Ceçi N’est Pas La Cinématographie – Introspection Through Film

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[Herein lies an extract from my journal containing the notes from my interview with M. de Robespierre]

In order to better organise my thoughts, I will be jotting down the happenings of my excursion to la rive droite for my interview with this distinguished filmmaker. I’ve been flown in by the paper on immediate notice of an interview being set up with the illusive filmmaker Robert de Robespierre. The trip from Toronto to Charles de Gaulle was vehemently early and the 18$ whiskeys overzealously watered. Needless to say, the chic norman decoration and the contralto overture of the narcissistic waitress did little to improve my mood. I look around the 8 foot wide exemplar of a culinary tradition that bold fadedly refuses to adapt to a modern cosmopolitan life. The only other noticeable patron, a forlorn looking refugee from one of the art colleges in the next arrondissement over mirrors myself in a singular way; we are both currently wondering what poor life choices have led to us sharing this terrible, communal experience. She ordered the filet de saumon sauvage 3/4 of an hour ago. I realise that I have more in common with her unavailing plate than I do with her. All of this I notice in order to put off fixing my attention on the matter before me.

Across the pastorally checked tablecloth sits M. de Robespierre, partaking in his storied eating habit of a half lit cigarette and cold Italian coffee. His very appearance bespeaks a man who is running late but has nowhere to go. Though elderly in age and movement, his quick wit and tone implies a petulant teenager, with the intelligence and experience of an introverted teenager. He is the man I am to interview today. 19 films, 16 screenplays and 7 cannes film festival award winning short movies. He only abides interviewers once every 10 or so years. It is considered an honour in the cultural scene to even be in the same room as him. I meet his contemptuous, probing gaze. I sigh appropriately.

MYSELF

I hope my intermediary French will not offend you M. de Robespierre

De R.

Your very existence offends me, monsieur.

I adjust my glasses after a prolonged, noticeable pause.

MYSELF

I’m here to talk to you about your latest film…

De R.

It is not a film, it is a masterpiece. You are also here because I allow you to be.

MYSELF

Quite. Before we begin, do you prefer if I refer to you as Robert or Rob?

M. de Robespierre sizes me up with a combined sense of contempt, exasperation, disbelief and outrage. It is quite a look. In response, he puts out his cigarette in the flowered vase between us.

  MYSELF

So. Your latest piece is an adaptation of Jean Paul Sartre’s La Nausée.

I take hold of my pen to begin jotting down his answers.

De R.

Wait, what are you doing?

MYSELF

I’m going to take notes in order to better record this interview?

De R.

Non, monsieur. Ça, ne se fait pas.

MYSELF

I’m sorry?

De R.

You Americans are constantly trying to identify things, to classify and clarify. This is why your cinema has no soul, a sense of ennui, a lack of savoir vivre.

MYSELF

I’m Canadian.

De R.

Even Worse. No notes.

MYSELF

Alright then.

I stow away my handbook and pen.

MYSELF

Your latest work is an adaptation of Jean Paul Sartre’s La Nausée. Tell me about your screenwriting process when it comes to adaptation.

De R.

I read the book, understand the book, live the book. Then I imagine what form the book takes when you point a camera at it.

MYSELF

On that note, your camera work has come under much public attention recently, criticised and publicly mocked, even.

M. de Robespierre becomes greatly agitated at this.

De R.

If you wish to believe what every sheep says, monsieur, then you would find every work of Goddard, Truffaut and Duras to be unintelligible messes!

MYSELF

You placed all your actors out of shot of the camera and filmed empty walls.

De R.

But of course! Don’t you see the parallels between societal expectation and the perception of the self?! It is called MISE EN SCÈNE, monsieur! Do they not teach you this in the film schools of England?

MYSELF

Right. On that note, it was a bold choice to relay the film entirely through sound. Do you think that might have something to do with your loss of eyesight?

De R.

If I were not to restrain myself, monsieur, I would projectile vomit in outrage at your implication. We are making art in this city, your uncultured ideas of the senses sicken me in the face of artistic interpretation.

He waves his walking stick haphazardly, almost decapitating the passing waitress.

MYSELF

In that case, was it actually necessary to hire actors, or props or even a studio lot? Surely you could have just dubbed over a blank piece of paper.

De R.

Are you referring to my seminal piece, Affair In The Orient (1958), or did you not get that in Venezuela?

MYSELF

Oh right, of course, how could I forget.

De R.

Did you not see the parallels between the shades of colour in that and my reinterpretation of Mandingo?

MYSELF

Yes. It was, ahh, very apt. Political, even.

De R.

Indeed, monsieur. A theme I reflected in my recent work, Autumnal Love (2015).

MYSELF

Ah yes. It was very poignant.

De R.

What did you think of the romance between the secretary and the bus driver?

MYSELF

Yes, it was very emotional. The great romantic comedy of our time.

De R.

She killed him, monsieur. With a hatchet.

MYSELF

I didn’t particularly find that part very humorous.

De R.

Tell me, my Mexican friend. Have you watched any of my films?

MYSELF

No, in fact.

De R.

Nor any French cinema at all.

MYSELF

None whatsoever.

De R.

And you are not versed in any cinematography or screenplay?

MYSELF

I once watched Die Hard three times in a row.

De R.

So, why are you sitting here before me in Paris interviewing one of the greatest filmmakers of all time?

MYSELF

Dan, our movie correspondent was sick so they asked me to come instead.

De R.

And what do you write about?

MYSELF

Local sports.

M. de Robespierre tries to throw the remainder of his coffee in my face but luckily aims 5 feet above my shoulder and drenches the art student behind us. He gets up from the table, shaking with what seems to be a myriad of emotions, and hobbles out of the café without paying. I regard my continental breakfast that has been sitting there congealing for an hour and a half with vague interest. That went rather well. The art student behind me starts sobbing.

    

Mike Riviere

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