Improvising the intimate

Interview with Zeka Laplaine, by Olivier Barlet

Cannes, May 2001
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

In (Paris : xy), his second feature film after Macadam Tribu, Zeka Laplaine uses improvisation to focus on the intimacy of the couple, shooting the film on digital video.

(Paris : xy) gives the impression of being an autobiographical film. What was behind this choice?
This maybe comes from the way in which the film was constructed. I wanted to tell the story of someone who was absent – absent from the home, absent from the couple, absent from himself. A person who doesn’t ask any questions anymore and who gets up one morning to find that his life has stopped because his wife has walked out on him with their children. I approached the subject by getting the actors to improvise. I didn’t want to write the story. Maybe that’s what gives the highly intimate tone, the impression of autobiography. Improvising forced the actors seek things that are close to them.
I worked with actors who, like me, use the actor’s studio approach, which consists of constructing the character out of real experiences, out of sensorial memories. This contributed to the intimacy of the film. I took inspiration from things that had really moved me for my character, such as friends I had met who had been through break-ups of this kind. I initially wanted to make a comedy about splitting-up. Like in Le Clandestin, which adopts a burlesque style to deal with illegal immigration, I wanted to evoke a serious issue against a comic background. I ended up with a film that isn’t a comedy at all. A comedy would have been impossible working in this way.
The main character is highly introverted and lost. He doesn’t express himself very much.
As the film advanced and the story emerged, I discovered that I had taken a direction I didn’t necessarily choose at first. It was difficult to remain coherent, to take what came beforehand into account, not in terms of the characters, but in terms of the situations which gradually moved further and further away from comedy. At some point, I accepted this new direction that was more intimate than comedy.
Kiarostami said at his press conference: « you always start making the same film over again ». Macadam Tribu was very intimate too. Is it something that imposes itself?
I don’t know. I think I can make very different films. I am very drawn to comedy, even for serious subjects, like in Le Clandestin. I don’t think you get the message over any better if you dress the film up to be really didactic! I’m a great believer using frivolity to say deep things.
Improvisation and intimacy are a risk. You play the main role, which is the case in a lot of films at the moment. Did you intend to do so from the outset, or was it for want of a suitable actor?
I could have chosen another actor, but I was quite simply selfish here. I wanted to treat myself because I am originally an actor. I wanted to play in my film, that’s all! I built the story around a character who is a little bit like me. And we had no budget.
Your character is quite narrow-minded, and only broadens out after some initiatory passages involving outside characters who tell him a few home truths. That’s not very flattering for you!
I’m not like that, but I have met people who shut themselves into a terrifying rigidity. Rather than trying to accept what he is and to find happiness in what he has built, Max is under the impression that it’s all happening elsewhere. He chases after money, neglects his family, thinks he has found a comfort he doesn’t have at home in the arms of a mistress, thinks that the fact that she is black enables him to resolve his lack of proximity with Africa, etc. He is totally in the wrong. At some point, it becomes too much. Either he commits suicide because he can’t manage to broaden, or he broadens out. This really hurts, but it is salutary. He is in the wrong for so long that it is painful to turn back. So he shuts himself off. He can’t express his feelings or tell his wife that he loves her. He can’t see that his family is the most important thing he has built in his life.
The diviner played by Moussa Sene Absa introduces a strong African connotation although the rest of the characters’ skin colours aren’t really significant.
Max is black, his wife is white, but I treat this story as that of a couple, basta! There are white, black and Arabic people in my film. They are characters. Having said that, being black or white gives each character certain specificities that come from their origins and which mean that people react differently to the question of splitting-up. Max, who has no integration problems, realises that he is in a culture where the woman gets custody of the children if the couple splits up. The diviner is there to point out Max’s errors. He is sort of his guardian angle and devil, and makes Max a more whole person who knows who he is better. Both cultures have to accept each other in a mixed couple. A black man like Max who lives in Europe with a white woman often accepts the dominant culture without the woman accepting his culture. It is impossible for the couple to be happy with such an imbalance.
The children, who are very present in people’s thoughts, are very absent from the images.
That was deliberate too. I wanted to stay focused on the story of the couple. But the problem of the children is all the more pressing when it comes to mixed cultures.
Your character initially asserts his virility before later redefining it. This is something one finds in a lot of current films, especially in North African film.
For me, it’s more a questioning of man’s supremacy over women. As an African, I am conscious of belonging to a world which, on all levels, is subjected to the supremacy of the rich nations. I fight that, which means I can no longer accept man’s supremacy over women either.
Your film was presented in the parallel ACID selection at Cannes. Has this opened any doors?
It is completely parallel. One mustn’t be deluded, there are hundreds of films, some have the necessary means to throw parties and the fact of being selected makes them very visible. But it is of some use. Distributors and cinema owners come to the screenings and the cinemas were full.
Was (Paris : xy) shot on digital video?
Yes, then transferred onto 35 mm, whereas Macadam Tribu was shot on super 16 mm. Here too, the aim was to do things differently. It was a great experience shooting the film on digital video. You tell the story differently, you are very mobile, you can shoot with a tiny crew. The actors have a different relation to the camera, as it is small. It makes a different film.

///Article N° : 5424


Laisser un commentaire