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Lucas Belvaux: ‘The Idea That Cinema Is Also Art Protects Us a Bit’

Belgian helmer talks about ‘Not My Type” at the UniFrance Rendez-vous

PARIS – Directed by Belgian auteur and actor Lucas Belvaux, “Not My Type” illustrates the intimate and intricate filmmaking relationship between Belgium and France. Belvaux’s “Rapt” and “38 Witnesses” both bowed at the UniFrance Rendez-vous. In 2014, “Not My Type” follows suit. An across-the-tracks tale of the love story between a Parisian philosophy teacher and a hairdresser set in the backwater – or so he initially thinks – of Arras in northern France, it is produced by France’s Patrick Sobelman, co-produced by Patrick Quinet at Belgium’s Artemis, draws down government, tax and TV coin in both countries, and is sold by Paris-based Films Distribution. Also, if the UniFrance Rendez-vous had a best actress prize this year, “Not My Type’s” Belgian co-star Emile Dequenne would now be being talked up as one of its frontrunners.  Variety talked to Belvaux during the Rendez-vous.

The film is based on a novel by Phlippe Vilain. What drew you to the novel?

I heard a journalist talk about a novel one day on the radio. What she said made me immediately want to make a film of the story. Before even reading the book. I bought it the very same day and it wasn’t a disappointment. I adored the two characters and their story.

“Not My Type” begins establishing succinctly contrasts between a Paris-loving philosopher teacher and an Arras hairdresser – in dress, colors, homes, comportment – and then brings these two characters together in a love affair. It asks if it’s possible for people who are so different to be together. The answer it gives, however, may be that it depends on the people and one of the characters – the philosopher – has problems with love. Could you comment?

That’s precisely what I loved about the book. If there’s a “social subject” – is such across-the-tracks love really possible? – the richness and depth of the characters meant that there wasn’t just one answer valid for everyone. Everyone, whoever they are, can choose the own path to follow, the general direction at least. If their love story is impossible, it’s because the philosopher who can’t commit, who’s afraid of commitment, who thinks loving one woman bans him from loving all other women.
The film has various scenes set in an Arras karaoke disco where the hairdresser performs or dances to “You Can’t Hurry Love, “ “Live Is Life” and “I Will Survive. ” You seem to use them flexibly for multiple reasons. I wonder if you could comment on their use.

I wanted the karaoke scenes to have a different dramatic function: Every one of them, I think, says something pretty precise about the hairdresser’s character. The first – singing “You Can’t Hurry Love” – suggests that she and her friends take the karaoke very seriously. They sing well, practice, before the bar, at home. It’s one way of benefitting from life, the happiness of making music. The second talks about a woman’s romantic passion for a man and her way of revealing her life, which is so different from his, to him, of opening him up to new sensations. The third is like a manifesto, and way of bidding goodbye. The three songs narrate what she’s feeling at each moment of the film.
Would you call “Not My Type” a redemption drama where one character – this is a French-Belgium film not a Hollywood blockbuster – is not certain to find redemption?

I don’t think the philosopher needs to be redeemed. He’s not really to blame. The hairdresser understands that when she tells him: “Did you want to harm me? No. Let’s forget it.” He’ll suffer the break-up as much as she does, perhaps even more because he’s undoubtedly lost the love of his life.
Clement, the philosopher, suggests in one of his classes that someone who doesn’t think freely is not really alive. Would you say the film suggests, equally, that someone who does not love freely is not really alive?

Yes! Love is elan, the most spontaneous thing that makes us live, a force you can’t resist. Forbidding someone to love who does love, whether they should or not, is a curse, disablement.

“Rapt” and “38 Witnesses” both played at the Rendez-vous. How would you compare “Not My Type” to them? Is this an attempt to make a “lighter” less darker film?

I think each and every one of my films responds to a specific moment in my life, how I’m feeling at that moment. “Rapt” and “38 Witnesses” were “bereavement” films whose characters weren’t fully alive, living on the margins. That’swhat I understood about the character of Jennifer, that she really knew the cost of living, that you should live every moment to its full.
The performances in “Not My Type” are central to the film. Could you talk of directing Emilie Dequenne and Loic Corbery.

It was very easy. They’re dazzling actors. I sometimes get the impression that Emilie was born on a film set, such is her mastery of everything. She gets everything, and puts it all together. At one and the same time, she’s sincere and acts with absolute abandon. You get the impression that only the character exists. Also, she reinvents herself with every role she takes on, like the phoenix, she’s a new actress every time. As for Loic, he’s a great theater actor.  Heaay of approaching a role is different. Emilie jumps in, Loic advances step by step, but there comes a moment when they are together, deep into their roles, with the water up to their neck. It was really beautiful to see how each one of them respected the other’s work. I was just happy to film they the best I could.

The film was produced by Patrick Sobelman at Agat Films & Cie in Paris. Could you talk about broadly how it was financed and do you think that the facilities for financing films out of France and Belgium – especially putting the two together – still suggest a position of privilege compared to financing opportunities in most parts of the world?

Patrick Sobelman has produced all my films from 2001, from the Trilogy, “An Amazing Couple,” “On the Run,” “After Life.” The film is a co-production with Patrick Quinet at Belgium’s Artemis. It’s pretty well the same financing set-up as on my films before “Not My Type,” with the same partners: Canal Plus: Canal Plus, France 3 Cinema, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, and Sofica tax coin on the French side, and in Belgium the French Community of Belgium, public broadcaster RTBF and the Belgian tax shelter. Yes, we are still privileged here. The idea that cinema’s also art, not just an industry, protects us a bit. Bit that’s not all: Everybody realizes that cinema, in France and Europe, means a lot of jobs, It’s a real economic driver that has to be paid attention to. Cinema has to retain its creative freedom, its capacity to create prototypes; the market alone can’t guarantee that.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished “Not My Type.” I haven’t really got a very good idea, but I’d like to work again with Emilie.

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