Between him and Los Angeles, it’s a real love story: director Jean-Jacques Annaud returned to AFP on Tuesday on his American tropism, before the premiere in the United States of his film “Notre-Dame is burning” , at the opening of the Hollywood French Film Festival next month.
“I would never have made the films I made without the friendship and full support of the major American studios”, confided the filmmaker, author of blockbusters such as “Seven Years in Tibet”, “Stalingrad” or “The Name of the Rose”.
At 78, the director remains the Frenchman with the most affinity for Hollywood’s taste for the spectacular.
If “Notre-Dame burns”, which traces the fire that failed to completely destroy the Parisian cathedral in 2019, is a French production, the feature film oscillates between breathtaking thriller and disaster film. A style likely to please the public of the American French Film Festival (TAFFF, formerly Colcoa), who will discover it well after its release in France in March.
From the first smoke to the complete extinction of the fire fifteen hours later, at the cost of a fierce fight by the firefighters, the threat of flames on the Gothic jewel of the city of light constituted “an incredible drama, worthy of a screenwriter from Hollywood”, estimated Mr. Annaud.
“I am close to Notre-Dame at the moment, and far from Los Angeles”, continued this cantor of epic cinema, reached by telephone from Paris. “But part of my heart remains in LA.”
– Criticism of French cinema –
Sean Connery, Brad Pitt, Jude Law… Some of Hollywood’s greatest actors have passed in front of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s camera. In the United States, the director has always had the means to match his ambitions.
“In America, I noticed that we invest to try to release the best possible film, the most spectacular, the most attractive”, explained the artist. “Whereas in France, the rule is to try to produce cheaper, to cheat in a way. Cheaper is easier to do.”
Despite his French roots, the filmmaker was only slightly inspired by the New Wave, a movement born in France at the end of the 1950s and which left a lasting mark on the history of the seventh art. The accent on the dialogues, instilled by the films of the time, remains for him secondary. The director appreciates the American way of filming, centered on movement and visual prowess.
“Cinema is the art of telling visually thrilling stories. Otherwise it’s something else, it’s television radio,” added Mr. Annaud. “If we have the privilege of being on the big screen, it’s to fill it, not to put people on it who talk like on TV shows.”
“In France, expensive films are seen as unfair,” continued the director. “We criticize films shot in the studio, we criticize the fact of building sets, we criticize special effects.”
Despite this, French cinema “fortunately produces a few gems every year” in its own vein, he conceded.
– “Metaphor of collapse” –
For “Notre-Dame is burning”, Jean-Jacques Annaud notably shot in the cathedrals of Sens and Bourges, in addition to impressive scenes of fire reconstructed in the studio.
The director also mixes the scenes played by actors with elements of reality. Between fiction and documentary images, the spectator relives the burning of the roof of the 12th century cathedral and the fall of its spire, under the horrified gaze of millions of people.
“All over the world, this cathedral was much more than a symbol of Paris or France, or even of Catholicism or Christianity”, judged the artist. “It was kind of a metaphor, about the fear of Western culture collapsing.”
The American French Film Festival takes place from October 10 to 16 in Los Angeles.
For this 26th edition, the program includes in particular the film “Hawa” by Maimouna Doucouré, whose first feature film “Mignonnes”, broadcast by Netflix, had created controversy with its hypersexualized adolescent protagonists.
The public will also discover two other feature films, “Les Pires” and “A Plein Temps”, proposed by France to be nominated for the next Oscars.
The festival will close with the film “La Nuit du 12” by Dominik Moll, and the screening of the mini-series “Irma Vep” by Olivier Assayas, produced by HBO.