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More on Leos Carax [01] [02]

Interview with Leos Carax
Interview conducted by Jean-Pol Fargeau
From Artifical Eye

It’s been eight years since 'Les Amants du Pont-Neuf.' Where did you go?

- To hell.

After three films based on original material, you’re now adapting a novel. Why?

- My first three films weren’t 'original subjects!' On the contrary, they were three variations on the least original theme possible: 'Boy Meets Girl'. Original subjects often make very bad films, that are falsely original.

How did you discover Herman Melville’s 'Pierre, or the Ambiguities'?

- At the age of 19 or 20, through my friend Elie Poicard. I immediately thought 'this is my book.'

Like Dumas’ 'Twenty Years After' or 'The Vicomte of Bragelonne' during my childhood... or 'The Magic Mountain' during adolescence... or some books by Céline and James’ 'The Wings of the Dove' in later years. But 'Pierre' more than any other.

I would reread it every five years or so. That doesn’t mean it’s a book I understand. Otherwise I would never have considered turning it into a film. I perceive 'Pierre' in the same way that I perceive my own life: I understand both 'poorly' but I’m obliged to explore them. That’s what a project is: a heavy question mark. You’re the dot under that mark and you mustn’t let it crush you.

At the heart of the book, there’s this extraordinary relationship between a brother and a sister, Pierre and Isabelle.

- Between a brother and a 'maybe sister'. But my first films were all on the theme 'a boy meets a sister'. The girl or the woman was less a real lover than a 'soul sister'... a soul, or almost a ghost.

Nothing touches me more than the word 'sister'.

In 'The Man Without Qualities', Robert Musil describes the relationship between Ulrich and Agathe as 'the last possible love'. That’s also how I see POLA X.


- It’s the relationship with what seems to have become impossible. The reunion with part of yourself that you thought was lost for good or permanently hidden. Isabelle or Pierre, there’s no difference. At one point, I even considered calling the film 'Pierre; or, Isabelle'. Or 'The Lost Presence'.

How have you 'adapted' the novel?

- You don’t adapt novels but rather the enduring sensation that they leave you with. There’s one thing that people rarely talk about and yet is vital in our lives: dreaming. I don’t mean night dreams but daydreams. They are man’s best companion, wonders of existence. Thoughts often travel through them and then settle. Reading also does this: the eyes leave the page for a second and we’re off on a thousand journeys, a thousand projects. That said, a film isn’t a dream.

But at the origins of a film, there is this feeling, like 'déjà-vu', like 'a memory of the present'.

Then, through the writing and shooting stages, you investigate this feeling of 'déjà-vu'.

In the novel, Isabelle comes from France. In your film, she is from Eastern Europe, probably the Balkans. I learnt that you yourself went there several times during the war.

- The reasons that men give for going to countries at war are often fairly shady... But what happened in Bosnia coincided with the rebirth of the project. And Isabelle comes from that chaos. The implosion of all origins, all the elements that make up man. She is like one of the corpses in Abel Gance’s 'J’Accuse', standing up and walking towards us.
From her first appearance, she is linked to the darkness. She is not really 'living'. She says: 'Had I father, mother? I don’t know...' In the novel, there’s a scene that’s impossible to shoot but which really attracted me: Isabelle’s monologue that fills two chapters in which she is apparently telling Pierre her life's story. But, in fact, she tells him nothing... virtually nothing concrete. She starts with 'I have no tongue to speak to thee, Pierre, my brother.' And then, over the next 40 pages, she evokes the experience of being alive... her slow awakening to a consciousness of the world and of herself in that world. These two chapters are extraordinary. It’s as if the most beautiful cinema sequence already existed.

Why this title, 'Pola X' that doesn’t seem to refer to anything?

- 'Pola' was the project’s code name (they’re the initials of the French translation of Herman Melville’s novel.) True, I could have called Katia’s character Pola, like the Polish silent movie star, Pola Negri. But, in the end, I preferred to keep the French name from the novel, Isabelle.

Titles bore me. I wish I could be a painter and make each film an 'untitled' with just the date.

I know that in the last eight years you’ve written a book and had other film projects, including one with Sharon Stone.

- Yes, but I haven’t made Stone, I’ve made 'Pierre'. At the time, no project could counteract my disgust for cinema. But 'Pierre' was different. 'Pierre' has always been 'my last project'. Whether I make other films or not, 'Pierre', my 'Pierre' will have existed in some shape or other.

In the second part of the film, there are numerous shots of Pierre writing in his cell. And, deep down, we never know what he’s writing, or what his writing is worth.

- Because a writer seen from behind always looks like a 'great writer'...
But Pierre isn’t ready for a great book. Melville’s irony concerning this is wonderful...
at one particular point, he even tracks forward over Pierre’s shoulder to show what he’s writing: it’s sincere but extremely naive and purloined from all the great masters. Pierre is a tragic character because he cannot meet his own expectations. But he’s a proud hero because he wants to 'do right'... which leads to all these ambiguities.

Leos Carax website