Maybe I’m mistaken, but it seems to me that if someone had spoken to me about this project, I would have found it seductive and ideal, so ideal that I wouldn’t have thought that the thing was possible and I refused to talk about a thing that would have had no beginning of existence...

Now, I don’t think about the film I made anymore. Before, I spent a crazy amount of time detaching myself from a film, and I didn’t want to look towards the future at all. And now, I have something else to do, so I decided to no longer think about what I’ve done, and I’m looking for money. In fact, for the first time, I’m looking for a sponsorship. Up until now, I was looking to do business or to get business done by reasoning that here’s the business, the risks it runs, based on a small amount of money, of course, (I mean trivial from the point of view of an industrialist or a businessman) and a small business matter that would take a year, a year and a half. But now, to tell the truth, since I’m in this utopia, I’m looking for a sponsorship. I’m asking for money to be given to me, not too much, to allow me to move forward. I think that in the end, after some time, we’ll make it back, but as with any financial matter, with the risks that they carry, it goes up or it goes down. If I made the films Numéro Un, Deux, or Trois, if I make an extraordinary “locomotive” and if some viewers of these films say a ton of things about them, then it is possible that the values will go up very high and that I’ll sell: by selling the “locomotive,” I’ll sell the others all at once. So, if the third film is, let’s say, “super commercial,” well then, if someone wants it, he’ll have to buy everything from me.

PH: But maybe if a sponsor gives you the necessary money for making one of your projects, he’ll want to show the film?

JE: Of course, but that remains to be discussed... I know that my position isn’t easy, but I don’t have a choice. Basically, what can I expect as a price or a bonus? The film I made under the title Numéro zéro is two hours long. So, it isn’t a short film, I can’t present it to the prix à la qualité, contrary to what I’ve done up until now: I confined myself to short films, not going past the set length, to not take risks in unknown territory. Ok, this time, I swept away this preoccupation, I didn’t think of a normal length, I had to do something for its own sake, so I had to overturn the existing rules.  Strictly from the point of view of length, Numéro zéro is a feature film, but it isn’t a traditional feature film that I could present to the avance sur recettes once the film was done. It isn’t a TV movie either. No doubt I need to inform myself, but I don’t know if there’s someone in TV who is supposed to find among existing films the ones that are right for TV. I think that TV is a system that functions rather poorly and that no one is used to doing this sorting. Also, if I showed my film to the CNC, they’d object, “It isn’t a short film because of the length; it isn’t a feature or, at least, it isn’t an interesting feature.” It’s why I think, in fact, that Numéro zéro doesn’t have a place anywhere. It’s mine. So, this place has to be dug out and I will dig it out by making other films if I’m able to.

PH: If you can, but what are you going to live on, now? You have to find money...

JE: I believe I’m going to live, I’ll see...

PH: Because you have to live in order to continue on, this would only be in order to continue and to make the utopia a reality. Insofar as you made a film and this film was seen by eight viewers, this utopia has acquired a real existence. But now, you have to continue. It’s always the problem in filmmaking.
 

Notes

1. A monetary prize awarded to short films by the CNC (National Center of Cinematography and the moving image) after, and not before, they have been completed.

Responses

6 responses to this post.  Join the discussion

  • Dan Sallitt

    Amazing. Thanks.

  • Juliet Clark

    Thanks for this. Eustache seems rigorously self-contradictory as always. I presume that what’s translated here as “one of Ingres’ violins” was originally “un violon d’Ingres,” meaning not an actual violin but a hobby?

  • Ted Fendt

    Yes! Thanks for catching that Juliet.

  • unoquehabla

    This has got to be one of the most disquieting interviews I’ve read. The array of preoccupations, insecurities, resentment and, most of all, hard truths about film and art in general is overwhelming.
    This whole idea of making a film only to not show it to anyone and then speculate on its value is not as feverish as it may sound. It seems he wanted to show the commodification of films which disguised itself hypocritically under the mask of “Art”, sustained by an entire system of representation and validation of that status (that explains also his disgust by the mere mention of “the artist”, which was turning more and more into a merchant).
    It seems he wanted to render visible the manner in which value is attributed to something (in this case, to a piece of film totally devoid of content attributable to a subject: just the mere operation of the machine). By showing it to a selected few, the desire of the others to watch the film would increase. Desire, being dialectically produced, would produce speculation and a competition to acquire this precious object without even knowing what it was, without having experienced it. As some have said, desire is motivated by lack and by a supposition that there is something that fulfills that lack. And when this object is attained let’s call it “x” one realizes that it was never that what we wanted in the first place so we go in search for another object. And another. And another. Numéro zéro, numéro un, numéro deux…

  • Cani

    Thank you for this.

  • .

    Thanks.

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