A MEETING BETWEEN CHRISTOPHE HONORÉ & ARMELLE LETURCQ - CRASH Magazine
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Photo by Elise Toidé.

A MEETING BETWEEN CHRISTOPHE HONORÉ & ARMELLE LETURCQ

By Armelle Leturcq

Rediscover our meeting with Christophe Honoré from our issue #89.

A filmmaker and writer since the 1990s, Christophe Honoré makes movies in the same way he pens novels: free and poetic, with a special place devoted to dialogue. His sensitive form of cinema alternates between true-to-life situations and dreamlike psychic musings. In his latest film Chambre 212, he takes as his setting the bedroom, his favorite room to film and one which we often find at the center of his stories, from Love Songs to Dans Paris. We chatted with the filmmaker about the question of dreams in film and its relationship to language.

Since this issue of Crash is devoted to dreams, I want to ask you about dreams in your films. I get the impression that your latest film, On a Magical Night, is structured like a dream.

It’s strange because I’m wary of dreams. I’ve never dreamt up any of my films, for example. Some filmmakers wake up in the morning and their dreams set off a sort of fiction, a story that becomes the basis of their script. But that has never happened to me. By that token, I wouldn’t say that On a Magical Night is anything like a dream. You’re right to point out the notion of the unconscious, because we are inside the character’s mind. She’s desperate to be left alone, and so she crosses the street and locks herself up alone in a room. It’s a room where she can be all alone and just think. Then something magical happens like in a fairytale, where she sees her husband as he was when he was twenty-five. But I tried to avoid ending the film on a note of “It was all a dream”. I wanted to avoid that prosaic conception of dreams, in which we’re subjugated by dream images. We’re blinded by illusions. With this film, we enter into the woman’s thought process, rather than her subjugation. Although it’s still true that she doesn’t ask for all these people to invade her space: her ex-lovers, her mother, etc. Many things are out of her control, but we are still following her core thought process.

It seems like she leaves home for just one night, but then enters into a vague sort of spacetime.

Yes, it’s ambiguous. You may have noticed that in dream films, you always see the moment when they person falls asleep. But here, we see her at the window, and then we see her wake up later in her room. In this case, it’s all her thoughts that wake her up. She wakes up, sees the open door and discovers something that could never happen in real life. But I didn’t want it to be hazy or ethereal. It’s a concrete, embodied film which follows a logical progression that is surrealist, but not necessarily dreamlike. Dreams can be approached in many different ways on film. Film in itself offers a sort of dream experience to viewers. Sometimes they are wonderful stories that get you dreaming, and other times it’s Walt Disney for kids. Hollywood movies – whether they’re romantic comedies, Marvel movies, etc. – a usually invite viewers to hide in the dark and dream of a better world.

Another world.

Yes, another, more seductive, world.

Doesn’t that apply to all films?

Yes, but with Neorealism, Rossellini and others argued that film is not a dream, but a window to the world. The goal was not to create another world on film, but to use film to see the world as it is. After the 1940s and 50s, there were essentially two ways to conceive of film: film as a metaphor or film as a window to the real world. Then there are the filmmakers who work in a state of hypnotism or somnambulism, like Jarmusch who makes somnambulant films in a way. The characters move at a peculiar pace, and the scenes connect in unusual ways… He is one of the “somnambulist” filmmakers, the dreamers.

There is still a type of fantasy in your films, even if they are not literally about dreams.

In the same way that I try to fight against naturalism just as I am one of its heirs, my goal is to explore those questions. Of course, if I have a bunch of actors singing in the street, I’m creating a world that escapes gravity, in the sense of weight, or what keeps our feet on the ground. With On a Magical Night, it’s true that I’ve pushed this logic further than ever before, by creating a groundless world. Sorry if I’m splitting hairs over the word “dream”. I don’t have a great relationship with psychoanalysis, at least in my own life. Dreams seem like a lazy narrative form to me, though it may sound weird to say that. But it’s also true of nightmare films. It’s too easy.

It’s common in film to see a scene where an actor wakes up and we realize it was all a dream or nightmare. It’s a trope we see in a lot of TV series, too.

And it’s always deceptive. What makes a filmmaker like Lynch so powerful is that there is no falling asleep and no waking up.

Lynch is more along the lines of schizophrenia.

Yes, and moreover dreams do not allow us to escape, quite the contrary. Dreams condemn us. In a way, it links up with a literary heritage that includes Kafka, in which it’s an excess of realism that generates the anxiety. Anyway, with On a Magical Night, I would never say at the end of the film: “This woman was dreaming”. To me it seems more like we journey through her ideas and her ideas become incarnate. In short, at the moment when she slams her apartment door, the first question she asks herself is a question that everyone in a relationship asks: “How did I fall in love with that man?” The answer to that question is not a dream answer, it’s simply that this man was both someone else and the person she sees today. Afterwards, she has to admit that she has become someone else as well. What determines permanence and impermanence in a relationship?

At the same time, it’s also the fantasy of meeting a new lover who is half her age.

Yes, except that there is a lot he could be unhappy about after reuniting with her. We always end up putting other people’s past on trial, without ever looking in the mirror. We feel like the same person, but that’s a false impression…

How did you get the idea for this film?

It’s simple: I got old! (laughs) I’ve never told a story about an established couple. I usually focus on more unexpected or uncertain love stories. My films usually show the moment of discovery: the story of a new love or a new desire. This time I wanted to seriously consider the condition of a married woman or man. I wanted to try to understand what it means to live together. It’s not just a question of staying in love or not. What does it mean to share your life? After so many years, the question is not about making concessions – like some women’s interest magazines would lead us to believe – but instead it’s about “how do we belong in someone else’s life?” And “how do others belong in our lives”? We sometimes feel the need to reinvent our lives, which some people do in a radical way, whereas others take a more lucid approach to life and realize that they belong to other people. Every day they refresh their way of being free and available for other people. That’s the meaning behind the last line in the movie. When he asks the paternalist question: “Are you coming back home tonight?” And she answers: “Yes, I’m free tonight, at least I’m free to see you”. She’s referring to a different kind of freedom; it’s not a return to order. The night of reflection that she just went through has made her aware of her freedom. We always hear about how we are not free because we are tracked and monitored online, because France has become a police state, because we can’t break out of our habits, etc. But the fact remains that we are only happy when we feel free to live the life of our choice. As soon as life feels like a constraint, it causes unhappiness and unease. But I think this film portrays a woman who is happy. It’s not that she is either blessed or blind to her happiness, it’s just that she is more or less free in her romantic and sexual life. It’s all very psychological. (laughs)

Bedrooms are a setting that recur often in your films, and the press release for this film talks about the bedroom in every sense.

I know that when I’m filming in a bedroom, I’m a happy filmmaker! Whereas my natural tendency is usually to be in a bad mood on set. I rarely start the day with a smile on my face. I try to put on a happy face for the actors, but I’m usually worrying about something. But whenever I know I’m going to be filming inside a bedroom, it just relaxes me. I like filming people on beds. I’ve always done it, since my first film. I have clear memories of all the scenes I shot with Béatrice Dalle in Seventeen Times Cécile Cassard, when she is in her bedroom with the ghost of her dead husband. There were quite a few ghosts that we projected in that film and which spoke to her. My favorite scene is when Béatrice Dalle is in Toulouse, meets two teenagers and brings them back to her bedroom, where they start dancing… I think it’s such a charming little scene, which was very enjoyable to film. But I also remember the scenes from Love Songs with Ludivine Sagnier, Clothilde Hesme and Louis Garrel reading the same book in the same bed. Or Marie-France Pisier in Dans Paris with Romaine Duris, when they are in Romain’s bedroom. Even in Ma mère, Isabelle Huppert, Emma de Caunes and Joanna Preiss find themselves in a bedroom where some not so charming things are taking place. All filmmakers have their motifs. Beds as a motif do not automatically mean nude scenes. Very often in my scripts, I have people talking in one room and then transform the scene so that they are talking in the bedroom. I like that space. This time, I very selfishly decided that the entire film would take place primarily in bedrooms. The married couple’s bedroom, the hotel room which is of course tied to the adultery room, etc.

Is it also related to an economy of means?

No, because having two rooms facing each other, with each one opening onto other rooms, meant that I couldn’t film in a natural setting. It was all shot in the studio, which is expensive. This film had a much larger budget than Sorry Angel, for example, which was still shot on many different locations. But this was a complex film to shoot so we had to work in the studio.

The whole film takes place in two buildings that face each other on Rue Delambre, in the 14th arrondissement of Paris. This is an actual street in Paris, right?

Yes, but we recreated it as seen from the second and third floor.

You can’t even tell.

All the better! That way the film can maintain some of its simplicity. There have been so many films like it. Obviously there is Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but even the entire idea of facing windows is a way to define film itself. That was my assumption, and it brings us back in a way to the question of dreams. The woman crosses the street and projects her life onto the building across from hers. That’s why I had them live above a movie theater, to suggest that it is definitely a film she is projecting. The woman functions as a projector. She is both director and actor. I had a lot of fun with that concept, as well as other film references that serve as metaphors for the movies we make in our minds. It’s a fitting image for her night of reflection.

How long did you spend writing the script?

Screenwriting is the most enjoyable part of filmmaking. I wrote it last year, when I was directing the play Les Idoles. We would rehearse at the Vidy-Lausanne theater, and then I would write my script at night. That’s also why the film borrows storytelling techniques from theater.

It’s also apparent in the acting, which lends the film an aspect of unreality.

We’re so used to seeing naturalistic stories of couples… I have a strong belief in the power of metaphor on screen, whether in acting or in situations. But a script is always just a draft; we rewrite it after we choose the actors. Then we rewrite it again while filming.

Do you also write all the dialogue yourself?

Yes.

It would almost work as a book, too.

I like when films invent a language that is all their own. Especially in French film, dialogue is there to create a sense of verisimilitude, and so it always sounds like ordinary conversation, which I think is boring to watch. Sorry Angel has its own language, Love Songs too, thanks to its songs. You only need to hear two lines of dialogue from a film by Eustache, Godard or Truffaut to know who made it. They each have their own individual language, and yet their films are not cut off from real life. Well yes, but they approach reality in a different way: through art. That’s more interesting to me than films where dialogue is just used as a way to sound like real life. But it often sounds fake, like in a TV movie.

Rohmer was extraordinary for the lines he gave his actors. Sometimes it also sounds almost like a TV movie.

Even the sentence structure. If you hear a line from one of his dialogues, you know right away that it’s a Rohmer film. I think it’s more of a strength than a weakness. Some might say it’s too mannered, but a film is also a language. People forget that watching a film means spending an hour and a half or two hours listening to people talk. Their language has to be unique. When dialogue is just there to sound like real life or provide information about a character’s social category, it ends up being more sociological than cinematic.

Chambre 212, directed in 2019 by Christophe Honoré.

Love Songs, directed in 2007 by Christophe Honoré.

Love Songs, directed in 2007 by Christophe Honoré.

Sorry Angel, directed in 2018

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