Cedric Klapisch: ‘Life Isn’t Over Until It Ends’

French director talks about ‘Chinese Puzzle,’ a highlight at this year’s UniFrance Rendez-vous

Cedric Klapisch: ‘Life Isn’t Over Until It Ends’

PARIS — “Cedric Klapisch is a great director and has a real writing talent for original stories and extraordinary ability to tap into the vibes, the contemporary trends of a society,” said Olivier Courson, chairman-CEO of Studiocanal that has co-produced Klapisch’s last four movies with Bruno Levy. Still playing French cinemas, where it has grossed $13,4 million and counting, “Chinese Puzzle,” the third part of a franchise begun with “L’Auberge espagnole” and “Russian Dolls” will be talked up at this weekend’s Unifrance Rendez-vous by Audrey Tautou and Klapisch himself. “Chinese Puzzle” follows Xavier (Romain Duris, older, a touch wiser), to New York where Wendy (Kelly Reilly) has taken their two children to live with her new American flame. Initially kipping on the couch of Isabelle (Cecile de France), his passion for Martine (Audrey Tautou) rekindles when she swings by New York with two children of her own. Variety caught up with Klapisch just before the Rendez-vous’ press junket.

“L’Auberge Espagnole,” Russian Dolls,” “Chinese Puzzle”: The three films in your franchise tap into a gloalized world where you riff off the complexities and nationalistic clichés – how one country perceives another – of modern life….

In my movies, I talk a lot about interaction between different cultures, globalization, what happens when you travel, with languages, translation, habits. It’s funny to see what separates people, the language barrier. It’s also interesting to see how those problems can be changed by complicity. Although we have different cultures and languages, we can get over that. You’re human beings, there’s complicity you can create. The three movies I made with Xavier’s adventures play with the differences. But it is also a nice thing when you surmount a problem of cultural barriers.

Xavier is a novelist. Is there any kind of autobiographical element to the three films?

They aren’t very autobiographical. I’m a filmmaker and screenwriter, and that can be close to a novelist. I talk a lot about the difference between the life you’re living and the life you’re writing about. It’s true that it can be about things I see as a filmmaker. Xavier’s a different character. I think in the three films, I started with things that belonged to me, since I spent years in New York as a foreign student there. When I wrote “L’auberge espagnole” I really used some of the things I experienced when I was in New York as a foreigner. Then in the three films, Xavier’s distanced himself from me and become a fictional character. My goal is to be realistic sometimes and surrealistic at other times. We’re in his mind, seeing his life through his brain, so for me it’s kind of an intellectual device to create comedy in a new way in a sense.

It’s also a visual device. You really work hard for your money, try to entertain visually, whatever’s going on in the plot. Your shots rarely hang around too long, often contrast visually, can be semi-long shots with the characters in the middle of the scene allowing for multiple visual details in the foreground, something that Pedro Almodovar also pulls off. 

For me the pace is important. Dealing with comedy, the masters are Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch, Frank Capra. These movies created a way of directing comedies in a very fast and witty way. I try to really use that in the end of the movie. As you said, to entertain is one of the goals of the movie. I think by being creative with the visuals, the images, the mise-en-scene, I really tried to not just make a plain realistic story about a French person in New York.

“Chinese Puzzle” can be realistic but also at times near-surreal, like when Xavier Skypes his editor who asks: “Is that New York?” about what he see in the background, which is a Brooklyn loft terrace. You play a lot with stereotypes.

We all have stereotypes about each other. Americans have stereotypes about the French and vice-versa. What’s funny is that they’re very often true. Our stereotype of being pretentious, things related to sophistication like cooking or fashion. It’s true… of course but if you go only with the stereotype you can be offended, but we all know there’s part of a truth in that. It’s funny for me to play with that. When you play with national identities, then it’s dangerous, it’s the beginning of racism and how you can really mistreat someone else. It’s funny to play with that, but it’s dangerous at the same time.

Another thing you key into very well is adultescence. Xavier’s grown up biologically. He’s slightly more mature. But one of his charms is he’s still young at heart.

The whole movie’s about how life has not ended until it ends. You can start being in love at 70, start a new life professionally at different ages. We live in a time that’s very depressing and I needed to say something hopeful to people. When you’re 40 years old you’re not old. Society and the media have a tendency to say being 40 is already old.It’s funny, the first thing my father said about the movie is: “That’s so strange that people can feel old at 40.” We’re at  a time where adultescence is really something that’s meaningful. I think people try to be young as long as possible, they try to appear young. Becoming an adult is different today. It’s dealing with more responsibility, more a sense of reality. Xavier’s still clearly in a process of learning to live in reality, become more responsible. As a father, he has to. The three movies are about how you go from youngster to adult.

You said you wanted to make something that gives hope. You have other movies that you’ve made where you have a culture contrast, like “My Piece of the Pie,” which are much darker. Would you see the trilogy as channeling your optimism?

I made “My Piece of the Pie” because of the 2008 crisis, and I thought it was important to talk about what Americans call the conflict between the 99 and the one percent. I think it’s a very cynical, difficult time. It was a financial crisis which became a social crisis. I needed to speak about that. In “Chinese Puzzle,” I wanted something lighter, because of the depressing situation right now, People need hope. It’s true I almost made this movie as a reaction to “My Piece of the Pie.”

Will “Chinese Puzzle” be the last part of the trilogy. Does it bring a certain closure?

If I do a follow-up, it’ll be 10 years from now. Following the idea the characters being 25, then 30, then 40, a next movie would be when they’re 50 years old. I don’t know if they’ll all be there and if I’ll want to do a follow-up story. So, I’ll answer that question in ten years.

When you started to direct the actors, they weren’t well-known. Now they are. Does that make directing them different?

It’s funny, because it’s easier to direct them since they’re more experienced now, they’re much better actors. They’ve worked with many directors, in many different styles, the four of them. They’re very different actors and it’s a privilege to work with them. What’s difficult is bringing them together. They’ve become stars. It was strange for me, as I’d known them from the beginning and had a close relationship to them. I have to be myself in a different way. On the whole, I think it’s easier rather than more difficult. It’s a funny experience, to work with the same actors every so many years.

Do you have any idea or ambition about making film or TV in English?

I’m open to everything. It was a great experience to work in New York, with American actors, some of them, because American actors are very impressive as well as English actors. In that sense, it’d be interesting to work in English again. But I’d prefer to work in France, just because I’m more used to it. The ways of making movies are very different. It’s easier for me to work in France because the methods are different.