Interview: Catherine Deneuve

A chat with the French icon at the event of her retrospective at the Bangkok Film Festival.

How do you feel about the influence your movies have had on a lot of people?

Well that’s what they say… it’s not what I say, you know. That’s the big problem.

How do you ‘create’ your roles?

I don’t know. I always think of movies as little miracles, you know. I’m surprised by their order, even if it’s not the right order, you know, it always comes up as something very fluid. So I really don’t know, you know. You really hope for your best. You’re an actor and you do your scenes, but then what happens afterwards is that is belongs to everyone else. Because people see different things, you know, in cinema, even things you would never have thought about. It’s an experiment.

Has there been a path, a progression, through your films — and films in general?

Well I don’t think there has been that much difference, you know, it is just a sort of evolution, but there is no more than that. I think if you’re talking about when cinema was different you’d have to talk about it before the war. Cinema has always been a sort of a reflection of a society, so I think that a society has to see themselves, to see the sort of society we have. Since the ’60s — I started in the ’60s — I wouldn’t say there is that much difference, just technical progress, you know, directors working with different cameras and lights and working in the streets; film making is easier in a way.  It’s just the evolution of life and of the society.

So you don’t think your work with, say, Truffaut or Polanski or Bunuel was informed by a different spirit than the films that are being made today?  Is it more than just a technical difference?

Well I think the cinema seems to be more open now — things are getting said that you would have thought that, you know, 25 years ago you would maybe not see, like a homosexual couple. The thing is a lot of things have changed for the cinema.  Things that were not possible 35 years ago appear today.

How important is it for film makers to make those movies, like Brokeback, today?

Well there always have been directors and producers that have been trying to make films that were scandal or shock or forbidden or censored. They always, I think, had that kind of mentality, and there will be something else in 10 or 15 years that we don’t know, because we only know what we know; we don’t know what will be tried. A subject, for example, like Brokeback Mountain, twenty years ago would not exist.  But I really think it always follows the society, you know; it is not the film that makes people change, it’s just a reflection — sometimes a very early reflection, but a reflection.

So you wouldn’t say that film itself can change the world, it’s more that the world changes film…

I think the world changes and some people realise it through a reflection of what they do or what they want, or what they pursue; but we have to be very modest about the impact of films on people.

Apart from Ang Lee, who directed Brokeback, are there other directors whom you think are very perceptive in the way they reflect the world?

It’s always easier to think about past cinema I guess, the New Realism in Italy and the Nouvelle Vague in France, the arrival, in America of directors like Coppola and Scorsese.  But today I’m sure there are some directors that are — I just don’t think of it, I cannot find the right example!

I was curious — the guy asked you about The Hunger before — what drew you to working with a director like Tony Scott, when you mention people like Coppola and Scorsese? Did you ever have the desire to work with them?

Well you know that’s like saying I would like to have Christmas every day! [Laughs] I can talk about Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino who are great actors… Would I love to work with them? Yes, of course. Will I work with them? No.

How did you get involved with The Hunger then?

It was an English production at the beginning, you know, a sort of English-American production with Tony Scott, and I think, was, it was after The Last Metro; they wanted a European actress to play that vampire woman. He was very nice, and I had a good relationship with Tony Scott.

Did you enjoy acting opposite David Bowie?

Yeah. Well, I didn’t work much with him because most of the time, you know, in his scenes he was being the old man and it was very difficult to see him behind all the make-up. It was very frustrating for him as well I think, to be in hours of make-up to become that character. Which is very English. I can sort of understand. I got along very well with Susan Sarandon, you know, because she’s a very special woman and actress, but I can’t say I had a very special relationship with David Bowie, no.

Was that because of the make-up?

[Laughs] Part of it is, you know. You don’t get that close.

Were you interested in acting in American movies at that point, had The Hunger gone on to be an enormously successful film?

It would have changed things of course. But frankly I don’t know because I’m really very French. I have my French accent and that’s a major problem for an English-speaking film. I mean for one person like Juliette Binoche or Julie Delpy there are a hundred actresses trying, too. I’m not sure I would have been able to really accept the price for it. I don’t know, because it didn’t happen, so I don’t know. But I cannot see myself, maybe six months or a year in Los Angeles — in America, but in Los Angeles I’m not sure. Anyway, it didn’t happen and what happens, happens, but I have no frustration as an actress — and I love American actresses, it’s a thing about American cinema, they’re wonderful. They’re just lucky, because when you speak English, and you do a film, you know it’s going to be seen around the world. Luckily because I’m French I don’t think like that, you know. But sometimes it can be frustrating to think that your language is not the major speaking language of the world.

March 2006

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