“Making a film is trying to put together a big mess”

your latest movie, Microbe and Dieseldated back to 2015. Why such a hiatus in your film career?

In the meantime, I haven’t twiddled my thumbs! I made a series, kidding, an experience that didn’t really thrill me, because it’s the screenwriter who holds the helm, who tells you where to put the camera. It’s not for me… I wrote two screenplays, I made cartoons, I was confined too. I was also offered film projects that scared me a bit. I think that, deep down, I wanted a more personal project.

And The Solution Book imposed itself… Are we wrong to want to recognize in Marc, the tormented director character played by Pierre Niney, a form of alter ego?

No, we are right! This film is straight inspired by my personal experience on The Foam of the Days, and the need I had to escape the pressure of this film by going to the countryside. It doesn’t mean that everything is true, that everything happened exactly this way. Episodes of the film, like the “cartage”, are things that I only dreamed of, whereas I hid other true episodes, like this disco group that I set up with my letter carrier and with which we played in his mussels and fries evenings! In the end, I kept what was deeply related to the making of the film and to relations with the rest of the team.

In the film, Marc keeps apologizing to them. Is it a way of apologizing to those around you yourself, at the same time as paying homage to them?

Exactly. Looking back, by getting better now, I realize that it was not going too well in my head and that I made the people around me drool. They had the patience to put up with me because they really loved me, especially my aunt, who is a central figure in this film. We can therefore see a kind of apology letter. When I started writing the film, I sent emails to the team around me at the time, to find out how they felt. I integrated it in part. I wanted to be as honest as possible, but I still wanted us to love Marc, and for that to happen through the eyes of the other characters. There is the film crew, who came from Paris, but also all those inhabitants of the village who are close to my heart! I did not become mayor of this village, like Marc, but the latter helped me, we did puppet shows, Chinese shadows, I liked to forget in their company what I perceived, like Parisian snobbery . So this film is also for them.

Marc looks for distractions to avoid finishing his film. For you, is the most important the journey – the shooting – or the destination – the finished film?

Having filmed is not yet a destination. When we get to editing, we are only halfway through the film. The destination is the premiere of the film. It’s like a mountain that you go up and then have to come down. At the time, I was so obsessed with the idea of ​​paying tribute to Boris Vian and his To spend days in vain that I ended up messing up my neurons, and that I arrived in the editing room a little upset. I couldn’t watch the movie, because every time I watched it, I started crying. I had to fight against expectations, everyone gave their opinion, I no longer had the strength to impose mine. I only ended up watching it at the very end.

Is it specific to this movie?

Yes, usually for me the act of making cinema is pleasant, both shooting the film and editing it. The realization of Solution Book, for example, happened in an idyllic way, very far from what happens in the film. Besides, I have no sympathy for this way of filming, this “I’m a genius, and everything is allowed to me” aspect. Sometimes I have to fight to try out my ideas, but this version of myself that is portrayed in the film is unique. I must also salute the work of Pierre Niney, who did not try to imitate me, but listened to my stories, my doubts, my desires, and succeeded in composing a character that was both very unsympathetic and for which we still have a form of affection.

How did you choose him for this role?

Making a movie is trying to piece together a big mess, and casting is part of that. I’m not like Alain Resnais who had his troupe of actors. I often start from a blank page, without it being deliberate either. I would be happy to work again with Kate Winslet or with Pierre Niney! For this film, I had first written the screenplay in English, and it was only when I took it over in French that the name of Pierre imposed itself. I admire his virtuosity of expression, his ability to be funny without trying to be, but also a form of masculinity that is not aggressive. I had met him about ten years ago, when he was named Best Hope at the Césars, and I have been following his career closely ever since.

You spoke a little earlier about genius. What meaning do you give to this word?

It’s hard to define what a genius is, because it’s an alienating term, which ends up locking you up. To be a genius means to be misunderstood, or to be a saint, in any case someone who is looked at differently, who departs from normality. However, I do not believe that genius excuses everything, especially in relation to others. I do not believe it at all. The problem is also the behavior of those who want to approach the one they consider to be a genius, who induce behavior that is also abnormal. So genius may exist, but I don’t trust it.

In the film, Marc defends one of his many absurd ideas by saying: “an idea is by definition unheard of! Is it in this capacity for invention, for creativity, that lies artistic genius?

Yes, there is that, in the ability to do something that has never been done before, that no one else could do, but also that can change things. There is no genius in doing something totally stupid! But Marc is right when he praises ideas, when he says they can change the world. Well, he is sometimes a bit affected by delusions of grandeur. But that doesn’t make him wrong. It’s like mythomaniacs: sometimes they tell the truth, even by accident! Marc has ideas, and the worst part is that some of them work. It’s worse, because if none worked, there would be no need to follow it. But some are not absurd… In my case, I had launched an amateur orchestra, or I had chosen to edit the film starting from the middle, it wasn’t so stupid after all! This film also allowed me to reconcile myself with this period of my existence. At the time I was caught in a whirlwind where I had the feeling of reaching the heights of creation. I was therefore far from a frank and objective analysis! Today, I can see that I did some things wrong, but others were valid, including in my relationship with others. So I didn’t waste a year of my life.

The film tackles the issue of mental illness and depression head-on. Did you hesitate to be so direct?

I didn’t want to do it initially. My script and my producer had to insist that I agree to do it, so that we understood what was going on with Marc. I didn’t want that to be too much the subject of the film, or to have to talk about it afterwards. But by keeping this aspect silent, we would probably have had less empathy for Marc. So I take it. At the time, this overactivity which was mine was linked to the cessation of my medication. And what looks like a comedy still had something dramatic about it. But I needed humor to give a form of nobility to what I had experienced, to make it a medium to express my pain.

The Solution Book is also a tribute to the hack, to works made of odds and ends, far from standardized productions. Do you feel like an original from this point of view?

It’s possible, I have a little trouble comparing myself to other directors. What I do know is that people call me Mr. Bricolage, or the King of Cardboard. I don’t like that so much, because it feels like what I’m doing is tinkered with, whereas there’s a fairly precise, fairly well-thought-out work behind it. When I make my cartoons, they are quite raw, it’s true, but that’s because I believe that the story comes out better if the form is a little simplified, whereas a work that is too ornamental and sophisticated keeps us away from it.

Is a film a moment of peace or anxiety for you?

Usually, there is a lot of anxiety in me during a shoot. But surprisingly, this was not the case for The Solution Book. I felt very quickly that everyone was there to help me, I had no paranoia about technicians who would rush their work or who didn’t believe in it. I was afraid that people would be embarrassed to be involved in a narcissistic project, but on the contrary I had the feeling that all the teams sincerely wanted to accompany me to understand what had happened to me. It was a real relief.

Does having made this film allow you to turn the page on this very complicated year?

Yes ! It allowed me to tell myself that, whatever happened during this year, it was the pretext to make an apparently successful film. I’m not saying that The Foam of the Days was not. He is now even doubly so, because he has succeeded in creating the subject of a second work! It’s a bit like Lost in La ManchaTerry Gilliam’s documentary about his failure to adapt Don Quixote. This film is an absolute masterpiece, as it grew up on a failure! At my level, I am happy to have been able to do something with this difficult personal sequence.

You mentioned your anxieties when shooting a film. Do you still have any doubts at this stage of your career, after so many acclaimed films?

I don’t know if I had such a remarkable career as you say, but yes, I’m still caught up in my doubts, my cultural complexes. But I manage to overcome them because I remember having done it before. I was in a horrible state when I realized Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the film managed to get made. Each time, it’s a new beginning: you think you’re not going to doubt, you doubt all the same, and you remember that you know how to deal with it.

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