Interview: Jacques Audiard

The director talks about his increasingly topical Cannes-winning new film whose cast is from Paris’s Tamil community

Jacques Audiard©Anna Huix

Jacques Audiard, photographed in London in October

On a wet London morning, Jacques Audiard smokes a cigarette on the pavement of the Embankment. A true one particular. Under gloomy skies, the director is a model of Parisian dash, resplendent in a pale grey blazer, a shirt covered with minuscule polka dots and a porkpie hat. His expression is deadpan.

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It turns out Audiard, 63, is getting a cigarette break following yet another interview has ended awkwardly: a Tv crew who insisted he speak to them in English. He is self-conscious about his English, even though it proves greater than my French. But as a man whose life is bound up with words, he is keen to express himself accurately. And so a translator sits between us. For now, the hat stays on, too.

Troubles with language are central to Audiard’s new film, Dheepan. It requires its title from the name of its hero, a psychically wrecked former Tamil Tiger who flees to Paris at the finish of Sri Lanka’s savage civil war. The location is down to chance, and so is the name: the true Dheepan is dead, his passport appropriated by traffickers. The sense of the random extends to the wife and daughter with whom he arrives in France: two strangers, also refugees, banded into a loved ones of convenience.

“The political act wasn’t liberal sentiment,” Audiard says, via the translator. “It was shooting in Tamil and making this character a hero. In CinemaScope!” Dheepan is not the initial time he has put race at the centre of his films: his extraordinary A Prophet (2009) concerned a French-Algerian petty criminal, played by the then-unknown Tahar Rahim. “In most French films, I see folks like me. And I’m not that interested in men and women like me,” Audiard says.

Yet in the rarefied globe of European cinema, Audiard’s star shines high and bright. Dheepan won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year A Prophet claimed the festival’s Grand Prix. The film amongst, Rust and Bone, starred Marion Cotillard in a ferocious romance common adequate to give its director space for commercial manoeuvre. “A joker to play,” explains the translator. “A tiny 1,” Audiard adds in English, his fingers held an inch apart.

Maybe the film is for the guys from Southeast Asia who sell roses in Paris, to see themselves

Until now, Audiard has made films as stylish as his dapper image, and as tightly structured as you may count on of the scriptwriter he was for years ahead of taking up directing. Dheepan is a small different. For all its grit, this isn’t social realism: very first conceived as a riff on Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, it has the tang of a thriller. Yet it is also loose-limbed, improvised and volatile.

Shooting in the banlieues of Paris, Audiard gathered his cast from amongst the city’s Tamil community. “Also tiny,” he says. None had any acting expertise, including his star Antonythasan Jesuthasan, a poet, activist and former kid soldier. “The primary issue was they had no connection to France, that they spoke very small French.”

For Audiard, that was a sort of freedom. “With French actors, I’m going to be finicky. Right here, I encouraged them to develop their personal scenes, being aware of a lot was going to pass me by. Often, I just gave them their costume.”

At one particular point, Dheepan’s supposed daughter Illayaal wears a T-shirt with the logo “New Planet Order”. That of a regional ganglord reads “New school”. Audiard nods. “Some factors want to be said precisely, and so they came into the film even if they weren’t written.”

A lot wasn’t written. Considerably of the story — in certain the circling relationship among Dheepan and his wife Yalini — came out of the actors’ improvisations. With Audiard obtaining to translate the final results and sculpt them into cinema? “Exactement! And that was wonderful.”

Claudine Vinasithamby and Antonythasan Jesuthasan in ‘Dheepan’©Paul Arnaud

Claudine Vinasithamby and Antonythasan Jesuthasan in ‘Dheepan’ (2015)

Wariness gone, Audiard has now removed both jacket and hat: a trace of white-grey stubble rings his head. A couple of inquiries later, his tie will be undone, and a waistcoat slipped off.

But the central notion of the impromptu loved ones was his, the sense that maybe all households are just finding out to play roles. Dheepan’s reinvention intrigued him, too. “The second life fascinates me. Are we permitted a single?” Asking where that fascination comes from brings a dancing smile. “You would have to psychoanalyse me to know that.”

Nicely, if you wanted to be Freudian about it, you might join a handful of dots. For Audiard, film was a family members affair: his father Michel was a prolific scriptwriter, penning a lot more than 100 motion pictures. When Jacques also started writing, the profession he built was strong if not stellar. Then, by his personal account practically overnight, he realised he wanted to direct as effectively.

He did so for the very first time at the age of 42, with the layered thriller See How They Fall in 1994. Subsequent came A Self Created Hero, one more story of borrowed identity, in which a salesman in postwar Paris passed himself off as a champion of the Resistance. It was an inter­national hit. Ever given that, every thing he has created has enjoyed critical garlands. I begin to ask if at times he wishes he had moved into directing earlier. He answers, in English, ahead of I’ve completed speaking. “Oh yes! For me, it’s a huge pity.” He leaves the rest to the translator. “Life was complete, I was in adore, and I thought I was meant to be a scriptwriter. So I began directing 5 years as well late.”

Of course, there’s also a reside political current to Dheepan and its cast of migrants: even a lot more charged in the year since the film premiered at Cannes. Audiard says he’s merely reflecting Europe as it is. “The refugees are right here, so why will they not be our heroes?”

A still from ‘A Prophet’©Sportsphoto/Allstar

A nevertheless from ‘A Prophet’ (2009)

Would he like to modify minds among the hostile? “Of course. But perhaps the film is not for these folks. Maybe it is for the guys from Southeast Asia who sell roses in Paris, to see themselves.”

Discussing contemporary France weighs him down. Audiard broods about a future in which the National Front takes power, obliging him to make films elsewhere. “I be concerned factors are going to modify a lot in France.” For good or for undesirable? “Of course, for poor.” He pauses, then addresses the translator. “But I do not want to speak about this in England. It is like Victor Hugo, leaving France to complain about France. I’d rather have the conversation there. Let’s talk about anything much more upbeat.”

Audiard has now undone his cuffs and neatly rolled up his shirtsleeves. For all the pleasures of Dheepan, he has returned to a far more standard strategy for his subsequent film: his very first in English, an adaptation of Patrick deWitt’s Old West novel The Sisters Brothers, to star John C. Reilly.

“Slowly, I am writing,” he says, with a comic sigh. Does he get a kick out of writing? There is a puffing of the cheeks. “I’m going to be immodest, but if I could locate a script greater than the one I could create myself, I would shoot it. The problem is, I do not know if I’m a great director, but I am very a excellent writer.”

‘Dheepan’ is released in the UK on April eight and on Might 13 in the US

Photographs: Anna Huix Paul Arnaud Sportsphoto/Allstar

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