Benoit Jacquot: I am devoted to books

When I read a novel, short story or even an essay, a film unfolds in my head, and often it becomes reality as well

If I have to sum up my life in a synopsis for a film, I would start from a child who is an awful, even disastrous pupil. He later becomes a young man who quits school and prefers going to cinema theatres and watching films instead. But as he has read a lot, he is open to different challenges, facing life in a free and open manner and consequently getting into all kinds of trouble - in love, politics, social conflicts, film director Benoit Jacquot says in an interview to Europost.

Mr Jacquot, many of your films are made after famous novels, by Dostoyevsky, Octave Mirbeau, Chantal Thomas, Yokio Mishima, James Hadley Chase… Have you ever been tempted by the idea to write a novel of your own?

I suppose that if one day for some reason - probably because of my advancing age or something else - I won't be able to make films any more, then I would probably think of giving myself up to writing. The fact is that half of my films are based on books, and the reason is that I have been an ardent reader ever since my childhood. I am devoted to books. Whenever I read a book - be it a novel, short story or even an essay - they usually evoke a film in my head. The book itself turns into a movie in my mind and once I 'watch' it, then it very often becomes reality as well.

The story of your life is like a screenplay. If you have to summarise it, what would it be like?

If I have to sum up my life in a synopsis for a film, I would start from a child who is an awful, even disastrous pupil. He later becomes a young man who quits school and prefers going to cinema theatres and watching films instead. But as he has read a lot, he is open to different challenges, facing life in a free and open manner and consequently getting into all kinds of trouble - in love, politics, social conflicts, etc. Thus, the life of the main character strings along with a promise to himself, which he gives in the beginning and later carries out, bit by bit.

In the book of your own life, the chapter that you are currently working on, is it cheery or sad?

This chapter of the book is extremely strange but very happy. I have always wanted to make films and this is what I am doing - I am shooting films all the time. I make good films, better films, worse films, and some films that are not so good, but I am making films incessantly, which was actually my dream since I was knee-high. I have neither reason nor right whatsoever to complain.

Your lush costume dramas take people on a trip to other epochs. If you had a time machine, to what historical period would you like to travel?

I would like to stay in the present time. Because life in the time when I was born lets me imagine what life was in other epochs. Which is simply good luck.

In dramatic compositions, the vivid female characters are almost twice as scarce as the male. Is it the same in cinema?

In cinema the good female parts are not fewer, on the contrary - the Seventh Art gives a chance to female characters to be emancipated and be elaborated at higher level. Actually, what we witness now are the complaints of women in art - to a great extent women in the West are complaining of just about everything. But if we look back in history, and especially if we focus on the Golden Age of Hollywood, we'll see that iconic female characters were created there and many of them were really put on a pedestal.

You have worked with the most prominent French actresses of several generations. Among them, who do you think are your discoveries? With whom was it most interesting to work?

I can say that I have played a significant role in the careers of Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Isabell Adjani, Charlotte Gainsborough and many others. The latest example of such an actress, whom I discovered and who later became a celebrity, was Lea Seydoux. Before working with me she made several other films, but she was not very famous. After Farewell, My Queen and Diary of a Chambermaid she gained real popularity. I usually tell them, “I have to guide you more or less. Now see, this is a film which we are shooting, but please show me how you live, how you see the world, think up something new together with me.” It is always funny because I do something quite contrary to what is usually done. When you face a young actress, typically you take her as clay that has to be moulded, while I do the opposite - I leave the moulding to her.

Do you have a favourite among these actresses?

Yes, certainly I do, but I will never give out her name.

Apparently, Isabelle Huppert takes a special place in your heart and career, which is probably also true of your place in her career. What is hidden behind her exceptionally strong scenic presence?

Yes, I have filmed her many times and it appears that I am the director with whom she worked most. While working, Isabell is extremely exacting. At the same time, she is very open when she moulds her character. She almost never makes advance preparations but rather thinks that her character does not have a pre-defined nature, thus, when a filming day comes, she grows into a role and gets incarnated into a person who was only an outline sketch before.

Whom of the great French male actors would you like to meet on your shooting location?

The actor who is of my age but with whom we had never had a chance to work together is Gerard Depardieu. I would very much like to work with him. Of course, there are others too, but frankly speaking, he is the only one whom I would like to film, and I really hope that we won't miss each other. Men, however, do not interest me that much.

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Benoit Jacquot was born in Paris on 5 February 1947. He made a debut as screen writer and director in 1975 with The Musician Killer (L'Assassine Musiciene) after the novel Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. He boasts 40 films as director, 25 as screen writer, and today he is one of the most renowned names in European cinema. He has numerous nominations for prestigious film awards such as Golden Lion of Venice, Golden Palm of Cannes, Golden Bear of Berlinale, Crystal Globe of Karlovy Vary, as well as for the awards Cesar, Lumieres, and others. He is also a laureate of the Rene Claire Award for his contribution to achievements of the Seventh Art. Among his most famous films are The School of Flesh, Wings of the Dove, Seventh Heaven, Three Hearts, The Untouchable. Jacquot was an honourable guest at the cinema and literature fest CineLibri 2018 where he presented three of his films - Eva, Farewell my Queen, and Villa Amalia.

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