'A Director in the City' Honoree: Claude Lelouch
He has seven children, has been working for more than 50 years and has made almost that many movies. French director Claude Lelouch has Oscars, Cesars, a Palme d’Or and several other major prizes under his belt, but the 74 year-old director isn’t planning to put down his camera anytime soon. He’ll head to Nimes this week for the“A Director in the City” festival honoring his prolific career. Before he headed to the Southern French city, Lelouch spoke to The Hollywood Reporter’s France Correspondent Rebecca Leffler where his idea for A Man and a Woman really came from, why even Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando, John Travolta and Barbra Streisand couldn’t convince him to make a Hollywood movie and why he may be the only Frenchman who never takes a vacation.
The Hollywood Reporter: You’ve received so many honors and prizes throughout your long career, including the coveted Oscar. What does this honor in Nimes mean to you?
Claude Lelouch: I’m at the age of homages and masterclasses now! There are two kinds of movies: the ones we see once and the ones we go back to see again. It’s nice to see that some of my films have managed to last through the years and that people want to see them again.
THR: Why did you accept the festival’s offer to come to Nimes? Aren’t you on vacation like the rest of France at this time of year?
Lelouch: I never take vacation. For me, vacations are just more hassles… hassles in the sun! I never last there. I always need action. I need to keep thinking, writing, preparing a film, even several at a time.
THR: The Festival has chosen five of your films to present. What do you think of their selection? What films would you have chosen from your vast filmography to screen?
Lelouch: In a retrospective, I’d mix some of my successes with some of my biggest failures. We only learn from failure. Out of my failures, I’ve made some of my biggest successes.
THR: Do you have a favorite film out of all that you’ve made?
Lelouch: It’s as if you were asking me to choose between my children. It would be perfectly cruel. All of my films are important to me. They’ve all taught me something! I never stop going back to school and learning when I make a movie, like all self-teachers!
THR: The festival will screen A Man and a Woman, probably your best known film across French borders. What does this film mean to you?
Lelouch: A Man and a Woman fundamentally changed my life. Two Oscars, the Palme d’Or…After this film, I became a free man. It brought me success and fame. It’s a decisive step in any career.
THR: Where did the idea for the film come from?
Lelouch: The story of the script and of this race car driver was born one morning, just after a night of total depression. I’d come from a catastrophic screening of my previous film. I didn’t want to do anything. I went to Deauville. I didn’t even know why I went to Deauville. I fell asleep along the ocean in my car. When day broke, I saw a woman and her child walking along the water far away. I left my car to get some air. The more I walked towards this woman, the more I asked myself: What is she doing here so early with a child? Maybe she is trying to take advantage of her time with the child because she doesn’t see him very often? Little by little, I started to write the script of the film in my head. I sat down in a nearby café to write down some notes. And I finished the script just a few weeks later.
THR: You made A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later and now it’s been 46! If you made A Man and a Woman: 46 Years Later today, what would it be about?
Lelouch: I explain in my documentary From One Film to Another that I made several mistakes with this film. 20 Years Later is a sequel, a remake and film within a film all at the same time.
I was wrong to think that audiences needed entertainment because I’d just finished making some pretty polyphonic movies like Les Uns et les Autres and Edith and Marcel. But the menu became too sophisticated. I should have focused on just one scene. Only one scene in the restaurant where Anouk and Jean-Louis meet. That was my original idea. Just two cameras. If I had to redo it today, it would only be this face-to-face, a focus only on what was essential.
THR: What would be your dream opening or closing credits? With whom would you like to work (dead or alive) ?