I try to share all the questions that the world poses, and I try to stay attentive to what’s going on around me. I’m interested in the complexity of the world in which I live. Those concerns were certainly present in “The Workshop,” but here, they’ll take center stage. Let’s say that it’s a film that reflects on the dangers of social networks and the difficulties of not falling victim to their power.
I think if you’re happy on set it shows up onscreen. I have the impression that I have as many doubts today as I did when starting out. I certainly don’t feel any more at ease in my process. Once you’re satisfied, you don’t have to try it again and again. Maybe the only thing that I’ve learned is how to be happier on set. And I’ve learned that once you’re happy with a take you can let it be. Whenever I begin a new project I’ve spent months and months turning it around in my head, telling myself yes one day and no the next. So I have gleaned that wisdom.” />
There’s been a complete abandonment of the political process as we’ve come to know and understand it. Whatever the case, the government’s arrogance toward the public is only going to exacerbate an already growing problem. The government doesn’t want to consider the difficulties that people are living, or considers the issues with a lot of complexity. I feel that the government is completely deaf to the cries of the country.
I think we’re going through a really precarious period in film production, and I very much fear that it’s going to be a lot more difficult make my kind of cinema. In France, things are more difficult today than they were 10 years ago. If you make films that don’t exactly announce themselves as surefire hits, you feel like you’re walking a tightrope. I really don’t want to partake in that trend. Moreover, there’s been a recent inflation in terms of budgets and resources spent. There’s less money overall, and more of it gets concentrated in the same few projects. I don’t want to take larger scale films in order to show my evolution as a director. A decade ago, Canal Plus would help finance a lot more productions.
Will this next project reunite you with [“BPM” director and long-time creative partner] Robin Campillo?
A perceptive examiner of his country’s various fault lines, Cantet has been on jury duty at the Marrakech Film Festival, which wraps up Saturday. When Variety sat down with Cantet to discuss past and future projects, we also asked about the protests that he seemed to foresee nearly two decades ago.
What do you make of the ongoing situation in France?
There’s another adage: “Happy people have no stories to tell.” I don’t try to catalogue all the horrors of the world; I simply try to look at the world in all its complexity. The world interrogates me all the time, and I want to share the questions it asks, because I rarely have many answers.
How do you feel about the French film industry as it stands today?
In your previous film, “The Workshop,” you specifically dealt with a young man falling under the sway of those forces.
Do you feel like you’ve evolved as a director?
Can you tell us anything more about the script?
But without any overall structure, the movement can go off in all directions, and we see now how it’s being co-opted by the extreme-right. That kind of improvisation can be beautiful, in a way, and maybe that’s the way we should look at the politics, to try things out and see if they work. Still, while there are plenty of valid reasons to go out and protest in the street, I don’t get the impression that the “Gilets Jaunes” know exactly where their movement is going.
Because I look for little known actors, and very often non-professional ones, my casting process can span more than six months. I have a hard time believing professional actors in certain roles. Take factory workers, for example. That’s why I can spend six to eight months just in casting. In a way it’s the most pivotal part of the process, because if I mess up there, the film will never work. I just finished my latest script. Bodies speak, and no actor can ever have the physique someone who’s actually done hard labor for over 30 years. That’s not something you can play. I don’t only look for people with strong personalities who can bring their characters to life; I also need to make sure they mesh within the alchemy of the group. Now it’s time to look for financing and to begin casting, which is always a very long process for me.
With his 1999 feature debut “Human Resources,” director Laurent Cantet – who later won the Palme d'Or at Cannes with "The Class" – traced the economic and cultural fissures between France’s blue-collar, non-urban set, and the country’s managerial elite. That conflict has played out writ large across the streets of Paris in recent weeks, as members of the “Gilets Jaunes” (Yellow Vest) movement have taken to the streets to protest French President Emmanuel Macron’s technocratic style of governance.
I wrote this latest script with screenwriting duo Fanny Burdino and Samuel Doux, who wrote the recent Cédric Kahn film “The Prayer,” among others. Sadly no, but for a happy reason. We all have to move on to our next projects, but I hope we’ll be able to work together again at some future point. Robin is busy working on his next film and he just doesn’t have the time. Working with them has been wonderful, but still, it hasn’t been easy to mourn a more-than-two-decades-long collaboration with Robin.
Another theme that feels disturbingly relevant. Have you heard the curse, “May you live in interesting times?”
Kids that don’t have many prospects, and don’t have many things going on in their lives, they fall into a state of ennui, and that ennui opens the door to all kinds of extremism. I think boredom and ennui are the real catalysts that send kids down a dangerous path. That sense of ennui is our real enemy, it’s what we really need to fight, and maybe culture and creation are the best tools at our disposal. People come to them and say, “follow us and you’ll feel alive,” and that can be very appealing. In “The Workshop” the young characters gets drawn in by the far-right, but it’s the exact same pattern for Jihadists as well.
Where are you in your next creative endeavor?