The 26th Cork French Film Festival is in full fling with an exciting programme featuring the best in current French cinema, including Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar-nominated Timbuktu and Céline Sciamma’s indie hit Girlhood. Emmet O’Brien sat down with festival director Paul Bloom to find out more about this year’s Gallic feast.
Programmed around a fantastic retrospective on Mathieu Amalric, can you tell us about the aim for this years festival?
We made a conscious decision to have a more contemporary feel this time around. Also I didn’t want a central theme but a key guest, someone to celebrate. I had met Mathieu a few years ago on the night he won Best Director at Cannes for On Tour. It was a total surprise.
It’s a film I absolutely adore and was my favourite thing I had seen that festival. I loved the free spirit and the energy of it. It was brilliantly directed. Interestingly the use of the song “Have Love Will Travel”, which we’re using as the theme music to this year’s festival, in On Tour was problematic. They filmed live audiences to capture a natural feeling but couldn’t edit out the music when they couldn’t clear rights. The production company only sorted the European rights so the film was never released in America. It’s awful because there was such an interest in it especially with his win. Sorry, that was an aside. (laughs) I saw him that night at a party and I just went up to him. It wasn’t like me at all, I’m in no way that sort of sycophantic person but I wanted to genuinely congratulate him.
I discovered Mathieu had lived in West Cork, working with Future Forests in Bantry years ago. He was talking to the producer Jean Labadie who produced the film Moon Man, created by Tomi Ungerer, a French artist who lives in the area too; so there was such an overwhelming Cork connection.
Mathieu had been scheduled to appear at another Dublin festival but couldn’t make it because he is so busy. So we are very lucky to have him here and for him to give a solid week of his time. It’s so generous and it’s allowed us to have unscheduled and surprise appearances where he will introduce a film or do a Q&A. It’s really giving the audience something special.
He also has provided a workshop to cater to the educational side of the Festival.
That has always been important to us. In the past we’ve had great workshops with the likes of Bertrand Tavernier, Agnes Varda, Jean-Claude Carrière amongst others so it remains a key element of what we have to offer. And it’s not about attracting a star as it is about finding someone at the top of their game who is gracious enough to give of their experience and talent. The way we normally do it is that we work with a moderator and we select clips to illustrate a career and it’s quite straightforward, typical set up. Mathieu wasn’t interested in talking. He said “Cinema isn’t about talk, it’s about doing things”. He wanted something active and practical so I came up with the idea of using the actor/ director relationship to break down the formality of a masterclass setting. He showed us how actors do things unconsciously and how that can be brought out to enhance a performance. Mathieu didn’t train as an actor initially, he says he was invented as one by his friend Arnaud Desplechin and he was propelled into this world without expecting to be. It makes him very humble about it all.
You are also having an audio-visual event, a screening of silent classic The Fall of the House of Usher Event with a live score.
Jean Epstein was a poet before he was a filmmaker. You could call him the first poet of cinema and he brought those sensibilities to the form. The film is a mood piece and you get sucked into the world of Usher and the beautiful techniques he uses really adds to the atmosphere of the piece. It’s no surprise he worked with Buñuel. I love silent cinema because it’s pure visual storytelling but I sometimes find it’s not the visual aspect that can alienate modern viewers, it’s actually the music used. It can be overpowering and over accentuates each character’s movement in this cartoony way that takes me out of the film. It can make films a curious oddity tied to a time rather than a powerful statement or a piece of art. These films have emotional power and they can punch you just as much as any modern piece of cinema.
Do you like the idea of giving these films a new context through these soundtracks you’ve commissioned?
Breathe new life into them and keep the visual is the most important thing. We score the mood of the film rather than the movement of each character. It’s a very collaborative thing. I’m an editor as well and some of those most magical scenes are the accidents where you just add music to a shot and it hits you emotionally. The marriage of music and image is so powerful. You can have the same shot but change the feeling by changing the music.
We screened the film last year for the first time but the piece has kept evolving ever since. It screened as a highlight of the Glasgow Film Festival two weeks ago. It got a great response from the crowd there and it has a lot of new parts, including live vocals from musician Irene Buckley who is my main collaborator on this. Irene is so so talented. The great thing about this festival is that the things we create exist beyond the Festival itself. The score we added to The Passion Of Joan of Arc will be screened in London soon and knowing that things live on is very gratifying.
Jean Epstein is also represented in another part of the festival – the Breton Poems short films.
After Usher, he was at the height of his career, a leader in the avant-garde and surrealist movement, totally the toast of the town and he just left the whole hipster lifestyle behind. He moved to Brittany and the Islands and the Sea became his muse and he began to develop new ideas. He pioneered what we would now call “docu-fiction”. He didn’t want to work with proper actors anymore. He wanted authenticity of real people and real stories. He wanted the scenery and nature itself to be just as much as a character in the frame. He didn’t want any of what he called “dead objects” on the screen. He said something like a particular island was “his favourite actor.”
It’s interesting that last year you seemed to celebrate a certain artificiality or theatrical mood with your celebration of the musical and this seems like the opposite of this!
(laughs) Yeah, you could be right. This is something authentic but filtered through the expertise of a great film theoretician.
The 26th Cork French Film Festival runs from 1– 8 March 2015