Since 1984, Leos Carax has made only five feature films, and all but one have premiered at Cannes, usually with feverish impatience. This year, festival-goers will be looking to see how the 60-year-old French maverick, aka Alex Christophe Dupont, will surpass his intoxicating entry into the 2012 competition. Sacred Motors, which featured talking limos, chimps and Kylie Minogue. They will get their answer when Cannes raises the curtain on this year’s opening. Annette, a thematically dark and visually kaleidoscopic rock opera he co-wrote with American pop duo Sparks, which stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard.
DEADLINE: What is your best memory of Cannes? Do you associate it with good times or bad times?
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LEOS CARAX: What makes the Cannes experience special is the mix of good and bad taste, faith, luck, etc.
The only time I stayed during the screening of one of my films here was for Sacred Motors– because I owed so much to the cast and crew, and they wanted me to be there.
A terrible experience. I felt like the movie was seven hours long and the sound was coming out from under a pillow. But then it was beautiful. Neither actor had seen the movie yet, and I could see how proud they were, so I was too. But the day before had been very bad, arriving in Cannes by car with my friend in the pouring rain, a huge heavy truck hit us at full speed, and I saw us die – which also seemed to go on forever.
DEADLINE: How would you describe your Competition film? Annette?
CARAX: A musical fantasy with comedy, love and sex, a monster, a child and some corpses.
DEADLINE: When was the first time you discovered Sparks and what attracted you to them?
CARAX: When I was 13 or 14, I had never heard of them but saw the cover of their Propaganda album in a department store. Love; has stolen. Propaganda and Indiscreet are still two of my favorite pop albums today. Few songs can offer such pure joy and sometimes be poignant.
DEADLINE: How did the script take shape? Was it a collaborative process?
CARAX: Very. We joked about it, because Sparks had just released a song called “Collaborations Don’t Work”. Most of the story was already there when they proposed the project to me. But a movie is not a story, and it took time and work to make it something that I could shoot.
DEADLINE: What were you looking for when you picked the movie, and what did Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard deliver?
CARAX: Casting seems to me to be a totally unnatural and absurd practice. Filmmakers should imagine their films for the people they most want to film: usually their lover plus one. There should only be one person imaginable for a game. But the fact that Annette does not come from me, everything is different.
Adam was there from the start, and it took us seven years and three different producers to get the movie off the ground. I had only seen him in the series Girls. I immediately thought, where does this creature come from? From which parallel dimension? And yet I felt that I knew him and that I would know how to film him.
It was more difficult to find the actress: someone who could play, sing, play the part, and whom I would like to film. Marion was not an obvious choice, but she turned out to be a great choice. She has the mystery and grace of a silent film actress.
DEADLINE: Music, and musicians in particular, are an important part of your achievement. Do you always know what you want?
CARAX: The music is spellbinding, as the cinema should be. I would have liked a life in music. The vertigo of music. This is my biggest regret: not being a musician, composer, singer. But music rejected me when I was a child; I was no good.
Cinema is what comes closest to composition, the creation of rhythms and melodies. To lead is to lead. When I’m filming a scene I’m pretty sure my hands are moving unconsciously like the hands of a conductor.
Cinema and music are the only places I feel at home: I never doubt what I like or dislike, and I feel like I know if what we are doing is right or wrong.
DEADLINE: Did you always intend to make a film in English?
CARAX: English was my mother tongue, although I lost it a bit. And, yeah, I knew I wanted to make an English movie one day. I read a lot, especially in English. And a lot of the singers that I have listened to all my life are English or American. I love English, especially when it’s spoken by people like James Mason or Gene Tierney.
But making an American film has never been a strong desire. Annette started as an American project. In Los Angeles, I kept getting emails from producers, with the word “hyper-excited” all over the place; but nothing was really happening. So I brought the project back to France.
DEADLINE: Annette is a story that explores love. You could argue that love is the theme of all of your previous films.
CARAX: A boy meets a girl was the title of my first film. It could also have been that of my next two films. It comes from this anecdote told by Hitchcock to Truffaut, to emphasize how unoriginal the theme is: a famous Hollywood screenwriter wakes up in the middle of the night with a great idea for a movie. Excited, he writes it down on a piece of paper and goes back to sleep. He wakes up in the morning with a feeling of panic… he doesn’t remember what his big idea was. Then he remembers that he wrote it. With relief, he picks up the paper. He said, “A boy meets a girl.” In my three boy-girl films, the lovers met during the film. But in Annette, we understand that they have just met, just before the start of the film. I liked the idea very much, but it’s hard to do, not to show the meeting, and yet make it noticeable that they just met – to capture the shyness, awkwardness and apprehension of a new love.
DEADLINE: Annette promises “a tale of songs and fury without taboos”. Is there anything taboo in the cinema?
CARAX: Taboo or not taboo? A very old story. Pornography is not taboo because of what it shows, but because of the way it most often chooses to show it. Same thing with the cinema
in general. In some religions it is taboo to represent the human face. I really understand why. But the cinema is a matter of taboo. This is what every image flirts with, something deeply impossible, unspeakable, unthinkable.
DEADLINE: Thinking back on your work, it’s easy to see some recurring rhymes, repetitions, and themes. Do you put them there, or is it unconscious?
CARAX: How do you imagine a film? Cinema is something that I have done so rarely, just a few films in 40 years, I tend to completely forget how it’s made and how I do it. But I know it always involves an obscure mixture of extreme precision and extreme chaos.
I have a limited imagination. So some of those recurrences you mention could be from that.
Fortunately, you don’t need your imagination to make movies. All you need is to see things, to hear things; you need to be haunted.